Varadkar reeling as Minister quits over €500m scandal

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Ireland’s reputation as a centre of large-scale financial corruption has not been helped by a whirlwind of devastating revelations which brought a sudden end to the Ministerial career of Denis Naughten on Thursday.

A plan to make broadband available across the 26 County state is now in tatters after it emerged that the Communications Minister held a series of private meetings with only one bidder, while other potential bidders were left to drop out.

Speaking on Friday after a turbulent 24 hours, Mr Varadkar said the independent TD “changed his story on a number of occasions”.

It is now understood Naughten held at least four private dinners with the head of the only remaining bidder for the national broadband contract, David McCourt, and also visited him at his home.

Varadkar admitted the former minister had not been in the homes of other bidders “and therein lies the problem”.

Naughten’s resignation has further eroded the minority government’s working majority in the Dublin parliament to three. The Roscommon-Galway TD said that he would decide whether to support the Government in the Dail “on a case-by-case basis”.

Speaking in the chamber following the resignation, Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said the revelations represent “quite the fiasco” and underscored the “unhealthy and inappropriate relationships” that exist within the Insider Class in the 26 Counties.

“There is no doubt that the tender process for the National Broadband Plan is now compromised; the only question is to what degree,” she said.

“The real casualty is the 542,000 households still awaiting broadband. We need clarity as to when the review promised by the Taoiseach will be completed and where the process now goes from here.”

She added: “What this entire debacle illustrates clearly is that nudge and wink politics between the Irish political establishment and very wealthy people is clearly alive and well.”

Varadkar has moved to fill the vacant position quickly. A former rival for the Fine Gael leadership, Richard Bruton, has been appointed Minister for Communications, replacing Mr Naughten. Joe McHugh has been appointed Minister for Education and Skills to replace him, and Sean Kyne has been appointed Chief Whip and Minister for the Gaeltacht and the Islands.

Amid the turmoil and speculation over an imminent election, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said he had written to Mr Varadkar proposing that both commit to continue their pact for his party to support Varadkar’s minority government until the final Brexit settlement has been reached.

Mr Martin said this would include ratification of any Brexit deal by the UK House of Commons and the European Parliament. The European Parliament is expected to vote on the deal in early March 2019.

In response, Mr Varadkar’s spokesman said the “best way to guarantee” there will not be an election is to start talks on an extension of the confidence and supply deal and “take them forward promptly, allowing the current arrangement to continue providing stable government until at least the summer of 2020”.

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