Tuesday, 14 May 2019
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
Mary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
Tá ceist agam faoi broadband arís. Caithfidh mé a rá go bhfuil sé dochreidte go bhfuil Granahan McCourt ag íoc €220 milliún agus an cáiníocóir ag íoc €3 billiún. It is crucial that we deliver high-speed broadband to rural Ireland because people want, need and deserve it. That means actual delivery, not delivering an announcement or a pipe dream. There are very serious concerns surrounding the national broadband plan as currently constituted. This very costly plan could still leave homes, farms and businesses across rural Ireland without access.
If we think back, this whole process began in 2012, seven years ago, with a commitment that high-speed broadband would be delivered to every home and business in the State by 2020. That promise has been broken spectacularly. Seven years later, not a yard of cabling has been laid or a single pole erected.
Under the new plan, homes, farms and businesses in rural Ireland are being asked to wait again. That is not good enough. The Taoiseach has described the plan as a personal crusade, but there are significant flaws that no one in the Government, including the Taoiseach, has yet addressed. In the documents published last week, the capacity of the bidder to deliver the project was cast in serious doubt, while the capacity of the Department to oversee it has been similarly questioned. Why have those issues not been addressed? The bidding process utterly failed to deliver a competitive tender. In addition, it has been highlighted that the bidder does not have adequate skin in the game and could walk away from the project after it has recouped its investment. What does the Taoiseach say to that? The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, has confirmed that the firm in question will invest €220 million, yet the State will invest €3 billion in initial capital. The Taoiseach has stated that this is the largest ever State investment in rural Ireland. In reality, it represents a massive State subsidy to a private firm in respect of infrastructure the State will not own. That is unbelievable.
We all agree rural Ireland needs high-speed broadband but the unfortunate reality is that more than 500,000 homes and businesses are still without it and will be for years to come. Will the Taoiseach express absolute confidence in the deal? Is he prepared to stand over it and guarantee delivery of rural broadband? Will he publish the full details of the contract between the State and Granahan McCourt?