THE momentum gathering demands for a commission of inquiry into the sale Nama’s €1.6bn Northern Ireland loan book seems to have gathered an undeniable force.
All of the usual criteria are in place and, despite our sorry, credibility-destroying history, stretching across a litany of public inquiries, the Nama allegations demand another.
No action has been taken on the 2011 findings of the Moriarty Tribunal that payments were made to secure a state phone licence; the only person brought before a judge following the explosive beef tribunal was a journalist who first reported abuses in the sector. We are, it seems, far better at asking questions than acting decisively on uncomfortable answers. Sometimes we are not even good at facing up to challenging questions as the dismissive, nothing-to-see-here responses to Deputy Mick Wallace’s early Dáil questions on Nama’s Northern adventures show. Concessions of recent days and weeks have vindicated his campaign, one that, like an unwanted litter of unloved mongrel pups, might have been drowned at birth but for his persistence. Mr Wallace’s record is not without blemish but in this instance he has indeed done the State some service.
Now, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has joined the fray and conceded that the affair “stinks to high heaven”. Sinn Féin suggest a “tipping point” has been reached in the saga. A Department of Finance source has, in the opaque, semi-detached language of bureaucracy, conceded that there is “merit” in the idea of a commission. This view is shared by Nama which has made a formal complaint to the Garda that the Belfast businessman Frank Cushnahan, formerly a member of its Northern Ireland advisory board, may be guilty of corruption on both sides of the border. That complaint was lodged last Friday and came as a report by the Irish Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) into the Nama’s role in Project Eagle — the sale of its Northern multi-million property portfolio — found “shortcomings” and “irregularities” in the process. The C&AG report, which has been given to Finance Minister Michael Noonan, and will be shared with the Cabinet on Wednesday, suggests that “hundreds of millions of euros” more might have been realised on behalf of taxpayers had things been done more conventionally. An already disastrously expensive intervention may have been made even more draining if allegations stand up to scrutiny. Nama has also written to Britain’s National Crime Agency which has opened a file on Mr Cushnahan’s role in the sale which was highlighted in less than flattering ways by a BBC Spotlight programme last week.
Against this background it is hard to see how an investigation, one supported by both governments, can be avoided. Sadly, even if everyone under scrutiny is innocent until shown to be otherwise, another inquiry can only be seen as a symptom of a far bigger malaise. Our inability to act on tribunals’ findings, our tolerance of less than optimal standards in these matters, have all but destroyed our confidence in these official masked balls. An inquiry is just the first step, our response to any findings of wrongdoing is the real issue.
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