Naughten had 'at least three other meetings' with broadband bidder - Taoiseach
"There were no officials present and there are no minutes" - Taoiseach tells Dáil of "at least" three other meetings between former Minister for Communications Denis Naughten and broadband bidder.

At least three other private meetings took place between the former Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughten and David McCourt, who is a member of the consortium which is the lead bidder for Ireland’s National Broadband Plan, An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has told Dáil Éireann.

In a statement to the Dáil on Thursday evening following Naughten’s resignation, Varadkar said that he sought a meeting with the now-former minister Denis Naughten and there they discussed his meetings with David McCourt.

He subsequently contacted me shortly before midnight last night to inform me that he had just remembered that he had a private dinner in Mr McCourt’s home in 2017

“Yesterday evening, I sought a meeting with former Minister Naughten where I asked him to outline to me his interactions with Mr David McCourt. I was satisfied with the explanations he gave.

“He subsequently contacted me shortly before midnight last night to inform me that he had just remembered that he had a private dinner in Mr McCourt’s home in 2017. This was organised by Minister of State Pat Breen who was also present. Deputy Naughten suggested that in order to protect the National Broadband Plan project that he be reshuffled to another ministry or that responsibility for broadband be assigned to another Minister.

“I said that I would reflect on it overnight and meet him in the morning,” An Taoiseach said.

He continued that he met again with Naughten on Thursday morning, where he informed the Taoiseach “he had at least three other private dinners with Mr McCourt”.

'No officials'

“There were no officials present and there are no minutes. He had not informed me of these additional meetings either when we met yesterday or when we spoke last night.

“I have no doubt that his intentions were honourable at all points. But I do believe he left himself open to allegations of a conflict of interest and an inappropriate relationship with McCourt which could have in turn brought the process into question, thus potentially jeopardising the project in its entirety.

“As a result of this, I asked him to reflect on his position. He asked that he be allowed to explain his position to the Dáil. I have since received his resignation in writing and I have accepted it,” he said.

The Minister for Education Richard Bruton has been appointed as the temporary Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment.

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Minister for Communications Denis Naughten resigns

The farmer's daily wrap: protest outside TB forum and BPS opens
Here is your news round-up of the top five farming stories today, Wednesday 20 February 2019.

Weather

It will be cloudy and misty on Wednesday night, with a little drizzle and light rain in places. Some fog along hills and coasts. Temperatures will range from 8°C to 11°C, with south to southeast winds mostly moderate or fresh in strength. However, winds will be strong at times along coasts.

Thursday is set to be a mostly dry and blustery day, but a little drizzle or mist may occur along south and west coasts. A good deal of cloud overall but a few bright spells will break through at times. South to southeast winds will be mostly moderate to fresh in strength, but it will be gusty in parts of the south and west, before becoming increasingly windy by evening time in the southwest and west. Mild, with highs of 11°C to 14°C.

High Seas will lead to the risk of some coastal flooding.

In the news

  • Applications to the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) for 2019 opened on Wednesday.
  • The Beef Plan Movement held a protest outside a TB stakeholder forum meeting that was held at the Department of Agriculture’s Backweston Campus.
  • Meanwhile, inside the meeting farm bodies opposed the tighter TB controls which the Department put on the table.
  • Despite opposition from residents, the Supreme Court has upheld An Bord Pleanala's decision to grant planning permission for the North-South Interconnector.
  • And, shares in Glanbia surged on the back of strong 2018 results.
    Weekly podcast: roadmap for the beef sector and turning weeds into cash
    In this week's podcast, we report from the National Farmer's Union conference in the UK and the Agri Careers Expo in the RDS.

     

    Click here to download this week's podcast.

    With less than 900 hours to go until Brexit, Hannah Quinn Mulligan spoke to farmers in England at the National Farmers Union annual conference in Birmingham

    Addressing the NFU conference on Tuesday, UK secretary for the Environment Michael Gove said that there will be no zero-rate tariffs on agricultural goods post-Brexit and no hardening of the border in Ireland.

    Irish farmers are increasingly concerned about the future of the Irish beef industry. News correspondent Barry Cassidy spoke to IFA Sligo chair JP Cowley who has been farming suckler cows for over 40 years.

    Responding to these concerns, the chair of the Oireachtas Agriculture committee Pat Deering told us that the group is currently working on a roadmap for the beef sector.

    This week Bord Bia announced changes to the feedback farmers will receive from their Quality Assurance audits, news correspondent Thomas Hubert asked the Director of Origin Green Michael Moloney for more information.

    Thomas Hubert also met Derek Milton of Miltcon Services and Bernard Carey of the Biomass to Biochar project to discuss the conversion of rushes and bracken into valuable carbon products.

    And finally, Tyrone farmer Kenny Little is taking part in the Belfast, Edinburgh and Dublin marathons this year to raise money for three different charities. Tracey Donaghey caught up with Kenny to find out how he is feeling ahead of the challenge and why he has decided to do the marathons wearing a boiler suit and yellow wellies.

    Missed the previous episodes of the podcast? Catch up here!

    Supreme Court upholds North-South pylon plan despite opposition from residents
    Despite opposition from residents, the Supreme Court has upheld An Bord Pleanala's decision to grant planning permission for the North-South Interconnector.

    Affected residents in Monaghan, Cavan and Meath say they will continue to oppose the North-South Interconnector, despite the Supreme Court upholding planning approval for the southern section of the project.

    Planning for the project was initially granted by An Bord Pleanala in December 2016. Since then it has been the subject to judicial review proceedings.

    These were dismissed by the High Court in August 2017 but the judgement was appealed, which culminated in the case being brought to the Supreme Court.

    Liam Ryan, director of grid development and interconnection at EirGrid, said it was pleased the project had cleared “all of the planning and legal hurdles in Ireland”.

    He added EirGrid is hopeful the same could be achieved in Northern Ireland in the coming months.

    Opposition

    Residents who are opposed to the interconnector say the Supreme Court rulings change nothing.

    In a statement the North East Pylon Pressure (NEPP) group said: “The ruling today is very much related to the An Bord Pleanála approval in 2016. It does not address or have any impact on the ongoing issues facing Eirgrid and ESB.

    “The two key issues in relation to the challenges ahead – those related to access to landowners’ properties and the impact of Brexit on the future status of the project – were not considered by the court.”

    NEPP contends that the original planning application did not request permission for access routes.

    “No agreement for access exists at landowner level. Any attempts by ESB and EirGrid to request the local authorities to vary any of the conditions imposed will be challenged by landowners, one by one, at the appropriate time.

    “Now is the time to stand firm. Eirgrid and ESB will try to divide and conquer by making a big deal out of today’s ruling,” NEPP said.

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    EirGrid hopes study will 'clarify issues' on undergrounding interconnector

    High Court rules against landowners in North-South Interconnector case