Taoiseach to reveal plans for Naugthen replacement tonight

Leo Varadkar says he is still confident he has the number to stay in power

Taoiseach to reveal plans for Naugthen replacement tonight

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaing to Yes campaigners while celebrating their win in Dublin Castle after the the Yes vote won the Irish referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment | Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

The Taoiseach will tonight reveal how he plans to replace the former Communications Minister Denis Naughten.

Deputy Naughten resigned his position yesterday after it emerged that he attended a number of private dinners with a businessman bidding for multi-million Euro National Broadband Plan contract.

The Minister for Education Richard Bruton has been handed the brief on an interim basis and Leo Varadkar said “all things going to plan” there will be a new minister in place by Tuesday.

Speaking in County Cavan this afternoon, Leo Varadkar said he would talk to prospective candidates this afternoon before making his intentions known publicly today.

He noted that any changes will have to be ratified by Cabinet or the Dáil.

He accepted that the Government had lost the guaranteed support of a number of key TDs in recent weeks but said he remained confident his administration can carry on.

“If you look at the votes that have happened in the last couple of weeks – the confidence motion on Minister Murphy, the confidence motion on the Budget – we won all of them by secure majorities,” he said.

“Obviously, the next test will on Tuesday as to whether the Dáil is willing to ratify the ministerial appointments that I make.”

Mr Varadkar said he is making the effort to get the National Broadband Plan a “personal crusade” and said the Government is “absolutely committed” to making sure it happens.

“We have gone from 50% coverage to 75% now; I want to get to 100%,” he said.

“There are 540,000 homes and business across rural Ireland that don’t have access to high speed broadband – I want to promise them that I am going to make this happen.”

Midnight phonecall

Speaking in the Dáil yesterday, Mr Varadkar said Deputy Naughten had informed him about one previously undisclosed private meeting with businessman David McCourt in a late-night phone call on Wednesday – before revealing three more the following day.

However, following his resignation, the former Communications Minister insisted he had informed him about all four during the original call.

This morning, Mr Varadkar said “his recollection” of the phone call was that only one meeting was discussed.

“I was quite shocked, quite frankly, to hear that so that is my recollection,” he said.

“I don’t recall him telling me that there were more beyond that – but certainly when we met the next day [...] then it transpired that there actually has been quite a series of private engagements with one of the bidders and we both agreed that that was not appropriate for reasons that I think should be obvious to everyone,” he said.

Conflict of interest

He said Deputy Naughten “made the right decision” adding that he does not believe he “gained form this in any way.”

“When it comes to the awarding a contract – particularly a contract of this size, importance and cost – it has to be seen to be all above board as well,” he said.

“Therein, I believe lay the difficulty.

“He left himself open to the perception of a conflict of interest. The perception that somebody was given an inside track.

“I did ask him had he been in any other CEOs houses – and he hadn’t.

“Therein lies the problem.”

He noted that there are "three things that nobody disputes" regarding the controversy - that the former minister "changed his story on a number of occasions," that the private dinners occurred and that "Denis himself did not think it was appropriate that he should continue as Minister for Communications."

Yesterday, the Taoiseach ordered an independent review of the National Broadband Plan procurement process. He confirmed this afternoon that there is no deadline for that report.