Further to the newspaper’s report last week that the Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, the Department of Finance and Nama have been heavily criticised in a draft report by the Public Accounts Committee – in relation to Nama’s sale of its Northern Ireland loan book, known as Project Eagle…
And that, specifically, it was “not appropriate” for Noonan or Nama to meet with Cerberus the day before the Project Eagle bid closing date…
Jack Horgan-Jones and Hugh O’Connell reported:
Noonan has rebutted the finding, contained in the committee’s draft working paper and published by this newspaper last week, that it was “not appropriate” for him to meet with the US fund prior to its €1.6 billion purchase of Nama’s Northern portfolio. The draft said this could be perceived as “special treatment”.
…In a letter to the committee last week, Noonan expressed “great concern” over the draft findings, saying they were “extremely damaging” to him. He maintains that the meetings were not inappropriate and that he was never given a right of reply.
But committee members are doubling down this weekend. “Everybody agrees the fact that he met them is a problem. Everybody understands. Nobody can say it was a good idea to meet Cerberus on the day of the bids,” a PAC source said.
“The point of that whole meeting, the potential impression that meeting gave, will remain in [the report] . . . The essence of that meeting happening at that time and the impression of that meeting and having such access at that critical time will be in the final report.”
Another committee source said that while the language around the finding may change, it is extremely unlikely to be removed altogether.
Fine Gael TDs on the committee have indicated they will attempt to block any report which states that Noonan did not act appropriately.
Hugh O’Connell and Jack Horgan-Jones, in the Sunday Business Post, reported:
Michael Noonan, the Department of Finance and Nama have all been heavily criticised in a damning secret report prepared for TDs investigating the sale of Project Eagle.
Nama’s controversial €1.6 billion sale of its Northern Ireland loan book three years ago is the subject of a number of damaging conclusions in a draft working paper to be discussed by TDs on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
It ultimately concludes that Nama’s sales strategy could be described as “flawed” and it has been “unable to demonstrate” that it got value for the Irish state.
…The paper said it was “not appropriate” for the Department of Finance to meet with the ultimately successful bidder, Cerberus, in the days before the closing date for Project Eagle bids. It similarly states that it was “not appropriate” for Noonan or Nama to meet with Cerberus the day before the Project Eagle bid closing date – and that this could be perceived as “special treatment”.
You may recall the Dáil debate on Wednesday in which Nama was discussed in detail.
During it, Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy spoke about Bank of Ireland in respect of Nama.
She questioned the legality of Nama selling assets it obtained from Bank of Ireland, to entities such as Cerberus, when – according to financial consultants she has spoken with – the assets were owned by the Irish Central Bank-European Central Bank, and not the Bank of Ireland.
Reading part of a document that she obtained, into the Dáil record, Ms Murphy said:
“It appears that Bank of Ireland has delayed the recognition of losses with the financial position of Bank of Ireland being portrayed incorrectly when the bank drew down emergency funding from the Irish Central Bank-ECB.
“In an effort to delay the recognition of losses, Bank of Ireland relied on the International Accountancy Standards Board, IASB, rules. The particular rules in question, IAS 39 and IFRS 9, only apply to published accounts.
“However, IASB is a private entity and company law supersedes IASB. In 2010, the then governor of the Irish Central Bank, Patrick Honohan, raised concerns that Irish banks were delaying the recognition of losses, and the problems it was causing from a regulatory perspective.
“In addition, it appears that the financial position of Bank of Ireland was not portrayed correctly in accordance with the Chartered Accountants Regulatory Board, CARB, when the bank drew down its funds from the Irish Central Bank-ECB.
“NAMA claimed to have acquired approximately €10 billion in assets from Bank of Ireland in 2010. Some of these assets were sold by NAMA to Cerberus, but Bank of Ireland appears to have portrayed ownership of these assets when the assets were, in fact, owned by the Irish Central Bank-ECB by virtue of the aforementioned company law rules.
“In the Bank of Ireland’s interim accounts 2011, page 100, it states that the ownership of the assets would be de-recognised when substantially all the risk and rewards of the ownership have been transferred to NAMA. This would only occur when the ownership of beneficial interests was legally transferred to NAMA.
“As such, the situation is that NAMA stated it had acquired assets from Bank of Ireland when according to research and company law they were not Bank of Ireland’s to sell.”
Readers will note that Ms Murphy raised similar concerns at a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee on January 19 and also raised the matter briefly on TV3’s Tonight with Vincent Browne on Wednesday evening.
In addition, also in the Dáil on Wednesday, Independents 4 Change TD Mick Wallace spoke about a financial consultant Cormac Burke who has been working with the Namaleaks team.
Mr Wallace said:
“Cormac Butler has also been making the point that when Wilbur Ross – Donald Trump’s secretary of congress nominee – purchased Bank of Ireland shares in 2011 and then flipped them in 2014, for a profit of €477million, he did so with the advantage of having access to the financial position of the bank which was not in the public domain, information which was not available to smaller shareholders.
“I’d like the minister to confirm or deny that his, that his officials are now aware that the activities of Wilbur Ross and his sale of Bank of Ireland shares is the subject of an investigation in the US. “
Further to this…
Saoirse McGarrigle writes:
Two financial experts Ed Heaphy and Cormac Butler have been analysing the banking crisis for the past eight years.
They claim that Bank of Ireland deliberately hid the extent of massive losses for five years because, if it failed, their assets would automatically be taken over by the European Central Bank (ECB).
They also claim the ECB itself was aware of how dangerously close Bank of Ireland was to insolvency – where a bank has suffered huge losses and has not enough assets to meet its liabilities – but continued bailing it out.
It means that Bank of Ireland’s bad debts should never have been transferred to Nama in the first place.
Mr Heaphy said: “When a bank is insolvent the ECB automatically assumes control of its assets. The Bank of Ireland was not the true owners of the assets and therefore it should not have transferred them to NAMA.”
Mr Butler said: “A bank automatically becomes insolvent if it hides substantial losses because creditors will refuse to provide funding to banks that fail to keep proper books of accounts.
“This forces the bank to sell assets at distressed prices.
“Bank of Ireland uses mortgages to give to the Central Bank as collateral. Some of the collateral had fallen substantially in value, but Bank of Ireland never disclosed these significant losses.
“The value of the mortgages used as collateral by the Bank of Ireland fell for two reasons. Customers pledged their property as security for the mortgage and that fell in value. Also customers lost the ability to repay because people had lost their jobs.
“This is in breach of the Companies Act 1990 – the failure of banks to recognise losses from the mortgages falling in value is a breach of company law because it is difficult to see if the bank is solvent. They were insolvent but they weren’t disclosing it.”
Mr Heaphy added: “They [BOI] admitted in the Banking Inquiry that they exploited a supposed loophole in the accounting standards which apparently allowed them to hide their losses.
“In fact, the law requires them to write down the value of the mortgages, but they thought that they didn’t have to. It’s their ignorance of the law. The bank was no longer the true owners of the assets, the ECB should not have transferred assets to NAMA.
“But if the ECB had confirmed they owned the assets, it would be admitting Bank of Ireland was insolvent.”
Mr Butler added: “If they (ECB) admit the insolvency then they wouldn’t get their money back. The ECB, like any other creditor, is not allowed to take back loans it advanced to an insolvent bank.”
“In such cases, the bank must be liquidated with broadly all creditors treated equally. By keeping quiet about the commercial bank’s insolvency the ECB was able to transfer its losses to the Irish government, which is potentially illegal.”
Auditors Price Waterhouse Cooper never disclosed that the bank was either insolvent or very close to it.
On October 15, 2010, the then ECB president Jean-Claude Trichet threatened to withdraw extra funding because of fears that the Irish banks were not ‘financially sound’.
His solution was for the Irish government to inject fresh funds into the bank so that he could withdraw illegally the loans he advanced.
Hedge funds bought Bank of Ireland bonds at distressed prices and said that they wanted the 100% price back.
Mr Butler added: “The Government said ‘no they must take responsibility for some of the losses’, but the hedge funds said because Bank of Ireland has not admitted to the losses, we don’t have to take any losses.
“The hedge fund should have taken the losses, but the Government faced legal challenges and therefore decided not to burn the bondholders.
“Bank of Ireland had a lot of losses built up which were hidden therefore the hedge fund claimed that Bank of Ireland was solvent.”
Mr Heaphy added: “The Irish Government paid dearly for its failure to admit that some losses were hidden.
“It left the hedge funds with an opportunity to profit at the expense of the Irish taxpayer.”
You’ll recall a post from earlier concerning a Dáil debate about the establishment of Commission of Investigation into Nama.
During his opening statement, before leaving the Dáil chamber, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan said:
“Throughout the Opposition’s statements today, there may well be bounds for other Nama transactions to be reviewed…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 it will attempt to summarise the position as, unfortunately, public discourse rarely captures what the agency can and cannot do.”
People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett told the Dáil he received a folder on Monday concerning a site in Spencer Dock, Dublin 1.
“That is a site that was originally to be developed, owned by CIE, developed by, it was going to be developed by Treasury Holdings, who couldn’t get…I rang Nama today to try and get the par value of the original loans, pertaining to the site and they couldn’t give me the answer. They said they might get back to me. But the, we’re talking in the hundreds and hundreds of millions.
“And that site is now commencing development again and it’s being talked about as being a €600million development. The developer, although Nama would not confirm this to me, and I asked them on the phone: who bought the site? Because we know from the last act that the original developers were not supposed to get their own loans back. Or that the sites, if you like, that, the sites pertaining to those loans. But the original developer was Treasury Holdings and it was reported, in October of last year, that Johnny Ronan, formerly of Treasury Holdings, was the preferred bidder in the bidding process which was launched last February 2016, where that portfolio, or that site, was put out on the market at a guide price of €50million, owned by CIE.
“But, CIE had an arrangement with Treasury Holdings. An arrangement was very seriously questioned and criticised at the time by Minister [Mary] O’Rourke, subsequently by Deputy [Pat] Rabbitte where there was, in fact, a report ordered by Minister O’Rourke into the whole deal between CIE and Treasury Holdings, on the grounds that Minister O’Rourke, at the time, and others, believed there were serious questions as to whether the public interest had been served in the deal that had been done between CIE and Treasury Holdings – as all CIE were going to get, for their site, was 17% of the sale value of any development or 17% of the rent. The rest was to go to Treasury Holdings, Johnny Ronan, [Richard] Barrett and so on.
“They obviously, they went into Nama – owing I think it was €2.6billion in total for Treasury Holdings, €1.67billion went into Nama.
“Now, the first question I have is: Johnny Ronan exited Nama, apparently paying off his €250million debt, but he now has the site again. Right? €250million, not €1.6billion, I don’t know exactly the breakdown in Treasury Holdings’ debt, but he has the site again.
“The guide price, €50million for that six-acre site. Now, comparisons of similar sites on the open market at the moment will suggest that per acre you should be paying around €20million per acre which is €120million. Not the reported, although I couldn’t get this confirmed by Nama either, the reported €42.5million that Ronan, backed by Colony – a big investment fund – who refinanced Ronan’s loans, are reported to have paid, although I can’t get the answer from Nama which I find extraordinary when I rang them this morning, ‘we can’t tell you how much was paid for the site, we can’t tell you who bought it’.
“But it was reported, in October, that it was €42.5million and it was Johnny Ronan, backed by Colony who bought it. Now if that’s true, if the comparable prices, per acre, are in the region of €20million – then it means we have sold a site, Nama sold a site worth €120million for €42.5million. That’s shocking. Absolutely shocking. And the developer who now has it, is the developer who originally went into Nama back in, when Treasury Holdings were taken over by Nama.
“At the time, just on the valuations, back in 2002, per acre down the [Dublin] docklands was €8m-€14million – that’s in 2002. Right? So, it’s very reasonable to assume that in the last surge in property values since then, that €20million is a reasonable valuation.”
Independents 4 Change TD Mick Wallace also spoke during the debate, addressing his concerns to Fine Gael TD Andrew Doyle (above) as Minister Noonan had left the chamber.
Mr Wallace said he’s seen an affidavit made by former Nama employee Enda Farrell who, last year, was given a two-year suspended sentence after he was found to have leaked potentially sensitive information – and said the affidavit was “worrying”.
Amongst other things.
Mr Wallace said:
“Minister, this was moved from Thursday to Wednesday so Minister Noonan could be here. He’s not here. Now his contribution at the start was pathetic. The contribution that the PAC, chairman, wasn’t much better.
“The notion that the PAC are an investigative body is total rubbish. The C&AG [Comptroller and Auditor General] looked at one dimension of one sale and the PAC are looking at it. They can’t access Nama’s papers. They can’t possibly hold Nama to account. Nama went into the PAC eight times now and they said what they liked. It’s absolute rubbish.
“It’s four months since the Taoiseach agreed to establish a Commission of Investigation into the secret society that’s Nama. Since then, Nama have sold over €4billion in par value of loans to vulture funds and almost €3million worth of this loans went to their good friend Cerberus. I agree that the commission should begin with examining Project Eagle as its first module but the problems in Nama are sadly not unique to Nama’s northern Ireland loan portfolio. It’s imperative that any commission adopts a modular approach, similar to the IBRC investigation.
“The allegations made by Enda Farrell – a former Nama staff member – should be the second schedule. It seems Nama may have internally investigated some of Nama’s officials named by Farrell in his affidavit – who may have leaked confidential information or engaged in malpractice. These internal investigations should be made available to the commission.I have read his affidavit and I can tell you it’s worrying.
“If one looks at the assets they have purchased, the links back to Nama begin to appear. The forum building, the Dublin Observatory building, Harcourt Street, Windmall Lane, New Century House, the Central Quay – all these assets were in Nama and are now in the hands of Hibernia REIT, either through direct purchases or secondary deals.
“A fourth module should consist of an examination of any internal Nama investigations into Nama officials regarding the leaking of confidential information or alleged malpractice. And if the judge sees fit, to investigate any other allegations of unauthorised leaking.
“The Commission of Investigation should provide this initial report on Project Eagle within six months and the remaining modules within 12. And, most importantly, any report that’s made should be made public.
“Before I move back to Project Eagle, I would just like to put on the record that the Comptroller and Auditor General’s role, in relation to Nama, has been abused by the Government. The Taoiseach, at one stage, tried to tell us that the C&AG had staff within Nama, this had to be rebuked by the C&AG who said, ‘an impression being given that everything that moves in Nama is seen by, and examined, by somebody from my office is absolutely incorrect’.
“Minister Noonan recently tried to tell me that the C&AG would have called for a halt to Nama’s activities – had he felt it was warranted. Again, the C&AG rebuked it. He said that it was prohibited from expressing an opinion on the merits of policy.
“On an aside, I’d like to tell the minister that Cormac Butler, a financial consultant and a member of the Namaleaks team, has pointed out that Nama may not even hold a legal title to the assets transferred over from the Irish banks in 2009, given that when a bank is insolvent, the ECB automatically acquires control of its assets. If that is the case, it would mean that the ECB, not Nama, is the owner of the loans.
“We’ve been raising some of these issues with the minister and his department since last August but to little avail. Cormac Butler has also been making the point that when Wilbur Ross – Donald Trump’s secretary of congress nominee – purchased Bank of Ireland shares in 2011 and then flipped them in 2014, for a profit of €477million, he did so with the advantage of having access to the financial position of the bank which was not in the public domain, information which was not available to smaller shareholders.
“I’d like the minister to confirm or deny that his, that his officials are now aware that the activities of Wilbur Ross and his sale of Bank of Ireland shares is the subject of an investigation in the US. They do an odd one over there. They’re a little bit more fond of it than we are.
“To go back to Project Eagle. The sale stinks from start to finish. In late 2016, we travelled to Asia to meet a businessman named Barry Lloyd who had contacted us through our whistleblower site, Namaleaks.
“As early as December 2010, Frank Cushnahan had been trying to sell the Nama loan portfolio in one lot. He met with Barry Lloyd and told him he had been heavily engaged by Nama and that there were very substantial opportunities for major returns for anyone who could access international funds to acquire blocks of development assets from Nama.
“Barry continued to meet and engage with Cushnahan and representatives from Tughan’s solicitors throughout 2011 – with a view to secure Asian investors – but the proposed deal eventually fell through in April 2012. Barry Lloyd has signed an affidavit in the last week in Dublin and has met with the NCA [Britain’s National Crime Agency].
“In November 2012, Brown Rudnick met Cushnahan and Ian Coulter at Tughan’s office. By February 2013, they were sitting down with [Northern Ireland’s] Finance Minister Sammy Wilson. April 2013, Pimco were on the scene. By May 2013, they were meeting Peter Robinson. When Pimco was informed by Brown Rudnick that it was the northern Irish government’s preferred purchaser of Nama’s northern Irish loan portfolio, and still not even a price on it.
“We’re told that they didn’t meet Ronnie Hanna until September 2013. By December 2013, Hanna was haggling for an exclusive deal with Pimco, I wonder why. We then had some role-playing, pretending that it was going to be an open process.
“Lazard brought in, to supposedly manage the sale, they weren’t even allowed to value the portfolio. They weren’t even allowed to control the data room. And when Pimco pulled out, Nama didn’t even tell Lazard the reason, why? And they didn’t even attend the meeting in late March between Cerberus and Nama, why? But they were paid €4.3million for a few months’ work? A lot of money just for a bit of back combing.
“Hogan Lovells were brought in for legal advice. But Nama didn’t even ask them their advice, following Pimco’s admission of a fixer’s fee for the boys. Nama didn’t even ask their advice when they discovered that Cerberus had gone ahead and paid the €15million fixer’s fee anyway.
“Nama says they had a problem with Pimco, paying a fixer’s fee, so why didn’t they have a problem with Cerberus paying one? Just because the boys took Cushnahan’s name off the list? Seriously?
“Why did Nama refuse our FOI requests regarding their correspondence with Hogan Lovells? Nama agreed to pay Hogan Lovells €290,000 – ended up paying them €1.1million, for what?
“That Frank Cushnahan, Ronnie Hanna and Dave Watters were a cabal, making it all happen in the background is now beyond question. Frank Daly told the PAC [public accounts committee] last September that our key decision was to set a minimum price of €1.3billion for this portfolio. But they didn’t, Pimco set the price. Dave Watters did the business plans, Cushnahan pulled the strings and Ronnie Hanna fixed the price in Dublin.
“The reason that Nama fell foul of the C&AG was because the task of retrofit in the price led to them breaking their own rules. Of course, when Frank Cushnahan became unbackable, Nama decided to throw him under the bus and distance themselves from him as much as possible.
“But why did it take Nama until April 2016 – two years later – to even report him to SIPO. Why didn’t they report him under section 19 of the Criminal Justices Act or did they at all?
“We then began to hear NAMA tell us about how insignificant the NIAC was, so Cushnahan didn’t really matter at all. But Minister for Finance [Michael Noonan], on the 18th June, 2012 said:
‘I would like to thank Frank Cushnahan and Brown Rowntree for agreeing to continue serving on NAMA’s NIAC. I see this committee as having a very important role in assisting NAMA meet its obligations on both sides of the Border.’
“Then NAMA told us that Cushnahan had no access to confidential information. So why did NAMA ask him to return it or destroy it, if there was no value in it?
“Frank Daly was still trying to distance himself from Cushnahan when asked about joining the board of the religious charity Corani, of which Cushnahan was a long-standing member.
“Frank Daly said:
‘I think it was a pure coincidence. It’s a charity operated by Redemptorists. He was on the board for quite some time. I know some Redemptorists in Dublin and I was asked whether I would join the board. It was not a month later. As far as I know, it was probably the best part of a year later.’
“The truth is, it was a month later – not a year later. Cushnahan joined the NIAC on the 13th May, 2010. Frank Daly joined Corani 32 days later on the 14th of June, 2010. Can we believe anything that he tells us? The Project Eagle sales process was a textbook disaster.”
Acting Ceann Comhairle asks Mr Wallace to withdraw calling Mr Daly a liar. Mr Wallace said: “I didn’t say he was, honestly, I didn’t. I asked can we believe what he says, I didn’t say he was a liar.” Mr Wallace then continues:
“The Project Eagle sales process was a textbook disaster: Short time span for possible bidders; limited information; a one-bid process; no local valuations allowed. This all suited PIMCO, and later Cerberus, who bought the same info from the boys. It was never a competitive process. PIMCO’s gig only, became Cerberus’s gig only. And NAMA’s ridiculous decision to sell it in one lot, suited the fixers just fine.
“Did Ronnie Hanna declare any conflict he might have had with Northern Ireland connections from his Ulster Bank Northern Ireland days? Why did NAMA treat business people in the Republic of Ireland almost four times less favourably than those in Northern Ireland? Is it possible that Frank Cushnahan or Ronnie Hanna might have had anything to do with that?
“During his employment at NAMA, as Head of Asset Recovery, how many connections did Ronnie Hanna approve enforcement against? All of these need to be investigated to ascertain whether there was favouritism or motivation of any sort.
“In the BBC northern Ireland Spotlight programme, Frank Cushnahan clearly states that he went to Ronnie to make sure that John Miskelly’s ‘lights wouldn’t be put out’. ‘Me and Ronnie are thick as thieves,’ Cushnahan said. The entire Miskelly file needs to be investigated. All northern Ireland debtor and Project Eagle files need to be looked at, to discern whether there was favouritism or influence.
“In October 2015, I asked Nama if Ronnie Hanna, along with Frank Cushnahan or Dave Watters ever met with any investment fund personnel? NAMA said: ‘No, Mr Hanna had no such meetings with these individuals.’ That is not true. I know for a fact he did.
“When I said in the Dáil in July 2015, that £7 million of Cerberus’s money had ended up in an Isle of Man bank account, Nama claimed that it was the first they heard of it.
“Cerberus said it was informed by Brown Rudnick in April 2015, about the Law Society of northern Ireland Investigation into Ian Coulter’s conduct regarding the fee Cerberus paid to Tughans, through Brown Rudnick. Is it credible that no one told Nama?
“Well, for the Government’s sake, let me tell you that I’ve met an individual who was asked to look into the same matter in January 2015. On behalf of who? On behalf of Nama.
“The British National Crime Agency knew that all was not well. So, they commenced an investigation. The Security and Exchange in the US knew that all was not well. They, too, started an investigation. They were exercised by the possibility that Cerberus personnel Jon Snow and Dan Quale may have abused their former office. And they were looking at any possible bribing or inducing anyone for gain.
“All the while, NAMA were in denial – ‘everything’s grand, we’re doing a great job’. The Government and Department of Finance, and the Minister for Finance were the cheerleaders.
“Recently, Transparency Ireland stated that Irish people’s perception of corruption rose in 2016, owing to the controversies surrounding NAMA – but it doesn’t stop there. We have received very worrying information through Namaleaks regarding the behaviour of some real estate auctioneer firms,where individuals were looking for cash to be placed into an offshore account before agreeing to sell properties, belonging to Nama and other financial institutions. Some of these individuals are well known and have reached positions of high authority in this country.
“I’ve met a developer who told me that he paid large amounts of cash to an individual, a former employee of Nama, who held a very serious position in Nama, a very serious one. A lot of money has changed hands.
“Back in 2015, I mentioned the payment of €15,000 in a bag, by an individual, to a NAMA employee, to garner favour. Not sure where the Gardai are with their investigation into this, but I can tell you I’m more certain that ever, about what happened – they go their MOU, out the gap and away, and doing very well for themselves now.
“These ‘new kids on the block’, their newfound fortunes are built on the proceeds of crime. One of them is working in the higher echelons of Cerberus, who have been responsible for taking control of small businesses, family farms, and forcing people out of their homes and onto the housing list.
“We must be one of the best little countries in the world, to do business in. What in god’s name is wrong with us that we don’t like the truth? What in god’s name is wrong with us that we don’t want to hold State bodies to account? What’s wrong with us that we don’t want the truth about Nama?
“Is it because it’s too distasteful? Because you won’t like it? Because you’ve stood over what’s happened for the last five or six years? Is that why you don’t want the truth to come out about it?
“Nama is rotten to the core. And you know what? I actually believe that the minister [for finance, Michael Noonan] knows it. I don’t believe for a second that he thinks they’re clean. There’s problems right through the workings of Nama. The dogs on the street know it. Are you going to pretend forever that they’ve done a great job? And lied to the people?
“The people are tired of being lied to. That’s why politics is changing. That’s why the Americans elected an eejit called Trump, cause they were tired of being lied to but he likes of Obama and Clinton and Bush before him. Well, you know what? They’re going to get tired of you lot lying to them as well.
“Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have engaged in deception, in dealing with the people of Ireland and they’re tired of it. You are not going to get away with it forever. The social media has changed things. People are waking up to what you are up to and to how disingenuous you are about how this country is run and how we organise society. This is such a frustrating place, it makes my blood boil.”
Mattie McGrath describes Tipp developer in NAMA going off to Poland during the Crash and “last weekend” say they’ve bought their assets back
Opening the statements this morning, Fine Gael TD and Minister for Finance Michael Noonan said the following:
NAMA has answered every question put to it by the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Committee of Public Accounts. I acknowledge that there are differences of opinion but there are also findings on which we all agree. The Committee of Public Accounts will soon publish its findings and I look forward to reading that report. While I will await the committee’s report, based on the evidence I also accept that the parties involved are entitled to hold differing opinions on matters of commercial judgment and that this does not imply wrongdoing by any party.
“Today, I do not believe that sufficient grounds have been established on which to progress a commission of investigation without first taking the views of the Committee of Public Accounts into account.
“I would like 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 Garda Síochána. We should commend him for doing so if he believes such action is warranted.
“Anyone who believes they have such information, should bring that information to the gardai and allow them to assess and, if necessary, investigate it. After all, it is the role of the gardai to determine if there are grounds for a criminal investigation in this state, into any matter.
“As far as I know, no such investigation is being pursued by the gardai. I’m also aware that the US Securities and Exchange Commission and the FBI has examined elements of the [Project Eagle] transaction. Should these agencies wish to engage with Nama, Nama has made it clear that it is more than willing to do so.
“Through all of this, I want to be clear that the allegations of wrongdoing that have been made, against particular individuals, and that that are being criminally investigated, are a matter of serious concern. These concerns will remain until investigations are concluded and their findings are made known.
“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.
“Throughout the Opposition’s statements today, there may well be bounds for other Nama transactions to be reviewed. Either through a Commission of Investigation or otherwise. As we know, the Comptroller and Auditor General reviews the accounts in operation in Nama. As deputies should already be aware, the C&AG is already reviewing and assessing a broad sample of approximately 50 Nama transactions from a value-for-money perspective, under the section 226 of the Nama Act.
“I’m sure members will agree: we’re looking forward to receiving the C&AG ‘s section 226 report. And I expect, as is always the work of this C&AG to be very 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 it 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 about 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 the most appropriate strategy, or best strategies, for achieving that mandate.
“In any market, but particularly in an open, 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 offices and apartment projects that have been completed.
“This has only been accomplished through the significant investment that these assets, and in our economy, by the purchases of Nama, IBRC and bank loans and assets.
“It is as important today as it is, it is as important today as it ever was that Ireland remains open to investment capital, for the development of our economy. The [inaudible] spectrum of investment opportunities.
“I will not direct Nama to halt or change its sale strategies and, indeed, I will not direct Nama to do anything that is contrary to their commercial mandate which they’re entitled to do, under the Nama Acts.”
There you go now.
PAC report on NAMA will be published “this month”, PAC previously said it would be published “mid-Dec2016” and then “by 19th Jan 2017”
A motion, above, tabled by TDs Catherine Murphy (top second right) and Roisin Shortall (top far right), of the Social Democrats.
It calls for “an immediate halt on further asset sales by NAMA pending a thorough examination of how NAMA assets can be utilised to prioritise the social development of the State in the context of the current housing crisis”.
And “an update to the legislation which would change the primary purpose of the National Asset Management Agency Act 2009 to contribute to the social and economic development of the State“.
From left: Green Party Leader Eamon Ryan TD, Catherine Martin TD, Councillor and Justice spokesman Roderic O Gorman outside Leinster House this afternoon.
The State could be liable for illegal home repossessions, according to the Green Party.
Green Party Deputy Leader Catherine Martin said she would seek clarification from the Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald on the matter later today.
Ms Martin said that following the AIB versus Counihan case in the High Court in December, EU consumer law must be considered in repossession cases here.
Outside the offices of the Department of Finance on Upper Merrion Street, Dublin 2.
Supporters of Home Sweet Home, including Carrie Hennessy (speaking in photograph above), deliver a letter and petition calling on the Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, to direct NAMA to use its property assets to address the homelessness crisis.
Outside Apollo House on Poolbeg Street, off Tara Street, Dublin 2.
Supporters of the Home Sweet Home occupation of the building – including Transition Year students Emma and Aisling, from Tipperary, top – gather before marching to the Department of Finance offices.
There, a letter and petition will be given to the Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, calling on him to direct NAMA to use its property assets to address the homelessness and housing crisis in Ireland.
On foot for receiving the aforementioned letter and petition…
The Department of Finance has released the following statement:
The Department of Finance today received a letter from the Home Sweet Home group, which is ten pages long and covers details relevant to the actions taken by that group. The Department of Finance will consider the content and a response will issue in due course.
The Government are aware of the powers of NAMA under the NAMA Act 2009.
NAMA has already been active in this space and have offered almost 7,000 units to local authorities for use as social housing. NAMA advise that of these local authorities have taken up c. 2,400 units for social housing use.
NAMA also has plans to facilitate the delivery of 20,000 private residential units on sites securing its loans in Dublin and its surrounds in the period to 2020.
NAMA is well on its way to deliver on that target and from Q1 2014 to December 2016 have facilitated the delivery of 4,500. The associated 10% social housing delivered on such sites should not be forgotten and is a further meaningful contribution to addressing shortages. This initiative highlights how NAMA can advance its commercial mandate whilst also being mindful of ancillary social objectives.
The availability of housing is the key priority for Government and has been the focus of a number of measures introduced under the Government’s Rebuilding Ireland Plan. The Department of Finance, the Minister for Finance, and NAMA continue to support that work.
From top: Banners inside Apollo House; Dr Rory Hearne
There is still time to use NAMA to do what it should have been used to do from the outset- to help heal the scars of the crash and austerity and the injustices of the bailouts.
Dr Rory Hearne writes:
Today at 12 noon the HomeSweetHome campaign will march from Apollo House to hand in a letter [at link below] and petition to the Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, calling on him to direct NAMA to use its property assets to address the homelessness and housing crisis.
The government and NAMA have been trying to hide from the public the significant role that NAMA could be playing in addressing the housing crisis. But the Apollo action means there is no more hiding for NAMA and the government.
This article provides a detailed overview and analysis of why and how NAMA should be used to address the housing crisis. A number of these points are included in the HomeSweetHome letter to the Minister.
While myself and other academics and housing activists have been making the case about NAMA for a number of years it has taken the innovative and inspiring Apollo House action to bring widespread public attention to this.
And it has become even more urgent as the homelessness crisis continues to worsen. The latest monthly figures show that there are now 1,205 families, with 2,549 children, living in emergency accommodation in Ireland.
These figures how that the occupation of the vacant NAMA building, Apollo House, and its transformation into safe and secure accommodation for homeless people is the correct, and socially just, thing to do in order to get public and political attention focused on our housing and homelessness crisis which is a national humanitarian emergency.
The figures show that the the dismissive criticisms made recently by various politicians and Dublin City Council officials about Apollo House are wrong.
Those comments are part of an-going attempt to undermine the massive groundswell of public support for the HomeSweetHome action.
This truth is the core injustice of NAMA itself– it is a truth that government and NAMA officials have attempted to hide from the Irish people.
The NAMA injustice is that NAMA is a state (i.e. belongs to me and you) agency that has the buildings, land and finance that is being used to enrich wealthy property investors rather than being used to end a homelessness crisis that sees hundreds forced to sleep on our streets and thousands of homeless families and children traumatised living in emergency accommodation.
The central problem with NAMA is that senior NAMA officials (operating under direction from the Minister of Finance) have prioritised NAMA’s purpose outlined in Section 10 of the NAMA Act 2009 which is to “obtain the best achieveable financial return for the state”.
The problem with this is that while it might appear that NAMA is maximising the commercial return to the state and taxpayer, it is in fact playing a major role in worsening the housing crisis and thus adding to the economic and social costs of dealing with the housing crisis.
NAMA has sold off loans, land and property to foreign vulture funds who have evicted tenants and raised rents to unaffordable levels.
Most disgracefully NAMA has sold development land (sites) to investors that had the potential for up to 20,000 housing units. However, just 1,100 (5%) of these have been built or are under construction. The investors have hoarded the land, waiting for (and contributing to) housing prices to rise.
NAMA’s current approach is thus worsening the housing crisis and resulting in a significant cost to the state through the necessity for increased spending on homeless accommodation and private rental schemes such as RAS, HAP etc.
It also means that there is no guarantee that the sale of its land and assets will be used in the provision of affordable housing (or other uses). In all likelihood in the current market – financiers are purchasing them to hoard and accrue value before resale in future years rather than redevelopment.
As I wrote in an opinion piece published in the Irish Times on NAMA in 2014:
“By pushing for maximum commercial returns, Nama is working against the interests of those looking for an affordable and secure home. It is continuing the speculative-asset approach to housing that fuelled the crisis. This promotes residential property as a commodity rather than a social good.
Nama is facilitating a massive transfer of wealth created by the Irish people to foreign and domestic capitalist investors.
But Section 2 of the NAMA Act 2009 states that NAMA’s mandate is “to contribute to the social and economic development of the State”.
So why is this not NAMA’s priority?
Furthermore, under the provisions of section 14 of the NAMA Act the Minister for Finance has the power to issue a direction to NAMA.
The Minister Finance could, therefore, as part of converting NAMA into an affordable housing agency, direct NAMA to prioritise its Social Mandate (section 2) over its commercial maximising mandate (Section 10) in all of its operations. Also this Social Mandate should be made to include the prioritisation of the delivery of social and affordable housing.
The Minister should then direct NAMA to sell its property related assets in Ireland (loans relating to land and residential property and holdings of property and land) to local authorities, housing co-operatives, community land and housing trusts, and housing associations rather than vulture funds and REITs.
NAMA should also use the 6000 residential units currently in its possession to house homeless and people off the housing waiting lists as these units become vacant.
Most importantly, NAMA is planning to build (finance and develop) 20,000 houses by 2020 and 90 % of these are to be in the greater Dublin area).
However, the only legal obligation on NAMA is to provide 10% of these units for social housing.
Furthermore, while NAMA states that these units will be ‘starter homes’, at market rates they will be out of reach for many first-time buyers. In 2017 3,500 of these are expected to be built (2,500 are already under construction in the Dublin area). A third of these units- 1,100 of these units – should be used to house all families who are currently living in emergency accommodation, such as hotels and B and B, in Dublin.
Such accommodation is totally unsuited to their needs and particularly those of children who may suffer lasting damage from such accommodation.
It should be noted that NAMA has provided around 2000 social housing units to date. In fact, local authorities have been offered 6,635 units by NAMA e.g. over 800 houses were offered to Dublin City Council but only were 400 taken up, largely because of insufficient funding being made available to local authorities by government and issues relating to over concentration of social housing in certain areas.
The Minister for Environment, should immediately direct local authorities to take up all NAMA offers of social housing and that these will be funded and sanctioned by his Department.
Furthermore, NAMA could build tens of thousands of additional homes on its own and local authority land through the use of its cash reserves and delaying the repayment of its remaining debt. NAMA has already paid off 81 per cent of its debt of €31 billion (€25 billion), so that only €5 billion remains to be repaid.
Currently the Minister Finance and NAMA are planning to pay down the remainder by 2020 and Michael Noonan, has repeatedly defended NAMA’s ‘maximising of the commercial return’ from the sale of its land and buildings in order to pay back this debt as soon as possible.
But that timeframe is arbitrarily set by NAMA and the Minister for Finance. NAMA can fulfil its commercial mandate and pay down the debt – just over a longer time frame – through the development of affordable housing schemes using its cash reserves and ability to raise low interest finance to fund development.
This can be staged over a longer time frame than that currently fixed. For example, NAMA could fund through its cash reserves and lending to local authorities and housing associations the building of upwards of 50,000 affordable (affordable homes for broad range of income groups through social rental, cost rental and affordable purchase) housing units in coming years using NAMA and other state land.
The 50,000 figure is based on 20,000 units on NAMA land and using NAMA’s cash reserves and other assets at a cost of €500 million per 10,000 units of affordable housing and €1bn per 6000 public/social units.
This would save the State a substantial proportion of the €100 million annual expenditure in emergency accommodation and hundreds of millions more euro on various social housing schemes in the private rental sector.
So if NAMA, for example, provided 20,000 social and affordable units, it could save the State at least €1 billion over five years, and at least €2 billion over ten years (this would increase if 50,000 units were built), which equates to the return NAMA is supposed to provide to the taxpayer anyway.
Furthermore, this approach would provide a longer term rental income stream and housing assets to the State, and would address the humanitarian disaster of homelessness and the social and economic costs of the wider housing crisis. NAMA has already developed a model for doing this using its NARPS special purpose vehicle, and is building some social and affordable housing across the country, although at very low numbers.
But there is still time to use NAMA to do what it should have been used to do from the outset- to help heal the scars of the crash and austerity and the injustices of the bailouts.
It could do this by contributing to the social recovery through social and affordable housing provision for the Irish people rather than fuelling the economic recovery of the already wealthy global and Irish investors.
As I wrote in 2014:
“When our financial system was in peril there was no obstacle too large for the State to overcome. Now we face an equivalent crisis in housing needs. It is legitimate to ask why the same radical approach is not applied to the housing crisis. It appears the Government is unwilling to stand up to the financial and property investors”.
The Receivers appointed by the NAMA to Apollo House obtained an injunction from the High Court directing the occupiers to vacate the premises by noon January 11 2017. The effect of this is that at least 40 people, currently housed at Apollo House, will be rendered homeless and forced to live on the streets.
In the coming days a lot of public support is required to convert this brave citizen’s act into an unstoppable movement for a right to an affordable and secure home for all in Ireland.
You can start by signing the HomeSweetHome Open Letter to Michael Noonan, demanding he use NAMA’s resources to help end the homelessness crisis here:
Dr Rory Hearne is a policy analyst, academc, social justice campaigner. He writes here in a personal capacity. Follow Rory on Twitter: @roryhearne