Naughten ‘not surprised’ by Smyth report
Former Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment Denis Naughten has said he wasn’t surprised by the findings of an independent audit report from Peter Smyth which concluded that he (Mr. Naughten) did not influence the tender process of the National Broadband Plan during meetings with sole remaining bidder, David McCourt.
While Mr. Smyth’s report cleared Deputy Naughten of influencing the process in favour of Granahan McCourt, it stated that due to the absence of meeting notes for a number of encounters, Mr. Smyth was reliant on statements from Mr. Naughten and Mr. McCourt and others for verifying the contents of the meetings.
Mr. Smyth added that he believed Deputy Naughten’s resignation “insulates the process from any apparent bias created by his engagements with Mr. McCourt”.
Speaking to the Roscommon People following the publication of the report, Deputy Naughten said: “None of it is surprising to me. The reality is that I said this before I was put in a position where I had to resign…that I didn’t have information to disclose because the procurement process was a competitive dialogue, where there’s information going back and forth between the bidders and the procurement team in the Department.
“As Minister my job required me to meet investors from all sectors under the remit of my former Department whether they were investors from telecoms, renewable energy, environment or natural resources. These investors are the men and women who provide jobs in our country,” he said.
Deputy Naughten was adamant that he had no information to pass on to Mr. McCourt and claimed to have relayed the contents of two meetings to the secretary general of his Department. He also claimed that a third meeting, which was unrecorded, related to the Syrian refugees currently housed at the former Abbeyfield Hotel in Ballaghaderreen.
“Just for the record, every single one of the engagements that I had with David McCourt were witnessed by a third party except for three engagements.
“One was a phone call that I returned to David McCourt and the discussion was relayed to the secretary general of the Department. The other engagement was a cup of coffee I had with him (David McCourt) after eir pulled out of the bidding process and I spoke with the secretary general before that meeting and immediately after that meeting and briefed him on it.
“Then there was a third engagement in Dublin where there was no third party witness to it. The issues we discussed were in relation to the Syrian refugees in Ballaghaderreen.
“Of all the engagements, that is the only one Peter Smyth has not got any third party verification of but every other meeting is third party verified and the fact is, I didn’t have any information to give so I couldn’t have given any information at any stage to David McCourt or any other bidder”.
When asked about the content of the unrecorded meeting concerning the refugees in Ballaghaderreen, Deputy Naughten said:
“David McCourt has a project in Trinity College Dublin called ‘The Box’. It is used to train refugees in refugee camps in the Middle East. I was looking to see if there was any way that we could assist the refugees in Ballaghaderreen to gain skills that they could use when they returned back to their own country in order to assist in the rebuilding of their country”.
Deputy Naughten said he was disappointed that he was forced to tender his resignation and believes that the National Broadband Plan process was very near completion.
“It is disappointing that I felt I was in a position that I had no other choice to resign on the 11th of October. Ultimately the people of Roscommon-Galway will decide at the next General Election whether they want me to represent them or not in Dáil Éireann and then I suppose it’s going to be a numbers game after that as to what happens.
“The National Broadband Plan was within ten days of being completed so I brought it to the very, very final stage. I expect that in a very short period of time that a recommendation will probably be made to Government and I hope then that we can proceed with that plan. I urge my colleagues not to succumb to those who want to make a political issue of the plan for their own ends and not that of the country as a whole.
“My focus between now and the next General Election is on my constituency. I am going to use whatever influence I have over that period to ensure we can try and deliver as many aspects of the Programme for Government that will have a direct impact in my constituency and right across the middle of the country,” he concluded.