Two more meetings between Denis Naughten and David McCourt revealed

By Elaine Loughlin, Political Correspondent

Update 9pm: Two more meetings between former Communications Minister Denis Naughten and businessman David McCourt have been revealed following the National Broadband Plan controversy.

The Department of Communications last night released further documents detailing meetings which had not previously been disclosed.

The latest revelation came as Minister of State Pat Breen rejected calls for his resignation, insisting he has “nothing to resign for”, after criticism of an invitation he issued for a private dinner between Mr Naughten and Mr McCourt, who is involved in the one remaining consortium bidding for the State's multi-million rural broadband contract.

The new documents were released after a thrawl of all diary meetings over the past two years between the former minister, senior officials with Enet, Mr Mc Court or the Granahan McCourt company.

The vast majority of the 40 meetings identified in the comprehensive review were only attended by officials, however, Mr Naughten, who resigned over the controversy last week, was present at two.

No minutes were taken for the first meeting which took place on October 20, 2016 and which was attended by Mr Naughten, Mr McCourt and officials from the Department.

However, it is understood the State-owned Metropolitan Area Networks was discussed at this meeting and not the NBP.

The second meeting took place on June 26, 2018 and was attended by Mr Naughten, Mr McCourt and the Assistant Secretary at the department in charge of the National Broadband Project, Ciarán Ó hÓbáin. This was ahead of a NBP sponsors meeting which took place on the same day.

Mr Ó hÓbáin's note of the meeting was also published and revealed: “Mr McCourt communicated that he remained committed to investing in building high speed broadband infrastructure in rural Ireland and he asked as to the most likely approach of the Department to the sponsors meeting later that day.

"I outlined to Mr McCourt that my expectation was the Minister and the Department would speak very directly to what were considered the key issues which the consortium needed to address in order for the procurement to proceed to conclusion.”

All details will now be forwarded to Peter Smyth, the independent process auditor to the NBP procurement, to consider as part of his review.

Meanwhile Mr Breen said that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is happy with his explanation about a dinner he organised between Mr Naughten and Mr McCourt.

I have nothing to resign for. We are living in a very funny world, where people are looking for heads. I have nothing to account for, because I wasn’t involved in the broadband process and I am not the communications minister.

Speaking to the Clare Champion he said that the NBP plan had not been discussed at the dinner.

"David McCourt and his wife were over from New York at their house, which they do on a regular basis. He had an informal dinner and, during the course of the conversation, asked me to pass on an invitation to the then communications minister, Denis Naughten, for dinner.

“I passed on the invitation to Minister Naughten. It was up to Minister Naughten if he wanted to accept or reject it.

"I didn’t decide who the guest list was or who Mr and Mrs McCourt should invite. If Denis Naughten had rejected the invitation, I would have passed this on to Mr McCourt."

Earlier: Pat Breen 'never' discussed broadband plan with David McCourt and Denis Naughten

Update 5pm: Junior Minister Pat Breen says he never discussed the national broadband plan with bidder David McCourt or former Communications Minister Denis Naughten.

The Fine Gael politician has admitted he passed on an invitation for dinner meeting between then-minister Mr Naughten and the Irish-American investor.

Mr Naughten resigned last Thursday as the row escalated, and Mr Breen has experienced criticism for his role in the evening.

Junior Minister Pat Breen

Speaking for the first time in the wake of the controversy, Minister Breen insists he has done nothing wrong.

"At no stage did I ever discuss the broadband plan with either Denis Naughten or with David McCourt," he said.

The last time I saw David McCourt and Denis Naughten together was in Mr McCourt's house where this issue was not discussed.

To be fair to both individuals, let's be quite clear on this, they never asked me to get involved in it. I never did get involved in it.

Digital Desk

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