Wednesday 23 October 2019

Junior minister's role in dinner row must be taken seriously: FF

Pat Breen: fixing dinner meeting ‘not a resigning matter,’ Taoiseach insists. Picture: Steve Humphreys
Pat Breen: fixing dinner meeting ‘not a resigning matter,’ Taoiseach insists. Picture: Steve Humphreys
John Downing

John Downing

Fixing the level of taxpayer-funded subsidy for the rural broadband project remains the crucial issue to be decided, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has told the Dáil.

Mr Martin said that is why questions about contacts between the final bidder for the potential €500m contract, David McCourt, and government ministers was so important. He was commenting on the controversy which last week saw Denis Naughten suddenly resign as communications minister.

The Fianna Fáil leader asked about the situation of Junior Industry Minister Pat Breen, who has acknowledged setting up a dinner meeting between then-minister Mr Naughten and the Irish-American investor, who has a home in Co Clare 16km from where Mr Breen lives.

Mr Naughten stood down last Thursday as the row escalated.

Mr Martin wanted to know how Mr Breen conveyed Mr McCourt's dinner invitation to Mr Naughten. He also asked about the junior minister continuing in his post - and criticised Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's attitude in saying Mr Breen had just passed on a dinner invitation.

"I think it's a lot more serious than that - and it should be taken more seriously than that," Mr Martin said.

The Taoiseach said Mr Breen was unwise to relay the dinner invitation, which was done by word of mouth. He stressed Mr Breen had no role whatsoever in the broadband project.

"I don't think it's a resigning matter," Mr Varadkar insisted.

The Taoiseach said the Government remained very committed to connecting 540,000 homes with high-speed broadband as soon as possible. He said the Government planning had already encouraged commercial providers to improve their rural services.

The Taoiseach also said he expected the independent auditor of the broadband bid process, Peter Smyth, to be given his inquiry terms of reference in the coming days.

A full report from Mr Smyth is expected in three to four weeks.

Irish Independent

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