By Juno McEnroe and Eoin English
A further delay in agreeing a broadband solution for more than half a million homes and premises has been deemed another blow for rural Ireland.
Communications Minister Richard Bruton confirmed that proposals for the national Broadband Plan will not go before Cabinet today - despite a pledge by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to decide on plans this week.
The longer the delays on agreeing a contract to roll out the high-speed broadband for rural areas, the higher the costs for the plan will go, Fianna Fáil's Timmy Dooley insisted last night.
But amid criticism, Mr Bruton refused to explain why Government agreement on the plan is further delayed:
“We are close to completion on that, both with our own department which has prime responsibility, but also the department of public expenditure.
"They have an input into this. And I believe we will shortly be in a position to bring recommendations to Government. Clearly, there are a lot of issues at the moment which are demanding Government concentration and this is one, it is a very significant decision.
"It will need the time and space to reach that decision. I know that the Taoiseach is determined that time and space be provided.”
Mr Bruton said there are “other affairs that are happening simultaneously” in government, that the Department of Public Expenditure needs to also have input and that there is “a determination to reach a decision in a timely way”.
The latest stumbling block comes after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar committed in February to making a decision on the plan before Easter.
This came after a previous commitment last November to agree a plan within weeks. After five bidders were involved in 2015, just one company is now left in the process to deliver high-speed broadband to 540,000 homes and premises, mainly in rural Ireland.
It has been suggested that the cost of the project could reach €3bn. Fianna Fáil argues that the Government should have intervened more than a year ago and that the ESB also has the skills to roll out the broadband facilities.
Mr Dooley said: “The longer this goes on and the more delay, costs will keep rising.”
The opposition communications spokesman added:
"Hundreds of thousands of households and businesses in the country are waiting for the Minister and the Government to get their act together on this long overdue project.”
Tánaiste, Simon Coveney, said a final decision on the plan will be made within weeks, not months:
“It’s not on the long finger. There is not going to be a long delay here.
"There is some more work to do before Minister Bruton can bring the proposals to the cabinet but we’re not talking about months here - we’re talking about weeks."
Meanwhile, recommendations on the concerns of former residents of mother and baby homes will be examined by the Government.