Following the shock resignation of the Minister for Communications this afternoon, politicians are warning that the future of both the National Broadband Plan and the Government could be in doubt.
The Minster for Education Richard Bruton has been assigned to the Department of Communications on an interim basis.
Deputy Naughten resigned his position after the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar asked him to consider his position.
It emerged today 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.
Details of two of those meetings became public knowledge earlier this year and yesterday, however in the Dáil this afternoon, Mr Varadkar said Deputy Naughten had informed him of four more in a late night phone call yesterday and a meeting early this morning.
Deputy Naughten insists that the pressure on him to resign was more about PR than practicality, insisting that it is part of his job as minister to meet with potential investors.
Mr Varadkar said he believes Deputy Naughten’s “intentions were honourable” but warned that 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.
Deputy Naughten has indicated that he will continue to support the Government in votes on a case-by-case basis, however the resignation means the Government could potentially fall at any time.
The Government needs 57 votes to be sure of passing anything – provided Fianna Fáil abstains as part of the Confidence and Supply agreement.
However it now only has 54 it can count on meaning the votes of Deputy Naughten and independents Sean Canney and Michael Lowry – who also support on a case-by-case basis – will be crucial.
Former Communications Minister Denis Naughten
On the Hard Shoulder this afternoon, Independent TD Michael Harty said an early General Election is inevitable.
“The numbers don’t stack up,” he said.
“Then they are going to ask Fianna Fáil to enter into an extension of the confidence and supply agreement.
“The Government is unravelling in front of us. TDs are going home to start canvassing.”
This afternoon, Fianna Fáil justice spokesperson Jim O'Callaghan said now is not the time for a snap election – with Brexit on the cards at next week’s crucial EU Summit.
“Fianna Fáil believes that we should not have an election before, certainly, we deal with the whole Brexit issue,” he said.
“We don’t need an election at this stage.
“The Government should continue to try to govern and we will continue our opposition.
“But it is a very sensitive time for this country and we need to ensure that we get Brexit right.”
The party’s communications spokesperson Timmy Dooley said it is hard to say what will happen – but Fianna Fáil will enter talks on a review of the confidence and supply and arrangement in good faith.
“That is going to play out over the next number of weeks so we will see how that goes,” he said.
“But for sure the Government have lost some of their members so yeah, their numbers are getting tighter.”
The Taoiseach has ordered an independent report on the National Broadband Plan (NBP) to ensure it has not been compromised.