Tag Archives: David McCourt

From top: Peter Smyth; Fianna Fáil TD Timmy Dooley, People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith, Green Party TD Eamon Ryan, Senator Michael McDowell and Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley

Peter Smyth, who reviewed communications between the former Minister for Communications Denis Naughten and businessman David McCourt of Granahan McCourt, took questions from members of an Oireachtas committee.

The purpose of the procurement process auditor’s review was to see if the communications between Mr Naughten and Mr McCourt tainted the NBP procurement process.

At the outset of yesterday’s meeting, Mr Smyth stated:

“I am satisfied that the process itself is safe…I do believe the process is untainted by the meetings between the former minister and Mr McCourt.”

But as questions were put to Mr Smyth by several TDs and Senators – including Fianna Fáil TD Timmy Dooley, People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith, Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley, Green Party TD Eamon Ryan and Senator Michael McDowell – Mr Smyth faltered.

It emerged that Mr Smyth did not hold any face-to-face meetings with any of the people with whom he discussed these meetings.

Instead, he conducted his review, over four weeks, via phone calls, texts and emails.

The people with whom Mr Smyth spoke to did not give him sworn statements.

He explained his process doesn’t require him to ask people to make sworn statements.

In his review, Mr Smyth said he could only take Mr Naughten and Mr McCourt’s word for what was discussed at two one-on-one meetings and one phone call – communications for which there are no minutes, notes or no third party to verify what was or wasn’t discussed.

Mr Smyth also told the committee that, as a process auditor who has carried out many process examinations during his career, he’s never made a finding against any process.

Fianna Fáil TD Timmy Dooley first raised the department’s own communications protocol for the procurement process or “rules of engagement” and asked if the rules were broken.

Specifically, he asked about the rule that says direct or indirect “canvassing” by a bidder is prohibited.

He pointed out that if a bidder was found to have been canvassing the department, the bidder would be immediately disqualified from the process.

Mr Smyth said:

I formed the view that the meetings don’t amount to canvassing.”

Mr Dooley raised the dinner meeting in Clare, on September 16, 2017, between Mr Naughten and Mr McCourt, which was also attended by Minister for State Pat Breen, who set up the meeting, at Mr McCourt’s home in Clare.

At this point, in September 2017,  there were two other bidders seeking the contract for the NBP.

In his review, Mr Smyth found that this meeting took place outside the procurement process.

Mr Dooley said to Mr Smyth:

“The average punter on the street cannot accept, absolutely, think that, you and everybody else believe in fairytales if you think that, at no time, during that kind of encounter that there was no discussion whatsoever about the NBP.”

If the NBP was discussed, at that particular point… would you accept that that would have given considerable rise to concern while there were two other bidders in the race?

Mr Smyth said he would accept that.

Mr Dooley also raised the meeting between the two men in New York, on July 16, 2018, which was set up by Mr McCourt, where they did discuss the NBP procurement process when no member of the NBP process was present.

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This afternoon.

Peter Smyth (top) is appearing before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment – streaming LIVE above.

Mr Smyth examined the interactions between the former Minister for Communications Denis Naughten and businessman David McCourt, founder and chairman of Granahan McCourt – the last remaining consortium bidding for the National Broadband Plan – as a means to decipher if the engagements undermined the NBP procurement process.

Mr Smyth found that the fact Mr Naughten met with Mr McCourt, or representatives of the other bidders “outside of the process is not in and of itself a basis for finding that the procurement process has been tainted”.

Mr Smyth has already told the committee that he never met Mr Naughten or Mr McCourt face to face during his investigation.

He told deputies that he did not regard their encounters as evidence of ‘canvassing’, but was unable to define what he meant by ‘canvassing’.

In his investigation, Mr Smyth found, as he had to take Mr Naughten and Mr McCourt’s word for what was discussed at two one-to-one meetings and one telephone call:

“I cannot unequivocally state that the State-led intervention under the NBP was not discussed at the meetings between the former minister and Mr McCourt outside of the procurement process.”

Mr Smyth also found Mr Naughten’s decision to resign largely allowed for the process to go ahead as his stepping down “insulates the process from any apparent bias created by his engagements with Mr McCourt”.

Oireachtas webcasting is provided by the Houses of the Oireachtas Service, in association with HEAnet, Ireland’s National Educational and Research Network

Previously: Faulty Leakage

From top: National broadband consortium leader David McCourt, former Minister for Communications Denis Naughten; Pat Leahy, of The Irish Times, and Mary Regan, of RTÉ News

A fortnight ago, leaks concerning the then pending review by auditor Peter Smyth into the National Broadband Plan procurement process were given to selected journalists.

Mr Smyth was tasked with examining the interactions between the former Minister for Communications Denis Naughten and businessman David McCourt, founder and chairman of Granahan McCourt – the last remaining consortium bidding for the National Broadband Plan.

The purpose of the review was to see if their interactions undermined the integrity of the procurement process.

The leaks gave the impression that Mr Smyth found that the procurement process was wholly untainted by the meetings, with RTÉ reporting:

“RTÉ News understands that a review of the procurement process for the National Broadband Plan will state that it was not undermined by contacts between the former Communications Minister Denis Naughten and the businessman [David McCourt]…”

But Mr Smyth actually found:

“…the fact that the former Minister met with Mr McCourt (or representatives of the other bidders) outside of the process is not in and of itself a basis for finding that the procurement process has been tainted.”

He also said that, as he has to take Mr Naughten and Mr McCourt’s word for what was discussed at two one-to-one meetings and one telephone call:

“I cannot unequivocally state that the State-led intervention under the NBP was not discussed at the meetings between the former minister and Mr McCourt outside of the procurement process.”

On Tuesday, November 20, 2018.Taoiseach Leo Varadkar confirmed to the Dáil that the review by Peter Smyth into the National Broadband Plan procurement process had been received by the Government.

He also confirmed it had gone to the Attorney General and that anyone named in the report may be be sent a copy of the report, to give them a chance to respond to the report’s findings.

However, he ultimately anticipated the review would be published in a matter of days.

During that same day, RTÉ’s Business Editor Will Goodbody reported this and added that the review had not been discussed at that morning’s Cabinet meeting.

Later that evening, on the Six One News, Mr Goodbody reported:

As for what it [the review] says, well everyone is remaining tight-lipped in Government circles about that today. Certainly though, it’s contents will determine the future of this plan, as it stands at the moment and it will certainly have a big impact on how soon it is that people around the country, who are still waiting for high-speed broadband service, will get it.”

A few hours later, on RTÉ’s Nine News, Mary Regan, formerly of the Sunday Business Post but now with RTÉ’s political staff, reported to presenter Eileen Dunne about the contents of the review based on speaking to “a number of Government sources”.

Ms Dunne introduced the news item saying:

RTÉ News understands that a review of the procurement process for the National Broadband Plan will state that it was not undermined by contacts between the former Communications Minister Denis Naughten and the businessman leading the only remaining consortium for the plan.”

Ms Regan then told presenter Eileen Dunne:

I understand, from speaking to a number of Government sources this evening that it does not find that those contacts undermined the process in any way. So essentially what it means is that the Government can proceed with the normal evaluation process that would take place for any tendering process which the Government has previously said would happen by Christmas.

There had been some fear that this report might stop the procurement process in its tracks but that now doesn’t seem to be the case and that report is expected to be published in the coming days.”

Similarly, the following morning, on Wednesday, November 21, 2018, on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Ms Regan reported the same to presenter Bryan Dobson.

Mr Dobson, in a similar fashion to Ms Dunne the night before, introduced the item saying:

A review ordered by the Taoiseach last month, into the integrity of the National Broadband [Plan] process will state that it was not undermined by contacts between the former Communications Minister Denis Naughten and the businessman leading the only remaining consortium for the plan.”

During her report, Ms Regan then told Mr Dobson:

I understand, speaking to a number of sources in Government, that he [Smyth] does not have any findings to indicate that this process was undermined by the meetings that took place. And what Government sources are interpreting this as meaning, is that the procurement process and the assessment of it can go ahead.

“So, essentially, that means a legal assessment that would normally be taking place is now proceeding and the Government has previously said it wants that process to be finished by Christmas.”

“…My understanding, speaking to a number of sources is that this particular issue is not cause for halting the process.”

“…The Government will be hoping that this stumbling block, at least, is out of the way in terms of proceeding ahead with this plan.”

That same morning, on Wednesday, November 21, 2018, Pat Leahy, in The Irish Times also reported on the review based on his contacts with “high-level sources” and “sources in Government”.

Mr Leahy’s article was published on page six of the newspaper but was also flagged on the front page of that morning’s edition.

He reported that the review “is expected to find that the process has not been fatally damaged by meetings between the sole remaining bidder and the former minister for communications Denis Naughten, high-level sources say”.

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Whatsapp messages released to Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy under the Freedom of Information Act gives further details on the New York meeting between former minister for communications Denis Naughten (top left) and businessman David McCourt, which led to Mr Naughten’s resignation

This morning.

Via The Irish Examiner:

Social democrat TD Catherine Murphy, said it was only through her persistence that the thread of messages, many of which are punctuated with emoji, were released.

“In recent months I submitted a large volume of different and very specific freedom of information requests on various aspects of the former minister’s conduct throughout the National Broadband Plan process,” she said.

With the exception of a handful, they have all either been declined, sent back for rewording, or have asked for what are already narrow timeframes to be narrowed further.

“Every obstacle in the FoI Act has been put in front of me regarding getting access to basic information, such as the former minister and his official’s interactions with David McCourt, Granahan McCourt, and Enet.”

In declining to grant access to some of the conversation, Murphy was told that “pictures on the WhatsApp messages [such as] refreshments, individuals, and minors” had been removed.

Murphy said she has now been left with more questions than answers.

“I am also anxious to understand if I have been left short of screenshots of the group on the day in question,” she said.

So what happened in the Big Apple, Denis? (Daniel McConnell, Irish Examiner)

Denis Naughten FoI details show US meeting (Irish Examiner)

Previously: ‘Cleared’

Former Minister for Communications Denis Naughten

Following the resignation of the former Minister for Communications Denis Naughten in October…

And the announcement of a review by Peter Smyth of interactions between Mr Naughten and businessman David McCourt, founder and chairman of Granahan McCourt – which is leading the last remaining consortium bidding for the National Broadband Plan…

To see if these interactions undermined the integrity of the procurement process…

Last night it was reported that Mr Smyth’s review has been given to the Government.

Further to this…

Will Goodbody, of RTE, reports:

The Attorney General has advised that the review of the National Broadband Plan procurement process by its Independent Auditor should be sent to the individuals named in the document before being published.

A spokesperson for the Department of Communications said it would be published shortly, but could not say specifically when.

The spokesperson also could not say whether those individuals named would be given an opportunity to respond to the report’s findings before it is published.

The report, which was received by Minister for Communications Richard Bruton yesterday, was not discussed at this morning’s Cabinet meeting.

It is expected to be presented at Cabinet next week.

Broadband review may be sent to individuals before publication (RTE)

Previously: National Broadband Plan on Broadsheet

Courting David

Rollingnews

David McCourt, left, and Minister of State for Trade, Employment, Business, EU Digital Single Market and Data Protection Pat Breen

Yesterday.

In the Sunday Business Post.

Hugh O’Connell reported:

Fine Gael junior minister Pat Breen held a number of previously unreported meetings with David McCourt who is heading up the last remaining bid for the National Broadband Plan (NBP), The Sunday Business Post can disclose.

Breen met McCourt on three occasions in 2016 including at a breakfast meeting in the Merrion Hotel.

The Minister of State with responsibility for Trade, Employment, Business, EU Digital Single Market and Data Protection has also visited McCourt at his home in Co Clare on several occasions “in a private capacity” over the last two years.

Meanwhile…

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy

This morning…

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy lodged an official complaint with the Ceann Comhairle’s office, claiming Mr Breen refused to answer, within the specified timeframe, a parliamentary question she had asked regarding his engagements with David McCourt and bidders in the National Broadband Plan process.

Ms Murphy claims her question should have been replied to by Thursday evening last (October 18) but it wasn’t, while he separately provided answers to a journalist.

Ms Murphy said:

“The parliamentary questions process is a vitally important one and that it might be circumvented in any way is a cause of grave concern.

“It is exceptionally unusual for a PQ not to be replied to within the specified timeframe and for me to then see that the same Minister has spoken with a journalist on the topic whilst neglecting his duties under the parliamentary questions process is hugely frustrating.

“I have lodged a formal complaint with the Ceann Comhairle regarding Minister Breen and his Department’s actions in this regard and I await a reply. It is vital that the PQ process is respected by all Ministers and Departments no matter how unsavoury the answer they have to give might be for them personally.”

Breen had three more meetings with final broadband bidder McCourt (Hugh O’Connell, Sunday Business Post)

Previously: Courting David

From top: Paul Murphy, Timmy Dooley and Denis Naughten; The McCourt family with tenor Ronan Tynan at a gala in New York.

7.01pm UPDATE:

Awkward.

6.10pm UPDATE:

Uh oh.

6pm Update:

A spokesperson for the the Minister for Communications has said Denis Naughten did pay for lunch for a businessman involved in the tender for the National Broadband Plan.

The lunch for David McCourt and his daughter cost €37 and it was deducted from Minister’s Naughten’s salary in July under the Oireachtas payments system, the spokesperson said.

Spokesperson says Minister did pay for McCourts’ lunch (RTÉ)

Earlier…

In the Dáil.

Following journalist Gavin Sheridan, of Right To Know, discovering, under the Freedom of Information Act, that, according to his diary, the Minister for Communications Denis Naughten was scheduled to meet with David McCourt for lunch in Leinster House on April 18, 2018.

April 18, 2018 was the same day Minister Naughten answered questions in the Dáil about Independent News and Media’s proposed takeover of Celtic Media.

Minister Naughten told the Dáil this morning he didn’t meet him for that lunch.

Instead, he said Mr McCourt was in Leinster House that day to celebrate a birthday – while he and his family were in Dublin.

Mr McCourt is founder and chairman of a private investment firm called Granahan McCourt – which is leading a consortium that is the only bidder for the National Broadband Plan contract.

The consortium includes Denis O’Brien-owned Actavo, formerly known as Siteserv.

Last week it emerged that David McCourt, of Granahan McCourt, met with the Mr Naughten in New York last July.

And yesterday it was shown that Mr Naughten, at this meeting, flouted his department’s own protocols regarding contacts between bidders and the state.

From the Dáil this morning:

Paul Murphy: “OK, minister, I’m going to go again on the first question and it’s the only question I’m going to ask so as to avoid any possibility of you answering another question. Were you due to meet with a Mr McCourt in Leinster House on the 18th of April or around the 18th of April?

Would there be a diary entry to that effect about a lunch or a meeting with Mr McCourt in Leinster House on the 18th of April or around the 18th of April?

And if that is the case, what was going to be the nature of the meeting? What was the meeting going to be about and who was going to attend? Was there going to be anyone from the department attending?”

Timmy Dooley: “Yeah, minister it’s really the same question. On the 18th of April, your diary shows an entry to have lunch with David McCourt in Leinster House. I can confirm to you that David McCourt did have lunch in Leinster House on that day.

Whether or not you joined him is a matter for you to clarify to this house. I want to know what the purpose of that meeting? Why you arranged the meeting? Was it your intention to have officials present? What was the expected outcome from Mr McCourt’s perspective?

And why in God’s name did you allow yourself to be embroiled, yet again, on the very day that you were explaining to this house why you had inappropriately involved yourself  in the Celtic Media controversy?”

Denis Naughten: “No, I did not attend the lunch, is the first thing. Second thing is that my understanding is that Mr McCourt and his family came in for lunch that day, to celebrate a birthday.

They had been in Dublin, that was the reason for that particular lunch. But I didn’t attend, I didn’t attend it. If Deputy Dooley says it’s in my diary, it’s in my diary, I don’t know.

Minister Naughten also told the Dáil:

“Yes, the booking [for the lunch in Leinster House] was made under my name. I didn’t speak with David McCourt either in person or on the phone or any other way that day or subsequent days in relation to that.

I facilitated the family coming in to Leinster House as many colleagues do here and I didn’t have any engagement whatsoever with David McCourt.”

On Monday, Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy asked for time to be set aside in the Daáil to allow for Minister Naughten to answer questions about his contact with Mr McCourt and the tendering process for the National Broadband Plan contract.

All requests were declined.

Update:

Catherine Murphy said:

“It is interesting that the Minister, despite prolific spinning and semantics about his various dinner dates with David McCourt and family, has not defended his flagrant breach of his own Department’s protocols.

I believe he has not addressed this issue because there is no way for him to do so without acknowledging that he has, without question, broken the specific rules governing the tender process and has therefore fundamentally compromised not only the process but himself and his Ministerial office.

I have reiterated my request to the Business Committee that the Minister be brought before the Dáil tomorrow to make a statement and to take questions on the issue.”

Ms Murphy added:

“We know from a parliamentary reply to me that Minister Naughten briefed Taoiseach Leo Varadker in September 2018 and so I think it’s important that we hear if the Taoiseach was made aware at that stage of the Minister’s repeated breach of the protocols throughout the process.”

Hmm.

Previously:  ‘Any Sniff Of Impropriety Or Bad Governance Must Be Met With Robust Questioning’

Breaking His Own Rules

Denis Denis

“I Didn’t Wilfully Or Any Other Way Mislead The Dáil”


From top: Minister for Communications Denis Naughten; broadband consortium bid leader David McCourt; a document containing communication protocols between bidders and the Department of Communications

This morning.

Via The Times Ireland Edition:

A copy of the National Broadband Plan (NBP) communication protocol obtained by The Times has prompted accusations that the exchange between Mr Naughten, his officials and Mr McCourt contravened rules set down to protect the integrity of the procurement process in areas relating to the handling of bidder queries and officials’ permission to discuss the plan.

The internal department protocol said all queries from qualified bidders must be made through the eTenders procurement website and all responses must be made through the same system.

Minutes of the dinner released last week showed that Mr McCourt raised issues relating to the bid’s leadership team, the importance of meeting an impending deadline, the need for the bid team to have finalised its financing arrangements, and its internal decision-making process.

Denis Naughten ‘broke rules over dinner with bidder’ (Peter Dwyer, Times Ireland Edition)

Meanwhile…

Previously: McCourt In The Act