Rabbitte insists he is a good fit for his department and is excited about future
Interview:If a headhunting team began a trawl to find the most suitable person to be minister for communications, energy and natural resources, it is likely they would choose a technocrat.
On the face of it it is a portfolio for someone who likes details, especially abstruse technical details, and for whom a spreadsheet on the latest oil and gas test flows is far more alluring than the final episode of Love/Hate.
In other words, somebody who is not Pat Rabbitte. A perception has grown that the department is not a natural fit for him, outside the communications and media part of the portfolio.
It is probably based on Rabbitte’s reputation – a former Labour leader, authoritative and comfortable on the economy, the Dáil’s most naturally gifted communicator. Tilting quixotically after the latest windmill project just doesn’t seem him.
He rejects the perception and says there is no basis to it.
He also says he is enthusiastic about all the responsibilities in the Government’s most diverse ministry – one that straddles projects as different as post codes, protecting and selling State assets, renewable energy, home insulation, digital switchover, oil and gas exploration, broadband, spectrum auctions and the digital hub.
Asked about the perception, he says: “It’s not true. I don’t know who is responsible for that. It’s a tremendously exciting department, [one] for the future.
“The things that are happening here in terms of the digital economy; interconnectivity; broadcasting; postal services [where electronic substitution is eating into the core business]; and offshore exploration which is tremendously exciting.”
Rabbitte describes the department as an enabling one, but one than needs critical investment in infrastructure for energy and telecoms.
On broadband, he believes fierce competition will bring high speed very quickly in urban areas but accepts State intervention will be needed to provide quality bandwidth in rural areas.
He believes the Government’s targets of 100 per cent high-quality broadband penetration will be met, pointing to one early success, lightning-quick broadband in schools.
“I am very proud of the plan to deliver 100Mbps broadband to all second-level schools [all 736 schools will be connected by 2014].
“You have to visit the schools to appreciate the difference it makes,” he says.
On energy, he points out that the big building projects take a decade or more to complete. There’s an argument you can long-finger those projects in an economic downturn but he doesn’t agree.
He argues for continuity and points to the development of the national grid, under the €3.2 billion Grid 25 project (a major upgrade of the grid, that will enable extensive use of renewable energy among other things).
The North-South and east-west interconnectors are also vital for energy security.
“The possibility to build up renewable capacity is dependent on the grid being up to par . . .
“The other big project I hope we can finalise is the capacity of this island to trade energy with the neighbouring island. We have a capacity to generate twice our need.”
The British government needs energy and needs to meet its renewable targets. He said that kind of arrangement would be a “win-win” for both islands. Rabbitte says the perception is that the west coast is best for wind but he says it can be “especially capricious”. Referring to the recent launch of the 126 megawatt Mount Lucas wind farm on a Bord na Móna bog in Offaly, he pointed out that the midlands was also very suitable and that there were thousands of acres of cutaway bog available.