Minutes of Naughten’s New York dinner meeting with David McCourt released

Department wanted any changes to consortium to be ‘avoided’ or ‘kept to a minimum’

“Is it the case that I shouldn’t meet with people prepared to come in and invest in the country?” asked Denis Naughten.  Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

“Is it the case that I shouldn’t meet with people prepared to come in and invest in the country?” asked Denis Naughten. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

 

Minutes from the dinner meeting between Minister for Communications Denis Naughten and US businessman David McCourt in July have been released following calls for an explanation.

The document shows Mr McCourt, whose firm was bidding for a major Government contract at the time, addressed a number of issues raised by the department during the procurement process.

On Thursday Mr Naughten defended his decision to accept an invitation to the New York dinner hosted by Mr McCourt, chairman of private investment firm Granahan McCourt. His is now the only bidder left in the Government’s broadband-tender process. The State-subsidised contract is likely to be worth in excess of €500 million to the winning bidder.

Among the issues raised, according to the note, included the need for a “permanent, Irish-based leadership position within the Enet-led consortium” and a “streamlined decision making process within the consortium”.

The minutes show Mr McCourt said the leadership position was “being addressed” and that an individual had been selected for the role. Regarding the decision making process, “provision for majority rather than unanimous decision making is now in place”.

Deadline

The importance of the August 15th, 2018, deadline and the need for necessary financing to be in place at that time was also raised. The minutes note that this deadline would be met.

Mr McCourt also addressed “the need for any changes in the make-up of the consortium to be avoided or, if necessary, to be kept to a minimum”. This point was “understood by the consortium” which had been advised by law firm Arthur Cox that “as long as the consortium’s ‘lead bidder’ remains unchanged, such changes should not necessitate delays”, the notes say.

Yesterday morning Mr Naughten defended the meeting. “Is it the case that I shouldn’t meet with people prepared to come in and invest in the country?” Mr Naughten told RTÉ.

Consortium changes

He said he was informed during the dinner of changes to the consortium, in particular the exit of UK utilities firm SSE. Mr Naughten insisted the first he knew of the final composition of the consortium, which now includes Denis O’Brien’s Actavo, was when he read it in a newspaper.

Mr Naughten had been in New York to address the United Nations.

Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy said Mr Naughten was wrong to accept the invitation while the firm was bidding for a contract. “This at the very least creates the wrong perception,” she said. Fianna Fáil’s Timmy Dooley called on Mr Naughten to explain why he met Mr McCourt during the procurement process.