The chairman of the Dublin parliament’s Public Accounts Committee has alleged that pressure was put on him by the Minister for Finance to limit its investigation into the notorious cut-price sale of state-owned properties in the Six Counties known as ‘Project Eagle’.
Sean Fleming, a Fianna Fail TD for Laois, said the threat of a High Court legal challenge was raised by both by Minister Michael Noonan and the state-run bank tasked with handling the sale, NAMA.
The fire-sale of NAMA assets to a US vulture firm Cerberus has been linked to allegations of corruption against the political leadership at Stormont, particularly the Democratic Unionist Party and its former leader Peter Robinson.
Senior DUP Ministers refused to attend the meetings of the Public Accounts Committee on the matter. The focus subsequently turned to allegations of collusion by the Dublin government, particularly Minister Noonan.
Minister Noonan has denied there was anything improper in his meeting with a Cerberus manager before the deal was concluded, and accused Fleming of making “false allegations” that he had deliberately concealed the meeting.
Mr Fleming said that, besides Noonan, “senior people” in the Dublin parliament had “made it clear that if they were not happy with the report, then they would prevent the report from being issued”.
Last year, the cross-party committee launched an inquiry into the 1.2 billion pound transaction after a critical report by the 26 County Comptroller and Auditor General. The committee concluded that NAMA’s strategy was “seriously deficient” and criticised failures of corporate governance, but failed to call for prosecutions.
In diplomatic language, the committee said the 2014 transaction was ‘not well-designed’ and NAMA’s disgraced former adviser Frank Cushnahan, who infamously received a bag of cash from a property developer in a car park, should have been removed.
The report said 185 million euro of public monies was lost through the sale. It also pointed out that NAMA had already incurred losses on its northern portfolio of 800 million euro from 2010 to 2014, and the state ultimately recovered only 36% of the original value of the loans.
Speaking in the Dublin parliament this week, Mr Fleming said that during a meeting in the parliament’s restaurant in February 2015, Mr Noonan complained that the committee was being unfair to him and said “you know that I can injunct you”.
Sinn Fein finance spokesman Pearse Doherty said it was appalling that Mr Noonan had threatened to injunct the PAC. Mr Fleming said such a threat was wrong.
“When you threaten the chair of the Public Accounts Committee with injuncting him for doing his job, when you threaten the 13 members of the PAC for doing their work and that’s your response,” he said.
“You’ve come in here today with more of the same bluster trying to threaten the Public Accounts Committee. Well I’ll tell you this, we’ll be here long after you’re gone.”
Independent TD Catherine Connolly said Mr Noonan was not fit to be a minister. She said Mr Noonan had misread the conclusions in relation to himself and his officials.
Sinn Fein TD David Cullinane called on Mr Noonan to resign after a “disgraceful contribution”. He said: “He really should hang his head in shame. That he used the opportunity he had not to talk about the deficiencies in the loan sale, not to talk much about the report itself but to attack the chair of the Public Accounts Committee and by extension all of us who are on the Public Accounts Committee.”
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams TD has called for maximum co-operation between the governments and statutory agencies, north and south, in a Commission of Investigation to uncover the full truth surrounding NAMA’s sale of Project Eagle.
“Citizens deserve to know the truth. They must have full confidence in any investigation that takes place,” he said. “To ensure that this happens, the cross-border dimension to the debacle must inform the terms of reference and the scope of any investigation.”