Last remaining broadband bid ‘has not changed’, says Taoiseach

Varadkar questions if Opposition’s raising of tender process is attempt to ‘scupper’ project

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said a decision had yet to be made on the tender. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/ The Irish Times/File photo

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said a decision had yet to be made on the tender. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/ The Irish Times/File photo

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has insisted that the last remaining consortium bidding to supply high-speed broadband to remote rural areas “has not changed” and he said a decision had yet to be made on the tender.

He also questioned the motivation of the Opposition in raising the tender process and asked “are they trying to suggest something under privilege” that could be used “to scupper this project”.

The Taoiseach was responding to Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin who questioned whether a decision had already been made to accept the Granahan McCourt bid following a newspaper report that the bidder had announced plans to fast track the provision of broadband to remote areas next year.

The questions follow the publication of the report on Tuesday by an independent assessor about contacts between former minister Denis Naughten and an American businessman David McCourt, the leader of the last remaining consortium bidding for the tender to provide high-speed broadband to 540,000 homes and businesses.

The report found that Mr Naughten had not sought to influence the process and that by resigning any concerns about his involvement with the project had been removed.

Mr Martin expressed concern that the Dáil was being given little information but there appeared to be a parallel process and that the media was being given a different story.

He said there was a need for much more transparency and honesty. There was also “a need to ground the plan with some reality and not with political promise after political promise, which have all been broken”.

Insisting that the composition of the last remaining bidder had changed he said “there is an uneasy silence about this” and it was being glossed over.

He asked if it was the “new norm” and acceptable that at the 11th hour that a consortium changed and it was not analysed but glossed over.

But Mr Varadkar said that he could not stand over the veracity of a newspaper report that plans were being fast-tracked.

He said of the costs that they would be like a mortgage with payments for the process to be made over the 30 years of the project.

“I don’t write the newspapers,” he said, adding that he knew Mr Martin believed he did on occasion. He said the Department of Communications had received the tender and was assessing and they would know “in the next few weeks” if it would go ahead.

Insisting that it was not a new consortium, Mr Varadkar said “the leadership and composition has changed but it’s not a new consortium”.

He quipped that it was “a bit like Fianna Fáil”. It had a different composition than it did three years ago, with different members and its leader changed from time to time “but it’s still the same Fianna Fáil”.

But he said the continued raising of the tender process for this project “does raise the question for met what are the motivations of the Opposition”.

He asked if they were trying to undermine the process and “trying to scupper this project”.