Minister Noonan Dáil Statement on the Establishment of a Commission of Investigation into NAMA
Wednesday, 1st February 2017
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I welcome the opportunity to again speak on this matter.
In September of last year, the Comptroller and Auditor General published a value for money report on the Project Eagle sales process. As we know, while some findings were accepted, there were clear differences of opinion regarding a number of that report’s findings.
Since its publication, the Public Accounts Committee, chaired by Deputy Fleming, has spent a number of months and has held numerous public sessions to discuss the report. A large number of parties have assisted the PAC with this work including senior members of the NAMA executive team, past and current board members of NAMA, Lazard - NAMA’s financial adviser, Cerberus - the purchaser of the portfolio, myself and officials from the Department of Finance, the Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister, as well as the C&AG and his officials. Also, the PAC has received extensive documentation in relation to the transaction from NAMA and other parties including the Department of Finance.
In fact, NAMA have now appeared before the PAC to answer questions relating to Project Eagle on eight separate occasions. NAMA estimates that it has responded to almost 2,000 oral questions during those appearances, and has provided written responses to the PAC to an additional 100 questions.
We have also witnessed a similar extensive examination of aspects of the transaction by the Northern Ireland assembly involving significant amounts of documentary evidence and witness testimony.
All of this evidence – hundreds of hours of witness testimony and thousands of pages of documentary evidence - is publicly available on the internet to anyone interested.
I would encourage those considering a Commission of Investigation into NAMA’s activities to study this evidence if they have not already done so. NAMA has answered every question that has been put to it by the C&AG and the PAC. Yes, there are differences of opinion and there are findings on which all agree.
The Public Accounts Committee will soon publish its findings and I look forward to reading that report.
While I will await the PAC’s report, based on the evidence, I also accept that the parties involved are entitled to hold differing opinions on matters of commercial judgement and that this does not imply wrongdoing by any party.
Speaking today, I do not believe we can currently progress a Commission of Investigation, without first taking the views of the PAC into account.
Criminal Investigations are ongoing
I also wish to comment on ongoing criminal investigations.
It has been suggested, by some, that arrests associated with the UK NCA investigation imply wrongdoing on the part of NAMA. On the contrary, NAMA advise that the UK NCA has confirmed that no aspect of the Agency’s activities are under investigation.
Deputy Wallace has stated previously that he has brought important information to the attention of the Gardaí. We should commend him for doing so if he believes such action is warranted. Indeed, anyone who believes they have such information should bring that information to the Gardaí and allow them to assess and, if necessary, investigate. After all, it is the role of the Gardaí to determine if there are grounds for a criminal investigation in this State. I have no information such an investigation is being pursued by the Gardaí.
I am also aware that the US Securities and Exchange Commission and the FBI has examined elements of the transaction. Should those agencies wish to engage with NAMA, NAMA has made it clear it is more than willing to do so.
Through all of this, I want to be clear that the allegations of wrong-doing that have been made against particular individuals, and that are being criminally investigated are a cause of concern. These concerns will remain until investigations are concluded and their findings are made known.
Standing here today, these investigations have not concluded and we do not know their findings.
This Government, and I hope this House, supports each of these investigations and stands ready to assist in any way that is helpful.
Calls to investigate matters other than Project Eagle / to change NAMA’s mandate
Throughout the opposition statements today, there may well be calls for other NAMA transactions to be reviewed, either through a Commission of Investigation or otherwise.
As we know, the Comptroller & Auditor General reviews the accounts and operations of NAMA. As Deputies should already be aware, the C&AG is currently reviewing and assessing a broad sample of approximately 50 NAMA transactions from a value for money perspective under Section 226 of the NAMA Act.
I am sure Members will agree, we are looking forward to receiving the C&AG’s Section 226 report and expect it to be thorough.
I have little doubt that the calls to change NAMA’s mandate or even halt NAMA’s activities will continue.
A change of mandate is outside the scope of a Commission of Investigation but I will attempt to summarise the position as, unfortunately, public discourse rarely captures what the Agency can and cannot do.
I want to be very clear on this – NAMA’s original mandate remains in place, and will remain in place until it is fully wound down. NAMA has the independence to decide on the most appropriate strategies for achieving that mandate.
In any market, but particularly in an open and transparent market such as Ireland, a move to constrain NAMA’s activities would be commercially discriminatory and would irreparably damage our international reputation as a secure and transparent place to do business.
Think of the unfinished housing estates that have been brought to completion, the dilapidated hotels that have been renovated and brought back into the market and the ugly skeletons of abandoned office and apartment developments that have been completed. This has only been accomplished through the significant investment in these assets and our economy by the purchasers of NAMA, IBRC and the bank’s loan and asset sales.
It is as important today as it ever was that Ireland remains open to investment capital for the development of our economy across the risk spectrum of investment opportunities.
I am not in a position to direct NAMA on issues that are within the remit of the NAMA Board in the context of its mandate.
NAMA expects to have repaid all of its €30.2 billion of Senior Debt by the end of this year and to ultimately deliver a surplus of €2.3bn. We must step back and realise what an achievement this will be. Many doubted whether NAMA could ever repay its debts, let alone generate a profit of up to €2.3bn, as is currently expected. And make no mistake, this surplus is a profit in every sense and far exceeds our expectations when NAMA was established.
Many commentators attempt to disparage NAMA’s achievements, referring to the original amount borrowed as the “value” of the loans when reporting on loan sales and claiming that selling loans for less than the original borrowed amount constitutes a loss by NAMA. This could not be further from the truth.
NAMA paid the Irish banks €31.8 billion for loans valued at €26.2 billion. That purchase actually included an overpayment of €5.6 billion of state aid in the form of additional capital for our failing banks. Unfortunately, in the context of the financial crisis, the fact that the amount owed on those loans was €74 billion really has no direct bearing on their value. The chance of recovering €74 billion on these loans was lost in the financial crisis.
Submissions to the Taoiseach on Commission of Investigation and agreement in principle
I am well aware that last year the Taoiseach invited, received and discussed submissions, from party leaders on this matter and that, in principle, there was agreement to progress a Commission of Investigation, if required.
Just last week, the Taoiseach when referring to the report to be produced by the PAC stated in the Dáil that “it is sensible to wait to receive that report and to consider its findings” before returning to the Commission of Investigation proposal. The Taoiseach went on to comment on the “significant limitations on the work of the commission given the location of potential witnesses and documentation outside the jurisdiction, ongoing criminal investigations and the likely cost of such a commission of investigation”. These limitations may ultimately be time-bound but they cannot be ignored today and should be taken into account when considering possible terms of reference.
These limitations do not arise with respect to NAMA providing evidence because NAMA is already accountable for its operations under the NAMA Act. As I have already mentioned, NAMA has provided all documentation and answered all questions that have been put to it.
A Commission of Investigation, if progressed, cannot attempt to supplant or circumvent the functions of the Gardaí, or indeed any other law enforcement agency. To do so would be inappropriate and could jeopardise legitimate investigations and certainly would not be welcomed by the appropriate authorities.
Finally, what should be most obvious but is often overlooked, a Commission of Investigation cannot deal with wide-ranging and non–specific claims.
If there is a political desire to advance a Commission of Investigation, the House must take collective responsibility for its costs, timing, terms of reference, and implementation. For a Commission of Investigation to succeed, it is right that we give our attention to matters which could justifiably, realistically and specifically be examined.
I invite Deputies during today’s debate, if they can substantiate any allegations of wrongdoing against NAMA, to do so.
To conclude, I want to state that NAMA is clearly progressing its mandate ahead of expectations and we must allow the Agency to continue its work.
We should not derail this good work by launching, amongst other things, a Commission of Investigation that is unfocused and ill-defined.
In the interim, I think the PAC’s upcoming report will provide useful additional material for this House to consider.
However, until we are aware of, and understand, the PAC’s opinions, we cannot realistically propose taking further action at this time.
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