Maybe it was the proximity to Christmas Day, but just seven of the 13-member Oireachtas Committee of Public Accounts turned up for yesterday's session with the National Asset Management Agency to deal with allegations that Fianna Fáil Senator Daragh O'Brien had said earlier this week would "rock" it to its core and which went to the very top of the agency.
Neither O'Brien nor Labour Party senator Lorraine Higgins, who also made claims about Nama this week, showed up to hear the agency's retort. It seemed odd that they didn't put their heads around the door at some point during the 3½ hour session.
The day started with strong rebuttals from Nama chairman Frank Daly and chief executive Brendan McDonagh of the allegations that have been swirling around town all week.
A couple of hours into the proceedings, Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald got stuck into Nama over the “secrecy” of the business and the fact that it’s not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. She was particularly concerned about potential conflicts of interest around staff leaving the business and then helping their new employer to buy assets from Nama with information garnered while at Nama.
Sixty-two Nama staff have left since 2010, 29 this year. Junior staff must do three months’ “gardening leave” on leaving the agency, while senior staff do six months.
“I’d wager that any intelligent person would have a problem with that,” she said.
Daly countered that you can’t restrict a person from leaving and making a living elsewhere, and that taxpayers wouldn’t thank him for putting someone on paid leave for a year or more.
Nama’s assets are also openly marketed so that no entity gets preferential treatment, and most of the staff only ever get access to a limited amount of information, he said.
The irony of the proceedings was that Nama had asked for the meeting to counter potentially damaging allegations that it has not seen and that have been made essentially by people in the shadows.
McDonagh described it as a “carefully orchestrated operation . . . to damage Nama”. “It’s designed to damage Nama and undermine its credibility with taxpayers of this country,” Daly added.
The allegations against Nama are on foot of a complaint made to An Garda Síochána, who are said to be studying this “dossier” but have not contacted Nama.
McDonagh said this complaint appeared to have been made by developer Paddy McKillen following allegations by former employee Enda Farrell, against whom Nama has made a complaint to the Garda of improper conduct.
PAC chairman John McGuinness wondered why Nama hadn’t contacted the Garda to enquire about the recent allegations. It was a fair point.
Daly and McDonagh gave a sturdy defence of the valuation processes employed when it acquired €31.8 billion of property loans from the banks almost four years ago.
They were assisted in part by the Comptroller and Auditor General Séamus McCarthy.
So the session yielded plenty of intrigue, but no smoking gun.