The former minister for communications, climate action and the environment, Denis Naughten, has said that he was “put in a position” where he had “no other choice” but to resign from his position last October.
The independent politician – who has represented the Roscommon-Galway constituency since 1997 – stepped down from his role in the wake of a controversy surrounding private dinner meetings with a bidder for the national broadband contract.
However, speaking to AgriLand six months after the fall-out, Naughten – who has been back in the headlines of late with a more specific focus on disparities in the beef sector – reflected on his turbulent exit from Leinster House.
At the time he was just days away from getting approval on the drawn-out broadband plan.
I’ll be quite open in relation to this. I felt that I was put in a position that I had no other choice but to resign.
“I smile today in relation to the newspaper articles on the cost of the new children’s hospital where the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, had the opportunity of having the report into the cost overrun completed and to let people decide on that.
I wasn’t given that opportunity.
In Naughten’s case, the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, sought an independent report on the National Broadband Plan to determine if it had been compromised on foot of the private dinners revelation after the announcement of Naughten’s resignation.
“As you know the report came out; it clearly stated that I neither interfered, nor tried to interfere, in the process whatsoever.
“I feel that I should have been accorded that opportunity – and this is a criticism of the media as much as anything,” he said.
Everything is about the headline and getting the front page today and tomorrow without allowing due process to happen and let whatever comes out.
“I had no issue with the truth coming out in relation to this; but, as I said at the time, my only focus at that time was to deliver the National Broadband Plan.
“When I left office it was 10 days away from being approved,” he said.
“I believe I deserved more time; I deserved the space to have that report completed. But I accept that in the news cycle that we have now, I wasn’t going to be given that.
“I felt for my family’s sake and my own sake I had no choice but to do what I did,” he said.
As it stands, the plan remains set to go ahead at a cost of more than €3 billion.
When it comes to the environmental side of the brief, Naughten questions whether his replacement – the new Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Richard Bruton – will approach climate change challenges with the same level of understanding and appreciation for farming and rural communities as he says he had.
Richard Bruton is pretty much moving in the same way that I would have moved – but do I think he will deliver in the same way? No.
“I don’t think there was an international conference that I spoke at that I didn’t bring agriculture into it, as I believe the agri-food sector and the rural community are very much part of the solution.Also Read: Richard Bruton to become Minister for Communications on a temporary basis
“I think that as a representative of the most rural constituency in Ireland it allowed me to have a different perspective,” he said.
The rural-based politician believes that the roll-out of high-speed broadband will be more important than electricity for all regions and communities outside urban centres in the approaching years.
He says it is the “key” to buffering rural communities from Brexit and from climate change challenges in the agricultural sector.
I would have argued up to now that broadband is equally as important as electricity. But, in fact, I could confidently say now that in five years’ time broadband will be more important than electricity.
“In five years’ time most farmers, and most households, will actually have their own generating capacity on the roofs of their houses in terms of micro-electricity generation. So, they will not be as reliant on the electricity supply from outside as they are today.
“I can now use my phone to turn on my heat at home in Roscommon and the lights. Soon it will be to turn on the washing machine and the dishwasher and everything else – that is the way technology is going,” he concluded.