Denis Naughten refuses to clarify meeting discussing National Broadband Plan

Communications Minister Denis Naughten will not bow to calls to make a statement in the Dáil to clarify his dinner with US businessman David McCourt in New York.

Denis Naughten refuses to clarify meeting discussing National Broadband Plan

Communications Minister Denis Naughten will not bow to calls to make a statement in the Dáil to clarify his dinner with US businessman David McCourt in New York.

Mr Naughten’s department did release minutes of the meeting with Mr McCourt, who is head of the sole remaining consortium bidding for the Government’s rural broadband scheme.

The minutes show that a 10-minute discussion took place between Department of Communications officials and Mr McCourt during the dinner in New York in July.

They show that Mr McCourt brought up several issues raised by the department during the procurement process.

Chief among those issues was “the need for any changes in the make-up of the consortium to be avoided, or if necessary, to be kept to a minimum”.

During a brief discussion regarding the National Broadband Plan, according to the minutes, Mr McCourt underlined his ongoing commitment to the process.

He addressed four issues which he understood had previously been raised by Mr Naughten’s officials for clarification.

They included the need for a permanent, Irish-based, leadership position within the Enet-led consortium (‘the consortium’) — this was being addressed and an individual has been selected for the role.

Another issue was the need for streamlined decision making processes within the consortium — provision for majority, rather than unanimous, decision-making is now in place.

He also addressed the importance of the August 15, 2018, deadline and the need for the necessary financing to be in place at that time: “This deadline will be met.”

And finally: “The need for any changes in the make-up of the consortium to be avoided or, if necessary, to be kept to a minimum: The importance of this issue is understood by the consortium, which has been advised [by Arthur Cox] that, as long as the consortium’s ‘lead bidder’ remains unchanged, such changes should not necessitate any delays”.

Mr Naughten attended the dinner last July even though Mr McCourt’s firm was bidding for the contract, which is worth an estimated €500m.

His spokeswoman told the Irish Examiner he is due to answer oral questions in the Dáil next Wednesday and the issue will arise then.

Mr Naughten defended his decision to accept an invitation to dinner with Mr McCourt, the chairman and founder of private investment firm Granahan McCourt.

“Is it the case that I shouldn’t meet with people prepared to come in and invest in the country?” Mr Naughten said on RTÉ radio programme Morning Ireland yesterday.

Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy said that Mr Naughten was wrong to accept the invitation while Mr McCourt’s firm was bidding for a Government contract. She said it helps undermine the credibility of the process.

“This, at the very least, creates the wrong perception,” she said. Given there is now only one bidder for the National Broadband Plan, Ms Murphy said it was all the more important for the Mr Naughten “to be one step beyond”.

“Anything that taints the public perception puts the whole process in question,” she said.

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