No future for rural Ireland without fibre broadband - Taoiseach
Rural Ireland "does not have a future in the 21st century" unless fibre broadband is delivered to every home, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned.
In an exclusive interview with the Irish Independent, the Taoiseach insisted that the Government was right to push ahead with the controversial National Broadband Plan.
Mr Varadkar also said that no amount of Government action would be able to increase the price of beef to the level that farmers demand.
Agriculture Minister Michael Creed is under mounting pressure as protesting farmers voiced dissatisfaction at the deal thrashed out over the weekend.
Speaking ahead of this week's Ploughing Championships, Mr Varadkar sought to address the major issues affecting rural Ireland.
"I think we should always bear in mind [that] the agricultural economy is crucial to rural Ireland, but there is more to rural Ireland than agriculture. There is tourism, industry and a lot of people working in public services," he said.
But he warned: "I don't think rural Ireland has a future in the 21st century unless people have fibre to the home.
"With the way the world of work is changing, we want people to be able to work from home and you need a secure connection to be able to do that. We want children to be able to access education resources as they could in Dublin or Cork, and so much of that is online. And public services increasingly are moving to remote medicines and this is something people need."
The 'Sunday Independent' last week revealed that the roll-out of high-speed broadband has been further delayed.
It was the Government's intention to have the final contract with the Granahan McCourt consortium over the line in time for an announcement at this week's National Ploughing Championships.
However, this will not now happen amid attempts from opposition TDs to have the process of awarding the €3bn broadband contract reviewed.
Mr Varadkar said the Government was determined to get fibre on poles next year.
"We are up to over 70pc high-speed broadband coverage in Ireland, up from 50pc when I became Taoiseach. I want to get to 100pc or at least 99pc and that means going ahead with the national broadband contract," he said.
Turning to the beef crisis, Mr Varadkar defended his Agriculture Minister's efforts.
"In fairness, he has managed to get an agreement but it was not signed up to by everyone. As a Government we are there to support him and I have said if there is anything I can do to help, I'm willing to do this.
"The beef price is very low and it's a price that is similar across Europe and it's below the cost of production.
"Demand for beef is pretty flat, production is high and competition is high and there is a fundamental problem there and it's something we have to talk about long term.
"No Government action is going to be able to increase the price to the level farmers want," he said.
His comments about looking to reduce his own beef consumption - which caused much derision from the farming community - were misconstrued, he said, and he was not offering advice to others.
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