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Naughten admits more private meetings with head of broadband bidding group

Richard Bruton is to take over the role of Communications Minister temporarily.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

RICHARD BRUTON HAS been appointed to temporarily hold the role of Minister for Communications after Denis Naughten resigned this afternoon. 

The Taoiseach made the announcement in the Dáil this afternoon.

Naughten had come under pressure due to his meetings with the head of the only group bidding for the National Broadband Plan contract.

Naughten had earlier admitted to attending a dinner with David McCourt – head of the Granahan McCourt consortium – in New York in July, while yesterday it emerged that the minister facilitated a lunch in the Dáil for McCourt’s daughter in April.

Varadkar told the Dáil today that he had a private meeting with Naughten last night, and was told after midnight by Naughten that he remembered he had had a private dinner with David McCourt. He said that Minister of State Pat Breen had also met McCourt at this dinner.

Varadkar said that this morning he met with Naughten again, who told him that he had at least three other private dinners with McCourt, with no officials present. There were no minutes of these meetings. 

“I have no doubt that his intentions were honourable at all points but I do believe he left himself open to allegations” of an inappropriate relationship with McCourt, and could have brought the National Broadband Plan tendering project into question, jeopardising it, said Varadkar. 

Varadkar said that Naughten had given his resignation to him in writing, and that he is now to assign Richard Bruton to the role temporarily.

The Taoiseach said that sometimes in his role he has to make decisions that “may cause deep personal distress”, adding that he has known Naughten for 20 years.

Speaking this evening to RTÉ Six One News, Naughten said that the Taoiseach asked him to consider his position today, and he made the decision to resign this afternoon “because I felt I didn’t have the support of the Taoiseach in relation to this”.

Optics

Naughten said that his job as Minister for Communications was to bring broadband to 1.1 million people and improve phone networks, and that:

All of these networks are privatised and I can only progress this agenda by meeting with the private sector and engaging with them. That’s my job as minister, that is my role as minister and that is what I did as minister. Because of the optics now I am in a position where I can’t…

He said that any times he has had meetings in relation to the National Broadband Plan, they have been minuted.

Asked would he support the government in the Dáil, Naughten said he will make that decision on a case-by-case basis.

1749 Richard Bruton_90544483 Richard Bruton Source: Eamonn Farrell

Speaking to Ivan Yates on Newstalk this evening, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said:

“The Taoiseach has asked Peter Smith to report to him directly as to whether he regards the process as undermined or not and that will happen quickly.”

When asked if Pat Breen’s position is it tenable, Coveney said that depends on the conversation.

The Taoiseach will be talking to him this evening, to understand the detail of his involvement and we’ll move on from there. There’s no question of hiding anything here, if there’s one thing Leo Varadkar is, it’s transparent.

Naughten had earlier told the Dáil today that he had offered to pass over the NBP process to his junior minister, or to another line Cabinet minister, but this offer was refused by the Taoiseach. 

The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar met with Denis Naughten last night. 

“The Taoiseach does not have confidence in me,” Naughten said this afternoon.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

Naughten said he was left in a difficult position, where the opposition had not called for him to step aside, nor had the Taoiseach, but added that he had to reflect himself. 

Do I wait for that decision myself, to resign, or do I wait for someone else to make that decision for me?

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