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Smyth report set to clear way for rural broadband scheme

Inside Politics: Auditor’s findings are expected to clear former minister Denis Naughten of seeking to influence process in favour of Granahan McCourt

Good morning.

The Cabinet will today receive and discuss the report into the tendering process for the national broadband plan from Peter Smyth. The independent auditor was tasked by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with assessing if the national broadband plan was compromised by meetings between former minister for communications Denis Naughten and the sole remaining bidder for the scheme.

As we report this morning the report is expected to clear Naughten of seeking to influence the process in favour of investment firm Granahan McCourt, or otherwise.

Naughten resigned last month amid controversy over meetings he held with David McCourt, the American businessman heading the Granahan McCourt consortium. At the time of his resignation, Naughten was strongly critical of Varadkar, claiming what he saw as his forced resignation was more about “optics than fibre optics”.


Most around Leinster House, however, felt Naughten had displayed a lack of judgment in meeting McCourt privately on a number of occasions and left Varadkar with no option. Those close to Naughten have countered he was open to a review, such as that now completed by Smyth - which he believed would clear him of any wrongdoing.

Expect the Roscommon TD to make a public statement after the report is published later today.

Richard Bruton, Naughten’s successor as Minister for Communications, is also expected to make a statement once Cabinet has concluded. Sources last night said Mr Bruton will ask the Cabinet to note the contents of the report and claimed a decision on the future of the national broadband plan may not be taken for a number of weeks.

Varadkar, Bruton and others insist the plan will go ahead, but Fianna Fáil has flagged the slow rollout of rural broadband as one of the main policy issues it wants discussed in the review of the confidence-and-supply deal. Sources close to the Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil talks said broadband could be discussed between the two sides as soon as this week.

The talks resume today with further discussions of issues within the Department of Transport. The shadow of Brexit hangs over the deliberations, and it is likely to be the determining factor on whether an agreement is reached to extend the deal underpinning the Fine Gael-led minority Government.

It was announced yesterday the “meaningful vote” in the House of Commons on the Brexit withdrawal agreement and accompanying political declaration will take place two weeks from today, on Tuesday, December 11th.

If, as seems likely, the Commons rejects the vote at the first time of asking, triggering political chaos in London, the leaders of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are likely to come under huge pressure to agree a deal before the Dáil rises for the Christmas recess, expected to happen around December 18th or 19th, assuming their talks have not concluded.

TDs from both sides say rising for Christmas with no conclusion to the confidence-and-supply talks - which, by that stage, will have rumbled on for over two months - will reflect badly on both parties.

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In Dublin, the Cabinet will get an update on Brexit contingency planning, including how 3,000 people have applied for 600 new customs posts created to deal with extra checks between Ireland and mainland Britain.


The Cabinet meets today.


Leaders’ Questions is at 2pm, followed by the Order of Business and Taoiseach’s Questions.

Paschal Donohoe is up on public expenditure questions.

There are two instruction to committees: one on the African Development (Bank and Fund) Bill 2018 and another on the Central Bank (National Claims Information Database) Bill 2018.

The Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy Bill 2018 is at report and final stages.

Sinn Féin have a PMB on the microgeneration support scheme.


The Finance Bill is at second stage in the Upper House.


The Finance and PER committee discusses supplementary estimates for the public services with Minister of State Kevin “Boxer” Moran.

The Dáil members’ interests committee meets in private session.

Agriculture, Food and the Marine has a briefing with officials from the Department of Agriculture on Areas of Natural Constraint (ANCs). Michael Creed is also before the committee to discuss a motion on the Horse and Greyhound Fund, and to discuss an upcoming EU council meeting of agriculture and fisheries ministers.

Budgetary Oversight has a private meeting.

Business, Enterprise and Innovation scrutinises EU legislative proposals on free trade agreements with Vietnam, among other issues. It also has a session with the Department of Enterprise, Solas and the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs on “Ireland’s Skills Needs”. Two apprentices will also talk about their experiences of apprenticeship schemes.

The Committee on Communications, Climate Action and the Environment resumes detailed scrutiny of Fianna Fáil TD James Lawless’s Online Advertising and Social Media (Transparency) Bill.

Sherry Perrault, head of ethics and lobbying regulation at SIPO, and Karen White, director of public policy at Twitter Europe, will appear at the committee.