Michael Noonan faces PAC over Project Eagle deal

Finance Minister Michael Noonan will issue a staunch defence of any actions he took relating to the controversial Project Eagle deal when he attends a cross-party grilling today.

Michael Noonan faces PAC over Project Eagle deal

Mr Noonan will make the unusual step of appearing before the Dáil public accounts committee as the group continues its scoping exercise into allegations the State lost €220m as part of the property sale.

While Mr Noonan cannot be asked about any issues relating to government policy which could have impacted on the decision to sell Nama’s Northern Irish property portfolio in one bundle in 2014, he is expected to be asked about key moments surrounding the deal.

These will include a January 2014 conference call between the Finance Minister, then Northern Ireland first minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson, and Sinn Féin’s Northern Ireland deputy first minister Martin McGuinness during which the controversial sale was discussed.

During this conference call, the potential sale of the multi-billion euro property bundle to US firm Pimco was discussed, including outline details of a proposed memorandum of understanding.

Pimco eventually dropped out of the deal after disputed claims emerged that then Nama Northern Ireland advisory board member Frank Cushnahan stood to benefit.

While Mr Cushnahan denies the allegation, during a meeting with the PAC last week, Nama chairman Frank Daly confirmed the State firm subsequently asked Pimco to leave the process. Pimco says it voluntarily withdrew.

Today’s meeting is also expected to see Mr Noonan challenged on whether government policy to sell assets quickly in late 2013 and early 2014 contributed to the Project Eagle deal.

However, he is likely to inform PAC members that he cannot answer these questions as they relate specifically to government policy, and as such are not within the PAC’s remit of financial control.

Mr Noonan’s PAC appearance comes after he last month faced significant pressure from cabinet members to attend due to the controversial claims by an independent report by Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy that the Project Eagle deal cost the State €220m.

The PAC is currently examining the matter before a State investigation is likely to be is set up to examine the controversy, as well as probes in Northern Ireland, Britain and the US.

Meanwhile, despite being formally asked to attend a subsequent PAC grilling on the same matter more than two weeks ago, former Northern Ireland first minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson has yet to respond in any way to the Dáil group.

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