Communications Minister Denis Naughten resigns over broadband row

11 Oct 2018

Former Communications Minister Denis Naughten, TD. Image: John Kennedy

Controversy over National Broadband Plan seemingly made Naughten’s position untenable.

Denis Naughten has resigned as Minister for Communications, Climate Change and the Environment.

His resignation comes in the wake of a growing controversy over the National Broadband Plan (NBP) and his contacts with the head of the National Broadband Ireland consortium, David McCourt from Granahan McCourt.

Naughten told the Dáil that he met with An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, TD, and that it was clear the Taoiseach did not have confidence in him.

“For my family, constituents and 1.1m people waiting for this essential [broadband] service to ordinary people in rural Ireland, I’ve given the Taoiseach my resignation,” Naughten told the Dáil.

Digital disconnect

Naughten was under fire for apparently attending a dinner with McCourt in New York as well as arranging for McCourt and a family member to enjoy lunch in the members’ restaurant at Leinster House.

A heated row broke out during Leaders Questions’ yesterday (10 October) in the Dáil, with TDs Timmy Dooley and Thomas Pringle questioning Naughten over why he chose to meet McCourt, saying it compromised the NBP.

The €1bn NBP, which poses to connect about 540,000 premises not served by commercial broadband, saw various bidders, including Eir and Siro, walk away in the past year.

That left the final consortium Enet-SSE in the race. In recent months, Scottish infrastructure giant SSE sensationally left the consortium, casting doubt over the future of the NBP.

In recent weeks, Granahan McCourt announced a final bid with a consortium that consists of Denis O’Brien’s engineering services firm Actavo as well as Enet, tech giant Nokia, Kelly Group and KN Group. The consortium proposed to go beyond the 30Mbps in the tender and provide 1Gbps services across Ireland.

In recent days, McCourt’s company, Granahan McCourt, sold its remaining 22pc in Enet to the Irish Infrastructure Fund, ostensibly to free McCourt’s company up to focus exclusively on the NBP.

The NBP was first unveiled in 2012 with the intention of bringing broadband to rural Ireland by 2018. It has since been mired by a series of stops and starts, leaving residents of rural Ireland still disconnected long after it was supposed to start.

The next big question will be whether the NBP can go ahead at all in its current form, or if a whole new process will have to begin again.

Updated, 3.19pm, 27 November 2018: This article was amended to clarify that the latest consortium is led by Granahan McCourt, with Enet as one of the partners.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years