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The curious case of an 'obsessive' TD, the state losing millions, and a Denis O'Brien company

Catherine Murphy wants a full inquiry into deals made by IBRC.

Image: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

Updated 11.10pm

CATHERINE MURPHY HAS called for an independent inquiry into a number of large transactions by IBRC (formerly Anglo Irish Bank) prior to it being wound up two years ago.

The independent TD received documents from the Department of Finance today in relation to freedom of information requests.

She said the highly-redacted files, which she distributed to the media today, contradict responses to parliamentary questions she received from Finance Minister Michael Noonan.

In the documents, senior officials at the department express reservations about a number of “poorly executed” large transactions made by IBRC (Irish Bank Resolution Corporation), including the sale of Siteserv to the Denis O’Brien-owned company Millington.

Former chairman of Anglo, Alan Dukes, has in a statement this evening rejected any suggestions of impropriety in the sale of Siteserv, Newstalk reports.

Murphy said the files highlight that there were “serious problems in the relationship that existed between the IBRC, formerly Anglo, and the Department of Finance”.

She claimed that this likely played a role in the winding down of IBRC in February 2013.

Cabinet Meetings on Water Campaigns Michael Noonan Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

In one memo, a senior department official states that “events over the past few months have led me to question the effectiveness of the management team in IBRC … I am concerned that the reputation of the IBRC and by extension the State has been damaged as a result of these events.”

One document states:

Siteserv is the subject of a separate memo but to summarise we are concerned with the quality of some of the decisions taken in respect of this transaction. The sale decision has raised a number of areas where we believe that decisions taken by IBRC resulted in a less than optimum return for the bank. The transaction has also been the subject of a number of PQs and press queries which further questioned the commercial rationale for some elements of the sale including payments made to existing stakeholders. We are recommending that the Chairman is asked to commission a full independent review in relation to the Siteserv transaction.

Murphy questioned whether Noonan was being genuine when he “insisted he was satisfied that the Siteserv deal represented the best deal for the State”.

“The documents I receive today really make me question whether or not the Minister really believed that was the case,” she told reporters.

The State lost €105 million due to the transaction, in which Millington bought SiteServ for €45 million in 2012. A subsidiary of the company, GMC/Sierra, went on to be awarded a large water metering contract.

Anti Water Charges Campaigns GMC/Sierra water meter installers Source: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

“I am calling for a full, independent inquiry into the circumstances surrounding this deal, and other large deals, as it appears to me to go to the heart of the problems that led to the very rushed winding up of IBRC on the infamous ‘prom night’.
The citizens, who every day feel the brunt of Anglo’s problems in their pocket, have a right to know why such deals would have been done and who was a party to those decisions,” Murphy said.

During Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil this afternoon, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin praised Murphy for “doggedly” pursuing this issue. The Sunday Times also reported on the topic over the weekend.

Martin noted that Siteserv shareholders received €5 million at the time of the sale.

He asked Enda Kenny if he would initiate “a proper inquiry” into the matter. The Taoiseach said he didn’t read the Sunday Times article, adding: “I don’t have the detail to reply in detail to you … I don’t want to say anything that I can’t stand over here.”

Kenny said it would be better for Noonan to reply to Martin directly.

Cabinet Meetings Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

Martin said he found it “very, very difficult to comprehend” that Kenny hadn’t seen the article

Did Minister Noonan ring you about it? Did anybody alert you?

He said that if Kenny was telling the truth he was “oblivious” to serious issues “going on under your nose”.

Kenny responded by saying he doesn’t “have the opportunity to read every newspaper article”, adding that officials in each department deal with Freedom of Information requests independently of his office.

The Taoiseach said that when IBRC approved the Siteserv deal in March 2012, it was not required to inform Noonan prior to the sale as the 2009 framework under which it was operating did not include any specific monetary thresholds.

However, a spokeswoman for Murphy was quick to point out that a new framework, under which IBRC would have had to discuss the issue with the finance minister, was “ready to go”.

Murphy said earlier:

There is such a web here. There is serious role for the media to play in untangling that web and making it accessible to the public. There’s a limit to what a slightly OCD independent member of the Oireachtas can do on this.

Department of Finance response 

A spokesperson for the Department of Finance said Murphy’s claim that “all along the Minister [Noonan] has insisted he was satisfied that the Siteserv deal represented the best deal for the State….” is incorrect.

They said Noonan was “given assurances from the Chairman [former TD Alan Dukes] and CEO [Mike Aynsley] of IBRC at a meeting which he attended on 25 July 2012 that the transaction had been thoroughly assessed by the IBRC Board and that the Management and Board of IBRC were satisfied that the transaction was managed in the best manner possible to achieve the best result for the State”.

In a statement this evening, Alan Dukes categorically rejected suggestions of any impropriety in the March 2012 SiteServ sale by IBRC.

Newstalk reports that Dukes said the Department of Finance was kept informed, though later became concerned about the deal.

Fine Gael Conferences Simon Harris Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

The spokesperson said that “to help prevent such concerns regarding the quality of decisions taken by IBRC management arising in the future”,  Noonan requested a further meeting take place between the former Secretary General of the Department of Finance, John Moran, and the then CEO of IBRC.

This meeting took place in August 2012. The spokesperson said: “At that point, the transaction had been concluded and no further action could have been taken.”

As part of the deal with the Troika, the government put in place new frameworks to ensure proper handling of the sale of assets (on 29 March 2012).

A senior Department of Finance official was seconded to IBRC in October 2012 to “explore opportunities for deleveraging with a view to maximising the recovery for the taxpayer”, the spokesperson added.

They said this provided “greater oversight, given that a number of matters within IBRC at that time raised concerns with Department of Finance officials”.

‘Hen’s teeth’

Junior finance minister Simon Harris echoed these comments when answering Murphy’s questions about the issue in the Dáil this evening. He said the decision to liquidate IBRC was taken in the context of minimising the overall cost to the state.

Murphy was not impressed with his response, saying she could have written it herself by piecing together the answers she got to previous parliamentary questions.

She also noted her disappointment that Noonan was not present to answer her queries directly.

Originally published: 16.29

Read: Irish Water: No rules were broken when GMC Sierra won metering contract

Read: IBRC won’t say how much former Anglo directors still owe them

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Órla Ryan

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