Varadkar says Sinn Féin 'looking for a head without a fair hearing' on INM controversy

The Taoiseach says Denis Naughten did nothing wrong

Varadkar says Sinn Féin 'looking for a head without a fair hearing' on INM controversy

The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the christening of the MV Celine at Dublin Port, 20-04-2018. Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews

The Taoiseach has accused Sinn Féin of looking for the Minister for Communications' head without a fair hearing.

Leo Varadkar has again insisted there was nothing wrong with the way Denis Naughten handled a proposed takeover of Celtic Media by Independent News and Media (INM).

He claimed Minister Naughten behaved entirely appropriately:

"What is happening here, particularly when it comes to Sinn Féin really is just old politics of the old sort," he said.

"Looking for a head without giving somebody a fair hearing; throwing mud in the hope that some of it will stick to the Government."

Favours

He insisted Minister Naughten didn't do any favours for anyone.

"Denis Naughten didn't do any favours for Independent News and Media; he didn't do any favours for Denis O'Brien," he said.

"All he did was take a phone call from a lobbyist in which he indicated that he would follow the law and be guided by his official's advice.

"Perhaps he should not have taken that call and he says he regrets it.

"But in terms of what he actually said and in terms of what he actually did, he behaved entirely appropriately and I am very satisfied with his explanation.

Takeover

The controversy revolves around a conversation Minister Naughten had with a lobbyist working for INM, Eoghan Ó Neachtain, about the proposed takeover.

Minister Naughten allegedly informed Mr Ó Neachtain that the proposed merger would be referred to the Broadcasting Authority (BAI) for scrutiny - weeks before he made that information public.

That information was allegedly handed to Denis O'Brien, the largest shareholder in INM.

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

The revelations led to claims of insider trading - with INM handed a competitive advantage in breach of stock market rules.

Regret

Minister Naughten has said that he 'sincerely regrets' the conversation but insists he said nothing wrong.

"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." 

On Wednesday, he 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."

"Extraordinary"

Opposition TDs have insisted the conversation "stinks to high heaven."

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

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin described the revelations as "extraordinary."

No opposition parties have gone as far as to put forward a motion of no confidence in the minister.

Reporting from Paul Quinn ...