Nama and how the cause of impoverished developers became a national cause celebre

It’s hard to remember, but for all the high controversy around Nama, there is still no direct evidence of law breaking having taken place. Much of the material in Mick Wallace’s contribution to the Dail (he has an OpEd in today’s IT) has proven at best incomplete, at worst misleading.

What appears to be driving the story is the anger of a number of developers (some of whom, like Mick, have conflicting interests) who feel their properties were undervalued by the whole exercise of pooling a number of NI assets and selling them off as a single bundle.

As John McManus notes, there was political pressure on Nama to make a deal from a Republic’s government then itself under huge fiscal pressure under pressure to pay bills without breaking the boundaries of the fiscal space.

A year later, with the economy taking off again and that pressure had eased: property prices moved up and the trauma to individual developer’s wealth might well have been avoided by taking the foot off the pedal.

This is the fuzzy territory in which Nama and the southern AG/CG find themselves at odds. And yet from what we reliably know already, and even though it’s arguable that Frank Cushnahan acted unethically, no one has yet provided proof even he acted illegally.

As Michael McDowell pointed out yesterday Nama’s key problem arises from the way in which it was set up: such that no one was allowed make direct approaches to them. The idea was to keep them squeaky clean, but the result is that it finds it remarkably difficult to prove that.

On the same programme as McDowell, Colum Eastwood said he wanted to unbutton the 2005 Enquiries Act with an amendment and move to have a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Belfast, Dublin and London to enable criminal investigations to co-operate across borders.

He signalled the problem of getting it past the DUP, but the bigger roadblock is likely to be that there still no signs of any actual criminality having taken place. As McDowell notes, someone does need to put a rule over the whole operation of Nama, otherwise we’re chasing shadows.

The upshot is that a lot of hay has been made by turning vague allegations regarding value and misconduct into something harder, turning the case of a class of Irish businessmen/women (the mere mention of which six years ago would have caused a Twitter riot) into a remarkable cause celebre.