Denis Naughten paid for Leinster House lunch for broadband plan bidder

Communications Minister Denis Naughten has refused to consider resigning from cabinet despite admitting he paid for a previously unknown Leinster House lunch for the only bidder still left in the national broadband tender process.

Independent TD Mr Naughten admitted the deeply controversial April 18 meeting in the wake of revelations he held a separate informal meeting with the same bidder in New York in July.

Speaking during a post-budget briefing in which Mr Naughten - who is also responsible for climate change - caused further anger by admitting he did not ask for a carbon tax hike in the budget, Mr Naughten was again forced to defend his relationship with Irish-American businessman David McCourt.

However, despite confirming he "facilitated" Mr McCourt to bring his daughter to Leinster House for a lunch the minister last night admitted he paid for, Mr Naughten insisted he has done nothing wrong and does not need to resign.

"No, I don't accept I shouldn't meet with bidders involved in this process," Mr Naughten said.

"This process started in December 2015 before I was appointed Minister, I think there are something like 30-35 companies that have had a role in this, all of whom are investing significant amounts of money in this country.

"It is appropriate for me to engage with this industry. The reality is I have no role in the decision-making process, this is a separate procurement process. I have explained my role in it.

So no it is not right I shouldn't engage with the industry, I have repeatedly said my objective is to try and maximise the spend by all telecoms companies in this country.

"The reality is many people across the communications sector meet with many TDs and many have interest in this particular area," he said.

While Mr Naughten told Wednesday's press conference he could not remember if he paid for the previously unknown April 18 Leinster House lunch, his spokesperson later confirmed the Minister picked up the €37 bill.

However, Mr Naughten remained insistent he had done nothing wrong and stressed he did not attend the meeting.

Meanwhile, during the same press conference, Mr Naughten admitted that despite having responsibility for climate change he did not ask for a high-profile carbon tax rise in Tuesday's budget.

The Minister claimed it would be more valuable for Ireland to try to organise an international agreement on the price of a barrel of oil, and said when asked if he had read a "summary" when asked if he had read the Climate Change Advisory Council's detailed reasons for why a carbon tax is needed before the budget.

By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith
Irish Examiner Political Correspondent

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