'I'm all ears': Taoiseach indicates Gov could restart broadband tender plan after Eir claims

'I'm all ears': Taoiseach indicates Gov could restart broadband tender plan after Eir claims

The Taoiseach has indicated that the Government could restart the National Broadband Plan (NBP) tender process after Eir claimed they could deliver the high speed network for one third of the current price.

Leo Varadkar told the Dáil that he is "all ears" on how Eir might deliver rural broadband for €1bn when the cost is currently running at around €3bn.

The Department of Communications have written to Eir, who pulled out of the tender process midway through, after company CEO Carolan Lennon told the Oireachtas Communications Committee that it has almost finished supplying broadband to 340,000 rural homes and is confident Eir could bring fiber to the remaining homes in the NBP for the reduced price.

Responding to questions from Fianna Fáil leader Michael Martin, the Taoiseach said it was a "big turnaround" for the company to now say that it can do the project for €1 billion.

"If that is the case then I am all ears. This morning, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment issued a letter to Eir, seeking further details and clarification about what it has said.

"We need to know whether this offer is real and stacks up, and what kind of delay would be imposed on people in rural Ireland waiting for broadband if we went back to a new procurement process."

Mr Varadkar said that neither a private nor state company could "just be given a contract" and therefore the process would have to be restarted to allow Eir back in but he added that the contributions at the Communications Committee raised as many questions as answers.

"One thing we want to find out is how there can be such a difference between the €2.7 billion bid from Eir and this new offer of €1 billion. My concern, and that of the Department, is that rather than Eir making up the difference, a big part of it would be met by imposing higher connection charges and fees on those 500,000 homes, farms and businesses in rural areas than are imposed on those in urban Ireland," he said.

Mr Martin welcomed the fact that the Government is "at least" going to reassess the NPB and has made contact with Eir.

But he accused the Government of having an "almost cavalier approach" to the ballooning costs of the rural broadband project on a monthly basis.

He told the Dáil: "The Eir submission points out that, in April 2017, €787 million was the KPMG estimate of the subsidy that would be required, and that is after 300,000 customers have been taken out of the intervention area."

Mr Martin claimed former Communications Minister Denis Naughten had "got too close" to the one remaining bidder, the consortium led by businessman David McCourt.

"He, of course, had had all sorts of dinners with Granahan McCourt, which I worry about.

"That does not look good for public procurement, and the taxpayer is now caught for €3 billion," Mr Martin told the Dáil.

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