Wednesday 19 December 2018

Calls for communications minister Naughten to recuse himself from media regulation role

Communications Minister Denis Naughten. Picture: Steve Humphreys
Communications Minister Denis Naughten. Picture: Steve Humphreys
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

A CALL has been made in the Dáil for Communications Minister Denis Naughten to recuse himself from any role in media regulation.

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy used a topic debate this afternoon to claim the minister “misled” her when answering questions about the proposed merger of Celtic Media with Independent News & Media (INM).

She noted that on December 6, 2016 Mr Naughton told her that no decision had been made by his officials in relation to how to handle the deal.

However, it has now emerged in court papers that the Minister discussed referring the merger to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland with Eoghan Ó Neachtain, director of public affairs at Heneghan PR, in November 2016.

The Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) has alleged Mr Ó Neachtain informed PR executive Nigel Heneghan about the conversation and, in turn, he alerted INM’s then chairman Leslie Buckly to the Minister’s thinking.

The State’s corporate watchdog has claimed Mr Buckley then emailed Mr O’Brien in a move that may amount to “inside information” and potentially a breach of stock market rules.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar earlier insisted that Mr Naughten did not share any confidential information.

However, Ms Murphy said the episode raises questions for the minister and he has “no choice” but to recuse himself from any role in relation to media regulation.

Solidarity TD Bríd Smith told the Dáil that powerful and wealthy individuals have too much influence in Irish society.

She said the implication of the INM case “are huge”.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan responded: “As Minister for Justice I want to echo the remarks of the Taoiseach about the importance of a free media in a democracy.”

Mr Naughten is to make a statement to the Dáil this evening during which he is expected to staunchly defend his position.

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