Taoiseach backs Oireachtas hearing into National Broadband Plan

The Taoiseach has said he would welcome an Oireachtas committee hearing into the National Broadband Plan bidding process.

Fianna Fáil yesterday called for the Communications Committee to hold an investigation into the tendering process behind the €5bn plan.

The Government gave the go-ahead to the project last week, despite warnings from senior officials in the Department of Expenditure that the plan posed unprecedented risk to the taxpayer.

It aims to deliver the roll-out of high-speed broadband to more than 540,000 homes and business across the country in the next seven years.

Mr Varadkar told the Dáil: “I would absolutely welcome hearings being held by the joint Oireachtas committee. I’d have no objection to that whatsoever.”

But he said any inquiry should have a “reasonable time frame” and that the terms of reference would need to be agreed by the major parties.

The Taoiseach made the remarks during Leaders’ Questions today.

He said the government had been “very transparent” about the plan, releasing advice from officials in the department of expenditure and the department of communications as well as independent analysis by firms such as KPMG and PwC.

He added that the Government had made the decision to publish the documents rather than have information come out in a “drip, drip” manner at a later date through Freedom of Information requests.

Asked by Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin what projects would have to be shelved over the next three years  to facilitate rural broadband, Mr Varadkar admitted there would be a budgetary impact as a result of the plan.

“There will be no budgetary impact in 2019 and a very minimal budgetary impact on 2020 in fact possibly none….There will be a budgetary impact from 2021 onwards,” he said.

He said Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe will outline in the Summer Economic Statement in the next couple of weeks how the funding will be provided.

Mr Martin said Mr Varadkar had belatedly asked the opposition yesterday to back the government’s position on the plan in “full electioneering mode and with little genuine regard for the legitimate concerns that people have in relation to the government’s decision”.

He said the public are annoyed and frustrated by the delays to date  and increasingly angry at the government’s “cavalier approach” to the matter.

“You declared it yesterday to be an expensive and ambitious plan, Taoiseach.

“But, Taoiseach, I would remind you it is not your money, it is the taxpayers’ money,” Mr Martin said.

“And you are electioneering and playing politics with large sums of taxpayers’ money.”

Mr Varadkar denied the accusations.

“There is no electioneering going on here when it comes to this issue,” he said.

He added: “This is politics from your side, in my view, when it comes to timing.”

But he told the Dáil he understood any “reasoned and considered concerns” members of the opposition may have about the project because he said he had concerns initially about the plan.

He repeated his request to the opposition parties “not to rush to conclusion” on the plan.

- Press Association

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