Fine Gael TDs want criticism of Noonan omitted from report

Public Accounts Committee report examines Nama’s controversial sale of Project Eagle

Michael Noonan: draft report critical of his meeting with representatives from the bidders Cerberus the day before the process ended. Photograph: Julien Warnand/EPA

Michael Noonan: draft report critical of his meeting with representatives from the bidders Cerberus the day before the process ended. Photograph: Julien Warnand/EPA

 

Fine Gael TDs are insisting that criticism of Minister for Finance Michael Noonan contained in an Oireachtas report examining the sale of Project Eagle is removed before its publication.

The Public Accounts Committee (Pac) is compiling a report into the National Asset Management Agency’s sale of the Northern Ireland loan portfolio in 2014.

The draft document, seen by The Irish Times, concludes it was “not appropriate” for the Minister for Finance to meet with representatives from the bidders Cerberus the day before the process ended.

At a private meeting of the committee on Thursday the Fine Gael members Peter Burke, Alan Farrell, Josepha Madigan and Noel Rock requested its removal from the final report.

The TDs said Mr Noonan was not asked any questions about the meeting when he appeared before the Oireachtas committee.

Fine Gael believes this was a denial of due process for the Minister and also believe the wording implies wrongdoing on the part of Mr Noonan.

One TD told The Irish Times the party believed this was an inappropriate conclusion for the committee to make.

“The Minister published the minutes of the meeting on the Department of Finance website. He did not seek to hide anything,” the TD added.

“There is an attempt by some members of the committee to imply he interfered in the sales process, which is completely untrue and without foundation.”

Sinn Féin, Independents4Change, Social Democrats and Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry are insisting the criticism remains in the final report.

However, Fine Gael has said it will not sign off on the document if the wording is not changed.

Chairman of the Pac, Fianna Fáil TD Seán Fleming, has agreed to reflect on the phraseology and will propose a new wording at a meeting next week.

Strongly critical

The committee had been expected to complete its document yesterday but failed to reach agreement despite lengthy meetings.

Fine Gael has a number of other concerns including a recommendation that the Government establish a commission of inquiry into the sale.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has already committed to such an inquiry but the Fine Gael members do not believe one is necessary.

The committee is examining the sale of Project Eagle by Nama and whether it resulted in a loss for the taxpayer.

Project Eagle is the name given to the Nama’s Northern Ireland property-loans portfolio, which it sold in April 2014 to Cerberus, a US company, for about €1.6 billion.

The Comptroller and Auditor General concluded the sale involved a loss to the taxpayer of €220 million.*

The draft conclusions of the Pac are strongly critical of the agency and the manner in which it conducted the sale.

The committee says a more rigorous and well-documented risk management process should have taken place. It maintains the agency should have sought the removal of Frank Cushnahan from its advisory committee in Northern Ireland when it learned of his connections with debtors.

Mr Cushnahan was an advisor to Nama but also a consultant to seven different debtors. He declared his interests at Nama meetings, as required, but was allowed to continue in his role.

The committee concludes this was a failing of corporate governance by the agency, and it describes the sale strategy pursued by Nama as “flawed”.

“It is entirely possible that a differently designed sales strategy may have yielded a better return for the Irish State. It is, therefore, the opinion of the committee that Nama have been unable to demonstrate that it got value for the Irish State in relation to the price achieved,” the draft report states.

The committee meets again on Tuesday and will consider the report again. The Government has refused to establish a commission of investigation until the Pac concludes its work.

*The piece was amended at 2.18pm on March 3rd, 2017