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Irish finance minister had 'no hand, act or part' in Nama decision on controversial Project Eagle portfolio: Richard Bruton

By Cormac McQuinn

Irish finance minister Michael Noonan had "no hand, act, or part" in Nama's decisions regarding the sale of it's controversial Project Eagle portfolio, according to the Republic's education minister Richard Bruton.

The minister made the remarks as he leapt to the defence of Mr Noonan at leader's questions in the Dáil.

He was responding to questions from Fianna Fáil Dara Calleary who raised claims that it was "inappropriate" for the Finance Department to meet representatives of Cerberus - the ultimate buyer of Nama's Northern Ireland loan book prior to the sale.

And he put it to Mr Bruton that if Mr Noonan was completely cut off from the process "why meet Cerberus the day before the deal on Project Eagle went through?"

He claimed Mr Noonan sought to demure from a Commission of Investigation into Project Eagle that has been promised by the government and asked for a commitment that it would go ahead.

He also said: "There are allegations that decisions in Nama were taken without adequate notes being taken, without proper management of the conflicts of interests which were apparent, that there was a flawed sales process, and basically an inability of Nama to show that they got the best value for money for the State."

Mr Bruton defended Mr Noonan saying: "There is absolutely no question of the minister having acted inappropriately.

"He met a former US Treasury Secretary who happened to be an employee of Cerberus.

"He had no hand, act, or part in the decisions of Nama who are established independently under statute to make their decisions entirely on their own."

He said that the it has been agreed in principle that a Commission of Investigation will be established.

He said the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is examining a report on Project Eagle by the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) and that he thinks it's "appropriate" that the the outcome of that probe is published before the terms of reference of any Commission of Investigation are decided upon.

Members of the PAC have been examining Project Eagle after a probe by the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) last year found that a probable loss of £190m (€223m) was incurred in the €1.6bn 2014 sale.

Nama has rejected this finding. The PAC is to meet this afternoon to continue the process of finalising its report.

In the last 24 hours Mr Noonan himself has moved to defend himself amid criticism of him in a draft document on Project Eagle prepared for the PAC.

He said he rebuts a proposed adverse finding against him “in the strongest terms”

The working paper prepared for the PAC ahead of the drawing up of their report states that it was “not appropriate” for the Finance Minister to meet representatives of Cerberus the day before the bid closing date.

“It could have given the perception that Cerberus was benefiting from special treatment,” the document states.

Following media reports on the matter Mr Noonan raised concern that he was never questioned about the Cerberus meeting by the PAC as he appeared at the Oireachtas Finance Committee yesterday.

He said he appeared voluntarily before the PAC and that “what the newspapers are now saying is the basis for an adverse finding against me was never raised with me in five hours of evidence.”

Mr Noonan said the minutes of his meeting with Cerberus have been published online since 2015 and were sent to the PAC which didn’t subsequently raise questions with him about it. “As I understand due process – an adverse finding can’t be listed for anybody without giving them the right to reply. And the meeting that I had with Cerberus wasn’t inappropriate in any way whatsoever,” he added.

He says that the PAC have legal advice saying that the functions of Nama and the functions of the Finance minister and the Department “were entirely different”. Mr Noonan said: “I had no legal right or no authority and didn’t interfere with the commercial decisions of Nama.”

Mr Noonan said he had written to PAC chairman Seán Fleming adding: “so I hope he’ll straighten these things out.”

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