Monday 25 March 2019

Taoiseach: state-funded rural broadband rollout will cost 'many multiples' of original estimate

Brexit economic fallout may hit rural broadband plans - Taoiseach

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
John Downing

John Downing

PLANS for State-funded broadband to half a million homes and businesses in rural Ireland will be “many multiples” of the original cost estimates, the Taoiseach has told the Dáil.

Mr Varadkar has also suggested that the economic fallout from Brexit, and cost over-runs at the new children’s hospital, may also impact on the pledged delivery of high-speed broadband.

The Taoiseach was replying to questions from Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, who said the Government was now months behind in delivering a promised decision on the plan, originally estimated to cost in excess of €500,000.

Mr Martin recalled the resignation of Communications Minister Denis Naughten last October after controversy surrounding meetings with the only remaining bidder, the US businessman David McCourt.

The Fianna Fáil leader said Mr Naughten’s successor, Minister Richard Bruton, had promised a decision on the issue within weeks.

“He has been saying ‘in the coming weeks’ since last October – and it’s now almost March,” Mr Martin said.

Replying, the Taoiseach said the Fine Gael-led Government had made progress in delivering broadband with 80pc of homes now served.  But the remaining 20pc were entitled to service.

“For that 20pc, who don’t have access, it’s all the more frustrating, it’s all the more annoying,” Mr Varadkar conceded.

The Taoiseach said he hoped a final decision would be made before Easter this year.  He said there was still only one remaining bidder but that bid was not yet accepted, as it was still being scrutinised under so-called “due diligence” procedures, including examination by international experts.

Mr Varadkar also admitted that cost over-runs on the new children’s hospital could impact on the timing of the plan.  Brexit fallout – which would become clearer in the coming weeks – could also be a factor in any decision.

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