Michael Noonan tells PAC 'there was no political pressure on NAMA' over Project Eagle

Finance Minister Michael Noonan has insisted he did not put pressure on NAMA to sell the multi-billion euro Project Eagle property bundle in 2014, writes Fiachra O Cionnaith of the Irish Examiner.

Michael Noonan tells PAC 'there was no political pressure on NAMA' over Project Eagle

Finance Minister Michael Noonan has insisted he did not put pressure on NAMA to sell the multi-billion euro Project Eagle property bundle in 2014, writes Fiachra O Cionnaith of the Irish Examiner.

The senior cabinet member issues the denial at the start of his Dáil public public accounts committee grilling on the issue today, adding any suggestion he should have cancelled the deal after being informed of fixers fee claims "fundamentally misinterprets" his role.

In an opening statement to the cross-party group, Mr Noonan said he at all times acted appropriately throughout the sale.

Despite claims to the contrary, he insisted "no pressure" was ever placed on NAMA officials to sell Project Eagle in a highly controversial bundle sale that is now the subject of claims it lost the State €220m.

"The fact that I, and my counterparts in the North, were cognisant of a potential sale and mindful of the potential impact on the Northern Ireland economy should not be surprising.

"However, this should not be misconstrued as political pressure on NAMA.

"As has been pointed out by the NAMA Chairman, there was no political pressure on NAMA regarding this sale.

"Nor was there any divergence of views expressed to me by any party within the Northern Ireland Executive regarding NAMA and a potential sale of its Northern Ireland loan portfolio.

"From my perspective as Minister for Finance since March 2011 I can categorically assure the Committee that this is the case," Mr Noonan said.

The Finance Minister also dismissed the insistence of opposition TDs he should have immediately halted the Project Eagle deal when he was informed of issues relating to alleged fixers fees for then Nama Northern Ireland advisory Frank Cushnahan and Pimco, which subsequently left the deal.

"I appreciated the courtesy of being informed by the chairman as this was a potentially sensitive issue.

"Suggestions that I, as the Minister for Finance, should have interfered with NAMA’s commercial decision and called a halt to the Board approved sales process fundamentally misunderstands NAMA’s independent mandate and my role as the Minister for Finance," he said, adding there "was no legal basis" for him to stop the deal.

Mr Noonan pointedly quoted a number of opposition TDs - including PAC chair Sean Fleming - who previously said no political interference in NAMA should ever occur and that in his view this means they should not believe he has any questions to answer.

While acknowledging the significant controversy over the fact the C&AG and NAMA - two State bodies - are in conflict over the value dry Project Eagle sale, Mr Noonan said he continues to have complete faith in both groups.

Meanwhile, PAC chair and Fianna Fáil TD Sean Fleming has confirmed the PAC's report into the controversy will conclude by mid-November and be published in December.

In opening comments, Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald called for Pimco to be invited for questioning by the cross-party group.

The meeting is expected to conclude just after 6pm.

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