Robinson willing to face committee on October 14

First Minister Peter Robinson has said he will appear before the Stormont finance committee on October 14

PETER Robinson has said he is willing to appear on October 14 before the Stormont committee probing the sale of Nama's northern debt portfolio.

However, there has been no date agreed for appearances by his DUP colleagues Sammy Wilson and Simon Hamilton, who agreed in principle to appear at the inquiry more than a month ago.

Mr Robinson, who was last week named by loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson as one of five recipients of a £7.5m "success fee" from the £1.3bn sale of Nama's Northern Ireland loan book, said he would give oral evidence to the finance committee in a fortnight's time.

The first minister has repeatedly denied that he was set to benefit in any way from the money lodged in a offshore bank account and said to have been controlled by solicitor and former CBI regional head Ian Coulter. He described Mr Bryson's performance as a pantomime.

One line of questioning the first minister is likely to face relates to his and his party's change of attitude about the sale of Project Eagle, the name given to Nama's northern debt book.

In the years following Nama's establishment, the DUP warned against the dangers of a 'fire sale' that would see the bad bank's loans sold off quickly and cheaply.

Led by former DUP finance minister Sammy Wilson, they argued that such quick disposals could destabilise the north's already depressed property sector. On one occasion Mr Wilson said "without Nama we might have had a catastrophe".

There was a marked change of tack from the DUP in 2013, first signalled by Mr Robinson's claim that Nama was inhibiting economic growth in the north.

The DUP leader acknowledged that on occasions the bad bank helped protect jobs and investment but in the first open criticism of its strategy, he argued that holding on to properties long-term stifled growth.

The DUP's volte-face is noted in a Nama briefing document for the Republic's finance minister Michael Noonan which was released by Dublin's Department of Finance on Wednesday night.

"It should be pointed out that the Northern Ireland Executive and particularly the DUP have repeatedly asked Nama to take a phased approach to asset sales in Northern Ireland, especially given the deleveraging being undertaken by the other financial institutions," the briefing paper states.

"The first minister's statement that he feels Nama should be more 'pro-active in asset sales' represents a total change in terms of his party's stated position/policy on this matter."

When the sale Nama's portfolio to Cerberus was announced in April last year Mr Robinson welcomed it as "good news" for the north's economy.


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