Martin slams ‘ridiculous’ defence of Naughten lobbyist phone call

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has described as “ridiculous” the defence given by Communications Minister Denis Naughten, who had said his call with a lobbyist for Independent News and Media (INM) was “personal”.

Micheál Martin at the annual Fianna Fáil Easter Rising 1916 Commemoration which took place at Arbour Hill, Dublin. Pic: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

Mr Martin is demanding an apology from Mr Naughten, but will not call for his resignation. Following the confirmation of a call between Mr Naughten and lobbyist Eoghan Ó Neachtain, Fianna Fáil had shied away from a motion of no confidence in him.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner yesterday, Mr Naughten said: “I have said that I sincerely regret giving an opinion but I reiterate I also stated very clearly that I would adhere to the advice of my officials. And I have also stated it would have been preferable had the conversation not taken place.”

At a 1916 commemoration event yesterday at Arbour Hill in Dublin, Mr Martin said it was very important that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Mr Naughten state unequivocally that what was done was wrong.

“I think many people find the minister’s defence in the Dáil as incredible,” he said. “The Taoiseach started this by suggesting what happened initially was a personal view.

“You can’t distinguish a personal view from his responsibility as a minister in relation to media mergers. That was a ridiculous statement to make.

“Secondly, he compounded the original wrong by the manner of his defence in the Dáil. I think the Taoiseach has to be categoric in the Dáil, and so must the minister, that what he did was wrong. I think the minister should apologise for what he did.

“If it’s the Government view that this is something which is OK, then I do think we have a problem in terms of future behaviour.”

Mr Martin said the matter needs to be pursued further, and denied he was simply posturing on the issue by ruling out a motion of no confidence.

“No, it’s not,” he said. “There are some very clear principles at stake and the behaviour, how ministers behave in terms of discharging their statutory responsibilities. We in the Dáil must hold ministers to account and the Taoiseach to account. 

"It’s not just enough to put up the shutters and try defend the indefensible. I’m surprised by the minister’s performance in the Dáil last week. I presumed he was going to come in and take a different approach and articulate in a different way on it.

“Ultimately, all laws need to be enforced. There need to be penalties if those laws are not adhered to. All regulations can only go so far. It’s the actual enforcement of regulation where we as a country tend to fall down.

"Enforcement of regulation in relation to lobbying is clearly something that should be looked at now, in relation to what has happened.”

Mr Martin also said he would shy away from door-to-door campaigning on the Eighth Amendment referendum, which is less than five weeks away.

“As a legislator, we must take on board the views of all of the people and not force our views on anyone,” he said. “There is a mood out in the country for change in relation to the Eighth Amendment itself and I will continue to advocate for that.”

And while he will use the media to speak out, he said he was unsure if the people want to be told what to do by politicians.

“In terms of doorstep campaigning, my own sense is a lot of people want to be left to their own thinking,” he said. “They are not overly enthusiastic about the prospect of politicians coming and telling them what to do.”

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