National Asset Management Agency

Oral Answers to Questions – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 pm on 17th February 2014.

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Photo of Daithí McKay Daithí McKay Sinn Féin 2:30 pm, 17th February 2014

3. asked the Minister of Finance and Personnel what discussions he has had with NAMA in the past week, given the importance of its portfolio to the local economy and markets. (AQT 723/11-15)

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

I have not had any discussions this week with NAMA.  I am sure that the Member will refer to reports in the media, although I will try, as best as I can, not to pre-empt his supplementary question.  I have had no conversations with NAMA this week, although I intend to have a conversation early next week.

Photo of Daithí McKay Daithí McKay Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.  I thank the Minister for his answer.  It is important to appreciate the commercial sensitivities on this issue.  Will the Minister reassure us that the Executive and the Dublin Government are making it quite clear that there is a need for responsible management of the NAMA portfolio to avoid any adverse effect on the local economy?

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

The Member, and most Members, will have seen news reports towards the tail-end of last week on speculation about a potential buyer for the Northern Ireland portfolio.  As I understand it, it is not only for assets in Northern Ireland but for assets that are owned by Northern Ireland people.  Those assets will predominantly be in Northern Ireland, but they could also be in Great Britain, the Republic or elsewhere.  It has the potential to be very good for Northern Ireland as we get towards the business end of what NAMA has to do.  NAMA has taken a responsible approach over the past number of years, but it is getting to the stage in its process at which it will have to start to realise some benefit and money from the assets that it holds in Northern Ireland and elsewhere.  I am sure that the investor, who has been mooted in the press as having the backing of a $2 trillion fund, will take a longer-term view of NAMA's assets in Northern Ireland.  It has the potential to be very good in unlocking the huge potential in many of the assets that are locked up in NAMA.

However, it would be utterly inappropriate for me to discuss the merits or otherwise of particular bids with NAMA.  We have an interest in what happens to those assets.  From the outset, at the institution of NAMA, we encouraged it not to go down the route of a fire sale, and, to be fair, it has not.  It has acted incredibly responsibly, and, in some respects, has been very good for the property market in Northern Ireland by carefully letting some assets out in the construction sector, in housing and in commercial properties.  When I next speak to NAMA, I will continue to impress upon it that whatever happens with the portfolio, whether it remains in NAMA's hands or goes to somebody else, it must ensure that the assets are handled with great sensitivity and that the property market in Northern Ireland, which is showing good signs and improving gradually, is not wounded or damaged in any way by a sale to somebody who wants to earn a fast buck.