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Archive for February 21st, 2012

Screengrab below reproduced with permission from Politics.ie and the original thread is to be found here.

Although we don’t yet have the details or context of the matter, it seems that yesterday in Laois, a linked group of 30 people faced down an attempted eviction. On politics.ie there are photographs which purport to show an official, said to be the deputy Sheriff with a Garda seemingly attempting to gain possession of a country property, and on the other side of a closed iron gate is a group which includes Joan Collins TD from the People before Profit party. The group is said to consist of People before Profit (which unites with the Socialist party and others in the Dail to form the United Left Alliance which is in turn part of the Dail Technical Group), the Anti-Eviction Taskforce and the Defend Our Homes League. A representative of the groups is said to be talking with the Irish Examiner which may publish a story tomorrow; it is said that a TV3 film crew and an Irish Times reporter arrived at the scene of the attempted eviction, but after the confrontation had ended and the bank and Sheriff had withdrawn from the property.

Now although we might not have the facts in the case above, we do know from reporting of mortgages by the Central Bank of Ireland last week that some 600 properties are repossessed each year, most by what is termed “voluntary surrender/abandonment”. Here are the statistics for the last quarter, the three months ending 31st December 2011.

Will scenes similar to those in Laois yesterday become a common feature as banks take action against tens of thousands of households – two months ago there were 53,086 mortgage accounts that were in arrears for more than six months, a threshold where it is believed the account is at severe risk of default.

UPDATE (1): 21st February, 2012. A video of yesterday’s civilised confrontation between the deputy Sheriff for Laois and protesters at a family home is now available on youtube.

UPDATE (2): 21st February, 2012. The Laois Nationalist newspaper has reported on this story, and gives details of the owner and his mortgage history with Ulster Bank.  The owner is Lee Wellstead, the address of the property is Knockanina, between Mountrath and Castletown in County Laois. His original mortgage was €80,000 topped up to €110,000 – it’s not clear how much is owed today. Ulster Bank was apparently granted possession at the start of 2009 and was granted an eviction order in August 2011.

UPDATE: 15th March, 2012. It is reported by Deputy Clare Daly – whose colleague in the United Left Alliance Deputy Joan Collins was part of the protest group last month – that the eviction at the above property was effected yesterday. According to Deputy Daly  “a large force of Gardai sealed off a country lane leading to the home of Mr Lee Wellstead and then, according to neighbours, forced entry by kicking down the front door. The repossession of the property and the eviction of Mr Wellstead and his young daughter were carried out on behalf of Ulster Bank” The deputy goes on to say that the Defend Our Homes League will be holding a protest at 10.30am at Ulster Bank on Lower O’Connell Street in Dublin.

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No-one will blame Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton for getting involved in the BSkyB initiative to set up an Irish call-centre which will create 800 jobs; with unemployment at 310,000, representing 14.2% of the workforce, and a total of 440,000 on the Live Register, the country desperately needs such initiatives. However Minister Bruton’s intervention with NAMA remains shrouded in secrecy with the Department not commenting on the claim here that the Minister intervened directly with the NAMA CEO Brendan McDonagh directly or the claim in the Sunday Independent where the Minister is said intervened with the NAMA decision via the IDA. Whether or not the Minister realised it, his intervention was conferring an advantage on BSkyB who otherwise might not have been able to secure their preferred premises.

Politicians lobbying NAMA are supposed to make such lobbying public in order to prevent the shenanigans – imagined and real – that have characterised the Irish political landscape in recent decades.

On Sunday last, the Sunday Independent reported that the environment minister, Phil Hogan intervened in a transaction involving a building subject to a NAMA loan. And although the thrust of that newspaper’s reporting was that the Minister’s intervention was with NAMA, in fact it seems he merely intervened with the local council.

Yesterday in the Commercial Court, there was a directions hearing in a case where NAMA is pursuing money from companies in the Moritz property group. And according to the Independent, the barrister for the Moritz group claimed “a government minister made representations to NAMA after it initiated the proceedings” Sadly the minister is not identified in the reporting, but the context of the reported comment suggests the minister’s intervention might have resulted in conferring some advantage on the Moritz group.

Politicians have a dedicated email address to contact NAMA – in fact, thanks to Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, that email address is in the public domain – oir@nama.ie – and politicians are encouraged to make contact with NAMA at that email address in pursuit of matters within a politician’s remit which seems to include drawing NAMA’s attention to hazardous property, anti-social behaviour or criminality. That’s all fine and dandy, but what about political contact that might be ambiguous and may conceivably be intended to gift some advantage to someone connected with the politician? The NAMA anti-lobbying legislation seems to have anticipated such an eventuality and forces the politician to make public their representation.

To date, I am aware of Stephen Donnelly contacting NAMA with respect to Greystones Harbour and he has dutifully published that communication on his website; so also has Simon Harris who was concerned at a NAMA site attracting anti-social behaviour and again that communication was published on the politician’s website. And in both cases, most people will commend the politicians for their intervention.

But recent reporting gives the impression that more politicians, and particularly ministers are intervening with NAMA, and are not making that contact public. And although there is no evidence of shenanigans at present, such apparent contempt for the provisions of NAMA’s anti-lobbying legislation is worrying, and if allowed to go unchecked may in future migrate from worthy issues like employment to venal issues like donations and influence. It is to be noted that it is also a criminal offence if a NAMA employee fails to notify Gardai of lobbying in breach of NAMA’s lobbying rules.

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At 11am this morning in Court 14 at the Four Courts before Ms Justice Mary Finlay Geoghegan will commence battle between Treasury Holdings and NAMA, after NAMA last month sought to appoint receivers to a portfolio of properties controlled by Treasury; the proceedings are pencilled in to last four days. It’s another important legal test for NAMA as its relatively recent procedures come under the legal spotlight again. Whilst NAMA is remaining tight-lipped about the whole matter generally, it seems that Treasury is more forthcoming with the Financial Times yesterday reporting that the following matters are at issue

(1) A claim that NAMA will destroy the value of the property assets placed in receivership and could threaten Treasury’s wider businesses

(2) A claim that NAMA misled the company by continuing negotiations with Treasury on its overall business plan while privately making a decision in December to place its properties in receivership

(3) A claim NAMA rejected without sufficient consideration an offer by third party investors –Macquarie and Hines – to acquire its loans

The Irish Times reports that

(1) Treasury’s third party investors – the implication is that Treasury brought the investor interest to the table – were prepared to offer reasonable terms – elsewhere said to be €600m for loans which NAMA reportedly acquired for €541m but were worth between €1.1-1.5bn at par value. Apparently the third party offers required NAMA to provide staple financing.

(2) Treasury claims it co-operated with NAMA throughout and that the Agency’s action took it completely by surprise

And in respect of NAMA

(1) NAMA is likely to argue that Treasury is insolvent and beyond rescue and that it had lost patience with the developer

It is understood that Michael Cush SC will be batting for Treasury. It’s not clear yet who will be representing NAMA who in the past have had Paul Gallagher SC, the former Attorney General in their corner, though at the hearing in January 2012, it was Cian Ferriter SC who represented the Agency.

The hearing has been billed as an unprecedented look into NAMA’s procedures, including enforcement procedures, and culture, which given the secrecy of the Agency, will probably give us a few headlines in the days ahead.  The position on here is that in principle, NAMA having acquired €1-2bn of loans – it’s unclear from reporting – seems entitled to foreclose on the loans if Treasury is in default. However NAMA has been shown previously to have some sloppy procedures and as with all legal cases, there is an element of a gamble. There is likely to be a strong press presence in Court 14 this morning and there will be an update here later today.

UPDATE (1): 21st February, 2012. RTE has filed the first report on the case for its One O’Clock news bulletin. The broadcaster says that Michael Cush SC has opened the case for Treasury and said Treasury is challenging two NAMA decisions (1) December 8, 2011 to call in Treasury’s loans and (2) January 25, 2012 to appoint receivers. Michael Cush is back on his “fair procedures” mantra which he used, ultimately to good effect at the Supreme Court appeal, in the Paddy McKillen case. It was conceded according to RTE by Treasury that it was insolvent, or more specifically “balance sheet insolvent” [what other kind of “insolvent”, is there?] It is claimed that although NAMA made a decision on 8th December 2011 to appoint receivers, that was not communicated to Treasury until 9th January 2012. Remember this is all from Treasury’s point of view, and NAMA may well refute some or all of this when it gets its turn.

UPDATE (2): 21st February, 2012. Mary Carolan has a solid report on the first days proceedings in the Irish Times. It seems that Treasury is suggesting that NAMA’s foreclosure action is putting 400 jobs at risk – a touchy subject given the unemployment crisis in the country – with the Ritz Carlton, the National Convention Centre, a development in Spencer Dock in north Dublin Docklands and Sligo Town Centre all at risk. We get some more financial information on the financials involved – the Treasury loans are said to be worth €1.5bn at par value and we get information on three offers, one fromUS group CIM for €805m, one from McQuarie for €622m and one from Hines for €600m. The CIM offer is said to have included NAMA’s interest in the Battersea Power Station and it is claimed by Treasury that this offer was agreed by the NAMA board in 2011, yet it did not proceed. Apparently by reversing out the Battersea interest, the CIM offer is comparable with the MacQuarie and Hines’ offers. At least that is what is claimed. Treasury is said to be concerned that NAMA will not maximise the value of the Treasury portfolio if it is sold piecemeal. Not exactly convincing stuff from Treasury, it must be said. The case is scheduled to last another three days and we have yet to hear NAMA’s side of the story. On a human level, nothing of any real gossip value on day one.

UPDATE (2): 22nd February, 2012. The Financial Times reports on Day 1 of proceedings, and adds to the store of knowledge with Treasury’s claims that NAMA’s actions might damage non-NAMA parts of the Treasury empire including Treasury China Trust (TCT), where it is claimed an Asian investor is “interested in acquiring a stake”. There’s a new angle to the CIM offer in 2011 which was  reported elsewhere to have been agreed by the NAMA board, the FT saying “NAMA delayed sign off on the deal when it became concerned about an acquisition of shares in TCT by Treasury founders, Mr Ronan and Mr Barrett. Treasury claims NAMA had full knowledge of the transaction and alleges NAMA’s delay on the CIM deal caused it to fall apart when Irish property prices declined further”

UPDATE (2): 22nd February, 2012. RTE again has the first reporting of today’s proceedings. You might find more detail in terms of NAMA’s case in the coverage of the NAMA affidavits here this afternoon. RTE does report on the conclusion of Treasury’s opening statements and affidavits and says that Treasury’s Richard Barrett claims NAMA’s dealings with the investors was (according to RTE)  “improper behaviour for a public body”.  Treasury’s Richard also says he refused to help disgruntled NAMA developers, though sadly we don’t get more detail on this claim.

UPDATE (3): 22nd February, 2012. Mary Carolan of the Irish Times (who also was credited in the Irish Independent this morning!) has penned a detailed account of today’s proceedings. She adds perspective to the NAMA affidavits and the dispute over “good faith” on NAMA’s part.

UPDATE: 25th February, 2012. The Irish Times and Independent seem to have pooled resources for a strikingly similar review of Day 4 at the Commercial Court. NAMA has expressed concern for Treasury’s ability to fund proceedings should leave be granted for a judicial review and NAMA will seek “ringfenced” funds for the action. Paul Sreenan SC is acting for NAMA, and presumably the other defendants, the Attorney General and the State.  Treasury has withdrawn one of its applications, to seek an injunction preventing dealings by NAMA’s receivers, a withdrawal which presumably places costs on Treasury. Treasury is continuing in its application for a judicial review of NAMA’s dealings with the loans. And despite being pencilled in for just four days, the case will continue next Tuesday.

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