Finance Minister Michael Noonan has agreed to attend a crunch public grilling over the Nama Project Eagle deal after days of mounting pressure to face questions.
After the public accounts committee said it would “pencil him in” for October 6, and a Cabinet colleague publicly said he should attend, Mr Noonan said he is now willing to face questions on the matter.
However, in a pointed reference to Government concerns the grilling may become party political and previous claims that the PAC has overstretched its remit, Mr Noonan said he wants “assurances” that any questioning will adhere to existing committee rules.
This means any discussion of the merits of a Government policy and its objectives will be strictly off limits, potentially preventing questions over Project Eagle.
“I have decided to accept the invitation of the committee of public accounts to assist in its examination of the Comptroller & Auditor General’s special report on Nama’s sale of Project Eagle,” said Mr Noonan.
“I intend to reply by letter to the committee to confirm this and to request assurances that the proceedings of the committee will be conducted in line with its terms of reference.”
Mr Noonan had faced increasing pressure to attend the PAC meeting. Despite Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar saying on Sunday there was no precedent for a minister to be grilled by the PAC, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said there was no other option.
Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath said yesterday that in his personal view, Mr Noonan should attend due to the scale of the issues involved. The Independent Alliance TD is understood to have raised the matter at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting.
While a Government spokesperson last night said Mr Noonan had brought the matter up himself during the meeting, there was a “consensus” among ministers that the Limerick TD must now face questioning.
Before Mr Noonan’s statement last night, PAC chair and Fianna Fáil TD Sean Fleming had said the group would “pencil him in” to appear before it on October 6, regardless of whether he agreed to attend.
Mr Fleming also said there was precedent for a sitting minister to attend the PAC — the then public expenditure minister Brendan Howlin had attended in 2012, to discuss workers’ pay.
Meanwhile, Taoiseach Enda Kenny yesterday briefed the Cabinet on his discussions with opposition leaders last week concerning a State investigation into Project Eagle.
While he is awaiting feedback from the opposition, due this week, it is understood there is no appetite within Government to extend the investigation beyond Project Eagle.
Separately, yesterday’s Cabinet meeting is also believed to have seen Mr McGrath question his Independent Alliance colleague, Transport Minister Shane Ross, on his response to the escalating Dublin Bus strike.
An extension to the Fennelly commission’s work into the recording of phone calls at Garda stations was also agreed after Mr Kenny sought a new deadline of Christmas due to the scale of records involved.
Ministers also signed off on an independent review of air traffic congestion at Dublin Airport — a situation which may lead to the construction of a third terminal.
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