Varadkar: Renationalising Eir to run NBP too costly

Opposition calls to take Eircom back into state ownership to run the National Broadband Plan could cost up to €9bn, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

His warning came as it emerged the private consortium chosen to roll out high-speed internet to rural Ireland will pay only €220m initially compared with the State’s investment of nearly €3bn.

An Oireachtas committee now looks set to agree to an investigation into the controversial project, including the limited equity being paid up front by bidders Granahan McCourt.

Mr Varadkar said any proposal to take phone company Eircom, now Eir, back into public ownership would lead to a legal battle and cost nearly double what the proposed plan will cost.

He said:

“To renationalise it, which would take quite some time and possibly a legal battle, we would have to compensate the shareholders, probably to the tune of €5bn or €6bn.

That would be the outlay before we provided any money at all to connect any home in rural Ireland, which would amount to a cost of €8bn or €9bn.

While confirming the €220m figure in initial equity and working capital, Mr Varadkar said Granahan McCourt will invest €2.4bn over the 25-year lifetime of the project.

Fianna Fáil is pushing for the Oireachtas communications committee to investigate the deal and the Government’s handling of it.

If the inquiry is agreed when the committee meets tomorrow, it is expected to include an examination of the €220m equity of the Granahan McCourt consortium bid as well as the role played by Frank McCourt, a brother of one of the investors in the project.

Communications Minister Richard Bruton told the committee that a restart of the plan could take up to 37 months with a new tendering process.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil has also claimed the group behind the broadband project may hit households with new charges to fill its own funding gap, before selling the contract onto another firm who would hike prices even further.

Fianna Fáil finance spokesperson Michael McGrath made the claim but side-stepped questions on whether his party would bring down the Government over the crisis.

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