Denis Naughten: ‘I’m taking no more calls from lobbyists’

Minister apologises due to ‘fourth day’ taken up by discussing ‘30 second conversation’

Minister for Communications Denis Naughten has rejected a suggestion from Fianna Fáil TD Timmy Dooley that he provided a lobbyist with confidential information over a proposed media merger.

 

Minister for Communications Denis Naughten has told the Dáil he will take no more calls from lobbyists.

He also insisted that he had apologised for taking the call from a lobbyist about a proposed media merger because it was the fourth day in a row they had been discussing “a 30 second conversation”.

Mr Naughten became irritated during Ministers’ question time about his Communications, Climate Action and Environment portfolio when Fianna Fáil spokesman Timmy Dooley insisted the Minister had provided confidential information in his phone call with the lobbyist.

Mr Dooley told him: “You need to start at the beginning and just accept that you provided confidential information, that it was wrong. It’s on a relatively low scale and it can be addressed within this House.”

He said: “Will you just please bring this to a conclusion.”

Mr Dooley told the Minister he was at a loss as to “why you regret taking the call, why you’ve apologised for taking the call, why you’ve asserted that you’ll never take a call again if you did nothing wrong in the first instance”.

He said Mr Naughten failed to understand that “by providing an insight into your thinking, a hunch, a personal opinion whatever it might be - that was confidential information” and the Minister gave it to a lobbyist “and he passed it on”.

He said it was now part of evidence the Director of Corporate Enforcement is using as part of his campaign to appoint investigators.

“So it was confidential information, Minister. That’s what you need to accept. That’s what you’ve identified as being regrettable for taking the call,” he said.

Mr Naughten replied: “One; I did not give any confidential information. Two; I made it crystal clear that I would be guided by whatever advice I got from my officials and the file shows clearly that’s exactly what I did.”

He said: “The reason I regret and apologise is this is the fourth day in a row in this House that we’ve been discussing this issue here regarding a 30 second conversation that I had giving an opinion that I sincerely regret giving and that’s why I’m apologising to this House and to the public out there that this House has been preoccupied about this for four days in a row.”

Proposed merger

In November 2016 Mr Naughten took a call from former government press secretary Eoghan O Neachtain who informed him that the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission had accepted the proposed merger between INM and the Celtic Media Group.

The Minister said it was likely the matter would be referred to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland but he would act on the advice of his department officials.

Three weeks later in the Dáil he said he had not made his views known and would not do so.

But Mr Naughten told Sinn Féin communications spokesman Brian Stanley, one of the TDs who asked questions about the proposed merger: “When I was here in the House, I had an active file in front of me at that stage, and it was a very different situation at that point.”

He did not have a file and his role in the process had not started when he spoke to the lobbyist.

“And I’ve been at pains to try and point that out,” he said. “And I do sincerely regret it.”

Mr Stanley said: “You told me . . . you had absolutely no idea, I think you even shook your head, as to what you were going to do with it”.

He added: “I accept the fact that you have apologised. What we must do now is make sure that we tighten up all this area.”

The Sinn Féin TD asked Mr Naughten: “Would you agree that unofficial contacts with lobbyists for Ministers has to stop?”

The Minister replied: “I won’t be taking calls from lobbyists.”