Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 3 December 2015
Committee on Transport and Communications: Select Sub-Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources
Estimates for Public Services 2015
Vote 29 - Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Supplementary)
Apologies have been received from the Chairman, Deputy John O'Mahony. The select sub-committee has been convened to consider the following Supplementary Estimate for Public Services: Vote 29 - Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. I remind members this is a Supplementary Estimate and while they may discuss issues relevant to the individual subheads, they may not recommend increases or decreases in the Supplementary Estimate. There will be no vote on the issues. I ask that all mobile telephones be switched off. I thank the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy White, and his officials for attending to assist us in our consideration of this Supplementary Estimate. I propose we deal with the Supplementary Estimate on a subhead basis. Is that agreed? Agreed. We will begin with subhead A3.
There are some savings with metropolitan area networks, MANs, which gave rise to the €2.5 million underspend. In regard to MANs phase 1, this allocation is required to provide for any possible additional claim arising from a dispute from between Sligo County Council and the works contractor. There were no further developments in 2015 and the dispute is ongoing. The moneys will be required, however, in 2016.
On MANs phase 2, the underspend relates to retention moneys outstanding on two remaining MANs projects. The Department must verify that any outstanding issues have been completed and signed off before a retention claim can be paid. It is expected that these claims will be paid during 2016, provided the necessary works have been completed. The funding of these claims will be required for this project in 2016.
The management services entity, MSE, process relates to costs associated with the requirement for technical expertise to assist in the management of the MSE project, including technical audits of the MANs. A decision on whether to use internal or external expertise for these services is being considered. Depending on the outcome, a tender process will be conducted for the services, if required. These services were previously provided by Magnum Opus Consulting, the programme manager for MANs.
The item for Galway-Mayo relates to telecoms ducting to be installed alongside the main Bord Gáis Éireann gas pipeline in Galway-Mayo to provide optic fibre infrastructure to improve telecoms and broadband services in the region.
The Department is undertaking a tendering process to select a telecommunications operator that can act as an MSE to have the ducts and fibre brought into operation. However, it cannot be finalised until the telecommunications ducting is ready for hand-over to the Department by Bord Gáis Energy. This phase of the project should be finalised soon and good progress is being made, even as recently as today. Expenditure will not take place on the MSE aspect of the project during 2015.
I want to raise an issue that I know is not part of this discussion, but it concerns what the Minister has been talking about. We have received promises from the providers of broadband on dates by which they would reach certain towns, but they are not fulfilling them. We keep talking about providing broadband in smaller towns and in this regard the Minister of State with responsibility for rural affairs mentioned on television two specific towns. I followed up on the matter and was told that broadband in these two towns should be upgraded by this Christmas. That has not happened and we will be lucky if it happens next year. The promises made cannot continue to be left unfulfilled because expectations have been raised that something is being done.
The undertakings were given and announced by private operators in the commercial sector. I agree with the Deputy that when undertakings are given and plans laid out, it is unsatisfactory if they are not completed within the timescale indicated. As he is aware, what we have done is map the country between the commercial sector and where there has been State intervention and the test in the case of the commercial sector is whether it will be provided by 2016. This concerns the national broadband plan in general. We have carefully examined and scrutinised everything sent to us by the private operators which have stated they will do certain things. We look into, examine and scrutinise their plans and come to a conclusion on whether the works they state they will undertake will, in fact, be completed by the end of 2016. That is the basis on which we determine the State's intervention and what reasonably can be concluded as being in the private sector. It must be remembered that this process concerns the private sector. Those involved are private operators and we do not have the power to direct them. However, we have the power to scrutinise what they state to us and not take everything we are told at face value. We look into what they tell us as best we can and try to ensure the State's intervention is accurate and that the blue part of the map covered by the commercial sector is also accurate. I will be making final announcements before Christmas.
It will happen some time next year. As the Deputy indicated, there has been an delay in that regard, which is the reason the moneys have not been spent in 2015. I hope we will see good progress early in 2016 as it is a great project.