Taxpayer is taking all the risks in €3bn rural broadband rollout – Dáil told
Irish taxpayers will “carry the can” for the €3bn broadband rollout to 1.1m rural homes and businesses – while the private investor in the process stands to make big gains with minimal risk, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin said today.
In a huge and fierce combined opposition attack on the Government’s controversial broadband plan, the leading parties of opposition accused the Fine Gael party of trying to "buy votes" in local and European Elections due on May 24.
But for the Government, Communications Minister Richard Bruton, said the Government was "acting courageously" to give the same access to broadband to every Irish citizen.
He conceded that senior officials in the Public Expenditure Department advised against the plan – but argued that senior officials had also advised against free secondary education introduced by Fianna Fáil back in 1967.
Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, said a delay in providing detailed broadband bidding documents until just before the Dáil sat on Wednesday afternoon was an example of the Government’s resort to "spin and sharp practice."
Mr Martin said warnings by senior officials showed taxpayers’ money would amount to €2.44bn. He challenged the Communications Minister to say just how much the final bidder, Granahan McCourt, was putting into the process.
The Fianna Fáil leader also said the Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe, also responsible for public spending, had failed to rebutt strong criticisms of his department secretary general, Robert Watt.
Minister Bruton said his approach was to disclose every aspect of the deal at every possible stage.
"This is a major decision to ensure that rural Ireland – including 1.1 million people – would get equal access to a technology which has the capacity to transform people’s lives," he said.
The Minister said there was considerable risk for the private investor and the Government had taken every step possible to minimise taxpayers’ risks.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the plan was a cynical political stunt with money being poured down a black hole. She also questioned the contractors’ ability to deliver on the project.