Micheal Martin has accused the Government of turning the signing of a major broadband contract into a “nakedly political” by-election PR stunt.
The Fianna Fail leader said the launch event for the National Broadband Plan at a school in Co Wicklow blurred the line between official government business and political campaigning.
The three billion euro project will roll out high-speed broadband to more than half a million premises throughout the country.
Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar and Communications Minister Richard Bruton joined representatives from National Broadband Ireland, the consortium that will deliver the rollout, at the event at a school in Laragh on Tuesday. Government officials also attended.
The contract signing came ahead of a series of by-elections at the end of the month.
Addressing the Dail, Mr Martin criticised the launch.
“It was turned into a nakedly political by-election event in Co Wicklow attended by Fine Gael non-office holders, Fine Gael candidates, Fine Gael councillors,” he said.
“The one Fianna Fail TD (Pat Casey) who was there was not invited, it was his former school, he found his way there.
“You guys organised a Fine Gael event. This is serious.
“What this represents is a blurring of office holding, of government activity with party political campaigning, it should not happen.”
Mr Martin demanded assurances that no public resources would be used to assist non-office holders in the promotion of the rollout and no Fine Gael candidate would be provided with information on it for campaigning purposes.
He urged the Government to suspend advertising and marketing of the plan in advance of next year’s general election and asked for confirmation that Fine Gael did not obtain information from the private company prior to the contract being signed.
Mr Bruton defended the event and its attendees.
“Every step in this we have been meticulous in ensuring the public interest would be protected and it was natural that at this signing of such an important contract we would have senior officials present who were involved in the development of this,” he told the Dail.
Mr Bruton said the plan was a “very significant project” for rural Ireland.
“This is a really important decision and deserved the attention it got from ministers across government to be part of an important announcement for the future of the country,” he said.