Finance Minister Michael Noonan has tonight bowed to pressure and will now appear before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) over Nama's controversial sale of its Northern Ireland loan book, writes Daniel McConnell.
The Irish Examiner understands that Mr Noonan was told by Independent Ministers including Finian McGrath and Shane Ross at Cabinet today that it would be better if he attended the committee and try and “kill off” the controversy.
While ministers agreed that it was Mr Noonan's decision to make, he was left in no doubt as to the feelings of his colleagues, sources have said.
“I have today decided to accept the invitation of the Committee of Public Accounts to assist the Committee in its examination of the C&AG’s Special Report on the National Asset Management Agency’s sale of Project Eagle,” Mr Noonan said in a statement.
“I intend to reply by letter to the Committee of Public Accounts to confirm this and to request assurances from the Committee that the proceedings of the Committee will be conducted in line with its terms of reference,” he added.
Members of the PAC welcomed Mr Noonan's announcement.
Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald TD said his decision to face questions is in the public interest.
"After a weekend of stalling, Minister Noonan has reversed his decision and has agreed to come before the Public Accounts Committee to address concerns regarding the sale of NAMA's northern loan-book. I welcome his decision as it is, without question, in the public interest that he explain why he failed to suspend to sale when he became aware of the operation of fixer fees,” she said.
"He must explain why he, as Minister for Finance, failed to protect the interests of the citizens of this state. Minister Noonan now needs to open the books, assist the PAC inquiry, and not engage in further prevarication,” she added.
Last week, Nama rejected a report which says that it could have sold loans based in Northern Ireland for more than £1.32 billion.
The long-awaited Comptroller and Auditor General’s (C&AG) report into the sale of Project Eagle was published today, saying that the agency could have made more than that.
The report found that the State lost around £190 million (€220 million).
The C&AG report found that Nama had over-discounted the loans, giving 10-15% discounts where 5.5% would be more applicable. It added that NAMA did not keep an “adequate record of key decisions and events even though the sales process deviated from standard”.