The Public Accounts Committee is launching its report on the sale of Project Eagle.
The chair of PAC, Fianna Fail TD Seán Fleming said:
“The committee considers that it was not appropriate for Nama, as the contracting body, to meet with Cerberus representatives the day before the Project Eagle bid closing date. It could have given the perception that Cerberus was benefiting from preferential treatment.
“Also. The committee considers that it was not procedurally appropriate for the Minister for Finance [Michael Noonan] to meet with senior Cerberus representatives on the day before the Project Eagle bid closing date. This could have given the perception that Cerberus was benefiting from preferential treatment.”
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Read the report here
Previously: ‘Not Appropriate’
Eagles, Vultures and Turkeys
From top: Daniel McConnell, of the Irish Examiner; Hugh O’Connell, of The Sunday Business Post, and Josepha Madigan, Fine Gael TD and member of PAC
You may recall how, on Sunday, February 12, in The Sunday Business Post, Hugh O’Connell and Jack Horgan-Jones reported on a draft working paper by the Public Accounts Committee into Nama’s sale of Project Eagle.
The paper said it was “not appropriate” for the Department of Finance to meet with the ultimately successful bidder, Cerberus, in the days before the closing date for Project Eagle bids. It similarly states that it was “not appropriate” for Noonan or Nama to meet with Cerberus the day before the Project Eagle bid closing date – and that this could be perceived as “special treatment”.
PAC’s report no longer states the Department of Finance and the Minister for Finance Michael Noonan’s behaviour was ‘not appropriate’. Instead, their behaviour was ‘not procedurally appropriate’.
Why was it changed?
From the press conference…
David Davin Power (RTE): “You found that Michael Noonan meeting Cerberus wasn’t ‘procedurally appropriate’ and I know there was a contention about that on the committee. Fine Gael members voting against it. But Michael Noonan says that he never had an adequate opportunity to respond to what was ultimately an adverse finding against him and that he’s been unfairly treated, effectively, by the committee.”
Sean Fleming: “Well, he said that, based on the original working document that said it was ‘inappropriate’ but the wording in the report published today refers to the procedures that allowed that meeting to happen. It was procedurally inappropriate. So it’s not quite the same as what was in the original report. And that word is there for a reason. Because this committee is precluded from finding specific fault against an individual person. And we’re looking at the process of that meeting, not specifically the person who attended. I would [inaudible] the distinction between the finding in relation to Nama, where we say it was inappropriate, because we were finding that the body, the corporate body of Nama, rather than that one person, acted inappropriately. But we can’t use that particular word due to legal restrictions, in relation to one individual.”
Davin Power: “But why did you seek to use that word if it was legally suspect in the first place…”
Fleming: “The committee never sought to seek that. There was a working document prepared after some 30,000 sheets of paper presented to the committee and after 11 public hearings. The committee never used that particular wording. The only wording that the committee settled on is the wording in the report.”
Davin Power: “Could you ask one of the Fine Gael members [of PAC] to respond to that point? Are you happy…[inaudible].”
Fleming: “Peter [Burke], if you’re happy?”
Peter Burke: “Thank you very much. First of all, I think to use the words ‘procedurally inappropriate’ is not fair. I would point out that the Minister did attend the PAC meeting, even though he’s not legally required to do so. He spent five hours under intense questioning. He brought forward all information and answers and answered everything very clear and concise and to see a situation whereby he was actually denied natural justice because the response that’s in the report is to a media leak which appeared on the Sunday Business Post. So, in other words, he never got due process or was questioned on the content of this assertion.
“And, to point out, Section 9 of the Nama Act is very clear. That it is independent in its functions in terms of its role with the minister and previous people have brought this up, including our chairman when the act was [inaudible] in the Dáil in 2009, in terms of to keep it outside of the realm of politics, I mean that was very, very important. And to suggest that it’s procedurally inappropriate, one has to ask: what is the procedure? And there is none. If the minister has clear legal separation and there is a former US secretary of the treasury coming over to Ireland to discuss, from banking to insurance to asset management, I think it would be unwise for any minister not to meet him.”
Burke: “… the commercial activities of Nama are driven by the board. The minister has no role in this. And even, as a process, it was mentioned that the minister should have called off the sale, but at that time, he’d no legal power to do so. And there’s departmental legal advice, which was mentioned at the committee here, in relation to that.”
Daniel McConnell (Irish Examiner): “But are you not playing politics with it now? Are Fine Gael not playing politics with the PAC, for the first time in its history, in 94 years, you caused a vote at the PAC, purely to protect the standing of Michael Noonan?”
Burke: “No, Danny, that’s not correct. If we look at this, in a fair and balanced fashion. If a minister, who is not legally obliged to attend the PAC, does so of his own free will, in the interest of fairness, in the interest of transparency, on foot of that, that he is denied the right to due process, to respond to a charge that was put to him, that he was never asked one single question on, I think that’s an incredible part of this report. That the minister was denied that right to respond to an assertion that he was never…”
McConnell: “So, who put it in the report initially then? Because this is important. Who put the initial finding of ‘inappropriate’ in the report? Was it a civil servant?”
Burke: “Here is a draft document
McConnell: “So a civil servant…
Burke: “…which was leaked to the Sunday Business Post…”
McConnell: “So it was a civil servant who put it in, is that what you’re saying?”
Burke: “It was a draft document, I can’t answer that….”
Fleming: “I will answer that, and I will call on David Cullnane [Sinn Fein] next. I, as chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, supervised directly, personally..”
McConnell: “So it was your, that was your, that was your language?”
Talk over each other
Fleming: “…reporting in the first instance. What I do want to clarify, people mightn’t have go to it. We put a specific appendix in the report, on page 86, on the issue. We record fully and faithfully everything in respect of the minister’s response. First of all, in that, when we came to that issue of whether or not, at our meeting, and it’s all documented there [inaudible] we had three or four meetings, and Peter and his [Fine Gael] colleagues proposed wording to say, rather than it was ‘not procedurally correct’, to put the wording it was ‘not advisable’. So the board members were satisfied that the report should say it was ‘not advisable’ of the minister. That was voted down and the other wording was put forward.”
“But I just want to respond, before I call on David Cullinane, it was fortuitous in a way that there was a leak because that did give the minister to respond and the content of the letter received by the minister was examined closely by the parliamentary legal office in this house. And [inaudible] essentially responded to any allegations that we were about to make. Even though his letter came in before we concluded. And I do want to say, this is the transcript, the 82-page transcript of the meeting, of the Public Accounts Committee on Thursday, the 6th of October 2016. And I have to say that that meeting, the minister and the people on his side were the only people aware in the room, at that time of the meeting with Cerberus. No member of the committee was aware that a meeting ever happened. And the minister gave no indication whatever of that meeting. To suggest we didn’t ask him something about which we knew nothing about is unusual. He had four and a half hours at the meeting when we invited him in to talk about the sale of Project Eagle. And he spent four and a half hours discussing it and made no reference to that meeting. And there is the transcript if people want to check it.”
Hugh O’Connell (Sunday Business Post): “Do you think you may have dropped the ball, as a committee, in not asking him if he had met Cerberus? And secondly, when you did become aware of it, why didn’t you ask him about the meeting via correspondence?”
Fleming: “The answer to that is we didn’t drop the ball because we weren’t aware the game had happened. Right? No member of the PAC were aware, at the time, that that meeting…”
Josepha Madigan: “Sorry, that’s incorrect. It was subject to FOI, the minutes were actually given in correspondence on the 4th of November…the 8th of November  to the committee, so they were fully aware of…”
O’Connell: “So, why then, did you not write to Michael Noonan and ask him: why did you have this meeting? And what was the purpose of this meeting?”
David Cullinane: “There was a note that was given to the committee under the Department of Finance that set out the official notes taken by officials, in terms of that meeting. And those notes clearly show that Project Eagle was raised and it was raised in the context of Cerberus raised and they were told that it would be best dealt with at a meeting later that day with Nama which we believe that was also inappropriate. So, there was reference to Project Eagle in that meeting. And…”
O’Connell: “Why didn’t you ask him then? Why didn’t the committee call him back in?”
Alan Farrell: “That’s entirely inaccurate…it is entirely inaccurate….you’ve got your dates mixed up, David.”
Previously: Spotlight Falls On Noonan (March 1, 2016)