Loans to be transferred to Nama 'before Christmas'

 

THE BANKS should start transferring their largest development loans to Nama in a matter of weeks, Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan said last night after the Bill setting up the agency passed all stages in the Dáil and Seanad.

Mr Lenihan said he envisaged that the board of Nama would be appointed by the end of this month and a chief executive put in place.

Responding to questions on Nama at the end of a press conference on budget issues, the Minister said that a lot of informal work had already been carried out on the loan books involved and the objective was to transfer the largest loans in a matter of weeks.

“I would envisage that the five institutions which to date have expressed an interest will finalise their approach before Christmas and can start transferring the loans to Nama,” said Mr Lenihan.

He said that while the European Commission would have to approve the legislation, he did not envisage any undue delay as his department had been in contact with the commission prior to and during the drafting of the Bill and some sections reflected that work.

The Bill passed its final stage in the Dáil yesterday by 81 votes to 62. There were 37 amendments down for debate the last day, although only 11 had been discussed when the vote was called.

One of the amendments included in the Bill which provides protection for whistleblowers in the banks and Nama was initially proposed by Fine Gael.

After its passage through the Dáil, the Bill then returned briefly to the Seanad for approval of the Fine Gael amendment. It will now go to President Mary McAleese for signature.

One of the amendments passed yesterday exempted the legislation from the requirement that it be published simultaneously in Irish as well as English, as specified by the Official Languages Act. A department spokesman said this would would help avoid the Bill being delayed.

Although the Dáil debate lasted for more than 90 hours, including one all-night sitting, and another 36 hours were spent in the Seanad debate, the Opposition parties complained about it being forced through yesterday.

Fine Gael spokesman on the environment Phil Hogan said Fianna Fáil and the Greens had failed to answer a number of key questions on Nama.

He said the questions related to contact between the Government and the EU Commission on Nama and precisely what the EU had said to the Government in relation to competition, State aid and market structure in the banking sector. Mr Hogan said there were also questions about the timeframe for EU approval and whether the Nama Bill would be signed into law by the President before EU approval was received.

“Nama is fundamentally flawed, will do nothing to get credit flowing to small business and it will do nothing to support the retention or creation of jobs. No independent commentator supports it, the OECD has raised serious concerns over it and it is still unclear whether it has received EU approval. Fine Gael will be voting against this defective plan which bails out bankers and developers and leaves taxpayers holding the bag,” said Mr Hogan.

Labour Party deputy leader and finance spokeswoman Joan Burton told the Dáil that it was a total disgrace and a contravention of democracy that full information on the proposed amendments was not given.

Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said that 37 amendments by the Government was an admission that what had already been discussed in the Dáil was flawed.