It was the drip feed of contacts between Denis Naughten and a US businessman which ultimately led to the minister's dramatic fall from grace.

"Did I have lunch on the 18th of April? No I didn't..."

The words of the then Minister for Communications Denis Naughten at 10.25am on Wednesday.

He was responding to questions from Fianna Fáil's Timmy Dooley. He had asked about a lunch meeting with billionaire David McCourt in the Members' Restaurant in Leinster House.

After his response that he did not have lunch, questions to the minister proceeded as normal.

The focus switched to issues such as post offices and climate change.

But just before 11am, the few TDs that were in the practically empty Dáil chamber returned to the issue of the 18 April lunch. 

Solidarity TD Paul Murphy asked if the minister was due to meet the US billionaire on the day and if there would be a diary entry to that effect?

Crucially, Mr Dooley took to the floor again.

He confirmed that he had seen a diary entry. He was also able to confirm Mr McCourt did have lunch in Leinster House on that day.

From that moment, Denis Naughten's ministerial career dramatically imploded.

The drip feed of information about his relationship with Mr McCourt continued - first in the Dáil and later at an afternoon press conference.

By the end of the day, it had emerged the minister for communications had arranged and paid for lunch in the Dáil members’ restaurant for the businessman and his family.

The price of the lunch was €37, but he would pay the ultimate price for his relations with the businessman.


This morning, Fianna Fáil focused on Brexit during Leaders' Questions. It appeared the party was happy to have embarrassed the Government yesterday but did not want a political head on a plate today.

But Sinn Féin's Pearse Doherty and Labour leader Brendan Howlin continued to pile pressure on the minister.

They both highlighted the inappropriateness of a minister having any contact with a bidder during a procurement process.

The Labour leader warned that the minister "may well have contaminated the process and left it open to legal challenge."

Tánaiste Simon Coveney's defence of his Cabinet colleague was lukewarm. He said Mr Naughten should be given the "time and space" to explain himself.

Time was duly allotted for this to take place at 3pm in the Dáil Chamber.


At exactly 3pm Denis Naughten stood up and started to address the Dáil.

Eight minutes later he left the chamber, leaving a stunned Dáil, - and his place at the Cabinet table - behind him.

In a dramatic resignation speech, Mr Naughten pointed out that the Opposition had not asked him to go. He delivered the stinging lines that his departure "is more about opinion polls than telecom polls. It is more about optics than fibre optics."

After his departure from the chamber, his colleagues were left stunned.

The dramatic nature of what had just happened was summed up by Green party leader Eamon Ryan, who asked "Do we have a Government?"


At 4.30pm Taoiseach Leo Varadkar entered the chamber to explain a shocking sequence of events. 

He had met Minister Naughten yesterday. After that meeting he was satisfied with the minister's explanation about his interactions with David McCourt.

But shortly before midnight, Minister Naughten called the Taoiseach to say "he had just remembered that he had a private dinner with Mr McCourt in Mr McCourt's home in 2017. This was organised by Minister of State Pat Breen who was also present."

Minister Naughten suggested to the Taoiseach that he be reshuffled to another ministry. The responsibility for broadband could be assigned to another minister.

The Taoiseach said he would reflect on that overnight and meet him in the morning.

Then the bombshell came.

Mr Naughten told the Taoiseach this morning that he had at least three other private dinners with Mr McCourt. "There were no officials present and there are no minutes."

The Taoiseach said Minister Naughten had left himself "open to allegations of a conflict of interest and an inappropriate relationship with Mr McCourt". The game was over. 


This evening Solidarity TD Paul Murphy said the Government is now a "fiasco that should be put out of its misery."

He pointed out: "The Government has no effective majority. If Fianna Fáil abstain, the independents vote against and Mr Naughten comes to the opposition side, the Government does not have a majority."

So can the Government still rely on Mr Naughten's support? Speaking on RTÉ's Six One News, he said he will decide "on a case-by-case basis."

This increases the pressure on the minority Government to more firmly secure support from Independent TDs. The votes of independents such as Michael Lowry, Noel Grealish, Seán Canney, and the recently departed Peter Fitzpatrick have been given more importance.

The numbers are very tight.

But the Government will argue that has been the case since the 2016 General Election. It has survived against the odds since then.

Government's can often be likened to space shuttle's disintegrating. Bits of the shuttle come off but, weakened, it continues to fly on.

A dependable component of this Government dislodged today.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will forge ahead with talks on renewing the Confidence and Supply deal. 

Confidence in this Government is in shorter supply than ever before now. And the events of the last 24 hours increase pressure ahead of those talks.

Back to yesterday's Minister's questions.

Sinn Féin's Brian Stanley dubbed the National Broadband Plan "a dog's dinner". He also asked the now former Minister: "What in the name of God were you doing meeting David McCourt?"

That's a question Denis Naughten may ask himself now.

It's also one that the minority Government will grapple with as it hangs together.