Criticism over ‘disappeared’ US investment cash

Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness
Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness

There has been fierce criticism over a lack of answers surrounding a “disappeared” multi-million investment fund.

The chairman of Stormont’s enterprise committee has blasted as “totally unacceptable” a failure of the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) to respond to its questions about the US-based Emerging Europe Fund.

Said to have been worth $30m to Northern Ireland, it has apparently done nothing for the Province since it was unveiled nearly five years ago by Martin McGuinness.

SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone said it is high time for Northern Ireland’s power-sharing leaders to fill the committee in on what has happened with it.

The saga began back in October, when the News Letter revealed the New York State-based Emerging Europe fund had not injected any money since it was announced on March 16, 2009, during a visit to the USA by Mr McGuinness and Peter Robinson.

Stormont’s Trade, Investment and Enterprise committee picked up on the story, and called for an update on the situation from OFMDFM.

But now, roughly 12 weeks after that, and despite a reminder, the MLAs on the committee have yet to receive an answer, said Mr McGlone – sparking strong-worded criticism from him in the Assembly.

Speaking on Monday, he claimed the whole thing appeared to have been nothing but an empty stunt.

“We have raised this, and we have sought clarification,” he said.

“To date, of the $30m that had been earmarked, apparently five years later there is no mention of it. Some $30m of funding has disappeared.

“Like the Emerald Fund before it, this appears to have been yet another short-term PR gimmick for OFMDFM that has delivered nothing.”

Emerald is the name of a separate but similar fund, which also seems to have brought zero tangible benefit to the Province (see left).

He also issued a statement to the News Letter in which he said “it is completely unacceptable for the First and Deputy First Ministers to refuse to answer questions from an Assembly committee. The committee has asked legitimate questions on behalf of the Assembly and our constituents, and the public deserve answers.”

Last October, over two months after it was first contacted, OFMDFM sent the News Letter the following statement in response to inquiries about both funds: “The circumstances surrounding the New York State and City Pension Funds is entirely a matter for the Comptrollers of the State and the City of New York and any decision about proceeding with investments was entirely a matter for the stakeholders involved.”

Back when it was originally announced in 2009, Mr McGuinness said Emerging Europe’s $30m would be targeted towards “areas of long term disadvantage”.

When asked for details on how it was actually meant to work (such as what its money might be invested in), 57 Stars – the company directly managing the fund – said their investments typically go into “another private equity fund, secondary or a co-investment” – but added that, due to confidentiality arrangements, it could say little more.

.Yesterday evening, the Office of the New York State Comptroller issued a statement which read: “The New York State Common Retirement Fund is committed to investing in Northern Ireland through the Emerging Europe Fund. We are examining opportunities in Northern Ireland and expect results in the near future.”

A tale of two funds

The Emerging Europe Fund was set up in 2009 with the aim of investing pension cash from New York State public sector workers into the Province.

Despite making no investments to date, those behind it in the USA say that the fund does still remain live.

The creation of Emerging Europe followed on from a very similar-sounding scheme called the Emerald Fund, which was unveiled in 2008 with an even bigger pledge – $150m.

This had also involved channelling funds from US workers’ pension pots into the Province (although it was based in New York City, not New York State).

It is believed that this has never invested anything, and is reported to be dead.