McCourt ‘bringing nothing’ to National Broadband Plan

The consortium developing the State’s multibillion-euro national broadband project has been accused of “bringing nothing” to the plan amid claims a separate company is part-funding its investment. Opposition parties made the allegation during a meeting with senior Department of Communications officials.

Speaking during the latest Oireachtas communications committee meeting, department secretary general Ciarán Ó hÓbáin said officials have repeatedly checked the financial safety of the project. While acknowledging there has “rightly” been a spotlight on the money involved, Mr Ó hÓbáin said the department ultimately believes it is making the right decision in pushing ahead with the plan.

However, Fianna Fáil communications spokesman Timmy Dooley, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, and Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley all hit back at the officials, insisting answers are needed on who exactly is funding the project.

Pointing to the involvement of Tetrad — which is a holding company connected to Frank McCourt, the brother of Granahan McCourt consortium leader David McCourt — Mr Ryan said the consortium is in reality “bringing nothing” to the financial table.

Mr Ó hÓbáin said Tetrad has tabled €175m in equity while the consortium is paying for the working capital.

Asked by Mr Dooley if there “will be any purpose for Mr McCourt or others to hang around after year 10 because they will already have their money”, department official Fergal Mulligan said:

If everything is absolutely a roaring success then like any equity they will be entitled to take their money back.

"If he meets every aspect of the contract, he will be entitled to take money back in. If he doesn’t, he will have to make up equity.”

Speaking at a separate event yesterday, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin hit out at elements of the project.

Asked about the project’s future, Mr Martin said the reality is “we haven’t been told the full story” and insisted that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar provides fresh answers on what is taking place.

“I think the inquiry [last autumn] wasn’t a serious inquiry, it was designed to paper up over the facts. There was something desperate going on in the summer/autumn period of last year to try and keep this project on track.

“It simply doesn’t add up,” he said.

Mr Martin said the July 2018 meeting between then communications minister Denis Naughten and Mr McCourt in the US, which ultimately contributed to Mr Naughten’s resignation, now seems “particularly significant”.

“It’s imperative former minister Naughten would give a comprehensive account of all of this, and I am surprised the Taoiseach hasn’t bothered to ask him,” said Mr Martin.

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