Fears of high costs after Eir withdraws from broadband scheme

TD says just one company is left in procurement process, raising ‘serious questions’

Minister Denis Naughten with Richard Moat, CEO eir. File photograph: MaxwellPhotography.ie

Minister Denis Naughten with Richard Moat, CEO eir. File photograph: MaxwellPhotography.ie

 

Fine Gael TDs have raised concerns about the effect of Eir’s decision to withdraw its bid for the national rural broadband scheme.

The company, the State’s largest telecoms group, announced the decision on Wednesday, citing risks that had become “too great for its continued participation”, and referencing the “growing uncertainty” about regulatory and pricing issues.

Its decision follows the withdrawal of Siro from the process and now leaves just one bidder – the consortium led by energy group SSE and telecoms firm Enet – in the procurement process.

Fine Gael TD Hildegarde Naughten, who is chair of the Oireachtas committee on communications, confirmed Minister for Communications Denis Naughten had been invited to give evidence to the committee next week.

Ms Naughten said there were serious questions about whether the Government can ensure the taxpayer gets the best value for money.

“There is challenges ahead to ensure the rollout remains on target and that the taxpayer does not lose out in the process. What are the safeguards in ensuring there is value for money?”

Delays

The State-subsidised scheme, first announced back in 2011, has been beset with problems and delays due to the complexity of the procurement process and difficulties pinning down the exact number of premises to be covered.

Work was to have started at the beginning of this year but has now been put back to early 2019.

Mr Naughten and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar have stressed the plan will be rolled out soon.

Speaking yesterday, Mr Varadkar said he was committed to having “the shovels in the ground this year”.

Carlow TD Pat Deering said 540,000 homes and businesses were affected by Eir’s decision and there needed to be reassurances to each individual and business that their access to broadband is not delayed.

Mr Deering stressed it was a necessity for the contracts to be signed with the remaining company as soon as possible.

“We need to see action on the ground at this stage. We have been talking about this for too long, ” he added.

‘Dragging on’

That position was shared by Clare TD Joe Carey, who also said the issue has been “dragging on for far too long”.

Mr Carey said there was a fear the taxpayer may be punished for the decision of Eir to withdraw and Mr Naughten needed to address those concerns.

Independent Alliance TD Sean Canney said he had held a number of negotiations yesterday with Mr Naughten, who he said had insisted a new agreement would be in place by September.

Mr Canney said he has a number of concerns about the way Eir rolled out the scheme up until now. “It may have implications as part of the new tendering process. That should be addressed but we need to continue with the process.”

The Dáil will debate this matter next week as Fianna Fáil is to table a private members motion calling on the Government to account for the issue.

The party’s communication spokesman Timmy Dooley said the situation was shambolic and one that he and his party had sought answers to for the past year.

Mr Dooley insisted the Government could not be certain the timelines set out would be met and could not be categoric on the final cost to the taxpayer.