Taoiseach defends Noonan over 'Project Eagle' findings

The Public Accounts Committee found that NAMA incurred losses totaling €800 million in respect of its Northern Ireland loan portfolio between 2010 and 2014

Taoiseach defends Noonan over 'Project Eagle' findings

Taoiseach Enda Kenny holds a joint press conference with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh on the second day of his visit to the US | Image: Niall Carson/PA Wire/PA Images

The Taoiseach has rejected the findings of an Oireachtas report which criticises the conduct of the Minister for Finance.

The Public Accounts Committee has found it was "not procedurally appropriate" for Finance Minister Michael Noonan to meet with a large US investment firm the night before it made a successful bid for NAMA's 'Project Eagle' portfolio of Northern Ireland property loans.

The report found that NAMA incurred losses of €185m on the sale - with recorded losses totaling €800 million in respect of its entire Northern Ireland loan portfolio between 2010 and 2014 

The report is to be debated in the Dáil next week – with the main parties reportedly in agreement that a commission of investigation should be established.

Committee chairman Sean Fleming called the sales strategy pursued by NAMA “seriously deficient” and said the agency has been, “unable to demonstrate that it got value for money for the Irish State in relation to the price achieved."

The Minister for Finance

The report found that the meeting between Michael Noonan and senior representatives of investment firm, Cerberus the day before the closing date for bids on the portfolio “could have given the perception that Cerberus was benefiting from preferential treatment.”

Members of the committee also voiced concerns that Minister Noonan had failed to mention the meeting when giving evidence on the matter in October.

Speaking from the US this afternoon the Taoiseach Enda Kenny rejected the findings against Minister Noonan and insisted he had conducted properly at all times.

“Michael Noonan has acted entirely appropriately in this matter,” he said. “He went before the committee in a voluntary capacity; he spent five hours in front of the committee”

“He was asked no question about this and clearly his own letter, which was included in the report, points out the distinction between the role of the Minister for Finance and the commercial activities of NAMA.”

The text of a letter sent to the committee by Minister Noonan last month in which he argued that he had not been given due process or the right to respond to the claims against him was included in the report.

Entirely appropriate

Immediately on the publication of the report yesterday Minister Noonan refuted “any suggestion that I or my officials acted inappropriately in meeting with Cerberus.”

“It is entirely appropriate that I as Minister for Finance would meet with the Chairman of a major international investment fund, a former US Secretary of the Treasury no less, at his request whilst he was in Dublin on business,” he said. “This is part of the job of a Minister for Finance."

“At no point was I or my officials invited to discuss this meeting at the PAC nor was the alleged impropriety of this meeting raised in follow-up correspondence.” 

Mr Kenny said Minister Noonan had his full support, despite question marks over his alleged role in two other scandals that are now the subject of state inquiries – the sale of SiteServ and the handling of the ‘Grace’ case.

He said there is "certainly not" any reason for him to stand aside from his role.

“Michael Noonan has acted entirely appropriately here and I don’t want to comment on the activities of the Public Accounts Committee except to say that this is a disputed report,” he said.

Cross border investigation

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams has insisted that “maximum cooperation” between governments and agencies on both sides of the border will be essential in uncovering the truth surround the sale of Project Eagle.

"Citizens deserve to know the truth. They must have full confidence in any investigation that takes place,” he said.

"To ensure that this happens, the cross-border dimension to the debacle must inform the terms of reference and the scope of any investigation."