Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary will both attend this year’s secretive Bilderberg conference which begins in Dresden, Germany on Thursday.
They will feature among a list of leading names in global politics and industry at the three day event where a number of topics are up for discussion including China, European migration, the Middle East, Russia and the US “political landscape”.
Chairman of NAMA Frank Daly and Finance Minister Michael Noonan
You may recall the sale of Nama’s property loan portfolio in Northern Ireland – the biggest loss on a Nama loan sale for Irish taxpayers.
The sale is now the subject of investigation by the National Crime Agency in the UK and the Securities and Exchange Commission in the US.
You may also recall how Stormont’s Committee for Finance and Personnel carried out a ‘fact-finding’ review of the sale for eight months.
Publication of an 18-page report on the progress of this review was embargoed until just after midnight this morning.
It criticised Nama and Finance Minister Michael Noonan – specifically for Nama refusing to give oral evidence to the committee; for Minister Noonan not encouraging Nama to give the same; and for Minister Noonan not stopping the sale of the Northern Ireland portfolio once he became aware that bidders PIMCO were due to send a sum of money to Northern Ireland Nama advisor, Frank Cushnahan.
From the report…
For its part, DFP [Department of Finance and Personnel] provided initial oral evidence and papers on 23 July 2015, but subsequently delayed providing further evidence until 9 October 2015, after it had concluded an internal file review and engaged with the NCA.
NAMA, on the other hand, while agreeing to answer questions in writing, refused to give oral evidence. The reason cited by NAMA is that the appropriate forum to which it should account for its activities is the Oireachtas and to committees established by the Oireachtas.
While the Committee does not dispute this point, it believes greater co-operation from NAMA would have assisted it in fully understanding the DFP-NAMA relationship since 2009.
As with the oral and written evidence received from the other stakeholders, including the documents received from the Republic of Ireland’s (RoI) Department of Finance and NAMA, the Committee placed the DFP papers in the public domain, except for seventeen documents relating to individual borrowers.
In this latter case, DFP cited data protection and commercial sensitivity concerns for its request that the documents were not to be released. The Committee, however, took legal advice on this matter and continues to pursue the issue with DFP.
In addition to the aforementioned evidence gathering exercise, the Committee accepted an invite from the Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to make a formal address on the progress of the review. This invitation was made in light of the respective committee inquiries into the Project Eagle sale.
During the address on 1 October 2015, the Chairperson also took the opportunity to point out that there was an increased onus on NAMA to appear before the Committee, even simply out of courtesy and respect for the institutions in Northern Ireland.
The Committee notes with regret the decision of the NAMA Board not to suspend the Project Eagle sales process once PIMCO had disclosed to the Agency in March 2014 that PIMCO’s proposed fee arrangement with the Brown Rudnick international law firm included also the payment of fees to Tughans, a Belfast law firm, and to a former external member of NAMA NIAC. From the evidence to date, the Committee considers this development to be a core area of concern within the entire sale and purchase process. The need for further information and clarification in this regard underlines the case for NAMA attending an oral hearing of the Committee.
Whilst it is does not fall to this Committee to pursue, given the seriousness of the revelation by PIMCO, it is unclear why the Irish Government’s Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, did not intervene at this point, by exercising his general powers of direction over NAMA to suspend the sales process until matters were investigated fully. The Committee also notes that Minister Noonan did not inform the Northern Ireland Executive of this development. In addition, the Committee regrets that Minister Noonan did not encourage NAMA to attend an oral hearing of the Committee.
The Committee established that NAMA ‘…had no knowledge of meetings between Mr Cushnahan and prospective purchasers of NAMA-secured assets in Northern Ireland…’ including whilst he was on the NAMA NIAC. This is deeply concerning to the Committee.
The Committee also noted from the BBC (NI) Spotlight programme that the other former external member of the NAMA NIAC, Mr Brian Rowntree, stated that the NIAC members had access to information which was of a ‘commercially sensitive nature’ and which offered ‘commercial opportunity’ and would have been of some value to a bidder for Project Eagle.
This is of particular significance as it appears to contradict the position adopted by NAMA to date. For example, in written evidence to the Committee on 27 November 2015, NAMA stated that the external members of the NAMA NIAC ‘never had access to confidential information’. Furthermore, in evidence to the Dáil PAC on 9 July 2015, the NAMA Chairman, Mr Frank Daly, stated that the external members of the NAMA NIAC ‘did not gain any confidential information or any useful insider information from being a member of that advisory committee’.
Therefore, given these seemingly contradictory positions, the Committee recommends that a full examination is made of what precisely was discussed at the NAMA NIAC meetings and what information was shared with the NIAC members.
The Committee found the refusal of NAMA to attend an oral evidence session particularly unhelpful. NAMA needed to be more open and accessible given the importance of the Project Eagle portfolio to the Northern Ireland economy. The Committee does not accept NAMA’s rationale for not attending an oral hearing of the Committee, especially given that Agency representatives have previously held many meetings with Ministers and officials in Northern Ireland.
Yesterday’s Irish Examiner showing the letter sent by the foster father of Grace to the then Minister for Health Michael Noonan, above, in August 1996
You may recall the story of Grace, the mute child – now a woman in her 40s – who remained in a foster home with an abusive family in the south east of Ireland for more than a decade after other children had been removed.
The other children were taken out of the home in 1995, after concerns were raised with the then Southern Health Board in 1992.
Yesterday’s Irish Examiner reported how – after the health board initially decided that Grace be removed – Grace’s foster family appealed against this decision but lost.
Following that, the foster father, in 1996, sent a letter lobbying the Minster for Health Michael Noonan to allow Grace stay in the home.
It’s unclear what exactly happened after this letter was sent but Grace did stay at the home for another 13 years.
Daniel McConnell, of the Irish Examiner, spoke with Matt Cooper on Today FM yesterday evening to explain the significance of the letter.
“Whether, it seems, by accident, or inadvertently, the intervention seems to have had a chilling effect because what’s detailed in the documents is that Grace’s removal was delayed on foot of the request from the foster father. Then that removal never happened.”
“…We put a series of detailed queries through the Fine Gael press office, to him [Noonan], last [Monday] night and he said he had nothing more to add…”
Readers may also recall the allegations made by former Fine Gael councillor and barrister Garry O’Halloran in relation to Minister Noonan.
Mr O’Halloran has claimed that, at the 1997 Fine Gael Ard Fheis in Dublin, Michael Noonan ‘ran away’ from him even though Mr Noonan was scheduled to meet with him.
Mr O’Halloran wanted to speak with Mr Noonan – not about Grace – but about the late Fr Jim Grennan, who had abused several children in Monageer, Co. Wexford, the diocese of Ferns. One of Fr Grennan’s victims was with Mr O’Halloran at the Ard Fheis.
At this point, in 1997, Fr Grennan was already dead, having died in 1994.
Mr O’Halloran, who was chairman of the then South Eastern Health Board, wished to speak with Minister Noonan to request that he order an inquiry into the health board’s response to abuse allegations made by 10 children against Fr Grennan back in 1988.
Mr O’Halloran explained:
“The allegations were raised in 1988 and they were validated immediately. There was a local teacher, a local social worker and a local guard who all did a very good job. But after that, a superintendant came along and destroyed the file and the guards did nothing, the health board did nothing.”
“He [Grennan] went on to carry out devastating rapes after that, with devastating consequences.”
Mr O’Halloran was prompted to lobby Mr Noonan in 1997 – three years after Fr Grennan died – because Mr O’Halloran had learned that one of Fr Grennan’s victims had been gravely abused for several years, on a regular basis, after 1988.
The day after Fr Grennan died, on May 9, 1994, aged 61, a child of 13 took an overdose of medication and was admitted to hospital. On May 30, the child told their mother they had been molested by Fr Grennan, in the months prior to Fr Grennan’s death.
Mr O’Halloran explained:
“I was asking questions. I was in the health board and everything was being denied. The acceptance of any clerical child abuse was denied. When we got the thumbs down from the authorities, there was only three of us working on it at this stage – Billy Moroney, a farmer from New Ross, journalist Veronica Guerin, and myself.”
“We worked closely together. But Billy and myself set up a group called Survivors and we used to meet every month in Waterford and, very quickly, we had people coming and all the situations were the same. All the victims had raised a complaint about being raped and abused and they were all ignored.“
The eventual Ferns Report, which was published in 2005 and looked at 100 allegations of child sexual abuse made between 1966 and 2005 against 21 priests in the Diocese of Ferns, confirmed all of Mr O’Halloran claims and those of Fr Grennan’s victims.
In light of the findings of the Ferns Report, readers may wish to read Mr O’Halloran’s recollections of the Ard Fheis. He said:
“[Noonan] kept us waiting all night, no sign of him. Eventually I spotted him leaving the podium and he was heading for the door and, when I followed him, he sprinted as fast as he could and when I reached the door he was already in his car and there was black smoke whirring up into my face, from the wheels spinning. And Phil Hogan was standing alongside me and Phil said to me, ‘you relax, the Minister for Children [Austin Currie] is meeting your deputation, everything will be fine.‘”
“So we met him [Currie] and, after about half an hour, he said, ‘right you have your inquiry’. So that was fine. I contacted his secretary on the Monday morning to progress the matter and she said, ‘hang on a minute’. And then she came back and said, ‘No there isn’t any inquiry’.”
“And I said, ‘Oh yes there is, we met the [junior] minister on Saturday night, he said we have our inquiry.’ And she said, ‘oh no he [Currie] didn’t. What he told you was that he would inquire into it and, having inquired, there’s no substance to your claims and allegations’.
Last Saturday, Mr Currie denied this was the case, telling the Irish Times:
“I said I would inquire into their allegations when I got back to the department on Monday. The next thing I heard in the press I had promised an inquiry. I had not. I know I brought that family’s concerns to the officials in the department.”
So what does Monageer have to do with Grace?
It should be explained that Mr O’Halloran came forward to recall his non-meeting with Minister Noonan at the Ard Fheis in 1997 – after he heard Minister Noonan give an interview with Richard Crowley on RTÉ Radio One on Thursday, February 4.
During that interview Minister Noonan was briefly asked about the letters he received about Grace.
Mr O’Halloran knew nothing of Grace when he heard the interview – but it jogged his memory in relation to Fr Grennan. Mr O’Halloran also felt it was important to explain that the case of Grace wasn’t an isolated incident.
Ever since his allegations about the Ard Fheis were published, many people have contacted Mr O’Halloran about Grace.
Further to this, he has written to both the Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan and Minister Noonan.
He has asked Ms O’Sullivan to investigate Minister Noonan’s conduct – for his time as Minister for Health from 1994 to 1997.
In addition, he’s asked Minister Noonan to resign.
Mr O’Halloran, a barrister, explained his reasons for this:
“In 1995, having received repeated evidence of complaints of child sex abuse in the particular foster care facility, it was decided to place no further children in that facility and to remove Grace forthwith. The foster parents had an entitlement to appeal that decision and they did appeal it.”
“The appeal committee accepted that the original decision was a proper decision and that it was in the best interest of the child that she be removed forthwith from that facility. In response to that the foster father wrote directly to the minister stating that they did not accept those decision and hence they were putting in a further appeal to him.”
“Notwithstanding the fact that he had no statutory function in the matter, he passed the matter on to his officials and his junior minister. He was notified by the health board, the matter was governed by Section 43 of the Childcare Act, which meant that if there was any ongoing concerns that a judge of the District Court should make the decision on the basis of what was in the best interest of the child.”
“Instead of the matter going to a judge, it ended up with a further appeal committee – the composition of which remains unknown to this day – deciding that the child be left at this foster care facility, and there she remained for a further 13 years until a social worker recently appointed to her case, brought the matter to attention.”
“As far as I’m concerned [Minister Noonan] is a man that shouldn’t be holding high public office and he merits investigation.”
Listen back to Mr McConnell’s interview in full here
A letter sent from former IBRC chairman Alan Dukes to Finance Minister Michael Noonan on February 14, 2013
You may recall how Mr Justice Brian Cregan was appointed to carry out a Commission of Investigation into IBRC on June 16, 2015.
One of the terms of reference is “whether the Minister for Finance or his Department was kept informed where appropriate in respect of the transactions concerned, and whether he, or officials on his behalf, took appropriate steps in respect of the information provided to them.”
The commission’s establishment followed Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy asking Finance Minister Michael Noonan questions about the sale of Siteserv to a company owned by Denis O’Brien.
Further to this.
The former chairman of IBRC Alan Dukes sent a letter to Finance Minister Michael Noonan on February 14, 2013 – a week after IBRC went into liquidation.
This letter was obtained from the Department of Finance by Ms Murphy, following a Freedom of Information request.
Readers will note there were three sentences redacted in the letter of February 14, 2013.
Following an appeal to the Information Commissioner, the commissioner annulled the decision of the department to redact these sentences.
It found the manner in which the Department had processed the request “most unsatisfactory” and not in keeping with the statutory provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.
Further to this, Justine McCarthy, in yesterday’s Sunday Times, reported:
The Sunday Times has established that the three missing sentences from Dukes’s letter are:
“1. The Department of Finance has at all times been provided with all papers presented to the board;
2. The Department of Finance has been entitled to have an observer at every meeting of the board;
3. The minutes of all committee meetings were systematically provided to the Department of Finance.”
…The ruling by Stephen Rafferty, an investigator in the information commissioner’s office, was made on February 8 but only made public last Thursday. The department has until March 1 to lodge an appeal to the High Court.
…When told what the redacted portion of Dukes’s letter says, Murphy replied: “It’s strange the department would have redacted that. It obviously gives a clue about something. There seems to be a surprisingly small amount of information [available] about the relationship between the department and the bank, given how bad we know that relationship was.
“The information commissioner was quite scathing about the department and the fact they are taking their time about whether they’ll release it or lodge an appeal indicates there is not a culture of openness there.”
You may recall barrister Garry O’Halloran’s claim that, at a Fine Gael Ard Fheis in 1997, Finance Minister Michael Noonan “ran” away from him as he attempted to discuss abuse allegations at a foster home in the south-east of the country.
Mr Noonan was the Health Minister at the time.
The Irish Examiner reported the claims on Tuesday and couldn’t get a response from Mr Noonan, despite contacting the Fine Gael press office, the Department of Finance, the Department of Health or the Department of Children.
Today, the claims were put to Minister Noonan and his response was recorded by Gavan Reilly, from Today FM.
Minister Noonan said:
“Well, first of all, I was asked by Richard Crowley two weeks ago about anything I know about this. And I gave him a full answer. When I heard about it, I asked for the file in the Department of Health – there was two pieces of correspondence there. It’s 20 years ago, I’ve no clear memory of it and there was a complaint in and I referred it through the officials, back to the South Eastern Health Board that were the authority at that time and we were told that the young woman in question, or young child in question, had been removed from the foster home.”
“Some weeks later, it transpired that the South Eastern Health Board officials, who had made the decision, had reversed the decision for some reason. Now Austin Currie was the junior minister with responsibility to children at the Department of Health at that time and we referred it on to him.”
“Now I understand Cllr O’Halloran, whom I don’t know, I mean I’m sure I met him when I was minister because I met a lot of councillors, I’m not sure whether he was Waterford or Wexford but he was on in the South East anyway and I reject his versions of events. The minister for children was Austin Currie and an arrangement was made for Gary O’Halloran I understand and some people with him to discuss the issue with Austin Currie.”
“Beyond that, I don’t know anything but I’m prepared to cooperate with whatever inquiry is put in place after the election.”
In response to a follow up question [impossible to make out] from the Irish Examiner’s Daniel McConnell, Mr Noonan said:
“No, no, no, you’re making, as I understand it what we have, at present, is a series of allegations that need to be inquired into. I understand there’s no proof on either side. And I don’t want to say anything that gets me into legal difficulty to satisfy your curiosity. I’ve given you an absolute straight answer on everything I know. I can’t be responsible for third parities who make allegations about me which I refute.”
Minister for Finance Michael Noonan explains the varying material benefits of abolishing the Universal Social Charge using the ‘income calculator’ launched at Fine Gael’s General Election 2016 HQ in Dublin.
Simon Coveney and Simon Harris (flanking Michael Noonan) with Young Fine Gael members and FG General Election 2016 candidates.
From top: Barrister Garry O’Halloran and Finance Minister Michael Noonan
You may recall the foster home abuse case involving a woman referred to as Grace, in the media, and a recent interview Finance Minister Michael Noonan did with Richard Crowley about the case on RTÉ’s News At One.
During the interview, Mr Crowley asked Mr Noonan about his knowledge of the concerns raised in relation to abuse, and a letter the foster father had sent to Mr Noonan in 1996 – when he was Minister for Health.
Further to this…
Journalists Daniel McConnell and Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, in this morning’s Irish Examiner, report that a former Fine Gael councillor, barrister Garry O’Halloran – who was a former chair of the South Eastern Health Board – claims Mr Noonan literally ran away from a meeting to discuss concerns about sex abuse involving children.
They further reported that Mr O’Halloran quit Fine Gael because of Mr Noonan’s actions.
In a statement to the Irish Examiner, Mr O’Halloran said at the 1997 Fine Gael Ard Fheis, Mr Noonan had arranged to meet him and some abuse victims.
“We arrived, he kept us waiting for hours, eventually I spotted him leaving the stage and heading for a door about 40m away, I was about 60m away and started to follow him in the direction of the door,” Mr O’Halloran has said. “He spotted me and ran, I then ran but he got to the door and when I arrived I was met with a cloud of black smoke as his garda driver sped away,” he added.
Mr O’Halloran and his delegation then met junior minister Austin Currie who concluded there was no substance to the claims of abuse.
“I went to the taoiseach, John Bruton, who said it was a matter for the minister for health. When I got no place, I then submitted by resignation from FG,” he added.
Yesterday, the Irish Examiner first attempted to put queries about this matter to the Fine Gael press office, but we were directed to the Department of Finance.
The Department of Finance said as this was a health matter, they could not comment.
A Department of Health spokesman said he could not speak for Mr Noonan and referred us back to the Department of Finance, but also suggested we speak to the Department of Children.
At the time of going to print, no comment was forthcoming from Mr Noonan.
Finance Minister Michael Noonan at Fine Gael’s Long Term Economic Plan launch in Dublin this morning
On Tuesday, in the Dáil, United Left Alliance TD Clare Daly raised the case of ‘Grace’ and the foster care home in Waterford in which she suffered extreme physical and sexual abuse for many years.
She remained in the home for 13 years after other children had been removed because of concerns raised.
Ms Daly told the Dáil:
“In 1996 a decision was made by the social workers on the ground to remove that young woman. That is a fact which is backed up. We know that subsequently the foster father contacted the then Minister for Health, Deputy Noonan, and petitioned to have what he called his “beloved daughter” kept with the family… A documented case conference decision to remove that young woman from the foster home before August was subsequently reversed in October 1996 and the young woman, Grace, remained there up until 2009. People need to know who made that decision and who will pay the price for it.”
Ms Daly added:
“One of the whistleblowers at the centre of this case has made the point that, sadly, it is not the only such case. In his opinion, it represents dozens of others in the same region over a 20 to 30-year time span. It is fair to say there is a systemic problem in the HSE. It is very much the old attitude that when the church or State is threatened, the response is to say nothing, admit nothing, call in the lawyers and see what happens.”
Further to this, Finance Minister Michael Noonan spoke to Richard Crowley on RTÉ’s News At One and Mr Crowley raised the matter of the letter…
Richard Crowley: “As you know, Clare Daly raised an issue in the Dáil this week. This was in relation to the abuse allegations in the South East area and she mentioned that a letter had been written by the foster father in the controversy, directly to you as Minister for Health, this was in 1996, by the foster father. Can you, I know it’s 20 years ago and you received lots of letters, thousands of letters at that time no doubt, have you had a chance to check you files or do you have any recollection of that case? At that particular time? Or at any time you while you were minister for health?”
Michael Noonan: “No, I’ve no clear memory of it but I did check the position of Department of Health and seemingly two letters arrived, one to me, and one to the junior minister for health, Austin Currie. And the letter, to me, I contacted, I got my officials to contact the South Eastern Health Board and my understanding of it was the person would be removed from foster care. But subsequently, information came through that there was some kind of appeal and that that didn’t happen and then, after that, because it was a question of the possible abuse of a child, the data was given to the minister of state who had responsibility for children. And I’m not sure what happened after that.”
Crowley: “So you had no further contact with the issue or the people involved?”
Noonan: “I’d no further contact after that and I didn’t have the power to direct and I didn’t direct. But the initial information I got was that yes, there was an issue and the child was removed. And, subsequently then, I forget the exact details but it was some kind of appeal process and the decision of whoever took it down in the South East wasn’t implemented at that point and then it went on to Minister Austin Currie.”
Crowley: “Minister Noonan, thank you very much for coming in…”