The membership of an independent panel that selected the operator of a cinema project backed by the National Asset Management Agency (Nama) included a consultant who had previously worked on a project for the winning bidder.
Nama is financing a €20 million development at Scotch Hall in Drogheda, Co Louth, consisting of eight cinema screens and 50,000sq ft of shops, that is owned by Edward Holdings, belonging to developer Gerry Barrett, one of the agency's larger debtors.
An independent panel set up in 2012 chose Edward Holdings subsidiary Eye Cinema from a total of five bids. The decision means Nama is backing the development and the actual cinema business itself.
According to a letter from the State agency to Melcorpo Holdings, which is working on a rival retail and cinema project in the town, one of the panel which ran the process was Rob Arthur, whom Nama describes as a "cinema expert".
Mr Arthur, now based in the UK, previously worked for a cinema consultancy, RAAM Management, which worked for Edward Holdings and Eye on the development of its multiplex in Galway in 2005 and 2006. Mr Arthur was a director of RAAM Management, and he and a colleague, Terry Meehan, worked on the Eye Cinema project in Galway. Sources close to Edward Holdings played down the consultant's role, saying he was hired by a subcontractor.
However, at the time, UK trade publication Cinema Business stated the RAAM partners had a role to play in the Galway business and "Rob Arthur looks after the operations". Efforts to contact Mr Arthur were unsuccessful.
The panel also included Scotch Hall's property agent, Douglas Newman Goode, and was chaired by PricewaterhouseCoopers. Talebury Properties, the Edward Holdings subsidiary that owns Scotch Hall, agreed with Nama to set up the process in the first place to ensure selection of the cinema operator would be independent. Nama was not involved but says it is happy.
At the weekend, the agency accused opponents of Scotch Hall of attempting to discedit it and said the process was “both appropriate and properly implemented”.
“While attempts to discredit this project have already resulted in inaccurate media reports about the process overseen by PwC, such claims are without foundation,” it said.
“They will not deflect the agency from seeking to achieve the best financial outcome for the taxpayer . . . ”