'Brexit bailout for farmers to affect rural broadband'
The need for a Brexit bailout for farmers could affect rural broadband roll-out plans, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned.
Mr Varadkar - who has already conceded the final broadband bill "will be many multiples" of the original €500m estimate - did not comment when asked by TDs whether the final cost could be up to €3bn.
He also notably failed to commit to proceeding with the broadband project for half-a-million rural homes, farms and businesses, saying nothing could be guaranteed until contracts are actually signed.
The Taoiseach told the Dáil finance committee he was awaiting the Brexit outcome before publicising new "indicative cost figures" to deliver broadband.
There is already just one bidder left in the process and Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty warned that this bidder could "have the country over a barrel" with few real choices left.
Under strong questioning from Mr Doherty and Fianna Fáil's Barry Cowen, Mr Varadkar said he intended to tell the Opposition about the new broadband costings before a decision was made by Government. He said a bad Brexit outcome could involve him returning to the Dáil in late March or early April, seeking a substantial supplementary estimate to back farming and food processing to protect mainly rural jobs. "So, I'd have to bear that in mind, coming to the Oireachtas asking to vote more money, you'd have to know what other bills are coming," the Taoiseach said.
He hoped a decision could be made before Easter, which this year falls on April 21.
The Sinn Féin spokesman argued this was yet another example of a huge cost over-run. The Taoiseach countered that more lucrative customers were being taken up by private-sector providers, leaving less profitable areas.