Neither businessman David McCourt nor former minister for communications Denis Naughton were asked for written statements by the auditor who examined whether the National Broadband Plan (NBP) procurement process had been compromised.
Process auditor Peter Smyth was examining whether the process had been compromised because of multiple contacts between the sole tenderer Mr McCourt of Granahan McCourt and the contract-awarding minister.
Instead, Mr Smyth, whose report was held by the Government to have given the procurement process a clean bill of health, relied on a written statement Mr McCourt sent to the department and a series of phone calls he [Mr Smyth] initiated with the pair.
Giving evidence on Thursday to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Mr Smyth was questioned by Senator Michael McDowell.
“I didn’t ask them to give me a written statement but I spoke to them by phone on a number of occasions to get records of the different meetings,” said Mr Smyth.
“So, you didn’t ask Mr McCourt or the former minister to actually just put in writing for your consideration their account of the meetings that took place,” remarked Mr McDowell.
Mr Smyth explained that Mr McCourt had provided a written statement “without being requested” which was sent to the department to be copied to him.
“Did he supply that to minister Naughton?” asked Mr McDowell. “I don’t believe so,” said Mr Smyth. Mr Smyth stressed at the outset of the session with the committee that his investigation was only into the procurement process.
“I am satisfied that the process is safe,” he told the chairwoman, Fine Gael TD Hildegarde Naughton.
Mr Smyth told Mr McDowell he had eight phone calls with Mr Naughton, plus four text message and two email exchanges. With Mr McCourt, the figures were eight phone calls, 15 text messages and two emails.
He was unaware whether anyone was with Mr Naughton when he spoke to him on the phone, he said.
“Do you not agree,” asked Mr McDowell, “that the advantage of asking for a written statement separately from each of these gentlemen would be that they would commit themselves to a version [of events] before you started asking one of them on the phone, in a situation where the phone call could be discussed with the other?”
“I don’t think there is any advantage because if they wanted to fabricate evidence, they could fabricate evidence,” replied Mr Smyth.
Earlier, Mr Smyth told Senator Joe O’Reilly he was “unequivocal” that the former minister had not interfered in the procurement process. The process involved “evaluation teams” that acted “completely independently”.
“When you come up to the next level of management,” he said, “they can’t change the outcome of the evaluation. They can comment on the way things are phrased, they can comment on the way things are presented but they can’t actually go back to the evaluation teams and say ‘well, we don’t actually agree with that finding, you have to change that finding’. That is totally within the gift of the evaluation team.
“So having followed those chains of evidence, I am satisfied that the process itself is safe.”