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Irish communications minister quits over broadband tendering row

UK News | Published:

Denis Naughten said it had become clear to him that Ireland’s premier Leo Varadkar had no confidence in him.

Denis Naughten

Ireland’s communications minister has resigned over a controversy surrounding the country’s national broadband plan.

Denis Naughten made a statement in the Irish parliament on Thursday afternoon before leaving the chamber.

Mr Naughten said it had become clear to him that Ireland’s premier Leo Varadkar had no confidence in him.

The former minister had been due to answer questions from the opposition over his dealings with US businessman David McCourt, who is leading the sole remaining bid for a contract to roll-out high-speed broadband to more than 500,000 homes across the country.

It emerged on Wednesday that the minister had paid for a lunch for the businessman in Leinster house in April and the pair also had a meeting in June.

It follows revelations that Mr Naughten met Mr McCourt at a New York dinner in July.

Minutes of the New York meeting showed that a 10-minute discussion took place between officials from the Department of Communications and Mr McCourt.

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According to the minutes, Mr McCourt addressed his remarks to a department official and not to the minister.

Mr Naughten said he had been left in an “impossible stark position” that a politician never wanted to find themselves in.

“Do I make the decision myself to resign or wait for that decision to be made for me? And what do I do against the backdrop of the opposition not having sought my resignation?” he said.

“If I was a cynic, which I’m not, the outcome is about polls rather than telecoms poles, it’s more about optics than fibre optics.”

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He added that meeting “telecoms people” was part of his role.

“That’s the context in which I had meetings with Mr McCourt and that’s how it should be seen,” he said.

He added: “I’ve given the Taoiseach my resignation. I wish my cabinet colleagues well.”

The Roscommon politician said he was “absolutely satisfied” that there had been “no interference in the procurement process”.

Mr Naughten said: “The political and media frenzy over the last week has been deeply unhelpful. Commentary by those who are not procurement experts that this process is dead in the water and does not have the capacity or capability to roll out the NBP is incorrect and has been deeply damaging.”

Speaking on Virgin Media One’s Ireland AM programme on Thursday morning, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that he had full confidence in the minister’s position.

But when pressed about whether he was satisfied with Mr Naughten’s explanation of the meetings, Mr Varadkar said: “So far, yes.”

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