The National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) was created by the Southern government in the wake of the property crash to bail out the highly exposed Irish banking sector. It mopped up more than €70 billion worth of toxic loans, including a sizeable property portfolio in the North originally valued at €6.5 billion. Under the legislation, banks and property developers were barred from buying back investments from NAMA at prices less than the full amount they owed on them.
The BBC’s Spotlight programme has uncovered a scandal surrounding the activities of Frank Cushnahan, nominated in 2010 by the DUP’s then Finance Minister Sammy Wilson as a member of NAMA’s NI advisory committee.
In the tapes obtained by the BBC, Cushnahan suggested that senior DUP figures – namely Peter Robinson and Sammy Wilson – could put political pressure on the Southern government to sell NAMA’s Northern property portfolio at a rock-bottom price to a vulture fund. This fund would then make a quick buck by selling properties back to their former owners for less than the value of their loans.
This is essentially what has transpired. In 2014, US vulture fund Cerberus Capital purchased the portfolio for the knock-down price of £1.2 billion. Cushnahan was recorded in 2012 accepting a large payments from property developer John Miskelly, aimed at securing his investments. Further controversy surrounds the lodgement of £7 million by Ian Coulter – a lawyer employed by Cerberus in connection with the NAMA deal – into a bank account in the Isle of Man, allegedly earmarked for as yet undisclosed Northern politicians and business people.
Latest in a series of scandals
Allegations of corruption surrounding senior figures in the DUP and “fellow travellers” in the world of property development are nothing new. Spotlight itself has made a number of revealing programmes on this issue. The failure of the Stormont Assembly to provide any serious accountability was revealed again by the farcical events where Sinn Féin’s Daithí McKay was forced to resign following his coaching of Loyalist Jamie Bryson before giving testimony to the Stormont Finance Committee, which McKay chaired, regarding the scandal. Sinn Féin are happy to work with the DUP in implementing austerity, working to cut corporation tax and serving the interests of big business. But they are not averse to scoring cheap point in the run-up to elections.
Corruption is endemic to capitalism. It is testament to the parasitic lunacy of the neo-liberal capitalism championed by our political elites that, in the face of a massive social housing shortage North and South, these properties were handed over to an American vulture fund in the hope of re-inflating the property bubble, rather than being used to meet the immediate need for homes