A former banker who would need more than two hands to count the number of boardroom and advisory posts on his CV, Frank Cushnahan has earned a reputation as one of the most well-connected businessmen in Northern Ireland.
Awarded the CBE for services to the Province’s economy in 2001, the Belfast man’s reach has extended in to the public and private sector and also to the top of government.
Despite his experience and connections, the independent financial and management consultant had maintained a relatively low public profile until this month.
That changed when the NAMA controversy flared and his role as an adviser to the Dublin government’s bad bank, and his latter association with a potential US buyer of NAMA’s northern portfolio, became the focus of parliamentary scrutiny.
Tughans, the Belfast legal firm whose role in the NAMA sale is also being examined, has said Mr Cushnahan occupied a “self-contained” office in its city centre building.
Mr Cushnahan was appointed as an external member of NAMA’s NI committee in 2010, on the recommendation of former Stormont finance minister Sammy Wilson, and resigned three years later, citing his age and family.
While not a household name for the majority of his career, he is known in boardrooms across Northern Ireland and is on familiar terms with senior politicians.
Before retiring from the banking world, the past pupil of St Malachy’s College Belfast held management director positions in two leading financial institutions.
In the political sphere, he is former director of the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM). He has also been chair of OFMDFM’s Audit and Corporate Governance Committee, which attempts to root out fraud; chair of the ministerial advisory panel to Stormont’s Performance and Efficiency Delivery Unit; and also a panel member of its Capital Realisation Taskforce.
He is a past chairman of Belfast Harbour Commissioners, WineFlair (NI) Ltd, and an ex-director of the Northern Ireland Science Park Trust Foundation.
The corporate business expert was a former non-executive member of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive’s audit committee but resigned to become chairman of the now defunct housing maintenance company Red Sky.
Belfast-based Red Sky went bust in 2011 after finding itself at the centre of a Stormont controversy after auditors expressed concern about potential overcharging for work carried out for the Housing Executive.
In an official report in 2012, the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee criticised Mr Cushnahan for involving himself in negotiations between Red Sky and the NIHE over the maintenance contracts dispute, describing his role as “totally unethical”.
Among his other roles, Mr Cushnahan also provided advice to the panel established by the Presbyterian Church to handle the crisis triggered when the Presbyterian Mutual Society (PMS) went bust and was asked by OFMDFM to assist in selecting members for the Maze-Long Kesh Development Corporation.