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Property market: Nobody comes out of this smelling of roses

What do tulip bulbs and property have in common? Both seduced many into thinking their value would never stop rising, NAMA's representative in Northern Ireland claimed yesterday.

The speech by Peter Stewart at the NI economic conference did not tip-toe through any tulips. Instead, his strong words burst the bubble of anyone who thought Northern Ireland developers would be immune from criticism, as NAMA wades into the mess left by the rise and fall of the property market.

He was unsparing in his criticism of the "speculative binge".

The decade of NAMA's business plan was providing "vital breathing space to tidy up the hangover" from the speculative binge. There was an ultimatum for developers - some of whom are thought to be contemplating a legal challenge on human rights grounds in the province's courts - 'agree consensually, or face enforcement proceedings'.

You must wear the sackcloth and ashes of the NAMA process, he seemed to say, using an almost biblical phrasing that will echo around the mind of anyone who tried to profit from the property boom but did not come off well afterwards.

"These debtors, be they house builders, land speculators, developers or collectors of property assets, have played their part in bringing the economies of this island to the present state.

"They cannot simply blame their misfortune on the world financial crisis or the over- exuberance of the bankers.

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"They now have an opportunity, through working with NAMA, to make some amends for the damage that has been done."

But he revealed that his colleagues in portfolio management were encountering "an increasing air of realism" about proceedings from the developers they were dealing with -though any realism is probably matched by deep resentment at what has happened.

So far, £300m of Northern Ireland-located assets have been transferred, with a total projected to be transferred worth £3.35bn.

And Mr Stewart warned there would be no going back, even after the 10 years of NAMA are up. "To my mind, there is no likelihood of a market recovery to the earlier peaks ... Just as with tulip bulbs centuries ago and internet shares not so long ago, it seems that there was a belief that one could buy, sell on shortly afterwards, and make a quick turn. I believe we are all aware now that such action is unsustainable."