Committee seeks unredacted copy of broadband plan warning

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Committee seeks unredacted copy of broadband plan warning

PAC chairman Sean Fleming said there is a ‘very highly charged political debate’ between the Government and opposition parties.


An Oireachtas Committee is to seek unredacted copies of warnings from a top civil servant to Government over the cost of the National Broadband Plan (Rui Vieira/PA)
An Oireachtas Committee is to seek unredacted copies of warnings from a top civil servant to Government over the cost of the National Broadband Plan (Rui Vieira/PA)

An Oireachtas committee is to seek an unredacted copy of warnings from a top civil servant to Government over the cost of the National Broadband Plan (NBP).

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is to write to Robert Watt, the Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, after he warned that the plan poses great financial risk.

In a letter to Government officials, Mr Watt outlined his concerns over the project and called for the procurement process to be cancelled.

Documentation released earlier this week revealed that Mr Watt advised against the Government appointing the preferred bidder on grounds of affordability, risk and value for money.

The committee was to publish a report on broadband next week but it has been delayed after the warnings emerged.

The announcement confirms further delays in broadband delivery on top of the many delays already experienced.
Timmy Dooley

PAC chairman Sean Fleming said there is a “very highly charged political debate” between the Government and opposition parties.

“I felt it might be perceived as the (committee) wading into a current political controversy and I don’t want the Public Accounts Committee accused of that,” Mr Fleming added.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fail communications spokesman Timmy Dooley called for the Government to reveal the financial contribution from the Granahan McCourt consortium, which is behind the project.

The rollout of the scheme, which will bring fibre broadband to 1.1 million people across the country, will begin at the end of the year.

It is expected to take seven years to complete.

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Speaking during leaders’ questions, Mr Dooley said: “At this stage Tanaiste you have realised that this thing won’t just wash with those people who have waited patiently for broadband as promised on numerous occasions.

“The announcement confirms further delays in broadband delivery on top of the many delays already experienced.”

Simon Coveney said the Government made the announcement “as soon as we could stand over it”.

He said: “It’s about future-proofing rural Ireland for the technology change that we know is happening. It’s about ensuring there is not a digital divide across this country on the basis of where you live or what your address is.

“Of course opposition parties need to test and hold us to account and that is why we have released all of the information in relation to the debate that took place within government and government departments before this decision was made.

“The Government is not in a position to be able to give a figure on what the bidder is actually putting in in terms of equity themselves at this time, because there is still a negotiation to conclude, but that figure will be published in time and that figure will be proportionate to the commercial return that is available to the bidder.”

Mr Dooley said: “Considering that the tendering process is over there is absolutely no reason why you can’t publish that number.

“It’s clear there is a rather small contribution being made by Granahan McCourt in relation to the return.”

Mr Coveney added that the Government will be contributing “up to half” of the cost of the delivery of the infrastructure.

Sinn Fein TD Pearse Doherty claimed that the NBP could amount to a “red herring”.

“This is a process that started in 2012. Eight years on we don’t have yard of fibre laid under this plan,” he added.

“Under your new plan many in rural Ireland will be lucky to have high broadband speed in the the later stage of the next decade. This is not good enough.

“The documents published yesterday highlight serious significant flaws that no one in government has addressed.

“The documents we have seen raise questions about the capacity of the bidder to deliver the project.”

During statements on the matter in the Dail on Thursday afternoon, Communications Minister Richard Bruton said 1.1 million people would be left behind if the Government had not made the decision to go ahead with the plan.

Sinn Fein’s Brian Stanley said the Government was acting in a “completely reckless way… this is nothing short of being fiscally irresponsible”.

“It’s essential that the state retain control of this large project and vital infrastructure,” he said.

“This isn’t any tiddlywinks project. This is a major project.”

Labour’s Jan O’Sullivan said equality of access to high-speed broadband across the country was essential but she said the party had a very different vision of how it could be achieved.

“This week’s announcements can only be understood as being political,” she said.

“They were clearly designed to influence the local and European elections in two weeks.

“The Government is proposing to spend three billion euros of the people’s money on a private monopoly which will own the network forever.”

She added: “In the current plan, it is possible that vulture funds could buy up the body to be called National Broadband Ireland to squeeze more money out of the quarter of our people who will be reliant on it.”

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett called for the project to be halted.

“This Government is completely incapable of delivering major infrastructural projects of huge importance to the people of this country, our economy and society,” he said.

“That is the inescapable conclusion one has to draw from the shambles that continues to unfold around rural broadband.”

He added: “This process is fatally flawed. We should stop it now. We’ve said it several times before and we’ll say it again. Stop this process now … if we had relied on this model to deliver rural electrification, we would still be operating by candlelight in this country.”

Press Association


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