Tuesday 21 May 2019

Minister doesn't want to discuss €3bn broadband plan because of his 'friendship' with preferred bidder

Business Minister Pat Breen. Picture: Steve Humphreys
Business Minister Pat Breen. Picture: Steve Humphreys
David McCourt
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

A Fine Gael minister has said he does not want to discuss the €3bn National Broadband Plan because of his "friendship" with the US businessman David McCourt.

Minister of State Pat Breen sought to dodge questions on the controversial broadband project on his local radio station yesterday by citing his relationship with the telecoms chief.

Speaking on the Morning Focus show on Clare Fm, Mr Breen said: "I don't want to comment too much in relation to this given my friendship with the preferred bidder David McCourt."

Mr Breen was embroiled in the controversy surrounding the State broadband tender after it emerged he invited former Communications Minister Denis Naughten to a dinner in Mr McCourt’s home in Clare.

Mr Naughten was subsequently forced to resign over a series of meeting he held with Mr McCourt during the tendering process.

Mr Breen avoided punishment for his involvement in the scandal despite calls from the Opposition for him to resign.

The minister has been open about his relationship with Mr McCourt and said he visited the US businessman’s home on several occasion. However, he insisted it did not compromise the State tender for the lucrative broadband contract

The minister's comments on Clare FM are the first time he has sought to use his friendship with Mr McCourt to avoid questioning on the broadband plan.

David McCourt
David McCourt

On the radio show, Mr Breen also moved to defend the taxpayer bill for the €3bn project by saying it was a “small price to pay” in the context of connecting people and businesses in rural Ireland.

“It is important that we continue to invest in technology and broadband is the way forward,” he said.

“If this hadn’t happened in the middle of a European and local election campaign I think the opposition may be saying something different,” he added.

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