IRELAND – Irish Life has sold its 17% stake in National Asset Management Agency Investment Limited (NAMAIL) to a company owned by UK-based investment firm Walbrook Capital.

As a result, Eurostat, the statistical office of the EU, has withdrawn a reservation it made in April this year concerning the ownership of the agency's investment arm.

Ireland set up NAMA to acquire risky loans from five Irish banks, and NAMAIL was set up as the vehicle to hold those loans to keep them off the government balance sheet.

NAMAIL is 49% owned by NAMA, and 51% by private investors.

However, the government's purchase of Irish Life earlier this year gave it a majority holding in NAMAIL, potentially bringing the loans back on to the government balance sheet and increasing its debt-to-GDP ratio.

Ray Gordon, spokesman at Irish Life, said: "By selling the 17% stake to a private investor, these loans have now remained off-balance sheet."

Sources close to NAMA said it was "encouraging" that international investors had been prepared to invest in the agency.

Michael Keeley, senior partner at Walbrook Capital, said: "The decision to invest in NAMAIL followed a careful assessment of the outlook for the Irish economy and in particular its property sector, which we believe is now close to stabilisation. 

"Furthermore, we were impressed by the NAMA management team and the progress they have achieved to date. 

"Consequently, we believe NAMAIL represents an excellent long-term investment opportunity."