Spotlight Falls On Noonan


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From top: Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Michael Noonan and Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson; Minutes of a meeting between Mr Robinson and Mr Noonan in which they discuss the sale of Northern Ireland’s Nama portfolio; and a clip of a secretly recorded meeting involving Frank Cushnahan – both on BBC Northern Ireland’s Spotlight last night

You may recall how Independent TD Mick Wallace, on several occasions in the Dáil last year, raised concerns about the sale of Nama’s Northern Ireland property portfolio, Project Eagle, in 2014.

On the first occasion, in July 2015, his microphone was turned off.

On another, in October 2015, after making yet another call for a Commission of Investigation into the Project Eagle sale, Mr Wallace told Taoiseach Enda Kenny:

“The Irish people have not been served well by Nama. It stinks to high heaven and you are involved in the cover-up because you refuse to do anything about it.”

The sale is now the subject of investigation by the National Crime Agency in the UK and the Securities and Exchange Commission in the US.

Further to this.

Last night, BBC Northern Ireland’s Spotlight programme, presented by Mandy McAuley, outlined the sequence of events which led to the portfolio eventually being sold to US private equity firm, Cerebus Capital.

Contributors to the programme included Sunday Business Post journalist Elaine Byrne and Independent Alliance TD and Sunday Independent journalist Shane Ross.

Ms McAuley first explained how former banker Frank Cushnahan is an “incredibly well-connected” Belfast businessman who, nine years ago, left his position as an advisor to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive to become chairman of east Belfast firm Red Sky – a company that worked for the Housing Executive.

She explained that Mr Cushnahan convinced the Housing Executive to forgive most of Red Sky’s debts so that its debts went from £250,000 to £20,000.

His behaviour was later criticised by a Stormont investigation which found his actions to be “totally unethical and could and should have been avoided”.

Two years later, in 2009, £4.5billion of Nama’s debt was owed by developers in Northern Ireland and politicians feared there would be a fire sale of property, prompting property rises to drop – a fear Northern Ireland’s Finance Minister Sammy Wilson told BBC’s Spotlight in 2011.

These fears, Ms McAuley explained, prompted the establishment of Nama’s Northern Ireland Advisory Committee.

And who did Sammy Wilson choose to sit on that committee?

Frank Cushnahan – who, Ms McAuley reported, held clinics for developers in Nama, where he would tell developers “how to survive” Nama.

Ms McAuley reported that, at this time in Northern Ireland, more than £4billion in debt was owed by just 55 debtors – the vast bulk of which belonged to a handful of people.

For property developers, their buildings were worth just a fraction of what they owed and they were at risk of losing their own personal homes as their loans were secured via personal guarantees.

It was Nama’s policy to enforce personal guarantees and they couldn’t sell discounted assets back to defaulting developers as it was Nama’s legal responsibility to get the best possible return for Irish taxpayers.

In April 2013, Ms McAuley reported, Nama contacted the family owners of the Ramada Hotel in Portrush, to call in their loans which were worth £48million. The family were given 24 hours. At the time, the hotel was worth less than £3million.

The behaviour of Nama prompted Sammy Wilson to call Nama’s chairman Frank Daly the next day.

Mr Wilson later recalled the phone call when appearing before Northern Ireland’s public accounts committee in Stormont in December 2015, saying:

“That was my worry, that we were going to start feeling the hard end of Nama’s actions on some businesses in Northern Ireland and there were going to be political consequences.”

Ms McAuley reported that, following the action taken against the Ramada Hotel, developers and politicians in Northern Ireland became nervous.

Then, just a few weeks later, in May 2013, “out of nowhere”, American firm PIMCO – the world’s largest bond fund manager – wanted to buy “Nama out of Northern Ireland”.

Representatives from PIMCO travelled to Stormont in Belfast and met the then first minister of Northern Ireland, Peter Robinson and Sammy Wilson. Frank Cushnahan was also at the meeting, as was Ian Coulter, then managing partner in Tughans law firm.

Although Mr Cushnahan set up the meeting, it’s claimed the Northern Ireland Nama advisor didn’t inform Nama in Dublin about the meeting.

In reference to this, Shane Ross told Ms McAuley:

“It’s odd they didn’t know, yeah, but it also tells you something about the thinking of people who arranged these meetings, that the only way to get things done is to get politicians on the job.”

But it wasn’t the first time Mr Cushnahan had set up a meeting without Nama’s knowledge.

Ms McAuley reported that, at the end of April 2013, just weeks before representatives of PIMCO were introduced to Peter Robinson, Frank Cushnahan and Ian Coulter had worked with the law firm Brown Rudnick in London to speak to several investment houses. Mr Cushnahan didn’t disclose those meetings to Nama either.

Mr Cushnahan has denied he arranged the meeting between Mr Robinson and PIMCO but Mr Robinson told the finance committee in Stormont that it was set up by Mr Cushnahan and Mr Coulter.

Meanwhile, Mr Wilson wrote to Finance Minister Michael Noonan about PIMCO’s proposal. Ms McAuley explained that PIMCO wanted a “private, closed market sale” – contrary to Nama’s remit which is to get the best return for the Irish taxpayer by getting the best price for an asset on the open market.

In December 2015, Mr Wilson, who was appearing before the finance committee in Stormont, recalled the letter and downplayed its significance, saying:

“At that time, this was not an important issue, this was kind of a flyer almost, ‘look, would Nama be interested in, and would the Irish government be interested in a deal of this sort?’

Ms McAuley reported that Minister Noonan then sent the proposal on to Nama. She said:

“Nama had never considered a sale this big before but the agency was obviously interested. By September 2013, Nama had started talking directly to PIMCO.

Also in September 2013, Peter Robinson, for the first time and in an apparent U-turn, publically advocated the sale of Nama’s Northern Ireland portfolio in one go.

Following this, at a meeting in Tughan’s law firm in Belfast – in which Frank Cushnahan had an office – Nama’s Frank Daly announced to Mr Cushnahan, and the rest of the committee, that PIMCO wanted to buy the Northern Ireland portfolio for more than one billion pounds.

This was despite Mr Cushnahan having set up the original meeting with PIMCO in the first place.

Ms McAuley explained:

“It had been five months since Mr Cushnahan had met PIMCO and he hadn’t said a word.”

Brian Rowntree was also a member of Nama’s Northern Ireland Advisory Committee and he attended that meeting. He told Ms McAuley that Mr Cushnahan did not disclose his prior involvement with PIMCO.

This meeting was Mr Cushnahan’s last as an advisor to Nama as he resigned soon after due to “family priorities”.

Meanwhile, the day after Peter Robinson publically advocated for the sale of Nama’s Northern Ireland portfolio, Mr Robinson asked to meet Michael Noonan.

This meeting, in September 2013, took place on the same day Mr Noonan had lunch with Ian Coulter.

Mr Robinson was later asked, in October 2015 in Stormont, if he discussed PIMCO with Minister Noonan during that meeting.

He said:

“I don’t know whether PIMCO as such. The discussion may well have dealt with the issue of whether it was possible to do, from Nama, to come to terms with a single bidder.”

However, PIMCO’s bid was discussed.

Ms McAuley obtained a Northern Ireland’s Executive note of that meeting which shows Mr Robinson backed a secret sale of Nama’s Northern Ireland portfolio.

Ms McAuley reported:

“This was a big request, the Irish Government was committed to competitive sales on the open market because they believed that that was the way to get the best price, the most money to pay back to the taxpayer. But here was Peter Robinson asking Dublin to consider a private sale to the firm that had approached DUP ministers.”

So why was Mr Robinson so keen on PIMCO?

Ms McAuley explained:

“Unknown to Dublin, or at that stage any other party in the executive, the company [PIMCO] had drafted an agreement with DUP ministers known as a memorandum of understanding or MOU. In it, PIMCO promised to use Northern Ireland suppliers and to create some jobs in a local office… That memorandum of understanding carried one other stipulation. PIMCO offered to forgive the personal guarantees that hung over developers, the threat that could take their very homes.”

And where did the MOU come from?

Frank Cushnahan.

Spotlight showed sections of a secret recording of a two-hour meeting which took place in a hotel next to Tughan’s, between Frank Cushnahan, Nama developer John Miskelly and David Gray, an accountant.

During the meeting, Mr Cushnahan claimed credit for the MOU.

PIMCO didn’t respond to questions about the MOU.

In December 2013, PIMCO had offered £1billion for the Northern Ireland portfolio but three weeks before it was due to go through, PIMCO called Nama to tell it that they were going to pay Frank Cushnahan.

Readers may recall Nama’s chairman Frank Daly discussing this payment of £5million at the public accounts committee in Dublin in July last year.

Nama felt it would be unacceptable for a Nama advisor to be paid by a company buying the portfolio and, in response, held an emergency meeting about the proposed payment.

Following that meeting, PIMCO was out of the deal. But, instead of stopping the sale and investigating the payment that was due to be paid to Mr Cushnahan at that point, Nama decided the sale should still take place.

Ms McAuley requested the minutes of that meeting of the Nama board but they were entirely redacted.

At this point, Cerberus Capital’s chairman Dan Quale met Peter Robinson in Stormont.

And who else was there?

Ian Coulter.

Cerberus hired Mr Coulter and PIMCO’s other law firm Brown Rudnick immediately after PIMCO withdrew from the sale.

Ms McAuley reported that, like before, Nama didn’t know anything about this meeting either.

Three days after this meeting, Mr Robinson was on the phone to Michael Noonan.

When asked about this call which was made on his mobile, at the finance committee in Stormont in December 2015, Mr Robinson said:

“I really can’t recall but if I’d met, you said that was after the meeting, it could well have been to ask if he [Noonan] was aware of their interest, I just cannot recall, no recollection of it. Or it could have been to ask for a meeting. I’m not sure whether any meeting took place. Or indeed it could have been about an Ireland rugby match. I don’t know, I’d need to check.”

The Department of Finance in Dublin told Spotlight that the call was about the sale of the Northern Ireland portfolio but no record of it was kept.

Two weeks after the meeting, Ceberus made a bid of £100,000 more than the reserve of £1.3billion.

Ms McAuley reported:

“It turned out to be Irish taxpayers’ biggest single loss on a Nama loan sale.”

The sale also included the condition that Cerberus wouldn’t pay any current or former Nama member, which would include Frank Cushnahan.

But, according to the secretly recorded meeting, Mr Cushnahan himself said he was still involved in the deal – by working with Ian Coulter “to land Cerberus” and that his work was deliberately hidden.

After the sale, Cerberus paid £15million to Brown Rudnik and £7.5million of that was paid on to Tughans. Ian Coulter subsequently moved £6million to an Isle of Man bank account.

So was the money transferred to the Isle of Man for Frank Cushnahan?

Yes – Mr Cushnahan said so himself in the secret recording.

Meanwhile, also during the lunch meeting, the name ‘Ronnie’ was raised.

Spotlight understands this is in reference to Ronnie Hanna, who was head of asset recovery at Nama from April 2010 until April 2015.

Readers may recall how Mick Wallace told the Dáil last November:

“Ronnie Hanna was part of a cabal to seek payment for affecting the biggest property deal in the history of the State.”

During the lunch meeting, Mr Cushnahan suggested that Mr Hanna saved developers in Nama from going under, saying he prevented ‘people’s lights going out’.

John Miskelly is heard saying:

“You remember when Gareth Robinson [Peter Robinson’s son] phone me that morning and told me to go to your office – and you phone Ronnie, I know mine would’ve been out – and I’m not the only one.”

Mr Hannah told Spotlight it would be inappropriate to comment as a criminal investigation is under way.

Gareth Robinson did not respond to questions.

Mr Miskelly, from Co. Down, gave Spotlight a statement saying he has been gathering his own detailed and extensive evidence over several years which he says implicates other individuals in financial misconduct.

Ms McAuley reported that she understands this evidence relates to the Northern Ireland portfolio.

He told Spotlight:

“I realised that in view of the continual suppression of my complaints to financial institutions that this would be the only way to expose their financial misconduct and their corrupt dealings.”

“My complaint relates to insider trading and the bribery of foreign officials. I have initiated the whistle blower procedures with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.”

“All payments made by me to any persons during this period are fully accounted for.”

Previously: Project Eagle on broadsheet


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62 thoughts on “Spotlight Falls On Noonan

  1. Kolmo

    The depressing thing is, that this is not surprising. Mick Wallace talked about it and was ridiculed. The loss to the State is criminal. I was in primary school 30 years ago in temporary prefabs – they are still there.

    1. manolo

      If the BBC had broadcasted this a week ago and heard this comment, I think reality may have hit home with FF/FG/SF voters. A missed opportunity.

      1. some old queen

        Would the BBC have made the program at all if it wasn’t for the fact that there are fraud investigations kicking off in both the UK and US? I doubt it.

      2. nellyb

        if the Spotlight was aired before election, the FF & FG would have scored better.
        Their core vote is about plundering public money and “fupp the losers”. Bit like Trump.
        As is, the FG & FF are pathologies, not parties.

  2. Harry Molloy

    Its a while since I studied company law, but if selling privately goes against NAMAS memorandum of association, assuming such a provision is in there, would that make the sale void ab initio?

    And would the directors be liable for disqualification?

    Excellent journalism, looks like Robinson is shagged

    1. Clampers Outside!

      Have a lie down and think about that, he doesn’t need to thank the Shinners because it wasn’t the Shinners that cast the vote, it was Joe Public.

      You’re welcome

      1. dav

        oh, dear, touched a nerve did I? Sorry. It’s just the fact that the transfers would have come from voters who Place there No 1 beside a shinner would be kinda hard for a blushirt to take. considering a tru blushirt like noonan wouldn’t peee on a shinner if he/she was on fire..

        1. Harry Molloy

          How do you know where the transfers came from?

          Its gas, people were attacking Coppinger yesterday saying she gave her transfers to Joan Burton.. I think that some people think the transfers are gifted personally.

          1. dav

            For fook sake he got elected AFTER the surplus of the SHINNER was distributed!
            Yer all a bit defensive of the blushirt noonan, don’t be he’s race is run.

            “A media blackout on Noonan was in place until the call…In the end it was 393 Surplus transfers from Shinner Maurice Quinlivan that actually got him elected (without reaching the quota BTW )”

          2. Sam

            From conversations I had at the count centre, yes, some people actually thought that the candidate decides where the transfers go.

            Dav, your conclusions don’t come anywhere near the facts of the matter.
            The distribution of Quinlivan’s surplus to Noonan didn’t affect the outcome, nor could they have made any difference for Noonan. The gap between Noonan and the other candidates was greater than Quinlivan’s suprlus.
            At the time Quinlivan was elected Noonan had 9018 votes, Jan O’Sullivan had 7722 and Kieran O’Donnell had 7512.
            Quinlivan’s surplus was 1164, not even equal to the difference between Jan O’Sullivan and Noonan.
            All Quinlivan’s transfers did was increase the small lead that Jan O’Sullivan had over O’Donnell, thus making sure that only 1 FG candidate would be returned.
            So, why would Noonan be thankful for that?

            As for not liking getting votes from SF, The largest chunk of transfers that Noonan got were from Willie o’Dea’s surplus after count 1. He only got 293 from Quinlivan’s surplus, (some of which were likely to be 3rd, 4th, prefs, given that Quinlivan got 5894 1st prefs, and picked up another 4623 from transfers (3/4 of which came from AAA elimination, and included 2140 that he had picked up as transfers) so, you can’t say with any certainty that the transfers to Noonan were mostly ballots that had Quinlivan as 1st pref and Noonan as 2nd pref. Some of those votes could have started off as votes for the Green Party, then transferred to the SocDem, then to Prendiville, then to Maurice, before going on to Noonan.

            As for Coppingers transfers, there were none. Both Ruth and Joan were elected on count 5 after distribution of votes from Donnelly. Those were the last two seats, so no further transfers would occur.

          3. Sam

            Dav, I’m not at all being defensive of Noonan, I can’t stand the man, but the fact is that after Cian Prendiville was eliminated and his votes transferred (mostly to Maurice), then Noonan’s election was inevitable.
            In order for Noonan to lose at that stage, the two other remaining candidates would both have to leapfrog him, meaning Jan O’Sullivan would need 1297 transfers from Quinlivan’s surplus, and Kieran O’Donnell would need 1507 transfers from Quinlivan’s surplus.
            Quinlivan’s surplus was only 1164, so it was mathematically impossible for Quinlivan’s surplus to be distributed in any way that would prevent Noonan getting elected.
            All it did was ensure Jan got in and O’Donnell didn’t. Mathematically that was the only thing still to be decided at that stage.

        2. Medium Sized C

          Your implication here is that Sinn Féin were on the doors asking voters to give their number 2 votes to Noon an?

          1. dav

            Much obliged, but I’m still going to be happy with my thought that blushirt noonan, got in roiding on the coatails of the hated shinners

  3. Clampers Outside!

    Let me hear someone call Mick Wallace ‘TD’ a waste of space now, eh!

    Good man Mick !

    As for Mr Robinson, he sounds like aul Lenihan, if he just uttered the words “on mature recollection” to get out of this one ! You be fupped!

    1. Danny

      Mick Wallace ‘TD’ is a waste of space.
      Mick’s only interest in all this is his own Nama loans, which were sold to Cerberus.
      He’s just trying to protect his own backside.
      If Mick had any concern for the public, he’d pay the taxes he stole and pay his loans, rather than dumping them on the taxpayer.
      It’ll be interesting to see if Mick can suddenly produce a few million to settle his loans, once Cerberus put the pressure on him.

  4. han solo's carbonite dream

    looks like mick wallace was right after all.

    shocking carry on.

    what p!sses me off no end is this invetsment funds get access to this property at a big discount yet these sweetheart deals seem to elude the general public.

    of course the reason being is that this method keeps property prices high – can’t have the proles availing of a fire-sale (to use the vernacular of the day)

    1. pooter

      And the vulture fund then raise rents for the tenants in those properties to maximise the profits for their investors, its the reason rents are sky high and the people at the bottom are either homeless or living in bbs/hotels

  5. phil

    Unlikely anyone on this island wants an investigation, but thats OK, the SEC are now involved , lets hope in their pursuit of the american funds a lot will come out in the wash, I believe its a serious crime for a UK officer in the US company to be involved in bribes in a foreign country ….

    1. ReproBertie

      Unlikely ayone involved wants an investiagtion but that’s not the same thing as anyone on this island.

  6. Jim

    I’m a bit thick. Don’t get exactly what happened. Can anyone provide bullet points? Seriously. Thanks.

    1. Harry Molloy

      Thick or too lazy to read Jimbo! :)

      I waste too much time here as is so can’t help ya out.

        1. 15 cents

          basically, Jim… Noonan … baaaaad. like way badder than we already knew he was. And i think Kenny too, but personally i think he just hasnt a breeze of anything going on around him at any time, and once someone smiles at him, shakes his hand and tell him he’s deadly, he’ll go along with whatever theyre saying/asking.

  7. ahjayzis

    I don’t understand. Michael Noonan speaks in a deathly whisper that indicates seriousness and competence – are you telling me this steady-hand is all an act and he’s just some kind of reanimated bloated corpse of an out of work school teacher?!

    1. Anne

      He’s more than that IMO.. he’s an arrogant c*** whose been complicit in facilitating the biggest asset stripping and transfer of wealth that’s gone on in this country’s history.

      I’ve no doubt there are officials in nama getting backhanders and bribes as said by Mick Wallace.

      Sickening sh*te. It’s capitalism for the poor, socialism for the rich… Nama is a social welfare vehicle for the wealthy, if you ask me.

      Where are the commenters who were giving out about these homeless people protesting in Dublin city centre?

  8. Joe cool

    It’s not shocking really is it?. We kind of guessed after Mick Wallace said so. But what will happen here? You’ve guessed it. ……nothing

  9. ollie

    Wallace makes accusation in the Dail.
    He’s ridiculed by Noonan, Kenny and Barrett, and he has his microphone switched off.

    Now Noonan has to convince us that he’s not corrupt AND that he’s not a misogynist.
    It’s going to be interesting. When you’re explaining you’re losing.

    1. 15 cents

      he wont explain a thing. this is a man who literally ran away from an awkward situation, literally ran away, with his feet .. he’ll avoid this and cast it off as nothing, everyone will be disgusted, nothing will happen, and it’ll be forgotten about by the next controversy. sure there was controversy after controversy and FG still got more votes than anyone. FF broke the entire country, and it was forgotten about by the next election. the best little country to be a corrupt, amoral b******d in.

        1. Medium Sized C

          The BBC piece makes no implication against Noonan, except that he passed a proposal on to NAMA and spoke with some people who are crooked.

          1. Anne

            I think Noonan is up to his tits in this dodgy deal.. 3 billion of a write off in one deal, paid for thanks to you and me. Isn’t it great.

            “On the first occasion, in July 2015, his microphone was turned off.”

            Disgraceful carry on from FGs little sycophant Sean Barrett too. He’s a horrible weasel.

      1. Anne

        You’d get more info from a Beano comic than you would from RTE.

        For the fupping birds they are.

  10. jambon

    The Indo is our main state-controlled media outlet. And so is RTE, of course the RTE story doesn’t come up in google news searches, only if you actively search their site for it. The Irish Times isn’t as corrupt or run by conflicts of interest as the other two, so they don’t count as state-controlled.

    1. ReproBertie

      “of course the RTE story doesn’t come up in google news searches, only if you actively search their site for it. ”
      It’s the 3rd story on their news page FFS. It was also covered on Morning Ireland this morning.

      1. jambon

        And look how they handle it in closing.

        “The Department of Finance has said this is a matter for NAMA.
        In a statement, the Department said all relevant information that can be made public about the process has already been made public by themselves and by NAMA.
        The statement adds that the allegations made in the BBC investigation repeat previous allegations relating to the buy side of the sales process and potential conflicts of interest of Mr Cushnahan.
        There is no allegation of any wrongdoing directed against NAMA.
        The Department said NAMA and the Irish authorities will cooperate fully with any request for help made by the various investigating authorities.
        The Department of Finance is satisfied NAMA adhered to its mandate to achieve the best return for the Irish taxpayer.
        This was clearly demonstrated through NAMA’s insistence on an open market sales process for this portfolio which places each bidder on level footing in terms of their knowledge of the portfolio, the department said.
        NAMA issued a statement this morning, saying it has dealt with the issue “very extensively over the past 12 months”.
        The statement says NAMA has nothing further to add at this time.”

        1. ReproBertie

          They finish the article by reporting a statement issued by NAMA. It’s pretty standard practice to end articles with references to statements or the lack of statements. When Prime Time investigated dodgy councillors the programme ended by reading statements from the accused. This ending didn’t mean they were dismissing everything they had previously reported. RTÉ (and even Newstalk) are covering the story. Accept it and move on to the actual scandal.

          1. Fergus the magic postman

            What is also a scandal is that we are learning about this from BBC, & not RTE, who had no interest in following any of this up when accusations first arose.
            Considering Noonan’s position with regards to this, & the Grace inquiry RTE are very quiet.
            License fee well spent.

          2. Anne

            I might be mistaken, but I could swear there wasn’t a mention of this on the ‘main evening news’ at 9 on RTE. I’m not sure now, as I’ve a few choons blasting and I’m on here and cooking at the same time.. Definitely didn’t see baldy’s head or any mention of Nama..

    2. 15 cents

      in fairness to jambon, its a big story, and its makin very little waves in the media. its got no tags on it so its hard to find, you have to search through manually. also, i think by this stage its safe to say people obviously dont care, we had so many controversarys over hte last while and it didnt effect politicians popularity at all. people just want their local road fixed and dont care what else happens. pig circus of a country.

    3. Neilo

      I don’t remember Independent News & Media coming into public ownership. Get me REDACTED on the line…

  11. Charley

    Any coalition or minority support agreement that might occur between FG and other parties should demand Noonan’s immediate resignation and a full Revenue audit of him and his relatives and possibly a Garda investigation into a number of incidents from the 1970’s up to the present.

  12. Truth in the News

    Noonan is toast, and the reason for the blackout in RTE is to protect the licence
    fee…..if the brought a blueshirt icon down….it would be never forgotten, and
    where is the newly beefed up Fianna Fail in all of this, the campaigned for a fairer
    Ireland, and now Martin want’s Dail reform, well he can start on this.

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