Taoiseach defends Denis Naughten amid accusations of 'contaminating' tendering process of broadband contract

Taoiseach defends Denis Naughten amid accusations of 'contaminating' tendering process of broadband contract
Denis Naughten

Communications Minister Denis Naughten has been accused of "contaminating" the tendering process of the multi-million national broadband contract.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has been forced to defend the Independent Minister in the Dáil, claiming a meeting he had in July with David McCourt, head of the sole remaining consortium bidding for the Government’s rural broadband scheme, was "administrative".

There were heated exchanges as Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin claimed the Taoiseach's explanation of the discussion which took place during a dinner in New York hosted by Mr McCourt was "not credible".

"People externally looking into this country, they might be tempted to say now that the key to getting a lucrative contract in Ireland is face time with the Minister.

"We have had tribunals about this type of thing in the past it is extraordinary Taoiseach that this has occurred.

"In my view the Minister has contaminated the process," he told the Dáil.

The roll-out of broadband has already been subject to delays and controversy with all but one of the bidders pulling out of the tendering process.

Mr Varadkar stressed the Government's commitment to providing high-speed broadband to every home and defended Mr Naghten's decision to attend the meeting.

The Taoiseach said that Mr McCourt has been a "significant investor in the country for 10 years employing hundreds of people".

He added: "The procurement team has confirmed that in no way has the procurement process been compromised."

However, Mr Martin said the Taoiseach's response was "not credible".

He said that "four key items" were raised during the 10-minute conversation including the need for any changes in the makeup of the consortium to be avoided or kept to a minimum and the need for financing to be in place by the August deadline.

"Ministers should be insulated from such lobbying and such canvassing and if you as leader don't understand that, as Taoiseach, then we have a problem," said Mr Martin.

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