Oireachtas committee fails to entice civil servant regards broadband investigation

Robert Watt.

The Department of Public Expenditure’s top civil servant has refused to come before an Oireachtas committee investigation into broadband today.

Department secretary general Robert Watt has snubbed the Communications, Climate Action and Environment Committee after being asked to appear to answer questions on the National Broadband Plan. Mr Watt has raised concerns around the cost of the plan with the Government before it decided to press ahead with the €5bn project.

However, the committee was told Mr Watt would be unable to attend the meeting, scheduled for 9.30am today. Members were also told that a date for his appearance is being worked on.

The committee will press ahead with its investigation into the process on concerns about the provision of broadband to more than 500,000 houses and businesses. Committee chair Hildegarde Naughton, said:

The committee has a particular interest in the roll-out time frame; value for money issues, including the cost-benefit analysis, and the issue of ownership.

Other senior officials from the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment will appear before the committee to be questioned on the details of contractual controls; deployments plans and the best ownership model for rural broadband.

Speaking in the Dáil yesterday, Communications Minister Richard Bruton, strongly defended the decision to approve a consortium, led by Granahan McCourt, as the preferred bidder: “In 2015 five alternatives were considered, 10 were considered in 2018, and three alternatives were considered in 2019.

"At no point did we overlook the importance of testing plan A, the one we now have on the table, against possible alternatives. Every time we did so we found the alternatives would result in some people being left out, a longer delay for the project, or a higher cost.”

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