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Sunday 26 May 2019

Ministers ready to agree €3bn broadband plan across the State

Communications Minister Richard Bruton. Photo: Tom Burke
Communications Minister Richard Bruton. Photo: Tom Burke
John Downing

John Downing

The Government looks set to go ahead with the €3bn broadband rollout to rural Ireland - in spite of strong warnings that it may not represent value for money.

Communications Minister Richard Bruton will bring his controversial and much-delayed plan to Cabinet today and the full details are to be announced later.

Senior officials at the Public Expenditure Department, including secretary general Robert Watt, have raised serious objections to the scale of the plan which could be the biggest Government contract ever issued.

The contract will go to the sole remaining bidder, a consortium headed by the Irish-American billionaire David McCourt. Opposition TDs have raised concerns about the cost of the project and future ownership resting with the contractors.

Officials advising the Government have warned it is impractical to bring fibre broadband to the remaining 500,000 farms and businesses.

These will not be served by commercial providers and many are in extremely remote parts of the country but it is understood other technologies, including 5G, may be deployed in some cases. Other concerns include slow uptake of services already available in rural Ireland. Some places have a reported rate as low as 20pc.

Two Fine Gael ministers yesterday signalled their support for the package. Culture Minister Josepha Madigan said the Government would honour its commitment to deliver broadband to every person in the country.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said it was important to deliver broadband to everyone who wanted to have it.

He said successful policies of the Government had delivered almost full employment but this had put strains on Dublin's infrastructure.

"I believe it's important in encouraging people to live and work in the regions. They should have an entitlement to broadband facilities. I believe that's essential in the context of whatever decision is made by Government on this issue," he said.

Senior ministers are keenly aware clarity is needed on the issue ahead of local and European elections on May 24. They believe that, despite intense controversy about runaway spending on the national children's hospital, they can sell the project on grounds of social equality for rural Ireland.

Irish Independent

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