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Michael Noonan in the Dáil last night. Oireachtas TV

'Shame on the Minister for Finance': What was that massive row in the Dáil all about last night?

The PAC report into Nama’s Northern Ireland loan book sale was being debated last night. / YouTube

A MASSIVE ROW erupted in the Dáil last night between Finance Minister Michael Noonan and members of the Public Accounts Committee over a report into a controversial Nama sale.

During a heated debate around the PAC report into the sale of Nama’s Northern Ireland loan book – known as Project Eagle – to US firm Cerberus, committee chair Sean Fleming accused Noonan of threatening to injunct the PAC.

There were also calls for the minister to resign, while Noonan, for his part defended his record vigorously.

So what was the row all about?

The PAC report into the Project Eagle sale concluded that Nama had lost €800 million on the sale and that the sale strategy was “seriously deficient”.

Noonan and Department of Finance officials held separate meetings with Cerberus representatives on the eve of the bid closing date.

The report found that it was “not procedurally appropriate for the Minister for Finance [Michael Noonan] to meet with senior Cerberus representatives the day before the Project Eagle bid closing date”.

It said this could have given the perception that Cerberus was benefitting from preferential treatment.

Noonan has strongly rejected these findings. He said that Project Eagle was not discussed during the meetings with Cerberus. He also stated that it was within his remit to meet with Cerberus in his role as finance minister.

Fleming said last night that Noonan had sent a letter to the PAC on 15 February in relation to its draft report, which outlined the criticisms against him.

Fleming said that on the evening that the letter was sent, he had had “a chat” with the minister in the Oireachtas restaurant.

“He concluded the conversation by saying that he can injunct me,” said Fleming.

“Shame on the Minister for Finance for wanting to injunct the Committee of Public Accounts for doing its job,” said Fleming.

I wrote it down.  He said to me, ‘I can injunct you’.
For a Minister for Finance to threaten the public accounts committee is the most inappropriate thing any Minister for Finance has done in my lifetime.

Fleming said last night that Noonan should “withdraw that threat here now and apologise to the Committee of Public Accounts”.

Noonan responded by saying that knowledge of his meeting with Cerberus was “all in the public domain” and that it was up to Fleming to “find out about these things”.

He labelled Fleming a “disgrace” and said he should resign as chairman of the PAC. Fleming said that Noonan was “unfit for office”.

Noonan also took strong issue with an interview Fleming had given to RTÉ News at One in which he said that Noonan had “chosen not to be open and upfront” over his meeting.

“Conjuring up”

Speaking yesterday in the Dáil, Noonan accused the PAC of “conjuring up” unjustified criticisms of him and his department.

“I and my Department refute absolutely the claims in the report that I and my officials acted inappropriately in meeting with Cerberus in March 2014,” he said.

The meetings did not alter the fact that neither I nor my officials were involved in the Project Eagle sales process, which I believe the Committee of Public Accounts acknowledges.

Noonan took strong issue with the fact that he or his officials were not given to opportunity to discuss the meeting with the PAC ahead of the publication of the report.

The finance minister appeared voluntarily before the PAC in October of last year. During that five hour session, his meeting with Cerberus was not discussed with the committee.

Fleming said last night that members of the committee were not aware of the meeting at the time of Noonan’s appearance.

“He had five hours to be helpful to the committee but he chose not to be helpful.  He was the one who held information back,” said Fleming.

Noonan, for his part, said that the information had been released to a journalist in November 2015. He said that he was never asked about the meeting and so did not discuss it.

Independent TD Catherine Connolly – another member of the PAC – said that it was inappropriate for the minister to accuse the committee of “conjuring up” material.

Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane called for Noonan to resign.

Read: Michael Noonan refutes suggestion he ‘acted inappropriately’ over Project Eagle sale

Read: Timeline: The seismic controversy over the Project Eagle land sale as it unfolded from start to finish

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