Monday 25 March 2019

Explainer: How series of dinners led to Communications Minister falling on his sword

Seal of office: Denis Naughten and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during an Appointment of Ministers Ceremony in 2017
Seal of office: Denis Naughten and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during an Appointment of Ministers Ceremony in 2017
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Communications Minister shocked the Dáil yesterday be resigning. But how did a series of dinners spark his downfall?

What is the National Broadband Plan (NBP)?

It is one of the Government’s flagship policies and is aimed at providing highspeed broadband to 540,000 households in rural areas. The contract is worth hundreds of millions of euro.

Why is it controversial?

It has suffered delays and has had a troubled tendering process with two of the three bidders – Eir and Siro – dropping out along the way.

How has it led to the resignation of a minister?

Questions arose over contacts between Independent communications minister Denis Naughten and David McCourt, the head of the last remaining bidder, leading to the minister falling on his sword.

Who is David McCourt?

Mr McCourt (60) is an Irish American businessman whose company, Granahan McCourt, is the sole bidder left in the tender process. It emerged that Mr Naughten attended a New York dinner hosted by Mr McCourt in July.

Opposition politicians have claimed this could be viewed as canvassing and that the tendering process had been “contaminated”. Mr Naughten has denied the NBP procurement process has been compromised.

What about other contacts?

On Wednesday, Mr Naughten confirmed he arranged for Mr McCourt to have lunch in Leinster House but didn’t attend. Mr Naughten later told Taoiseach Leo Varadkar about at least four other dinners with Mr McCourt.

A 2017 dinner in Mr McCourt’s home was arranged and attended by Fine Gael junior minister Pat Breen.

What did the Taoiseach say?

He said he had no doubt Mr Naughten’s intentions were honourable, but it left him open to conflict of interest allegations that could bring the NBP tendering process into question. He asked Mr Naughten to reflect on his position.

What does Mr Naughten say?

He said that MrVaradkar did not accept suggestions to resolve the situation and it was “clear” the Taoiseach did not have confidence in him so he resigned from his ministerial role.

What does this mean for the Government?

Mr Naughten will decide if he will support the minority Government on a caseby-case basis. Numbers are now very tight and an election is definitely much closer.

Online Editors

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