Taoiseach ‘absolutely welcomes’ examination of broadband plan

Leo Varadkar denies electioneering or playing politics with taxpayers’ money

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has rejected Fianna Fáil claims that the Government was electioneering and playing politics with taxpayers’ money over the announcement of the national broadband plan. Photograph: Francois Lenoir/Reuters.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has rejected Fianna Fáil claims that the Government was electioneering and playing politics with taxpayers’ money over the announcement of the national broadband plan. Photograph: Francois Lenoir/Reuters.

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has rejected Fianna Fáil claims that the Government was electioneering and playing politics with taxpayers’ money over the announcement of the national broadband plan.

Mr Varadkar said “there is no electioneering going on when it comes to this issue”.

He said no matter when they announced the plan they would have been criticised - for electioneering or for burying it if we waited until after the local elections.

He told Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin “I think the taxpayers’ money is well spent because it is going to end the digital divide”.

Mr Varadkar also said he had “no objection whatsoever” to an examination of the national broadband plan by the Oireachtas Communications Committee and would “absolutely welcome it”.

Mr Martin had called for the committee to investigate the bidding process and the Taoiseach said he would have no objection to an inquiry.

But Mr Varadkar said the terms of reference would have to be agreed by the major parties and there would have to be a “reasonable timeframe” in dealing with it.

Mr Martin said the Taoiseach had asked the Opposition to support the broadband plan in “election mode” and did not consult the Opposition before the plan was announced.

“You declared it to be an ambitious and expensive plan” he told Mr Varadkar.

“But I would remind you it is not your money, it is the taxpayer’s money. And you are electioneering and playing politics with large sums of taxpayers’ money.”

Mr Martin questioned where the €500 million would come from that had to be found between this year and 2022 if the contract was signed.

“What projects will be shelved?” he asked.

“Over €1.5 billion has to be found now from the National Development Plan - over and above the €800million already allocated for the plan,” he said.

This was in addition to the €385 million needed over the next three years for the national children’s hospital.

“There is no provision anywhere for this funding that we can see, despite asking very basic question about where this funding will come from,” he said.

But the Taoiseach said there would be no budgetary impact this year and a “very limited impact in 2020”.

There would be an impact from 2021 onwards and Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe would outline that in the summer economic statement due shortly.

Mr Martin asked if the Taoiseach still stood over the cost benefit analysis “when in the final version €1 billion was lost in the benefits and miraculously found in the costs.

“I won’t say ‘cooking the books’” he said, but some serious questions have to be asked.

The final cost analysis still shows a benefit in all scenarios and it excludes social benefits such as smart farming, e-health, home working.

The analysis was done independently by PwC and it was wrong of Mr Martin to “cast aspersions” on this major company which employed thousands.