Senator Sharon Keogan — NAMA Commission of Investigation
I wish to raise the issue of accountability. It is an area we could do better in Ireland in politics. The public at large is interested in it.
I understand that last month, solicitor Susan Gilvarry requested, and the Taoiseach subsequently approved, the 16th extension to the deadline of the final report of the commission of investigation into the National Assets Management Agency, NAMA, which was established in 2017 to investigate NAMA's disposal of the Northern Ireland loan portfolio to US vulture fund Cerberus Capital Management in a €1.4 billion transaction known as Project Eagle. The inquiry was originally due to deliver its final report at the end of June 2018 but has been repeatedly delayed.
The commission was established following consultations by the then Government with Opposition parties. Consultation occurred most notably perhaps with the then Deputy Mick Wallace in 2015, who put it to the then Tánaiste, Joan Burton, on 2 July, that a routine audit of the solicitor firms which looked after the deal showed that the portfolio sold for €1.5 billion was comprised of £4.5 billion of assets. It was alleged that £7 million ended up in an Isle of Man bank account earmarked for a Northern Ireland politician or party.
While the Government is to be commended for establishing the commission, it must ensure that it is capable of carrying out its duties. I understand that there have been procedural delays owing to the complex legal requirements surrounding evidence via witnesses and that cannot be helped.
It is also stated in the 15th interim report that the commission has only a small legal team and limited administrative resources and that this approach was adopted because the commission was, and remains, conscious of its duty to limit legal fees incurred insofar as possible.
With the commission now in its fifth year, surely there is a balance to be struck between cost and efficiency. How much is the difference in the cost to the taxpayer between an adequately staffed legal team funded in the medium term and a small legal team funded for years on end? If the Government is serious about accountability, it needs to look at resourcing that commission so we can get to the final report this year.