No date set for Project Eagle commission of investigation

Noonan says Taoiseach’s department will be lead office as Finance is ‘interested party’

Michael Noonan said the Department and Minister for Finance will be within the scope of the terms of reference. Photograph: Alan Betson

Michael Noonan said the Department and Minister for Finance will be within the scope of the terms of reference. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has confirmed that a commission of investigation will be established into the National Asset Management Agency’s sale of Project Eagle, but he did not give a starting date.

He told Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty that it was an issue now for the Department of the Taoiseach.

Mr Noonan said: “The Department and Minister for Finance will be within the scope of the terms of reference. As a consequence it would be inappropriate for it to be the parent department for the commission of inquiry.”

Mr Doherty had asked if the Minister now supported the establishment of a commission, if it would include fixer fees and other issues, and if it would commence before the Dáil’s summer recess.

Mr Noonan told him there was agreement in principle in October 2016 when the Taoiseach met party leaders to establish a commission. That remained the Government’s position, he said.

But they had to discuss proposed terms of reference first. “I expect each party through its respective leader, to contribute to the drafting of agreed terms of reference.”

But the Sinn Féin spokesman said Sinn Féin provided terms of reference six months ago and “will engage with the Taoiseach about ensuring the terms of reference are robust enough”.

Modular approach

Mr Doherty said he had made a strong case that the approach should be modular with Project Eagle addressed first. “However, other areas would need to come under the scope of the commission of investigation.”

Mr Noonan said given the manner in which he expected the terms of reference to develop, the Department of Finance would be an interested party and would stand back from the process, which was the appropriate thing to do.

He said Mr Doherty “should direct any further questions to the Taoiseach to find out what the position might be”.

The Project Eagle controversy arose over the sale of the Northern Ireland portfolio of properties held by Nama and the fixers’ fees paid to legal firm Tughan’s and Frank Cushnahan, a member of Nama’s Northern Ireland advisory council.

The portfolio had a book value of €5.38 billion and was sold to US fund Cerberus for just over €1.43 billion.

A report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) criticised the sale strategy pursued by Nama as “seriously deficient”.

The Minister had vehemently rejected the report, which concluded that it was not “procedurally appropriate” for Mr Noonan to meet the purchaser shortly before the deal was concluded.