Martin refuses to force election over broadband row because of Brexit ‘volatility’

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Martin refuses to force election over broadband row because of Brexit ‘volatility’


Micheal Martin. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA
Micheal Martin. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA
Questioned: Communications Minister Richard Bruton. Picture: Collins

Fianna Fáil won’t pull the plug on the Government to stop the €3bn broadband plan – despite insisting it would do so if it was in power.

Micheál Martin is resisting calls from other opposition parties to end Confidence and Supply over the controversial plan to deliver high-speed internet to every home.

But at the same time, Mr Martin has said he wants to set up a new agency within the ESB to roll out broadband.

The Government is still up to six months away from formally signing a contract with the Granahan McCourt consortium. In some of his strongest criticism of Fine Gael yet, Mr Martin asked: “What planet are they on?”

He accused Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe of “playing fast and loose with the public finances” and claimed the credibility of the National Development Plan was “in shreds”.

But the Cork TD insisted the Brexit situation remained “fairly volatile” and therefore too “severe” for him to force Taoiseach Leo Varadkar into a general election.

Responding from Romania, Mr Varadkar said: “To me, what I heard Micheál Martin saying to people in rural Ireland was ‘wait longer’. People in rural Ireland have been waiting long enough.”

He denied there was a cheaper or faster way of delivering broadband to all homes.

The battle for rural Ireland will be played out on the doorsteps ahead of the local elections on May 24.

While ministers claim the timing is coincidental, opposition parties believe it is an attempt to buy the election.

Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy said this should be a “make-or-break moment” for Confidence and Supply.

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“It is one thing for Fianna Fáil to talk about this issue, but what it does about it is quite another. That will be watched very closely,” she said.

“I do not play those political kinds of games. I rarely say that kind of thing about Fianna Fáil, but this is a really significant issue. The timing of this announcement is really quite cynical.”

During a Dáil debate, Communications Minister Richard Bruton faced questions over the cost of the project, input from the consortium and ultimate ownership of the infrastructure.

Fianna Fáil’s Timmy Dooley suggested Granahan McCourt was only putting in between €300m and €400m. “My assumption is that thereafter, the rest will be by way of debt or syndicated debt. We are also conscious that the project will generate somewhere in the region of €1.5bn to €2bn over the life cycle of the contract,” he said.

However, a split has emerged in Fianna Fáil over the ownership of the fibre lines at the end of the 35-year deal.

The Government will provide a subsidy for upkeep over 25 years at which point the company will take the full risk for another decade. It will then own the infrastructure.

Mr Bruton argues this will reduce the liability on the State – but Mr Dooley claimed this amounted to a “rather bad deal”.

But his colleague and chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Sean Fleming, said his colleagues “don’t appreciate” Eir already owns the telephone poles along which fibre cables will be run.

“I would ask the people of Ireland, do you really want to own a 35-year-old cable that has been blowing in the Irish weather for 35 winters?

“It could be a liability to the State to own that at that particular time. And technology will have moved on,” Mr Fleming said.

Irish Independent


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