Priority Questions

Mortgage Resolution Processes

Michael McGrath

Question:

58. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if he or his officials have had contact with the Single Supervisory Mechanism, SSM, regarding the classification of certain restructured mortgages as non-performing loans on the books of banks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14183/18]

The context of this question will be well known to the Minister. It relates to the proposed sale of loan portfolios on the open market by certain banks, quite possibly to so-called vulture funds, and to the issue of the inclusion of certain mortgage loans which have already been restructured and which are now deemed to be non-performing and are therefore being included in the basket of loans for proposed sale with a view to reducing the level of non-performing loans the banks are carrying. I will go into the context in a moment.

I also want to begin my answer by providing some context to this question. During the height of the financial crisis, a key focus of the authorities was on stabilising and ultimately reducing mortgage arrears through the implementation of sustainable mortgage solutions that were agreed with borrowers. This led to the Central Bank of Ireland introducing public mortgage arrears resolution targets for the banks in the first half of 2013. As the process was rolled out, a split mortgage solution and a part capital and interest solution that met certain criteria were both accepted by the Central Bank as being sustainable for the purposes of these targets.

Since the establishment of the SSM at the end of 2014, the focus has shifted from reducing mortgage arrears levels to reducing non-performing loans, NPLs. This shift in focus has been accompanied by a new strict Europe-wide definition of what constitutes an NPL by the European Banking Authority, which means that certain restructures are deemed to be NPLs even if customers are meeting the revised payment schedules.

To answer the Deputy's question, officials in my Department have met with staff of the SSM at the highest level on two different occasions since the end of 2016. In the course of their discussions, they outlined the background and history to the restructuring effort in Ireland and questioned the logic of now classifying some types of restructured loans, including certain split mortgages, as NPLs indefinitely. While my Department has been informed that the SSM is looking into the regulatory treatment of split mortgages across a number of European member states, I have no evidence at this point that this categorisation is going to change.

Aside from direct interaction with the SSM, my officials have also been actively involved in discussions on NPLs through the European Council’s Financial Services Committee sub-group on NPLs and the more recent European Commission expert group on NPLs. While this has ensured that Ireland’s views are voiced and considered on the matter, ultimately the final arbiter on the resolution of NPLs for Irish banks is the SSM.

As we speak, the reality is that sitting within Permanent TSB's Project Glas are split mortgages relating to 4,300 family homes. That may be as many as 5,000 actual mortgages. These are people who have done all the right things. They have followed the advice of Government and the Central Bank, they have engaged with their lenders, they have reached restructuring agreements and, more than that, they have actually honoured the terms of those restructuring agreements. However, they now find their loans being classified as non-performing. Their loans are sitting within the same basket as loans in respect of which there has been no engagement by the borrower and loans on which no repayments whatsoever have been made for a prolonged period. There is something fundamentally unfair about that. These people are deeply worried about the prospect of their loans, which relate to their family homes, being sold down the river to so-called vulture funds. I share their concern. We need to stand up for them and advocate for them. Their loans need to be removed from the NPL classification. These are, in essence, loans which are now performing.

As I have said since this issue developed, I absolutely understand the concerns that all loan owners have in respect of this matter. I particularly understand the concerns of loan owners who restructured their mortgages or debts and who have met the terms of those restructured loans. I have outlined to the Deputy the action which I and my Department have taken on this matter to date in terms of the engagement we have had with the SSM.

That engagement needs to be stepped up. The Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach has invited Danièle Nouy from the SSM to come before it. Last week, we heard evidence from AIB and Permanent TSB that was completely contradictory. AIB's representatives testified that its split mortgages are deemed to be performing whereas Permanent TSB's representatives told us the complete opposite - that its split mortgage agreements are deemed to be non-performing by the SSM. That has raised very seriously difficulties. We have now had replies in the European Parliament from the SSM to a number of MEPS which make it clear that, depending on the structure and documentation underpinning these mortgage restructurings, it is possible for them to cease being deemed as non-performing and to be deemed as performing. I ask the Minister to lend his political weight to resolving this issue. It is crucial for the people concerned. They do not deserve to be treated in this way.

To emphasise again, I understand completely the anxiety that loan owners feel in respect of the possibility for loan sales and the classification of debts. I have also noted what has been said publicly about this matter, the answers which have been given to Members of the European Parliament by the SSM, and other debate which has ensued on this matter.

To reiterate, as I have outlined in the answer to the Deputy, my Department and I have engaged and continue to engage on this matter. In order for me to recognise the independence of the SSM, it is important for me to acknowledge also its clear assessment of the matter and the fact that it is currently not giving an indication that it will change. However, I am engaging on the matter because I understand the concern of many mortgage holders.

Corporation Tax Regime

Pearse Doherty

Question:

59. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance if a 25% cap on bank losses that can be carried forward for the purposes of reducing corporation tax liability along the lines of the rules recently introduced in Britain will be supported; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14034/18]

In the past month we have had the spectacle of AIB, Bank of Ireland and Permanent TSB announcing combined Irish profits of €2.7 billion, not one cent of which is paid in corporation tax by any of them as a result of a change to the law brought in by the Fine Gael Government. Looking across the globe, this is quite a unique situation. If we look at the OECD report, we will find we are an outlier compared with many of our European and indeed international counterparts. Will the Minister examine the example of Britain, which has reduced further from 50% to 25% the amount that can be carried on by financial institutions? This would see our financial institutions that have been bailed out by the Irish State starting to pay corporation tax in this State.

Corporation tax loss relief is provided for by section 396 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997. Loss relief for corporation tax is a long-standing feature of the Irish corporate tax system. It allows for losses incurred in the course of business to be accounted for when calculating a business's tax liabilities. This mechanism is a standard feature of corporation tax systems in all OECD countries.

Section 396C of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 previously restricted losses for NAMA-participating institutions to offset losses against 50% of taxable profits in a given year. At the time of the Act's introduction the Government had limited involvement in the banking system. However, by the Finance Bill 2013 this measure was considered to have outlasted its initial purpose. Due to the State's substantial holdings in the banking sector - 99.8% of AIB and 15% of BOI at the time - it was deemed to be acting against the State's interests.

Section 396C was repealed to reduce the State's role as a "backstop" provider of capital and to protect the existing value of the State's equity and debt investments.

With the removal of Section 396C, AIB and Bank of Ireland were restored to the same position as other Irish corporates, including other Irish banks, which effectively levelled the playing field.

As I have previously stated, I do not intend to change how tax losses are taxed for Irish banks, including those bailed out by the State, as I believe there could be consequences that would make it difficult for me to fulfil other objectives in respect of the Irish banking system.

On Committee Stage of the Finance Act 2017 I agreed that my officials would produce a report on the effect of limiting tax reliefs on losses carried forward for banks. It is envisaged that this report will be submitted to the committee in June of this year.

This is a national scandal. We are talking about €2.7 billion in profits by three banks which have been bailed out by the Irish people, banks that would not exist today if it were not for the fact that the Government at the time put its hands into citizens' pockets and put the money into those banks. This goes to the core of this issue. This is about fairness. The Minister said the carrying forward of losses is standard across the OECD. However, it is not standard the way we do it, whereby it is unlimited and one can carry forward forever and a day 100% of one's losses. The Minister talks about value in respect of the banks and other objectives. What we need is tax coming into this State to address some of the crises we have, with which the Minister is well familiar, namely, the fact that we have a homelessness crisis that is escalating, the fact that we have a housing crisis, the fact that we cannot provide for children with disabilities and the fact that we have hundreds of patients on hospital trolleys daily. However, the Minister is content to sit there and tell the Irish people he will not change any of this, that AIB will continue to pay no tax for 20 years, that Permanent TSB will operate in the same vein and that somehow this is okay.

I have other objectives I need to fulfil in respect of the Irish banking system. The State and the Irish taxpayer own a very large share of the banking system overall. I want to see the State get back that money. I also want to be in such a position that the dividends these banks have begun to pay the Irish taxpayer are maintained in the future. We also have in place a banking levy which is recouping some value for the taxpayer. We live in a time when we are dealing with other issues within our banking system that matter to citizens. For example, I go back to the question which Deputy McGrath raised with me and which Deputy Doherty will raise again, that is, how we can get to a point at which we can reduce further the level of non-performing loans we have in our banking system without causing additional difficulty and stress to our citizens. Decisions such as those Deputy Doherty proposes have an effect on this. Amid his acknowledgement of all that is going wrong in our society at present - I acknowledge there is great difficulty - we are making progress in other areas. I want Irish taxpayers to be able to get back the money they invested in owning our Irish banking system.

The Minister is selling off parts of these banks already, and the investors buying the banks, which will not pay tax for the next two decades, are buying them from the Irish State. It is simply wrong, and the Minister needs to look at what his counterparts in other parts of the globe have done. Let us look at our nearest neighbours, Britain. They took a decision that the 50% carry forward for financial institutions that were bailed out by them was not sufficient. They also have a levy on those banks. They decided that one can carry forward only 25%, which would mean that banks would start paying taxes on the profits they make. We have some of the most profitable banks in Europe, which is no wonder, given the sweetheart deal this Government and the previous Government have carved out with those banks which allows them to pay no tax on billions in profit. I heard the banks talking about getting back to normality. Placing a cap on the losses that banks can carry forward is normal. It is what happens in Britain. It happens in France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Hungary and Poland. It happens in other countries where it is not unlimited, such as Canada, Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, Finland, Greece, Japan, Mexico and the Netherlands.

All these countries do this, yet the Government wants to be an outlier and to allow banks that we bailed out-----

-----to continue to make billion-euro profits and not pay a penny to the Irish State for decades.

The time has run out, Minister.

I have not had an opportunity to respond.

I will give the Minister 15 seconds.

No. If the Acting Chairman-----

Deputy Pearse Doherty talked down the clock.

The Acting Chairman should manage the contributions of other speakers. Deputy Pearse Doherty has put a set of questions to me; I must respond.

I will give the Minister 30 seconds.

I should not be penalised-----

-----for the Deputy's ability to go on. Of course, the reason Deputy Pearse Doherty makes such a statement is to deny me the opportunity to respond. I ask the Acting Chairman to allow me to respond.

I never objected to the Minister's having the opportunity to respond.

In what Deputy Doherty has outlined regarding our selling shares within AIB, of course what he has not acknowledged is that when we did sell a large share within AIB, we used the proceeds of that sale to reduce the borrowing the Irish taxpayer had to make to bail out those banks in the first instance. Deputy Doherty was among the most ardent of critics of the Irish taxpayer taking on more debt to support our banking system, and now that we have reduced a level of that debt which the Irish taxpayer had to incur, he is criticising the fact that I did that as well. We have competing objectives in respect of the banking system. I want to ensure we get back our money which was invested to support the banking system. I also want to ensure we have an Irish banking system that is capable of meeting the investment and credit needs of Irish small firms, Irish farmers and Irish agriculture. The course of action the Deputy is pursuing would have serious consequences-----

That they should pay tax.

-----for all of that. I have given a commitment-----

They should pay tax.

Again, I understand why the Deputy wants to shout me down. If I lay out any argument that is different from what he is putting forward, the only option open to him is to shout down the argument I am making. As he knows, I made a commitment in the Finance Bill to outline in greater detail what would be the consequences of such a course of action being pursued, and I will do that.

My guiding anchor in any decision I make is to get back for the Irish taxpayers the money they had to put into Irish banks and ensure that we have an Irish banking system which is more resilient for our economy in the future and able to support the jobs growth we will need in uncertain times.

I remind Members that they have 30 seconds for their introduction, two minutes for the Minister's initial reply and four minutes overall for each question, including one minute for each supplementary question. If Members are not prepared to stick to the time I will not take the final supplementary question but will instead move onto the next question.

Central Bank of Ireland Investigations

Michael McGrath

Question:

60. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the status of a case involving companies (details supplied); the steps the Central Bank is taking to ensure that the complaints process is fair and independent for the businesses involved and that redress and compensation schemes are adequate; the details of the contact between the Central Bank and the Financial Conduct Authority in the UK; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14184/18]

As the Minister is aware, the report from the Financial Conduct Authority, FCA, in the UK into Royal Bank Of Scotland's Global Restructuring Group, GRG, has been published. GRG also operated in Ireland under the guise of Ulster Bank. Its treatment of many SMEs has been a source of considerable controversy. I will go into the report in a moment, but the purpose of my question is to establish what is being done in Ireland with regard to this issue.

As the Deputy is aware, the Central Bank of Ireland is responsible for the regulation of the financial services sector. I can confirm that while the Central Bank cannot generally comment on interactions with regulated firms, Ulster Bank Ireland is engaging with the Central Bank in regard to Global Restructuring Group. In November 2016, Royal Bank of Scotland announced a complaints process for SME customers in Ulster Bank’s Global Restructuring Group and indicated publically that a "customer is in-scope for the new complaints process if they were a small or medium sized enterprise under the control of Global Restructuring Group in the United Kingdom or Republic of Ireland between 1 January 2008 and 31 December 2013".

In line with its risk-based supervisory approach, the Central Bank has been and continues to monitor all relevant issues as they arise from a system perspective. The Central Bank will continue to monitor this matter and is overseeing complaints received for any issues arising, particularly in the context of SME regulations compliance. The protection of SME customers is a priority for the Central Bank. The Central Bank’s SME regulations provide key protections to SME customers, including those on handling complaints and managing arrears and financial difficulties. The Central Bank also continues to engage with the UK FCA on this matter. I am confident that the Central Bank will act as appropriate on this matter and that it possesses the necessary tools to do so if required.

The report that was published makes for quite remarkable reading. For example, it identified certain widespread inappropriate treatment of SME customers, which should also be considered to be symptomatic. There is no reason to believe that similar treatment of SMEs in Ireland did not take place. One striking element of the report is contained in annexe 4, which reproduces a document produced by a GRG team leader that was widely circulated in at least one regional office in the UK. One of the tips stated, "Rope: Sometimes you need to let customers hang themselves. You have then gained their trust and they know what's coming when they fail to deliver". A second tip told those involved to "Be specific: avoid round number fees - £5,300 sounds as if you have thought about it, £5K sounds like you haven't." When I hear stories from SMEs, there is a common thread as to how they were treated. We need specific answers as to what is being done in Ireland.

I am aware of the report to which the Deputy has referred. I have outlined the fact that while I cannot ever go into details regarding the work of the Cental Bank and its interaction with regulated firms, this is a matter on which Ulster Bank and the Central Bank are now engaging. When I met representatives of Ulster Bank and its parent group, Royal Bank of Scotland, I indicated to them that they must comply with the work which is under way with the Central Bank. They understand that. When I have engaged with the Central Bank on this matter, it has indicated to me that it is dealing with the matter. At this point I cannot go any further than that because I have to respect the role of the Central Bank regarding this matter.

I respect the role of the Central Bank but we also have a duty to request information and advocate for SMEs, which believe they were essentially put into a graveyard when they were put into GRG. More than 2,000 businesses went into it but fewer than 100 came out alive. For some time, we have heard that the Central Bank is engaging with Ulster Bank. I still do not really know what that means. I welcome that the Central Bank has had contact with the FCA in the UK, but I would like the Minister to confirm whether the Central Bank has initiated an investigation. Will there be a report? Will something be produced as an outcome to this issue in regard to the Central Bank's consideration of it? The SMEs involved, which believe they were treated very badly, and the many businesses which closed, resulting in job losses, deserve the truth.

I appreciate and acknowledge that the Deputy respects the role of the Central Bank, and the work it does and is carrying out on a number of matters in respect of the Irish banking system. I am aware, as I indicated to the Deputy a moment ago, of the report he used to provide a backdrop to the question he put to me. At this stage, I can confirm that the Central Bank is engaged on this matter. It is up to it to decide if it wants to go a stage further. It will then communicate this in a way which befits its role as an independent regulator of our banking system. I am confident that the Central Bank will act appropriately and effectively with regard to this matter if it is deemed it is necessary to do so, and that it has the necessary tools and powers to do so.

Loan Books Purchasers

Paul Murphy

Question:

61. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Finance the detail of his contacts with senior management of a bank (details supplied) in relation to the proposed sale of part of its loan book to vulture funds; his views on legislation to allow the Government block the sale of this loan book; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14114/18]

Permanent TSB came before the finance committee last week. The 75% State-owned bank indicated it intends to proceed with so-called Project Glas, which would have the consequence of about 18,000 families, including homeowners and renters, being thrown to the vultures whose only concern is short-term profit. Will the Minister use the formal consultation process to make it clear that the Government and Dáil are absolutely opposed to any sale to vulture funds?

As part of their regular engagement with the banks in which the State has a shareholding, officials in my Department discuss a wide range of topics, including loan sales. I am answering the question the Deputy put to me in written format. What he has just said orally is different. For example, in the case of Project Glas, the project recently announced by Permanent TSB to sell a portfolio of non-performing loans, officials were first briefed by the bank on the timing of the sale and potential composition of the portfolio in the week commencing 15 January. Officials, in turn, briefed me on the matter on 19 January as I have previously indicated.

As this information was commercially sensitive and as I am obliged to comply with Stock Exchange disclosure and market abuse rules, I was not in a position to discuss it publicly at the time. In addition to the regular engagement Department officials have with the banks, I recently met senior officials of the majority of our Irish retail domestic banks and intend to do so again, as well as holding similar meetings with the other banks. At these meetings, loan sales were discussed, where relevant. The Deputy will be aware in this regard that it is not appropriate for me to put any more facts into the public domain over and above what the banks themselves have disclosed as I must respect the Stock Exchange disclosure rules.

It is worth noting that in the case of Permanent TSB, no loan has been sold yet and it will not be known how many loans will be sold nor the composition of these loans for a number of months. In addition, it is not known at this stage to whom they will be sold. For clarity, I want to highlight to the Deputy that I cannot stop these sales, even by the banks in which the State has a shareholding.

They are the responsibility of the boards and management of the banks, which must be run on an independent and commercial basis. The banks' independence is protected by relationship frameworks, which are legally-binding documents that I cannot change unilaterally.

Project Glas is a green light to destroy the lives of homeowners whose loans are included in this particular loan book sale. At a meeting of the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and the Taoiseach, last week, I and other Deputies asked representatives of Permanent TSB what would be their response if, in the process of formal consultation, the Government was to make clear its opposition to the sale of these loans to vulture funds. Their response was that they would consider every option. The use of the formal consultation process is, I believe, inadequate. I think we should be making greater use of the State's shareholding in the banks. I am seeking a commitment from the Minister that he will not treat these homeowners in the same manner as they are being treated by Permanent TSB and that he will use the formal consultation process to express the strong opposition of the Government and the Dáil to any sale to vulture funds.

As I have already indicated, I am not in a position to use the requirement for the banks to consult with me in order to block a sale of this type. As I have already stressed, I am aware of the concerns of mortgage holders in respect of these potential sales and I have committed to a number of actions. I have committed to working with Deputy Michael McGrath on his Bill to regulate funds and expand the regulatory reach and I have used the powers open to me to ask the Central Bank to conduct a review of the code of conduct on mortgage arrears. It is important that the Irish banking system gets to a place where its level of non-performing loans is reduced. This must be done, however, in a way that takes account of the difficulties that mortgage holders can face as that happens, as was the case in the past. We have seen a significant reduction in the level of mortgage arrears and the number of non-performing loans while, simultaneously, we have avoided the worst forecasts expressed at various points in the past. I am committed to trying to maintain this framework into the future.

These mortgage holders have been subjected to a campaign to demean them as people who are not worthy of having mortgages or owning homes. A key part of this campaign was the Permanent TSB statement that some people have not engaged for more than seven years. When I asked the bank's representatives at the joint committee's meeting last week to indicate how many people have not engaged for over seven years, they were unable to provide that information.

I ask the Minister not to answer a question that I have not asked. Although I do believe the Minister should have legislative power to block this sale or use the State's ownership of the banks to block it, that is not the question. The memorandum of understanding between the State and the bank includes a requirement for a process of formal consultation. I am asking the Minister if he will use that process to state his and the Government's strong opposition to this sale proceeding.

I find it ironic that the Deputy is asking me to not answer questions that he has not put to me given the question he put to me is different from the one he shared with me in written format and which I answered. I have already indicated that I am not in a position to direct the bank not to go ahead with loan book sales.

That is not what I asked.

I want to put it on the record that I am not party to and do not support any attempts to demean people who have been making efforts to pay their mortgages. It is difficult and stressful for anybody, regardless of his or her circumstances, who experiences problems in the context of his or her mortgage. It is in response to this that we put in place Abhaile, the code of conduct on mortgage arrears and the personal insolvency legislation.

I ask the Minister to respond to my question, which I have already asked three times.

The Minister, without interruption.

I have asked the Minister three times if he will use the formal consultation process to block this sale.

We are moving to the next question.

The Minister is supposed to answer questions.

The Minister is not working to the rules.

The time allocation for each question is six and a half minutes. If some members continue to eat into the time, other members' will miss out.

I did not eat into anybody's time.

NAMA Operations

Mick Wallace

Question:

62. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Finance his views on the NAMA policy, agreed in March 2015, of deleting emails of staff one year after they have left the agency; if he has had discussions with officials in his Department or with the NAMA board regarding this ongoing policy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14033/18]

This question relates to NAMA's email policy, which allows it to delete all emails of staff one year after they have left the agency. This policy was applied retrospectively and, coincidentally, came into effect one month before NAMA was to become subject to freedom of information. I wrote to the Minister about this matter on 8 February and his response was that he would look into it. I know the Minister is a busy man and has plenty to do but I hope he is not ignoring what is going on in NAMA.

It is important to clarify that any suggestion that NAMA deletes all emails of staff members one year after departure is not correct. I am advised that, as a first step, NAMA ensures that all emails of business or long-term value are retained in the appropriate repositories. Only when managers are assured that such records have been retained and stored can they authorise the deletion of ephemeral and transitory emails that have no business value. The Deputy will appreciate that there is a big difference between this sensible policy and a blanket policy of deleting all emails regardless of content or value, which is not, and never has been, NAMA policy. 

Since this matter was last raised in December, officials of my Department have discussed the issue further with NAMA, which has advised that its email retention policy is in line with best practice among public and private organisations. I am further advised that the implementation of the policy ensures that all key records held by NAMA are retained and that they will therefore be available, if required, for business purposes and for the purposes of legal discovery and the fulfilment of NAMA's obligations into the future.

In regard to staff emails specifically, I am advised that NAMA policy is to retain the mail servers of staff for at least one year after their departure from the agency. This is to facilitate business continuity and to enable line managers to ensure that business and long-term value records are saved to the appropriate repository. When managers are assured that such records have been retained and stored, they may authorise the deletion of transitory emails that have no business value.

I am further advised that this policy adheres to the guidance contained in the code of practice for freedom of information, FOI, and section 48 of the Freedom of Information Act.

The truth is that NAMA can delete what it likes and that is what it is doing. The policy of deleting staff emails 12 months after they have left the agency is not in line with the approach of any similar organisation in the public sector. No other State agency has this policy. According to the National Management Treasury Agency, NTMA, NAMA's parent agency, it has no set timeframe regarding the retention or deletion of emails. Why would NAMA delete emails when the NTMA does not do so? Is the Minister aware that all NAMA emails are on the NTMA email server? A copy of all emails sent and received on the NTMA's network are stored on what is known as "the vault" such that even if NAMA deletes an email at its end, it remains on the vault. However, when an FOI request is submitted the vault is not searched. NAMA is erasing the history of what goes on within the organisation and ensuring that it is not open to any embarrassment as a result of FOI requests. Will the Minister inquire if the commission of inquiry established to investigate NAMA had access to the emails located on the NTMA vault and if An Garda Síochána had access to all emails stored on it when investigating leaked allegations?

The Deputy asked two specific questions - on the commission of inquiry and on the role of An Garda Síochána in respect of NAMA - to which I do not have answers. However, I will make inquiries and revert to him with replies. When the Deputy initially raised this matter with me a number of months ago, my Department and I inquired into the policy in this area and I have shared the relevant information with the Deputy.

I have reviewed the policy of the NTMA.

I have already shared the NTMA's email retention policy with the Deputy but I will highlight it again. The NTMA does not have a set timeframe applying to the retention of emails. The retention period for emails is determined by the content and context of the correspondence. NAMA retains emails for one year in the way I have described. It then makes a further decision on the email depending on its sensitivity or its relevance to the operation of business.

The Deputy asked me two additional questions. I will check the answers to them.

NAMA's approach to the control and retention of data borders on the criminal. There have been two cases in the past month in this regard. In one case, NAMA has been heavily criticised for its approach to data and information held within the agency. The Data Protection Commissioner found that NAMA was in breach of its obligations under data protection law in its response to a request for data from the O'Flynn group. The O'Flynns had asked for all data on them held by NAMA, which is their right. NAMA initially agreed to undertake a full search for it but 14 months later it told the Data Protection Commissioner that it had decided to do no searches. The Data Protection Commissioner rightly found this completely unacceptable and stated that NAMA was in breach of its statutory functions. It is a shocking case which highlights NAMA's complete disregard for the law, something with which it has no problem.

Another case that was before the courts highlighted that NAMA's approach to records is farcical. NAMA official Peter Malbasha stated that it had no records or minutes of 62 meetings which took place with a developer, despite the fact that the developer saw minutes being taken. NAMA is a law unto itself and nobody is holding it to account.

I completely reject the inference by the Deputy that what it is doing is in any way criminal or nearly criminal. The Deputy might have a different view on the matter but NAMA's current policy on the management of emails is consistent with its obligations under freedom of information legislation and with regard to best practice on how these records can be filed and for how long they should be kept.

On the Deputy's point about the Data Protection Commissioner, he is correct that the Data Protection Commissioner recently found against NAMA in respect of a breach of its obligation to certain debtors. However, I am advised that there are two points to be made on this. First, the board of NAMA is currently considering the ruling of the Data Protection Commissioner and it will respond to it. Second, I am informed that the ruling made by the Data Protection Commissioner is separate from the matter the Deputy raised with me.