Naughten: sole focus was keeping last bidder involved in broadband plan

Former minister says process was a ‘competitive dialogue procurement process’ rather than a tender ‘in the normal sense’

Former minister for communication Denis Naughten: My sole focus was to keep Granaghan McCourt at the table. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times

Former minister for communication Denis Naughten: My sole focus was to keep Granaghan McCourt at the table. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times

 

Former Minister for Communications Denis Naughten has said he held private meetings with the head of the sole remaining bidder for the national broadband plan because he was trying to keep David McCourt’s company involved in the process.

Several other bidders pulled out of the process, and Mr Naughten said he was desperate to keep the American businessman’s company in the process.

“My sole focus was to keep Granahan McCourt at the table,” Mr Naughten told RTÉ. “I desperately wanted to ensure the 1.2 million people across the country could get access to high-speed broadband, and it was important that we kept Granahan McCourt at the table, and that was my focus in relation to those engagements.”

There are fears among some in Government that having only one bidder for the contract will result in the price being pushed up to unacceptable levels. There are also fears the broadband plan - which promises a State subsidy to bring high-speed broadband to 500,000 rural and remote homes and businesses - could end up costing the taxpayer as much as €3 billion.

A report into Mr Naughten’s meetings with Mr McCourt published earlier this week found the tender process had not been undermined by the meetings, but said they were “cause for concern”.

Independent auditor Peter Smyth’s report also said Mr Naughten was involved in discussions on the price with the McCourt consortium, telling one meeting last June he could not bring the proposal to Government for approval if the State subsidy was as big as the McCourt bid was seeking.

Mr Naughten was forced to resign when the meetings were revealed last month.

Speaking to RTÉ’s News at One, Mr Naughten said that at 39 of the 40 meetings he had with any bidders there is a record relating to the exchanges. Mr Smyth report said in the case of two meetings and a phone call, he is reliant on the account of Mr Naughten and the Mr McCourt in forming his conclusion the process was not tainted by the meetings.

Asked if his meeting s were appropriate, Mr Naughten said: “My sole objective was to keep Granahan McCourt at the table, that was my only focus.”

The Independent TD said he had met with representatives of the other bidders too before they withdrew from the bidding process.

Mr Naughen said this was not a tender “in the normal sense”; it was instead “a competitive dialogue procurement process”. Once the other bidders withdrew from the process, his priority had been “to get a viable bid from the remaining bidder”.

Mr Naughten said he did not have access to information, was kept at arm’s length from the process and was not allowed to interfere in the process.