The Northern Ireland Assembly is no stranger to crises and scandal. They tend to erupt regularly but, like a recurring cycle, go unresolved only to be replaced by another. Cynicism has people believe this stubborn arrangement is the price of maintaining the North’s power-sharing government.
However, the scandal surrounding Project Eagle, the sale of NAMA’s massive northern loan portfolio, simply keeps on giving. The fall-out continues to engulf the political and business establishment in the North and South and is speeding up the erosion of their credibility.
A second BBC Spotlight NI documentary revealed how businessman Frank Cushnahan accepted tens of thousands in illegal payments from a northern property developer, John Miskelly. Cushnahan was appointed as an advisor to NAMA in 2010 by the DUP. Miskelly paid Cushnahan to use his position to get his assets out of NAMA.
NAMA’s northern portfolio, made up of some 850 properties, was estimated to be worth £4.5 billion but was sold for less than £1.3 billion to the US based global investment firm, Cerberus Capital Management. As a result, Irish taxpayers lost out on nearly £200 million.
An earlier deal for the portfolio with PIMCO, another US based investment company, fell through after it was revealed Cushnahan and a few others were to receive £15 million in ‘fees’ for working on the sale.
Cerberus representatives, including former US Vice President Dan Quayle, met with Peter Robinson, DUP leader and Northern Ireland First Minister at the time, in Stormont to discuss the sale.
During a subsequent Stormont investigation Robinson denied he was set to receive millions in payments for helping push through the fire sale deal. However, £7 million had been diverted by a Belfast based law firm involved in the portfolio to an Isle of Man account.
In secret recordings aired on Spotlight, Cushnahan makes clear he is working with top DUP leaders Robinson and MLA Sammy Wilson to get the NAMA officials to agree to the sale.
During the Stormont investigations, Sinn Féin leader and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, claims he knew nothing about the PIMCO and Cerberus deals. This is difficult to fathom given the size of the portfolio and the amount of money involved.
Daithi McKay was forced to resign as Sinn Féin MLA for North Antrim and chair of the Stormont Finance committee, after it was revealed he coached Loyalist Jamie Bryson on how to expose Peter Robinson’s involvement in the Project Eagle investigations.
The whole affair stinks.
Since political institutions on either side of the border are so deeply entrenched in the crisis, it can only be solved through an all-Ireland investigation. Peter Robinson and the others involved in the Project Eagle fiasco must be held to account.
Establishment parties and institutions will set limits to any investigations in order to protect their credibility. Only relentless pressure on the Stormont and the Dáil can deliver a full investigation that sees Peter Robinson, Frank Cushnahan and others held properly accountable.
The individual profiteering and cover-ups orchestrated by powerful political and business interests reveals the rotteness of the Irish establishment but the scandal also reveals how Ireland is integrated into an intensely exploitative global system.
Irish governments, North and South, consistently put the interests of plundering firms like Cerberus before those of millions people facing poverty and cuts. Our campaigns against austerity and injustice need to develop into a socialist challenge to the entire system.