Michael Noonan denies he told Nama to sell loans

Finance Minister Michael Noonan has denied “directing” Nama to quickly sell-off its Project Eagle loans in a move which allegedly lost the State €220m, despite admitting to seeking and giving “advice” on the highly controversial deal.

Michael Noonan denies he told Nama to sell loans

Mr Noonan outlined the position during a five-hour meeting in which he blamed the ECB for any pressure to sell and said it was not within his powers to scrap the sale when he learned a Nama adviser stood to benefit.

Speaking during a lengthy cross-party Dáil public accounts committee meeting, Mr Noonan repeatedly said “no political pressure” was placed on Nama when the deal was agreed in 2014.

However, facing repeated questions, he admitted ECB pressure meant it was made clear distressed loans had to be sold “expeditiously” in order to guarantee Ireland’s return to accessing the international markets.

“The pressure wasn’t political, the pressure was from the ECB and the rating agencies.

“They wanted Nama to dispose of assets expeditiously,” he told Social Democrat Catherine Murphy after Labour’s Alan Kelly had accused him of failing to explain a “political necessity” to allow a “fire sale” of the loans.

Facing further questions from Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane, Mr Noonan again stressed no politician told Nama to sign off on the highly controversial deal before adding “rating agencies constantly kept referencing Nama loans” as a hurdle to Ireland returning to the international markets.

“The only thing that could redeem them was the sale of assets. But I didn’t direct them [Nama], I gave advice,” he said.

The issue of whether Mr Noonan advised Nama to accelerate the Project Eagle in early 2014 or if he directed the State property group to do so was central to yesterday’s discussion as under the Nama Act legislation the finance minister is barred from interfering in any commercial decision.

It would also mean the Department of Finance is partially responsible for an alleged €220m loss to the taxpayer claimed in last month’s Comptroller and Auditor General report.

While he repeatedly highlighted interference restrictions yesterday, the point was raised that ECB pressure effectively caused political intervention, with Independent Catherine Martin last night claiming taxpayers suffered because of a “get out of Northern Ireland at all costs” Government approach.

It has previously emerged Mr Noonan held a conference call with then Northern Ireland first minister Peter Robinson and deputy first minister Martin McGuinness on the Pimco deal in January 2014 before fixers’ fee allegations emerged.

While saying he was made aware of the claims against ex-Nama adviser Frank Cushnahan, he said the alleged fees were “as far as Nama was concerned not relevant” as they related to Pimco and not Nama.

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