Staged signing of broadband contract a ‘Fine Gael event’, Martin says

FF leader says event marking €3bn deal a ‘blurring’ of Government and party political activity

Minister for Communications Richard Bruton (left), Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (centre)  and David McCourt, who leads the  consortium that has signed a contract for the National Broadband Plan, are pictured at St Kevin’s National School in Wicklow on Tuesday. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire.

Minister for Communications Richard Bruton (left), Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (centre) and David McCourt, who leads the consortium that has signed a contract for the National Broadband Plan, are pictured at St Kevin’s National School in Wicklow on Tuesday. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire.

 

The Government was accused of “nakedly political” behaviour in its staging of an event to mark the formal signing of the contract for the €3 billion National Broadband Plan in Co Wicklow on Tuesday.

As canvassing in the four byelections to be held on November 29th intensified, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin claimed the Government blurred the lines of office holders and Government activity with “party political campaigning”.

Mr Martin insisted angrily in the Dáil that the issue of how the Government conducts itself was very serious and he noted the importance of “adhering strictly to the demarcation lines between office holders and party political events”.

He said Fine Gael’s behaviour was a “blurring....of Government activity with party political campaigning. It should not happen.”

Fianna Fáil had raised concern about Fine Gael using the broadband plan for political gain during the local elections in April, he said.

“And yesterday what should have been a formal hands-off signing of a €3 billion contract between a private company and Government office holders was turned into a nakedly political byelection event in Co Wicklow,” he said.

Mr Martin said the signing of the contract in a school was attended by “Fine Gael non-office holders, Fine Gael candidates, Fine Gael councillors”.

‘Not invited’

Mr Martin added: “The one Fianna Fáil TD who was there was not invited. It was his former school, he found his way there.”

He told the Government benches “you guys organised a Fine Gael event”.

The Fianna Fáil leader warned that “you must give assurances that no public resources will be used to assistant non-office holders in the promotion of this initiative.

“And can you confirm that no Fine Gael candidate will be provided with information in terms of campaigning.”

He also called on the Government to “take steps to suspend advertising and marketing in advances of the general election”.

Minister for Communications Richard Bruton said that “at every step” in the broadband plan process “we have been meticulous in ensuring that the public interest will be protected”.

Mr Bruton said it was natural that at the signing of such an important contract “we would have senior officials present who were involved in the development of this” because it was a very significant project for rural Ireland.

“This was a really important decision and deserved the attention it got from Ministers across Government to be a part of an announcement on the future of the country,” he added.

Mr Martin has previously challenged the Government on its use of official campaigns for party publicity including its ill-fated strategic communications unit, which was wound down.