Government’s failure over broadband deal details ‘an affront’ to taxpayers

Fianna Fáil says reported €200m Granahan McCourt investment would be ‘farcical’

 Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen says  the Minister for Finance is ‘taking the people of Ireland for mugs with his insistence that no capital projects will be impacted as a result of the costs of the plan’. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen says the Minister for Finance is ‘taking the people of Ireland for mugs with his insistence that no capital projects will be impacted as a result of the costs of the plan’. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

The Government’s continued refusal to disclose documents in relation to the input of Granahan McCourt in the National Broadband Plan is “an affront to the taxpayers”, Fianna Fáil has said.

Party spokesman on public expenditure Barry Cowen said a reported €200 million initial investment by private financial firm Granahan McCourt in the plan, which is set to cost up to €5 billion, would be “farcical”.

Paschal Donohoe, the Minister for Finance, was “taking the people of Ireland for mugs with his insistence that no capital projects will be impacted as a result of the costs of the plan, given that his own department has outlined the possible implications of spending an extra €1.5 billion”, Mr Cowen said.

“The prudent Fine Gael moniker seems to be a thing of the past.”

The Government has refused to confirm if the financial commitment of Granahan McCourt will amount to €200 million.

Mr Donohoe said on Sunday he was “not in a position to reveal what the figure is”.

The figure of €200 million in respect of the contribution to be made by the American-based company, and its principal David McCourt, was mentioned by Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed in an interview with Clare FM on Wednesday.

As he departed on a trade trip to China yesterday, Mr Creed would not be drawn on the comment but did say that €2.4 billion of the €5 billion project will be “met by investment by the company as well as commercial revenues the company receives over the 25-year period”.

‘Truly shocking’

Opposition figures described the €200 million contribution, if true, as “truly shocking and truly unacceptable” compared to the State’s overall commitment to the project of €3 billion.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin said the disclosure was “quite shocking”.

“We understood the reluctance of the Government to tell the full facts to the people. It was because investment [by the private company] was so paltry in comparison to the State.

“It is truly shocking and truly unacceptable if it is in the order of €200 million versus State investment of €3 billion. It is absolutely unacceptable if they own the asset for ever more,” said Mr Howlin.

Speaking in Dublin yesterday Mr Donohoe outlined why he would not disclose the details.

“The reason for that is we have negotiations that will begin [in order to] sign the contracts which will take up much of this year.

“While those discussions are under way I have to respect the confidentiality of the company and the contribution they are making.

“In addition to that, if we begin to reveal publicly while negotiations are under way, [and] what are the financial contributions that companies are making, it is really going to undermine the ability of the State to participate in public-private partnerships.”

Cheaper options

He challenged the Opposition to come up with cheaper options for delivering broadband to every home in the country.

“I believe it is the best option open to the State to deliver 100 per cent coverage and respect us from risk.”

Earlier this week, when asked about the €200 million figure, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said it had to be borne in mind that the company would provide money in lots of different ways.

“There is the equity investment. There will also be working capital and there will be the money that the company raises from user charges.

“So all of those have to be taken into account. And also bear in mind what we are doing with this contract is capping the State’s exposure at €3 billion. Anything above that and the risk falls on the company.”