08 May 2019

Cabinet expected to approve €3bn broadband plan

Filed under: Business News

Cabinet expected to approve €3bn broadband plan

The Cabinet meets this morning to consider approving the National Broadband Plan, which aims to bring high-speed internet to more than half a million homes, farms and businesses across rural Ireland.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar confirmed to the Dáil that the project could cost as much as €3bn over 25 years, but added that the tender submitted by the sole remaining bidder was being gone through in “excruciating detail”.

However, opposition parties claim that the plan does not represent good value for money – a position that is also held by senior officials in the Department of Public Expenditure.

Back in 2012, the original National Broadband Plan was launched with some fanfare by the then minister for communications Pat Rabbitte, who described it as the “rural electrification of the 21st century”.

Since then, it has been a lengthy, complicated and controversial process that saw five original bidders reduced to three preferred bidders, only for two of them to pull-out, and the sole remaining consortium Granahan McCourt Capital to significantly alter its membership.

In October last year, the then communications minister Denis Naughten resigned following revelations that he met David McCourt, who heads up Granahan McCourt, while the tendering process was ongoing.

Following that debacle, the Taoiseach described delivering broadband to rural Ireland as a “personal crusade”.

Mr Varadkar has said what is now being proposed is very different from the original plan and this accounts for the estimated cost increasing from €500m to €3bn.

However, opposition parties have severely criticised the Government on the price tag.

Fianna Fail’s Timmy Dooley described it as an “appalling betrayal of taxpayers”, while Sinn Féin’s Brian Stanley said it was “the wrong decision after a bad tendering process”.

The added complication for the Government is that senior officials in the Department of Public Expenditure have also been expressing concern about the price tag, something that puts Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe in a difficult political position.

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