Archive for October 10th, 2012

Somehow I can’t see our own Minister for Finance Michael Noonan every succumbing to the Twitter bug – the era of haggling over a calf at the Fair of Glin seems too far distant to be bridged by our finance minister who will be 70 next May. On the other side of the Border, the sometimes-bohemian Minister for Finance and Personnel in Northern Ireland, Sammy Wilson has always displayed an avant-garde streak, and today his satisfaction with the way NAMA is interacting with developers and developments in Northern Ireland, is tweeted by the Northern Ireland Executive here.

Minister Wilson claims in a statement issued today that NAMA has now made available in excess of GBP 100m (€125m) to Northern Ireland developers, though the majority – 60% – is earmarked for developments in mainland Britain, though these are managed and directed from Northern Ireland.

Minister Wilson goes on to say “This is clear evidence that NAMA is providing the assurances I sought from the Agency and the Irish Government that Northern Ireland assets would be carefully managed and there wouldn’t be any sort of rash fire-sale. This is welcome news and I will continue to liaise with NAMA on these important matters”

Whether it is €125m or just 40% of it that is being made available in Norther Ireland by NAMA, it represents a considerable leap from the start of this year when NAMA had approved a paltry €10m for Northern Ireland and spent even less, just €7m.

NAMA is also providing staple financing in Northern Ireland, though it is expected the lionshare of its €2bn allocation to staple financing will be spent in the Republic. Minister Wilson says “NAMA would welcome more viable propositions from both its Northern Ireland debtors and from prospective purchasers of commercial real estate where NAMA can make vendor finance available”

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Just 10 days after the PropertyPriceRegister.ie website went live, it is already the 444th most viewed website in Ireland and the betting on here is that it will be in the Top 20 by the end of this month when hopefully we will see further updates to the data. That should equate to several million views per month, and you don’t need to be a genius to appreciate that this sort of web traffic has commercial potential with advertisers and sponsors. And given that the Register is operated by the Property Services Regulatory Authority (PRSA) which is a state agency, you might think that there would be some consideration given to generating such revenue to help defray the cost – to US – of running the register.

Given the wonderful oxygen of transparency generated by the existing register of 53,000 residential property transactions dating from January 2010, and given the debate over how much property has fallen from peak – in the past week, we have had two papers from the Central Bank on the length of property crashes and current declines from peak – you might think that the PRSA would examine extending its database to pre-2010 transactions, particularly those during the boom 2005-2007, but no, it seems you’ve had your lot, at least as far as the current administration is concerned. Given the very basic data that is available from 2010 and the fact that the Revenue Commissioners’ system has already offered up the 2010-onwards data, you might have thought that getting at the previous years’ data was a matter of pressing a few buttons.

Yesterday, in the Oireachtas, the Sinn Fein finance spokesperson asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence Alan Shatter about the PSRA defraying its costs using perhaps advertising or sponsorship, and about the prospects for extending the database.

The full parliamentary question and response is here.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality the cost of extending the property price register to sales in calendar years 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009..

Deputy Pearse Doherty: To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality the consideration that has been given by him or by the Property Services Regulation Authority to commercialising the property price register..

Minister for Justice and Equality, Alan Shatter: Section 86 of the Property Services (Regulation) Act 2011 provides that the Property Services Regulatory Authority shall prepare and maintain a register of residential property prices in the State. The purpose of the Residential Property Prices Register is to provide up to date sale prices of residential properties sold in Ireland.  The production of sale prices for properties sold in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009, which represent the “boom” years for house prices, would serve no useful purpose in this regard.  Accordingly, I am advised that the Authority has no proposals to include such prices from those years in the Register.

The Residential Property Price Register cannot be commercialised by the Authority as it is required under the provisions of Section 86 of the 2011 Act to make the information contained in the Register available free of charge.

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NAMA’s former Head of Lending, Graham Emmett is a bit of a strange fish. He quit the Agency suddenly last January 2012, and in February 2012 a LinkedIn page emerged (pictured above) with Graham’s apparent profile with a current status of “Gone Fishing and Gardening” and recently he has become a partner in a British company, ICG Longbow, that has done business with NAMA. He spoke with the Sunday Independent in September 2012 and in an article titled “Exec quit NAMA ‘because of state interference’” Ronald Quinlan quoted Graham Emmett saying “It’s not just that. It’s the minimum salary and the requests for [pay] reductions and the long-term incentive plan, the whole gamut. It’s not just to do with bonuses”

Long-term incentive plan?

Apparently not, as yesterday the Sinn Fein finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance Michael Noonan about any such “long-term incentive plan” and the Minister says NAMA doesn’t “currently” operate any such plan. So, did all the fishing and gardening deaden Graham’s memory of his times in NAMA? Somehow I don’t think we’ve heard the last of the Graham Emmett/NAMA story…

The full partliamentary question is here:

Deputy Pearse Doherty: To ask the Minister for Finance if the National Asset Management Agency operates a so-called long-term incentive plan as part of its remuneration package offered to some employees; if he will provide an outline of the scheme and indicate the sums of money potentially on offer to employees benefiting from such a plan..

Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan : I am advised by the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) that it does not currently operate what the Deputy describes as a “long-term incentive plan” as part of its remuneration package offered to employees.

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NAMA really is the gift that keeps on giving to Ireland’s service sector. With no sign of any let-up in the money spent by NAMA on Ernst and Young, the firm which until recently employed Enda Farrell’s wife, Alice Kramer – yesterday we learned E&Y has been appointed receivers to a Limerick developer – there are also many other firms of lawyers, receivers and property companies which continue to ride the NAMA gravy train. Today, we learn of another hitherto-overlooked benefactor of NAMA’s professional fees largesse – the recruitment company.

Yesterday in the Oireachtas, the Sinn Fein finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance Michael Noonan just how much NAMA was spending on recruitment fees. Remembering that the NTMA advertises vacancies online and has a dedicated Human Resources department, the response is staggering. In 2011, when the NAMA headcount went from 100 to 200, the Agency spent €316,000 and for the first nine months of 2012, it has spent €197,000.  In 2012, we recently learned that NAMA has recruited 28 new employees whilst it has lost 15 – including Enda Farrell and Graham Emmett. So it seems the recruitment fees have proportionately rocketed in 2012.

In addition to external recruitment fees, it has been reported that the NAMA CEO, Brendan McDonagh takes particular and special interest in recruitment of NAMA employees, who now total 220. Brendan has in the past been reported to be working 75-hour weeks, with 5% of his working day spent on recruitment matters.

The full text of the parliamentary question is here.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: To ask the Minister for Finance if he will quantify the fees paid by the National Asset Management Agency for the recruitment of staff in 2011 and for the nine months ending 30 September 2012..

Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan: I am advised that the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) has incurred recruitment costs in respect of employees assigned to the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) of €316,000 during 2011 and €197,000 for the nine months ending 30 September.  Such recruitment costs include fees paid to recruitment agencies, pre-employment medical tests and psychometric testing, and advertising.  The NTMA and NAMA have sought to minimise recruitment costs through the direct advertisement of staff vacancies on their websites.  Under Section 42 (4) of the National Asset Management Agency Act, NAMA is required to reimburse NTMA for the costs incurred including the recruitment and assignment of staff to NAMA.

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