Government accused of using Dáil committees as 'patsies'

Government has been accused of using a powerful Dáil committees as "patsies" after it emerged two back-room staff working on the cross-party group's Project Eagle report were secretly taken off the project, causing a two month delay in its work, writes Fiachra Ó'Cionnaith

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald and unaligned Independent TD Catherine Connolly made the claim 24 hours after Finance Minister Michael Noonan was forced to deny he is "rowing back" on a commission of investigation into the scandal.

Under plans agreed between all Dáil parties last autumn, Taoiseach Enda Kenny committed to setting up a commission of investigation into serious financial concerns surrounding NAMA's Northern Ireland Project Eagle deal.

The concerns were specifically focussed on alleged corruption surrounding the multi-billion euro deal, and the Comptroller and Auditor General's conclusion last autumn that taxpayers lost €220m due to the sale.

Crucially, they also include questions on whether the Department of Finance encouraged NAMA to organise quick-fire sales at the behest of the EU during the economic crash.

Before the promised commission of investigation would begin, Mr Kenny said the Dáil's public accounts committee should firstly conduct a scoping exercise to clarify the terms of reference for the inquiry.

However, speaking in the Dáil on Wednesday Mr Noonan questioned the need for an investigation, saying NAMA has already answered 2,000 PAC questions without any proof as yet a wide-ranging inquiry is needed.

Michael Noonan

Separately, backbench Fine Gael TD John Deasy claimed the investigation was only sought after "fabricated" leaks to the media.

Addressing the issue during yesterday's PAC meeting, committee chair and Fianna Fáil TD Sean Fleming said a secretariat overview of the PAC's evidence will be concluded next week and that the committee's report - which is crucial to deciding the scale and scope of the promised commission of investigation - will be published later this month.

However, after confirming the report - which was due before Christmas - has been delayed because two backroom officials have been taken off the project and transferred to the water committee, opposition TDs said the development means they are being treated like "patsies".

"There is messing, political messing going on," Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said.

"If the Taoiseach or anybody else is using this as a pretext to delay a commitment they already entered into, I personally am not prepared to be used in that way. I find it utterly unacceptable.

"We're being treated like patsies, I'm certainly not prepared to be part of that," she said.

Mary Lou McDonald

The view was repeated by unaligned Independent Catherine Connolly and Labour TD Alan Kelly, who raised concerns over who decided to remove the staff and why PAC members were not informed.

However, Fine Gael TD Josepha Madigan said it is "outrageous" to suggest Mr Kenny or Government are responsible for the staff removal.

The PAC has now agreed to write an introductory page in its Project Eagle report confirming it was only asked to conduct a scoping exercise for the promised commission of investigation, which regardless of its findings should still occur.

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