Denis Naughten expresses ‘sincere regret’ over lobbyist contact

Minister rejects responsibility for how Eoghan Ó Neachtain conversation may have been interpreted

Minister for Communications Denis Naughten: said he only offered a “personal view” to the lobbyist and regretted “expressing my opinion”.

Minister for Communications Denis Naughten: said he only offered a “personal view” to the lobbyist and regretted “expressing my opinion”.

 

Minister for Communications Denis Naughten expressed “sincere regret” yesterday for contact he had with a lobbyist acting for Independent News and Media in relation to a proposed takeover by the company.

Mr Naughten, in a statement to the Dáil on Wednesday, said he only offered a “personal view” to the lobbyist and yesterday said he regretted “expressing my opinion”. He said he “acted to the letter of the law” when he had a conversation with lobbyist Eoghan Ó Neachtain in November 2016 about the mooted takeover of Celtic Media by INM. He also insisted he had “no inside information” to give.

Mr Naughten yesterday said he was “not responsible” for how Mr Ó Neachtain interpreted the information and transmitted it back to INM.

Information

“The view that I gave Mr Ó Neachtain was based solely on information that was in the public domain at that stage. I did not have any information as Minister at the point I spoke with Mr Ó Neachtain in early November (2016). As I pointed out, he was the one who informed me that the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission had made a decision on this.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am very accessible as a Minister to my constituents, to my colleagues on all sides of the House in Leinster House and to the media

“I also stated to Mr Ó Neachtain in the very brief conversation that I had with him that I would be deciding solely on the advice that I was given by my officials and I would be acting on that.

“And I am not responsible for what way Mr Ó Neachtain interpreted that conversation or how he fed that back to his clients. I also want to say I sincerely regret expressing my opinion on this at the time. I said nothing wrong.

“Anyone who knows me knows that I am very accessible as a Minister to my constituents, to my colleagues on all sides of the House in Leinster House and to the media.”

The Irish Times this week reported details from court documents filed by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement as part of a bid to have High Court inspectors appointed to INM.

These referred to the conversation between Mr Ó Neachtain and Mr Naughten over whether the proposed takeover would likely be referred to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). The outcome of this conversation was allegedly relayed to Denis O’Brien by former INM chairman Leslie Buckley two months before a decision was made.

While Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin have largely backed away from tabling a motion of no confidence in Mr Naughten, Fianna Fáil sources said he has “run out of credit”.

Damaging issues

The party maintains the TD will be in danger if further damaging issues emerge.

“People realise that when you table a motion the wagons are circled,” a party source said. “It doesn’t matter that he’s an Independent. He’s a Fine Gael Independent. Sure you heard Coveney saying they know each other for 20 years.”

The Fianna Fáil TD was referring to a statement made by Tánaiste Simon Coveney in the Dáil in which he said he had known Mr Naughten, a former Fine Gael TD, for a long time.

Fianna Fáil also says it pushed for the resignation of former tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald before Christmas because of a culmination of controversies in the justice area.

“What Frances did was the culmination of a number of issues. But he [Mr Naughten] has run out of credit.”

Government sources also said that Mr Naughten’s actions were “pretty silly”.