Taoiseach warns no ‘cheap or easy’ alternative to broadband plan

Leo Varadkar declines to put timeline on scheme completion or give precise figure on cost

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said  areas of rural Ireland that will be easiest to reach for new broadband infrastructure could be connected in the next “year or two”, but said more remote areas may taken longer to connect.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said areas of rural Ireland that will be easiest to reach for new broadband infrastructure could be connected in the next “year or two”, but said more remote areas may taken longer to connect.

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said there are alternatives to the Government’s preferred plan for rolling out broadband to rural Ireland but warned that no options are “cheap or easy”.

Mr Varadkar also said that areas of rural Ireland that will be easiest to reach for new broadband infrastructure could be connected in the next “year or two”, but said more remote areas may taken longer to connect.

However, he declined to put a timeline on when the rural broadband scheme will be completed or a precise figure on how much it will cost.

He was speaking during wide-ranging interview with RTÉ Radio’s One’s Marian Finucane Show which touched on issues such as Brexit, Northern Ireland, the future of the government, health, housing and broadband.

The National Broadband Plan, intended to bring high-speed broadband coverage to over half a million homes, has currently been paused while an independent auditor assesses if it has been compromised by frequent contacts between the former minister for communications Denis Naughten and the leader of the sole remaining bidder for the contract. Mr Naughten resigned from Cabinet in October.

Fianna Fáil, which wants broadband to be discussed as part of the current review and possible renegotiation of the confidence and supply deal, has suggested that a semi-state company take on the project.

The Irish Times reported last month that officials are working on an alternative plan in case the preferred process collapses and that the cost may be climbing from initial estimates of €500 million to €3 billion.

When asked about possible delays and rising costs, Mr Varadkar said: “There are alternatives but there are no options that are cheap or easy.”

“This is a 40-year investment,” he added. “It is not done in one year.”

On the issue of housing, Mr Varadkar said it was “never easy” to buy a home, adding: “A lot of people when they bought their own home were only able to furnish one room.”

He said, however, about housing supply that it could only be “ramped up” at a certain speed. He added: “I am a believer in home ownership and my party is the party of home ownership.”

Mr Varadkar was also asked about a presidential election exit poll carried out for RTÉ last week, which also asked voters how they would vote in a general election. It put Fine Gael on 35 per cent, with Fianna Fáil following on 22 per cent.

“I am not planning on going for an election now,” he said, arguing that the Brexit talks are at a “sensitive period” and that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are in new confidence and supply talks.

Mr Varadkar has proposed to Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin that they both agree to hold the next general election in the summer of 2020, but this morning said a set number of achievements in the coming period is more important than the actual election date.

It is more important, he said, that a new deal “sets out a path of what needs to be done”.