Noonan launches attack on Public Accounts Committee

The Finance Minister accused the committee of conjuring up "unjustified and unfounded criticisms" of him in its report on the sale of 'Project Eagle'

Noonan launches attack on Public Accounts Committee

Image: RollingNews.ie

The Minister for Finance has launched an unprecedented attack on the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee, accusing it of 'conjuring up' unfounded criticism of him.

The accusation set the stage for an evening of heated argument in the Dáil, with the minister and the chair of the committee calling on each other to resign.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairman, Seán Fleming revealed that the minister had earlier threatened him with an injunction over the committee’s report.

The argument revolves around the committee’s investigation into the sale of NAMA’s Project Eagle portfolio of Northern Ireland property loans.

The committee found that NAMA’s sales strategy was “seriously deficient” and found that the state agency incurred losses of €800m between 2010 and 2014 in respect of its Northern Ireland debtors.

The report also said it was “not procedurally appropriate" for the Minister Noonan to meet with US investment firm Cerberus, the night before its successful bid for the portfolio.

The Minister has refuted any suggestion he acted inappropriately and in the Dáil this evening he insisted it was only right for him to meet with a potential investor in Ireland.

“The PAC has conjured up other unjustified and unfounded criticisms of me and my officials,” he said.

He said the criticisms were “leaked to the press presumably by members of the PAC” and were later included in the committee’s report.

“I can only assume the information was leaked in an effort to secure its conclusion in the final report,” he said.

The Minister also said the committee chairman had gone on national radio and accused him of deliberately concealing the Cerberus meeting when giving evidence.

He said he was never asked about the meeting, adding that its “alleged impropriety” was never brought up - even in the weeks after he gave evidence.

“In light of the false allegations made by Deputy Fleming on the day the report was published, I am formally requesting that he clarify his position at the next meeting of the PAC,” he said.

In response, Deputy Fleming accused Minister Noonan of threatening him during a private conversation in the Dáil restaurant:

“You said to me – and I have written it down – ‘I can injunct you,’” he said.

“And for a Minister of Finance to threaten the Public Accounts Committee - that is the most inappropriate thing any Minister of Finance has ever done in my lifetime.

“You should withdraw that threat here and now; you should apologise to the Public Accounts Committee; I would go as far as to say that I would question your fitness for office.”

He said the threat – which he took as being against the 13 members of the committee – was totally inappropriate:

“You have come in here today with more of the same bluster,” he said. “Trying to threaten the Public Accounts Committee.”

“I will tell you this; we will be here long after you are gone.”

Minister Noonan was roundly criticised for his comments by opposition TDs - with Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath calling his speech “disgraceful.”

Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty said it was “appalling” that the minister had threatened the committee with an injunction while Mick Wallace said he was shocked at the minister’s comments.