Former government press secretary Eoghan Ó Neachtain has registered 10 separate returns of lobbying activity over the past two years, including two meetings with Minister for Communications and Energy Denis Naughten*.
Ó Neachtain, who is in charge of public and corporate affairs at Heneghan PR, has met government ministers and senior TDs on behalf of a number of clients involved in various businesses including broadband, housing and solar energy. He has been involved in all but three of the 13 lobbying returns recorded by Heneghan PR on the lobbying register.
The ten returns cover 34 separate acts of lobbying. Eight of those returns cover engagements conducted on behalf of two companies: Amarenco, a solar energy company led by former Bord Gáis chief executive John Mullins and E-Nasc, a broadband provision company based in Limerick.
Ó Neachtain and Mullins spoke to Naughten by telephone in the last quarter of 2016 about the issue of tariffs on solar energy. Ó Neachtain also met with Naughten, and separately met then minister for jobs Mary Mitchell O’Connor, on behalf of another client, Údarás Na Gaeltachta, the Gaeltacht industrial authority. That meeting happened towards the end of 2016.
Naughten's spokeswoman also said Ó Neachtain was in contact with the Minister's office about the launch of a joint venture between SSE Ireland and Enet to deliver broadband infrastructure to 115,000 homes and businesses across regional Ireland.
Among the other politicians Ó Neachtain met were the Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe. He was lobbying for the provision of public funds for children and youth affairs, on behalf of St Michael's House in Ballymun. He also met Minister for State Finian McGrath, and the Fianna Fáil health spokesman at the end of 2016.
Ó Neachtain also lobbied a large number of TDs on behalf of broadband provider, E-Nasc, including Eamon Ó Cuív (Fianna Fáil); Eamon Ryan (Green Party); then Independent Alliance minister of State for the OPW Seán Canney, Labour Party TD Seán Sherlock; then minister of State for the Gaeltacht Seán Kyne; Pat the Cope Gallagher (Fianna Fáíl); Tony McLoughlin (Fine Gael); Timmy Dooley (Fianna Fáil); Charlie McConalogue (Fianna Fáil); Thomas Pringle (Independent); Niamh Smyth (Fianna Fáil); and Brendan Smith (Fianna Fáil). He also met then minister of State Dara Murphy to lobby on solar energy.
Separately Nigel Heneghan, the principal of the company, met Donohoe to argue for a reduction of VAT on newspapers. The lobbying return from the summer of 2017 states he was "informing the Minister of the challenges facing the industry".
While Heneghan's clients included Independent News and Media, the return is unusual in that it states Heneghan did not lobby on behalf of a client.
Heneghan also lobbied Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy around the same time on behalf of a development company based in Tullamore.
The only other return submitted by Heneghan PR dates from the end of 2016 and states that then chair of INM Leslie Buckley and then chief executive Robert Pitt lobbied then minister for justice Frances Fitzgerald on the issues of libel laws and VAT on newspapers.
Separately, there has been continued criticism from Opposition politicians, especially Labour leader Brendan Howlin, that the phone call between Ó Neachtain and Naughten, on the proposed Celtic Media takeover by INM, was not registered.
It is understood that Heneghan PR is of the view that the communication was exempted under section 5 (5) of the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 which states that communications “requesting factual information or providing factual information in response to a request for the information” are not regarded as lobbying activities.
On Thursday, the head of ethics and lobbying regulation at the Standards in Public Office Commission, Sherry Perreault, said it did not comment on individual cases.
* 20/04/2018: This article has been amended to record that Eoghan Ó Neachtain made 10 separate returns to the Lobbyists' Register over the last two years, not 10 years, as was incorrectly reported, including two meetings with Minister for Communications and Energy Denis Naughten.