From top: Denis O’Brien, Actavo, David McCourt, Minister for Communications Denis Naughten and Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy
Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy asked Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in the Dáil if he was satisfied with the bidding process for the contract for the National Broadband Plan.
There is only one bidder up for the contract – a consortium which includes Denis O’Brien-owned Actavo, formerly known as Siteserv.
The consortium is led by a private investment firm called Granahan McCourt.
This morning, Peter O’Dwyer, in The Times Ireland edition, reported that David McCourt, of Granahan McCourt, met with the Minister for Communications Denis Naughten in New York last July.
Mr O’Dwyer reported that, during this meeting, Mr McCourt informed Mr Naughten that the British company SSE may withdraw from the consortium which it eventually did.
Mr O’Dwyer reported:
SSE pulled out of the consortium at the end of July in what was regarded as a significant setback for the state-backed scheme, which aims to provide high-speed broadband to 543,000 rural homes and businesses.
Mr Naughten told the Oireachtas communications committee yesterday: “Mr McCourt made the point at that discussion that there may be a request put into the Department [of Communications] for an evaluation in relation to a change to the consortium, but that’s not a matter for me. I would have no direct input or role in relation to that and that was a matter for the procurement process.”
Timmy Dooley, Fianna Fáil communications spokesman, described the meeting as bizarre and questioned why the minister would meet a bidder if he had no role in the procurement process.
Further to this…
Ms Murphy released a statement in which she recalled the controversy over how Mr Naughten spoke with Heneghan PR official Eoghan Ó Neachtain, who was representing INM at the time, on either November 10 or 11, 2016, about the proposed takeover of the Celtic Media Group by INM.
Ms Murphy, in her statement, said:
“At the time of the revelations regarding the Minister’s inappropriate contact with representatives of INM, both the Minister and the Taoiseach were forced to concede that there had been a bad error of judgement from the Minister when he knowingly engaged with a party involved in a transaction directly under the remit of his department.
“Yet here we are again with the same Minister taking a private meeting with the head of a consortium containing some of the same personnel involved in the INM deal.
“The Minister acknowledges that details of the bid and the consortium were raised at the meeting therefore the question must be asked; is this yet another grave error of judgement from the same Minister?”
“Surely the Minister, and indeed the Taoiseach, must see the problem in the fact that yet again Minister Naughten potentially compromised a process under the remit of his Department and most certainly did not act in the manner in which he should have as the Minister in charge.
“Are we to once again accept the paltry explanation that the Minister was acting in a personal capacity rather than Ministerial?
“Either way, this meeting was wholly inappropriate and raises even more concerns regarding the tendering process for the National Broadband Plan – a process which already has some serious questions hanging over it.”
Previously: A ‘Robust’ Tendering Process
“It gets sleazier. Comms minister Denis Naughten says he had “a number of meetings” with the person leading the bidding consortium which includes Denis O’Brien’s Sitserv. Unless that “number of meetings” is one, there’s more to come from this.”
Read yesterday’s debate at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications here