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'It's a disgrace that it will take that long': Opposition TDs criticise 7-year timeline for rural broadband

Cabinet yesterday signed off on the National Broadband Plan.

A broadband engineer searches for a wireless signal from a rooftop in Athgarvan, Co Kildare.
A broadband engineer searches for a wireless signal from a rooftop in Athgarvan, Co Kildare.
Image: RollingNews.ie

OPPOSITION TDS HAVE expressed concerns over the length of time it will take for broadband to be rolled out to homes, businesses and schools in rural Ireland, with the plan being strongly criticised from some quarters. 

Cabinet yesterday signed off on the National Broadband Plan, which aims to bring high-speed internet to more than 540,000 homes, farms and businesses across rural Ireland.

The approval comes after a long and controversial process aiming to get broadband to rural areas. The plan was first announced by the then-Fine Gael-Labour government in 2012. 

Since then, it has been beset by delays and setbacks, including the withdrawal of Eir and rival broadband infrastructure giant Siro, a joint venture between Vodafone and ESB, from the bidding process. 

US-based investment firm Granahan McCourt is the only firm still vying for the contract for the project, which it plans to build with a group of subcontractors. 

A contract had been expected to be awarded last year, with then communications minister Denis Naughten – who eventually quit his ministerial post over a series of controversial meetings with Granahan McCourt chief David McCourt. 

Now, it is expected that the rollout will start later this year. The government said that the majority of properties will be connected over the next five years, but that it will take seven years – until 2026 – for all the properties to be connected. 

This timeline – and the high cost of the rollout, which is multiples more than was first mooted – has been strongly criticised by opposition figures. 

“A disgrace” 

Roscommon-Leitrim TD Michael Fitzmaurice labelled the timeline a “disgrace”, saying that there was a desperate need for broadband in rural areas. 

“They’re after saying that it’s going to take up to seven years to connect – the horse will have bolted by that time,” he said. 

I don’t welcome that part of it at all… We want to see broadband if they’re going ahead of it and it’s a disgrace that it will take years before anything comes.

Fianna Fáil communications spokesperson Timmy Dooley also criticised the plan. 

“Fine Gael is now promising to deliver broadband to a third less houses, taking three times longer and costing six times the original price, and to make it worse the state won’t own the network built with €3 billion of taxpayers money,” he tweeted. 

Cost

Sinn Féin’s communications spokesperson Brian Stanley also criticised the project, saying that government needed to provide answers as to why it would cost so much.

The cost to the State is €2.97 billion. This price includes VAT and a contingency fund. The majority will be paid in the first 10 years, although payment will be made over 25 years. 

“This Government is now costing the taxpayer billions of Euros. The cost overrun in the National Broadband Plan is set to be bigger than the one at the National Children’s Hospital,” he said. 

“We cannot continue to treat taxpayers’ money in this way. It is unacceptable, and we must get to the bottom of how this came about.

I am calling on Minister Bruton to appear before the Dáil this week to answer questions about the plan.

Speaking yesterday, Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton said the investment will have a “transformative effect on rural Ireland” and will future-proof communities for generations to come.

With reporting from Christina Finn and Peter Bodkin

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Cormac Fitzgerald

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