Fianna Fáil leader Mícheál Martin in the Dáil this afternoon and the minutes of a meeting between the Minister for Communications Denis Naughten and David McCourt in New York in July
During Leaders’ Questions.
Fianna Fáil leader Mícheál Martin raised questions with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar about Minister for Communication Denis Naughten and the tendering process for the National Broadband Plan contract.
Mícheál Martin said to the Taoiseach:
“Minister Naughten met with the head of the remaining consortium David McCourt in July and discussed the tendering process with him. Relevant officials from the department handling the bid were not there and were not present – which is very significant.
“Someone on climate change was there, but not anybody dealing with the bid. The minutes are clear: Four issues relating to the bid and consortium were discussed. Taoiseach, decision makers such as Minister Naughten are properly and normally insulated from lobbying and any attempt to influence them during a tendering process.
“It is clear that Mr McCourt was trying to convince the minister that he had addressed the department official’s concerns. They were sorted and they were good to go.
“He was canvassing, he was lobbying and canvassing, Taoiseach, disqualifies. Remember Taoiseach that, at this stage, a decision still has to be taken by the minister. To either go with the bid or not go with the bid.
“The minister should be completely, completely at arm’s length from this process, from the tendering process. I find it extraordinary that I’m even in here, asking these questions and putting these points. Remember this is a massive contract. Which could be providing up to half a billion or more from State funds. From taxpayers’ money.
“It is quite extraordinary Taoiseach, and I’m going to put to you straight: the minister should not have met David McCourt, do you accept that? Has the tendering process, Taoiseach, been contaminated by the minister’s actions?
“I mean people externally looking into this country – they might be tempted to say now, that the key to getting a lucrative contract in Ireland is face time with the minister.
“Now we’ve had tribunals about this kind of thing in the past. It is extraordinary Taoiseach that this has occurred. And in my view the minister has contaminated the process and you as Taoiseach need to reflect on that.
“And the Government does – before any further action is taken in relation to this.”
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar spoke about how committed the Government is to the National Broadband Plan and about how it’s a huge an investment.
He went on to list Minister Naughten and his department’s responsibilities in relation to the plan.
He then said:
“In relation to the dinner to which you refer, while visiting New York in mid-July, to speak at the United Nations on Ireland’s progress towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the Irish delegation, including Minister Naughten and his officials were invited to attend a dinner hosted by the McCourt family.
“It’s worth noting that he’s been a significant investor in the country for many years, employing hundreds of people. The exchange was of a ten-minute duration, as the minutes show, and Minister Naughten did not enter into any detailed discussions on the matters with Mr McCourt.
“Mr McCourt has also publicly confirmed this fact and the tender was not discussed. The minutes show that no official from the National Broadband Division was in attendance which is an important fact and that it was not a meeting arranged to discuss the NBP.
“The engagement in question took place in a social setting and the engagement of the NBP lasted no more than 10 minutes with Mr McCourt directing his comments to the officials of the department.
“The procurement department has confirmed that in no way whatsoever has the procurement process been compromised as has been alleged by some members of the Opposition, by the minister and his officials, meeting Mr McCourt in New York.
“The short discussion was of an administrative nature. It is a single bidder so competition not a factor here and the meeting took place on July 16 when the evaluation stage had not yet commenced.
“The evaluation stage commenced on September 18, 2018, when the final tender document was submitted to the department. The minutes of this meeting have been published.”
Mr Martin said what the Taoiseach said wasn’t credible and read out the minutes (above).
He then said:
“This is the meat, this is the God damn meat of the bid. This was Mr McCourt saying ‘I’ve answered the case’. Do you not find it’s quite extraordinary Taoiseach, that we are where we are in even discussing this?
“So I think, Taoiseach, erecting Chinese walls, saying ‘I’m at the lunch, there’s an official at the lunch, or around the same table, but the minister becomes deaf and hear’s nothing. Hears nothing of the conversation. That’s not credible Taoiseach.“
Mr Varadkar went on to say that he thinks it’s “OK” for Minister Naughten to have met with Mr McCourt, “provided it conferred no advantage on him”.
“And Minister Naughten is the Minister for Communications and are we really saying that over a two or three year period, as minister, it wouldn’t be possible for him to meet the CEO of Eircom, to meet the CEO of SSE, to meet the CEO of SIRO? That the Minister over a two or three year period would not have any engagement with anyone involved in the sector?”
“Perhaps he shouldn’t meet the CEO of RTE either, or the chair of RTE when issues around their funding couldn’t be discussed. Perhaps he shouldn’t meet the CEO of TG4 when decisions are made about funding of those bodies?
“Perhaps he shouldn’t meet the CEO of anybody in the entire industry?”
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