It has been confirmed this evening that the current Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton, will take over – on a temporary basis – the role recently vacated by deputy Denis Naughten.

Deputy Naughten resigned from his position as the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment in the last few hours.

Also Read: Denis Naughten resigns as Minister for Communications

Speaking in the Dail since the former minister’s revelations, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar stated that since this Government came to office over two years ago the number of homes, farms and businesses connected to broadband has increased from 52% to over 75%.

My aim is to get it to 100%. Therefore, the overriding concern for me as Taoiseach and for this Government is to provide this infrastructure to the 540,000 homes – housing over one million people – who have been waiting for it for far too long.

“This is my only interest when it comes to this matter,” he said.

The Taoiseach outlined that he met David McCourt – a businessman involved in the tendering process for the National Broadband Plan – once last March in the US at a public event with media present, but that the plan was not discussed.

In recent weeks, deputy Naughten has come in for increasing criticisms surrounding his interactions with McCourt.

Continuing, Taoiseach Varadkar said: “Yesterday evening I sought a meeting with former minister Naughten, at which I asked him to outline to me his interactions with David McCourt. I was satisfied with the explanations he gave.

“He subsequently contacted me by telephone shortly before midnight last night to inform me that he had just remembered that he had a private dinner in David 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, he be reshuffled to another ministry or that responsibility for broadband be assigned to another minister.

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

Additional meetings

However, the Taoiseach stated that when he met with deputy Naughten this morning, the independent TD outlined that he had at least three other private meetings with David McCourt.

Addressing the Dail, the Taoiseach said: “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 in an inappropriate relationship with David McCourt – which could have in turn brought the process into question.

“Ultimately as minister, he had a decision making role and it would have been his responsibility to bring to cabinet the memo to gain the approval from Government for the rewarding of any contract.

“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 Dail, which I agreed to.

“I have since received his resignation in writing and accepted it. I am informing the house that I am assigning Minister Richard Bruton, on a temporary basis, to the Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment,” he said.

The Taoiseach has also sought a report from the independent process auditor for the National Broadband Programme in order to assess “whether or not the process has been compromised“.

Concluding, he said: “I deeply regret that these events have happened. But I believe, in resigning, deputy Naughten has acted in the public interest. I am determined to see the National Broadband Plan through to completion.

“Sometimes there are days when I have to make decisions that may cause deep personal distress to others, but are necessary for the good of the country; today is one of those days.”