Taoiseach defends Denis Naughten over meetings with businessman

Leo Varadkar says the minister will "clarify his contacts with David McCourt" in the Dáil today

Taoiseach defends Denis Naughten over meetings with businessman

Denis Naughten. Photo: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

The Taoiseach has defended the Communications Minister's meetings with a businessman involved in the consortium bidding for the tender for the National Broadband Plan.

David McCourt heads up the sole remaining consortium bidding for the rural broadband contract, which is worth over €500m.

Yesterday, a spokesperson for the Denis Naughten said that the minister paid for a dinner in the Dáil bar on behalf of Mr McCourt.

Minister Naughten also confirmed he attended a meeting with the businessman along with members of his staff in June.

The minister had already faced criticism over a meeting with Mr McCourt in New York in July.

The latest developments drew criticism from opposition parties, with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin claiming the meetings had “contaminated” the bidding process

Leo Varadkar says Denis Naughten is not involved in the procurement process, and that the independent minister will clarify his contacts with Mr McCourt in the Dáil today.

The Taoiseach - who met with the minister last night - says there is protocol around how meetings should occur, but the Communications Minister has to be able to talk to CEOs and people who might be interested in the bidding process about other issues.

Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast, the Taoiseach explained: "Denis will be in the Dáil today, and what he's going to do in the Dáil is clarify his contacts with David McCourt. Bear in mind that meeting had officials present, and it was minuted.

"What we'll have to get now from Denis is just a full understanding of all the contacts he's had with David McCourt - and bear in mind the minister is not actually involved in the procurement process."

He added: "At a certain point, other companies were involved in this bidding as well - for example ESB, Vodafone and Eir.

"It wouldn't be possible for the Minister for Energy and Communications not to deal with the heads of these companies for two or three years... that is exactly why it has been set to be up at arms-length in the way it has."

Additional reporting by Michael Staines