Broadband plan bidder’s CEO declines to appear before Oireachtas committee

Fianna Fáil says David McCourt should make an appearance to address concerns

An Oireachtas committee is currently investigating the National Broadband Plan. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

An Oireachtas committee is currently investigating the National Broadband Plan. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

 

David McCourt, the chief executive of the preferred bidder for the National Broadband Plan (NBP), has refused an invitation to appear before the Oireachtas committee investigating the plan.

Fianna Fáil communications spokesman and member of the committee Timmy Dooley said Mr McCourt should answer committee members’ questions about the €5 billion plan.

Mr McCourt leads investment firm Granahan McCourt, the main partner in the National Broadband Ireland consortium which was named preferred bidder for the project by the Department of Communications earlier this year.

The Oireachtas committee on communications last week extended an invitation to Mr McCourt, accompanied by his executives, to appear before it as part of a series of hearings it is holding into the NBP process.

However, in a letter to the committee, Mr McCourt said: “I acknowledge and respect the work that the committee has done to date in relation to this hugely important infrastructural project, but I regret to inform you that I must decline the invitation.

“National Broadband Ireland is the preferred bidder in the ongoing tender process for the NBP and therefore it would not be appropriate for either me or members of my team to attend at this time.

“My senior management team at National Broadband Ireland (NBI) are more than willing to appear at an appropriate time in the future – once the tender process has concluded.”

However, Mr Dooley said he expected the contract for the project to be signed after the committee concluded its hearings, limiting the value of any later appearance in front of TDs and Senators.

“I think that David McCourt should accept the opportunity to come before the committee to answer concerns that Granahan McCourt does not have the experience and capacity to give confidence to people,” he said.

“His presence would be helpful to the committee in completing its report.”

Political crisis

Revelations about contact between Irish-American businessman Mr McCourt and former minister for communications Denis Naughten precipitated a political crisis last October which ultimately forced the resignation of Mr Naughten, after it emerged he had a series of private dinners with Mr McCourt.

An investigation later found that the Roscommon TD and the businessman did not influence the tender process in favour of Granahan McCourt.

A spokeswoman for National Broadband Ireland said: “The committee is reviewing a process in which NBI remain an active and committed participant. While the tender process for the NBP is ongoing, we are not in a position to attend at this time.”

The company’s counterparty in the contract, which is the Department of Communications, is nonetheless sending its officials to appear before the committee today, when they are expected to offer a strident defence of the NBP.

The civil servants are also expected to address in detail a submission made by Eir which suggested it could deliver the objectives of the NBP for a subsidy of between €500 million and €1.5 billion, if the rules governing how it were to be delivered were relaxed.

The department earlier this week said following a preliminary assessment of Eir’s proposal it was of the view that the company had not met certain conditions which the Government viewed as “red line” criteria. Sources said the formal rejection of the plan was likely.