Dáil suspended in row over late release of broadband documents
Opposition leaders study ‘significantly redacted’ papers including warnings on risk
Minister for Communications Richard Bruton said there was ‘nothing underhand’ in the Government decision to publish significant documents in relation to the national broadband plan on Wednesday. Photograph: Michelle Devane/PA Wire
Minister for Communications Richard Bruton has insisted that there is “nothing underhand” in the Government decision to publish significant documents in relation to the national broadband plan minutes before questions in the Dáil from opposition leaders.
After a brief debate the House was briefly suspended initially to alternate to deal with rent control legislation but subsequently it was agreed to suspend for 90 minutes to allow parties to read the documents.
The Government had been accused by a number of party leaders of being “very cynical” in its approach to the plan in the wake of the Cabinet decision to announce a preferred bidder for the up to €3 billion contract to provide broadband to 540,000 households, farms and other businesses in rural Ireland.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin called for the 90 minute suspension of the House to read the 28 documents including a letter from the secretary general of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform warning of the “very significant” risks to the Government.
Labour leader Brendan Howlin said it was unacceptable that the documents would be released at 1.55pm just five minutes before the Dáil sitting commenced.
They had been told they would be released at 8am which was still insufficient time and he said the Taoiseach should be addressing the issue in the House.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald described the Government’s move as “cynical” manoeuvring when it knew that the Opposition would be asking questions about the deal.
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said he had attended a briefing earlier on the issue where they were told that the contract would not be signed “for months and months”.
Independent TD Mattie McGrath claimed the the Government announced the decision because the Taoiseach had “put his foot in it on other issues”.
He said the Government had “hour by hour” being putting off the decision on broadband but soddenly weeks before an election they announced a preferred bidder.
But defending the Government’s approach the Minister insisted there was “nothing sinister” in the approach. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was on international business. He was happy to answer any questions at any time.
Mr Bruton said they had sought to make all the documents which were “very substantial” available, but they required “significant redactions”.
He added that the preferred bidder had been announced and they were entering a stage of negotiation to enter into a contract.
Independent TD Tommy Broughan suggested that they should deal with the rental legislation while the documents were being read after Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy expressed concern that debate on that legislation could be cut as a result of a 90 minute adjournment.
Ceann Comhairle Sean O Fearghaíl said that was a “very helpful” suggestion and it was agreed but later a suspension of the House was confirmed.