Broadband decision criticised as Government ‘PR exercise’

Opposition parties accuse Government of using plan to bolster chances in elections

Fianna Fáil communications spokesman Timmy Dooley said the Cabinet decision to proceed with the €3 billion plan has ‘all the hallmarks of a PR exercise’. File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Fianna Fáil communications spokesman Timmy Dooley said the Cabinet decision to proceed with the €3 billion plan has ‘all the hallmarks of a PR exercise’. File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Opposition parties have accused the Government of using the national broadband plan to bolster its chances in the upcoming local and European elections.

Fianna Fáil communications spokesman Timmy Dooley said the Cabinet decision to proceed with the €3 billion plan has “all the hallmarks of a PR exercise two weeks out from a local and a European election”.

He said: “It seems to me that it’s an effort by the Taoiseach in particular and his Government to give the impression that they care about rural Ireland.

“I think he should well recognise the people are not going to be bought over by this announcement. This is just an announcement about making the one remaining bidder the preferred bidder. No contract is signed today. And I think if it were, we would be in a different position. We’re told that it may take up to six months before a contract will be agreed with the remaining party.

“I think the people of rural Ireland who are waiting for broadband will treat this with an air of scepticism and quite frankly I don’t think they have any trust in the Government to roll out such an infrastructure.”

Sinn Féin’s communications spokesman Brian Stanley said his party believes the Government deliberately waited until now to make the announcement.

“We wanted to see it rolled out seven years ago. We finally had the announcement today. I believe the Government have been sitting on this for months and obviously it’s been announced now, 18 days out from an election but nevertheless it needs to happen and needs to happen quickly.”

Mr Dooley said he was “shocked that the rollout time for delivery of project has tripled from three to 10 years” and criticised the fact that the State will not own the infrastructure when the project is completed.

He said: “Fine Gael for the past three elections and in their last manifesto and the Programme for Government indicated that it could be done within three to four years.

“So effectively what has been confirmed today is a further delay in the roll-out of broadband. We now have a national broadband plan that is covering a third less homes than was originally envisaged. It’s going to take three times longer to deliver. It’s going to cost six times more than it was originally costed at and at the end this one remaining bidder, a private investment fund from Boston, will own that infrastructure which has been paid for by the taxpayer at a cost of €3 billion.”

Mr Dooley said the plan was “flawed” and ultimately will not deliver for the taxpayer.

“We made it very clear in our facilitation of the Government that there was a necessity to roll out high-speed broadband,” he said.

“The Government today is announcing their plan for doing that. In my view it’s a poor plan but it’s their plan. It’s not of our making. If we were doing it, I’ve made it very clear that I would do it very differently and I’m not just saying that now, I said it in 2016. I said it in 2017.

“It’s not an ‘I told you so’, but I think what we predicted has come to pass. The Government should have seen the problems that existed along the way and they played into Einstein’s theory of insanity, continuing to do the same thing and expect a different outcome.”

Labour leader Brendan Howlin echoed the comments made by Mr Dooley and Mr Stanley.

“Labour wants to see rural broadband delivered, but this plan risks leaving people in rural Ireland totally dependent on a private monopoly, which will ultimately be able to charge what it wants for access to the Internet,” said Mr Howlin.

“The timing of this announcement is purely to influence the upcoming local and European elections. A contract hasn’t even been signed yet and the Government is simply announcing a preferred bidder in a situation where there only is one bidder.”