Friday 18 October 2019

Every holiday home to get broadband under plan

Target: Minister Richard Bruton aims to provide universal coverage. Photo: Tom Burke
Target: Minister Richard Bruton aims to provide universal coverage. Photo: Tom Burke
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Thousands of holiday homes are to get free access to fibre broadband under the Government's plan, the Irish Independent can reveal.

The properties, some of which are in the most remote parts of the country, will be covered by the State subsidy.

It comes as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar set a target of signing the roll-out contract with the Granahan McCourt consortium before the National Ploughing Championship in September.

Communications Minister Richard Bruton had given himself up to six months to finalise the deal, but Mr Varadkar wants it done before the country's biggest agriculture gathering in Carlow on September 17.

Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin continue to oppose the plan, which will see broadband rolled out to 1.1 million people over the next seven years regardless of their location.

Mr Varadkar said the alternative being proposed by Opposition parties was to let rural people wait.

But controversially, the Taoiseach also admitted that holiday homes will also get subsidised broadband.

While the latest CSO figures suggest there are more than 61,000 holiday homes in the country, most of which are in rural counties, the Department of Communications said the number within the intervention zone for free Broadband is 15,000.

Donegal has 11,288 holiday homes. There are 8,056 in Kerry, another 7,282 in Cork and 6,629 in Wexford.

Mr Varadkar said the ambition is to provide 100pc coverage - but if a property is very remote they may look at a wireless connection, or seek a contribution from the homeowner to reduce the liability on the State.

Asked about having taxpayers fund broadband for holiday homes, the Taoiseach said: "It speaks to universal coverage. Obviously the person in that holiday home would have to pay a connection fee and they would have to pay for the service as well."

All homeowners will have to pay a connection fee of €100.

The Government is going on the offensive over broadband, after days of questions over whether awarding the contract to the only consortium left in the bidding process is the right move.

"We have on the Government side a broadband plan and on the Opposition side, with Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin, an alternative that isn't real," Mr Varadkar said.

"So we know that if we sign this contract, we can have it signed in time for the Ploughing."

Sinn Féin is now planning to place a Dáil motion calling for the ESB to be tasked with rolling out broadband.

Party leader Mary Lou McDonald said the National Broadband Plan "is flawed and will not deliver what is needed".

"Micheál Martin says he wouldn't sign this plan but he won't do anything about it. This is typical Fianna Fáil - words, but no action.

"Well, here's a challenge to Micheál Martin and Fianna Fáil. Sinn Féin will move a private members' motion in the Dáil which calls for the appointment of ESB to deliver high-speed broadband to every home, farm and business in rural Ireland," she said.

Fianna Fáil's Timmy Dooley responded by saying that Ms McDonald's party are "spoofers".

"They criticise us for being all talk and no action, challenging us to support a non-binding Dáil motion, and then fail to even table the motion.

"It requires a serious political response so there is clearly no role for Sinn Féin student politics," he said.

Mr Varadkar insisted the ESB option cannot be pursued without opening a new and lengthy procurement process.

He said Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil were presenting "a pig in a poke".

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Also in this section