Angry Martin says broadband plan consortium membership like ‘shifting sands’

Taoiseach tells FF leader ‘you really need to calm down – Government fully transparent’

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin became very angry as he accused Taoiseach Leo Varadkar of being ‘less than transparent’ about the participants in the sole remaining bid for national broadband. File photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin became very angry as he accused Taoiseach Leo Varadkar of being ‘less than transparent’ about the participants in the sole remaining bid for national broadband. File photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

 

The composition of the consortium to deliver the national broadband plan has been like “shifting sands” with claims that the Government has misled everyone “all along the way” about the project, the Dáil heard on Wednesday.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin became very angry as he accused Taoiseach Leo Varadkar of being “less than transparent” about the participants in the sole remaining bid and about the financial guarantees in place.

He claimed that even in the last week the number of investors in the remaining bid changed from three – GMC (Granahan McCourt Capital), Tetrad and McCourt Global – to two. Mr Martin said only on Tuesday night in a parliamentary reply were they told that only Tetrad and GMC were investing.

When Mr Martin told the Taoiseach “we have been misled all along the way”, Mr Varadkar told him to “calm down” and claimed Mr Martin was “once again weaving one of your many conspiracy theories”.

The Fianna Fáil leader retorted that Mr Varadkar called it a conspiracy when Mr Martin spoke to the Taoiseach the night before then minister for communications Denis Naughten resigned over the project, “but he resigned 24 hours later”.

‘Shifting sands’

As the ongoing row intensified over the provision of broadband services to 1.1 million people, farms and other businesses in rural Ireland, Mr Martin said “we have seen shifting sands in the composition of the consortium and the financial guarantees from various entities to underpin the project”.

He said the Taoiseach and the Government were not being fully transparent about the financial guarantees the investors were offering or about the relationship between Granahan McCourt Capital, and the various entities including Tetrad and McCourt Global.

There had been a drip-feed of information with written parliamentary replies only on Tuesday night that instead of three investors there were two.

Mr Martin also said that there was only a legal commitment for €175 million from the lead bidder which was a “far cry from the €2.4 billion figure the Taoiseach gave the impression some time ago that it would be putting in”.

The Fianna Fáil leader also said the meeting in July 2018 between then minister Denis Naughten and David McCourt and Frank McCourt took place one month before the deadline for financial guarantees to be given.

And the dinner was minuted by an official from the climate change section of the department not the section conducting the tender which was “wrong and inappropriate”.

He claimed Mr Naughten had been less than forthcoming and should be required to give a comprehensive and transparent statement on all these meetings.

‘Matters for the bidder’

But the Taoiseach said everyone had been aware for many months that the consortium composition had changed. He said National Broadband Ireland would provide €220 million in working capital of which €175 million would come from Tetrad and the remainder from GMC.

Mr Varadkar said that decisions on the source of funding such as using equity from Tetrad rather than McCourt Global “are matters for the bidder and the company”.

He said the Department had corrected the record about a parliamentary question that last week identified McCourt Global as the ultimate investor and had “clarified any confusion in respect of the role of McCourt Global”.

When he said no member of the current Government was at that dinner Mr Martin told the Taoiseach to “come off it”.

“You can’t stand up here as Taoiseach and say no one in the current Government was involved. For God’s sake Deputy Naughten was in your Government and you still depend on him for support.”

Mr Varadkar insisted to Mr Martin that “you do really need to calm down”.

“The Government has been very transparent on this matter.”