Martin accuses Noonan of misleading Dáil over Siteserv documents

Noonan denies cover-up after minutes of IBRC board meeting discovered in Department

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has been accused by Fianna Fáíl leader Micheál Martin of "misleading the Dáil in a comprehensive manner" after his Department yesterday admitted it had received Irish Bank Resolution Company documents it previously denied it had.

The Department of Finance yesterday said it had discovered files in its Merrion Street headquarters with minutes of IBRC board meetings – including the one at which the controversial sale of Siteserv to a company owned by businessman Denis O'Brien had been discussed.

The Department was alerted to the fact that IBRC had sent it the monthly board documents when it saw a mention of this in a letter from IBRC, released last night as part of a Freedom of Information request to The Irish Times.

Last month, Mr Noonan told the Fianna Fáil leader in the Dáil that the Department had not received the minutes of the critical IBRC meeting on the Siteserv sale. The admission last night provoked a furious political row, with Mr Martin describing the disclosure as "extraordinary".

He said it raised “very serious questions and it represented the Minister misleading the Dáil in a very serious way.”

Mr Noonan dismissed any suggestion of a cover-up and said that the board information did not give the Department any prior notice of the terms of the Siteserv sale.

Mr Martin said it beggared belief that there was no corporate memory in the Department of minutes of IBRC meetings and said it was his understanding that regular contact between the State-owned bank and the Department has been conducted at the highest level since 2009. He said board minutes from IBRC had been sent to the Department regularly since 2009.

Answers

“We need real answers as to what is going on in Department of Finance and how was it that the Minister for Finance went in and misled the Dáil,” he said.

“One gets a sense that a life was put on it. It seems to me that people did not want it to go out,” said Mr Martin.

But last night, Mr Noonan rejected the claims. He stressed that the disclosure of discovered documents were a separate matter entirely to the Commission of Investigation announced yesterday, and it was coincidental they were announced on the same day.

He did say an error was made and he would be correcting the record of the Dáil, but said no new or undiscovered information was contained in any document. He said the first reference to Siteserv was a record of a meeting in which the deal was agreed.

“The four key officials dealing with this have all moved on. They were contacted by telephone and none had any memory of dealing with this,” Mr Noonan said by way of explanation.

Asked did it follow a pattern of the Department keeping the lid on information, he rejected the contention.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times