Naugh­ten has been in touch with ethics body

Ex-min­is­ter has sup­plied a list of dates of his pri­vate meet­ings with bil­lion­aire

The Irish Mail on Sunday - - NEWS - By Va­lerie Han­ley va­lerie.han­ley@mailon­sun­day.ie

FOR­MER com­mu­ni­ca­tions min­is­ter De­nis Naugh­ten has pro­vided both the ethics watch­dog Sipo and the au­di­tor writ­ing an in­de­pen­dent re­port with a com­plete list of the dates he met with bil­lion­aire busi­ness­man David McCourt.

Mr McCourt was the head of the fi­nal con­sor­tium bid­ding to sup­ply broad­band to ru­ral Ire­land un­der the Na­tional Broad­band Plan.

The reve­la­tion that he had had sev­eral pri­vate, un­min­uted meet­ings with the min­is­ter in charge of the plan forced Mr Naugh­ten to re­sign last month and placed the fu­ture of the plan in doubt.

Sources told the Ir­ish Mail on Sun­day that Mr Naugh­ten had been in con­tact with the Stan­dards in Pub­lic Of­fice Com­mis­sion (Sipo). Asked this week whether or not Sipo was re­view­ing the se­cret meet­ings be­tween Mr Naugh­ten and mil­lion­aire busi­ness­man Mr McCourt, a spokes­woman said Sipo never com­mented on in­ves­ti­ga­tions. It comes as an in­de­pen­dent re­port is due this week on whether the mul­ti­mil­lion-euro ten­der process to pro­vide ru­ral Ire­land with high­speed in­ter­net ac­cess was com­pro­mised.

Mr Naugh­ten, the in­de­pen­dent Gal­way Roscom­mon TD, claims that be­fore he re­signed from Cab­i­net last month he in­formed the Taoiseach about the meet­ings with the lead bid­der for the na­tional broad­band ser­vice.

Yet the Taoiseach was still re­fus­ing this week­end to re­veal when these en­coun­ters took place.

The Ir­ish Mail on Sun­day has re­peat­edly asked since Oc­to­ber for the dates of these meet­ings. The tim­ing of these en­coun­ters is sig­nif­i­cant given that con­tracts were awarded to McCourt’s firm Enet with­out it hav­ing to go through a ten­der­ing process.

But when a list of ques­tions was sub­mit­ted again this week­end to the Taoiseach’s of­fice, that of­fice re­fused to pro­vide a re­ply.

Mr Naugh­ten would not com­ment and a spokes­woman for Sipo would only say that it could nei­ther con­firm or deny that it was mak­ing sep­a­rate en­quiries.

Mean­while, se­ri­ous ques­tions have been raised about the Gov­ern­ment’s much-pro­moted plan to pro­vide broad­band in ru­ral parts of the coun­try by con­nect­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of house­holds to a fi­bre-op­tic net­work.

The cost of do­ing so has spi­ralled from an orig­i­nal es­ti­mate of €500m to an es­ti­mated €3bn. Ex­perts have told the MoS they be­lieve it could cost as much as €5bn.

They also pre­dict that by the time a fi­bre-op­tic net­work is in­stalled na­tion­wide, the tech­nol­ogy will have be­come ob­so­lete. Many be­lieve a newer tech­nol­ogy could be a cheaper, faster al­ter­na­tive.

An in­dus­try source said: ‘Any char­tered en­gi­neer spe­cial­is­ing in fi­bre-op­tics will tell you that the in­dus­try is rapidly evolv­ing, in so far as the net­work­ing equip­ment that pushes the data through the fi­bre-op­tic strands.

‘If Ire­land were to hold back for just two years, we could sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce the cost of the ten­der be­cause the same equip­ment would be cheaper.

‘More to the point, fixed wire­less tech­nol­ogy will prob­a­bly beat fi­bre when mea­sured in terms of de­ploy­ment time­lines. It will be com­ing to mar­ket within the two years.’

Taoiseach’s of­fice re­fused to an­swer

De­nis Naugh­ten

forced to re­sign:

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