Govt 'using broadband as an electioneering tool' - Opposition reacts to €3bn broadband plan

The Government's ambitious broadband plan will still come in six times over budget, a decade late and without any guarantees the State will ultimately own the service, the opposition has warned.

Fianna Fáil, Labour, Sinn Féin and the Social Democrats hit out at what they claimed was an election-focused launch of the project, despite admitting the country may be trapped into signing up to the plan.

Fáil communications spokesperson Timmy Dooley.
Fáil communications spokesperson Timmy Dooley.

Speaking to reporters at Leinster House moments after the Government's confirmation of the €3bn broadband plan, Fianna Fáil communications spokesperson Timmy Dooley said Cabinet is trying to hide serious problems with spin.

Claiming the new plan will serve fewer homes, cost six times the original price, come in a decade late and fail to ensure the public will ultimately own the network, he said effectively the country has been sold a lie.

"Our big concern is this announcement has all the hallmarks of a PR exercise two weeks out from the local and European elections, and I think people waiting for rural broadband will treat this with an air of scepticism.

"The announcement is another attempt by Fine Gael to make grand announcements without following through on delivery. The people waiting for broadband need it now, not in 2029," he said.

Mr Dooley said his 10-year time schedule is based on the fact the existing plans allow for the "build company" to retain its existence for a decade, despite the Government's claims the project will be completed within seven years.

However, while also noting the €3bn price tag is six times higher than the initial cost and that there are major concerns over the amount of money being spent on a service the public will not ultimately own, Mr Dooley admitted Fianna Fáil would not scrap the plan.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin was similarly questioning of the broadband plan and its announcement, saying he believes people in rural areas could end up having to pay twice - as taxpayers and as individuals - to receive the service.

Speaking before the Cabinet announcement today he urged the Government to hold back from signing off on any plans until after the local and European election campaigns, saying: "I have real concerns about what is happening, because this is being driven by a political imperative rather than by what is good for the country and for the people of rural Ireland who need broadband.

"We need to have all the documentation and all the advice published, we should not be afraid of contrarian advice, [ignoring that is] what got us into a mess in the past.

"Fine Gael once had a reputation for financial prudence, that appears to have been shredded now."

Sinn Féin's communications spokesperson Brian Stanley said the Government must provide clear answers on why the broadband costs have surged so much, while Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy said the Cabinet is "cynically using broadband as an electioneering tool".

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