Dispute over what Sinn Féin knew of Nama sale

Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has been accused of “wilfully ignoring” Nama Project Eagle deal concerns before it happened, in order to be able to blame the rival DUP for the “politically toxic” scandal.

Martin McGuinness

The allegation was made during a Dáil meeting in which the Sinn Féin politician said ex-DUP leader Peter Robinson deliberately “excluded” him from the process.

He claimed that Finance Minister Michael Noonan may have known about serious issues before the deal was struck.

Speaking yesterday to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Mr McGuinness denied any knowledge of the serious financial and legal issues central to what happened before the scandal emerged last year.

Responding to questions from Fine Gael’s Alan Farrell, he said the relationship between Sinn Féin and the DUP was “appalling” at the time because of a previous row over the Maze prison site.

Mr Farrell said he found it hard to believe Mr McGuinness was unaware of the Project Eagle deal given the fact his adviser Dara O Hagan received a memo on the issue in January 2014.

However, Mr McGuinness repeated his view the DUP played all matters “very close to their chest” and there had been a “gross act of bad faith” from Mr Robinson and then DUP finance minister Sammy Wilson.

Mr McGuinness said he had “absolutely no knowledge” of a letter of intent from Pimco seeking to buy the Project Eagle portfolio, which has come under scrutiny due to potential tender law breaches and the role of Nama’s Northern Ireland committee adviser Frank Cushnahan’s fees issues. Further controversy over funds in offshore accounts “was as much a surprise to me as anyone else”.

He added meetings between Mr Robinson and Pimco, Cerberus, and former US vice-president Dan Quayle took place without his knowledge, and that on March 24, 2014, Mr Robinson met with Cerberus 90 minutes before a jobs’ launch with Mr McGuinness which he was not aware of.

Mr McGuinness further rejected claims a conference call between him, Mr Robinson, and Mr Noonan in January 2014 showed he was aware of the imminent deal, and said minutes of the meeting failed to detail the concerns he allegedly raised.

However, Labour TD Alan Kelly said the remarks are “not believable” and the reality was Sinn Féin was “wilfully ignoring” the issue because it believed the “politically toxic” problem would damage the DUP.

The claim was denied by McGuinness who accused the Tipperary TD of “playing to the cameras” to which Mr Kelly said: “I think it’s the other way around.”

Mr Guinness also suggested Mr Noonan may have known about Project Eagle deal concerns before the sale occurred.

Meanwhile, PAC chair Seán Fleming confirmed the committee has sent an invitation to attend, to Mr Robinson’s home address, after the former DUP leader claimed he was unaware of calls for him to appear.

The PAC will today hear from Cerberus, the firm which ultimately bought the Project Eagle portfolio, along with former Nama officials.

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