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Archive for December 12th, 2011

Even though Northern Ireland accounts for only about 5% of NAMA’s portfolio, it is becoming clearer why NAMA thought it necessary to establish a dedicated Northern Ireland committee to examine issues for that jurisdiction, and why NAMA had a board member – Peter Stewart, who resigned in October 2011 – and why NAMA has generally treated Northern Ireland with kid-gloves and extended itself to make its people available to politicians and institutions in the North. The reason for the disproportionate focus by NAMA is the unique set of political and economic characteristics of Northern Ireland.

On 30th November, 2011 the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Owen Paterson  appeared before the House of Commons Select Committee on Northern Ireland where he faced questions from Ian Paisley Junior on NAMA. The transcript of the hearing is here.

Ian wanted to know if the UK could leverage the €4bn bilateral bailout loan which the UK has agreed to lend Ireland – €469m has already been received – and if the UK could increase its control over the €4bn NAMA assets in Northern Ireland, and indeed the billions elsewhere in the UK – Ian thought NAMA’s Northern Ireland’s assets were GBP 4bn and its City of London assets GBP 14bn but that is an overstatement, particularly so in the City of London.

Owen batted that suggestion away, stating that as far as he could tell – and he seems to have paid some attention to the matter, even travelling across the Republic in recent weeks – the Republic’s objectives were similar to Northern Ireland’s with respect to NAMA loan assets : the Agency wanted to maximise prices without distorting the market with fire sales or hoarding.

Ian also raised a more specific point

“I understand from one of the complaints that has been put to me, that there are investors willing to come into the Northern Ireland market but that NAMA, because it does not have an already established relationship with those investors, is not interested in talking to them”

Owen said he had not heard that complaint before but if Ian were to provide him with details, Owen would raise it with An Taoiseach.

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In a moment of levity last Friday, I was half-expecting An Taoiseach to proudly declare that he had extracted a major concession for Ireland at the EU summit : that the others had relented and agreed to take Kevin Cardiff off our hands, and approve his nomination to the European Court of Auditors. Sadly we appear not to have even got that much!

Kevin of course is the present Secretary General at the Department of Finance who has been in the wars in recent weeks following the exposure of a €3.6bn (later put at €3.719bn) error in the calculation of the country’s debt. He was summoned before the Committee of Public Accounts on 3rd November, 2011 (transcript here), where he attempted to bat away criticism with the well-tested tactic of announcing a review. He did say the review should have been completed at the end of November 2011 (that is, two weeks ago). He was challenged by the Committee members on the probity of Kevin himself drafting the terms of reference for the internal review, and selecting the person or group to undertake an additional external review. Annoyingly, the Committee didn’t press the point, or subsequently write to the Cabinet setting out their concerns about the head of the department responsible for the mistake was in fact orchestrating and overseeing the review.

But the end of November came and went, and still there is no review publicly available of why such a large mistake was made.

Controversially, Kevin is the Irish government’s nomination to a €276,000-a-year role at the European Court of Auditors and perhaps Kevin is distracted by the machinations to get him over the line and appointed to that role.

He was mauled when he appeared before the European Parliament’s Committee on Budgetary Control on 23rd November 2011, after which the Committee voted to reject his nomination. The next day, there followed the distraction of the outgoing Irish representative at the Court of Auditors, Eoin O’Shea being forced to reveal at the Oireachtas Committee on European Affairs on 24th November, 2011 that he had sent not one, but two emails to the appointments committee which were critical of Kevin’s nomination. They were (both!) moments of madness and Eoin claimed he had changed his opinion of Kevin subsequently. Eoin told the Committee:

“I had not met him [Kevin Cardiff] at that stage [6th October 2011, when the two emails were sent]. At that stage I may have been a little angry about the matter. I have subsequently revised my opinion having met the gentleman twice and having understood his interest in the position. I would apologise to him for sending that e-mail. I did it in a moment of heat. If one reads the e-mail, I believe one could deduce my sorrow in respect of it.”

Eoin seemingly forgot to send an email reflecting his revised opinion of Kevin.. This was a “distraction” because the content of the emails – both identical, read out at the Committee hearing on 24th November –  seems innocuous enough

“Dear Mr Geier

I just wanted to let you know the Irish Govt have decided to replace me at the Court. Their suggestion is an Irish civil servant who was responsible for financial supervision during the period of the collapse of the Irish banks. I believe there will be further details in respect of this appointment which will be of interest to the Parliament because of the Irish prosecutorial interest in whether or not the State condoned in the window-dressing of the financial accounts of Irish financial institutions in respect of 7 Billion Euro.

In the meantime, I will work hard ….

My very best wishes

Eoin”

Not satisfied with the conclusion and vote of the appointments committee on 23rd November 2011 where, according to An Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore  “the vote didn’t reflect the discussion of the committee”!,  the Irish government is pressing ahead with having Kevin’s nomination dealt with by the plenary European Parliament tomorrow 13th December, 2011.

The view on here is the nomination undermines national confidence in our institutions. Notwithstanding the fact that Kevin is part of the civil service and is to a large extent gagged and prevented from defending himself in public, he was given the opportunity to deal with the €3.6bn error at the public accounts committee hearing on 3rd November, 2011, and he didn’t do very well. Nor has he apparently completed the review into the error. Kevin was at the heart of Department of Finance policy with respect to the banking sector as the crisis developed in 2008, he was in attendance on the night of the banking guarantee, he was close to the creation of NAMA but is reported in leaked US-ambassador cables to have “hinted” that the losses in Irish banks were far worse than publicly indicated and of course he was, Forrest Gump-like, seated alongside An Taoiseach and then-finance minister, Brian Lenihan as the IMF bailout was eventually announced in November 2010. More recently it has been suggested that Kevin or his department was across certain transactions in Anglo, such as the one alluded to by current incumbent Eoin O’Shea above. The impression given here at home is that his nomination and support may be more to do with political expediency and the opportunity for the new Government to bring in their own candidate to head up the Department of Finance, than with any inherent suitability for the role.

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