Tanaiste Simon Coveney was forced to defend his government colleague amid a controversy surrounding a phone call with a prominent lobbyist.
Mr. Coveney told TDs during Leader’s Questions that he has confidence in Denis Naughten as minister and dismissed allegations of ‘old style politics’ and ‘cronyism’.
”I have known him for 20 years and I know him as a straight minister just as he is a straight politician, he regrets the fact that this conversation took place but in my view he didn’t do anything that constitutes giving inappropriate information to anybody.”
Minister Naughten said he sincerely regretted expressing his personal opinion to PR executive Eoghan O Neachtain, acting for Independent News and Media (INM) in relation to the company’s proposed takeover of Celtic Media.
He said he did not disclose confidential information in relation to his decision to refer the INM’s proposed move to regulator Broadcast Authority of Ireland (BAI) and had only spoken about information already in the public domain at the time. He also claimed he was not responsible for the way in which the conversation was interpreted or relayed.
Foreign Affairs Minister Coveney added that: ”He regrets the fact that this conversation took place but in my view he didn’t do anything that constitutes giving inappropriate information to anybody.”
Among his fiercest critics in the Dail was Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty who claimed the minister’s explanation ‘stretches the bounds of credibility’.
”Mr O Neachtain was hardly phoning the minister for a personal view. Is that what you believe that this was?’ ‘We all know that he rang him because he was the minister. ‘He was the minister with the regulatory and statutory responsibility in respect of referring the takeover bid to the BAI.”
”What we have here is an example of old style politics of the golden circle variety; the nod and the wink culture; the insider, who you know mentality; the old boys’ club. And we all thought that those days were over.”
Fianna Fáil TD Dara Calleary accused the government of trying to play down the significance of the telephone call. ”This stinks. This smacks of old style politics and cronyism. The type of politics Fine Gael always tried to say they are actually above.”