“Deputy Joe Higgins should note that the site is under the control of NAMA and that, as a consequence, Mr. Murphy does not gain. NAMA gains if there is any gain. NAMA represents the people in trying to get back the moneys that were lost.” Minister for Heath James Reilly in Dail debate on 3rd October, 2012
One of the remaining dangling threads in the James Reilly/Balbriggan site affair is the NAMA angle. Minister for Health James Reilly stated on at least two occasions – the RTE radio Pat Kenny show and whilst delivering a statement in the Dail – that his constituency associate, Seamus Murphy, who owns the controversial site in Balbriggan on which a primary health care centre is to be built, did not stand to benefit from the development of the medical facility. Minister Reilly stated “Mr Murphy does not gain” from the development, because apparently Mr Murphy has loans which are in NAMA. The Minister also stated in the Dail debate last week “I have no business connection with Mr. Murphy. I had no discussions with him about the primary care centre and I have absolutely no role in the selection of a site”
Hmmm, now how would Minister Reilly know that Seamus Murphy wouldn’t gain from the development of the site? After all, what is now contemplated is that a company called Rhonellen Limited would buy the site from Seamus Murphy and develop the facility in a public private partnership with the Health Services Executive. So Seamus Murphy will receive the sale price from Rhonellen Limited, a totally unconnected company controlled by AJ Noonan. In order for Seamus Murphy NOT to benefit, the loan outstanding on the site would need to be more than the sale price. Now how would Minister Reilly know that.
And was there any contact between Minister Reilly or his representatives with NAMA. After all, Minister Reilly’s parliamentary assistant Councillor Tom O’Leary told the local newspaper, the Fingal Independent in May 2012 “The HSE are positively supportive of the plan. I have made representations to the appropriate authorities to move the plan forward. I understand the local doctors and the developer are anxious to submit their planning application as soon as possible” Were there representations to NAMA? Could those representations have constituted “lobbying” which NAMA would be duty-bound to report to the Gardai?
In the Dail this week, the Sinn Fein finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance Michael Noonan for clarity on the relations between Minister Reilly and NAMA and also if NAMA might have disclosed the details of loans to Minister Reilly as Minister Reilly says he never discussed the primary care centre with Seamus Murphy. The responses from Minister Noonan show why we need the Freedom of Information legislation to apply to NAMA – Minister Noonan tells Deputy Doherty to get lost and that NAMA’s operations are confidential though the Minister does helpfully say at least that NAMA would not disclose loan details to a minister. So again, how would Minister Reilly be able to say – on more than one occasion – that Seamus Murphy would not benefit from the development of the primary care centre in Balbriggan.
The full parliamentary questions and responses are shown below. There is a feature blogpost on the Balbriggan site here.
Deputy Pearse Doherty: To ask the Minister for Finance in respect of a site at 66, 68 and 70 Dublin street, Balbriggan, North County Dublin if the National Asset Management Agency has been contacted by the Minister for Health or his Department or his representatives or the Health Service Executive, and if there has been such contact on the subject of this site, the date of the contract or contacts; the identity of the person or persons making the contact or contacts and the nature of the contact or contacts..
Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan: I am advised by the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) that information relating to its debtors and properties within their control is, within the meaning of Sections 99 and 202 of the NAMA Act 2009, confidential and that it is therefore precluded from discussing such matters.
Deputy Pearse Doherty: To ask the Minister for Finance if, pursuant to the anti-lobbying rules set out in Section 221 of the National Asset Management Agency Act 2009, NAMA would be duty-bound to report to An Garda Siochana contact from a Minister or his Department or his representatives, which sought to promote a property subject to a loan from NAMA or contact which sought to influence a decision by NAMA..
Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan: Under Section 221 of the National Asset Management Act (NAMA), it is an offence to communicate with NAMA with the intention of influencing the making of a decision in relation to the performance of its functions. If such an attempt were to be made, the Act imposes an obligation on an officer or Board member of NAMA to report it to a member of the Garda Síochána. I am satisfied that NAMA officers and Board members would fulfill their legal obligations in the event that they were subject to representations which were in breach of Section 221.
Deputy Pearse Doherty: To ask the Minister for Finance if he will confirm that details of loans managed by the National Asset Management Agency and its debtors are confidential, and that in relation to any specific NAMA debtor, details of the sums outstanding on loans and the value of collateral and specifically if the sums outstanding on loans are greater than the value of collateral, are not details that are publicly available, or which would be provided by NAMA to a Minister.
Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan: I am advised by the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) that information relating to its debtors and to properties within their control is, within the meaning of Sections 99 and 202 of the NAMA Act 2009, confidential and that it is therefore precluded from disclosing such information to third parties.
In the case of property under the control of debtors, NAMA is precluded, under Section 202 of the NAMA Act, from disclosing confidential information. Confidential information is specifically defined to include information relating to debtors. Furthermore, Section 99 of the Act provides that, on acquisition of a loan, NAMA takes over the obligations of the participating institutions under the loan, one of which is the contractual duty of confidentiality which the debtor enjoyed while still a customer of the participating institution. Information about debtors or their properties is also protected against disclosure by the Data Protection Act, which NAMA must comply with as data controller.