Friday 18 October 2019

'I won't be taking calls from lobbyists' - Communications Minister Denis Naughten

Communications Minister Denis Naughten
Communications Minister Denis Naughten
John Downing

John Downing

Communications Minister Denis Naughten has banned phone calls from lobbyists, he has told the Dáil.

Again facing questions about a phone conversation with a lobbyist acting for Independent News & Media (INM), Mr Naughten said he had already dealt with the issue.

He insisted that he had apologised for taking the call in 2016 from a lobbyist about a proposed media merger.  The Minister said this was the fourth day in a row they had been discussing issues around “a 30 second conversation”.

Mr Naughten became irritated with Fianna Fáil communications spokesman, Timmy Dooley, who argued the Minister had provided confidential information in his phone call with the lobbyist.

“You need to start at the beginning and just accept that you provided confidential information, that it was wrong.  It’s on a relatively low scale and it can be addressed within this House,” Mr Dooley said.

“Will you just please bring this to a conclusion?” the Fianna Fáil spokesman asked. Mr Dooley said the Minister had apologised and said he regretted taking the call from the lobbyist - but also insisted he had done nothing wrong in the first instance.

“By providing an insight into your thinking, a hunch, a personal opinion whatever it might be – that was confidential information,” Mr Dooley which the lobbyist had duly passed.

But Mr Naughten rejected these assertions.

“One, I did not give any confidential information. Two, I made it crystal clear that I would be guided by whatever advice I got from my officials and the file shows clearly that’s exactly what I did,” the Minister told the Dáil.

In November 2016 Mr Naughten took a call from former government press secretary, Eoghan Ó Neachtain who told him the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission had accepted a proposed merger between INM and the Celtic Media Group.

The Minister told the lobbyist it was likely the matter would be referred to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland but he would act on the advice of his department officials.

“I won’t be taking calls from lobbyists,” he told Sinn Féin’s Brian Stanley.

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