No wonder Northern Ireland’s finance minister, Sammy Wilson, is getting antsy about NAMA’s role in what is a relatively small local economy; during the week the BBC reported that yet another Northern Ireland property company, County Down developer MAR Properties, has loans which are now managed by the agency. MAR Properties owns a range of residential and commercial property in Northern Ireland, Scotland and England which include shopping centres, pubs/restaurants, hotels and residential developments. Its most prominent development, as part of a consortium, was the 28-storey Obel mixed-use development on Donegall Quay inBelfast – at 85 metres,Ireland’s tallest building; MAR subsequently sold their interest in the development to the KARL Group. MAR is probably most associated with Noel Murphy (“M”), Adam Armstrong (“A”) and William Rush (“R”) who founded the group in 1997.
NAMA’s Northern Irelandloans are understood to total about €4bn, or 5% of NAMA’s overall portfolio of about €73bn. I can’t help but notice that Northern Irelanddevelopers make up a disproportionately high number of the NAMA-bound developers which are kept track of on here. It seems there is far better analysis of company accounts and press releases in the North, particularly by BBC Northern Ireland, than there is on this side of the border. At the start of last year the Irish Times published what it understood to be the NAMA Top-30 developers after what seemed like a straight-forward leak from the agency, despite the agency’s public stance that it won’t generally reveal the identities of its developers.
But beyond that report, there has been precious little research by the Irish (Republic) media to identify other NAMA developers; the Irish Examiner is probably the best for obtaining accounts and revealing NAMA involvement. But Irish News and Media (INM) the press group effectively controlled by the O’Reillys and Denis O’Brien seems, with some honorable exceptions, to sit back and re-report. The Irish Times is better but not considerably so – I didn’t see anywhere in our media (here and here for examples) last week the Financial Times being credited for breaking the news that Derek Quinlan’s Mayfair car park is close to being sold, the story was re-reported.
No wonder INM’s CEO Gavin O’Reilly can claim all INM titles (which include the Belfast Telegraph, the (Irish) Independent, the (Irish) Sunday Independent, Sunday World, Evening Herald and a number of provincial newspapers and part-controls the Irish Daily Star) are all profitable in their own right – if you don’t spend on investigative or research-based reporting and rely on re-reporting, it’s can’t be too difficult to contain costs so as to ensure titles are profitable.