Junior Minister Pat Breen has said that, to his knowledge, the National Broadband Plan was not discussed at a private dinner he organised between the former Communications Minister and the one of the main bidders for the contract.
Galway Roscommon TD Denis Naughten resigned his position as communications minister today after it emerged that he had attended a number of private dinners with David McCourt, the businessman who heads up the sole remaining consortium bidding for the rural broadband contract - worth over €500m.
Deputy Naughten insisted there was nothing untoward about the dinners – insisting that he had no role in awarding the multi million Euro contract.
However the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he had “left himself open to allegations of a conflict of interests and an inappropriate relationship with Mr McCourt” which had the potential to jeopardise the entire national broadband project.
Minister of State Pat Breen was also dragged into the controversy when it emerged he had organised and attended one of the dinners at Mr McCourt’s home in County Clare.
This evening, Minister Breen noted that in his brief as Minister of State with responsibility for Trade, Employment, Business, EU Digital Single Market and Data Protection, he has “no role in the National Broadband Plan, its rollout or its procurement.”
He said he had personally met with Mr McCourt on an official basis on a number of occasions – all of which were recorded in his ministerial diary.
He said he has become friendly with Mr McCourt over the years and met him in a private capacity a number of times.
Mr McCourt’s home is about 10 miles from my home in Co Clare,” he said.
“I have gotten to know Mr McCourt on a personal basis, have visited his Co Clare home several times and met him on other occasions in a private capacity.
“Last year, on the request of Mr McCourt, I asked Denis Naughten, then Minister for Communications, if he would like to come to a dinner in Mr McCourt’s house.
“Mr McCourt’s wife also attended the dinner.
“To my knowledge, the National Broadband Plan was not discussed at the dinner.”
Mr McCourt's firm Granahan McCourt is heading up a consortium behind the sole remaining bid for the National Broadband Plan contract.