Finance Minister Michael Noonan will likely not be questioned by the high-profile Public Accounts Committee about Nama’s €1.6bn Project Eagle sale.
Mr Noonan, expected to return to work today after a short illness, faces scrutiny about why he failed to stop the deal when it emerged ‘fixers’ fees were linked to bids.
An audit last week found that Project Eagle was sold for £190m less than its potential value, and that the prospect of fixers fees of £15m should have raised alarm bells. Mr Noonan was told about these in March 2014. Other questions include how much pressure was applied on Nama to accelerate deals.
However, Social Protection Minister, Leo Varadkar, told RTE’s The Week in Politics that no minister has ever appeared before PAC. He said all questions could be put to Mr Noonan in the Dail chamber or on media shows.
The comment suggests that Mr Noonan is more than likely not going to face questioning by PAC about the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) report, which last week criticised the Project Eagle deal.
However, PAC chairman Sean Fleming said that he was “hopeful” a formal invitation to Mr Noonan, to appear before the committee, would be accepted. While admitting it was a “precedent”, any information the minister, or other Oireachtas members, had could help PACs inquiries, said Mr Fleming.
Mr Varadkar said he could “categorically” say he was never aware of any political pressure applied to Nama to close deals more quickly. A decision had been made by government for the agency to bring its finish date forward to 2018, but this was because a lot of property was caught up in it. The intention was to get the housing market restarted, said Mr Varadkar.
A spokesman said: “The Minister for Finance will review the invite when he returns to work on Monday and will make a decision on that thereafter. It is not normal practice for a minister to appear before the PAC. The Department of Finance will co-operate fully with the PAC, as the Department always does.”
Meanwhile, a businessman, a former advisor to Nama in the North on the Project Eagle deal, has rejected suggestions that he made money from the sale. Frank Cushnahan said that Nama was aware of his separate role in advising debtors, as outlined by the C&AG.
He added: “At no time did I benefit financially from the sale of the loan book. I have not made one penny from the transaction.”
Mr Cushnahan said he would welcome a full inquiry into Project Eagle.
Senator and former tánaiste Michael McDowell said it needed to be decided if other deals by Nama should be investigated.
Nama was a “strange creature” which had been surrounded by a “razor wire-like fence,” said Mr McDowell, adding that politicians could not interfere with its work, resulting in the secrecy around its activities.
Brian McEnery, chairman of Nama’s audit committee, reiterated the agency’s rejection of the C&AG’s claims.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved