Wednesday 18 September 2019

‘What cyber galaxy is the minister living in?’ - Government under fire as Eir pull out of broadband bidding process

Kevin Doyle Group Political Editor

FIANNA Fáil has asked “what cyber galaxy” the Minister for Communications is living in if he thinks the withdrawal of Eir from the National Broadband Plan can be a positive thing.

There were angry exchanges in the Dáil as Tánaiste Simon Coveney tried to offer reassurances that 540,000 homes and business in rural Ireland will still get high-speed interest access.

Mr Coveney said 80 people are working to ensure the roll-out of broadband goes ahead and noted that a consortium led by energy group SSE and telecoms firm Enet is still involved.

Eir has said the company could not make a business case for pursuing the contract, leading to its decision to withdraw.

Communications Minister Denis Naughten has suggested the decision by Eir to follow Vodafone and ESB out of the process could actually mean the work on the project can begin more quickly.

However, Fianna Fáil’s Timmy Dooley questioned: “What cyber galaxy is Minister Naughten living in? There’s no guarantee at all if a deal can be arrived at.

“You put your faith in the market and the market has turned its back on you.”

Mr Dooley suggested the Government should now considering reverting to a position where the State takes charge of the roll-out.

“You really don’t understand what’s going on. It’s about time that you faced up to what’s happening,” he said.

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin was also hugely critical of the Government’s handling of the situation.

“The notion that the minister would portray the latest development as a good thing is delusional at best, cynical at worse,” he said.

“The country is now snookered and the minister and his department has lost control of the process.”

In response Mr Coveney said he is “acutely aware of need in rural Ireland for broadband access”.

He said the State was “sponsoring” the roll-out of broadband and people would not thank them for restarting the whole process again.

“We’re not starting again. We are at the very end of a very complex process. We have one absolutely very viable consortium that wants to do this with the State,” he said.

“We’re going to see this through. I t has been complex and difficult. That has essentially been fast-forwarded now and we need to work with Enet,” he said.

He hit back at Mr Howlin, saying: “You signed off on this process but now because it’s not politically convenient you are not sticking with it.”

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