Public Accounts Committee: a double dose of indignation

Noonan and Fleming clash over Nama’s Project Eagle

 

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan did nothing wrong by meeting the US property group Cerebus shortly before it purchased a large tract of assets from Nama in 2014 but he should have informed the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the meeting. During the course of a five-hour appearance before the PAC last October to discuss the sale of Project Eagle, a collection of Nama’s Northern Ireland loans, the Minister failed to mention that he had met the purchaser shortly before the sale.

The Minister has expressed deep indignation in the Dáil that the PAC in its report on the transaction criticised his Cerebus meeting as not “procedurally appropriate” but he needs to face up to the fact that he brought the criticism on himself.

One of the continuing flaws in our political system has been the way leading members of successive governments have failed to disclose relevant information to the Dáil and its committees on the basis that they were not asked the right question. It is a long time since the Beef Tribunal report suggested that its expensive inquiry would not have been necessary if relevant information about export credit insurance had been disclosed to the Dáil at the appropriate time.

In his defence Mr Noonan has said that the minutes of his meeting with Cerebus were published on the Department of Finance website for all to see back in 2014 and the information repeated in answer to a question by Fianna Fáil’s Michael McGrath in 2015. That only begs the question about why he failed to tell the PAC about it.

During this week’s Dáil debate on the affair, PAC chairman Sean Fleming also waxed indignant saying Mr Noonan had threatened to injunct the committee during a private conversation in the Dáil restaurant last month. However, Mr Fleming had no business having a private discussion with the Minister about committee business. It is reminiscent of the way the previous PAC chairman John McGuinness had a conversation in a car park with then Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan about his committee appearance dealing with whistleblowers.

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