NAMA deal: MLAs ‘insulted’ over inquiry snubs

NAMA has already given evidence to a Dail committee
NAMA has already given evidence to a Dail committee

NAMA and a Stormont department have been accused of insulting an Assembly committee after refusing to appear before its probe into a massive property deal in Northern Ireland.

The “bad bank” set up by the Irish government to clear property loans from bailed out lenders had been invited to appear before the Assembly’s finance committee, as had the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP).

NAMA and all private firms involved in the £1.1 billion Northern Ireland assets sale have denied wrongdoing.

The finance committee’s chairman, Daithi McKay, made clear that the committee would be prepared to use its power to compel unwilling witnesses to attend – the first time that power would ever have been used by a Stormont committee.

On Thursday morning the committee met in closed session for about 45 minutes before a brief public hearing in which no witnesses were called.

Mr McKay said: “The Public Accounts Committee in the Dail has received evidence from NAMA.

“I also take it as an insult to this committee that Nama officials again have said that they will not be sending anybody to this committee to listen to committee members’ concerns and indeed the concerns of the public here in the North.

“NAMA has had a role in the North, they have a role in the North and in terms of these particular issues they will continue to have a role in the future.

“It is their responsibility to send representatives to this committee to answer questions about how Project Eagle and the NAMA portfolio has been handled.”

The group of Assembly members decided to continue their probe while taking measures to avoid interfering with a criminal investigation being conducted by the UK’s National Crime Agency.

The committee has retired to draw up terms of reference for the investigation.

Mr McKay proposed the committee write to Irish finance minister Michael Noonan asking that he strongly advise NAMA to attend.

SDLP member Dominic Bradley said: “It is regrettable Nama have taken the attitude they have and I believe we should if necessary go to the extent of our powers to make sure that they appear here.”

NAMA sold the portfolio to US investment firm Cerberus last year.

Allegations were levelled in the Dail recently by Independent TD Mick Wallace.

Using parliamentary privilege, Mr Wallace alleged that £7 million in an Isle of Man account linked to the deal was “reportedly earmarked for a Northern Ireland politician or political party”.

A lawyer involved has denied the money was intended for a politician or relative of a politician.

Mr McKay also criticised DFP for failing to send anybody to Thursday’s committee hearing.

The Law Society, which represents lawyers, was due to give evidence about a separate investigation it launched after a managing partner at Tughan’s law firm in Belfast, which was handling fees from the deal, stepped aside.

It attended the committee hearing but was not called after the committee decided to delay hearing evidence to draw up terms of reference.

After the hearing, a spokeswoman for the society said that it has “offered to return to meet with the committee to answer any questions which they might have”.

On Wednesday Mr McKay met representatives of the NCA, which is leading the criminal inquiry into the loan sale controversy.

The agency is concerned its investigation could be undermined.

Mr McKay told the committee: “We are not being shut down, we just need to reframe how we approach this.”

He said the committee’s scrutiny role should not prejudice any investigation or any potential criminal trial.