Pressure has increased on Finance Minister Michael Noonan to answer questions about the €1.6bn NAMA sale of properties in Northern Ireland.
Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairman, Seán Fleming, on Monday said he expected Mr Noonan to appear before his committee to answer questions about his role in the controversial sale, which has been criticised by the public spending watchdog, the Comptroller & Auditor General (C&AG).
So far the Irish government has said that it is not the Finance Minister’s role to appear before the PAC. Government Ministers have said the protocol is that the secretary general of the Finance Department is the one who should attend the committee – while the Minister answers directly to the Dáil.
The Republic's government is to hold an official inquiry following a highly critical report on the NAMA sale in 2014. Last Wednesday the C&AG issued its damning report and the PAC generally bases its work on that office’s work.
Seán Fleming, a chartered accountant and Fianna Fáil TD for Laois, said he believed Mr Noonan knew he would be a neutral chairman. He said there was ample precedent for government ministers giving public evidence, including an appearance by former Irish Defence Minister, Michael Smith, in the High Court during the “army deafness” cases in the 1990s.
“Mr Noonan would be very capable of making a decision himself on appearing before our committee. He would also be more than capable of answering our questions,” Mr Fleming told reporters at the start of Fianna Fáil’s pre-Dáil meeting in Carlow.
Mr Fleming said the PAC will meet in private session on Wednesday to consider how they will handle the issue. He dismissed suggestions that failure by Mr Noonan to appear before them would render their work useless.
“We are going to question the senior people in NAMA and the Department of Finance. These are our key witnesses and we will have important questions for them,” he said.
Mr Fleming acknowledged that NAMA was founded in 2009 when his party was in government. “If the former Minister for Finance were still alive we would be inviting him to the committee,” he said.