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Friday 23 August 2019

Varadkar looks at 'plans B, C and D' as rural broadband cost rockets

  

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Cormac McQuinn and John Downing

The Government is looking at other options for the roll-out of rural broadband as the estimated costs have soared to as much as €3bn over 25 years.

It comes amid mounting Opposition pressure and concern in government that the National Broadband Plan (NBP) will be seen as having runaway costs like the National Children's Hospital.

A decision on the future of the NBP had been expected this week but it has been delayed until after Easter.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil more time is needed. He said: "We want to do this and we want to do it right. And before we bring a decision to Cabinet, we want to ensure there is no better alternative."

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald was scathing of the Government's management of the roll-out and said the delays had gone on too long. "We are now faced perhaps again with a scandalous cost over-run that might be commensurate with the debacle around the National Children's Hospital," she said, adding the original estimated cost for the plan was €500m.

Responding to Ms McDonald, Mr Varadkar said: "You asked about plans B, C and D. We are examining all of those because we want to be convinced that the business case, costs and everything else are deliverable, that it is done in accordance with the public spending code."

Mr Varadkar rejected her criticisms and argued she "neglected to mention" that the €500m estimate had been for a "very different project". He said the original estimate was based on bringing fibre to 11,000 towns and villages; this wasn't the same as bringing it to 540,000 homes, farms and businesses.

Mr Varadkar also acknowledged estimates that the NBP could cost as much as €3bn over 25 years saying it is a "huge project of huge scale".

The NBP has been beset with delays and difficulties, including two bidders dropping out.

National Broadband Ireland, a consortium led by US businessman David McCourt, is the only remaining bidder for the project. Communications minister Richard Bruton has said "due diligence" on the NBP is close to completion.

The Irish Independent understands there is a possibility the future of the NBP could be considered at a special Cabinet meeting in Cork next month.

Irish Independent

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