Did NAMA work?

Business editor Vincent Wall reflects as the Agency takes on new challenges...

Did NAMA work?

Cian Ginty, Flickr

Yes, there may have been a more subtle, less blunt instrument for dealing with the property and insolvency fall-outs of, proportionately, one of the most severe banking crises in world history, if the State had had more time and resources to think things through.

Yes, given the speed at which it was established and the relatively small size of the recruitment pool, it had to rely to a large degree on financial and property professionals many of whom had participated in the lending frenzy prior to the crash and some of whom have returned to lucrative private sector positions in both industries.

Yes, it has taken and executed most of its decisions in relative secrecy (here, in Northern Ireland and further afield) and has sometimes been economical with the detail in subsequent accounts to stakeholders.

Yes, it can be accused of selling many of its most valuable property assets in its early years; assets for which it could have reaped a higher return for taxpayers if it had delayed those decisions.

Yes, it can be accused of treating some of its debtors, large and small in a brusque and perhaps inequitable fashion and has been the subject of much threatened and ongoing litigation.

Yes, it is possible that some of those working for it may have been indiscreet and perhaps more maliciously motivated in how they used sensitive commercial information that came their way, though there is evidence of only one episode of criminal behaviour and that has led to a court conviction.

Yes, it can be accused of favouring foreign-owned, cash-rich so-called vulture funds when selling unnecessarily large portfolios of indebted assets and associated loans at very significant discounts.

Yes, it has paid most, if not all, of those who have worked for it very well, particularly in its early years.

Yes, it will almost inevitably find it difficult to sell the rump of properties it’s ultimately left with at what might be seen as acceptable prices

And yes, there are myriads of other reasons to direct criticism at NAMA and the way it has operated to date.

But, given the scale of the crisis it inherited; the speed with which it was established; the legislative constraints within which it worked; the need for confidentiality in a very small market populated by wounded developers and sometimes huge litigious egos; and the need to generate quick funds flow to reduce bank indebtedness, it has to be said the agency, its board, management and staff have done a good job for the State and looks set to deliver a surplus of more than €3bn for taxpayers by the end of 2018.

That’s why it’s now developing docklands and is charged with funding and managing the construction of 20,000 residential units over the next five years.

That’s why, intriguingly, the Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan confirmed yesterday he’s been giving some thought to further additional roles for the Agency beyond 2020.

Such an outcome wouldn’t necessarily please everyone, and perhaps we should be winding down such an emergency vehicle by then, but if it’s still the only game in town to solve particular challenges then its broad track record can’t be quibbled with...