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Paul Healy

Paul Healy

Broadband bombshell: Naughten will have to rise again

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If anyone doubted that a week can indeed be a long time in politics, they got their answer last week.

  The political landscape last week was meant to be dominated by the Minister for Finance’s Budget. Prominent in the background was the precariously poised Brexit conundrum. Leo and Micheál were already making overtures/playing politics with regard to the short-term future of the Government.

  On Thursday, the Charleton Report issued its devastating findings. But tremors that had been observed earlier in the week were about to erupt. From nowhere, came a political bombshell that suddenly overshadowed everything else and threatened the stability of the Government. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was visibly shaken. And our man, Roscommon’s Denis Naughten, was the unwilling central character in this unforeseen drama.

  It was another dramatic twist in the political life of Denis Naughten. When Naughten started out in politics – quickly establishing himself as a politician of substance and ambition – no-one could have foreseen such colour and controversy, such sub-plots in his story. His early years as a TD were marked by competence, not controversy. He was young, energetic and talented, quickly rising up the ranks within Fine Gael, so much so that he was even touted as a possible future leader of the party.

  We had no idea that the political journey of Denis Naughten would feature dramatic, unexpected turns, that events would re-shape his destiny.

  It is hardly what he would have wanted. A man of principle and integrity, he is probably as surprised as anyone else to find his career stalled a second time by a second fracas with a Taoiseach.

  In 2011, Naughten and Fine Gael parted company when the Roscommon TD stood his ground in the wake of the explosively controversial closure of Roscommon A&E Unit by the Enda Kenny led government.

  The collapse of the friendship between Enda Kenny and Denis Naughten was complete (to be fair to Kenny, the Roscommon man had been prominent in a failed coup against the Mayo man’s leadership in 2010).

  Now Roscommon Hospital-Gate left Naughten isolated from his natural political family. His stance on the hospital lost him some friends in Fine Gael in Roscommon too, but his status as the biggest political force in Roscommon was stronger than ever.

  When the 2016 General Election produced a very fragmented Dáil, opportunity beckoned for Naughten. He skillfully placed himself at the centre of marathon talks on Government formation. Enda Kenny, desperate for support, and allowing pragmatism to trump pettiness, was willing to offer Naughten a ministry in return for his vote. Enda and Denis. Friends who became enemies were now colleagues.

  And now Naughten’s career has taken another dramatic turn. Naughten, entirely predictably, took to Cabinet well. Few have ever doubted his ability, his suitability for ministerial office. For the first time in his career, Naughten was centre stage, in the corridors of power. It was good news for his constituency. A return to Fine Gael in the post-Kenny era seemed likely. And yet, to this observer at least, there was something almost unpalatable about the ministerial portfolio he had been given. It was extremely wide-ranging, and peppered with landmines. The future of post offices. A changing media. Denis O’Brien. RTE. Windfarms. And that wretched broadband issue.

  Even his critics – of which there are few – genuinely believe that there isn’t any question of Denis Naughten seeking personal gain or acting for any dubious motive in the course of his conduct of his ministerial business. In all likelihood, his hands-on approach in terms of meeting the one remaining bidder for the NBP contract was down to Naughten’s understandable desperation to get the job done, to progress the project.

  In the end, Naughten left himself open to accusations of conflict of interest. The optics did matter in the end. He fell on his sword, with honour. It is impossible not to conclude that he was naive but well intentioned. His brief was incredibly demanding. Broadband stood out. One can assume the pursuit of that elusive goal kept him awake some nights. 

  It was possible, as last Thursday’s drama unfolded, to feel sympathy for Denis Naughten, while also understanding Leo Varadkar’s frustration. In the end, it was what it was. And what it was, amidst confusion, anger, hurt, resentment and regret, was the public weakening of another close political bond, as Denis Naughten found himself – unexpectedly – at odds with another Taoiseach.

  There will be some sympathy for Naughten in his constituency, and also some disappointment and frustration that it came to this. This constituency could do with a Minister, whether it’s Naughten or someone else. We could ill-afford to lose one. Behind the political drama, thousands of people wait with dwindling patience for broadband access. There is a real risk that the ill-fated process is now compromised and therefore many years from delivery.

  Naive he may have been, and most people seem to think that Varadkar really had to abandon his minister, but there will be sympathy and support for Denis Naughten on a personal and political level. He is a very decent man, one of our own. No-one expected these career twists, this flirtation with controversy. It’s a big setback, but I can see Naughten serving in Government again (with Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil or both). In the past, he has risen, fallen and risen again. I expect him to rise again.

 

 

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Lack of Communications…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Naughten’s shock resignation after tense meetings with Taoiseach

 

Roscommon’s most high profile current politician – and the county’s first senior minister in over thirty years – dramatically resigned from Cabinet last week.

  Denis Naughten stunned his own Government by unexpectedly stepping down after it emerged that he had attended a series of private dinners with David McCourt, a key bidder for the National Broadband Plan contract.

  In an angry Dáil speech, Deputy Naughten defended his actions but said that the Taoiseach no longer had confidence in him. Accordingly, he was resigning.

  It was both a major personal career blow for Denis Naughten and a significant setback for the Roscommon/Galway constituency. Minister Naughten’s sudden fall and what led to it may also prove to be the deathknell for the ill-fated National Broadband Plan in its current guise.

  Twenty-four tumultuous hours in the career of Denis Naughten began when the then Communications Minister was asked about a lunch attended by Mr. McCourt in the Members’ Restaurant in Leinster House. Mr. McCourt is an Irish-American businessman and Chairman of Granahan McCourt, a company which is the one remaining bidder for the National Broadband contract.

  Deputy Naughten was less than sure-footed in his response, but there was no sign of the explosive turn of events to come. On the lunch issue, Deputy Naughten clarified that he facilitated the lunch (and paid for it) but had not been present.

  Opposition politicians immediately argued that it was inappropriate for the Communications Minister of the day to have any contact with a bidder in a multi-million euro procurement process, when that process was still ongoing. (It had already emerged earlier this year that then Minister Naughten had met Mr. McCourt in New York in July).

  Taoiseach Leo Varadkar initially defended Mr. Naughten, but the controversy deepened over Wednesday night/Thursday morning of last week.

  Mr. Varadkar says that Denis Naughten phoned him at around 11.45 pm on Wednesday night to inform the Taoiseach that he had just recalled a private dinner he had attended with Mr. McCourt. According to the Taoiseach, when he met Deputy Naughten the following morning, the Roscommon TD then revealed that he had at least three other private dinners with McCourt.

  The Taoiseach said that Deputy Naughten had not informed him of these additional meetings when they met the previous day (or when they spoke on the phone).

  Taoiseach: “I have no doubt that his intentions were honourable at all times. But I do believe he left himself open to allegations of conflict of interest and an inappropriate relationship with Mr. McCourt which could have in turn brought the process into question, thus potentially jeopardising the project in entirety”.

  Deputy Naughten subsequently disputed the Taoiseach’s version of events, stating that he had informed Mr. Varadkar of the additional meetings during their telephone conversation the previous night.

  During his resignation speech, Deputy Naughten said that he had offered to pass over the NBP process to his junior minister, or to another Cabinet minister, but that this offer was refused by the Taoiseach.

  The outcome, he lamented, “is more about opinion polls than telephone polls. It’s more about optics than fibre optics”. 

  Roscommon politicians, including Deputies Eugene Murphy and Michael Fitzmaurice, and Senator Terry Leyden, were quick to offer support to their constituency colleague.

 

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Tragic death of popular Strokestown man mourned

 

 

The pedestrian who died after being struck by a car in Strokestown last Thursday was a very well-known local man.  

  Paul O’Gara of Farnbeg, Strokestown, who was in his early 70s, was a retired schoolteacher and a popular member of the local community.

  The tragic accident happened shortly before 8 pm on Thursday, 11th of October.

  Gardai said the fatal road traffic collision happened on Bridge Street, Strokestown and “involved a car and a pedestrian”.

  The pedestrian, Mr. O’Gara, was pronounced dead at the scene. The female driver of the vehicle was not injured.

  The late Paul O’Gara, a native of Ballintubber, was widely known and respected. He was a teacher in Scoil Mhuire, Strokestown for over thirty years.

  He is fondly remembered by former students and former teaching colleagues alike. A keen sportsman, he had a large circle of friends and his tragic death has devastated all who knew him.

  The late Paul O’Gara is mourned by his wife Anne, daughters Sinead, Ciara, Áine and Aisling, brothers Mark and Ger, sisters Mary and Maggie, further relatives and friends. May he rest in peace.

 

 

 

 

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Leyden: Naughten’s departure ‘regrettable’

 

Speaking in the Seanad on Tuesday, Senator Terry Leyden said the constituency of Roscommon-Galway “regrets” Denis Naughten’s resignation as Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment.

  “We were a bit concerned because one never knows what is going to happen from day to day. Roscommon-Galway regrets the departure of the former Minister, Deputy Naughten, as the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment. It was a great boost in the constituency to have the Minister there.

  “Deputy Naughten is very available, very diligent and very hard-working as a TD, and was very effective as a Minister. It is most regrettable that this issue arose.

  “I believe that Deputy Naughten was anxious to see broadband extended to 500,000 houses and he wanted to be hands-on. Unfortunately, this was not seen to be suitable. We wish him well in his continued political career,” he said.

 

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