Business Soapbox: Sammy Wilson
I asked for and received welcome reassurances from Brian Lenihan that there would be no firesale of Northern Ireland assets and that Northern Ireland businesses would be treated fairly by the National Asset Management Agency (Nama)
Establishing Nama was a radical but necessary step by the Irish Government to avoid a disaster in the aftermath of the global financial crisis and subsequent recession.
It was an essential step in restoring liquidity and confidence in the Irish financial system and it is unquestionable that Nama has reduced uncertainty in relation to bad debts in the banking sector and created a mechanism to allow these loans, and any related assets, to be carefully managed in the medium to long term.
Nama has acquired some £3.35bn worth of Northern Ireland-based loans, representing some 5% of its total portfolio.
Obviously the transfer of loans to Nama is a concern for those directly affected. Nama is also strategically very important for us locally in terms of its impact on the ability of Irish-owned banks to lend in Northern Ireland and on the local property market.
During first discussions with the previous Irish finance minister, the late Brian Lenihan, I asked for and received welcome reassurances that there would be no firesale of Northern Ireland assets and that our businesses would be treated fairly by Nama. Mr Lenihan also agreed that the Nama board would have a Northern Ireland advisory committee.
However, as Nama's work has moved to the management of the assets, a number of concerns are emerging.
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The time taken to deal with the business plans presented by borrowers is too long and damaging their efforts to work their way out of difficulty. Nama can provide finance to viable projects which can help such a business plan be a success and I want to ensure that Northern Ireland receives an appropriate share of that.
Another concern is when viable businesses that are taken into Nama (because of property-related assets in an unrelated part of the business) subsequently face difficulties in accessing working capital.
There is also a need, when disposing of assets, for Nama to recognise that different proposals will have different impacts on the wider economy and to ensure that proposals that include developing and using the assets are preferred.
I think Northern Ireland needs a full representative on the Nama board to raise and highlight these issues.