Saturday 17 August 2019

John Downing: 'Personal crusade' is at long last a key political issue for the 'big two'

Stock image / PA
Stock image / PA
John Downing

John Downing

Broadband technology is complex - but suddenly its politics have become very simple.

Just hold two simple thoughts. Firstly, from this year all farmer grant applications have to be completed online.

Secondly, an unintended consequence of former communications minister Denis Naughten's resignation on October 10 was that all the ministers involved in the broadband issue are based in Dublin, where broadband is fast and abundant.

Direct responsibility has passed to new Communications Minister Richard Bruton, of Dublin Bay North, the funding depends on Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe, of Dublin Central, and of course Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, of Dublin West, has declared broadband to be "a personal crusade".

Mr Bruton was given a short breather as an independent assessor, Peter Smyth, was given about three weeks to judge whether the tendering process was affected by contacts between Mr Naughten and the sole remaining bidder, businessman David McCourt.

Now the Irish Independent has revealed that hopes of a rural broadband roll-out in 2019 have been delayed by at least a year. And Fianna Fáil has signalled that broadband roll-out is a big issue for talks on whether or not to renew its role underpinning Mr Varadkar's minority Coalition.

In provincial Ireland, people are angry at the lack of broadband. It is becoming harder to run any kind of enterprise or achieve any kind of efficient communication without it.

At first glance the Fianna Fáil move appears clever. It feeds its efforts to rightly or wrongly portray Fine Gael as lukewarm about rural Ireland.

But its initial shock at Mr Naughten's resignation, and its diffuse calls to consult all the bidders who have fallen out of the broadband process, shows it is not entirely sure about this. It made little headway on the issue in government up to 2011.

Irish Independent

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