Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

I thank Members for arriving on time, which is in sharp contrast with what happened yesterday. I hope we can continue this practice in the next few weeks.

Brexit Issues

Michael McGrath

Question:

1. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the work being undertaken by his Department and agencies under his aegis such as the Revenue Commissioners to prepare for all possible Brexit scenarios at the end of March 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48709/18]

The purpose of this question is to afford the Minister an opportunity to update the House on the work his Department and agencies under its aegis, especially the Revenue Commissioners, are doing to prepare for Brexit and particularly all possible scenarios in that context. We discussed this issue last month in dealing with Priority Questions and I hope the Minister can update the House on it today.

The Government welcomes the agreement reached between the UK and EU negotiators on a draft withdrawal agreement. However, it must be acknowledged that we are not yet at the end of this process and that uncertainties remain. Our priority now is to work towards the finalisation of the draft withdrawal agreement and the political declaration on the EU-UK future relationship.

The Government's contingency planning for Brexit was initiated well in advance of the UK referendum in June 2016. To that end, co-ordination of the whole-of-government response to Brexit is being taken forward through cross-departmental structures chaired by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. My Department, with the Revenue Commissioners and the Central Bank, is actively engaged in this work which has now been intensified. Our overriding approach is to be careful with the public finances in order that we can build resilience and continue to remain competitive.

With regard to the Revenue Commissioners, we took a number of key decisions in July and September on measures for the necessary checks and controls for trade on an east-west basis. An open recruitment campaign was undertaken in September and attracted more than 3,000 applications. Some 43 trade facilitation staff have been appointed since September and the Revenue Commissioners have informed me that they are fully on track for the first phase of 200 trade facilitation staff to be trained and in place working on a 24/7 basis by 29 March 2019. The recruitment and training of the remaining 400 staff are set to progress on a phased basis over the transitional period. All of the investment in IT has now been made to cope with the different options we may face.

The Central Bank has been actively engaged in the process. It is working to ensure financial services firms are adequately prepared. It continues to work with firms in seeking to ensure all authorisations required for post-March next year are in place.

There has been some progress, with 43 trade facilitation staff recruited by the Revenue Commissioners. I understand the training programme has a duration of five weeks and the Minister has confirmed that the Revenue Commissioners remain on target to have 200 extra staff in place by the end of next March. Presumably, this phase of the recruitment process will end next February to have all of the staff in place, which is welcome. Is the Minister giving a commitment that the recruitment process will continue or does it depend on the outcome of the negotiations? Given that it is based on the central scenario of a deal and a transition period, I assume the 600 staff will still be required in that context. Can the Minister give more detail on his reference to financial services and the risk which must be mitigated in respect of firms currently selling into Ireland on the basis of the passporting provisions? What assurance can he give that this issue will be dealt with in advance of Brexit?

First, I expect recruitment to continue across the period. As the Deputy mentioned, the key point is that it is based on a central case scenario of a Brexit transitional period being in place. That appears to be possible, but there is more work to be done. In addition, regardless of the eventual Brexit scenario, the United Kingdom is becoming a third country from a customs policy perspective. Therefore, the commitment we have regarding the 600 staff will have to be fulfilled. We have made progress on it, even since the last time the Deputy questioned me. On whether recruitment will continue, it will, albeit in a different way. Now that we have received 3,000 applications and built panels of civil servants from other Departments who may wish to work in this area, I expect us to move to the selection and training phase.

Regarding the work of the Central Bank, it has been actively engaged with financial services companies on how they can maintain access to and from the United Kingdom. From my engagement with these companies, it is clear that they have been working on this scenario for quite some time. An increasing number of them have established a presence in both the United Kingdom and Ireland to allow them to continue to operate in the Single Market, while also servicing their businesses in the United Kingdom.

I have been teasing out the latter issue through parliamentary questions. A significant amount of financial services activity here, consumer facing financial services, is based on the freedom of movement of services. Therefore, it is based on the operation of a branch or the passporting provisions. Avoiding any disruption will require a change in the regulatory status of some of these firms. Are these plans being put in place? Are firms changing their prudential regulation to Ireland and not just being regulated here for conduct of business purposes?

We want to avoid a scenario where people in Ireland have, for example, insurance policies at the end of March 2019 that are invalidated because of the regulatory status of the firm they have bought that policy from. We need reassurance that in the area of financial services it will be seamless, because there can be no disruption on that issue.

We are seeing an increasing number of companies change their licensing arrangements so that they can fit in with the macroprudential and financial stability requirements of a post-Brexit European Union. There is still a considerable amount of work to be done in this area. From my engagement with the Central Bank, I am very confident that it is doing all that can be done on this. My message is that we do need financial services entities, as is the case in the rest of the economy, to engage with the Central Bank to ensure the right work is in place in advance of March. While much of that work is under way, there is still a fair bit to be done. I am regularly updated on these matters directly via the Central Bank and we also have a financial stability group in place, which includes the Central Bank and the Department. The group provides the regular reporting mechanism by which I am updated on this and other Brexit issues.

Mortgage Arrears Proposals

Pearse Doherty

Question:

2. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance the reason the commitment in A Programme for Partnership Government to amend the code of conduct on mortgage arrears has been broken in view of the widespread existence of vulture funds as owners of credit. [48683/18]

Last week the Cabinet announced a major climbdown when it said it would not be amending the code of conduct on mortgage arrears. This was a promise in the programme for Government and it was a commitment given by the Minister's predecessor to me which has now been abandoned. Will the Minister explain to this House why he has abandoned or broken this promise given by his predecessor to amend the code of conduct to deal with the issue that vultures are now holding on to more and more loans of family homes and buy to lets?

A Programme for a Partnership Government made a number of commitments in the area of “Protecting & Promoting Tenancy Rights and Home Ownership”. Specifically in respect of the code of conduct on mortgage arrears to which Deputy Doherty refers, there is a commitment to "work with the Central Bank to amend the Code of Conduct on Mortgage Arrears to include an obligation on providers of mortgage credit to provide a range of sustainable arrears solutions". As Deputy Doherty will be aware, in March this year I requested the Central Bank of Ireland to carry out a review of the code of conduct on mortgage arrears, otherwise known as the CCMA, to ensure it remains as effective as possible.

I published a very detailed and comprehensive report last week. In carrying out the review, the Central Bank sought the views of consumer representatives and advocates who are working to assist borrowers in financial difficulty. They engaged with statutory bodies and industry stakeholders. The bank conducted inspections of one retail credit firm, two credit servicing firms that represented 79% of principal dwelling home loans serviced by credit servicing firms, and one bank. Finally, the Central Bank gathered and analysed data relating to arrangements being considered and being put in place by banks and other entities.

As the Deputy can see, the report was specifically examining the treatment of mortgage loans by banks and non-banks to which the Deputy refers. No evidence was found that borrowers whose circumstances have not changed are being moved off existing arrangements by credit servicing firms who act on behalf of so-called unregulated loan owners during the term of the arrangement. Furthermore, there is evidence that such entities are considering more arrangements within their suite of arrangements under the CCMA compared with banks and retail credit firms but the report does observe that banks and retail credit firms are putting in place a more diverse range of such arrangements. It is important to note that retail credit firms and unregulated loan owners account for a significantly higher proportion of accounts in arrears in the 720 days past due category, so this could account for differences in the range of arrangements that unregulated loan owners are putting in place.

The whole point of the commitment given was that the code of conduct had to be changed because of the new environment where vulture funds owned loan books including family home loans. It was the bare minimum change required and it has been spectacularly dropped by the Government.

This week in a reply to a parliamentary question to me the Minister confirmed that no firm has been sanctioned to date for a breach of the CCMA. There have been tens of thousands of mortgage cases over recent years and not one firm has been sanctioned. Perhaps the Minister believes that is evidence that the code works. My take on it is that it is evidence that the code is not robust enough and is not fit for purpose.

It is two and a half years since the former Minister, Deputy Noonan, stood exactly where the Minister stands today and told me: "I am willing to review it again to make it mandatory on lenders to provide the more effective of the range of options that are now in the system to their borrowers." He went on to say: "I can confirm that in conversations around the time of the negotiation of the programme for Government there was an agreement that we would continue to have the code of conduct on a statutory basis and that it would be extended to cover certain options that borrowers are not statutorily bound to offer." That is a Fine Gael promise to make it compulsory for vultures to offer split mortgages and mortgage-to-rent that has been abandoned. That is wrong because people are very concerned that the suite of options available is not being implemented. We still see today the thousands of people in mortgage arrears. In my home county there are 1,200 people in arrears for a quite a long time, yet these vultures do not offer split mortgages or mortgage to rent. That was promised and has been abandoned. Will the Minister explain why he is letting vultures off the hook in this regard?

As I explained to the Deputy, this was a matter for the Central Bank to review. I asked that it review it, which it did. It came back with a very comprehensive assessment of how this issue is being dealt with inside the Irish mortgage market. I understand the anxiety and the concerns that people have when dealing with their mortgages on their homes. It is important to state the figures on how this issue has been dealt with in Ireland to date. At the end of 2012, the number of mortgages and loan accounts in arrears was 143,851. At the end of June of this year, it was 66,479. The number of mortgages in arrears has halved from 18% to 9%, from just under 38,000 to just over 21,000. It has come down by a third. Every repossession is one that I wish was not happening. That is why we have a code of conduct for mortgage arrears. In 2015, the figure for repossession stood at 113, and then it went to 166. In 2017, it was 77, and for the first half of this year it stood at 18. They are the figures for non-bank entities. The figures for banks also show a trend where the number of repossessions is lower than expected, showing that we have a system that offers protection to people in great difficulty.

The Minister likes to give the impression that he has rolled up the red carpet after his predecessor Deputy Noonan rolled it out for the vultures. A clear commitment was given, however, on ensuring that the code of conduct would extend to vultures mandatorily requiring them to provide a suite of options which included mortgage-to-rent and split mortgages. Of course they have to fulfil the terms of the agreement made on any loan that is sold to the vultures, but they do not offer that as a rule. They do not offer that to people who are in trouble. As we see more and more loans being sold while the Minister sits on his hands and allows State banks to sell their loans to the vultures, we will see more legal routes taken. That is without doubt.

AIB has announced that it will sell another €1 billion worth of loans which will end up in the hands of vultures. The Minister should do the right thing. He should not sit idly by. He should say very clearly that the State-owned banks should not be selling loans to vultures but that they should be doing the heavy lifting themselves, working through these loans on a loan-by-loan, case-by-case, basis, offering split mortgages and mortgage-to-rent and the full suite of solutions that the banks do not offer on what is allowed under the Central Bank's rules.

This is a commitment and much was said about this at the time of the negotiations for the partnership Government, which the Minister has completely abandoned. In abandoning it, he has abandoned homeowners whose loans are now in the hands of vultures.

The Deputy should let me speak about the commitments we have to the homeowners and deal with the figures for what has happened to restructured accounts in our economy and society since we began dealing with this great difficulty.

The Deputy says I am sitting on my hands in dealing with this issue. Each year since the end of 2012, we have seen over 20,000 buy-to-let mortgages alone restructured. Over 100,000 mortgages for principal dwelling homes, PDHs, particularly family homes, have been restructured in the period. These are the figures and that is what has happened. It has happened because of the operation of the code of conduct on mortgage arrears. It has also happened because of the work of the Insolvency Service of Ireland which is engaging in an extensive advertising campaign to make clear to people who are in difficulty the support that can be offered to them. The Deputy well knows that, under the legal arrangement in place between the Government and the banks, I am not able to direct banks, even those in which the State has a shareholding, on the commercial decisions they make. He knows that is the nature of the arrangement in place with the banks. He knows that going down the path of political involvement in the operation of banks opens up further difficulty for them and those who depend on them for employment and investment, as well as in getting our money back from them. The figures for restructured accounts are clear. Accounts for over 100,000 homes, family homes in particular, have been restructured in recent years.

NAMA Operations

Michael McGrath

Question:

3. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the status of the work of the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA; the expected surplus to be returned to the State; the way in which it will be used; when the agency will be wound up; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48710/18]

NAMA is an agency that does not tend to be discussed here until controversies arise. I want to receive an update on its work, the surplus it is expected to return, the number of loans that remain on its books, when it expects to be wound up and what the Minister intends to do with the surplus he expects to be delivered.

It is expected that NAMA will substantially complete its work by the end of 2020-21. Over 2020 and 2021 it expects a surplus currently projected to be €3.5 billion to be available for return to the State. NAMA announced last year that it had redeemed all of its €30.2 billion in senior debt, which was guaranteed by the State. Since April 2018, it has commenced the redemption of its €1.6 billion in subordinated debt. Notwithstanding the successful achievement of repaying the State's contingent liability three years ahead of schedule, there is still a significant body of work yet to be completed by NAMA. While it is currently estimated that it will return a surplus in the region of €3.5 billion to the Exchequer, this surplus has yet to fully crystallise. It is important to note that the realisation of this surplus depends on the success of NAMA's ongoing deleveraging, its Dublin docklands SDZ programme and the residential funding programme. The final phase of its deleveraging will be slower, with few major sales, but it expects the final major sales to be completed by the end of 2018. The focus to 2020 will be on the Dublin docklands SDZ and residential delivery programmes.

NAMA was mandated in late 2009 to deal expeditiously with its acquired loan portfolio and obtain the best value from it. It has been very successful in achieving this mandate. It continues to de-risk its positions in order that, by 2020, the real estate and financial assets supported by NAMA funding will comprise a relatively small portfolio of liquid commercial and residential exposures. NAMA's end-of-life strategy is being considered actively, with the maximisation of the return of any surplus to the State in respect of these remaining assets.

On the end-of-life strategy, did the Minister state it will be the end of 2021 before the agency is wound up? My understanding until now was that the projected date for the winding up of the agency was 2020. The Minister might deal with that issue.

Will the Minister give me an update on the carrying value of loans that remain with NAMA? At the end of 2017, the figure was €3.2 billion, net of impairments. Approximately 10% of that portfolio was London based and 64% Dublin based, with the remainder based around the rest of the Republic of Ireland. Will the Minister update us on that issue? Will he advise me whether there is a crossover between NAMA and the new Land Development Agency? Does he intend to have a transfer of expertise and personnel? What relationship is there between the two agencies?

Will the Minister clarify the end date and the nature of the work that will be outstanding after NAMA's last loan portfolio is sold?

On the exact timing, the information I have is that the agency will have its work completed between 2020 and 2021. I expect the work to continue into 2021.

The Deputy asked about the remaining portfolio. I do not have any information that is more up to date than what the Deputy has just given me.

The answer to the Deputy's third question regarding the intersection between the work of NAMA and the work of the Land Development Agency, LDA, is that there are personnel who have worked in NAMA who will now be working in the LDA. In particular, I believe the new chief executive of the LDA has an extensive background in NAMA.

The surplus has to be put in the context of the crystallisation of losses of over €40 billion when the NAMA transfers went through from 2009 and 2010 onwards.

On the timeline, there is a need for clarity on the work NAMA will be undertaking from the date of the last portfolio sale which, if I heard him correctly, the Minister has signalled is likely to be at the end of this year. He is saying, however, that the agency will continue to operate until 2020–21. My understanding all along was that the agency would complete its work and be wound up by 2020. The Minister might clarify what the agency will be doing from the time of the sale of the last loan portfolio. Managing loan portfolios was its core function. What will it be doing from the last sale until it is wound up? The Minister mentioned the Dublin docklands SDZ and the delivery of other housing programmes.

I will deal with each of the Deputy's points in turn. We expect the final major sale by NAMA to take place by the end of the year. The work it will do up to 2020 will have two elements. The first will involve the delivery of the Dublin docklands SDZ, in which it plays a considerable role, and the delivery of a residential programme there and at a number of other sites. The second piece of work will concern how it will de-risk various positions in order that, by 2020, its assets, be they financial or State assets, will comprise a very small percentage of the total number of exposures with which it will have to deal.

There is work under way on the work NAMA might do after the sale. We are discussing the issue with the agency. As the Deputy knows, we have an agreement with the Commission on the point at which the agency will come to an end. We will be delivering on that commitment, about which I want to be unambiguous.

I am increasingly conscious of the amount of expertise and skills we have built up in the NAMA organisation. I want to engage in dialogue with the agency to determine how we can retain them for the State, if we can, while still meeting the commitment made to the European Commission which we will be honouring.

Agriculture Industry

Mattie McGrath

Question:

4. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the status of his Department's statement of strategy 2017 to 2020, with specific reference to the continued availability of favourable terms for investment in primary agriculture, processing and marketing under the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48789/18]

I am worried about the continuing availability of favourable terms for investment in primary agriculture, processing and marketing under the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland. I am asking this question in the light of the obvious concerns about the potential impact of Brexit on the agriculture sector generally, the impasse concerning whether the favourable deal on the table will be accepted and considerable fears that the United Kingdom will crash out of the European Union. There are obvious concerns about the impact on the economy as a whole but particularly agriculture, from the smallest to the biggest farmers.

The SBCI’s goal is to increase the availability of appropriately priced, flexible funding to viable Irish SMEs, including agricultural firms. By the end of March 2018, there had been €972 million of SBCI-supported lending, supporting more than 24,000 SMEs and 129,000 jobs. The SMEs that received SBCI finance are from all sectors of the economy with 26% of loans going to the agriculture sector. The SBCI has a number of schemes in place specifically designed to support lending to the agriculture sector.

By the end of March, 7,842 loans totalling €203 million had been made to farmers under the agricultural investment loan scheme. This scheme continues to be available through Fexco and Finance Ireland. Finance Ireland has also teamed up with Glanbia to provide finance for the installation of on-premises milk tanks by dairy farmers.

In January 2017, the SBCI launched a €150 million agriculture cashflow support loan scheme for farmers, on behalf of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, to provide low-cost, flexible loans to farmers to support the primary agriculture sector in dealing with income and price volatility. The scheme provided unsecured loans of up to €150,000 for up to six years at an interest rate of 2.95%. The fund was fully subscribed by April 2017. By the end of December 2017, some €145 million of loans had been drawn down by more than 4,000 SMEs supporting 5,800 jobs under the scheme.

The scheme was supported by €11 million of EU exceptional adjustment aid and further €14 million from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

The number of applications for and uptake of grants indicates considerable angst, and banks are simply not lending. I appreciate that the SBCI offers a Brexit loan scheme in partnership with the Departments of Business, Enterprise and Innovation and Agriculture, Food and the Marine. However, the conditions do not make it readily accessible to many farmers. To apply for a loan a business must have fewer than 250 employees and a turnover of €50 million or less, which is too restrictive as can be seen from the figures set out by the Minister on applications to the end of 2017. It is too restrictive for ordinary farmers who are helping with the recovery in the economy and there are major concerns over Brexit.

Teagasc figures for 2016 indicate that the agrifood sector generated 7% of gross value added - €13.9 billion - and 9.8% of Ireland's merchandise exports, and provided 8.5% of national employment. There is considerable concern in the sector.

In recognition of the major importance of agriculture to the economy, we have put in place programmes and schemes such as this. As the Deputy will be aware, in budget 2019 I announced the future growth loan scheme to deliver loans of eight to ten years for longer-term investment. This is to cover both primary agricultural producers and food businesses. We expect the fund to be available in 2019 subject to legislation being passed by the Dáil. In the past two years in particular, we have put in place an array of programmes to provide additional support to all who are involved in Irish food and agriculture. The Deputy is correct in saying the schemes have specific criteria and terms, but that is because they are loans. They have been successful and we have made a further loan scheme available for the sector next year.

When employment in inputs, processing and marketing is included, the agrifood sector accounts for almost 10% of employment. In terms of it contribution to the national economy, Teagasc research indicates that the agrifood sector is one if Ireland's most important indigenous manufacturing sectors, accounting for employment of around 167,500 people. It includes almost 700 food and drinks firms that export food and seafood to more than 160 countries worldwide. Economic activity in the agriculture and food sector produces a far bigger return than equivalent activity in other traded sectors of the economy. This is because agrifood companies source 74% of raw materials and services from Irish suppliers, compared with 43% for all manufacturing companies. All of this demonstrates the clear necessity to maintain a firm financial commitment to the agriculture sector through all available State bodies and, in particular, because of the uncertainties associated with Brexit.

Despite the adverse move in the euro-sterling exchange rate, export sales of food and drink have increased by 6%. This reflects the quality of work by everybody involved in agriculture. Each of the budgets I have been involved in have built on the work of my predecessor, Deputy Noonan, in looking to put in place targeted support through both targeted tax measures and investment to support Irish agriculture.

I agree with the Deputy on the major challenge Brexit poses for farmers, particularly small farmers. This is why we have put in place the kinds of supports I have outlined. The Deputy will be aware of the large number of Brexit-ready seminars taking place throughout the country to inform everybody involved in the economy, including in agriculture, of the support available to help them deal with a changing world. The 6% increase in food and drink exports indicates what is being achieved collectively.

NAMA Loans Sale

Catherine Murphy

Question:

5. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Finance his understanding of section 172 of the National Asset Management Agency Act 2009; if he is satisfied that in the case of a NAMA sale (details supplied) the interpretation of section 172 of the Act was correct; if questions have been raised by him regarding the application of section 172 in this particular case; if NAMA has sought to clarify its interpretation of section 172 as it applied in this case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48727/18]

In the case of NAMA's sale of Project Nantes is the Minister satisfied that the interpretation of section 172 of the NAMA Act was correct? Were questions raised with the Department of Finance? Did NAMA engage with the Department on the interpretation in this particular case?

Section 172(3) of the National Asset Management Agency Act 2009 is a legal provision preventing assets held as security for loans acquired by NAMA from being sold back to defaulting debtors or persons acting on behalf of defaulting debtors.

To ensure compliance with this section, I am advised that NAMA has a policy of obtaining written confirmation from purchasers of NAMA-secured assets which confirms that, among other things, the purchaser is not a party precluded from completing the purchase by virtue of section 172(3). I am advised that these section 172 confirmations are examined by NAMA during the later stages of a sales transaction.

Under section 7(2) of the NAMA Act, any person who intentionally, recklessly or through gross negligence provides false or inaccurate information to NAMA commits a crime. In addition, under section 6 of the Statutory Declarations Act 1938, it is a criminal offence for a declarant to make a declaration which is false or misleading.

The Deputy will be aware that section 9 of the NAMA Act provides that NAMA is independent in the performance of its functions and that I, as Minister, have no role in its commercial operations or decisions. It is not my role to become involved in the detail of NAMA’s work, nor do I have access to detailed information regarding the assets securing the loans sold as part of the Project Nantes loan sale, which NAMA is prohibited from disclosing as such detail is classified as confidential debtor information. I am therefore not in a position to comment on NAMA’s interpretation of section 172(3) for this or any other transaction.

When the NAMA Act was introduced was it not up to the Department to set out the criteria? If that is the case, why did it not happen? If it had happened, there would have been a separation. Is the Minister satisfied about the aspect of full disclosure? Surely the Minister or his officials have engaged with NAMA on the matter, given that it is controversial.

This is not about interfering in NAMA's commercial role, it is about the Minister satisfying himself that the Act is being applied properly. Was there any engagement between NAMA and the Department on this, either then or subsequently, to satisfy the Minister that there was no problem with the interpretation of the relevant section of the Act?

The Deputy is correct that the NAMA legislation lays out the objectives by which NAMA must ensure any transaction meets certain criteria. However, deeming whether the criteria are met is work for NAMA and it then has a relationship with the Comptroller and Auditor General on the oversight of its operations. That is where the key statutory oversight facility is. It is with the Comptroller and Auditor General. I will have to revert to the Deputy on the nature of correspondence or communication, if any, between my Department and NAMA but it will be in line with the relationship I described to her earlier. Furthermore, in relation to the application of section 172, I understand that NAMA has been engaged in correspondence with the Committee of Public Accounts and the Comptroller and Auditor General on this project. As part of this correspondence, NAMA has advised the committee that it undertook a review of the written confirmations and warranties received pursuant to this section in respect of the Project Nantes loan sale in 2012. NAMA advises that these written confirmations and warranties confirm that the borrower and purchaser were compliant with the requirements of the 2009 NAMA Act. NAMA also stated that following inquiries it had raised, it has been established that the party who has been identified as a director of the purchaser entity was not a NAMA debtor.

I have just come from the Committee of Public Accounts to ask this question and it has been something we engaged with there this morning. As such, I am aware of the role of the Comptroller and Auditor General and the committee in relation to this. The Minister said criminal convictions apply if there is a false disclosure. Is he aware of any criminal conviction having been secured for failure to adhere to that provision? There is quite a bit of anecdotal evidence - and I accept that it is anecdotal - that people are in possession of properties to which loans were attached who were former NAMA debtors and they were not the people who purchased them. I am aware of some of those instances and would be surprised if the Minister was not also aware of them.

I do not have the information available to me regarding criminal convictions or prosecutions but I can check to see what has occurred over the last number of years. As I have indicated to the Deputy and as she has recognised, the oversight relationship with NAMA, having regard to the performance of its commercial duties, is anchored in the work of the Comptroller and Auditor General. I have outlined to the Deputy the nature of the communication that has taken place from NAMA to the Committee of Public Accounts and the Comptroller and Auditor General and the assurances NAMA has provided to me on this matter. However, I note that it is now the subject of communication between NAMA and the Comptroller and Auditor General and it is ultimately the latter who will provide an evaluation of this transaction if there are any issues in relation to it.