From top: Apollo House on Monday: Dan Boyle
A glorious piece of political theatre has highlighted the absence of humanity within NAMA and throughout its activities.
Dan Boyle writes:
Seven years ago much of my time, probably too much, was spent grappling with, seeking to understand, then speaking with many others trying to collectively comprehend what NAMA was all about.
Knee jerkers had already determined that it was about throwing more money into an ever expanding black hole. An exercise of the State protecting the assets of its favoured developer class. A blatant attempt to keep property prices artificially high.
Political debate at the time wasn’t overflowing with alternatives. Sinn Féin offered nothing. Fine Gael suggested a bad bank. Labour proposed a nattily titled Asset Recovery Trust. All that was being outlined were synonyms, no real different policy approaches were being offered.Each wanted to achieve the effect of improving the balance sheets of our basket case banks, by removing the most toxic loans from their books.
Then and subsequent analysis usually misrepresented the figures involved. Property values were eventually to fall to 50% of their peak. This peak has invariably been the figure quoted by critics in assessing the success or otherwise of NAMA.
The loans which secured these properties were never 100% of their value. Some level of repayment would have been made. NAMA when taking over these loans secured a 60% discount on the then outstanding loan amounts. This was the figure that NAMA has been expected to recoup.
It seems on course to do this. At the time I argued that even if it were to come back with a small loss it would be seen as having done a good job. In these narrow terms NAMA can be judged to have been a success. Why then do I have a niggling feeling that NAMA has disappointed, that huge opportunities have been missed through its adopting a narrow books based approach to its portfolio?
Crisis creates opportunity. The crises of 2008/10 have been the deepest and most serious we have ever experienced as a State. The parallel opportunities created have not been seized upon. Our political system predictably has chosen not to. NAMA, in becoming possibly the largest property management company in the World, has had an unprecedented opportunity to reinvent our built environment. Its failure to scarcely recognise this possibility is the reason for my disappointment.
From my time on the Public Accounts Committee I had viewed people, like Nama chairman Frank Daly and CEO Brendan McDonagh, to be extremely competent as well as being committed public servants.
Any whiff of corruption on the sale of its Northern Ireland portfolio seems to me to have emanated from the northern side of the border. The real failure of NAMA, to me, has been a failure of imagination.
A large element for initially securing Green Party support for NAMA was that agency would seek to provide a social dividend from its activities. This was written directly into NAMA’s mission statement. However, there seems to have been an ideological blockage to having to fulfil this obligation in any way at all.
This is why I would be hugely supportive of events at Apollo House. Commandeering a NAMA property for use as a temporary shelter for the homeless, is a glorious piece of political theatre. It may not be a Bastille moment, but it does highlight so well the absence of humanity within NAMA and throughout its activities.
There remains opportunity that what is left of NAMA’s portfolio can be maximised for social benefit. I would be hopeful if not expectant. The hope comes from what is happening at Apollo House. The lack of expectancy is the cynical residue of my experience in Irish politics.
With the week that is in it, it would be nice if hope would win for once.