Taoiseach ‘confident’ broadband plan will be delivered as promised

Announcement of preferred bidder on track for September, Varadkar says

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said 80 per cent of premises in the country would have high-speed broadband by the end of the year. Photograph: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said 80 per cent of premises in the country would have high-speed broadband by the end of the year. Photograph: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he remained “confident” the National Broadband Plan would be delivered as pledged despite the withdrawal of SSE from the last remaining bidding consortium over the weekend.

The development prompted criticism from Fianna Fáil, which said the Government was not putting enough money behind the plan.

However, Mr Varadkar said he had been briefed by Minister for Communications Denis Naughten and said his department was unwavering.

“He tells me he and his officials are very confident the fact that the composition of the consortium has changed doesn’t affect the project itself and that he still accepts that by September we will be able to announced the preferred bidder,” he said.

“So when it comes to broadband, bear in mind that when this Government of Fine Gael and Independents came to office only about 50 per cent of premises in the country had high-speed broadband. That’s already up around 75 per cent; it will be 80 per cent by the end of this year.”

The Department of Communications said the process was in its final stages with a tender due to be submitted in the coming weeks.

It said €275 million in funding will cover the first five years of the plan with “significant further funding” required over the lifetime of the proposed 25-year contract.

Subsidy total

“The total value of the State subsidy has yet to be finalised and will only be known after the competitive tender process has concluded and final tender has been received,” the department said.

The final consortium now comprises Granahan McCourt, John Laing plc and the Irish Infrastructure Fund, the majority stakeholder owned in part by the State’s National Pension Reserve Fund.

“The process is very much on track,” Enet’s chairman David McCourt told RTÉ following news of the SSE withdrawal. “We’re just weeks away from submitting our final tender. The team is very focused on concluding the procurement phase of this project and moving swiftly into delivery.”

However, the political fallout has continued. Speaking on RTÉ radio on Monday, Fianna Fáil’s communications spokesman Timmy Dooley said the Government needed to consider its financial commitment.

“It is a concern that the Government is not putting in enough money to make it happen. This really is about money,” he said.

“The Government should sit down and talk to the companies and accept that they cannot low ball it or they will walk away from the process.”

Labour’s spokesman on communications Seán Sherlock had previously said the public confidence was “shot to pieces and the broadband plan is in shambles”.

First announced six years ago, the strategy promised “next-generation broadband to every home and business in the State” through a combination of commercial and State investment.

In February, Eir pulled out of the bid citing complexity in the tendering process.