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Government keen to sign broadband contract and get 'started right away'

Government sources state that more delays will come at further extra costs.

Image: Shutterstock/JazzLove

THE GOVERNMENT IS keen to sign the National Broadband Plan contract with Granahan McCourt consortium and get “started right away”.

Following the recommendation from an Oireachtas Committee yesterday that the national broadband network should remain in public ownership, the government has come under pressure not to ignore the committee’s report, which will be published next week. 

The Joint Oireachtas Communications Committee – which investigated the government’s decision to award Granahan McCourt preferred bidder status for the multi-billion euro contract – voted to recommend that the government reopen talks over the network. 

One of the only recommendations not adopted by the committee today was a proposal from Fine Gael members to sign the contract and to roll-out the network as soon as possible.

The report, which runs to about 70 pages long, also recommends that the government commission an external and independent review on whether the current proposal is value for money.

Speaking to reporters at Leinster House yesterday, Fianna Fáil’s Communications spokesperson Timmy Dooley said the contribution by Eir that they could roll out broadband for a lot less money is something that needs to be investigated further.

Dooley said an independent expert, from outside the State, who has expertise in EU law as well as broadband network provision should carry out the review. He added that he did not believe one of the established consultancy firms, often used to carry out reviews into government matters, should be asked to do the review.

However, government sources have hit back at Fianna Fail’s position to carry out a review, stating that nothing new will be discovered.

“When the NBP was announced back in May, the opposition claimed they had an alternative that would be cheaper for the taxpayer and deliver broadband to rural Ireland more swiftly. 

“After months of hearings, the opposition’s big plan is to delay the roll out, and instead commission more reports, and hire more consultants.

“It’s proof positive that there is no better plan,” they said.

They added that the government wants to progress with the preferred bidder and begin the roll out of broadband as soon as possible, adding that delaying in order to carry out another review will cost the State more money.

We can sign this contract and get started right away or we can go back to the drawing board – years of delay and extra cost.

When asked about how a new review might delay the provision of broadband further, Dooley said a delay that could possibly save €2 billion for the taxpayer is worth it.

The project has been an ongoing source of controversy, following a number of rejected proposals, plans for the proposed ownership of the network, and a Ministerial resignation last year.

Several bidders pulled out of contention for the tender for the project, which was awarded to the Granahan McCourt consortium in May, while the escalating cost of the subsidy the government will provide for the plan has also been criticised.  

As early as September last year, Finance and Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe questioned a decision to grant ownership of the plan to the winning bidder, after it emerged that the Government would pay €2.9 billion for the project over 25 years, with Granahan McCourt investing €220 million. 

Senior officials in the department have questioned the decision to progress with the plan, with documents showing that the minister was warned that other projects could be at risk if the project is given the green light.

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