Denis Naughten says 'no inside information' was given to INM representative

The Minister for Communications is to make a personal statement in the Dáil this afternoon

Denis Naughten says 'no inside information' was given to INM representative

Denis Naughten. Photo: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Updated 21.00

The Communications Minister says he acted to the letter of the law when it came to the proposed takeover of the Celtic Media Group (CMG) by Independent News and Media (INM).

Minister Naughten confirmed he had a phone call with Eoghan Ó Neachtain, a former government press secretary now working for Heneghan PR and then representing INM, about the media group's planned takeover of CMG.

It's alleged in court documents that the minister told the representative for INM that he'd be referring the deal to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.

However, the Minister says he didn't express a definitive view during that phone call, and a referral to the BAI was just one of a range of options.

Minister Denis Naughten denied passing insider information to INM, contrary to suggestions in a court affidavit filed by the state's corporate watchdog.

He told deputies: "There is nothing wrong or inappropriate with me, as minister, saying to anyone or to the public 'if the plan for a media merger continues, I would take advice on sending it to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland'.

"This is not inside information, but simply a reflection of the legislation itself. I had no inside information to give."

Takeover bid

Minister Naughten's Dáil statement came following revelations he gave information to representatives of businessman Denis O'Brien about the takeover bid by INM.

Mr O'Brien is the largest shareholder in INM, which tried to take over CMG in 2016.

It emerged that the Communications Minister informed someone working for INM that he planned to refer the bid to the BAI for examination - two months before he made that information public.

Mr O'Brien was then allegedly informed about the move before other shareholders in the company.

The State's corporate watchdog has raised concerns that the alleged passing of information is a case of insider information and a breach of stock market rules.

In the Dáil however, the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar defended his communications minister:

"This is, of course, a matter before the courts," he said.

"I think it is fair to say it would be better if this conversation had not happened.

"However, I am satisfied that Minister Naughten did not give any information out that was confidential.

"There does seem to be a misunderstanding about the nature of this process - it is not a secret process."

This morning, the Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said Minister Naughten's actions may or may not have been in breach of market abuse regulations.

File photo of the Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald, 28-03-2018. Image: Eamonn Farrell

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the revelations leave many questions to be answered:

"For all of the guff about new politics, is this where we are at now?" she asked.

"That the gold-plated few get access to ministers and, in part, get given a heads-up on decisions that the minister has taken in advance.

"What kind of a way is that to conduct politics?"

The Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin said the revelations were "extraordinary."

Reporting by Michael Staines, Sean Defoe and Stephen McNeice