The Dáil’s money watchdog has called Finance Minister Michael Noonan to give evidence to it regarding the highly controversial €1.6bn sale of Nama’s Northern property empire.
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has also asked whistleblower blogger Jamie Byrson to provide them with a written submission after he made a series of explosive claims concerning the sale of the Project Eagle loan book.
The PAC also decided in a closed session to ask Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness to outline in written form why he had asked to appear before them.
Despite the North’s deputy first minister claiming he been “kept in the dark” over the Nama deal, records released by the finance department show he was part of a conference call regarding the deal with Northern First Minister Peter Robinson and Mr Noonan.
The move comes after a spate of allegations made under Dáil privilege by Independent TD Mick Wallace that up to €45m from the deal was indeed for “fixers”.
The portfolio sold by Nama was valued at €6bn in April 2014, and the agency insists it got the best price available for the loan book. It has accused Mr Wallace of making allegations without supporting evidence.
Nama strongly denies any wrongdoing in the matter and Taoiseach Enda Kenny has refused Mr Wallace’s request to set up an independent inquiry into the affair.
Mr Kenny has urged Mr Wallace to take whatever information he has to the PAC, but the Independent TD says he does not have confidence in the watchdog to have sufficient powers of resources to carry out an investigation properly.
The PAC also called for a thorough investigation into the waste of €35.5m of taxpayers’ money that went on a doomed bid to create a national children’s hospital in North Dublin.
PAC member and Labour TD Joe Costello voiced concern that such the overwhelming chunk of the €40m spent on developing the children’s hospital had to be written off.
Mr Costello described the project as an “unholy mess”, insisting the original plan for a 16-storey building was “just not going to happen”, as it breached the stated development plan for the area.
The Comptroller and Auditor General weighed in with TDs who said that a review should have been held into why the Mater site project failed at such a loss to the taxpayer.
The National Paediatric Hospital Development Board’s project director, John Pollock, said lessons had been learned from the Mater situation with plans for the current St James’s site which is three times the size. The PAC was told An Bord Pleanála will decide on the St James’s project in mid-February and €650m was in reserve to build it.
As it quizzed health department officials, the committee heard that the health service was €325m over budget for the first nine months of this year.
Secretary general of the department, Jim Breslin, said it was hard to cut spending in areas such as acute care, and did not know how big the deficit would be at year’s end. He said the overspend would be impacted by the emergency €135m allocated to deal with waiting lists and the trolley crisis.
Fine Gael TD Áine Collins expressed concern that the department only had four accountants to oversee the annual €12bn budget. Mr Breslin said the HSE was not over-managed compared with similar health services.
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