Who is Denis Naughten? Articulate and energetic TD hobbled by record of conflict

Born in Drum, Athlone, in June 1973, Denis Naughten grew up in a staunch Fine Gael house.

His father, Liam, was a Fine Gael TD (1982-1987) and was cathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann from 1995 to late 1996.

Following his father’s death in a car crash in 1997 at the age of just 52, Denis was elected to Seanad Éireann on the Agricultural Panel, making him the youngest senator.

Naughten was first elected to the Dáil, for the Longford–Roscommon constituency, in the 1997 general election, aged just 24.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and former Communications Minister Denis Naughten share a joke at the Government Open Policy Debate on Digital Safety in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, Dublin last March. Picture: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

He was re-elected in 2002, despite a hammering for Fine Gael, and was being considered as a possible leader of the party.

Articulate, energetic, and capable, Naughten can also be fiery and is known to have a temper, which has led to conflict with colleagues in the past.

In June 2010, he backed Richard Bruton’s leadership challenge against Enda Kenny and was singled out by a vengeful Kenny on his victory, who sought to punish “the man from the West who opposed him”.

On his re-election as leader, Kenny dropped Naughten from his front bench, while he kept the likes of Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney, thus cementing the bad blood between the pair.

On a record-breaking day at the polls for Fine Gael, Naughten held his seat in 2011, but was not elevated to Cabinet.

He quickly found himself in conflict with Kenny over plans to reduce capacity at Roscommon Hospital, and ultimately lost the whip and was cast further into the wilderness.

In September 2013, following the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, he and six other Fine Gael rebels formed the Reform Alliance, which led some to think they would form a new party.

Despite being part of a so-called Rural Alliance, he was the only one of the group to end up in Government, leading some to think he got more than he deserved.

Appointed Communications Minister, alongside the other non-aligned independent, Katherine Zappone, Naughten remained distant from the Independent Alliance.

Spoken of as an intelligent and considerate minister, Naughten managed to set aside his differences with Kenny and “got on with the job”.

In 2017, Naughten was nearly killed while cycling with his wife outside Fuerty, when he was struck by a car, sustaining back injuries.

He landed himself in trouble earlier this year, when it emerged he had been in contact with a lobbyist and former government press secretary, Eoghan Ó Neachtain, over the proposed merger of Celtic Media and Independent News and Media (INM).

Mr Ó Neachtain was working on behalf of INM at the time the call was made.

Naughten came under pressure to resign, but was, as Brendan Howlin said yesterday, “given a fool’s pardon” on that occasion.

However, despite the opposition not calling for his resignation over the broadband scandal, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar felt he could have no confidence in him and, in the space of eight minutes yesterday, Naughten resigned from Cabinet in dramatic circumstances.

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