NTMA CEO race sees O’Connor and Carville face off in final line-up

Decision expected imminently on successor to Conor O’Kelly

The National Treasury Management Agency's (NTMA) director of funding and debt management, Frank O'Connor, and the Department of Finance's banking head, Des Carville, are in the final running for the position of chief executive of the organisation responsible for managing key State assets and liabilities.

It is understood that a third candidate has also been in the mix in recent weeks as the board of the NTMA, led by chairperson Maeve Carton, comes close to making a decision, expected imminently.

The NTMA’s board initiated a process in June to find a successor to Conor O’Kelly, the current chief executive of the agency, as he prepares to step down next year. The former stockbroking executive took over the NTMA in 2015 on an initial five-year term, which was extended for about 2½ years in 2020.

The three previous heads of the NTMA were ministerial appointees, before laws governing the organisation were amended in late 2014, changing its governance structure and remit and establishing a board. The Minister for Finance is still consulted under the new appointment process.

A spokesman for the NTMA declined to comment on the current state of the appointment process.

Bond sales

The search comes as the NTMA plans to raise €10-€14 billion in international bond markets next year, marking a decline of up to 46 per cent on the amount raised this year as the Government’s Covid-related spending eases.

The agency sold €18.5 billion of bonds this year, on top of €24 billion issued in 2020, as the Government grappled with the costs of funding supports for households and businesses during the worst of the economic shock. It will leave general government debt at a record level of almost €237 billion at the end of 2021, according to Department of Finance forecasts.

Euro-zone government borrowing costs have also begun to creep up in recent months – albeit off ultra-low levels – as bond investors speculate about when the European Central Bank will move to hike interest rates and wind down its bond-buying stimulus, amid a spike in inflation.

While ECB president Christine Lagarde confirmed last week that a €1.85 trillion pandemic bond-buying programme will come to an end in the coming months, the organisation plans to expand a pre-existing bond-purchase programme to ease the transition.

The yield on Ireland’s 10-year bonds have picked up from a record low of minus 0.33 per cent last January to 0.02 per cent. Still, they remain a tiny fraction of the 14 per cent yield investors were demanding to buy Irish 10-year bonds at the height of the financial crisis a decade ago.

Other key areas under the NTMA's remit, which has grown extensively in its 31 years of existence, include the State Claims Agency, which is managing more than 12,000 active claims against State bodies, with an estimated outstanding liability of more than €4 billion, and the €9 billion Ireland Strategic Investment Fund. The National Asset Management Agency is also under its aegis.

Nama chief executive Brendan McDonagh, the head of Home Building Finance Ireland Dara Deering, and Andrew O'Flanagan, director of the agency's National Development Finance Agency (NDFA) and NewERA units, had also thrown their hats into the ring for the NTMA chief executive job.