Government to come under Dáil pressure on broadband plan

FF to press Ministers on whether the decision on contract with private firm is reversible

Fianna Fáil will continue to press for answers on the National Broadband Plan today, but is unlikely to threaten the survival of the Government on the issue.

Minister for Communications Richard Bruton will appear this afternoon at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications to answer questions, where he will be pressed over Granahan McCourt's investment.

The company will invest €200 million up front, out of a total cost of the project of €5 billion, if a contract can be signed, it is understood. The Government has refused to confirm the figure, though knowledgeable sources do not dispute it.

Yesterday Mr Bruton, who refused to confirm the €200 million figure given by Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed last week, said the chosen bidder would be "on the hook" for injecting more money if costs run over.

The issue will dominate the Dáil today when Taoiseach Leo Varadkar faces questions. Although they dispute the costs, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin are careful not to question the need for a roll-out of rural broadband.

Fianna Fail’s frontbench will discuss the issue today. It will press Mr Bruton on whether the decision on the contract is reversible – or if the State is open now to litigation if it does not sign a contract with Granahan McCourt.

Sinn Féin motion

Sinn Féin has said that it will table a motion to block the contract, but several sources queried the power of the Dáil to prevent the contract going ahead. The motion will not be tabled this week.

Speaking on the fringes of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly at Druids Glen Hotel in Co Wicklow, Mr Bruton said Granahan McCourt would have to come up with €2.4 billion to cover its costs.

Under the 25-year contract, the consortium had to meet its obligations to invest the pledged cash in the project and that it will have to show it has the funds under the due diligence process.

“They have a responsibility under this contract for €2.4 billion of the total cost of the project. The State has responsibility for somewhat the same sort [of money] but part of the State’s cost is a contingency, so it may not be called upon,” he said, referring to a contingency of almost €500 million.

He conceded that the plan was “not a risk-free project”, but the model being followed was chosen to build off the existing network and a system “that will stand on its own two feet at the end.”