Establishment of a Commission of Inquiry into the National Asset Management Agency: Statements

I welcome the opportunity to speak again on this matter. In September last year the Comptroller and Auditor General published a value for money report on the Project Eagle sales process. As we know, while some findings were accepted, there were clear differences of opinion on a number of findings in the report. Since its publication, the Committee of Public Accounts which is chaired by Deputy Sean Fleming has held numerous public sessions over a number of months to discuss the report. A large number of parties have assisted the committee with this work, including senior members of the National Asset Management Agency, in particular its executive team; past and current board members of NAMA; Lazard which was NAMA's financial adviser; Cerberus which was the purchaser of the portfolio; me, as Minister for Finance, and officials from my Department; the former Northern Ireland deputy First Minister; the Comptroller and Auditor General and his officials. The committee also received extensive documentation on the transaction from the National Asset Management Agency and other parties, including the Department of Finance.

The National Asset Management Agency has appeared before the Committee of Public Accounts to answer questions relating to Project Eagle on eight separate occasions. NAMA estimates that it has responded to almost 2,000 oral questions during these appearances and provided the committee with written responses to an additional 100 questions. We have also witnessed a similar extensive examination of aspects of the transaction by the Northern Ireland Assembly involving significant amounts of documentary evidence and witness testimony.

All this evidence - hundreds of hours of witness testimony and thousands of pages of documentary evidence - is publicly available on the Internet to anyone who is interested. I would encourage those considering a commission of investigation into NAMA's activities to study this evidence, if they have not already done so. NAMA has answered every question put to it by the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Committee of Public Accounts. I acknowledge that there are differences of opinion but there are also findings on which we all agree. The Committee of Public Accounts will soon publish its findings and I look forward to reading that report. While I will await the committee's report, based on the evidence I also accept that the parties involved are entitled to hold differing opinions on matters of commercial judgment and that this does not imply wrongdoing by any party. Today, I do not believe that sufficient grounds have been established on which to progress a commission of investigation without first taking the views of the Committee of Public Accounts into account.

I would like to comment on ongoing criminal investigations. It has been suggested by some that arrests associated with the UK NCA investigation imply wrongdoing on the part of NAMA. On the contrary, NAMA advise that the UK NCA has confirmed that no aspect of the agency’s activities are under investigation. Deputy Wallace has stated previously that he has brought important information to the attention of the Garda Síochána. We should commend him for doing so if he believes such action is warranted. Anyone who believes he or she has such information should bring it to the Garda Síochána and allow it to assess and, if necessary, investigate it. After all, it is the role of the Garda to determine if there are grounds for a criminal investigation in this State. As far as I am aware no such an investigation is being pursued by the Garda. I am also aware that the US Securities and Exchange Commission and the FBI have examined elements of the transaction. Should those agencies wish to engage with NAMA, NAMA has made it clear that it is more than willing to do so. I want it to be clear that the allegations of wrongdoing that have been made against particular individuals, and that are being criminally investigated, are a cause of concern. These concerns will remain until investigations are concluded and their findings are made known. As I speak, these investigations have not concluded and we do not know their findings. This Government, and I hope this House, supports each of these investigations and stands ready to assist in any way that is helpful.

There may well be calls today in the context of this debate for other NAMA transactions to be reviewed, either through a commission of investigation or otherwise. As we know, the Comptroller and Auditor General reviews the accounts and operations of NAMA. As Deputies should be already aware, the Comptroller and Auditor General is currently reviewing and assessing a broad sample of approximately 50 NAMA transactions from a value for money perspective under section 226 of the NAMA Act. I am sure Members will agree that we are looking forward to receiving the Comptroller and Auditor General's section 226 report, which I expect to be, as is always the work of the Comptroller and Auditor, very thorough.

I have little doubt that the calls to change NAMA's mandate or even halt NAMA’s activities will continue. A change of mandate is outside the scope of a commission of investigation but I will attempt to summarise the position as, unfortunately, public discourse rarely captures what the agency can and cannot do. I want it to be very clear that NAMA’s original mandate remains in place and will remain in place until it is fully wound down. NAMA has the independence to decide on the most appropriate strategies for achieving that mandate. In any market, but particularly in an open and transparent market such as Ireland, a move to constrain NAMA’s activities would be commercially discriminatory and would irreparably damage our international reputation as a secure and transparent place to do business. In this regard, I point to the many unfinished housing estates that have been brought to completion, the dilapidated hotels that have been renovated and brought back into the market and the ugly skeletons of abandoned office and apartment developments that have been completed. This has only been accomplished through the significant investment in these assets and our economy by the purchasers of NAMA, IBRC and banks' loan and asset sales.

It is as important today as it ever was that Ireland remains open to investment capital for the development of our economy across the risk spectrum of investment opportunities. I will not direct NAMA to halt or change its sales strategies nor will I direct it to do anything that is contrary to its commercial mandate, which it is entitled to do under the NAMA Acts. NAMA expects to have repaid €30.2 billion of its senior debt by the end of this year and to ultimately deliver a surplus of €2.3 billion. We must step back and realise what an achievement this will be. Many doubted whether NAMA could ever repay its debts let alone generate a profit of up to €2.3 billion, as is currently expected. Let there be no mistake, this surplus is a profit in every sense and far exceeds our expectations when NAMA was established. Many commentators attempt to disparage NAMA’s achievements, referring to the original amount borrowed as the value of the loans when reporting on loan sales and claiming that selling loans for less than the original borrowed amount constitutes a loss by NAMA. This could not be further from the truth. NAMA paid the Irish banks €31.8 billion for loans valued at €26.2 billion. This purchase included an overpayment of €5.6 billion of state aid in the form of additional capital for our failing banks. Unfortunately, in the context of the financial crisis, the fact that the amount owed on those loans was €74 billion really has no direct bearing on their value. The chance of recovering €74 billion on these loans was lost in the financial crisis. It is the borrower's ability to repay the loan and the intrinsic value of the asset that determines its value. As we know many borrowers have faced difficulty repaying the full amount they borrowed.

I am well aware that last year the Taoiseach invited, received and discussed submissions from party leaders on this matter and that, in principle, there was agreement to progress a commission of investigation, if required. Last week, the Taoiseach, when referring to the report to be produced by the Committee of Public Accounts stated in the Dáil that it is sensible to wait to receive that report and to consider its findings before returning to the commission of investigation proposal. The Taoiseach went on to comment on the significant limitations on the work of the commission given the location of potential witnesses and documentation outside the jurisdiction, ongoing criminal investigations and the likely cost of such a commission of investigation. These limitations may ultimately be time bound but they cannot be ignored today and should be taken into account when considering possible terms of reference. The current limitations do not arise with respect to NAMA providing evidence because NAMA is already accountable for its operations under the NAMA Act. As I have already mentioned, NAMA has provided all documentation and has answered all questions put to it regarding suspicions about any transaction.

A commission of investigation, if progressed, cannot attempt to supplant or circumvent the functions of the Garda or any other law enforcement agency. To do so would be inappropriate and could jeopardise legitimate investigations and certainly would not be welcomed by the appropriate authorities. What should be most obvious, but is often overlooked, is that a commission of investigation cannot deal with wide-ranging and non-specific claims. If there is a political desire to advance a commission of investigation, the House must take collective responsibility for its costs, timing, terms of reference and implementation. For a commission of investigation to succeed, it is right that we give our attention to matters which could justifiably, realistically and specifically be examined.

Although I have yet to hear a specific and substantiated allegation of wrongdoing against NAMA, I invite Deputies who believe they have information to enable them to make such an allegation to do so. Thus, if we move to a commission of inquiry, it will be based on specific allegations and information that may be investigated.

NAMA is clearly progressing its mandate ahead of expectations, and we must allow the agency to continue its work. We should not derail this good work by launching, among other things, a commission of investigation that is unfocused and ill defined. In the interim, I believe the upcoming report of the Committee of Public Accounts will provide useful additional material for this House to consider. Until we are aware of and understand the opinions of the Committee of Public Accounts, however, we cannot realistically propose taking further action at this time. Of course, we do not rule out such action.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this important debate this morning. It is my clear understanding that there is agreement in principle among the party and group leaders that there will be a commission of investigation, particularly to investigate Project Eagle. What I am hearing from the Minister this morning, however, is something of a row-back from that. He has said that, in his view, there are not sufficient grounds for a commission of investigation at this time pending the completion of the report to the Committee of Public Accounts.

There was a meeting of the various party and group leaders on 3 October last. I understand there was an agreement to proceed with a commission of investigation to investigate Project Eagle. It is important that the Minister and Taoiseach clarify this morning whether this remains the case. It is, of course, true to say the Committee of Public Accounts has undertaken an enormous amount of work under the chairmanship of Deputy Sean Fleming. He and all the members of the committee are to be commended on their dedication and commitment in probing the Project Eagle issue. Deputy Sean Fleming will elaborate on the work the committee has done, which has involved 12 separate meetings. I and others who are not members of the committee have followed the proceedings as best we can while being at some remove. It is certainly clear that there have been discrepancies and conflicts in the evidence. It is now a matter for members of the committee to seek to reach agreement on a report, which I hope can be completed and published in the coming weeks.

The fundamental point I want to make is that there now seems to be some muddying of the waters as regards the Government's commitment to embark on a commission of investigation to examine Project Eagle, in particular. That simply has to be clarified before this debate concludes.

I am not resiling in any way from the commitments made last October. What I am saying is that, until the Committee of Public Accounts publishes its report and there is further information on the table, it is difficult to see how a commission of investigation could be established immediately and proceed satisfactorily. A commission of investigation has to be justified on the basis of public interest and would have to have the equivalent of prima facie evidence before it started. Right now, I do not believe one could proceed to a commission of inquiry but the commitment and principle remain. I am awaiting with interest the report of Deputy Fleming and his colleagues. They did very good work. That is all I am saying.

I put it back to the Minister that there is a shift in the Government's position. It is one thing to say that finalising the terms of reference should come after the publication of the report of the Committee of Public Accounts but it is different entirely to say the decision as to whether to proceed with a commission is dependent on the content of the report of the Committee of Public Accounts.

I have not said that.

I believe, having listened to the Minister's language, which he uses very carefully, that is certainly where he is headed. My interpretation is that there is a row-back. Others will give their own interpretation.

I am simply saying we need to be cautious. There is €10 million allocated already and we need to be cautious and ensure we have it right before we go down that road. There is a commitment in principle, however, to go down that road.

My time is elapsing quickly so I want to conclude the points that I have wanted to make.

I agree that any commission of investigation that is established - we believe there should be one - has to be structured in a manner that will give it the best prospect of success. We do not propose that a commission of investigation should go down every rabbit hole and examine every transaction in which NAMA has been involved because it would simply get lost and end up being a bonanza for the legal profession. That is certainly not our position. A commission needs to be focused and structured in a manner whereby it can actually succeed because it would be operating within legal constraints.

It was in June 2015 that a commission of investigation into certain transactions of IBRC was established. Where is that now? We were told at the time it would conclude by the end of that year. We are now being told that an inquiry much narrower in scope is likely to conclude by the end of this year. Last October, the Taoiseach told all the party and group leaders whom he met that a commission of investigation into Project Eagle and NAMA would conclude by the end of this year. I am not sure anyone believes that now given that it has not even been established.

Admittedly, we must learn the lessons from other investigations that have run into difficulty. I have made the point before that we still have to find the best method in Ireland of investigating issues of this kind. There is a tribunals of inquiry Bill from 2005 that is still not enacted. It proceeded to Second Stage in November 2007 and Committee Stage in February 2009. It drew on the report of the Law Reform Commission with the objective of streamlining and making much more efficient the tribunal of inquiry process. It has gone nowhere. The legislation has not been enacted and has not been concluded. It should be.

I am pleased to contribute to this debate. I am Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts and, therefore, have a particular point of view. I am expressing that view in a personal capacity and not on behalf of the committee. I acknowledge there was agreement in principle last autumn to establish a commission of investigation. Since then, however, the Committee of Public Accounts has been carrying out a lot of work. As Chairman and in the interest of accountability to the Oireachtas, I believe we will have a detailed report available this month and that there should be a detailed debate in the Oireachtas on that report. After that, let us see what issues that could have been addressed by a commission will have been addressed by the Committee of Public Accounts and what issues are still not addressed. Many of the issues leading to the call for this commission are the result of a television programme in Northern Ireland on incidents in that jurisdiction that are beyond the remit of any commission. A commission would have no jurisdiction to investigate any events in the North.

The Comptroller and Auditor General has produced his report. NAMA gave a strong rebuttal, and I respect its right to do that. Subsequently, as the Minister has indicated, the Committee of Public Accounts has had 12 public meetings. We have had witnesses from NAMA, including not only the chairman and chief executive on various occasions, but also every single board member. This is possibly unprecedented. In addition, we have had witnesses from Northern Ireland and the United States. They could not be compelled by any commission of investigation and could choose to appear voluntarily, as they did before the Committee of Public Accounts. They would be entitled not to appear before a commission chaired by a High Court judge, for example, if they so chose. We have to be conscious of that.

The Oireachtas should not take the lazy option. If there is ability within the Oireachtas to examine NAMA, it should be exhausted completely because having the Committee of Public Accounts or any other committee carry out its work costs the taxpayer nothing. If after that work there is further work requiring a commission, let us by all means follow up on the agreement in principle.

I wish to add two other points. Every three years, the Department of Finance produces a detailed report under section 227 on NAMA's activities.

Independently of that, the Comptroller and Auditor General conducts a report under section 226. These two reports, as well as that of the Committee of Public Accounts, will be before the Dáil and should be examined in detail before we go any further. It would be remiss of the Dáil not to examine the evidence before it and to pay a commission to do so instead. The onus is on the Dáil to follow through on this. I am not saying that there should not be a commission, but we need to know how to proceed with it.

I wish to address some of the practical issues that will arise. NAMA has made a complaint to the Garda under the Criminal Justice Act 2011 concerning possible contraventions of the Prevention of Corruption Act. I do not know the current state of play on that. NAMA has also made a complaint regarding a former member of the Northern Ireland committee to the Standards in Public Office Commission, SIPO, but I have not seen the outcome of that. NAMA made a further complaint to SIPO on 12 September in respect of possible breaches of the Ethics in Public Office Act. We have not seen the outcome of that.

The committee has received correspondence from the UK's National Crime Agency confirming that the latter is investigating the sale of NAMA's Northern Ireland loan portfolio. We have not seen the outcome of that police investigation. The committee has been informed that the US Securities and Exchange Commission is carrying out an investigation because the purchaser, Cerberus, is based in the US. We have also been informed that the US Department of Justice is carrying out an investigation, but we have not seen the outcome of that yet.

The report of the Committee of Public Accounts and any evidence that we possess will be available to those investigations and to any commission of investigation established by the Oireachtas but there is no point in establishing one if it will get bogged down by four or five other inquiries that have yet to be completed. I do not want to long-finger the issue.

I have confidence in the ability of the Oireachtas to examine NAMA in detail. We should not outsource our job because of laziness. If it is within the ability and remit of the House or its committees, we should do it. When we reach the end of the road, anything that remains unresolved should be handed over to a commission of investigation. We did not choose to use powers of compellability on our witnesses. By asking people to attend voluntarily, we received a good level of co-operation from most and were able to make speedy progress. Had we gone down the compellability route as we were entitled to do, we would only be reporting in two years' time. Some believe that NAMA should be stopped in its tracks, but it is substantially through its process, and I am concerned that we would still be running a commission of investigation after NAMA had completed its work and folded up its tent.

I am not saying that there does not need to be a commission, but let the Oireachtas perform its functions and exercise its role over accountability. In too many cases, the Oireachtas does not hold regulators to account and people ask what is happening. Regulators are accountable to the House, as is NAMA. Until we exhaust that process, we should hold off on deciding the terms of reference. When we reach that point I, as Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, will ask how much the commission will cost and what its timescale and objective will be. Narrow, focused terms of reference will achieve more results than broader based ones, given that we would have to change the latter to reach a conclusion as soon as possible.

These are my personal views as Chairman. They are not the views of the committee or Fianna Fáil. I hope that the Oireachtas respects the report being produced by the Comptroller and Auditor General, which the committee will be completing and publishing this month. If it does not cover the issues, I will be the first to accept that and agree that a commission of inquiry is required, but let us give the committee the courtesy of reaching that point before we rush the terms of reference.

I endorse the positions of my colleagues, Deputies Michael McGrath and Fleming, and commend the good work being done by the latter's committee.

"NAMA" are the four letters that have struck terror into the hearts of many since the body's establishment. Many red flags have been waved since then. The Minister for Finance, who has responsibility for NAMA, had two options. He could have reacted quickly and appropriately, as there was a great deal of factual information available on the challenges, issues and problems. I accept that there was also innuendo, but there were enough facts to take action. Alternatively, he could have let the situation continue, which is what he did.

NAMA was established by the State and has been answerable to no one. Nobody was taken to task. Greater interaction was, and continues to be, needed. As NAMA's financial mission nears completion, it could take on board the large social obligation of the housing crisis. There could be more interaction and co-operation with local authorities on solving the crisis.

NAMA is outside the political sphere, but there needs to be political accountability. If the legislation needs to be changed to make it accountable to the House, so be it.

Deputies Pearse Doherty and Cullinane of Sinn Féin are sharing 15 minutes.

In a few months' time, it will have been three years since I asked the Minister a parliamentary question on the sale of Project Eagle. When I asked him about the process and bidders - the Minister might read the transcript, given that he is leaving the Chamber - he told me before the sale was concluded that everything was okay. We now see that everything was not okay. Indeed, a deeply corrupted process was in place.

It is a year since the Comptroller and Auditor General produced a report suggesting a probable loss to the Irish taxpayer of £190 million, or €220 million, as a result of the Project Eagle sale. Four months ago, I represented Sinn Féin at a meeting where a consensus was reached among the representatives of all political parties and Independents that a commission of investigation should be established. As such, why are we back in the Chamber discussing a commission of investigation? We are not even discussing whether there will be one. As the Minister tellingly stated: "A commission of investigation, if progressed". He also stated: "If there is a political desire to advance a commission of investigation". This stance is clearly a row-back by the Minister from the Taoiseach's stated position at the meeting on 15 September, where consensus was reached that there would be a commission of investigation.

I believed that I had seen the end of the Fianna Fáil flip-flops on this issue. It prevented a commission of investigation being established when Deputy Wallace tabled a motion in the House and stated that no commission should be established until all legal cases had been concluded, which will be in a number of years' time. Thankfully, Deputy Michael McGrath is now saying that a commission needs to be established, but he is concerned that it will not be concluded before the end of 2017, as per the Taoiseach's statement. Within minutes, however, Deputy Fleming said that there should be no commission of investigation. Indeed, we should not even be discussing a the terms of reference until both Houses of the Oireachtas finishes their scrutiny of the report of the Committee of Public Accounts.

That will be this month.

Which position does Fianna Fáil support today? Does it want a commission of investigation or is it reverting to its position of March-June 2016? Deputy McGrath's colleague endorsed both positions but I do not know how their party can have it both ways. Either Fianna Fáil wants a commission established - and rightly so, given the statement at the time that there would be an interim report within three months and that the investigation would be concluded before the end of 2017 - or it wants it Deputy Fleming's way, in which it will only be after both Houses have done their scrutiny that we will be allowed to start to deal with this issue.

We have been consistent in calling for a commission of investigation. The work that Deputies Wallace and Clare Daly have done on this issue needs to be commended. We should reflect on some of the allegations that are at the heart of this issue.

Those are some of the allegations that others decide to turn a blind eye to and use different vehicles to try to avoid having a commission of investigation.

Let me put on the record what our party leader, Deputy Gerry Adams, said to the Taoiseach a number of months ago:

Some of the allegations are shocking. Between May 2010 and November 2013, a member of NAMA's advisory board [Frank Cushnahan] is alleged to have been charging a fee for advice about NAMA. It is further alleged that the same individual had an unethical working relationship with a senior NAMA officer who gave him access to additional and sensitive commercial information. It is also alleged that he was lobbying on behalf of clients to reduce loan repayment demands and in return he would secure cash payments, so-called fixer fees which were shared with the senior NAMA officer. When NAMA decided to sell its Northern loan book to the US vulture fund Cerberus, this individual was offering to disclose information relating to the value of the loans-----

Could I advise the Deputy to please not name individuals?

I will finish the quote, "to a bidder called PIMCO".

The quote continues:

It is alleged that PIMCO discovered that payment of a fixer fee of £15 million was requested, to be paid if PIMCO was successful. PIMCO reported this to NAMA and withdrew from the process. According to the response to a Sinn Féin freedom of information request, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, [was aware of that but did absolutely nothing to prevent the sale of Project Eagle].

The Minister for Finance said he cannot direct NAMA under the NAMA Act but that is the height of bull. The reason we know that is because the Minister has directed NAMA on numerous occasions and not on minor issues. Let me remind the Minister, although he does not need reminding, that he issued NAMA with a direction to purchase the IBRC promissory note for more than €3 billion. However, that was not the only direction the Minister for Finance issued to NAMA that was outside of its commercial remit. He also issued directions, for example, in terms of the winding up of IBRC, providing short-term finance to IBRC, directing it to bid for the assets of IBRC and numerous other directions so why, when he knew there was a corrupted process in the sale of billions of euro of Irish taxpayers money, did he not direct NAMA to stop that sale? Indeed, in the context of the latest proposal whereby developers in NAMA are seeking to build 20,000 houses the Minister for Finance said in a meeting with NAMA that whatever it does it must make sure that the supply of housing does not interfere with its early repayment of bondholders. Again, it was not a written direction but it was advice or an instruction by the Minister. However, on this issue he was completely shtum.

Who benefitted from all of that? Who picked up the tab? Who reaped the benefit in a recovering economy? We know the answer to that. It is Cerberus which has reaped the benefit of the £190 million sterling that the Comptroller and Auditor General believes the Irish taxpayer has lost out, but that is only one sale. Since the Comptroller and Auditor General's report NAMA has sold billions of euro worth of assets. We know the process was corrupted yet we allow the agency to continue as if nothing happened. We know that information was leaked. We know there were fixer fees. We know all of that, but NAMA is still selling assets to the tune of €50 million per day, yet we turn a blind eye to it.

Who benefits? Let us look at the list I got last week from the Minister for Finance. A total of 13 of NAMA's developers escaped NAMA paying less than 5% of their debt. A total of 51 developers paid less than 5%, 143 paid less than 10% of their debt to NAMA before they escaped the clutches of NAMA, 225 paid less than 20% and, 293 developers paid less than 30% of the debt. I was told as a Member of the Seanad by the late Brian Lenihan, and we were all told when he went on "Prime Time", that NAMA would pursue the developers to the ends of the earth to recoup the €74 billion they owed the Irish banks when their loans were transferred into NAMA. What is NAMA doing? It is transferring that debt to vulture funds so it is the vulture funds that will benefit from an upturn in the property market. As bad as that is, we now know or at least we have enough evidence to tell us that the process in Project Eagle was corrupt, and there may be other sales that are corrupt also. It is time to bring this to an end and to suspend NAMA sales until we have a proper investigation and stop the nonsense about having a discussion, which we have been having for the past year. Let us get down to the business of dealing with the terms of reference, which we submitted to the Taoiseach as far back as four months ago, and establish the commission of investigation. Let us have no more row-backs from Fine Gael, supported by Fianna Fáil, as we have seen here today.

It is clear from the statement by the Minister for Finance today and also comments from Fianna Fáil that we are being primed for a row-back on the commission of investigation into NAMA and Project Eagle. I am a member of the Committee of Public Accounts which is examining the Comptroller and Auditor General's report into the sale of Project Eagle. That was a value for money report. Our terms of reference were very clear. We were not in a position to examine allegations of criminality. We were prevented from doing that. The Government is conflating the two issues. It is hiding behind a committee which is examining a different element of the Project Eagle sale, namely, value for money and the loan sales process. The Government knows full well that the committee was not allowed to deal with the issues that need to be addressed as part of a commission of investigation.

I wish to read into the record of the House a letter that was sent to the Committee of Public Accounts. It was also read into the record of that committee so it is a matter of record. The letter is from Brown Rudnick, which is the international law firm that was working for PIMCO and a number of bidders, including the successful bidder. It states:

In late 2012 Mr. Coulter called Mr. Keinan [Mr. Coulter was Ian Coulter who worked for Tughans, the Belfast law firm, and Mr. Keinan worked for Brown Rudnick] regarding a potential real estate transaction involving NAMA's Northern Ireland loan portfolio. In substance, Mr. Coulter explained that he and Mr. Frank Cushnahan [who at the time was a member of the Northern Ireland Advisory Committee of NAMA] had been working for an extended period on a conceptual transaction that would allow NAMA to dispose of its entire Northern Ireland loan portfolio through a single sale. Mr. Coulter explained how such a transaction could benefit Northern Ireland, NAMA, and potential investors, and asked Mr. Keinan to identify and recruit potential institutional clients that might be interested...

In a subsequent meeting on or about November 27, 2012, [when Mr. Cushnahan was still a member of the NIAC] ... Mr. Keinan, Mr. Coulter, and Mr. Cushnahan at Tughans’ Belfast offices, Mr. Cushnahan explained that he held an unpaid voluntary board position ... on the ... NIAC ... but insisted that he had no conflicts of interest in advising on such a transaction. Mr. Coulter told Mr. Keinan that Mr. Keinan was the only person to whom Tughans and Mr. Cushnahan were presenting this proposal ... During that same ... meeting, Mr. Coulter and Mr. Cushnahan proposed that they be compensated by a success fee [which would be £15 million sterling] ... that would be split three ways between Mr. Cushnahan, Tughans and Brown Rudnick.

Long before there was any reverse inquiry made to NAMA by PIMCO, and those individuals were working for PIMCO, they concocted a business deal that would include a fixer's fee or success fee of £15 million sterling that involved a member of the Northern Ireland Advisory Committee of NAMA. The letter goes on to state:

On February 14, 2013, Mr. Cushnahan, Mr. Coulter, and Mr. Keinan met with [the] Minister for Finance [Sammy] Wilson to have a preliminary discussion about the feasibility of such a transaction from the perspective of the Northern Irish Executive...

On April 30, 2013, Mr. Coulter, Mr. Cushnahan, and Mr. Keinan met with representatives of PIMCO at PIMCO’s London offices....

On May 22, 2013, Mr. Keinan, Mr. Coulter, Mr. Cushnahan[met with a number of representatives of PIMCO but also with the First Minister, Peter Robinson, and the Finance Minister, Sammy Wilson, in the North.]

We had a situation where DUP Ministers met with-----

Could I advise Deputy Cullinane against drawing conclusions or making findings against individuals on the issues raised. He has read information into the record but I must advise him about the situation re privilege.

I am making a statement of fact.

Please note the advice of the Chair.

I note the advice. With respect, I am making a statement of fact. We had a situation where a member of the Northern Ireland Advisory Committee of NAMA met with senior members of the DUP when he was due to be in receipt of a fixer's fee and a success fee, long before any reverse inquiry was made to NAMA by PIMCO. The origins of this deal were very clear.

This is a corrupted process. Project Eagle was undoubtedly a corrupted process. The terms of reference of the Committee of Public Accounts did not allow it to examine all these issues. We now know that a member of the Northern Ireland advisory committee, NIAC, was in line for a fixer's fee, was involved in meetings with senior DUP Ministers, including the then leader of the DUP, and had met and was in a business relationship with two international law firms - Brown Rudnick and Tughans - at a time when he was still a member of the NIAC. This was clearly a conflict of interest. We also know that NAMA knew Mr. Cushnahan had an association with six debtors and did not take the appropriate steps to deal with the allegations of conflict of interest, so it is quite obvious to everybody except the Government and Fianna Fáil that we need a full commission of investigation into these matters. This was undoubtedly a corrupted process that warrants a commission of investigation. A number of criminal investigations are already in play in three jurisdictions - the US, Great Britain and Northern Ireland - so there is a responsibility on us to do the right thing. We do not need to wait until the report of the Committee of Public Accounts report is published before we proceed with this commission of investigation.

From everything that has been said by all the speakers to date, I think this discussion is premature because, essentially, we have a serious conflict among the different parties who have spoken in respect of the matter. The country is coming down with commissions of investigations into so many issues that if I was to ask people to stand up here, name them all and state what they are supposed to achieve, I doubt anyone here would be able to do so. Another one is now being proposed when we have just been told that there is a series of police and parliamentary inquiries taking place in different jurisdictions and when we have been told by the Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts that the committee will report in the not too distant future. From what Deputy Fleming said, my understanding is that the committee is due to report in the next month or two. Is that correct?

The terms of reference for that exercise are very clear and have nothing to do with any criminal-----

The point is that the Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, which has been examining the issue over a lengthy period, has said that the committee's report will be available shortly.

Value for money.

I strongly suggest that making a decision on the terms of reference before the information that has been referred to in the House is available does not best serve the public interest. We have seen other commissions of investigation, and I am sure other Members of the House can talk about them, whose terms of reference were so broad and sweeping with everything bar the kitchen sink thrown in to such an extent that the people tasked with carrying out the commissions' work found it very hard to fulfil their remit within a reasonable timeframe.

People who have asked questions about NAMA are to be commended. It is proper that answers to the different questions that have been asked be given but a commission of investigation could go on for years or be so broad as to be almost unmanageable, as we have seen previously. If we have to have a commission of investigation, it is much better for it to be focused and tight and concentrate on the key issues. I have been involved as a witness and complainant in commissions of investigation into the planning process and saw long periods of inquiry into matters that in the end yielded relatively few outcomes for the public but ended up making lawyers very rich.

There is serious questions to be addressed here. At the moment, the Committee of Public Accounts is attempting to do this and has offered to make a number of answers available. The Labour Party and I did not support the establishment of NAMA. NAMA was a fait accompli that was brought about by the Fianna Fáil Government of the time, specifically by the then Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan. It was structured in such a way as to be effectively out of bounds in respect of politicians' involvement other than the remit of the Minister for Finance of the day in terms of that Minister's powers under the National Asset Management Agency Act. The second issue, which was referred to by a previous speaker, was to ensure that developers would be unable to acquire their loans by the back door. NAMA was given a very detailed and extensive framework in terms of its governance to limit what could happen. At the end of the day, NAMA was effectively the State's bad bank vehicle which was designed to take bad loans off the books of our banks, which were in a state of collapse, and secure the maximum amount of money for the Irish taxpayer. It has not yet completed this job but many taxpayers in Ireland would like to see NAMA maximise its recovery of money.

I have not heard any argument that would explain at this point in time - perhaps there might be one after the report of the Committee of Public Accounts appears - what kind of commission of investigation is being talked about. I think what I have just heard is probably more to do with the fact that there will be an election in Northern Ireland than the argument that this House should sit down and work out what would be the terms of reference.

(Interruptions).

At the time, the Taoiseach said that a commission of investigation would be set up if required. This is meant to be a discussion about the terms of reference of the commission of investigation but the Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts has said he is due to report in a while. I do not have a problem with it happening provided the terms are identified clearly and that it will not be a commission that will go on for years, possibly a decade, and cost Irish taxpayers more millions in lawyers' fees. I want to see something focused and directed that will provide answers to those reasonable questions that can be established.

Some of what has happened in NAMA, particularly in respect of valuations, is a question of opinion. I do not honestly think that there will ever be a report that will be able to reconcile the understandable views and case made by the Comptroller and Auditor General for his estimate of how the valuations should have been approached and NAMA's position as a bad bank for Ireland and how it approached them. There are two completely different opinions in respect of those valuations. Members might see a way in which a commission of investigation will be able to give more information than is contained in the statements of the two parties, both of them calculated on a particular basis and based on particular assumptions at a historic moment in time, but I have not yet seen it and I do not know how it is going to be done. A commission of investigation will take the statements of the different parties and probably weigh them in the balance depending on the assumptions it has made.

The proposal by the Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts should be accepted. I am totally open to there being a commission of investigation but I honestly think that today's discussion is premature until those various reports are put into the public domain and people can analyse what those reports have to say, which could then inform a better structured commission of investigation which would get the kind of answers people want.

Deputy Coppinger is sharing 15 minutes with Deputy Boyd Barrett.

This is an important discussion because the issue of NAMA is on the list of practically everybody outside this building. I have to refer to the totally self-serving contribution we have just heard from Deputy Burton. She tried to make all sorts of excuses as to why a commission is not needed. She complained that lawyers might get rich; in that case, we should cap their fees and take action to see that they do not.

She also tried to excuse her own role as a key Minister, the Tánaiste, in the previous Government by saying that NAMA was a fait accompli when her party came into government. It was set up by the previous Government, but unfortunately the Labour Party made no attempt to step in on behalf of the common good and particularly on behalf of the people devastated by the housing crisis in recent years when NAMA played a key role in hoarding land and accelerating the housing crisis. It has hoarded buildings that it has sold off in a glut of sales, including to vulture funds, as we have seen in recent times. The previous contribution was all about trying to excuse the Labour Party's complete inactivity.

Obviously, there is a need for an investigation into Project Eagle. According to the Comptroller and Auditor General, NAMA incurred a potential loss to the taxpayer of €223 million on the sale of a portfolio of all its remaining 860 Northern Ireland loans to Cerberus in April 2014. Other ways of calculating that would give a much bigger loss. NAMA paid €2.35 billion for the loans and according to The Irish Times sold them at a potential loss of 13%. According to another article in The Irish Times, the original book value of the Project Eagle loans was over €6 billion, so the true loss was €4.5 billion and not €223 million. Obviously, there are many conflicts of interest that have been well documented and reported, relating to Frank Cushnahan and others.

I wish to highlight some other things that should be investigated regarding NAMA. I do not advocate that they should be done in this investigation but should be done at some point. After initially hoarding land and property to help engineer a shortage of both and drive up prices, contributing directly to the current housing emergency, NAMA then decided to flog off as fast as possible huge portfolios of loans to vulture funds as we now see today. We were told they were the only ones with the money to buy billions of euro worth of property in one go. NAMA has sold off so many loans in the past two years alone that it has relatively little of its original portfolio left.

Last year, Ireland was the top European location for distressed loan sales for the fourth year in a row, all because of NAMA and the decision taken by the Fine Gael Party, and previously by the Fianna Fáil and Labour parties, to pursue this policy. It is absolutely outrageous and history will condemn all the parties that contributed to it.

The majority of NAMA's vast land portfolio has now been sold and we have a housing emergency. It is an incredible situation, as I am sure many could testify. In my constituency, NAMA is building luxury-end housing estates and mansions in Castleknock. Meanwhile, we have a homeless black spot in Dublin West. That is the contrast and how the NAMA policy is felt on the ground.

The second aspect worthy of investigation is the unconditional sale of completed residential properties to vulture funds and corporate landlords with no respect for tenants' rights or the way that rents rose after NAMA sold them off. It seems to have shown absolutely no regard in the process.

A third aspect of NAMA's dealings relates to the thousands of business loans on hotels, offices, shops and, as we found out last week, even a refugee hostel operating a State contract that have been sold by NAMA to vulture funds with no regard to what might happen to the 12 workers in Limerick or to the 64 men who lived there and have now been displaced.

Another aspect is the great tax robbery that NAMA has facilitated. Despite owning billions of euro in assets, the average vulture fund pays only €250 a year in tax. Nobody really knows how much has been lost already, but estimates range from about €1 billion to €2 billion a year over recent years. Under pressure, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, belatedly moved to close down some of the get-out clauses of which he and his Department had been aware for years, and which they used as carrots to attract these vulture funds to Ireland. The biggest carrot has yet to come, in the form of a complete exemption from CGT that the Minister has given to vulture funds that bought property from 2012 to 2014 and hold on to it for seven years. We must brace ourselves for another tax robbery from 2019 onwards when the vultures come home to roost and sell that off.

A further aspect of NAMA that deserves to be investigated is the writing off of €40 billion in debt, owned by Ireland's richest men - they are usually men - by the time NAMA winds up, sometimes while leaving them in control of their property empire. Figures provided to the Dáil last week show the scale of debt write-off for the richest people in Ireland at the same time as ordinary owner-occupier mortgage holders and others are being hounded from their homes. According to the Minister, by the end of 2016, a total of 505 debtors who originally owed €27.3 billion have now been allowed to exit NAMA, having repaid only €14.9 billion in debt. In other words, these 505 debtors have paid an average of €24.5 million, but more than that in individual cases. There has been huge debt forgiveness for these people.

Last week, the Minister also casually asserted it was never envisaged that NAMA would collect all the money owed. That is completely and utterly incorrect. When NAMA was established by the then Minister, the late Brian Lenihan, he made it perfectly clear it was not to be a vehicle for developers to write down debt and get off scot free. Obviously, that is not the case.

Many of the general points have been made. I will not go over them except to say that it is utterly unacceptable not to have a complete investigation into all matters pertaining to NAMA so that we can get to the bottom of what has gone on with the vast amount of assets, loans and property for which it has been responsible, and whether it has served the public interest in how it has managed and disposed of those assets, loans and so on.

Obviously, Deputy Wallace has played a leading role in exposing issues and scandals relating to Project Eagle. Enough has been said - others will say it, let us put it that way. It is extraordinary that the whole process was not stopped when it was drawn to the attention of NAMA down here and the Minister for Finance that fixers' fees were being paid and that corruption was likely to be at work in the disposal of NAMA assets to vulture funds. That alone requires an investigation. As has already been said, even if NAMA turns the €2 billion profit it claims, the people of the country will take a €40 billion hit on all of this. Talking about NAMA turning a profit is nonsense. We have taken a €40 billion hit and our country has been crucified.

I want to raise a specific set of questions.

I do not have all the answers, but I want to put this into the domain of issues that need to be examined. I received the folder before me on Monday in my office. It is a very detailed folder about Spencer Dock, a site owned by CIE that was to be developed by Treasury Holdings. I rang someone in NAMA today to try to get the par value of the original loans pertaining to the site and they could not give me the answer. They said they might get back to me. We are talking about a figure in the hundreds of millions of euro. That site is now commencing development again and it is being talked about as a €600 million development.

When I asked them on the telephone NAMA would not confirm who bought the site. We know from the National Asset Management Agency Act that the original developers were not supposed to get back the sites pertaining to their loans. The original developer was Treasury Holdings. It was reported in October of last year that Johnny Ronan, formerly of Treasury Holdings, was the preferred bidder in the bidding process, which was launched in February 2016. That site owned by CIE was put on the market at a guide price of €50 million, but CIE had an arrangement with Treasury Holdings. That arrangement was seriously questioned and criticised at the time by the then Minister, former Deputy Mary O'Rourke, and subsequently by former Deputy Pat Rabbitte. In fact, a report was ordered by the then Minister, Mary O'Rourke, into the entire deal between CIE and Treasury Holdings on the grounds that she and others believed that serious questions arose as to whether the public interest had been served in the deal that had been done between CIE and Treasury Holdings as all CIE would get from its site was 17% of the sale value of any development or 17% of the rent. The rest was to go to Treasury Holdings, Johnny Ronan, Richard Barrett and so on. They went into NAMA owing €2.6 billion in total in terms of Treasury Holdings, and €1.67 billion went into NAMA.

With regard to my first question, Johnny Ronan exited NAMA apparently paying off his €250 million debt, but he now has the site again. That figure of €250 million is not €1.6 billion. I do not know the exact breakdown of Treasury Holdings debt, but he has the site again. The guide price for that six acre site was €50 million. Comparisons with similar sites currently on the open market suggest one should be paying about €20 million per acre, which is €120 million, not the reported €42.5 million that Ronan, backed by Colony, a big investment fund which refinanced Ronan's loans, is reported to have paid, although I could not get the answer from NAMA when I rang this morning, which I find extraordinary. They said they could not tell me how much was paid for the site or who bought it but it was reported in October that it was sold for €42.5 million and that Johnny Ronan, backed by Colony, bought it. If that is true and if the comparable prices per acre are in the region of €20 million, that means NAMA sold a site worth €120 million for €42.5 million. That is shocking, and the developer who now has it is the developer who originally went into NAMA when Treasury Holdings was taken over by NAMA.

On the valuations, in 2002, the value per acre in the Docklands was €8 million to €14 million. It is very reasonable to assume, therefore, given the massive surge in property values since then, that €20 million is a reasonable valuation.

The last question that must be answered in regard to this-----

Thank you, Deputy. I cannot allow you to eat into anybody else's time. I call Deputy Mick Wallace, Independents 4 Change.

Some people did not use their time-----

Thank you, Deputy, for that advice and comment.

I hope these questions will be answered because they are very serious questions and they deserve investigation.

Deputy Boyd Barrett, please do not take up Deputy Wallace's time.

This debate was moved from Thursday to Wednesday to ensure the Minister, Deputy Noonan, could be in the Chamber and he is not here. His contribution at the start of the debate was pathetic. The contribution of the Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts was not much better. The notion that the Committee of Public Accounts is an investigative body is rubbish. The Comptroller and Auditor General looked at one dimension of one sale, and the Committee of Public Accounts is looking at it also. It cannot access NAMA's papers. It cannot possibly hold NAMA to account. NAMA representatives went before the Committee of Public Account eight times and said what they liked. It is absolute rubbish.

It is four months since the Taoiseach agreed to establish a commission of investigation into the secret society that is NAMA. Since then, NAMA has sold over €4 billion in par value worth of loans to vulture funds, and almost €3 billion worth of those loans went to its good friend, Cerberus.

I agree that the commission should begin by examining Project Eagle as its first module, but the problems in NAMA are sadly not unique to NAMA’s Northern Ireland loan portfolio. It is imperative that any commission adopts a modular approach, similar to the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, IBRC, investigation.

The allegations made by Enda Farrell, a former NAMA staff member, should be the second module. It seems NAMA may have internally investigated some of the NAMA officials named by Mr. Farrell in his affidavit who may have leaked confidential information or engaged in malpractice. Those internal investigations should be made available to the commission. I have read his affidavit and I can tell the Minister of State that it is worrying.

The third module should examine the establishment of Hibernia REIT. It was set up in 2013, following a three year stint at NAMA by one of its founders, but it seems the company was in planning for a long time before that.

Some businessmen on the east coast of the United States were briefed on Hibernia REIT's arrival as early as 2011. Kevin Nowlan is on the record as stating: "We know enough people in Dublin to be able and go buy properties in Dublin without having to go to auction, of having to go onto the Market."

If one looks at some of the assets it has purchased, the links back to NAMA begin to appear - the Forum Building, the Dublin Observatory Building, the Harcourt Street building, Windmill Lane, New Century House and Central Quay. All those assets were in NAMA and are now in the hands of Hibernia REIT, either through direct purchases or secondary deals.

A fourth module should consist of an examination of any internal NAMA investigations into NAMA officials regarding the leaking of confidential information or alleged malpractice and, if the judge sees fit, to investigate any other allegations of unauthorised leaking.

The commission of investigation should provide its initial report on Project Eagle within six months and the remaining modules within 12 months. Importantly, any report should be made public.

Before referring back to Project Eagle, I would like to put on record that the Comptroller and Auditor General's role in regard to NAMA has been abused by the Government. At one stage, the Taoiseach tried to tell us that the Comptroller and Auditor General had staff within NAMA. That had to be rebuked by the Comptroller and Auditor General who stated: "an impression being given that everything that moves in NAMA is seen by and examined by somebody from my office is absolutely incorrect".

The Minister, Deputy Noonan, recently tried to tell me that the Comptroller and Auditor General would have called for a halt to NAMA's activities had he felt it was warranted. Again, the Comptroller and Auditor General rebuked that stating that he "is prohibited from expressing an opinion on the merits of policy".

As an aside, I want to tell the Minister that Cormac Butler, a financial consultant and a member of the namaleaks.com team, has pointed out that NAMA may not even hold legal title to the assets transferred from the Irish banks in 2009, given that when a bank is insolvent, the European Central Bank, ECB, automatically acquires control of its assets. If that is the case, it would mean that the ECB, not NAMA, is the owner of the loans. We have been raising some of these issues with the Minister and his Department since last August but to little avail.

Cormac Butler has also been making the point that when Wilbur Ross, President Donald Trump's Secretary of Commerce nominee, purchased Bank of Ireland shares in 2011 and then flipped them in 2014 for a profit of €477 million, he did so with the advantage of having access to the financial position of the bank, which was not in the public domain. That was information that was not available to smaller shareholders. I would like the Minister to confirm or deny that his officials are now aware that the activities of Wilbur Ross and his sale of Bank of Ireland shares is the subject of an investigation in the US. They do an odd one there; they are a little more fond of them than we are here.

To go back to Project Eagle, the sale stinks from start to finish. In late 2016, we travelled to Asia to meet a businessman named Barry Lloyd, who had contacted us through our whistleblowing site, namaleaks.com.

As early as December 2010, Frank Cushnahan had been trying to sell the NAMA Northern Ireland loan portfolio in one lot. He met Barry Lloyd and told him he had been heavily engaged by NAMA and that there were very substantial opportunities for major returns for anyone who could access international funds to acquire blocks of development assets from NAMA. Barry Lloyd continued to meet and engage with Mr. Cushnahan and representatives from Tughans solicitors throughout 2011 with a view to securing Asian investors, but the proposed deal eventually fell through in April 2012. Barry Lloyd signed an affidavit in the past week in Dublin, and has met the National Crime Agency.

In November 2012, Brown Rudnick met Mr. Cushnahan and Ian Coulter at Tughans' office. By February 2013, it was sitting down with the Northern Ireland finance Minister, Sammy Wilson. In April 2013, PIMCO was on the scene and by May 2013 it was meeting Peter Robinson, when it was informed by Brown Rudnick that it was the Northern Irish Executive's preferred purchaser for NAMA's Northern Irish loan portfolio, but there was still no price on it. We are told it did not meet Ronnie Hanna until September 2013. By December 2013, Mr. Hanna was arguing for an exclusive deal with PIMCO. I wonder why.

We then had some role-playing and pretending that it was going to be an open process. Lazard was brought in, supposedly to manage the sale, but it was not even allowed to value the portfolio or control the data room. When PIMCO pulled out, NAMA did not even tell Lazard why. Lazard did not even attend the meeting in late March between Cerberus and NAMA. Why? However, it was paid £4.3 million for a few months' work. This is a lot of money, just for a bit of back covering.

Hogan Lovells was brought in for legal advice, but NAMA did not even ask its advice following PIMCO's admission of a fixer's fee for the boys. NAMA did not even ask its advice when it discovered Cerberus had gone ahead and paid the £15 million fixer's fee anyway. NAMA stated it had a problem with PIMCO paying a fixer's fee, so why did it not have a problem with Cerberus paying one? Was it because the boys took Cushnahan's name off the list? Seriously? Why did NAMA refuse our freedom of information request regarding its correspondence with Hogan Lovells? NAMA agreed to pay Hogan Lovells £290,000 but ended up paying it £1.1 million, for what?

That Frank Cushnahan, Ronnie Hanna and Dave Watters were a cabal making it all happen in the background is now beyond question. Frank Daly told the Committee of Public Accounts last September that NAMA's key decision was to set a minimum price of £1 .3 billion for the portfolio, but it did not do so as PIMCO set the price. Dave Watters did the business plans, Frank Cushnahan pulled the strings and Ronnie Hanna fixed the price in Dublin. The reason NAMA fell foul of the Comptroller and Auditor General was because the task of retrofitting the price led to it breaking its own rules. Of course, when Frank Cushnahan became unbackable NAMA decided to throw him under the bus and distance itself from him as much as possible. Why did it take NAMA until April 2016, two years later, to report him to SIPO? When did it report him under section 19 of the Criminal Justice Act, or did it?

We then began to hear NAMA tell us about how insignificant the Northern Ireland advisory committee, NIAC, was and that Mr. Cushnahan did not really matter. On 18 June 2012, the Minister for Finance said, "I would like to thank Frank Cushnahan and Brian Rowntree for agreeing to continue serving on NAMA's Northern Ireland Advisory Committee. I see this Committee as having a very important role in assisting NAMA to meet its objectives on both sides of the border". Then NAMA told us that Cushnahan had no access to confidential information, so why did it ask him to return or destroy it if there was no value in it? Frank Daly was still trying to distance himself from Cushnahan. When asked about joining the board of the religious charity Ciorani, of which Cushnahan was a long standing member, Mr. Daly stated:

I think it was a pure coincidence. It is a charity operated by the Redemptorists. He was on the board for quite some time. I know some Redemptorists in Dublin and was asked whether I would join the board. It was not a month later. As far as I know, it was probably the best part of a year later.

The truth is it was a month later and not a year later. Cushnahan joined NIAC on 13 May 2010. Frank Daly joined Ciorani 32 days later, on 14 June 2010. Can we believe anything that he tells us?

I ask the Deputy to be careful in his utterances and I ask him to withdraw where he identified Mr. Daly as a liar.

I did not say he was. I asked whether we can believe what he says.

The Project Eagle sales process was a text book disaster. There was a short time-span for possible bidders, limited information, a one bid process and no local valuations were allowed. This all suited PIMCO, and later Cerberus, who bought the same information from the boys. It was never a competitive process. PIMCO's gig became Cerberus's gig only, and NAMA's ridiculous decision to sell it in one lot suited the fixers just fine.

Did Ronnie Hanna declare any conflict he might have with Northern Ireland connections from his days with Ulster Bank in Northern Ireland? Why did NAMA treat business people in the Republic of Ireland almost four times less favourably than those in Northern Ireland? Is it possible that Frank Cushnahan or Ronnie Hanna might have had anything to do with it? During his employment at NAMA as head of asset recovery, against how many connections did Ronnie Hanna approve enforcement? All of these need to be investigated to ascertain whether there was favouritism or motivation of any sort. In the BBC Northern Ireland "Spotlight" programme, Frank Cushnahan clearly stated that he went to Ronnie Hanna to make sure that John Miskelly’s lights would not be put out. Mr. Cushnahan said he and Ronnie Hanna were as thick as thieves. The entire Miskelly file needs to be investigated. All Northern Ireland and Project Eagle debtor files need to be looked at to discern whether there was favouritism or influence. In October 2015, I asked NAMA whether Ronnie Hanna, along with Frank Cushnahan or Dave Watters, ever met any investment fund personnel. NAMA stated that Mr. Hanna had no such meetings with these individuals. This is not true. I know for a fact he did.

When I said in the Dáil in July 2015 that £7 million of Cerberus's money had ended up in an Isle of Man bank account, NAMA claimed that it was the first it heard of it. Cerberus said it was informed by Brown Rudnick in April 2015 about the Law Society of Northern Ireland's investigation into Ian Coulter's conduct regarding the fee Cerberus paid to Tughans through Brown Rudnick. Is it credible that no one told NAMA? For the Government's sake, let me tell the House I have met an individual who was asked to look into the same matter in January 2015 on behalf of NAMA. The British National Crime Agency knew that all was not well so it commenced an investigation. The Securities and Exchange Commission in the US knew that all was not well. It too started an investigation. It was exercised by the possibility that Cerberus personnel John Snow and Dan Quayle may have abused their former office. It was looking at any possible bribing or inducing anyone for gain. All the while NAMA was in denial, stating that everything was grand and it was doing a great job, and the Government and Department of Finance were the cheerleaders.

Recently, Transparency Ireland stated that Irish people's perception of corruption rose in 2016, owing to the controversies surrounding NAMA, but it does not stop there. We have received very worrying information through namaleaks.com regarding the behaviour of some real estate auctioneer firms, where individuals were looking for cash to be placed in an offshore account before agreeing to sell properties belonging to NAMA and other financial institutions. Some of these individuals are well known and have reached positions of high authority in this country. I met a developer who told me he has paid large amounts of cash to an individual, a former employee of NAMA who held a very serious position there. A lot of money has changed hands.

Back in 2015, I mentioned the payment of €15,000 in a bag by an individual to a NAMA employee to garner favour. I am not sure where the Garda is with its investigation into this, but I can tell the House I am more certain that ever about what happened. They got their memorandum of understanding and were out the gap and away and they are doing very well for themselves. The newfound fortunes of these new kids on the block are built on the proceeds of crime. One of them is working in the higher echelons of Cerberus, which has been responsible for taking control of small businesses and family farms and forcing people out of their homes and onto the housing list. We must be one of the best little countries in the world to do business in.

What in God's name is wrong with us that we do not like the truth? What in God's name is wrong with us that we do not want to hold State bodies to account? What is wrong with us that we do not want the truth about NAMA? Is it because it is too distasteful? Is it that the Government will not like it because it has stood over what has happened for the past five or six years? Is this why it does not want the truth to come out about it? NAMA is rotten to the core. I believe the Minister knows this. I do not believe for a second he thinks it is clean. There are problems right through the workings of NAMA. The dogs on the street know it. Will the Government pretend forever it has done a great job and lie to the people? The people are tired of being lied to. This is why politics is changing. This is why the Americans elected an eejit called Trump, because they were tired of being lied to by the likes of Obama, Clinton and Bush. They will get tired of the Government lying to them too.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have engaged in deception in dealing with the people of Ireland and the people are tired of it. They will not get away with it forever. Social media has changed things and people are waking up to what the Government is up to and how disingenuous it is about how this country is run and how we organise society. It is such a frustrating place it makes my blood boil.

I am also disappointed because I am a member of the Business Committee and we agreed with party leaders that we would have a motion setting up a commission of investigation. We agreed a change in the time for this, from tomorrow to today, to facilitate the Minister, Deputy Michael Noonan. He was here today and I know he is busy but the Rural Independent Group has provided pairs on his behalf. This is new politics but it will have to change if we do not get fair play and equality of esteem. Commitments were given around the need to establish a commission of investigation into NAMA's involvement in Project Eagle and this is not acceptable. Deputy Wallace has raised this on countless occasions over the past two or three years. He is elected by the people to do so and he knows a bit about the industry. All parties and groups agreed to this but this morning the Minister, Deputy Noonan, said we needed to wait further.

I have a grandchild aged three years who is learning that an orange light means "slow" while red lights mean "stop" but there are no green lights. The lights are turned off, as is the tap, and there is a huge blockage. A three year old can see that something is not right in the State of Ireland when we need to wait for the Committee of Public Accounts to finalise its report before we can investigate. I was pleased by the court decision relating to the Committee of Public Accounts earlier this week. It is a good thing for parliamentarians and for democracy, even though it is a Tipperary woman who took the challenge. I am pleased that the court upheld the rights of our committees and the Oireachtas, whose Members are elected by the people. We are public servants, Teachtaí Dála, and we have a duty to serve the people but Governments are not serving the people and a lot of people have not been serving the people since NAMA was set up. We cannot wait for the Committee of Public Accounts because it could take forever. NAMA has been before the Committee of Public Accounts on eight or nine occasions in the past couple of years and has failed to answer the questions put to them by the Deputies on behalf of constituents, the people whom they were elected to represent.

The powers of this Parliament exist under inquiries legislation and they are necessary. As a legislature, we are here to enact more powers if we do not have sufficient powers and there are blockages in the courts. The US is a long way from here but President Trump has been elected by the people and he is enacting legislation under his powers. He promised he would do this when he was standing for election. We make promises to get elected but, as former Deputy Pat Rabbitte once said, those promises were only made during election time. People are sick of that and will not put up with it any longer. It is not fair, honest or just.

The commission of investigation was promised and was agreed by the Whips and party leaders. What is the problem? Why are the orange lights turned on, and the go slow signs put up? What are we hiding? Who are we covering up for and what is the delay? We cannot kick this can down the road and I will not allow it to be kicked down the road. I will raise it as long as I am in this House. The statements by Transparency Ireland on the perception of corruption in Ireland sadden me. There are changes in parliaments all over the world because the people have awakened as a result of social media. They are educated and know when they are being mistreated and codded. The Competition Authority, which has existed for decades, is unable, unwilling and under-resourced to deal with issues of big deals, sweetheart deals and deals that went wrong involving major multinationals buying up companies just to close them and sell them. The Competition Authority is toothless and meaningless and has no function. The resources are not there for posts at sergeant level in the Garda or for other officials but we need to put the resources there. We have the resources for everything except getting the truth. It seems we do not want to find the truth.

There are many issues and yesterday we debated a motion on Bus Éireann and the savage crisis there. It is a vital public service for parts of rural Ireland. We heard about carers last week and about disability cuts, as well as cuts in the roads budget and the Rural Independent Group will introduce a motion this evening to address the lack of funding and investment in rural roads. Of all roads in the country, 94% are non-national roads and they have 54% of the traffic but there has been underinvestment in these for decades. We see all this money given over for sweet deals, however, and it beggars belief. It would not happen in the Congo or places where they have no democracy but only dictatorship.

I have just left the housing committee and we dealt with empty properties and commercial property in NAMA that cannot be touched. NAMA offered moneys and some 7,000 or 8,000 properties to local authorities but they could only take two. They were offered to Tipperary but we only took a small number. We tried to find out why from the housing sector, the county manager, the housing agency and NAMA but I am dizzy and frustrated as it is impossible to get a straight answer. These bodies have title and ownership and can give them over. If there are recent planning permissions it should be possible to use them but they say they are not suitable under sustainable development. It is a game of pass the parcel and I had hoped this commission of investigation would be set up, with proper powers and headed by a retired judge with the power to call people in and to demand and get answers, leading to a report that would be brought to this House for debate. It was agreed to and must happen without any more dilly-dallying or ducking and diving. We need a commission of investigation, as agreed by the party Whips of the Business Committee, of which I am a member.

We talk about new politics and there was a request related to the pay of Ministers this week but the tap can be turned off. The Minister should bring that back to the Whip, to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, and to the Taoiseach. The Taoiseach is paired with one of our Members this week and we are willing to play ball but we have to have a modicum of respect and when we agree something at party leader level at the new Business Committee only for it to be turned on its face as it was this morning, it will not be accepted by our group as regards rural projects.

Deputy Wallace referred to the Project Eagle report, which came to me on the same day as Deputy Wallace received it. I was worried about it. It was too big a project and I did not understand it but I commend him on taking it up. The party sitting beside me had it for a lot longer but they would not deal with it. We need people to bring up these issues because it is taxpayers' money - the sweat and blood of our people who work and strive to raise their families despite the cuts they have to endure. There is a project in Clonmel which I refer to as "Project Jackdaw" but it could be described as "Project Gobdaw". I wrote to NAMA twice and got no reply until the person who had told me became angry and threatened to go to someone else, such as Deputy Mick Wallace, and I wrote again giving them four hours to come back to me, which they did. They thought I was talking about another hotel project from two or three years ago.

This was a gaping eyesore. The Clonmel Arms Hotel had been a wonderful place but what went on there was disgusting and despicable. The commission needs to investigate that too. In fairness to NAMA, it responded and was willing to take up the personal whistleblower, but they declined, so I could not do any more. I pressed the matter with the Garda Síochána in case I would be told that I had not dealt with it.

It is a shameful situation that is going on with big auctioneering houses in this city and big business people who want to get rich quick and have done so. Bags of cash are being carried around to people and brought in to buy people elsewhere. It is disgusting. In fairness to NAMA, however, in that case it acted and was prepared and willing to act. How many other cases are there that I and other TDs do not know about? Other people may know about them and it is going on. It is murky, dirty, nasty and has no place in a modern, democratic country. We will be having tribunals into what is going on here in NAMA in decades to come. As sure as I am standing here, that will happen as it did with other matters, including the beef industry.

In spite of the wasted tribunal, the whole thing is a cartel. If it walks like a duck and looks like a duck, surely it is a duck. We all know it is a cartel yet in this Parliament we are toothless, meaningless and totally irrelevant because we will not deal with it. We made some effort but the Government rowed back on it this morning. That will not be allowed to happen, it cannot and must not happen.

We have to get to the bottom of this because there are too many people suffering and there is too much hardship out there. I did not mention what happened in the courts as a result of whole estates going into NAMA. In my village, I know of a young developer who was mad to get rich quick but he ended up losing most of it and went to Poland. He arrived back last Friday and told people in my village that he had bought it all back from NAMA. First of all, he paid a massive amount for it where I live in Tipperary, which was madness. He wanted to build hundreds of houses which would have ruined the village so we held it up for years. Thankfully, the good people objected, although I was not one of the objectors. It is madness to put 200 houses into a village of 80 houses but the banks were willing to throw money at him. He went to Poland and now he is back and tells us that he has bought the property back again. I did not see any public auction or notice anywhere. I did not see any transparency. I have written to NAMA and it responded, but the response is disappointing. It said it divested its interest in it in 2015, but to whom, where or what? There was a list of receivers but we do not know who owns it now. He says he owns it and he probably does but where is the responsibility or accountability?

I have had people in who are being tortured every day of the week by bankers and vulture funds. They took out loans in good faith with an institution yet they were sold on for between 10% and 25% in some places. These vultures are no better than the grey crows that attack little lambs when they are being born. The Minister of State, Deputy Andrew Doyle, would understand that. Vultures are disgusting creatures which are trying to gain massively. Then they are getting a court system with backing orders.

The previous Government brought in the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act 2013. I called it an eviction Act, which it is. I am a member of the Land League and will stand ready to fight for people's homes. Now, however, I see that vulture funds will attack family farms. Farmers should not have any special protection but land is an emotive issue. Ordinary people living on the land in smallholdings will have the support of communities. This is not over yet.

County registrars are ready, willing and able to hear such cases but who appointed these registrars and who gave them those powers under what Act? Who appointed the judges to sit in adjudication of families, terrorising them and treating them like that? Remarks have been sent on to me about what happened in a court in Nenagh last week. I have not verified them and I will not say any more but if they were said they should not have been said by anybody next or near the Bench, not to mind those sitting on the Bench. I have no accuracy as to what was said, but it would not surprise me. That attitude has to change. We have to start serving the public. We are Teachtaí Dála, public servants, and we must stand up to what has happened. We bailed out the banks and what did we get back? A kick in the teeth and two fingers. They are laughing at us every day of the week. They want to sell off because profit is their guiding light, nothing else. Therefore, this commission of investigation must start now. It must have teeth, powers and resources. It must be able to compel people to appear before it. They will have a damn hard job, however, because there is a lot of digging to be done.

What I said about my village is going on in every community in rural Ireland. Anywhere they thought there were rich pickings, the banks shovelled money into them. Auctioneers also had a role to play yet now they are all inside working for NAMA and receivers. The whole murky business is a mushroom industry. It is mushrooming all the time and they are making vast profits from it, and to hell with people and their families. "To hell or to Connacht" was the saying with Cromwell but he is back worse than ever with the vulture funds. We appointed them and allowed them to operate so shame on us. This Government and previous ones allowed them but Cromwell was never as bad. He left a good bit of land in Tipperary to the forebears of a colleague of mine, the former Minister of State, Martin Mansergh, who acknowledged it himself. Cromwell was not as bad as that. We kept him out of Clonmel but we cannot get the vultures out. We have no protection in the courts. Something must be done about this because it is outrageous and disgusting. We must have a commission of investigation right now to do its job as quickly as possible with the necessary resources. We will come back to debate the matter in this Dail.

I wish to share time with Deputy Eamon Ryan.

It is curious that we are having this debate today. The only conclusion I can draw is that we are being softened up for a roll-back, which would be totally unacceptable. The way in which NAMA was set up, and the secrecy surrounding it, always opened it up to the prospect of an inquiry. I listened to Deputy Burton who said she did not support the establishment of NAMA. However, the last Government had a gigantic majority and could have changed the way NAMA did its business in a much more open and transparent way. Right through the last Dáil's term, however, it did not take that opportunity.

Part of our problem is the way we do things which ends up with us having to hold inquiries because there is absolute nonsense about secrecy and not answering questions. That goes to the heart of some of the problems we have.

I am a member of the Committee of Public Accounts and during one hearing some additional information came to light following questions about bank assets and ownership of assets and loans. I had major concerns about Project Eagle which is the subject matter of that report. As has been said several times, it is a value-for-money report, not an inquiry.

Deputy Wallace has drawn attention to one of the things that came to light and I wish to expand on it. As regards some of the individuals I have spoken to since, because of their professional standing and background, they have the competence to raise serious points that need to be inquired into or fully investigated and responded to.

I want to read some parts of a document I got that will explain what is meant by that:

It appears that Bank of Ireland has delayed the recognition of losses with the financial position of Bank of Ireland being portrayed incorrectly when the bank drew down emergency funding from the Irish Central Bank-ECB. In an effort to delay the recognition of losses, Bank of Ireland relied on the International Accountancy Standards Board, IASB, rules. The particular rules in question, IAS 39 and IFRS 9, only apply to published accounts. However, IASB is a private entity and company law supersedes IASB. In 2010, the then governor of the Irish Central Bank, Patrick Honohan, raised concerns that Irish banks were delaying the recognition of losses, and the problems it was causing from a regulatory perspective. In addition, it appears that the financial position of Bank of Ireland was not portrayed correctly in accordance with the Chartered Accountants Regulatory Board, CARB, when the bank drew down its funds from the Irish Central Bank-ECB. NAMA claimed to have acquired approximately €10 billion in assets from Bank of Ireland in 2010. Some of these assets were sold by NAMA to Cerberus, but Bank of Ireland appears to have portrayed ownership of these assets when the assets were, in fact, owned by the Irish Central Bank-ECB by virtue of the aforementioned company law rules. In the Bank of Ireland's interim accounts 2011, page 100, it states that the ownership of the assets would be de-recognised when substantially all the risk and rewards of the ownership have been transferred to NAMA. This would only occur when the ownership of beneficial interests was legally transferred to NAMA. As such, the situation is that NAMA stated it had acquired assets from Bank of Ireland when according to research and company law they were not Bank of Ireland's to sell.

This is what the people I have been talking to said. That is simply because the Irish Central Bank and the ECB were the legal and beneficial owners of the collateral, the loans and all related security. On top of that, Bank of Ireland claimed to recognise the risk and rewards of ownership in accordance with accounting standards after they had supposedly been acquired by NAMA. Not only does that not comply with company law, it also does not comply with CARB. In essence, it appears the Bank of Ireland portrayed itself to shareholders and investors as the owner of assets of €35 billion when it did not in fact own them either legally or beneficially. In an investors' report issued in 2010, Bank of Ireland claimed its property and construction loan book assets totalled €35 billion, something which was also not portrayed in accordance with CARB. It goes on in some detail and I will provide it to the Department of Finance.

We need to have that clarified. It needs to be clarified by people who have the competence and professional capacity to give a proper judgment. In essence, Wilbur Ross, President Trump's incoming but not yet finally approved commerce secretary and his hedge fund partners acquired 35% of the Irish Government's stake of Bank of Ireland for a knock-down price of 10 cent as opposed to 24 cent. The Irish bank let go of a huge chunk of Bank of Ireland at the bottom of the market which, on the face of it, was baffling to many. Ross went on to make hundreds of millions from that transaction which the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, lauded. Bank of Ireland still exists but the dubious accountancy practices fed vultures and profiteers through the sale of assets through the back door of NAMA. The establishment of a commission of investigation is fully warranted.

I want to come back on some of the points Deputy Boyd Barrett made on the document he received. I also received it last Friday. As Joe Higgins said in a previous Dáil, writing to the Central Bank is like hitting a sliotar at a haystack. We wrote to the Central Bank from the PAC asking if the rules were properly applied in relation to the issue I mentioned. We received a gobbledegook reply that did not answer the question and elongated the information. That is part of the culture we have to stop. There are key questions in the document we were sent. I want to pose them and I want a reply. Given the controversy that surrounded the original deal with Treasury Holdings in 1998, why did the board of CIE agree in March 2013 to extend the term of 1998 MDA with the NAMA-appointed receiver when the term was coming to an end and the land would have reverted back to CIE unencumbered? Why did CIE not take the site back unencumbered and offer it for sale on the open market where it could have achieved €150 million? It is not as if this company does not need money or that public finances would not have benefitted from that. Why did the joint receiver of NAMA agree to dispose of the sale agreement to Johnny Ronan who is a connected party under section 173 of the NAMA Act and why did the joint receiver and NAMA agree to dispose of the interest in the site to an individual who had cost the taxpayer in the region of €2.7 billion? Those are some of the questions posed in this document and we are entitled to have a reply to them.

I was glad to be able to look in on some of the PAC hearings held on the Project Eagle sale. I attended the gallery on occasion as I am not a member of the PAC. My sense in listening to the questioning of the chairman, Mr. Frank Daly, in particular tallied with my wider sense that the key issue in the sale is that to a certain extent people do not trust the connection between the business and political communities in the North of Ireland. I see it in some way as an extension of the cash for ash controversy that has brought down the assembly. My sense of the reason for the different discount rates in the North or the reason one would possibly want to wrap up an entire loan and get the hell out of the place, for which language I apologise if it is intemperate, is that there is a sense that one does not quite know who one is dealing with. One does not know who the background people, agents and interests are. The "Spotlight" programme which highlighted the activities of Mr. Cushnahan only corroborates that sense. I see that as the underlying issue. It is an issue for the political system in the North if that is a true reflection. It may be inaccurate but that is my sense of the key issue here. It is a political issue regarding the nature of the trust and ability to trust, in this case in relation to Project Eagle, the sale of the loan book in the North.

The key issue that relates to us it seems to me is the part Irish agencies South of the Border played and how that has worked out. I listened very much to what Deputy Wallace said and he made some strong allegations about Mr. Hanna's role. Deputy Wallace said he fixed the price and that was his part of the arrangement. In that regard, it seems to me that the only way to uncover whether that is true, to be able to access his phone, his computer and the real detailed records is in the hands of the UK National Crime Agency which arrested Mr. Hanna last June on suspicion of that act. A commission of inquiry here would not have the same powers of criminal investigation as the UK National Crime Agency. I said in the autumn that the process was taking time which is colouring our debate here. If we had an answer to the crime agency's questions, it would colour our debate here. I understand that Mr. Hanna wrote to the PAC in November and said he could not present evidence because he was under that process. I do not believe he is under bail conditions at this time but it is uncertain whether he is still a suspect. I do not know what mechanism we have to treat with another criminal investigation system but nine months after the arrest, we have an interest in getting a conclusion from the UK and US criminal investigations given the controversy here. Otherwise, we are flying blind in terms of what we do next and what role we have.

There is a huge issue in our debate in relation to the High Court judgment during the week regarding a previous hearing of the PAC with Ms Angela Kerins. That has huge consequences for our consideration of this issue. The judge says we do not conduct jurisdictional hearings but at the same time we have a certain freedom. There is a certain responsibility that comes with that and how we use the authority vested in us by the Constitution. It gives us significant additional authority and is an issue in terms of where we go here and whether we look to the PAC to take up that additional authority as recognised by the High Court during the week. That is an issue the PAC should be considering. I would like to know what questions remain unanswered on the PAC side in the lengthy and, to my mind viewing it from a distance, proper hearings that have been taking place.

Deputy Catherine Murphy is right that we need transparency in all things we do. One of the Green Party's proposals two years ago to the Minister for Finance, to whom I wrote directly, was that on the wind down of NAMA, there should be full transparency of all the arrangements, including prices paid, par values and every detail of every transaction for those lenders from NAMA who were not able to work out their arrangements in an ordinary commercial manner. The Minister wrote back to me on that occasion and said that was not possible. He set out a range of complex legal and constitutional arguments around the right to privacy and so on. However, what I am hearing in today's debate only confirms further the case for an amendment to the NAMA legislation that on its winding down, all such transactions would be made completely available.

There ought to be a clearer, quicker and cheaper approach to getting back the confidence of the Irish people in terms of how the different loans were worked out.

There is an issue in terms of how NAMA works out the remaining assets. I am interested in the comments of Deputy Boyd Barrett on Spencer Dock and how it relates to the current arrangements we need to make in order to integrate our transport and housing systems, and the role NAMA will play in that. It has an important job and we have to make sure it does it to the best of its ability in the next two years.

A range of questions have been raised about Bank of Ireland and the Spencer Dock site. The taxation of property needs to change. We are shutting the gates after the horse has bolted. We need to make sure that in NAMA's remaining years we maximise the benefits from the assets.