Broadband delay 'will undermine the rural recovery'
The delay in rolling out adequate broadband to 750,000 people rural areas has been branded "unacceptable" and "hugely disappointing".
Campaigners and business groups have criticised the delay in Ireland's National Broadband Plan roll-out plans, with a 2022 completion date now on the cards.
The Government says a state-subsidised rural broadband network, scheduled for roll-out this year, will not begin construction until 2017 due to "complex" processes involving the scheme.
The network, scheduled to reach 750,000 rural homes and businesses which have been left outside existing broadband areas, may not now be completed until 2022, two years behind schedule.
"People living in rural communities urgently need proper broadband with local banks and post offices closing," said Seamus Sherlock, chairman of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers' Association.
"And the time is fast approaching when all farmers will be required to complete their [EU] Basic Payment scheme applications online which, when you don't have access to broadband, will cause serious difficulties."
Enterprise lobby groups also criticised the postponement.
"Businesses operating outside of our urban centres across Ireland will be hugely disappointed to learn about this further delay," said a spokesman for Chambers Ireland, a national business organisation.
"A lack of broadband capacity in a region undermines the ability of regionally located Irish businesses to compete internationally and prevents workers living in rural areas being able to work remotely."
A spokeswoman for the Government said that the delay was unrelated to the absence of a new Communications Minister. However, business groups have linked the broadband delay to a lack of political direction.
"This underlines the need for the resolution of ongoing negotiations on the formation of the next government," said Fergal O'Brien of Ibec.
"Several major decisions connected with the National Broadband Plan will need cabinet approval."
The Government must decide who will own the state-subsidised broadband network after the 25-year contract expires.
Operators want to keep the network after the contract finishes, while others believe the infrastructure should revert to the State.