Sunday 18 August 2019

Eir accused of throwing National Broadband Plan figures around 'like confetti' by Fine Gael TD

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Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

Telecoms firm Eir has been accused of throwing “figures around like confetti” and confusing taxpayers in a row over the cost of the National Broadband Plan (NBP).

Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell rounded on the company after it was revealed the cost of its pitch to deliver rural broadband could increase by up to €500m.

She also criticised Fianna Fáil, claiming the party tried to portray Eir as a “white knight” after its communications spokesperson Timmy Dooley said Eir’s estimate it could deliver broadband for almost a third less than the envisaged NBP costs should act as a “wake up call” for the Government.

Ms O’Connell said: “Eir initially bid almost €3bn for the NBP contract before withdrawing from the tendering process. Last week, they said they could do it for €1bn - and today we learn that this is now €1.5bn,but could rise further. Figures are being thrown around like confetti. Are they serious whatsoever about their interest?

Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell
Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell

“Eir initially pulled out of the process, citing high risks and too much oversight by the department. I think we can all agree there has to be proper State oversight here.”

Ms O’Connell compared Fianna Fáil’s NBP objections to Eamon de Valera’s opposition to the construction of the Ardnacrusha dam 90 years ago.

Prior to the construction of the River Shannon dam that led to the electrification of the country Mr de Valera voiced his preference for a smaller scheme on the River Liffey.

“These are issues that should resonate too with Fianna Fáil and Timmy Dooley over Eir’s intervention. Cheap and fast bids often turn out to far more troublesome than those proffering them disclose. When it comes to causing a financial turmoil, Fianna Fáil are untouched in a league of their own. Have they learnt anything from the past?

“I hope Deputy Dooley and Fianna Fáil’s thoughts on the NBP are better than that of their predecessors when it comes to large State projects, which aim to assist all living in this country.

“This year we celebrate 90 years of the Ardnacrusha hydroelectric scheme, claimed internationally as a triumph. It cleared the way for rural electrification and gave other developing nations a blueprint for similar schemes. Luckily for the Government of the day, they heeded no advice from Eamon de Valera – also a Clare TD – who initially described Ardnacrusha as a white elephant.”

Last week Eir CEO Carolan Lennon told the Oireachtas Communications Committee the company could complete the NBP, based on its rollout of broadband to 300,000 homes on a commercial basis, for under €1 billion.

In a follow-up letter sent to the government last Friday Eir said the public funding required to deliver rural broadband would range from €0.5bn to €1.5bn. However, it also suggested the €1.55bn is a “mid-range” figure that excludes Vat and is set against a government mid-range estimate of €2.1bn excluding Vat. 

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