Tuesday 16 July 2019

'We have to make sure that we have this right' - Bruton on broadband plan

  • Hopes to bring proposals to Cabinet on the NBP soon
  • NBP project has been hit with difficulties over the last year
  • Changes to carbon tax wouldn't be a 'money grab', Bruton says
Minister Richard Bruton. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Minister Richard Bruton. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

COMMUNICATIONS minister Richard Bruton has said he hopes to bring proposals to Cabinet on the National Broadband Plan (NBP) soon, but is not setting timelines as “we have to make sure that we have this right.”

The NBP has been engulfed in controversy and the Department of Communications in evaluating the last remaining tender for the project.

Mr Bruton said: “We’re working with a number of both expert consultants that the Department has engaged and our own officials have been going through this.

“I’m getting a continuous flow of reports and assessments around different issues.

“I hope to bring that to a conclusion very shortly and be in a position to go to government.

“But I’m not setting a very specific timeline because we have to make sure that we have this right.

“I am very satisfied with the progress we are making and I hope we will be in a position to go to government soon.”

The NBP project has been hit with difficulties over the last year with various bidders dropping out of the process.

Mr Bruton’s predecessor as communications minister Denis Naughten resigned after it emerged he had meetings and dinners with David McCourt, the businessman leading the last remaining consortium in the bidding process.

A later report by the NBP independent auditor Peter Smyth cleared Mr Naughten and Mr McCourt of improperly affecting the State tender process for the giant infrastructure project. Mr Smyth also found that Mr Naughten was correct to resign in order to insulate the process from "apparent bias".

The climate action minister also insisted that changes to carbon tax wouldn't be a "money grab".

The government has signalled that increases in carbon tax is on the cards in the coming years in a bid to switch people away from fossil fuels as Ireland struggles to meet its targets to cut CO2 emissions.

But it has also floated a possible ‘carbon cheque’ for households or alternatively hikes in welfare payments or tax credits to offset increased tax on petrol, diesel and solid fuels.

Those ideas were outlined by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in recent weeks and Mr Bruton has been tasked with developing proposals in the area.

Mr Bruton’s remarks come as Fine Gael hold a meeting of its parliamentary party ahead of the resumption of the Dáil tomorrow.

Climate action is on the agenda to be discussed at the meeting.

Mr Bruton said the battle against climate change will be the "defining issue of this century" and that a "whole of government" plan is being put together on the issue.

"We’re starting in a position where we are well off target but it is very clear that if we do not become leaders in relation to climate action we will bear far greater costs in the long term."

Mr Bruton said the two ideas revealed by Mr Varadkar on carbon tax are still on the table.

He said: "The bottom line on both of the solutions is that the purpose of the carbon tax is not to raise revenue.

"It is to nudge people to change their behaviour.

"Clearly we do not want people making decisions about their home or about their cars, locking themselves into a high-carbon lifestyle.

"Setting out a trajectory for a number of years ahead gives people certainty.

"But the really important thing is that that money would be recycled back so people will be either getting a cheque in the post or getting a rebate through the social welfare and tax systems that compensates them so it will encourage people to change the way they behave.

"And that is really the challenge. If we can’t get the whole of society working to achieve these carbon goals we will simply fail."

Mr Bruton added: "I think the principle that the Taoiseach has established is really important. This isn’t a money grab to take money out of your pocket.

"This is trying to help people to make decisions that are for the long-term."

Mr Bruton was if a ‘carbon cheque’ would be a bid to offset the kind of public unrest seen during the bid to bring in water charges.

He replied: "The real challenge is bringing the entire society with us that whether you’re a farmer; running a small enterprise; making decisions about your transport choices or your home that you recognise that this is a huge challenge."

He added that climate change is "not something that’s going to affect others".

"This is intimate to the future of our own children, their generation to come.

"So it is about how do we get that level of engagement, get people to commit to making the changes of lifestyle.

"That’s the challenge. The design of the tax is just one element of that bigger challenge.”

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