Tuesday, 14 May 2019
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
Micheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
Much additional information has emerged since the refusal last week of the Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, and the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, to divulge crucial information regarding the amount of money being put up front for the national broadband plan by Granahan McCourt against the taxpayers' contribution of €3 billion. An article by Justine McCarthy in The Sunday Times at the weekend was particularly revealing in respect of many of these matters. Speaking on Clare FM at the weekend, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, was unaware of any of the constraints that beset the other Ministers. He stated Granahan McCourt was "putting in, I think, in the region of something shy of €200 million". There is still a lot of breadth there. The Minister was speaking the day after the Cabinet had decided to award preferred bidder status so he did not pluck that figure from the air. He obviously knew what he was talking about. We have now learned that the Minister, Deputy Bruton, will today tell the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment that the figure is €220 million, between equity and working capital. Will the Taoiseach break down that figure for us today as between equity and working capital?
The context of this is very clear. Why were we looking for the figure and why was the Government refusing to give it? It is because the Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform stated there were "unprecedented risks" to the Exchequer posed by this particular project. He referenced in a memo to the Government that the private sector was only risking so much - the figure was redacted at the time - of its own funds. The general public and taxpayers are entitled to know that figure given the unprecedented risk to them in respect of everything to do with this project.
The Sunday Timesarticle revealed another important matter. It stated that the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment had confirmed that Granahan McCourt relied on the financial performance of a US company owned by Frank McCourt, a brother of David McCourt, to meet the qualifying criteria of the procurement process. In other words, Granahan McCourt did not have enough resources itself and relied entirely on a separate entity to underpin its financial security. Was the Taoiseach aware of that? Was the Government aware of it? This is significant in the context of the meeting in July last year between the former Minister, Deputy Naughten, and David McCourt. Frank McCourt was also at that meeting at which four items were discussed in relation to this project.
I always felt those meetings were wrong and inappropriate in the middle of a tendering process. They cast a stain over the entire process.
I do not know whether Peter Smyth interviewed Frank McCourt in the context of his review, but we need clarification in that regard. At issue also is the role of KPMG, which advised the Department on the gap-funding contract. KPMG advised the Department that Granahan McCourt had the capacity to undertake the project but we have also learned that the Department has paid KPMG €11.6 million for its advisory services since 2015. Is it appropriate that KPMG would be the auditor for Granahan McCourt while acting for the Department to reassure it on that company's financial capability? Will the Taoiseach break down the €220 million figure? Does he agree with the Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform that this is an unprecedented risk to the taxpayer and that the value-for-money analysis is not credible? Can the Taoiseach explain the role of Frank McCourt and the global company underpinning the entire project?