The minutes of a dinner meeting between Minister for Communications Denis Naughten, officials and the head of the bid for the national broadband plan have been released to RTÉ News.
They show that a ten-minute discussion took place during a dinner in New York between Department of Communications officials and David McCourt, whose firm was part of a consortium bidding for the State broadband contract.
The official records state that during the discussion Mr McCourt addressed what he understood were several issues raised by the department during the procurement process.
Among them was "the need for any changes in the make-up of the consortium to be avoided, or if necessary, to be kept to a minimum".
The meeting took place in New York at the end of July.
Official records show that Mr Naughten was accompanied to the dinner by his political advisor and three officials from the Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment.
The National Broadband Plan was discussed for a period of ten minutes and Mr McCourt did not address his remarks to the minister, but to a department official.
The minutes state that "during a brief discussion regarding the National Broadband Plan, Mr McCourt underlined his ongoing commitment to the process and addressed the four issues which he understood had previously been raised by DCCAE for clarification, as follows:
- The need for a permanent, Irish-based, leadership position within the enet-led consortium ('the consortium') - This was being addressed and an individual has been selected for the role.
- The need for streamlined decision making processes within the consortium - Provision for majority rather than unanimous decision making is now in place.
- The importance of the 15 August 2018 deadline and the need for the necessary financing to be in place at that time - This deadline will be met.
- The need for any changes in the make-up of the consortium to be avoided or, if necessary, to be kept to a minimum - The importance of this issue is understood by the consortium, which has been advised (by Arthur Cox) that, as long as the consortium's 'lead bidder' remains unchanged, such changes should not necessitate any delays."
They were released after calls from a number of opposition TDs for their publication.
Earlier, the minister said that he regularly meets people who are investing - or planning to invest - in Ireland.
Mr Naughten said Mr McCourt was someone who had already invested millions in telecoms infrastructure in Ireland and was preparing to invest millions more.
He added that he had never been directly involved in the procurement process relating to the NBP, which was a decision taken before he became minister.
"This is a competitive dialogue procurement process. It's not like any other procurement process. It's very much engagement, signing off on particular aspects of the project and moving on in terms of that," he added.
The issue was raised in the Dáil this afternoon, with Sinn Féin's communications spokesperson querying whether the Cabinet was aware of the meeting.
Laois TD Brian Stanley also questioned what the purpose and outcome of the meeting were. He also asked Mr Naughten to provide him with the minutes of the meeting.
In response, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said that Mr Naughten had no hand, act or part in the tendering process that was under way.
He said that when the evaluation team reports, the Government would then be able to make decisions.
Fianna Fáil's communications spokesperson Timmy Dooley said Mr Naughten should not have attended the dinner, describing it as highly inappropriate of the minister.
Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Seán O'Rourke, Mr Dooley said there were officials channels that the consortium headed by Mr McCourt should have used to contact Mr Naughten.
Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy said that Mr Naughten's meeting with Mr McCourt had undermined public confidence in the process of awarding a contract for the National Broadband Plan.
She believes the withdrawal of other bidders now had to be examined again in greater detail.
Green Party leader and former minister for communications Eamon Ryan said that he was very surprised that Mr Naughten had attended the dinner in New York.
Additional reporting by Sandra Hurley, Ailbhe Conneely and Mícheál Lehane