Finance minister was “legally barred” from interfering in controversial 'Project Eagle' sale

Michael Noonan is appearing before the Public Accounts Committee today

Finance minister was “legally barred” from interfering in controversial 'Project Eagle' sale

Finance Minister Michael Noonan at the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) in Dublin | Image:

Michael Noonan has told the Public Accounts Committee that he had no influence over NAMA’s controversial ‘Project Eagle’ sale of its Northern Ireland portfolio to US firm Cerberus.

The Auditor General has said the deal potentially lost the Irish taxpayer €220m.

Minister Noonan said the legislation governing NAMA ensures its independence and added that he has “full confidence” both in NAMA and the office of the Auditor General.

He said that even if he had been able to influence the sale, there is “no evidence” that his interference would have been in the interest of the taxpayer.

Noonan rejected suggestions that he should have put a stop to the sale when he was made aware that one of the bidders – American firm PIMCO – had withdrawn from the process, citing a potential conflict of interest.

In March 2014 the American firm informed NAMA that Mr Frank Cushnahan – a member of NAMAs Northern Irish advisory board –was due to receive a “fixers fee” if PIMCO were successful in their bid for the Project Eagle portfolio.

As a result NAMA asked PIMCO to withdraw from the bidding process and informed Minister Noonan of the situation.

NAMA Chairman, Frank Daley informed the Minister that the bidding process would continue with the remaining interested parties.

Minister Noonan told the PAC today that Mr Daley was, “not, in any respect, requesting permission to proceed with the sale nor was he required to.”

“He was notifying me of issues that had arisen and of the Board’s considered decision to proceed.”

He said there was no legal basis for him to direct NAMA to halt the sale or break up the portfolio into smaller lots.

“Suggestions that I, as the Minister for Finance, should have interfered with NAMA’s commercial decision and called a halt to the Board approved sales process fundamentally misunderstands NAMA’s independent mandate and my role as the Minister for Finance,” he said.

Minister Noonan said there was “no political pressure” on NAMA regarding the sale and that he had stressed to his counterparts in the Northern Ireland Executive that NAMA was independent and obliged to run a competitive process with a view to achieving the best possible price for the portfolio.

NAMA chairman Frank Daly has already defended the sale, appearing before the committee last week.

Mr Daley said NAMA did not believe the deal represented a probable loss to the taxpayer. He said the price was agreed upon unanimously by the board of the directors without any external influence.