Communications spokesman Timmy Dooley’s comments came after Eir last week pulled out of the plan and Mr Naughten’s decision to offer his “personal commitment” that high-speed broadband will still be rolled out nationwide.
Speaking to reporters before a Dáil motion last night calling for an immediate two-month review of the procurement process, Mr Dooley said an independent examination is now needed, despite concerns it will delay the project further.
Noting Cabinet’s decision to back Mr Naughten and refuse to allow a review, Mr Dooley said the minister’s insistence that broadband roll-out remains on track means he is akin to the Iraqi army spin doctor Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, who was labelled ‘Comical Ali’ in 2003 for repeatedly claiming the US was not winning the war.
“To just stand idly by and fail to recognise what’s happened is foolhardy and foolish,” said Mr Dooley. “The minister reminded me last week of Comical Ali when the broadband plan was in flames behind him and he put his hands up and said: ‘This is good news, we’re going to get shovels in the ground ahead of schedule and under budget.’
“I don’t think anybody out there in the real world believes that.”
The row continued on the first of two nights of Dáil debate on the Fianna Fáil motion to immediately review the broadband plan, with Mr Dooley saying: “This isn’t just about politics, this is about the 540,000 households who have no prospect of gaining broadband anytime soon.”
He insisted answers are needed now instead of “18-20 months down the line and then discovering the whole thing collapses”.
Mr Dooley said it is worrying Mr Naughten said in 2016 that broadband rollout is his “top priority” when there are areas “you can see from the top window” of Leinster House that are affected.
Fianna Fáil colleague James Lawless likened Mr Naughten to Homer Simpson and said: “To lose one bidder may be considered unfortunate, to lose two is surely careless, and what happens if we lose a third?”
Fianna Fáil TDs Stephen Donnelly, Frank O’Rourke, and Niamh Smyth, also voiced criticism, the latter claiming some Garda stations in her Cavan-Monaghan constituency cannot access the Pulse system as they do not have broadband.
Independents Michael Fitzmaurice, Michael Collins, and Catherine Connolly, Labour TD Sean Sherlock, Solidarity-PBP Gino Kenny, Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy, and Sinn Féin’s Brian Stanley and Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin were similarly critical.
Mr Kenny said the only lesson is “privatisation doesn’t work”. Mr Stanley said Ireland officially has worse access to broadband than Azerbaijan.
Mr Naughten insisted the criticism is wrong and an independent review is not needed.
Saying he will not allow a review to delay “this process one minute longer”, he said an investigation would “plunge the entire project into uncertainty” and “reset the clock for years”.
Mr Naughten said: “Delivering broadband to every home is a personal commitment from me.”