Naughten expresses 'sincere regret' over INM conversation

Opposition TDs have claimed the conversation "stinks to high heaven"

Naughten expresses 'sincere regret' over INM conversation

Denis Naughten. Photo: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Updated 13:10

The Communications Minister has said he sincerely regrets expressing a personal opinion on what would happen with the proposed INM takeover of Celtic Media.

Denis Naughten continues to insist he did nothing wrong.

He has come under criticism for allegedly telling a representative of Independent News and Media (INM), Eoghan O'Neachtain, that the proposed merger would be referred to the Broadcasting Authority (BAI) for scrutiny.

This came before he made that information public and it is argued the information would have given INM a competitive advantage, in breach of stock market rules.

The claims were included in court affidavit filed by the State's corporate watchdog, the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE).

The revelations led to claims insider information had been handed to Independent News and Media.

This morning, Minister Naughten claimed he only said it was likely the deal would be referred to the BAI - not guaranteed.

"I am not responsible for what way Mr O'Neachtain interpreted that conversation or how he fed that back to his clients," he said.

"I also want to say that I sincerely regret expressing my opinion on this at the time.

"I said nothing wrong."

"Anyone that knows me knows that I am very accessible as a minister to my constituents, to my colleagues on all sides of the house in Leinster House and to the media.

"In fact, my mobile phone number is on my website.

"I do sincerely regret expressing a view on it.

"But I am absolutely clear that I said that I would abide by the recommendation of my officials and the files clearly show that I did that.

"And I would again provide the offer to any colleague to come and view the files for themselves." 

Yesterday, Mr Naughten told the Dáil that the information he gave to Mr O'Neachtain was "simply a reflection of the legislation itself" and insisted "I had no inside information to give."

However, speaking in the Dáil on December 6th 2016 - one month after allegedly telling Mr Ó Neachtain he was considering referring the proposed merger to the BAI - Minister Naughten said: "I have not made my views known and I am not going to."

"I have a decision to make and I will make it in line with the legislation," he told the house.

"Stinks to high heaven"

However opposition TDs have warned that the minister's communication with INM "stinks to high heaven."

The Fianna Fáil spokesperson on  public expenditure Dara Calleary insisted the conversation between two men "was not a personal phone call."

"This wasn't a chat between two friends about rugby," he said.

"This was about ministerial business."

Sinn Féin finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty meanwhile said: "It is blatantly obvious to all of us that the Minister provided commercially sensitive information to a listed traded company during an acquisition."

So far neither Fianna Fáil or Sinn Féin have gone as far as to put forward a motion of no confidence in the minister.

Fine Gael defence

Yesterday, the Taoiseach defended his communications minister.

Noting that, "it is fair to say it would be better if this conversation had not happened" he said he was "satisfied that Minister Naughten did not give any information out that was confidential."

The Tánaiste Simon Coveney claimed the opposition were simply looking for a head.