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'A PR disaster': Nama were before the PAC today, and it didn't go too well

PAC chairman Sean Fleming said he’d give the Nama directors red cards if he were a referee.

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THREE NAMA DIRECTORS have said it’s “wrong” to claim the agency lost out on over €230 million through the sale of its Northern loans.

They’ve also been heavily criticised over their appearance at the Public Accounts Committee, which one TD labelled “a PR disaster”.

Willie Soffe, head of Nama’s credit committee appeared with fellow board members Brian McEnery and Oliver Ellingham to answer questions on the sale of Project Eagle, Nama’s massive northern loanbook.

There were some testy exchanges between the committee and the Nama representatives, who grew increasingly irritated under questioning from TDs.

Soffe told the committee that the conclusions drawn by Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) – that the sale resulted in a potential loss of £190 million – were “wrong”.

PAC chairman Sean Fleming took issue with the adversarial tone of the NAMA directors’ comments to TDs including Kelly. Fleming said the level of attacks was unprecedented.

“I am shocked by your statement that made 10 specific attacks on the C&AG,” Fleming said.

Soffe replied why should Nama meekly accept the report’s findings if it disagreed with them.

Nama board member Nama board member Brian McEnery (right) gesticulates alongside Willie Soffe, head of Nama's credit committee. Source: Oireachtas TV

Fleming replied:

As a State body, you should play the ball rather than the man.
If I were a referee, every NAMA person here today would have been given a red card.

Fianna Fáil TD Bobby Aylward added:

Ye came in and attacked the Comptroller and Auditor General, which I find unbelievable.

He said he expected Nama’s board members to come in and defend their own conduct “not attack another pillar of the Government, and rubbish what they say and downgrade him”.

Soffe said: “I think what we did – trenchantly I accept – was defend our position. I don’t think that is offensive, and if you say you’re right that you should say you’re right.”

Labour deputy leader Alan Kelly said:

Individually, for the three of ye this has been a PR disaster, to sign off collectively on a statement like this, with the inferences that are in there. It’s a PR disaster for yourselves.

“Some of the inferences in there for me are unacceptable, as against the C&AG, he and his colleagues are just doing his job, they’re not actually declaring any wrongdoing.

In response to an interruption from Nama, Kelly said: “Sorry, I said this was a statement, not a question.

This is the Public Accounts Committee, we ask the questions.

Playing the man

TDs also criticised Nama’s paper trail, their “rushed” sale, and response to Frank Cushnahan crisis.

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Nama board members rejected arguments that Frank Cushnahan’s conflict of interest in some way harmed the Irish taxpayer

“I would respond that his alleged actions had no bearing whatsoever on the price paid by the winning bidder or on Nama’s decision to sell,” Soffe added.

Ellingham said of the status of members of the advisory board such as Cushnahan:

Those guys were there to provide colour, to provide information on the (local situation). They they were never given any information on debtors.

PAC chairman Fleming also criticised Nama for failing to release certain documents the committee had requested three weeks ago.

“If there’s an issue over one or two of them, give us the rest of them,” he said.

Mr Soffe Willie Soffe Source: Oireachtas TV

The directors were also accused of deliberately keeping some information from Nama’s advisors in order to secure a clean bill of health.

Nama confirmed that Lazard, the company recruited to make sure all possible buyers were found for the loans, were not asked to value the loans first. They were also not told of the reason why the original bidders Pimco had pulled out.

The three directors also all gave different opinions on whether Brexit was a factor in the accelerated sale of Project Eagle, in response to questions from Alan Kelly.

Read: “You’re a wily old fox at talking down the clock” – Noonan answers questions over Nama Project Eagle sale

Read: Vast majority of people have no confidence in Nama

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