NAMA affair: MLAs only got files minutes before hearing

The recent Stormont hearing into the NAMA Northern Ireland loan book
The recent Stormont hearing into the NAMA Northern Ireland loan book

An MLA has complained that he and his colleagues who are investigating aspects of the NAMA scandal were only given a tranche of key documents minutes before a hearing got under way on Thursday.

John McCallister, a member of the Assembly’s finance committee, said it was “unsatisfactory” that the documents – many of which had large sections censored by the Department of Finance – were given to MLAs just before they were due to question the department’s most senior official on their contents.

The committee is investigating the department’s relationship with NAMA and its role in the appointment of two men to the NAMA Northern Ireland advisory committee – Frank Cushnahan and Brian Rowntree.

In the Dail, it has been alleged that just months after he resigned from NAMA Mr Cushnahan was in line for a £5 million fee from a proposed deal to sell NAMA’s Northern Ireland loan book to US fund Pimco, which fell through after the proposed arrangement was made known to NAMA.

The National Crime Agency is conducting a criminal inquiry into allegations of bribes involving the sale of the loan book to Cerberus, a massive US fund which has said that it has done nothing wrong.

Mr McCallister said that MLAs on the committee were given inadequate time to read the documents before Thursday’s hearing and were not allowed to take them away after the hearing to read them in further depth, something he said was “unsatisfactory” given the complexity of the NAMA transaction and the nature of the allegations.

“We were given 10 or 15 minutes to look through it,” he said.

“With that amount of stuff – and with bits redacted – you’re trying to go through it as the committee begins.

“It’s not a particularly great way to scrutinise anything. Once the hearing started, you were trying to listen to what’s being said and trying to scan read what’s in front of you.”

Meanwhile, it has emerged that Peter Robinson’s son Gareth was employed by a firm for which a DUP minister made representations to NAMA.

Thursday’s hearing revealed that the then finance minister, Sammy Wilson, had taken a considerable interest in a Dundonald housing development, Millmount.

The development – which is being taken forward by Lagan Homes – was the first item of discussion at a meeting between Mr Wilson and NAMA in December 2012. No minutes were taken of the meeting.

NAMA had planned to sell off the land on which Millmount is being built, but after Mr Wilson’s intervention it had a change of heart and released £9 million for the project.

On Friday Lagan Homes confirmed to the Irish News that Gareth Robinson’s public relations firm, Verbatim Communications, had carried out “planning-related consultancy” for the developer. There is no allegation that he acted improperly.

Two weeks ago Mr Robinson released a statement in which he said that “Verbatim Communications Ltd acts in a professional and ethical manner at all times and any suggestion to the contrary will be vigorously challenged”.