Michael Noonan feels Project Eagle heat

Public Accounts Committee believes Finance Minister acted inappropriately...

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan will come in for criticism for meeting with US investment firm Cerebrus as the Dail’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) signs off on its verdict on NAMA’s controversial sale of the so-called Project Eagle property portfolio in Northern Ireland.

Leaks of a draft report over the weekend and to political correspondents last night indicate it is likely the PAC will conclude that aspects of the sale of Project Eagle were carried out inappropriately and that the taxpayer could have achieved more from it.

The draft report is understood to conclude that:

  • It was not appropriate for Finance Minister Michael Noonan, nor his and NAMA officials to meet with senior Cerberus officials in the days before the sale.

  • NAMA should have acted sooner to address significant perceived conflicts of interest involving its Northern Ireland Advisory Committee member, Frank Cushnahan.

  • The initial finding of the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) that the deal cost the taxpayer up to €220m was "evidence-based, balanced and reasonable".

  • The whole process was marked by poor record-keeping and an inability on NAMAs’ part to provide sufficient evidence it got good value for money

The PAC’s agreed report will provide the scope that could lead to a Commission of Investigation or even a Commission of Inquiry into the Project Eagle sale.

Jack Horgan-Jones of the Sunday Business Post told Newstalk Breakfast that the PAC was ready to "double down on that extremely critical C&AG report" and bring Noonan and the Department of Finace into the mix.

He said:

"Basically they've said that Michael Noonan, the Finance Minister, acted inappropriately by agreeing to sit down with Cerebrus - that''s the vulture fund who were the eventual winners with Project Eagle.

"He agreed to sit down with them the day before the bid closed. His officials agreed to sit down with them and discuss many matters, but also the bid for Project Eagle, in the days running up to the closure.

Turning to Cushnahan's role, Horgan-Jones said:

"The failure to manage those conflicts of interests relating to Project Eagle was a failing of corporate governance which potentially compromised the sales process...

"It will make extremely uncomfortable reading for NAMA, which has been fighting a rearguard action on Project Eagle for well over a year now."