Taxpayer will fork out €700,000 over three years for broadband, says Minister
Sinn Féin TD accuses Government of ‘giving with one hand and taking with the other’
It has emerged that the costs of the National Broadband Plan will stay on the State balance sheet
The National Broadband Plan (NBP) is set to cost taxpayers €700 million between 2021 and 2023, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe has said.
In reply to a parliamentary question from Sinn Féin TD Jonathan O’Brien, Mr Donohoe said the cost to the Exchequer of the plan, which aims to connect some 540,000 rural properties to high-speed internet, would be €200 million in both 2021 and 2022 and €300 million in 2023. The total State investment in the project is to be €3 billion.
The Government believes this money will not deplete the sum available for infrastructure spending and can be sourced from other tax revenues.
Mr O’Brien said this was “another example of Fine Gael giving with one hand and taking with the other”.
It has emerged that the costs of the NBP will stay on the State balance sheet, despite previous claims that the “gap-funding” model chosen would mean the costs would not be counted as such.
The Government and former minister for communications Denis Naughten repeatedly said that it had chosen this model, where the the investor owns the infrastructure, because it wanted to keep resources free for other capital projects.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on Wednesday confirmed in the Dáil that the project would have to be accounted for on the State’s books.
Labour leader Brendan Howlin said Mr Varadkar had “ acquired an early reputation as a right-wing fiscal ‘hawk’, but as Taoiseach he has presided over a succession of bad decisions with the public’s money”.
Asked by Mr Howlin about the previous assurances that it would be off-balance sheet, Mr Varadkar said: “I cannot answer questions on behalf of the former minister, unfortunately. That is the current state of play.”
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin pressed Mr Varadkar on the role of McCourt Global, a company connected to the brother of the successful NBP bidder, David McCourt of Granahan McCourt. McCourt Global was cited as a financial backer of the bid, but is no longer.
Mr Martin later said the Department of Communications had been “referencing McCourt Global as the key underpinner of Granahan McCourt” in the process but it was now down to Tetrad Corporation and Granahan McCourt.
The department said Tetrad Corporation and McCourt Global had provided the necessary letters of support at the pre-qualification stage. It said Tetrad Corporation provided a commitment letter in relation to the equity investment in the project at final tender.
“The department is fully satisfied that the requirements have been met at all stages,” a spokeswoman said.