National Broadband Ireland must ‘take responsibility’ for delays

Minister tells Dáil he will apply all the penalties that are due if rollout targets not met

National Broadband Ireland is the company set up to manage installing broadband access to 540,000 homes and businesses. It was awarded the State contract in 2019 after Eir and ESB-Vodafone joint venture Siro withdrew from the competition. Photograph: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

National Broadband Ireland is the company set up to manage installing broadband access to 540,000 homes and businesses. It was awarded the State contract in 2019 after Eir and ESB-Vodafone joint venture Siro withdrew from the competition. Photograph: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

 

Some of the delay with the rollout of broadband across the country is the fault of National Broadband Ireland (NBI), Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform Ossian Smyth has said.

Mr Smyth, who is the Minister of State with responsibility for communications, said while some delays had been caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the company had to “take responsibility”.

NBI is the company set up to manage installing broadband access to 540,000 homes and businesses. It was awarded the State contract in 2019 after Eir and ESB-Vodafone joint venture Siro withdrew from the competition.

“There has been an impact from Covid, it has slowed them down, it has taken a few months off, it has made them several months later than they should be but it’s not the entire story, part of the problem is their fault”, Mr Smyth told Fine Gael TD Jennifer Carroll MacNeill during questions in the Dáil on Thursday.

“Part of the problem is their fault because part of the delay comes from natural things that happen within a large rollout contract where there’s a period of time where you’re developing momentum, becoming more skilled and I would expect that at least a portion of the delays are the fault of NBI.

“They may believe that it’s the fault of their subcontractors and they may try and attribute blame but that doesn’t excuse them, as they are not in a position to abdicate their responsibility. They have to take responsibility, even in a situation where they’ve delegated authority for some of their functions.”

The Dún Laoghaire TD also said he would “apply all the penalties that are due” in respect of failing to meet targets.

He said 2022 targets were under negotiation and he expected to have revised numbers within two weeks.

Separately, the company on Thursday told the Oireachtas committee on transport and communications it would miss its revised end-of-January target to pass 60,000 homes and premises.

Last year, NBI cut its end-of-January rollout target from 115,000 to 60,000, saying the project had been disrupted by Covid-19 restrictions.

NBI chief executive Peter Hendrick told the committee that the 60,000 target would not now be met until the end of March.

Contract

Mr Smyth told the Dáil he would publish as much of the National Broadband Plan contract as legally possible.

“A large portion of the contract was published before I assumed office, and I have asked the department to review with the lawyers how much more of it they can publish within the law,” he said.

Fianna Fáil TD Dara Calleary said he was “rapidly losing confidence” in the rollout of the plan. He said a community in east Mayo, which has three homegrown companies that export internationally, were told that a connection would not be done until between January 2025 and December 2026. He said this showed “a lack of ambition” and jobs could potentially be lost.

The Mayo TD also said that he was concerned that there was still no sense of what connections will happen this year and “the Covid excuse has to finish now”.

“Instead of getting so much spin and so much material, can we start to challenge NBI on what it is delivering on the ground,” he added.

Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy said he was concerned about the “general attitude” being taken by the Government, “with the fact that the National Broadband Plan has missed every single target set for it up to this point”.

“This is not acceptable, this contract is costing Irish taxpayers €3 billion. There should be no scope for failure, especially when one considers the price of failure for so many families, workers and communities waiting in anticipation of being connected to this network,” the Cavan-Monaghan TD said.

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy said there was a need for transparency and information and asked for contract to be published.

She said there also needed to be monthly figures published “to give us clarity on what exactly is being delivered”.