The roll-out of the National Broadband Plan would cost in the region of €3bn, the Taoiseach has said. Leo Varadkar said the Government needed to spend “a little bit more time” before it could bring a decision to Cabinet on the matter.
He revealed the cost, including Vat, contingencies and so on, could be in the region of €3bn, albeit spread over 25 years. However, the benefits must be borne in mind, he said during Leaders’ Questions in the Dail.
“It is 540,000 homes, farms and business and over one million people. It is a huge project of huge scale.
Mr Varadkar said:
We want to do this and to do it right. Before we bring a decision to Cabinet, we want to ensure there is no better alternative.
He was responding to questions from Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald, who pressed him on other options if the Cabinet decides not to proceed.
“Deputy McDonald asked about plans B, C and D. We are examining all of those because we want to be convinced that the business case, costs and everything else are deliverable, that it is done in accordance with the public spending code, that is being technically reviewed, that international expertise and an outside panel have examined the plan, that all of the alternative ideas being floated are not better and that it cannot be done cheaper or quicker.
“We want to be satisfied with all of those things, make a Cabinet decision and bring the plan before the joint committee and Dáil to allow Members to examine the facts also,” he added.
Ms McDonald, however, said the whole process has been marked by delay which has generated massive frustration and impatience right across those rural homes and communities which the Taoiseach described, and now he says he wants more time.
“The Taoiseach challenged me on using the term ‘multiples of the €500m’ but it is the phrase he used himself. He said it would likely cost multiples and, as such, it is his language — not mine. What we want to know now is the final cost,” she said.
It is astonishing that the head of Government would take such a laissez-faire approach to final costings.
Only one bidder remains in the process for the contract to roll out high-speed broadband to more than 500,000 homes across the country.
Fianna Fáil communications spokesman Timmy Dooley said it was extremely negligent to continue the process with just one bidder.
“The obvious outcome has arrived — the Government has backed itself into a corner and the remaining bidder is holding all the cards.
“As the Taoiseach confirmed in the Dáil today, the remaining bidder, a private investment firm operating out of Boston, with limited experience in the Irish market, expects to be paid €3bn of taxpayers’ money to build a €1.5bn network.
“This an appalling betrayal of taxpayers and those citizens who are still waiting for broadband.”