IT WAS the first act in the West Side Story for a NAMA generation – two rival gangs consolidating in urban decay.
Culturally they were polar opposites, each believed they inherited the right to a patriotic dream and the chance to lead the rescue of a stricken economy.
With their ideologies set down and supporters on-side they faced off for the first time in the boxed-in basement of Leinster House 2000.
They knew only one ideology could come out triumphant and the trash talking commenced.
Centre stage was Finance Minister Brian Lenihan flanked by the boss of NAMA Brendan McDonagh, the brains from the Department of Finance, Kevin Cardiff and, for the first time, the man they call The Valuer, John Mulcahy.
He described himself as “a bear”. It will be his job to play hardball with banks and developers to make sure they pay the proper price for their sins.
This crew was backed by 12 Fianna Fáil deputies and senators cheerleading their man’s NAMA plan.
Staring across the committee room floor were 10 members of the Opposition and three independents.
All were primed and eager after a summer spent sharpening their blades.
The Good Bank-Bad Bank band within Fine Gael sent nine men to the fight. Their leader for the day, Richard Bruton, told the minister to quit posturing and introducing dubious allays in the European Central Bank and the IMF.
The minister was only willing to fight fake battles which were of his own making and needed to front up, he said. “He is trying to create a straw man that he proceeds to knock down.”
Joan Burton of the Labour Party, on her own for most of the day, talked up her street cred’.
She had come straight from a summer witnessing “NAMA Land” at first hand and knew what was at stake.
“NAMA Land is a place where there are housing estates that are built and almost finished but there is nobody to buy them,” she said.
The battered and beleagured Green Party was the only political franchise absent, probably unable to stomach the intense hostilities.
This was no time for pleasantries.
Ties were optional. “The Look” was paramount.
Mutinous John McGuinness sat slick and suntanned behind the minister.
Senator Feargal Quinn was braced and limping from an earlier battle.
Rules of engagement were set down early. Heavy hitters got their blows in first.
Every fighter had to declare any interest in the outcome.
Some had bank shares, others had property – the minister and Burton both had a mortgage on their family home.
There was nowhere to hide.
As the afternoon drifted into evening each, member took turns to strut their stuff.
From the ranks of the Soldiers of Destiny they came out to thank their minister, praise his work and back his plan.
Frank Fahey asked for answers to questions the NAMA crew were delighted to answer. Senator Shane Ross suggested his questions tee-ed up the minister’s arguments so neatly they were probably a plant.
Fine Gael demanded time and time again for an explanation of how money would begin to flow in a NAMA world.
But they had to retired without a satisfactory response.
The first act ended with the minister taking his leave to prepare for another day’s fight.
It will be another eight weeks of hostilities before the bloodletting is complete and the story reveals if there are any winners or will the entire house fall.
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