The Irish Times view on Denis Naughten’s resignation: a sorry mess

Leo Varadkar told the Dáil that Naughten had acted in the national interest by resigning, but the Roscommon TD had no option

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was  right to force Denis Naughten to resign as Minister for Communications after he had been informed of a series of private dinner meetings between Naughten and US businessman David McCourt, who was involved in the tender for the national broadband plan.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was right to force Denis Naughten to resign as Minister for Communications after he had been informed of a series of private dinner meetings between Naughten and US businessman David McCourt, who was involved in the tender for the national broadband plan.

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was absolutely right to force Denis Naughten to resign as Minister for Communications. Naughten’s inappropriate behaviour left the Taoiseach with no other option. The real danger is that the episode may have compromised the roll-out of the national broadband plan.

Varadkar had to act decisively and ask Naughten to consider his position once he had been informed of a series of private dinner meetings between the then minister and US businessman David McCourt, who was involved in the tender for the national broadband plan. Naughten’s behaviour in meeting McCourt on a number of occasions without any of his officials present demonstrates he had no concept of the responsibilities that go with his office, particularly where such an important and sensitive decision on an issue of major national importance had to be made.

The Taoiseach told the Dáil Naughten had left himself open to the charge of having an inappropriate relationship with the businessman as the then minister would have had the ultimate responsibility for bringing the project to Cabinet with a recommendation on how to proceed.

Varadkar has asked Peter Smyth, the independent process auditor for the National Broadband Programme, to assess whether or not the process has been compromised as a result of Naughten’s meetings. While Varadkar told the Dáil that Naughten had acted in the national interest by resigning, the Roscommon TD had no option. The series of private dinners with McCourt indicate that some in the political system still do not understand the appropriate relationship between ministers and business people when it comes to major projects involving public funding.

Varadkar told the Dáil he was determined to see the National Broadband Plan through to completion, and compared it in ambition to the rural electrification scheme of the 1950s. Connecting rural Ireland to broadband as soon as possible is the goal of the plan and it can only be hoped that the sorry mess which led to departure of the minister will not interfere with that.

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