Taoiseach Leo Varadkar forced Denis Naughten to resign after learning at the 11th hour that he had held four more secret meetings with billionaire businessman, David McCourt.
Mr Varadkar revealed Mr Naughten’s admission in a hastily arranged Dáil statement in light of the Independent TD’s resignation as communications minister, which also saw the Taoiseach appoint Education Minister Richard Bruton to the role “on a temporary basis”.
In a prepared speech, which was later contradicted by Mr Naughten, Mr Varadkar told TDs that during a meeting on Wednesday night about concerns over three already known meetings with Mr McCourt, Mr Naughten had said he “just remembered” a further dinner last year.
Mr Varadkar said Mr Naughten then told him on Thursday morning about “at least” three other private dinners, a situation the Taoiseach said meant that Mr Naughten had to “reflect on his position”.
“He contacted me shortly before midnight [on Wednesday] to inform me he just remembered a private dinner in Mr McCourt’s home in 2017.
“I met with Deputy Naughten again [on Thursday morning] and he informed me he had at least three other private dinners with Mr McCourt,” said Mr Varadkar. “There were no officials present and there are no minutes. I have no doubt his intentions were honourable. But he left himself open to allegations of a conflict of interest, thus potentially jeopardising the broadband project in its entirety. I asked him to reflect on his position.”
During the same speech, Mr Varadkar also confirmed that he had met with Mr McCourt during a public St Patrick’s Day event in March, and that junior minister Pat Breen also attended a meeting between Mr Naughten and Mr McCourt.
However, Mr Naughten contradicted Mr Varadkar’s version of events last night, saying that he told the Taoiseach about all four subsequent meetings on Wednesday evening.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said: “Given what you said, I think he took the right decision.”
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said that while what happened was “a terrible vista under your watch” and that Mr Varadkar and Mr Breen now have questions of their own, Mr Naughten had to quit.
Labour leader Brendan Howlin, Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy, and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan mirrored the remarks, while Independents4Change TD Mick Wallace warned that if the Government continues with such tight numbers “this is the craziest building on the planet”.