Nama allegations best investigated by Stormont, says James Brokenshire

No plans for ‘hard borders’ following Brexit vote, NI Secretary reassures US politicians

Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire:  diplomatic push.  Photograph: Mark Marlow/PA

Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire: diplomatic push. Photograph: Mark Marlow/PA

 

The Stormont Assembly is the “appropriate place” to consider the “very serious allegations” to emerge this week about Nama’s former Northern Ireland property loans portfolio, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire has said.

Speaking on his first visit to the US since his appointment in July, Mr Brokenshire echoed the view of Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster, who rejected calls for a cross-Border inquiry into the £1.24 billion (€1.6 billion) sale of the Project Eagle loan book to US company Cerberus.

The Conservative MP said that the “procedures and processes” within the Assembly were the best place to have these allegations investigated.

“Quite serious points have been raised here,” Mr Brokenshire said in an interview with The Irish Times. “I think the appropriate place for this to be considered is within the Assembly.”

He declined to say whether he was concerned about the reputational damage to Northern Ireland business in light of the new revelations concerning Frank Cushnahan, the former Northern Ireland adviser to the Republic’s National Asset Management Agency (Nama).

BBC Northern Ireland’s Spotlight programme broadcast footage secretly recorded in 2012 of Mr Cushnahan, then a member of Nama’s Northern Ireland advisory committee, allegedly accepting a payment of £40,000 from Northern Ireland property developer John Miskelly, then a Nama debtor, in a hospital car park. Mr Cushnahan has denied any wrongdoing.

Mr Brokenshire’s visit to Washington is part of a post-Brexit diplomatic push by the UK to reassure the Americans that it does not want to see a return to Border checkpoints between the Republic and the North following the vote to leave the European Union.

“It has been important for me to come to Washington and to underline that clear determination and clear sense of purpose from the UK government that we don’t want to see a return to the hard borders,” he said.

Responding to a call by Sinn Féin MLA John O’Dowd this week that he should respect Northern Ireland’s Remain vote, Mr Brokenshire said that it was a UK-wide vote and everyone had to work for the best outcome for Northern Ireland within the UK but outside the EU.

“I hear those voices who have anxieties, have concerns, didn’t support the ultimate vote that was taken, but I would say that we all need to come together,” he said.

Mr Brokenshire said that an Ipsos Mori poll by BBC Northern Ireland’s The View programme, showing that a majority (52 per cent) oppose a Border poll and have not changed their view since the Brexit vote, underpinned the view that a majority in Northern Irish did not want a united Ireland.

During his visit to Washington, Mr Brokenshire met Gary Hart, US secretary of state John Kerry’s representative on Northern Ireland; Charles Kupchan, European affairs adviser at the White House of the national security council; and Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state for European affairs at the state department.

The Northern Secretary also met 15 members of the US Congress from the Friends of Ireland caucus on Capitol Hill, and business leaders.

One of those members of Congress, Richard Neal, a Democrat from Massachusetts, said they told him they did not want to see security checkpoints again at the Border.

“A hard border is a reverse of the 30 years of progress that we made,” he said.