Monday 28 May 2018

Abortion poll to save Naughten from motion of 'no confidence'

But TD says collapse of Dáil would be 'criminal'

Communications Minister Denis Naughten is under fire but has been defended by Cabinet colleagues Simon Coveney and Paschal Donohoe. Picture: Steve Humphreys
Communications Minister Denis Naughten is under fire but has been defended by Cabinet colleagues Simon Coveney and Paschal Donohoe. Picture: Steve Humphreys
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Communications Minister Denis Naughten will survive an onslaught of political attacks because Opposition TDs are afraid of collapsing the Government before the abortion referendum.

Mr Naughten now says he "sincerely regrets" discussing the potential takeover of Celtic Media by Independent News & Media (INM) with a lobbyist in November 2016.

A string of Fine Gael ministers have said it would have been "preferable" if their Independent colleague hadn't engaged with PR executive Eoghan Ó Neachtain - but they will stand by him rather than risk an election.

The party offered logistic support to Mr Naughten as he prepared for a series of accusations in the Dáil yesterday.

Fianna Fáil is not expected to undermine the confidence and supply arrangement by tabling a motion of no confidence in the minister but will heap pressure on Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to sanction him.

The party's new deputy leader, Dara Calleary, said the situation "stinks".

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said her party believes Mr Naughten's position is "untenable" but does not want to risk political instability in the "critical weeks" ahead of the Eighth Amendment vote on May 25.

"That means that in our calculations as people who are responsible and sensible, we take that into consideration. Denis Naughten is not off the hook. There always comes a day of reckoning," she said.

Likewise, People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith told Independent.ie's 'Floating Voter' podcast it would be "criminal" to collapse the Government now.

She said: "We need to have that referendum. We have waited so long. It's a very crucial moment for Irish politics."

Mr Naughten admits he took a call from the lobbyist who was working for INM in November 2016 during which he expressed a "personal view" that a proposed takeover of the regional newspaper group Celtic Media by INM was likely to be referred to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI).

As part of its application to have inspectors appointed to investigate corporate governance issues at INM, the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement's (ODCE) alleges Mr Ó Neachtain briefed his colleague Nigel Heneghan on the phone call. In turn, Mr Heneghan emailed INM's then chairman Leslie Buckley, alerting him to the minister's thinking.

The State's corporate watchdog claims Mr Buckley forwarded this message to INM's largest shareholder, Denis O'Brien, in a move that may amount to "inside information" and potentially a breach of stock market rules.

Commenting yesterday, Professor of Management and founder of the Corporate Governance centre at UCD Niamh Brennan told RTÉ that while "with the benefit of hindsight" it does not read well, "it would have been worse if he'd said he would fix the problem".

Fianna Fáil's Dara Calleary said the idea the minister was offering a "personal view" amounted to a "the dog ate my homework type of excuse".

But three senior Cabinet members - Tánaiste Simon Coveney, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe and Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan - put forward unflinching defences of Mr Naughten yesterday.

Mr Coveney said: "I have known Deputy Naughten for 20 years. I know him as a straight minister, just as he is a straight politician."

Mr Donohoe said he was "satisfied" with the explanation offered, adding: "I look forward to seeing Denis continuing with his really important work."

Irish Independent

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