Michael Noonan ‘kept Stormont committee in dark over proposed Nama payments’

Michael Noonan

Michael Noonan

Irish finance minister Michael Noonan has questions to answer after keeping Stormont counterparts in the dark over proposed payments to a former adviser to Ireland’s bad bank, a watchdog claimed.

The Assembly’s finance committee said it was unclear why Mr Noonan did not intervene when issues emerged with one of the bidders for Nama’s massive Northern Ireland property bank.

Frank Cushnahan was appointed to advise Nama in 2010. He had been involved in trying to set up the sale of the property portfolio to US investment firm, Pimco, and according to evidence in the Dail stood to be paid £5 million. It was to be part of a three-way split of a £15m pot for getting the billion pound Project Eagle deal over the line.

A spokesman for Mr Noonan said Nama adhered to its mandate to achieve the best return for the Irish taxpayer.

Stormont Finance Committee chairman Daithi McKay said: “The committee was rightly critical of the Irish government’s Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Nama for the way they handled the sale.

“It also found that when issues came to light relating to the sale of the portfolio to Pimco, Michael Noonan did not inform the Executive.

“Nama have stated that the northern advisory committee had no access to commercially sensitive information even though members of the committee said they did. So further questions remain.”

Mr Cushnahan resigned as adviser in November 2013, before the eventual sale to Cerberus.

All parties involved in the £1.2 billion transaction in 2014 have denied wrongdoing.

Pimco, according to evidence given to a Dail committee, pulled out of the tender bidding process after discovering that Mr Cushnahan was in line for a £5 million payment after the sale.

The finance committee said it regretted Nama’s decision not to suspend the Project Eagle sales process once Pimco had disclosed to the agency in March 2014 that its proposed fee arrangement with the Brown Rudnick international law firm included the payment of fees to Tughans Belfast law firm and the former adviser to Nama.

“From the evidence to date, the committee considers this development to be a core area of concern within the entire sale and purchase process. The need for further information and clarification in this regard underlines the case for Nama attending an oral hearing of the committee.

“Whilst it does not fall to this committee to pursue, given the seriousness of the revelation by Pimco, it is unclear why the Irish Government’s Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, did not intervene at this point, by exercising his general powers of direction over Nama to suspend the sales process until matters were investigated fully.

“The committee also notes that Minister Noonan did not inform the Northern Ireland Executive of this development. In addition, the committee regrets that Minister Noonan did not encourage Nama to attend an oral hearing of the committee.”

A spokesman for Mr Noonan’s department said it was a matter for Nama in the first instance and its board has been dealing with it.

“Nama and the Department of Finance provided comprehensive evidence to the committee.

“All relevant information that can be made public about this process has already been made public by the department and by Nama.

“There are criminal investigations under way into actions on the buyer side. There is no allegation of wrongdoing directed against Nama.”

He said Nama and the Irish authorities will fully cooperate with any authorities investigating criminal wrongdoing in these matters.

He added Nama had insisted on an open market sales process for this portfolio which placed each bidder on a level footing in terms of their knowledge of the portfolio.

The comptroller and auditor general is examining the value for money of the transaction .

“They are independent so we cannot pre-empt timing of that examination,” he said.