Verbal fisticuffs make farce of Public Accounts Committee

Leinster House

It was farcical. Just after 12pm, the 13 members of the PAC filed into the AV Room in Leinster House to address the media.

Some decked out in their finest business suits, it was not supposed to go like this.

At the launch of the highly leaked report of the PAC into Nama’s sale of its Northern Ireland loan book in Leinster House, members of the committee turned on each other.

Fine Gael members of the committee, which is meant to be non-partisan, dissented from their colleagues on negative findings over Finance Minister Michael Noonan.

Formally, the committee report found that it was not “procedurally appropriate” for Mr Noonan to meet Cerberus, the ultimate successful bidder for the loan book 24 hours before the closing date for bids.

However, we know this finding was the subject of several divisional votes at the committee last week, the first time in the 94-year history of the PAC that it has not been able to reach unanimity on an issue.

Even when Fine Gael sought to take out John McGuinness during the last Dáil as chairman, the issue never went to a vote.

At the launch yesterday, Fine Gael TD Peter Burke spoke on behalf of his colleagues. 

He said the report’s findings were “unfair” to Mr Noonan, adding the veteran minister had been denied natural justice. He said Mr Noonan was never afforded the right to respond.

Mr Burke said Nama, as an entity, is separate from politics and ultimately the meeting was immaterial as it was a commercial decision for Nama alone to make.

Committee chairman Seán Fleming took a different view. He pointed to Mr Noonan’s appearance last October before the committee and his failure in almost five hours of testimony to mention in any way the meeting with Cerberus.

“We were not aware of the meeting, and at no stage did the minister mention it,” Mr Fleming said from the podium.

Then the heat turned up.

“That’s not accurate, the minister had given documents to the committee and there was a freedom of information request released back in 2015,” said Fine Gael’s Josepha Madigan in defence of her minister.

The very unseemly spat among the Fine Gael and non-Fine Gael members rumbled on as the media sought clarity as to whether they were or were not aware of the Cerberus meeting when Mr Noonan was in before them. Mr Fleming and other members all said they knew nothing.

Ms Madigan clarified that she was just making the point that the FOI request was in the public domain since 2015. Mr Fleming said a posting on the Department of Finance website is not the same thing as being aware of it, and restated his position.

Then Fine Gael’s Alan Farrell said media articles of the draft report which appeared in the Sunday Business Post and the Irish Examiner were damaging and regrettable and caused the historic divisions within the committee.

Mr Burke then said the move to set up a Commission of Inquiry into Project Eagle was questionable as it would be the 15th such Commission or tribunal to be established.

Shane Cassells, the Fianna Fáil TD, said Mr Burke’s comments were “unusual” as a recommendation to establish a commission was unanimously agreed by the committee.



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