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Peter Robinson rubbishes Martin McGuinness' lack of knowledge of Nama deal as 'frailty of memory'

By Claire Williamson

Published 14/10/2015

Video grab taken from the Northern Ireland Assembly of Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Peter Robinson appearing before a parliamentary committee in Stormont, Belfast, which is investigating the £1bn sale of the Nama Northern Ireland property portfolio. PA Wire
Video grab taken from the Northern Ireland Assembly of Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Peter Robinson appearing before a parliamentary committee in Stormont, Belfast, which is investigating the £1bn sale of the Nama Northern Ireland property portfolio. PA Wire

Peter Robinson has rubbished Martin McGuinness' denial of knowledge of the controversial Nama deal as the "frailty of memory".

Defending the Nama sale of Northern Ireland's  largest portfolio Mr Robinson told Stormont's finance committee that it was "overall the right thing to do".

In his evidence the DUP leader claimed that the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness had been "fully informed throughout the process" and said while he didn't believe the Sinn Fein MLA "mislead" the committee, rather he had "forgotten".

Last month the Sinn Fein MLA told the committee he was not told about meetings and contacts between Nama, bidders for its NI portfolio and DUP ministers.

The DUP leader was summoned to the inquiry after allegations were made that he was to benefit from money placed in an off-shore account after the deal.

<< Who's who in the Nama loans row? >>

Mr Robinson had previously rejected the allegations stating that they "lack credibility" and today he repeated this branding the claim "outrageous and groundless".

At the outset of the hearing, the DUP leader said he welcomed the opportunity to address "issues, misconceptions and inaccuracies" he said had arisen during previous committee hearings.

He also said he was to "correct" the Deputy First Minister's evidence where he denied the DUP's assertion that he was briefed throughout the process.

The First Minister stressed that while the picture had been "clouded" regarding the Nama deal - the transaction ultimately was good for Northern Ireland, as it effectively unfroze assets that had been controlled by Nama.

Responding to a question from the DUP's Ian McCrea Peter Robinson said the deal was "overall the right thing to do".

He said: "By 2013 the sale by Nama for Northern Ireland was in the economic interest of the province. The sale was good for Northern Ireland."

Last month when deputy first minister Martin McGuinnesss was summoned for questioning he claimed it was "misleading" that he was being kept informed.

  I was kept in dark by DUP about £1bn loan sale, claims McGuinness

A police officer watches Martin McGuinness address the inquiry
A police officer watches Martin McGuinness address the inquiry

Mr McGuinness said there were questions to be answered around the sending of a memorandum of understanding to Nama in 2013.

Mr McGuinness said he had not seen it and that he had been left out of a meeting attended by then Finance Minister Sammy Wilson, Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Mr Robinson.

Mr Robinson rubbished his evidence and said his "recollection of the events were wrong" and that the Deputy First Minister was "kept informed throughout the process".

He said: "I'm providing you with the evidence that indicates that Memorandums of understandings were sent. I think it's unfair to the Deputy First Minister for people to suggest that his special advisors were in charge of the department and would spoon feed him and give him information as they choose.

"He was aware of what was going on.

"I put it down to the frailty of memory. Memory is a strange thing.

He added: "The issue is whether we were keeping him in the dark and I think we've shown we weren't.

"I'm saying he was wrong in his recollection of the events. I've set the record straight with evidence. He would have been aware but may have forgotten."

"Whatever way one looks at it, it is clear the Deputy First Minister did have knowledge of material facts that were available to me during the process."

Responding to a question by DUP colleague Jim Wells on the deputy first minister's evidence Mr Robinson said the Deputy First Minister was not "trying to mislead the committee".

He said: "The reason why I've been slow in my comments to point any fingers towards the deputy first minister is quite frankly I didn't get the impression that the deputy first minister was trying to mislead this committee.

"I think he genuinely didn't have any recollection of these events."

Central to the inquiry is a fee paid in to an off-shore account controlled by solicitor Ian Coulter, a former managing partner of Belfast-based law firm Tughans.

Tughans, which was involved in the Nama transaction after being subcontracted by Cerberus's US lawyers Brown Rudnick, has insisted it was not aware of this transfer.

The role of Belfast businessman Frank Cushnahan has also come in for intense scrutiny.

Mr Cushnahan previously served on Nama's Northern Ireland advisory committee but it has been claimed he later advised both Cerberus and another potential US buyer of the portfolio - prompting questions about potential conflicts of interest.

Giving evidence to the committee last month, Mr Bryson alleged that Mr Robinson, Mr Cushnahan, Mr Coulter and two others - developer Andrew Creighton and accountant David Watters - were to share in the success fee.

Allegations of political kickbacks in connection with the deal are being investigated by the National Crime Agency (NCA).

The finance committee investigation was set up after Mick Wallace TD claimed in the Dail in July that a NI politician was to benefit from £7m in an offshore bank account in the wake of the £1.2bn deal. However, he has yet to state any names.

Belfast solicitor Ian Coulter, formerly of leading Belfast law firm Tughans, had transferred the funds to the account, but has denied that any of the money in the Isle of Man account was intended for any politician.

During the hearing, Mr Robinson was repeatedly asked about Mr Coulter and Mr Cushnahan.

The DUP leader said he knew them as "pillars of the establishment" who both were "motivated by the best interests of Northern Ireland".

He said he never considered they would be in line for a fee as a result of the Nama deal.

Sinn Fein's Mairtin O Muilleoir asked did he still view them in such high esteem following some of the claims made about the Nama deal.

"Do you feel disappointed in those two men?" Mr O Muilleoir asked.

Mr Robinson replied: "You invite me to reach conclusions. I am not investigating, I am not on your inquiry - it is up to you to reach your conclusions, it is up to the NCA to reach their conclusions on these matters.

"I just think it is inappropriate for me to speculate on these matters - I have no responsibility to speculate on these matters and I think it would be imprudent of me to do so."

Sinn Fein's Mairtin O'Muilleoir then branded the Nama deal "corrupt and dirty".

The DUP leader hit back saying that the "outcome was beneficial for the people of Northern Ireland."

He said: "It doesn't encourage confidence in an open and fair process if there is already a conclusion reached that this is a corrupt or dirty deal.

"If the role of the committee is to establish facts, it probably is better that the members of the committee do not in advance decide what the outcome is going to be and then try and retro-fit the evidence to what their conclusions were.

"I believe the deal whatever the issues that clouded it, the outcome was beneficial for the people of Northern Ireland. I assume the priority of people on this committee is what is good for Northern Ireland."

Mr Robinson said that "until recently" the ministers spoke with" one voice on every element of this process".

He said: "We were all in sync on the handling of these matters. The Deputy first minister was kept informed throughout process.

"There was a united approach to this meeting.

"From creation of Nama and until recently ministers spoke with one voice on every element of this process."

Mr Robinson again blasted the allegations of Jamie Bryson heard by the committee last month.

He said: "An outrageous and groundless accusation was made without a shred of evidence. For the record I repeat, I neither received, expected to receive sought nor was I offered a single penny as the result of the mama sale.

"I am offended by the suggestion and given its source hardly surprised.

"I was motivated by the best interest of the economy. I am unashamedly and unapologetically pro-business."

Live updates:

Peter Robinson finishes giving evidence after two and a half hours

Sammy Wilson and Simon Hamilton to appear before committee

Peter Robinson declines request from Dathi McKay to instruct both Sammy Wilson and Simon Hamilton to appear before committee.

"I won't instruct them as I don't think I have to instruct them" as he believes both plan to.

"Business is not a dirty word and nor indeed is profit."

In answer to a question from DUP MLA Emma Pengelly, Mr Robinson says he was not sure whether Frank Cushnahan had a conflict of interest.

"I assumed he departed from the advisory committee at the moment when he took up some formal role with PIMCO. I do not know, I have not asked, nor do I think it is my place to do so."

Peter Robinson: I don't believe the role of the advisory committee was to get any deal for anybody. Their role was to indicate what was the interest of Northern Ireland.

Emma Pengelly now questioning Mr Robinson asks to confirm that he had no decision making role. Likewise neither did any of the Irish ministers. Was your clear understanding in your conversation that they, like you have no role in making decision or influencing what Nama might do?

Peter Robinson says: "Nama was in charge of the process."

Daithi McKay brands Mr Robinson's failed recollections of phonecalls in 2013 as 'highly convenient'

Mr Robinson says he would suggest that most people would have difficulty remembering phonecalls from 2013.

Mr Robinson says that following Martin McGuinness' appearance before the committee, the press were suggesting "things must be terrible in OFMDFM".

There is a very good working relationship in OFMDFM. We have consistently been able to manage all of these issue. Martin and I have had numerous meetings since he appeared at his committee and I'm sure we will have numerous meeting after I've appeared at this committee.

Mairtin O'Muilleoir says to remember this is a "dirty deal"

Mr Robinson says claims of a conflict of interest involving Frank Cushnahan 'never entered anybody's head'

Asked if he thinks it is a 'Dirty scheme' Peter Robinson says that is the "role of this committee and NCA inquiry."

"You are entitled to reach your view on what those facts add up to. What I'm not entitled to do, not being involved as an inquiry. and viewing bits and pieces I hear on the news, to reach conclusions without hearing the evidence.

Asked by Mairtin O'Muilleoir is Frank Cushnahan is honourable - Peter Robinson says it is "inappropriate for me to speculate on these matters. I have no responsibility to speculate on these matters"

Mr O Muilleoir says that Frank Cushnahan's presence in the meetings was "inappropriate" as he was "in line for a £5m payment" on completion of the deal which was "a classic conflict of interest".

Mr Robinson says he won't stray into territory that should be investigated by the NCA

Peter Robinson: It doesn't encourage confidence in an open and fair process if there is already a conclusion reached that this is a corrupt or dirty deal.

"if the role of the committee is to establish facts, it probably is better that the members of the committee do not in advance decide what the outcome is going to be and then try and retro-fit the evidence to what their conclusions were.

I believe the deal whatever the issues that clouded it, the outcome was beneficial for the people of Northern Ireland. I assume the priority of people on this committee is what is good for NI

Sinn Fein's Mairtin O Muilleoir questions whether Mr Robinson's designation of "First Minister" was still accurate.

"You can call me Peter but I am still First Minister".

Peter Robinson says Martin McGuinness wrong in his "recollection of the events"

Responding to comments by Dominic Bradley of the SDLP asking whether the deputy first minister had been "disinterested" in Nama-related issues.

"I'm providing you with the evidence that indicates that MOUs were sent. I think it's unfair to the DFM for people to suggest that his Spads were in charge of the department and would spoon feed him and give him information as they choose.

"He was aware of what was going on.

"I put it down to the frailty of memory. Memory is a strange thing.

"I've never resiled from the fact that when it comes to matters relating to education or agriculture or the arts and leisure the DFM will be more engaged and knowledge about those matters because those are departments which his department hold.

We would be more involved and active. The issue is whether we were keeping him in the dark and I think we've shown we weren't.

You can miss it once, you might even miss it twice but to miss it three times would be unusual

I'm saying he was wrong in his recollection of the events. I've set the record straight with evidence. He would have been aware but may have forgotten.'

Peter Robinson Nama sale "overall the right thing to do"

Responding to a question from the DUP's Ian McCrea Peter Robinson said it was "overall the right thing to do"

There will be people who have to deal with Cerberus who will have found them to be a tough company to deal with. Thats the nature of these kinds of arrangements. They don't get to the size that they are by throwing their money around.

Overall it was the right thing to do to have an orderly disposal of assets.

Peter Robinson on his memory

I think there are very few people who can remember in great detail what they were doing a couple of years ago. Especially on an issue where everyone seemed  to be rolling in the same direction.

Peter Robinson says he doesn't have any memory problems

Peter Robinson being questioned about his lobbyist son

Michaela Boyle of Sinn Fein asks Peter Robinson about his lobbyist son's involvement in the Millmount housing development.

"I've never seen his client list except in the Irish News. It's not a subject that would  be appropriate for me to deal with"

Peter Robinson on Nama

Nama seemed like a professional outfit that knew what they were doing

Martin McGuinness kept in the dark

"I've set out the knowledge that DFM had. Of course it's the case that because of departments involved there was a greater activity and involvement from DUP ministers because this was largely going through dept of finance who had lead responsibility on banking.

The issue is whether he had been kept up to speed. I think I've shown he was being kept up to speed.

Responding to a question by DUP colleague Jim Wells on DFM'S evidence Mr Robinson said: "Reason why I've been slow in my comments to point any fingers towards DFM is quite frankly I didn't get the impression that DFM was trying to mislead this committee.

It think he genuinely didn't have any recollection of these events.

We get flooded with stuff from all of the department there are hundreds of things swirling around OFM DFM at any one time

It was not indicated as controversial at the time.

Setting up Pimco meeting

I would not be involved in setting up any meeting. I would be involved in going to the meetings. The arrangements would have been made through my special advisor.

Mr Robinson says he did not contact the NCA because he wanted to "compile all relevant material first"

Daith McKay challenges Mr Robinson as to why he did not contact the National Crime Agency in July.

Mr Robinson says its not unusual that Sammy Wilson was at meeting with potential Nama loan buyer as minister but no officials present

No conflict of interest in Frank Cushnahan setting up Pimco meeting in May 2013.

Peter Robinson refers to Jamie Bryson's allegation

An outrageous and groundless accusation was made without a shred of evidence.  For the record I repeat, I neither received, expected to receive sought nor was I offered a single penny as the result of the mama sale

I am offended by the suggestion and given its source hardly surprised.

I was motivated by the best interest of the economy

I am unashamedly and unapologetically pro business

This process was by its very nature a confidential one

By 2013 the sale by Nama for Northern Ireland was in the economic interest of the province. Sale was good for Northern Ireland.

Frank Cushnahan and Ian Coulter "both motivated by best interests of Northern Ireland"

My involvement was sporadic over the period.

Peter Robinson 'corrects' Martin McGuinness' evidence

Whatever way you look at it DFM did have knowledge of material facts

Mr Robinson says DFM knew about Cerberus meeting in London 10 April and was invited.

He quotes it was sent as "'Nama doc as discussed"

Martin McGuinness was briefed. That memorandum of understanding was being sent following a discussion of the matter on 19th of December.

Peter Robinson says he will "correct" four things that DFM said about his knowledge of Nama

Peter Robinson "ministers were all in sync"

We were all in sync on the handling of these matters. Deputy first minister was kept informed throughout process.

There was a united approach to this meeting.

From creation of Nama and until recently ministers spoke with one voice on every element of this process.

Opening statement will correct 'Misconceptions and inaccuracies that have arisen in previous sessions'

Daithi McKay - Keep within terms of reference. What we are looking for is facts. So if members are asking  who, what, where, when, and how, then those are reasonable questions.

Additional reporting PA

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