Independent TD Mick Wallace is correct in saying that the problems related to Nama have not gone away.
He is on less secure ground by insisting that an independent Commission of Investigation, headed by foreign experts, is needed to ascertain whether the maximum return has been achieved for the Irish taxpayer in all of Nama’s transactions to date.
We already have a banking inquiry. We even have an inquiry into the banking inquiry. Do we need yet another inquiry? In any event, there are already a number of investigations under way into Nama.
The PSNI has launched a criminal investigation regarding concerns over the sale of Nama’s Northern Ireland property loans amid the recent claims made by Mr Wallace under Dáil privilege about its portfolio known as Project Eagle.
Mr Wallace claimed £7m (€10.04m) in funding ended up in an Isle of Man account, “reportedly earmarked for a Northern Ireland politician”.
The PSNI took the allegations very seriously, launching an immediate criminal investigation. Stormont’s finance committee and the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee are also examining Mr Wallace’s allegations about Project Eagle.
In fact, PAC is to widen its probe amid concerns that assets in the controversial €5.7bn portfolio have risen in value by as much as 20% since they were sold. In other words, it will try to ascertain whether the Irish taxpayer got a raw deal in the loans book sale.
The Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation is also to carry out inquiries to test the veracity of allegations of corruption and bribery at Nama made by Mr Wallace, who claims that a construction company was asked by a Nama official to make two payments of €15,000 each “in a bag” to exit the agency.
It is not as if we don’t have enough examinations, investigations and inquiries already under way into the operation of Nama. What we really need is greater transparency into the workings of an institution that is as secretive as the Vatican Bank.
This is important in light of Nama’s next major loans disposal, known as Project Arrow, with associated debt estimated at €8.4bn.
Project Arrow will be the largest loan portfolio sale by Nama in its short history. It comprises 90% of Irish property, half of it residential and the danger is that, because of this, we could see many small Irish businesses driven to the wall and many Irish homeowners driven up the wall as the new owners ruthlessly chase down the loans.
Deputy Wallace is unrealistic in expecting Finance Minister Michael Noonan to suspend the sale, pending a commission of investigation, but he is right to be concerned about Project Arrow. Considering that most of the portfolio’s loans are non-performing, the likelihood is that it will be a fire sale, with loans sold off for a fraction of their value.
If that happens, the winner will not be the taxpayer or Irish businesses or homeowners involved but US vulture funds.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved