Dáil Diary no 47 - 2 July 2015
#NAMA - Only an Independent Inquiry will stop speculation...
There are a lot of people who believe that the workings of NAMA have left much to be desired. It is worrying that this State body which we’ve given the task of prioritising the best interests of the Irish taxpayer, has operated in such a secret fashion. Today, I asked the Tánaiste Joan Burton why, when she entered Government in 2011, she hadn’t followed up on her proposal in 2009 for an oversight committee that would put information re the working of Nama into the public domain, every 30 days. We will continue to have talk and speculation till we decide to have an Independent Inquiry, and find out what really happened. It may take a while, but the lid will not be kept on this forever. Here’s part of the exchanges in the Dáil today at Leader’s Questions, minus the parts with the Ceann Comhairle cutting my mic once again...-
"There is growing concern regarding the workings of NAMA and whether the taxpayer has been well served by it . The Taoiseach seems content that all is well, but I know many people who think otherwise. The Tánaiste is an accountant and might have more concerns than the Taoiseach. There have been disturbing allegations around the largest ever sale of property in the history of the island of Ireland. The Northern Ireland loan portfolio, Project Eagle, involving more than 850 properties with a par value of €4.5 billion, was sold to US private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management for less than €1.5 billion, a surprise winner of the tender.
In June 2012, following consultation with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, and Mr. Sammy Wilson MLA, NAMA reappointed Mr. Frank Cushnahan and Mr. Brian Rowntree to the Northern Ireland Advisory Committee. Two weeks later, a report by a Northern Ireland auditor's office seriously questioned the stewardship of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, which led to the resignation of Brian Rowntree and Frank Cushnahan. The report found breaches of housing executive guidelines in the sale of at least 27 land deals, the executive board being given wrong or no information relating to key property deals, favoured property speculators were allowed to buy land well under market value, expressions of interest from other parties not being declared or considered, and at times no reasons being offered for some off-market sales.
These two individuals stayed in NAMA, one of them up until the summer of 2014. Does the Tánaiste think this was a good idea? Back in 2009, the Tánaiste proposed an oversight committee for NAMA, with the purpose of informing the public about what is happening in NAMA. In the past four and a half years, has the Tánaiste at any time considered putting that idea forward again? Given this has not been done, does the Tánaiste believe now is the time for a serious look at how NAMA operates? We need an independent inquiry to see if the interests of the taxpayers have always been the top priority for NAMA.
The Tánaiste: I am not familiar with the details of the particular case the Deputy outlined. The issue of the oversight of NAMA and proper procedures is important because NAMA was, in effect, a kind of bad bank for the explosion that happened in the Irish property market when construction and the financing of it fell apart.
In regard to the arrangements made for NAMA, I suggest that if the Deputy has not already done so, he should submit a detailed question such as this to the Minister for Finance. I do not know whether any of these questions have been raised with NAMA or whether the Deputy has raised his concerns with NAMA.
However, as the Deputy knows, the Comptroller and Auditor General has oversight of NAMA and closely oversees the work it does. When the arrangements regarding NAMA and the banks, following the collapse of the banks, were established, a decision made by the previous Government was followed by the current Government. That decision was that the governance and organisation of NAMA's affairs would not be run directly out of the Civil Service and, in particular, would not be run directly by politicians. I believe this was the correct decision and that it is better that it is run as a business.
Mick Wallace: Am I to take from what she said that the Tánaiste is happy with how NAMA has worked? The oversight mechanism she proposed in 2009 has not happened, but does she not feel it would have been a significant benefit? She did not address that question.
The Tánaiste said it would be better if politicians were not involved in this episode.
We have had politicians involved and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, and Mr. Sammy Wilson, MLA, were involved in the reappointment of the two men concerned. One of them was reappointed for a second time in 2014, despite the damning report of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. I find that difficult to understand and I also find it difficult to accept that the Tánaiste would be okay with that.
The legal firm acting for Cerberus Capital Management, which purchased the Northern Ireland loan portfolio for €1.5 billion, was Tughans of Belfast. It has been reported that during a routine audit…
An Ceann Comhairle: This is not an inquisition. This is Leaders' Questions. Would Deputy Wallace put a question please? He is out of time.
Mick Wallace: We are talking about billions of taxpayers' money.
Does the Tánaiste have any concerns that a routine audit of a solicitor's firm that looked after the deal where €4.5 billion of assets were sold for €1.5 billion, with a massive loss for the Irish taxpayer? The routine audit showed that £7 million sterling ended up in an Isle of Man bank account-
It was reportedly earmarked for a Northern Ireland politician or party
Does the Tánaiste not think the matter should be looked at?
The Tánaiste: In terms of this House and under the Constitution, the Comptroller and Auditor General has a specific role, including in regard to the oversight of NAMA. There have been three special reports on NAMA's activities by the Comptroller and Auditor General and they have been broadly positive in their assessment of how NAMA is managing what is a very complex business. I regret that NAMA ever had to exist and that good builders such as Deputy Wallace and the people who worked for him ended up in the crash that followed losing a huge amount of employment and a huge amount of money, but that is what happened when the economy was run into a brick wall. It is very difficult to give a definitive answer on the recovery value of anything which previously had a certain value and which lost its value following the crash.
The Comptroller and Auditor General has done a series of reports on NAMA. I am not clear on whether Deputy Wallace is basically saying he does not accept the Comptroller and Auditor General's reports.
Deputy Clare Daly: Its remit is limited"