A spokesperson for the Minister for Communications has said Denis Naughten paid for lunch for a businessman involved in the tender for the National Broadband Plan.

The lunch for David McCourt and members of his family cost €37 and it was deducted from Minister's Naughten's salary in July under the Oireachtas payments system, the spokesperson said.

The minister also said that he met Mr McCourt on one other occasion, as part of a meeting attended by the Secretary General and Assistant Secretary of the Department of Communications on 26 June.

This afternoon, Mr Naughten had said he did not know who paid for the lunch in the members' restaurant at Leinster House in April.

Mr Naughten confirmed in the Dáil earlier that he booked the businessman and his family into the restaurant to have a birthday celebration earlier this year.

Mr McCourt’s firm, Granahan McCourt, is part of a consortium bidding for the State broadband contract.

Although he did not attend the lunch, Mr Naughten acknowledged that he did book the restaurant, saying Mr McCourt wanted to bring his daughter to see the Dáil and that other TDs often facilitate such visits.

Speaking at a press conference in Dublin, Mr Naughten said it was not the case that bills in the Leinster House restaurant had to be paid for by the member who facilitated the guest to be there.

An Oireachtas spokesperson said that while diners in the members' restaurant have to be "sponsored" by a TD or Senator to access it, they can settle their own bill.

This effectively means that if the bill is left unpaid, or if any damage is caused, it falls back on the Oireachtas member.

A spokeswoman for Mr McCourt confirmed the businessman did have lunch in Leinster House in April.

She said: "His daughter had been working in Dublin for six months. It was her birthday, so he arranged to take her for lunch in Leinster House."

Mr Naughten said he did not accept that he should not have met bidders involved in the procurement process, saying there were many other issues in the communications space that required him to meet such individuals.

He said he had also met leaders of the other bidding consortiums at different times during the process.

Mr Naughten added he is not part of the procurement process and his role is to ensure the Government's objectives in relation to the National Broadband Plan are delivered on.

On the alterations of the make-up of the Granahan McCourt-led consortium, Ciaran Ó hÓbáin, Assistant Secretary at the Department, who leads the NBP procurement process team, said the process allows for change to a bidding team.

Last week, it emerged that the minister and officials from his department met Mr McCourt in New York last July.

Minutes of a dinner meeting at the time were released, and they show that a ten-minute discussion on the NBP took place.

The minutes show that Mr McCourt did not address the broadband plan to the minister, but to a department official.

Lunch allegations emerge in Dáil

This morning, the Dáil heard allegations that Mr Naughten met Mr McCourt in Leinster House on 18 April last.

The minister confirmed the lunch meeting was in his diary, and that Mr McCourt did have lunch in Leinster House, but the minister did not attend it.

Mr Naughten said Mr McCourt was in Leinster House for a birthday celebration and they were signed into Leinster House by him.

During heated exchanges, Fianna Fáil's communications spokesperson questioned the minister about the lunch meeting.

Timmy Dooley asked: "The questions that we now have about your relationship with the remaining [National Broadband Plan] bidder are many."

Mr Dooley asked if the minister met Mr McCourt or representatives on his behalf, and if minutes of the meeting were recorded.

He also asked Mr Naughten: "Did you have lunch with David McCourt at Leinster House on April 18th? The very same day you answered questions in the Dáil on your inappropriate role in the Celtic Media Group takeover."

The minister later said: "Did I have lunch on the 18th of April? No I didn't have lunch on the 18th of April."

Solidarity-PBP TD Paul Murphy later asked if a meeting with Mr McCourt on 18 April was in the minister’s diary.

Mr Naughten replied: "If Deputy Dooley said it was in my diary, it was in my diary."

In response to a question by Fianna Fáil TD James Browne, about an invitation to Mr McCourt to the members restaurant in the Dáil on 18 April for a birthday party, the minister said that the booking that day was made under his name.

He said: "Yes the booking was made under my name. I didn't speak with David McCourt either in person or on the phone or any other way that day or in subsequent days in relation to that.

"I facilitated the family coming into Leinster House as many colleagues do here and I didn't have any engagement whatsoever with Mr McCourt."

Earlier, Sinn Féin's communications spokesperson also asked questions about the viability of the plan to roll out the National Broadband Plan which he termed was now "a dog's dinner".

Brian Stanley asked the minister why he met Mr McCourt in New York.

"You are heading up the department that will sign off on the contract. You will sign off on it and you should not have been meeting him," he said.

Additional reporting Will Goodbody and Conor McMorrow