Michael Noonan and PAC set to clash over Project Eagle report

Minister says he was not given a chance to answer criticism of meetings with Cerberus

Michael Noonan has  said his meetings with US fund Cerberus ’were not inappropriate in any way’. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Michael Noonan has said his meetings with US fund Cerberus ’were not inappropriate in any way’. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and the Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC) are set to clash on the committee’s report into the 2014 sale by the National Assets Management Agency (Nama) of its Northern Ireland loan book, known as Project Eagle.

The Minister says a key conclusion in the report was never put to him or his officials.

The report, to be published today, will say it was not “procedurally appropriate” for Mr Noonan or the Department of Finance to meet representatives of Cerberus, the US fund which bought the loans, on March 31st, 2014, the day before the bidding process for the loan book ended.

However, in a letter to committee chairman Seán Fleming last month, Mr Noonan said meetings with Cerberus and whether or not they were appropriate “were not discussed or raised as an issue at any stage during the committee hearings”.

‘Factual position’

In the letter, dated February 15th last, Mr Noonan said that if the meetings were a substantive consideration, “both I and my officials should clearly have been invited to publicly state the factual position for the record.

“This is a fundamental right of due process and fair procedure.”

The Minister said the meetings “were not inappropriate in any way” and he would “ strongly contest” any conclusion along these lines.

The PAC started investigating the sale of the Project Eagle loans following a report from the Comptroller and Auditor General which said Nama could have lost about £190 million on the £1.2 billion sale.

Nama has strongly disputed this, but the committee is expected broadly to back the C&AG report’s conclusion.

The Fine Gael members on the committee have dissented from the final report, which is also expected to call for the establishment of a commission of investigation into the deal.

Last week, the four Fine Gael members voted against the inclusion of the sections relating to Mr Noonan.

Having lost that vote, they voted against the adoption of the full report – the first occasion in the history of the PAC that it has divided along party lines.

Objected

Divisions between the Fine Gael TDs – Alan Farrell, Peter Burke, Josepha Madigan and Noel Rock – and the rest of the committee have dogged the process.

The four objected to the initial proposed finding by the committee that it was not appropriate for Mr Noonan or the Department of Finance to meet representatives from Cerberus the day before the sales process ended.

The proposed wording was then altered to state it was not “procedurally appropriate”.

However, the Fine Gael TDs wanted these sections removed entirely, leading to last week’s votes.

Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and Independent members voted in favour of retaining the criticisms of Mr Noonan as part of their conclusions.

Other aspects of the Project Eagle sale are being investigated by the US department of justice, the US securities and exchange commission, and the UK national crime agency.