Naughten urges politicians to push forward with plan
Former minister Denis Naughten has urged politicians on all sides to push ahead with the National Broadband Plan (NBP) after a report found his private meetings with a businessman "gave cause for concern" but ultimately did not taint the process.
The report by independent auditor Peter Smyth found that Mr Naughten was correct to resign in order to insulate the process from "apparent bias".
Mr Smyth acknowledges that while he believes the project can go ahead, it is not possible to state "unequivocally" that the NBP was not discussed at private meetings.
"Due to the limitations of the review process, in the absence of formal minutes or meeting notes for a number of meetings, I am reliant on statements of the former minister, Mr [David] McCourt and other parties for verification of the purpose and contents of those meetings," the report states.
However, he concludes: "I am satisfied that neither the former minister nor Mr McCourt had the opportunity to influence the conduct of the tender process in favour of Granahan McCourt or otherwise.
"I also believe that the decision of the former minister to resign, thereby removing himself from the process, insulates the process from any apparent bias created by his engagements with Mr McCourt."
In a statement Mr Naughten, who resigned last month after losing the confidence of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, noted that the rules underpinning the NBP do not "expressly prohibit engagements" between bidders and the department.
"As minister my job required me to meet investors from all sectors under the remit of my former department whether they were investors from telecoms, renewable energy, environment or natural resources. These investors are the men and women who provide jobs in our country," he said.
Mr Naughten says his "sole objective" was to deliver "much promised broadband to rural Ireland".
The Roscommon TD welcomed the conclusion of Mr Smyth's report.
He went on to "earnestly ask" the Government and Opposition parties to "carry through on the significant body of work that I completed during my time as communications minister".
He asked that they "ensure that every home and business in Ireland gains access to high-speed broadband without any further delay".