No Stormont pressure over Project Eagle sale, says Michael Noonan

Finance Minister Michael Noonan has insisted there was no political pressure from Stormont over the controversial sale of Project Eagle.

No Stormont pressure over Project Eagle sale, says Michael Noonan

Finance Minister Michael Noonan has insisted there was no political pressure from Stormont over the controversial sale of Project Eagle.

Anyone looking for evidence of political interference in the sell-off by Nama to US investment fund Cerberus two years ago was going down a cul-de-sac, he said.

"No-one ever attempted to put political pressure on me," Mr Noonan told the Public Accounts Committee in Dublin which is investigating the sale.

Last week, Nama chairman Frank Daly suggested cross-border diplomatic concerns had played a part in the sale.

The toxic assets agency was influenced chiefly by commercial gain but also the political sensitivities involved at the time and "reconciled the two", he said.

Mr Daly also said removing prominent Belfast businessman Frank Cushnahan from his role as a Nama advisor - on the appointment of the Democratic Unionist Party - would have provoked cross-border tensions.

But before the PAC, Mr Noonan said there were legitimate and obvious concerns in Belfast that a fire sale of the properties could damage the Northern Ireland economy.

Nama would always come up during cross-border ministerial meetings, he said.

But he insisted Stormont leaders were "perfectly in order" to express fears about the impact of a sell-off on the construction sector and never sought to influence him.

"Nothing that the Northern Ireland politicians did in my mind contributed to reducing the price," he said, adding he had no commercial role in Nama.

A probe into the so-called Project Eagle sale by the Comptroller and Auditor General found Nama undervalued loans associated with the 800 properties.

It said US investment fund Pimco, which pulled out of an earlier bid, alerted Nama to a "success fee" or fixer payment of €17m-€18m for three parties behind the scenes.

Pimco said the money was to be shared equally by Mr Cushnahan, Brown Rudnick, a US law firm, and a managing partner of Tughans, a Belfast law firm subcontracted to assist in the deal, the report found.

Mr Cushnahan has denied any wrongdoing.

The Project Eagle deal with Cerberus has been dogged by scandal for more than a year, including €7.9m linked to it being found in an Isle of Man bank account.

Former managing partner of Tughans, Ian Coulter, resigned after it was unearthed.

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