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”.