Minister Pat Breen outlines meetings with key bidder in broadband controversy

Minister of State said he knows David McCourt on a personal basis

The Dáil was told Minister of State Pat Breen organised and attended one of the private dinners between then minister for communications Denis Naughten and a key bidder for the rural broadband contract David McCourt.

The Dáil was told Minister of State Pat Breen organised and attended one of the private dinners between then minister for communications Denis Naughten and a key bidder for the rural broadband contract David McCourt.

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Minister of State Pat Breen has outlined meetings he had with David McCourt, the key bidder in the broadband procurement process, and has said he knows him “on a personal basis”.

In a statement last night, he said as Minister of State with responsibility for Trade, Employment, Business, EU Digital Single Market and Data Protection, he has “ no role in the National Broadband Plan, its rollout or its procurement”.

“In my role as Minister of State, I have had occasion to meet, or be present at meetings or events with David McCourt, who is a significant investor in Ireland,” he said.

“Mr McCourt’s home is about 10 miles from my home in Co Clare. I have gotten to know Mr McCourt on a personal basis, have visited his Co Clare home several times and met him on other occasions in a private capacity.”

He outlined three occasions on which he had met Mr McCourt, of Granahan McCourt, on a professional basis, firstly on June 2nd, 2016.

“I spoke at the launch of ALTV.com at Ely Place in Dublin, following a request from the Department of Foreign Affairs,” he said. “The company is owned by Granahan McCourt. This is the first time I met Mr McCourt.”

He said on October 20th, 2016, he had a breakfast meeting with Mr McCourt in the Merrion Hotel, Dublin. And on December 2nd, the same year, he attended a meeting with the Shannon Group and Mr McCourt in Co Clare, in relation to investment in the Shannon region.

“Last year, on the request of Mr McCourt, I asked Denis Naughten, then Minister for Communications, if he would like to come to a dinner in Mr McCourt’s house. Mr McCourt’s wife also attended the dinner. To my knowledge, the National Broadband Plan was not discussed at the dinner.”

Mr Breen’s statement comes following the resignation of Mr Naughten following his disclosure to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that he had four private dinners with Mr McCourt.

Earlier in the Dáil, questions were raised about Mr Breen’s in the broadband contract controversy.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the process had been compromised.

Ms McDonald asked “what is the situation as regards Pat Breen” because he was also party to the arrangements and she asked the Taoiseach to confirm that he was still a Minister of State as Minister Naughten was gone.

She asked if the Taoiseach had spoken to Mr Breen. The Taoiseach signalled to Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl who said there was no provision for questions.

Ms McDonald said however that “there is still a question around Minister Breen”.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said that whatever about the propriety of arranging a dinner, when controversy arose recently about the dinner in Manhattan attended by Mr Naughten and Mr McCourt in July, Mr Breen should have informed the Dáil or the Taoiseach then that he had arranged another dinner between the two.

He said Mr Breen’s position as Minister is also in question.

Independent TD Michael Harty told the Taoiseach: “If you believe that Denis Naughten acted with impropriety you must also believe that those who arranged those meetings acted inappropriately as well.”

Dr Harty, a Clare TD said “it does call into question the position of Minister Breen who is a constituency colleague of mine. I would not attack him on any personal level but certainly if he has been involved in this process he also has questions to answer.”

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy also questioned the probity of Mr Breen’s role.

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