There was no evidence that halting the sale of the controversial Project Eagle portfolio of loans in Northern Ireland would have been in the best interest of the taxpayer, according to Minister for Finance Michael Noonan.

He was appearing before the Public Accounts Committee, which is holding a series of meetings inquiring into the disposal of the loans related to properties in NI.

Minister Noonan took issue with suggestions he should have halted the sale of the portfolio of loans.

He argued there was no legal basis for him to get involved in commercial decisions.

He said he was not involved in discussions about setting up an inquiry into Project Eagle.

Mr Nolan also said he expects to give evidence to an inquiry, as he is doing with the PAC, and has therefore removed himself from meetings ahead of that inquiry.

Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald said the sale had clearly been corrupted because of the issue of fixer fees connected to Frank Cushnahan - a member of the National Asset Management Agency's advisory board.

She said these issues were not commercial.

However Mr Noonan argued that when the issue of the fixer fees became clear, NAMA halted its initial proposed sale to US fund PIMCO.

In his opening statement, the minister expressed his full confidence in NAMA and in the Comptroller and Auditor General, saying their differences of opinion did not alter his continuing confidence in either.

Although it is not normal practice for a minister to appear before the PAC, Mr Noonan agreed to do so following the release of a controversial report by the Comptroller and Auditor General into the sale of the portfolio, known as Project Eagle.

The report found the sale incurred a potential loss to the taxpayer of £190m on the sale after previous write downs were included.

The Government has already agreed to set up a statutory commission of investigation into the sale, headed by a serving or retired judge.

NAMA "categorically rejected" the key conclusions reached by the C&AG saying the key finding of the report is "fundamentally unsound and unstable and cannot be left unchallenged".

Around this time last year, Mr Noonan said, the Department of Finance provided the committee with over 40 documents regarding his and his department's knowledge of the sale process.

He said he and the Northern Ireland Executive shared an understanding of the importance of NAMA to the economy in Northern Ireland and the care needed in dealings in Northern Ireland regarding NAMA's management of its portfolio of assets in that jurisdiction and any potential sales process.

In light of these sensitivities, the minister said he had a number of discussions with members of the NI Executive regarding NAMA's Northern Ireland loan portfolio and a potential sales process, which he pointed out are a matter of public record.

He said there was no political pressure on NAMA regarding the sale.

The minister told the committee that the decision by the Taoiseach and other party leaders to have a judicial inquiry into the sale of Project Eagle was probably the right decision.

Mr Noonan said there is such contention now and so many people thinking that something improper happened, that it was in the public interest.

In response, Fianna Fáil’s Bobby Aylward put it to the minister that there is "no smoke without fire".

Mr Noonan replied: "I understand that's scientifically incorrect", which led to laughter.

Noonan 'one of the links in the chain'

PAC Chairman Seán Fleming has said Mr Noonan is "one of the links in the chain in relation to the sales process".

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Sean O'Rourke, Mr Fleming said the PAC wants Mr Noonan to outline full details of a phone conversation held between himself, NAMA officials and Northern Ireland politicians on 14 January 2014.

Mr Fleming said he was not suggesting that Mr Noonan is responsible for any personal wrongdoing, but he wanted to establish the links in the chain of what he knew and his actual involvement.

He said that PAC would like Mr Noonan to clearly set out his policy in relation to his views on bulk sales by NAMA and what further discussions, if any, the Minister held with NAMA officials ahead of the final decision to do the deal with Cerberus.

"We just want to get it on the record of his involvement in the process, and that's why he's being brought in because he was personally involved," Mr Fleming said.

"Let's find out what went in those phone calls. What you do have to say is, when a minister and senior politicians from Northern Ireland are personally involved in the phone call - did that influence NAMA.

"In relation to other sales by NAMA, did the Minister personally become involved in phone calls, was this unique?"

In addition, Mr Fleming said that they would like to ask if Mr Noonan knows anything about leaked content from the C&AG report.

Last week, the PAC hearings on the matter got under way, with NAMA and C&AG appearing.

Seven people interviewed under caution over NAMA's NI portfolio sale - NCA

The director general of the UK's National Crime Agency (NCA) has said that so far seven people have been interviewed under caution by NCA officers investigating the sale of NAMA's Northern Ireland property portfolio.

Lynne Owens, who was briefing members of the Policing Board in Belfast, said six people remain under criminal investigation and are deemed suspects.

She said they would not be naming any of those arrested or interviewed.

The NCA took over the NAMA inquiry from the PSNI last July and are working with other law enforcement agencies in Ireland, the Isle of Man and the USA.