Government to ‘absolutely consider’ vote, but broadband review is out

Dáil votes for Fianna Fail motion by 77 votes to 48 seeking review of rural broadband plan

Enet has not yet discussed a price for the contract regarding the rural broadband programme with the Government. File photograph: iStockPhoto

Enet has not yet discussed a price for the contract regarding the rural broadband programme with the Government. File photograph: iStockPhoto

 

The Government will “absolutely consider” a vote by the Dáil today to hold a review into the rural broadband programme, the Minister for Communications told a Dáil committee.

However, Denis Naughten also confirmed the Government would not hold any review of the programme.

Both Mr Naughten’s spokeswoman and the Government’s official spokesman said there would be no review of the scheme, which was thrown into confusion last week when one of the remaining two bidders for the State contract to provide rural broadband, Eir, withdrew from the process.

The Dáil voted for a Fianna Fail motion today by 77 votes to 48 seeking a review of the plan.

Mr Naughten said he was not ignoring the Dáil and would consider the result of the vote. However, the Government decided last Tuesday that there would be no review and Government Buildings today confirmed that position would not change after the vote.

Mr Naughten told the committee later today that the sole remaining bidder in the Government’s National Broadband Plan (NBP) is “really committed” to the project and “there is no sense of stopping the clock now”.

The Dáil motion on the National Broadband Plan and the vote follow the decision by Eir to pull out of the tender process, leaving a single bidder, Enet, in place to provide broadband coverage to 540,000 households and businesses.

Assessment demanded

Fianna Fáil demanded an independent assessment of whether the procurement process for the contract was fit for purpose.

Eir’s withdrawal, which follows the exit of ESB/Vodafone joint venture Sirolast year, has led to fears that the Government’s plan to bring high-speed broadband to more than half a million rural homes will cost significantly more than previously anticipated, and take longer to complete.

Enet has not yet discussed a price for the contract with the Government.

The NBP procurement team is “still in dialogue” with the bidder, a consortium led by Enet and energy group SSE, and is confident that the process can bring high-speed broadband to the most isolated homes and businesses, Mr Naughten said.

Oireachtas committee members expressed concern about what might happen if the remaining bidder decided to withdraw. Mr Naughten said the Enet-SSE consortium considered Ireland a “test bed” for similar broadband projects across the world and were committed to it.

The Dáil motion on the National Broadband Plan and the vote follow the decision by Eir to pull out of the broadband tender process, leaving a single bidder, Enet, in place to provide broadband coverage to 540,000 households and businesses. File photograph: iStockPhoto
The Dáil motion on the National Broadband Plan and the vote follow the decision by Eir to pull out of the broadband tender process, leaving a single bidder, Enet, in place to provide broadband coverage to 540,000 households and businesses. File photograph: iStockPhoto

“The Government does not want to delay the scheme,” the Government’s official spokesman said. “A review would slow down the process.”

Last night, Fianna Fáil said there was no reason why the process should be delayed by a review.

However, senior Fianna Fáil sources conceded that the Government would ignore the Dáil vote, and said it was “not a confidence-and-supply issue”.

But Fianna Fáil TD Stephen Donnelly has queried why the Department of Communications is going to the Supreme Court to prevent disclosure of its existing contract with Enet for fibre provision.

Journalist Gavin Sheridan submitted a Freedom of Information request for the contract between the State and Enet, which was renewed last year. The Department refused the request.

The request was granted on appeal to the Data Commissioner, but the department appealed this ruling to the High Court.

The High Court then ruled in Mr Sheridan’s favour, but now the department has appealed to the Court of Appeal.

Parliamentary question

Mr Donnelly learned through a parliamentary question that this is the only FOI request – out of a total of 799 since 2010 – that the department has taken to the courts.

Asked about this at the committee today, Mr Naughten refused to comment, saying it was before the courts.

TDs also backed a call for the Government to consider taking the rollout of broadband back into State ownership and using existing ESB infrastructure as part of the project.

Fianna Fáil accepted a Sinn Féin amendment to its own proposal for a review of the controversial tendering process to include an examination of the feasibility of the State taking control of the system.

In 1999, Fianna Fáil was in government when it sold the State’s shares in the telecommunications company Telecom Éireann.