We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

Minister for Communications Denis Naughten Leah Farrell/Rollingnews
leaders' quesions

'The bid is contaminated': Communications Minister questioned over dinner with Broadband Plan bidder

The contract for the plan is estimated to be worth up to half a billion euro.

THE MINISTER FOR Communications has been questioned by TDs after it emerged that he booked a lunch in the Dáil for the family of David McCourt, the head of the only consortium still bidding for the tender for the National Broadband Plan. 

In the Dáil today, Denis Naughten said that he facilitated the lunch in the Dáil on 18 April, but that he did not attend it. 

Naughten has previously admitted to attending a dinner with McCourt in New York on 16 July while he was in the US as part of a delegation visiting the United Nations.

McCourt is the head of the consortium Granahan McCourt, which is leading an application to win the contract for the National Broadband Plan. 

During Leaders’ Questions this afternoon, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin questioned what happened at this New York dinner, saying it was important that ministers were insulated from lobbying during a tendering process.

Significant investor

“It is clear that Mr McCourt was trying to convince the Minister that he had addressed the Department officials’ concerns,” he said.

“He was canvassing. He was lobbying. And canvassing, Taoiseach, disqualifies him.”

Martin argued that, as a result of the dinner, foreign investors could be led to believe that meeting ministers face-to-face would enable them to win lucrative State contracts in future.

However, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar defended Naughten’s attendance at the dinner, saying that McCourt has been a “significant investor” in Ireland in recent years.

The Fine Gael leader argued that if the minister was unable to meet with individuals such as McCourt, then it also ruled him out of meeting the heads of RTÉ and TG4.

“The engagement in question took place in a social setting, and the engagement of the NBP lasted no more than 10 minutes, with Mr McCourt directing his comments to officials from the Department,” he said.

‘Meat of the bid’

The Taoiseach added that the New York dinner took place two months before the evaluation stage for the bid, and that McCourt himself also said the tender was not discussed.

But pointing to the minutes of the meeting, Martin indicated that four points about the bid – including the deadline, financing and decision-making processes, and the leadership of the consortium – were discussed.

“This is the meat,” he said. “This is the goddamn meat of the bid.

“This is Mr McCourt saying ‘I’ve answered the case’. Do you not find it’s quite exrtraordinary Taoiseach, that we are where we are even discussing this?”

Meanwhile, Social Democrats leader Catherine Murphy claimed the Minister had, by his own admission, tainted the tendering process.

She said the dinner contravened both procurement guidelines and the Department’s own protocol in the regulation that was drafted specifically to regulate the NBP process.

“It is interesting that the Minister, despite prolific spinning and semantics about his various dinner dates with David McCourt and family, has not defended his flagrant breach of his own Department’s protocols,” she said.

Readers like you are keeping these stories free for everyone...
A mix of advertising and supporting contributions helps keep paywalls away from valuable information like this article. Over 5,000 readers like you have already stepped up and support us with a monthly payment or a once-off donation.

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel