Saturday 21 September 2019

New delay for broadband plan as Varadkar demands 'value for money'

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

The controversial National Broadband Plan is facing fresh delays, with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar admitting a decision on the embattled project may not be made for another two months.

The broadband plan has been engulfed in controversy over the last year and the project is currently being reviewed by the Department of Communications.

Speaking to reporters last week, Mr Varadkar admitted a decision on the future of the plan to extend broadband to every home across the country will not be made before the end of the year as expected.

"We'll have to make a decision, of course, on broadband, which will be one of the big calls the Government has to make in the first two months of next year," he said.

The broadband plan was thrown into disarray earlier this year when it emerged former Communications Minister Denis Naughten held a number of private meetings with businessman David McCourt, who is leading the last remaining bidder for the State broadband contract.

Mr Naughten was forced to resign when it emerged he held meetings with Mr McCourt in his home in Co Clare and on other occasions in Dublin and New York.

He was replaced by former Education Minister Richard Bruton.

A government review of the controversy by independent auditor Peter Smyth found the meetings had not tainted the bidding but said Mr Naughten took the right decision to resign.

Mr Varadkar said an external evaluation of the tendering process is under way to ensure the project will be "value for money".

"I want to make sure that we do it at the lowest possible cost to the taxpayer and, secondly, that we have confidence that the contractor can deliver and will actually be able to get the job done," he said.

"It is something I'm committed to delivering. We've up to 75pc coverage across the country when it comes to high-speed broadband.

"The 25pc, it's even more annoying and they feel even more left behind by the fact that people have access to broadband and they don't. So I really want to get this done," he added.

More than €22m of taxpayers' money has been spent on the delayed broadband project to date.

This includes State funding spent on the cost of corporate finance and economic advice, technical support and network design, the cost of legal advice, environmental advice and process auditor costs.

It also includes administrative and travel costs associated with the project.

It has been suggested the entire cost of the completed project could be as much a €3bn.

Two of the three final bidders for the State contract pulled out of the process earlier this year. The final remaining bidder is the Granahan McCourt consortium.

Sunday Independent

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