SINCE it was established 2009, the National Asset Management Agency (Nama) has been largely allowed to go about its work unhindered, selling off bad loan portfolios in order to get back some of the taxpayers’ money which was used to bail out the banks. However, recent allegations about a perceived poor return on the sale of the ‘Project Eagle’ portfolio in Northern Ireland to Cerberus, which our Comptroller and Auditor General, Seamus McCarthy, says represents a potential loss of £190m sterling to the Irish taxpayer, have led to an agreement between the main political parties to set up a statutory inquiry into the deal. The scope of the inquiry is under discussion, with Pearse Doherty of Sinn Féin saying it should not be limited to what is contained in the C&AG’s report because the issues with Nama go ‘way beyond’ what is contained in that report and ‘Project Eagle.’
The intrigue was added to by allegations of possible bribery of a former Nama adviser made in a recent BBC Northern Ireland ‘Spotlight’ programme. Because witnesses from across the border cannot be compelled to come south to testify, the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, John McGuinness, wants a similar inquiry to be held in tandem in Northern Ireland, although this proposition has been rejected by First Minister Arlene Foster.
The central conclusion by the C&AG of the £190m loss had the benefit of hindsight and Nama chairman Frank Daly is adamant that they got the best deal they could have at the time. He went even further by questioning the level of expertise available to the office of the C&AG to make such a judgement call in the first place.
Nama’s record of secrecy surrounding its operations and bullishness in the face of any criticism of it has annoyed many, making an inquiry inevitable. Also, the implications for mortgage holders of its sale of property loan portfolios to so-called vulture funds in recent years have come home to roost and the public is not best pleased that the likes of them are benefitting most from the misfortunes of others – Irish taxpayers included.