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All-Ireland Nama inquiry still possible, says Mairtin O Muilleoir

Published 13/09/2016

Mairtin O Muilleoir said he is keen to get to the bottom of the controversial Nama property deal
Mairtin O Muilleoir said he is keen to get to the bottom of the controversial Nama property deal

The prospect of a cross-border Nama inquiry should not be completely ruled out, according to Stormont's finance minister.

Mairtin O Muilleoir said he was keen to get to the truth behind the controversial £1.2 billion property deal and "stood firm" on calls for an all-Ireland probe.

He said: "I wouldn't give up on the possibility of an all-island inquiry.

"A commission of investigation is needed so that we understand what happened and so that mistakes don't happen again."

The Sinn Fein representative was pressed on the matter during Question Time at the Assembly where he also rejected claims he knew about a back channel between party colleague Daithi McKay and loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson ahead of an appearance before a scrutiny committee.

Those seeking to link him to the coaching controversy that forced Mr McKay's resignation as chairman of the Assembly's finance committee and North Antrim MLA, were indulging in "party politicking", the minister claimed.

Mr O Muilleoir said: "When I come to work each morning; when we face the issues of balancing the budget; of finding £4.6 billion to fund the health service; for making sure that our schools have the resources that they need; to make sure that we are building according to our plans the art galleries, libraries and the community centres that we need; the issue of the Nama revelations around Jamie Bryson and Daithi McKay are very much low on my particular toting poll.

"I had no involvement in, no knowledge of the connections and communications between Mr McKay, another individual and Mr Bryson.

"The (finance) committee has also asked have I any communications of any type that might shed light on that matter. I don't. I am happy to have the opportunity to put that on the record."

The 2014 sale, known as Project Eagle, between Nama and US investment giant Cerberus, has been dogged by controversy after £7 million linked to it was found in an Isle of Man bank account.

Critics have claimed the arrangement included multimillion-pound fixer fees.

The case is currently being investigated by the National Crime Agency (NCA), the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Securities and Exchange Commission and Gardai.

Mr O Muilleoir said the findings of a report by the Republic's Comptroller and Auditor General, expected on Wednesday, may influence any future decision on an all-island commission of investigation.

However, ultimate responsibility in bringing to book those engaged in wrongdoing, will lie with law enforcement agencies, he said.

"It has been my view for some time that the sales process was flawed at its very core and that, I think will come out in the report of the comptroller and auditor general," said Mr O Muilleoir.

"It would be my feeling at this stage that while I am very much in favour of an all island commission of investigation that I do think it will be down to the law enforcement agencies to finally unravel and pull back the cloak which has surrounded the Nama Cerberus deal."

Nama was established in the Republic of Ireland at the height of the financial crisis to take property-linked loans off the books of bailed-out banks.

It sold 800 Northern Ireland-based property loans to Cerberus, a multi billion-pound fund.

All parties involved in the transaction have denied wrongdoing.

SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan said the public had been "shocked and sickened" by the scandal.

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