Monday 19 August 2019

Now rural broadband is set to cost €3bn - but Taoiseach argues it is an expanded plan

Leo Varadkar (Niall Carson/PA)
Leo Varadkar (Niall Carson/PA)
John Downing

John Downing

The rural broadband scheme – originally estimated at €500m – could cost up to €3bn over 25 years, the Taoiseach has acknowledged.

But Mr Varadkar insisted that the first plan was to connect 11,000 towns and villages  - while the current plan aimed to provide high- speed communications to 540,000 homes and businesses in more rural and remote areas.

Mr Varadkar’s comments come amid increased political pressure on the Government on the issue.  An announcement expected this week has been delayed until after Easter.

The Taoiseach was answering Dáil questions from Sinn Féin leader, Mary Lou McDonald, who was scathingly critical of the Government’s management of the issue to date and said the delays had gone on too long. But Mr Varadkar rejected her criticisms and accused the Sinn Féin leader of not telling the full truth on the issue.

The Taoiseach had conceded several weeks ago that the project would cost “many multiples” of the original half a billion euro estimate. But he has now put a specific figure on that.

"As you know, the cost including VAT contingencies and so on could be in the region of €3 billion albeit spread over 25 years," Mr Varadkar told the Dáil.

Mr Varadkar said it was a much different project than the original one. He said that the Government was still keeping its options open on how to proceed – and may choose other approaches.

The Taoiseach also compared the project with rural electrification and the building of Ardnacrusha power station in the late 1920s.  He insisted it would bring immense benefits to rural Ireland.

“Again, bear in mind the benefits - 540,000 homes, farms and businesses, over a million people. A huge project, a huge scale,”  Mr Varadkar told TDs.

The Sinn Féin leader said the project had been reduced to one single bidder and risked being an excessive cost to taxpayers.  “It’s another damning indictment of your party’s management of public finances and we need to get to the bottom of what has happened here,” Ms McDonald said.

Read more here: National Broadband Plan could cost three billion euro

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