Unlocking NAMA

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When NAMA takes over a building it appoints a receiver’s firm to manage and to realize the value of that property. In the case of 66/67 Great Strand Street when enforcement action was taken on the building (which basically means it was repossessed) NAMA appointed the receiver’s firm Martin Ferris.

But when Unlock NAMA occupied the Great Strand Street property, we certainly weren’t received well. Martin Ferris contacted the Gardaí and put pressure on them to interrupt the day of talks and discussion by threatening mass arrest of those taking part, primarily citing ‘trespass with intent’. In other words, the assumption was that if people were managing their own resources there must be an intent to cause criminal damage. In fact, the building was already quite damaged due to neglect and Unlock NAMA had put considerable work into cleaning it up for the launch.

When Unlock NAMA was interviewed by a number of newspapers and radios on the day of the launch, we were frequently questioned about the so-called illegal nature of our action. Our first, and most important, response was to point to the bigger picture: how can it be a crime for the people who underwrote €32 billion in NAMA bonds to use properties held by NAMA?

Beyond this general point, thinking through exactly what was at stake in the actions of Martin Ferris tells us something important about how NAMA works and it also allows us to address the question of the legal issues in relation to occupying a NAMA building.

Beginning with the latter, what has to be underlined is that our action was not illegal. The act of using a NAMA building for social or political projects is, literarily, not a crime.

What happened on the 28th of January was that Martin Ferris took a decision to criminalize those who were taking part in Unlock NAMA’s launch. It is only upon request of the “owner” that the Guards can evict people from a property. If Martin Ferris, which for legal purposes is considered the owner of the property, had simply done nothing the whole action would have been perfectly legal.

To clarify what is at stake here, let’s recall that here we have a receiver’s firm appointed by a state agency (and paid €180 per hour) criminalizing citizens. This is a case of a firm which effectively works for us using the guards to evict us from a building which effectively belongs to us in order to keep that property empty.

In terms of future occupations, then, we have to emphasize that if NAMA were to instruct the receiver’s firm to refrain from calling the guards, the social and public use of NAMA properties could proceed without any legal issues arising.

But this whole debacle also tells us something about how NAMA operates.

NAMA has described itself as a ‘public agency with a commercial remit’. This mix of public and commercial highlights the fact that NAMA is representative of the intertwining of the state and the market and, more specifically, the state’s collaboration with and supporting of commercial interests. In this instance, those interests relate to property. NAMA is, of course, protecting the interests of property speculators and the whole industry around property. It does so through ‘developer debt forgiveness’ (in many cases developers will pay back only a fraction of what they owe NAMA) and it does so by handouts (over 100 developers are on NAMA’s payroll). Indeed, NAMA’s staff are themselves primarily people who were, ‘back in the day’, up to their oxters in the property game. Take, for example, Donal Kellegher, who previously worked with Savills, one of the largest players in the property game and a company which has been hired by NAMA for valuation of assets and as a receiver.

In this regard, the receiver’s are no different. These are firms that operate very much in the free for all of property speculation and the financial sector in Ireland and beyond. And some of the receiver’s employed by NAMA have a track record of incompetence and/or corruption. Ernst and Young, one such firm, were involved in the infamous controversy at Anglo Irish Bank. In order to dupe the regulator (and the markets) the Chief Executive of Anglo, Sean FitzPatrick, was in the habit of shifting huge loans he had given to himself from Anglo to Irish Nationwide. This is exactly the kind of thing Ernst and Young, as the auditor in this instance, should have picked up on. But they didn’t.

When called before parliamentary committee (i.e. when there was some attempt to hold them to account) they declined, following legal advice. Only a short while later NAMA is paying out to the same firm to manage “national assets”. In 2012 NAMA expects to pay €75m or €1,500,000 per week to Ernst and Young and the other receiver’s firms.

The relationship between NAMA and the receiver’s firms it employs is just one more example of what can only be described as state-sponsored property speculation. Property speculation is fundamental to the business of receiver’s firms like Martin Ferris. After all, they specialize in selling these kind of assets. These are firms which are clearly incapable of thinking about the value of property in any other way then in terms of speculative value. The fact that the properties under NAMA are our homes, our cities and our countryside is neither here nor there for the receivers. Their job is to make a quick buck from ‘distressed assets’.

It is clearly inappropriate that NAMA (let’s not forget that the NAMA Act says that the purpose of the agency is to contribute to the “social and economic development of the state”) should appoint firms such as Martin Ferris to manage its assets. And it is outrageous that receiver’s firms should be criminalizing those who want to challenge NAMA and the logic of property speculation more generally.

Receiver’s firms should remain out of the political process around NAMA since they are commercial agencies which are completely unaccountable and have no democratic mandate.

By appointing receiver’s firms, however, NAMA can keep the actual management of assets at arms length, leaving the ‘dirty work’ to receiver’s firms. What we confront here is a tag team operation in which state and market forces work together to protect property speculation.

About Unlock NAMA

Unlock NAMA is a campaign to access NAMA properties for social and community use and to hold NAMA to account. While NAMA is all about giving public money to private banks, we want to make public buildings available to the public.

NAMA’s bank bailout has been a complete failure: the banks have needed more hand outs and even nationalisation yet they still are not lending. Meanwhile NAMA is squandering the property it has acquired and providing massive debt forgiveness to developers.

To challenge this we will:

  • Pull back the veil of secrecy NAMA hides behind by identifying the assets it holds and whatis being done with them. We will be the watchdog NAMA does not want.
  • Work with anyone who wants to put existing NAMA assets to social or cultural uses byhelping to identify the NAMA buildings in their local area and by supporting them in gaining access to those buildings. While NAMA wants to socialize commercial losses, we want to socialize resources.
  • Challenge debt. From the national debt generated by NAMA to family mortgages, debt isrobbing us of our individual and collective future.

Follow Unlock NAMA on….

The web: www.unlocknama.org

Facebook: Facebook.com/unlocknama

Twitter: @unlocknama

Email: unlocknama@gmail.com

Photos courtesy of Come Here to Me!

Updated 21/08/12

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One Response

  1. Donnacha

    February 15, 2012 9:43 am

    An important piece, another step in the dismantling the NAMA’s hall of mirrors – more of same please