Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 25 October 2014

Bank's 'hotel grab' slammed

The Ramada Hotel in Portrush

An aggressive strategy by the Republic's assets recovery agency in Northern Ireland could have a detrimental effect on North-South relations, Finance Minister Sammy Wilson has warned.

Mr Wilson said he had "grave" concerns following the takeover of the Ramada Hotel in Portrush.

The National Asset Management Agency (Nama) appointed receivers to the owners' property assets, including the hotel, in relation to a £48m debt.

Mr Wilson made his comments after the the Ramada's owner said he feared Nama was embarking on a "money-grabbing exercise" in Northern Ireland.

He said: "I don't know all the background about the group on the north coast or the problems or discussions they have had with Nama about paying off debts, but I would be concerned this was a new approach with which Nama are trying to act robustly with businesses in Northern Ireland. I will be raising this with Nama.

"We don't want this to become a source of friction between the administrations in Northern Ireland and the Republic, which has done fairly well out of loans the UK has made to bail it out.

"Such a new approach by Nama would give me grave concerns, as this business could be the first of many.

"If that isn't the case, and this is a specific issue Nama has with this company, then Nama needs to say what that is. To close businesses making money is just daft."

Nama was established in December 2009 as one of a number of initiatives taken by the Irish government to address the serious problems which arose in Ireland's banking sector as the result of excessive property lending.

Administrators have now taken over the running of the hotel, with its long-term future hanging in the balance.

It is owned by the Kennedy family, who live in Coleraine.

In 2010 the construction arm of the Kennedy Group was placed into administration.

Alistair Kennedy, who ran the 69-bedroom hotel, said it had an annual turnover of £2.2m and was set to turn a profit of up to £400,000 over the coming summer months.

Nama took action on behalf of the Bank of Ireland.

The £48m of loans had originally been advanced to Kennedy Group companies by Bank of Ireland, AIB and Anglo Irish.

Mr Wilson said he was also concerned at the effect of Nama's action on the local economy.

He said: "There are real jobs behind many of these losses taken on by Nama. It is important those taken over by Nama are given the opportunity to stay in business and generate an income to pay back money they owe and keep their businesses operational in Northern Ireland."

Mr Kennedy told the Belfast Telegraph that despite repeated attempts to discuss the financial position of the family's companies with Nama and the banks concerned, they repeatedly declined to engage with him.

"Up until October/November we had been meeting regularly with the banks and we were continually doing deals and working well with them," he said.

"All of a sudden it went totally silent and nobody has spoken to us. We've been continuously refused meetings with any of them."

Mr Kennedy said his experience is worrying for business owners across Northern Ireland, and said Nama's activities could jeopardy investment here.

"If this is going to be Nama's attitude to all the Northern Ireland companies that are held within Nama, it's going to be a disaster for Northern Ireland."

DUP MPs Gregory Campbell and Ian Paisley jnr called for Nama to meet with Mr Wilson.

A spokesman for Nama said the agency would not discuss individual cases or comment on the number of businesses under Nama's control in Northern Ireland.

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