Criticism of revelation of new broadband investor on day contract signed

Minister says consortium change always recognised in contract documents

 

Fianna Fáil has hit out at the fact a new investor in the national broadband infrastructural project only emerged when the €3 billion contract was signed last week.

The party’s communications spokesman Jack Chambers said the Granahan McCourt Capital (GMC) consortium “has changed so many times it’s difficult to keep up”.

He warned that it was “extremely serious” because of concerns about who would be responsible if the plan needed more funding.

The plan aims to provide high speed broadband to some 500,000 premises and homes in more rural areas in a 25-year contract, bidding for which commenced in 2015.

Minister for Communications Richard Bruton insisted that the make-up of consortiums change over the course of a bid, particularly a private public partnership of this length, and “there is nothing unusual about it”.

During communications questions in the Dáil Mr Chambers said it was first known as the Enet-SSE consortium and contained a number of other companies.

“John Laing, SSE and Enet then dropped out, leaving only Granahan McCourt,” he said.

“We then heard that Granahan McCourt is being backed by McCourt Global and Tetrad.”

The Dublin West TD added that “we then heard only Tetrad was involved but that McCourt Global had helped Granahan McCourt to pass the relevant tests.

But “we now find out that it is made up of Granahan McCourt, Tetrad and Oak Hill”.

Mr Chambers asked how much Oak Hill was contributing and if Granahan McCourt’s contribution was still €45 million.

Mr Bruton said however that consortium change was expected and this was always recognised in the contract documents.

Mr Bruton pointed out that “the finalisation of the investment includes Oak Hill, which will have a substantial minority shareholding but Granahan McCourt will continue to be the controlling interest.”

He added: “I believe it can be said that Oak Hill has a very substantial financial strength that even a review online will reveal.”

Mr Chambers said it would be an issue if take-up of broadband in different areas. It might not arise but “it is at the core of our concerns.”

He asked if the taxpayer “will be on the hook for more liability because the Minister has facilitated this being flipped between vulture capitalists on a continuous basis”.

Mr Bruton said contractual commitments to an investment of both equity and working capital of more than €220 million have been made by the investors.

The controlling interest in this is Granahan McCourt. Oak Hill has less than 50 per cent “and that provides a strong financial basis for the roll-out”.

He stressed that the process of approving any change in the make-up of the consortium “is undertaken by the very same review group, with the same expertise, advice and review panels, as has taken place throughout this process”.

This showed that “not only have these investors committed the equity and working capital but they also meet all of the criteria set out from the outset in this process”.