In the Dáil, during Leaders’ Questions, which were taken by Tanáiste Simon Coveney.
People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett raised this afternoon’s debate and vote on Permanent Structured Co-operation – an EU security and defence agreement – otherwise known as PESCO.
The ultimate aim of PESCO is to “deepen” defence co-operation among EU members states.
Mr Barrett ended up asking Mr Coveney to publish the Attorney General’s advice on PESCO but Mr Coveney pointed out the AG’s advice is never published.
From their exchange…
Richard Boyd Barrett: “Tanaiste, minister, this is the week that Donald Trump has declared war on the people of Palestine and the wider Arab and Muslim world by recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel – threatening to inflame conflict right across the Middle East.
“Now, against that background of war mongering, increased militarism by Trump, it is more important than ever that Ireland holds on to its traditional position of military neutrality and opposing war mongering and militarism.
“And yet, it is precisely in this week, that the Government has rammed through and quite successfully, to this point, buried what is the biggest betrayal of Irish neutrality since the decision to allow US forces use Shannon Airport to bomb Iraq back into the Dark Ages.
“The vote that will take place today, for us to join permanent, structured cooperation on a new common defence project in the European Union is an absolute betrayal of Ireland’s neutrality.
“It is a step towards involvement in what is explicitly being touted by Donald Tusk, by Juncker, by Macron as a new European army and common defence pact.
“And you have buried this. You misled the business committee because the decision to join PESCO was taken, we were informed by Minister Kehoe who didn’t know much else frankly about this, but the one thing he informed us last night, was this decision was taken on the 21st of November and yet, for two business committee meetings, afterwards, not a mention that you were planning to push this vote through this week.
“No doubt you’ve been briefing the media that there’s nothing to see here, it’s irrelevant, not significant, there’s no legal implications, but the truth is this is us joining up in a common defence which will require us regularly, I’m quoting, increased defence budgets in real terms, to meet the 2% GDP benchmark, that would mean a quadrupling of our Irish defence expenditure.
“These are binding..common commitments. It will involve bringing our defence apparatus in line with other member states.
“It will involve establishing permanent, inter-operability with NATO, it will involve increased expenditure on arms and weaponry to benefit the European military industrial complex and now my question is not only why have you mislead the country, and try to bury this significant betrayal of Irish neutrality but I want to ask you seriously: is this not unconstitutional?
“Apart from everything else, is it not unconstitutional? Article 29.4.9 of our constitution says the following: ‘the State shall not adopt a decision taken by the European Council to establish a common defence pursuant to Article 42 of the Treaty on European Union where that common defence would include the State’, our state.
“This is a common defence, it is explicit, anybody who wants to, who doubts that, should read the PESCO agreement. We are signing up for a common defence, in defiance of our own constitution and you’ve mislead the public, you’ve mislead the Dail, and played fast and loose with the business committee.”
Simon Coveney: “What I don’t agree with you on, deputy, is the attempt by you, and others, in this House, to paint PESCO, Permanent Structured Cooperation, as something that it’s not.
“I’m a former Minister for Defence, I’m somebody who has listened to many debates in relation to this initiative. The truth is, deputy, that is simply a structured initiative that allows member states to opt in and opt out, depending on what they’re comfortable with, on different projects.
“We have other non-aligned countries, and usual countries like Sweden, Austria, Finland that have already signed up. And from an Irish perspective, this is an opportunity for us to essentially share resources and access other resources in areas where we are comfortable in co-operation and it’s no more or less than that, on a case-by-case basis.
“I suspect we will want to use this in terms of counter-terrorism, in terms of peace-keeping and training, in areas potentially like marine surveillance, so that Ireland can be part of collective initiatives when it’s appropriate to be a part of those collective initiatives in the context of the European Union.
“As the Taoiseach said yesterday, other countries will see it differently. Other countries may want to get more involved in a more structured way in projects that will not have an involvement in.
“And so I would ask the deputy to actually call this what it is, as opposed to trying to create some kind of conspiracy that simply doesn’t exist.
“This is a conversation that’s been happening since the Lisbon Treaty and it is now something that is coming to finality, following a long debate that a lot of countries have been involved in, neutral states, NATO members and others.
“And Ireland insisted, as others did, on language in the context of the setting up of PESCO to ensure that it is constitutional, to ensure that it doesn’t undermine Irish neutrality, to ensure that the triple lock still applies if we’re going to send troops to any other part of the world.
“So, from that point of view, we have tested this in the context of some of the questions that you’ve asked and it does not undermine what is important to Irish people and what is important to mewhich is that Ireland remains non aligned militarily and a neutral state.”
Boyd Barrett: “That is the most cynical rubbish I have ever heard.
“Right. And I really appeal, I really appeal to the public and the press to simply read the document. Notification on Permanent Structure Cooperation. OK?
“It includes, for example, binding commitments. First of all, it refers to 20 binding commitments, there’s no ambiguity about the language. One of those includes commitment to agree on a common technical and operation standards of forces, acknowledging that they need to ensure interoperability with NATO.
“That’s NATO that involves Donald Trump and the United States, right?
“That’s what we’re talking about. We are committing to the integration of Irish defence forces with NATO. It commits us and we still haven’t got answers on this, it commits us to real increases in defence budgets ok?
“Successive medium-term increase in defence investment. Increasing the share of expenditure allocated to defence research and technology which will be reviewed on an annual basis. A national implementation plan to meet these targets.
“This is the military equivalent of the Fiscal Treaty and we are signing up to it. And what, this is what, I’ll just conclude on this.
“This is Tusk said about PESCO, it’s purpose is to protect the bloc from the effects of the migrant crisis and hostile bordering states. Effects of the migrant crisis? 35,000 people drowned in the Mediterranean thanks to Fortress Europe.
“And they want to militarise the wall that Donald Trump dreams of building to keep those desperate people out. This is what they’re about. And you have deceived the public. And I would just ask this simple question: Give us the legal advice that that doesn’t run counter to Article 29. Can you give us that advice before we have to take the vote today?
“From the Attorney General that that does not run counter to Article 29 of the constitution.”
Coveney: “Well I can tell you deputy that we wouldn’t be bringing a vote to this house if we hadn’t….sorry…you know only too well, that the AG’s legal advice is not published, ever. So, so. You know. Stop asking for things you know you can’t access…”
“The AG’s responsibility is to get legal advice to the Government and the Government then brings proposals to the House that’s consistent with that, that’s the way this House works. That’s the way this House works.
“In relation to interoperability, deputy, there’s nothing new in that. The Irish Defence Forces have worked with NATO in the past. We’ve done it in Afghanistan and any time you send peacekeepers to any part of the world, are you seriously suggesting that our peacekeepers shouldn’t be interoperable with colleagues that they work with? In parts of the world where they put their lives at risk, deputy, to defend peace and stability of strangers that they’ve never met.
“The problem that you have is that you don’t seem to understand the risks that Irish troops put themselves in, in the pursuit of peace and stability
“And my job is to make sure that we reduce those risks by making sure that they have the budgets and the equipment to do the job properly to ensure that we have enough people in terms of personnel in the Defence Forces to make sure that they’re well-equipped and well trained.
“And to make sure that when they’re working with others, when we make the voluntary decision and it’s confirmed by they triple lock, to send troops to parts of the world, that they have trained, and that they are interoperable in a professional sense with others that they will be working with.
“And that makes perfect sense to me. It is also absolutely consistent with the new White Paper on defence which was supported and passed in this House.”
You cannot visit The Irish Anti-War Movement or Shannonwatch websites from Oireachtas computers. They’re blocked! @PaulMurphyTD also reveals arms industry lobbying in Brussels has doubled to €5.6m in one year. They’re not lobbying for lower expenditure on arms! #pesco
It had originally proposed that where a landlord proposes to sell 20 or more units in a development – within six months – the sales would be conditional on existing tenants being able to remain in the property unless there were exceptional circumstances.
During a Seanad debate on this amendment, the number was changed from 20 to five.
Readers may also wish to note how director of advocacy Focus Ireland Mike Allen in January stated that “a third of families who are becoming homeless in Dublin are becoming homeless because their landlord has been forced to sell up“.
Further to this.
Richard Boyd Barrett spoke about the Tyrrelstown amendment in an interview with Seán O’Rourke on RTE Radio One this morning, in regards to an apartment development, called Robin Hill, in Sandyford, Dublin 4, which went into Nama and was then subsequently sold to Cerberus.
Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council requested to buy 15 of the apartments in May of last year but was told it would have to buy the entire complex.
This morning, Jack Fagan, in The Irish Timesreports that the complex is on sale, in one lot, from today with a guiding price of €14million.
According to Mr Boyd-Barrett, some of Robin Hill’s tenants are now facing eviction.
During the Seán O’Rourke show:
Seán O’Rourke: “I quote the minister [for housing Simon Coveney] from what he said yesterday. He said, and this is regard to protecting people who are there in an apartment block being sold. He said, if 10 or more properties are being sold in one sale, then people who have tenancies in the apartments affected get protected through that sale and I said I’ve asked Richard, in other words you, to send me the details of any cases or any individual issues he has. Now surely that reflects an openness on the minister’s part?”
Richard Boyd-Barrett: “No, first of all, when I raised this issue on Tuesday, the minister did not contact me and ask me, he didn’t in the Dáil, or afterwards, ask me for the details of Robin Hill. That’s simply not true.”
“Secondly, what the legislation refers to, actually means is, that the vulture fund or landlord can evict nine people and then six months later, by the way, the legislation will allow them to evict another nine people. And six months after that, another nine people.
“So, this figure of 10 – which was never explained why we had to include it. We, at the time of the legislation sought to bring that down to zero. In other words that, if you were selling a multi-unit development, you would have to sell it with the tenants in situ and guarantee the security of tenure and the Government resisted that, for reasons I don’t understand but it now seems for reasons that benefitted vulture funds who are trying to profiteer at the expense of tenants they want to evict or massively increase rents.”
In the Dáil.
Readers may wish to recall the exchange Mr Boyd Barrett had with Taoiseach Enda Kenny during Leaders’ Questions, in respect of Robin Hill.
Richard Boyd Barrett: “I will cite a very concrete example of how decisions the Government made in the past six months have contributed directly to this shambles and the hardship that follows. Robin Hill, a development of apartments in Balally in Sandyford, was originally built by the McEvaddy brothers in 2008. The development, which consists of 52 apartments, went into NAMA at some point.
For most of the time it has been in NAMA, at least 15 and possibly as many as half of the apartments have been empty while the housing crisis spirals out of control. In May 2016, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council asked whether it would purchase 15 of the vacant units. It was told that it could only buy the entire block.
Shortly after the Project Eagle scandal broke in September, NAMA agreed the sale of Project Gem, which included these apartments, to the vulture fund Cerberus. The sale, which was one of the biggest sales of property in the history of the State, went through.
Since then, Cerberus has moved to start evicting the tenants in a block that is still half empty. Of the 21 remaining tenants I have met, five are to be evicted in June.
Others whom Cerberus feels it cannot evict straight away have been told they must pay an extra €250 per month in heating and hot water charges that were previously included in the rent. They were never charged for that previously. In other words, this is a back-door rent increase of about 20%.
These empty units are sitting there while we have record numbers in homeless accommodation with evictions to follow. This would have been avoidable if NAMA had not sold this development to a vulture fund but had given it to the local authority as it requested and if the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government had ensured his Bill before Christmas included a provision to prevent new owners from evicting tenants when apartments are sold, as we warned would happen, or finding back-door ways to ratchet up rents. Is it not the truth that the crisis is avoidable and has resulted from the Government’s policy failures?”
Enda Kenny: “No, it is not the truth. The problem here is the supply of houses throughout the country. Anyone can understand that there is real pressure in certain segments of the housing sector. The Deputy can nod his head if he likes. I read a report this morning that said that 49 houses priced between €400,000 and €700,000 were snapped up inside a day by those who could afford them. There are no difficulties in certain areas.
It is true to say that there is a serious issue here. A total of 40,000 vacant units have been bought by the State in the past five years.
Boyd-Barrett: “A fantasy figure has just appeared, namely, that the State has apparently purchased 40,000 houses. The more accurate truth is that NAMA has flogged off thousands of homes or, worse, as the Balally example indicates, has sat on empty properties in public ownership and when local authorities sought to purchase them, it refused and chose to sell them to a vulture fund instead.”
“The vulture fund is now moving to evict people, bypass the Minister’s totally inadequate legislation and ratchet up the rent on tenants it cannot immediately evict. I suspect, and the tenants fear, that they will be evicted in phases because under the Tyrrelstown amendment, no more than ten tenants may be evicted at one time, which is leading to landlords evicting tenants en bloc. That is almost certainly the case and the Taoiseach allowed it to happen by selling apartment blocks.”
“How many more Balallys are there? How many more in Project Gem? How many more people will get eviction notices from vulture funds to which NAMA sold properties at a massive discount rather than give them to the local authorities. There are 50,000 empty properties in Dublin. The Balally situation indicates why there is a supply problem in spite of that. That is the real issue. It is not an absolute supply problem, it is a man-made one resulting from the behaviour of NAMA and the vulture funds, which are sitting on empty properties, evicting people in order to inflate property prices and rents and make more profit from the misery of those they evict or who cannot afford to rent such properties.
Kenny: “Let me clarify what I meant when I said that 40,000 properties have come back into use.”
Bríd Smith: “That is not what the Taoiseach said.”
Pearse Doherty: “That is not what was said.”
Kenny: “I take the Deputy’s point. One thousand properties were purchased by the State at a cost of €203 million.
Aengus Ó Snodaigh: “That is 39,000 fewer than the original figure the Taoiseach gave.”
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
Anti-Trumpists highlight the ‘Resist Trump, Resist Hatred‘ demonstration organised by Anti-Austerity Alliance–People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett to be held at the US embassy, Elgin Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4 tonight at 6pm.
Above from left: Richard Boyd Barrett,, Ruth Coppinger (AAA-PBP) Memet Uludag (United Against Racism) Kate Ruddock (Friends of the Earth) and Fatin Al Tamimi (Ireland Palestine Soildarity Campaign).
Further to the announcement from Finance Minister Michael Noonan that Ireland must pay an additional €280million to the EU next year – because of the recent GDP growth of 26.3%, as recorded by the Central Statistics Office…
Sinn Féin TD and finance spokesman Pearse Doherty and Stephen Collins, political editor of The Irish Times, spoke on Today with Seán O’Rourke about the development.
Seán O’Rourke: “Pearse Doherty, are you assured by a comment from the Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Paschal Donohoe on Morning Ireland, saying that bill has to be met, as a result of our EU membership, it will not influence the spending plan for Budget 2017.”
Pearse Doherty: “Well, Minister Noonan actually provided me with this figure on Tuesday, €280million additional and made that point that it doesn’t affect our fiscal space. And this is about just how the rules are applied and the fiscal space has been agreed in April and therefore it’s set. It will have an impact next year and that’s where we need to actually tease out how we calculate the fiscal space for next year. But I think there’s a deeper issue here and me in Sinn Féin and myself, in particular, have been challenging the previous government on this, since 2013. Our economic, the way we calculate our economy is absolutely broken, it’s bust in this country. It’s been a way out for quite a long number of years. We all agree that the 26% isn’t real, but neither was the 7% that we were suggesting was happening last year as well because the same type of factors were at play. At a lesser extent.”
“But the fact that we’re actually paying more to the European Union budget as a result of this year isn’t something new. I have figures going back to 2010, as a result of redomiciled plcs – these are companies that were domiciled in Ireland but don’t pay any tax here. And the actual additional contribution that we had to pay to the EU budget every year, because of that average, between €45 and €60million per year. So this is something that’s been going on, over and over again. In 2014, when we started to, we raised our GDP figures because of the activities of illicit trades that’s, you know, prostitution, drug sales and all the rest which gives us a bump in GDP, we actually had to pay €6.5million to the European contribution.”
In the Dáil…
Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett raised the €280million bill after he asked why the Government recently opposed an EU proposal to begin country-by-country reporting of corporation tax by large multinational firms.
He was speaking during a debate on corporation tax.
From the debate:
Richard Boyd Barrett: “A few weeks ago, the Government opposed an EU proposal to introduce public country-by- country reporting of corporation tax for large multinational companies on the spurious grounds of subsidiarity. Are we going to bring in public country-by-country reporting ourselves?
Mary Mitchell O’Connor: “Last April, the European Commission adopted a proposal for a directive to introduce public country-by-country reporting of corporation tax by large multinational enterprises.Since then, my Department has been considering the detail of the proposal and consulting with stakeholders. The Department also ran an open consultation in the course of last May. The task of assessing the proposal is continuing and, at EU level, the negotiations have begun. Although they are at an early stage, it is clear that the proposal raises a number of practical, legal and technical issues. These will need to be addressed over the coming months. Until we know the scope and content of any final EU measure, it is too soon to consider national measures on this type of public reporting. However, Ireland is already to the fore in introducing similar reporting obligations for large multinational companies. Under the Finance Act 2015, certain Irish-resident parent companies and subsidiaries of non-Irish companies must file a country-by-country report on tax with the Revenue Commissioners each year. The first of these reports are due to be submitted to the Revenue by the end of next year. Several countries, including the US and all EU member countries, have committed to introducing this form of country-by-country reporting and to sharing the information among their tax authorities.”
Boyd Barrett: “The Minister may have heard this week that we are already paying a big price because of aggressive tax avoidance by multinational corporations. We will have to pay an extra €280 million to the EU this year because of the artificial inflation of the growth figures. Already, even before that, our contribution to the EU is grossly inflated and distorted because it is, in proportion to population, double that of countries such as Portugal and others due to the tax avoidance strategies of multinationals based in this country. It is in our interests to have public country-by-country reporting of the big multinational companies to stop them engaging in aggressive tax avoidance. Yet, incredibly, when offered the opportunity to do that by the European Union, we used the spurious excuse of subsidiarity to reject that proposal. What the Minister seems to be saying is that we cannot do it on our own. I agree with that, but why the hell did we not sign up to a pan-European proposal to do it, instead saying that we could not sign up to it because it infringes our sovereignty? It does not make any sense.”
Mitchell O’Connor: I reject tax avoidance. We cannot do it on our own. If we were to publish the figures the Deputy is referring to, it would allow some companies to gain a possible commercial advantage over others because matters would be deemed to be commercially sensitive. Other jurisdictions might not share the information with us if they knew we were going to publish the reports. It would not help the tax transparency agenda and a system of country-by-country reporting. I cannot do it.
Acting Chairman (Deputy Catherine Connolly): I thank the Minister. That brings Question Time to a close, and we are moving…”
Boyd Barrett: “There are 21 seconds remaining.”
Connolly: “We are moving on. I asked for the Deputy’s co-operation. I have three different clocks here. I am going to move on to Topical Issues.”
Listen back to Today with Seán O’Rourke interview in full here
Soc Dem founder Catherine Murphy made fresh claims about Denis O’Brien’s involvement with IBRC this morning during a debate on the second stage of the Commission of Investigation (IBRC) Bill 2016.
This is the Cregan investigation into certain transactions within IBRC, including the sale of Siteserv to Denis O’Brien.
Ms Murphy told the Dáil:
“I am relieved that we are finally at a place where we can begin the process by introducing this legislation. The thought crossed my mind this morning when it took so long to get a quorum that it had been stymied at every opportunity, and I wondered. I am not prone to conspiracy theories and I can tell the Minister of State how relieved I am that we ended up getting a quorum when it arrived after 11.10.
The commission had been fraught with problems. The majority arose because this, in reality, is the first investigation that has dealt with financial and banking matters under the 2004 legislation and it has been different from inquiries that have happened under that legislation to date. Given the turmoil of recent years, I doubt it is likely to be the last of this kind of inquiry.
It is bespoke legislation but at least it is charting a way. Upon reading the legislation, it is not quite clear to whom the final report will be made available. I note in the comments of the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, that persons will have sight of it if they are mentioned in it, but whom will it be delivered to at the end of the day? Maybe that could be clarified because we need some degree of certainty on that at this stage.
It is just over a year since I stood in this Chamber and raised issues that I still believe were in the public interest – a complex web of cosy relationships, outrageous financial dealings and convenient transactions that benefited some far more than others, all at the expense of ordinary citizens.
The public interest element of the investigation is without question. IBRC was a bank that the people never wanted and yet well in excess of €30 billion of citizens’ money was pumped into the institutions formerly known as Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide Building Society that then combined to become IBRC.
Citizens have a right to understand why they are shouldering the burden of bank debts while some individuals appear to be doing very well from the purchase of distressed assets from IBRC. It became even more worrying when it transpired that Siteserv, a distressed asset that went on to win some lucrative water meter contracts, was purchased in highly irregular circumstances from IBRC.
The information I got from a freedom of information request was that the Department of Finance had deep concerns about that. From the bits that are not redacted, it indicates that the reputation of IBRC and, by extension, the State is vulnerable due to the approach taken by the bank on these matters, and that the processes of IBRC should be beyond challenge in order to protect it. There was clear concern in the Department about it.
AIB, which is 99% State-owned, lent the individual the money to buy Siteserv. That is our bank, which would not lend to businesses, yet it provided the money to buy Siteserv, an asset owned by the State. When the loan was granted to that person, he owed the State significant sums of money already. We sold Siteserv to that person for less than it appears to have been worth. Why would we not ask questions about that?
We did it when others told us they were prepared to pay more for the asset from their own resources rather than a loan from one of our banks. We know trade buyers were excluded, so we did not properly test what could have come in. As we know, there was a write-off of €119 million, with €5 million going to the directors of what was essentially a failed company in terms of the amount of money available.
My pursuit of the questions surrounding such an irregular transaction culminated in my making a speech in this House approximately a year ago that created a furore I could not really have envisaged.
I was attacked by powerful interests using media outlets that were afraid of the power wielded by this individual.
On one occasion my reputation was rescued by Deputy Micheál Martin because a presenter did not intervene. It took me by surprise; the legal issue is thrown over news stories very often when they involve very wealthy individuals, but it is not done in the same way for other people. I noted that at the time.
I have since discovered a whole other world that I did not know existed. A journalist contacted me on the false premise that he was writing an article and I took him at face value. He made an appointment to come to the Oireachtas for a meeting, but the sole purpose of it was to try to find out the sources of my information.
He did not get the sources but it appeared to be more of an inquisition than an interview. That kind of world, which I did not know existed, is there bubbling under the surface. We must be conscious of that.
My staff and I were put under immense pressure, but at all times I felt the support of the public, and people went out of their way to e-mail me, call me, stop me in the street and encourage me to continue to ask the questions that they wanted to be asked. They were obvious to very many people. I continue to have people on a constant basis saying it to me, even at this stage.
There can be no denying there is a disconnect between citizens and politics. Mistrust and the impression of “them and us” has damaged the relationship, exposing issues of concern. There should be an insistence on transparency and accountability, along with a pledge to uphold both. That is the only way we can restore trust in both the political and public life in Ireland.
Legislation being introduced today is a significant part of the process, but it is only one element. The Minister of State mentioned terms of reference and I hope we will see them in the next week, as they are important. It is essential to put in a modular fashion how this will proceed. Looking at the first, second and third interim reports, substantial work has been done by the judge in preparing for the inquiry, narrowing the issue and concentrating on Siteserv as the first element in the modular approach. This should be in place by the time the Dáil goes into recess.
The terms of reference have shifted substantially already, focusing on transactions initially above €100 million and, subsequently, transactions of over €10 million. Considering the amount of material that the judge has gone through at this stage with one transaction, I agree that in hindsight we underestimated the task involved.
It is important that we narrow it and do one good piece of work before going back to see what else is needed. The Dáil will manage that. It is important to investigate the transactions accounting for substantial sums of money.
There are also instances where the sum involved may be relatively insignificant overall but the context would provide an understanding of key relationships, which would be a vital component of the larger investigation. For example, in 2012, the then heavily indebted developer Paddy McKillen sought a bridging loan of just €5 million from IBRC when he had a cashflow problem following his unsuccessful litigation against the Barclay brothers.
As part of that process, Richard Woodhouse, a man connected with the Siteserv sale, and Mr. O’Brien advised members of the IBRC, including Mr. Aynsley and Tom Hunerson – people connected directly with the Siteserv deal – that Mr. O’Brien would provide IBRC with a guarantee of €5 million to support the loan for Mr. McKillen.
Astoundingly, despite serious concerns from some about Mr. McKillen’s ability to repay the amounts he owed IBRC – far in excess of €5 million – the bridging facility was granted. Essentially, a man with huge debts to IBRC was granted a loan from the IBRC on the guarantee of another man who owed significant sums to IBRC while there were questions over both men’s financial ability to fulfil original loan agreements with IBRC.
Those making the decision were directly connected with the Siteserv deal and other transactions. Some of the larger transactions, such as those in excess of €10 million or €100 million, may be more straightforward than some of the smaller transactions that could give us some sort of better understanding of the relationships in the bank.
I also have a question on the provision of the loan by AIB, the bank that is 99% owned by the State, when the business sector in the country was screaming that it could not get credit just to get staff paid.
The loan was paid to Mr. O’Brien to help facilitate the purchase of Siteserv. It is interesting to note that the AIB group chief credit officer at the time the loan was advanced went on after leaving AIB to join the boards of Siteserv, Topaz and the Beacon Hospital, all owned by Mr. Denis O’Brien. Why was that? My point has always been that, while there may be perfectly legitimate answers to these questions, they stand out as very obvious questions to ask.
An element of this legislation that I called for and which appears to be absent is a section dealing with the Irish Stock Exchange. There is one aspect of the stock exchange that I want to mention. In the course of trying to untangle some of the curious share dealings surround the sale of Siteserv, it proved wholly ineffective in maintaining any form of watchdog capacity or general oversight. The Minister of State referred to a portion of the Bill dealing with confidentiality with respect to the provision of information by the stock exchange. Deputy Calleary and I have made this point.
There was a big spike in the share dealings before it was publicly known that this company was going to be sold. I wrote to the Irish Stock Exchange and it stated it does not possess details of individual dealings regarding nominee accounts, so it did not have the information.
Then I wrote to the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement and it stated there was no indication at the time of reply that any issues arose that came within the remit of that office.
I wrote back to the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement and then I wrote to the Central Bank, which stated it does not hold details of the beneficial owners of the nominee accounts holding shares.
We wonder why prosecutions are not taken in relation to insider trading but if nobody is holding anybody to account or has the function to do that, how can it happen? We should not have legislation if we have not got the means of enforcing it and we need to do far more in respect of the stock exchange and of share dealings.
In every situation there must be a system of checks and balances and a significant one must be the ability of the media to report news. It became increasingly obvious during all of this that we had a major problem with both the ownership of our media and our defamation laws.
Not having a functioning media may well be a contributory factor in future inquiries, where that role should properly be played by the media in scrutinising and holding to account in the same way as we in the Opposition are expected to hold the Government to account. It is the checks and balances in the system.
There can be no doubt that the chilling effect of powerful individuals is a problem in this country and certainly it has appeared to be the case that the thicker the wallet the thinner the skin. Our defamation laws, as they stand, allow that to be the case. Aside from the chilling effect, there is also very real concern regarding media ownership.
When an individual is able, as Fintan O’Toole wrote, to accumulate “excessive private power” which has “an impact on the public realm of democracy” one knows there is a problem with the system controls that are in place.
We saw the work, for example, that was done quite recently by the “Prime Time” investigations unit regarding Console. That was a very good piece of work, but even an adverse or a satirical comment will invariably produce a writ to RTE.
Then we wonder why we do not see programmes by the likes of “Prime Time” about particular individuals, whether or not about this particular topic. That definitely has to be questioned. This is why the National Union of Journalists is calling for the establishment of a commission on the future of the media in Ireland. We should not just heed that call, we must commit to providing for that to happen as a matter of urgency. We have to get those checks and balances back into the system and the media are one element of that.
We also need a discussion regarding why the media mergers guidelines are not retrospective. Where there have been similar concerns about other sectors that have an over-dominance in the market, steps were taken. The one I am thinking of, which was very obvious, was the situation regarding Ryanair and Aer Lingus, where Ryanair was told it was over-dominant in a particular market – between Stansted and Dublin, I think. It was ordered to sell some of that, if not all of it.
Why is it that one sector is looked at and another sector that is just as important, if not more so, is not considered in the same way? While I am pleased to welcome the Bill and I look forward to the work finally progressing in a meaningful way, I regret that it is necessary to use legislation to force some of the parties involved to make the relevant documents and information available to Mr. Justice Brian Cregan in a way that overcomes the privilege and confidentiality issues asserted by some of those involved.
I am pleased that Siteserv will be prioritised as I believe it to be the issue of primary concern to the public and I believe it will act as a bellwether for other transactions that require serious questioning and analysis, including the controversial Topaz deal and the worrying circumstances surrounding the Blackstone transaction.
Much of this has taken me to places I would not look at. Blackstone would not normally be on my radar, but I had a look at their website. There is a section within the company that deals with tactical opportunities, which they call “Tac Opps”. It is a bit eye-opening.
This section is, by its own description:
“an opportunistic investing platform seeking to capitalize on global investment opportunities that are time-sensitive, complex, or in dislocated markets where we believe risk is fundamentally mispriced”.
We have a situation where one of the leading investment companies in the world, with the proud objective of capitalising on distress, was employed to advise IBRC, without any procurement or any competition from others, on the sale price of the assets.
It went on to be allowed, astonishingly, to buy some of the assets it had priced itself. That is one of the issues the Department of Finance officials were concerned about and it is one of the major transactions they highlighted in the FOI information.
The internal documents from the Department of Finance discuss concern about the ‘poor quality of decisions’ taken.
That language is terribly tame, but I suppose it is the kind of thing one puts into official documents that will be read at some point.
I would have said something a little more extreme, but I will not say it in here. This was stated in respect of transactions such as Siteserv and Blackstone. The officials themselves seem to be extremely unhappy.
Situations such as these raise questions for any right-minded person looking at them. It is my job, and the job of those in the Opposition, to hold the Government to account, as a representative of the citizens, to look at these things and to ask questions.
The public expects and deserves that those questions are asked. In respect of the point that was made about the Irish Nationwide mortgage-holders, what has gone on there is an absolute disgrace.
The web that was outlined by my colleague, Deputy Donnelly, yesterday in respect of even the avoidance of tax is unbelievable, but the real concern should be those people who took out a mortgage in good faith with Irish Nationwide Building Society.
Some of the mortgages were performing and some of them were distressed, but some of the distressed mortgages could have been serviced if there had been even a small discount.
We are not just going to end up with this company running big profits out of all of this but the State will end up having to house some of the people who will, inevitably, lose their homes as well.
The whole thing does not make sense.
I listened to Deputy [Joan] Burton talking this morning about the great work that had been done in dealing with the promissory notes that were turned into sovereign debt on the night IBRC was liquidated.
It was as if we should be thankful to them for doing all this hard work, that they sorted it all out.
The promise the Labour Party actually made was that it would be dealt with. It was “Frankfurt’s way or Labour’s way” and the impression was given that the debt would be written off. That was a legitimate expectation that people had.
We should continue to challenge the very idea that this debt is still there. The promissory notes were turned into sovereign debt and there was a restructuring of the repayment schedule but not one solitary penny of it was written off.
Some €2 billion was borrowed and extinguished in the Central Bank to take it out of the economy. This was last year but there is a schedule of payments up to 2030 to repay an odious debt, with which we should never have been lumbered. We should not lose any opportunity to restate that point.
I wish Mr. Justice Brian Cregan well on the work ahead. I know he has done a lot of work in preparing for this and I have read each of his interim reports with great interest. It is right to narrow this down and it is critically important that we have the terms of reference before the Dáil goes into recess.
Both these things are required for the judge to proceed with his inquiry in the fullest way possible.”
Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett
Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett TD spoke during the debate.
Mr Boyd Barrett began by admitting he hadn’t heard Social Democrats TD Stephen Donnelly’s speech about US investment firm, Mars Capital yesterday, and the pending eviction of a family from their home in Kilkenny.
However, Mr Boyd Barrett said:
“A woman emailed me previously about her engagement with the financial institution that used to be Irish Nationwide and then became IBRC and the mortgage, the mortgage they had. And I think it’s sort of telling, in a way, what’s at stake in all of this. I’ll just read out a little of what the person says. She says:
I am an IBRC mortgage holder with a performing, just about so far, loan, that has just been sold to Mars Capital No.3 Limited, an unregulated fund. I stood outside the Dáil with other mortgage holders, trying to get this government to see sense but no, Michael Noonan had no regard for me or any ordinary person caught up in its liquidation of IBRC. So I wanted to know: who will I be dealing with. Who is Mars Capital No.3 Limited?
I did some research on cro.ie and discovered that Mars Capital No. 3 Limited had, until January the 15th, two directors – one of whom had the same name as a person who held a senior position in IBRC in the past. And was also, in the past, an employee of KPMG, the firm of liquidators. That surprised me. But I am an ordinary person who isn’t used to looking at company documents.
In recent days, that director stood down and another is appointed per new documents, lodged with the CRO. The other fact I discovered is that that company has three shareholders, all of them charitable trusts. Which I Googled and are associated, I think, with a Dublin legal firm. They are named Badb – I don’t even know how to pronounce this – Medb and Eurydice. What in the name of god has a charity to do with it? Who would use charitable trusts? Why use charitable trusts? Who owns my loan? I am still none the wiser. I believe this has to be examined.
Why hide behind charitable trusts? I took out my loan with a building society, not a charity. I stand to be corrected but the charitable trusts concerned may have been in the news in the past. I think I am at least entitled to know who owns my loan, considering my Government has done the selling.”
“And just to inform people, if they don’t know, the charitable trusts were owned by Ireland’s biggest, corporate tax firm, Matheson, who indeed have been in the news. Because Matheson were using these three companies to essentially help international hedge funds avoid tax.”
“Something that the Central Bank has reported on, the use of these charitable trusts which are, apparently, registered to relieve poverty and distress. But they what they actually do is help hedge funds and banks pay billions less in tax on, in the area of high-risk assets. The Central Bank has warned, has done some reporting, saying these structures are potentially extremely dangerous because we don’t really know anything about them.”
“Now to me this just say everything about the web of connections between corporate accountancy firms, about the financial institutions that we bailed out, handing over the mortgages of ordinary people to these vultures engaged in aggressive tax avoidance. And then, on the other hand, that same institution writes off… This person doesn’t get a write-off, they don’t get a discount, they don’t even know who now owns their loan. We discover that the people who own the loan are a legal firm assisting people in tax evasion, or tax avoidance, sorry, I have to use the technically correct term.”
“But this same institution can write off €119million to the benefit of the richest man in Ireland, Mr Denis O’Brien, who is not tax resident in this country. Apparently, he doesn’t live here, although his kids go to school here and he has a yacht in Roundstone, Co. Galway and so on.”
“And if you say these things, as some of us did, Deputy [Catherine] Murphy, I did myself. I had the privilege of receiving a letter in, I think it was in the middle of 2012, when I made some of these points, and suggested that maybe the mafia would have something to learn from some of the dealings of the rich in this country. I received a letter from Denis O’Brien, castigating me for abusing my Dáil position with a thinly-veiled warning that I better stop doing it. That’s what goes on.”
“So you have ordinary people, like that woman who writes to me, and thousands and thousands of other mortgage holders, some of whom lost their homes, many of whom are certainly screwed to the wall, in terms of unsustainable mortgage payments and so on. And then all the devastating consequences that went beyond that, what was it, €32 or €34billion went into, into Anglo Irish, €64billion in total, all the devastation, wrecked the lives of ordinary people and then you have this stuff going on where tax refugees like Denis O’Brien benefit to this tune.”
“And eh, what was the other write-off company he got? Oh, Independent [News and Media] newspapers, I forgot about them, also got a €100million written off, that he had a major shareholding in. God, he’s done well out of IBRC.”
Last night – before Independent TD for Kildare North Catherine Murphy gave her contribution to the Dáil debate on the sale of Siteserv – Independent TD for Wicklow and East Carlow Stephen Donnelly and People Before Profit TD for Dun Laoghaire Richard Boyd Barrett also had a few things to say.
Here’s what happened:
Stephen Donnelly: “Public trust in the political system in Ireland has collapsed and tonight’s debate is a perfect example of why that has happened. The only reason an investigation is being conducted into the sale of IBRC assets is because of the work of Deputy Catherine Murphy. The motion before the House concerns who should conduct that investigation but serious questions of political governance must also be investigated. Why did the Minister make no mention of his Department’s concerns in response to numerous parliamentary questions from Deputy Catherine Murphy? Did the Minister inform the Taoiseach, the Economic Management Council or the Cabinet about his Department’s concerns?”
“If departmental concerns about this serious issue have been kept secret, what else has been kept secret? What other parliamentary questions have been avoided or fudged by the Minister? If these concerns are worthy of investigation, and they are, why is it only being done now, years after the Department raised its concerns? I will tell the House why. It is because the Minister’s cover-up has failed and he has nowhere left to hide.”
Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett: “The Deputy cannot make an allegation of a cover-up. I ask him to withdraw it.”
Donnelly: “I will withdraw the allegation of a cover-up – heaven forbid.”
Sean Barrett: “We have parliamentary procedure here. The Deputy cannot abuse privilege.”
Donnelly: “The motion before the House condemns the appointment of KPMG to undertake a review of transactions in IBRC as it advised Siteserv during the sale. The Government amendment acknowledges that and states that the sale process was run by Siteserv along with its advisers KPMG Corporate Finance and Davy Corporate Finance and calls on Dáil Éireann to support the review, which KPMG has been directed to conduct. It is extraordinary stuff. In essence, KPMG is being by the Government to investigate itself. This is not a perceived conflict of interest. It is the definition of a conflict of interest. The Government should ask KPMG to step down and appoint a person or organisation who was not involved in the deals under investigation. Should the Government refuse to do so, KPMG should take it upon itself to step back from this situation.”
Richard Boyd Barrett: “The context for this debate is what happened to ordinary citizens in this country in 2012. When some of us on this side of the House screamed in opposition to the vicious cuts imposed, particularly in budget 2012, that hit the most vulnerable people and when many people in this House asked in the same year whether the unsustainable debts of tens of thousands of ordinary mortgage holders who were just trying to keep a roof over the heads could be written down, we were told this could not happen under any circumstances because there would be moral hazard associated with doing it. At the same time that ordinary people were being told that they could not have their debts written down by the banks we had bailed out, those same banks were writing down the debts of companies to the tune of hundreds of millions of euro and to the benefit of some of the richest people in the country, including the richest person in the country. There were three or four different deals from which he benefited to the tune of hundreds of millions of euros in writedowns paid for by the taxpayer.”
“Concerns expressed by the Minister’s Department on foot of questions raised in this House at that time were simply covered up in the sense that the Minister did not bring those concerns to the attention of this House even though his own Department was saying it had concerns. Why has it taken years to drag this out of him instead of a Government that is supposed to be in favour of transparency coming before the Dáil and saying it had big concerns about what was happening with these writedowns? Why did the Minister not do that? This raises suspicions from the word go. When the Minister was finally forced to accept that there was something to look into, he got the insiders to do it. These are the people who were involved in this dubious sale – KPMG. It is unbelievable. He is asking people to investigate themselves. How can he seriously expect that to be a serious investigation?”
“Government Deputies piled into the Oireachtas Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform today to oppose a motion I put down that stated that the committee should ask some of the key players to come before it to answer questions. The Government does not want that either. Instead, it wants the insiders involved in the deal to investigate themselves. This is a joke and stinks to high heaven.”
Liam Twomey: “That is a lie.”
Sean Barrett: “I am now calling on Deputy…”
Boyd Barrett: “I am not. Government Deputies piled in and then…”
Boyd Barrett: “I ask Deputy Twomey to remain quiet. Deputy Twomey can reply when he is speaking.”
Twomey: “He cannot even tell the truth.”
Paul Murphy: “Is it not unparliamentary to accuse people of lying?”
Twomey: “In respect of the charge made by Deputy Boyd Barrett against the Government, it was explained quite clearly to him and I will not repeat it in the Chamber because the committee was discussing a matter in private session. He knows exactly what the reasons were and that they had nothing to do with Government Deputies piling in.”
Boyd Barrett: “I do not accept the reasons and the Government Deputies did pile in.”
Twomey: “If we use the Chamber to just throw wild accusations around, we will have a very poor quality debate in this House. If I came in and started accusing members of Sinn Féin of being involved in things because they happened to be associated with other things, it would not go down too well either.”
Mary Lou McDonald: “It happens regularly. There is nothing new there. Apparently, it is not a breach of privilege either.”
Twomey: “No, because we have not accused it of anything even though it is always taking exception to something so perhaps I have hit a raw nerve. Opposition Deputies are not clear what they want from this debate. They said today that they are looking for an inquiry to be carried out by the Oireachtas Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform.”
Boyd Barrett: “I did not say “inquiry”.”
Twomey: “They want an inquiry carried out by the committee over the next number of weeks. We now listen to them saying that they want a full inquiry, which they know will take at least two or three years. They should make up their minds if they are really serious about telling the people of Ireland that they offer credible opposition. What in God’s name do they want to offer them because right now that stands for nothing? It just stands for populist, ranting one-liners that possibly work for them but they certainly do not work when it comes to delivering a proper sense of governance for this country. We can decide that we do not want a rapid inquiry that will deliver by the end of August and that we want an inquiry that will go on for over three or four years, like those we were used to in years gone by, and that would probably report back to some Dáil in the future when we are all long retired.”
Finian McGrath: “That is not what a commission of inquiry is about. It is short and snappy.”
Liam Twomey: “Opposition Deputies need to make up their minds. The way a few parliamentary questions in 2012 are forgotten by the Opposition and the sudden righteous indignation in this Chamber undermines how we should go about our work. If there are serious issues here, we need to have a quick inquiry to look into them and, if necessary, move on to a much deeper inquiry. To stand up here and just throw out accusations against people undermines the entire process. Does Deputy Paul Murphy think that every official in the Department of Finance is a crook?”
Twomey: “Just the ones who deal with IBRC? It is so easy to throw it out. Opposition Deputies do not know what they want. They do not know what type of inquiry they want. Their accusations are shocking. It is shocking how easily they accuse people and throw their names out with no regard. Deputy Finian McGrath talks about trust in the system. Does he seriously think that trust in the system results from throwing around accusations in the Chamber knowing he is protected by parliamentary privilege?”
McGrath: “I did not throw out any accusations.”
Twomey: “It is really shocking. I have listened to this debate.”
McGrath: “The Deputy is living in cloud cuckoo land.”
Twomey: “Obviously, I am clearly hitting a raw nerve with somebody here and they realise that the quality of the debate is no better than the 24-hour news cycle.”