The government has nothing to hide in relation to the €3bn National Broadband Plan and will explain its decision and the project costs in due course, the Tánaiste says.
Simon Coveney has also challenged critics of the plan - branded by the opposition as “the worst deal ever seen” after it emerged that the selected private operator will own a €3bn asset despite investing just €200m in the scheme - to show how they could deliver high-speed broadband to rural Ireland cheaper and more effectively.
He was speaking after attending a government rural funding roadshow in North Cork today with Minister for Rural and Community Development, Michael Ring, and the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys.
Mr Ring, who was in Castletownroche for his department’s fifth Rural Opportunity event flagging the range of funding and supports available to rural communities, said broadband is raised at every single meeting he attends in rural Ireland.
“Seventy years ago, they were talking about rural electrification. The same people were saying we shouldn’t put it into every house. Broadband is the new electricity,” he said.
Mr Coveney said the government has debated the issue for a decade amid claims that a “silver bullet” technology solution would emerge, and following a “very active and challenging debate” within Government, the time had come for a decision with full knowledge of the costs.
“We have made a political decision which I believe to be the right one. We are going to leave no home, no business, no farm, no person behind," he said.
Yes it’s expensive, but I would challenge the critics to show how this can be done more cheaply or more effectively.
“In 20 years, in 10 years, people will be asking how could we ever have thought that not rolling out fibre to every home could have been acceptable across Irish society.”
He also dismissed suggestions that Fine Gael’s handling of this deal, on the back of the National Childrens’ Hospital costs controversy, has damaged its image as a party of strong fiscal control.
Decisions on the hospital project were based on incorrect cost estimates whereas decisions on the broadband deal were made based on full cost information, he said.
“Repeatedly we have shown that when others have, through policy mistakes, destroyed and undermined an economy, we have been put into Government to fix a broken economy, and we have done that over the past eight or nine years,” he said.
“Fine Gael is a party of prudence and responsible economic management. But we are also a party of big ideas. We are a party that is planning 20 years ahead.”
Today’s event heard how the government has allocated some €138.4m to rural programmes and schemes this year alone.
It heard from several speakers how such funding has helped them deliver projects that benefited their communities, including the Charlie Chaplin Comedy Festival in Waterville and the Banteer Community Sportsfield project.
Colm Murphy, the CEO of Firebird Heating Solutions, said his company, which employs 150 people, has thrived in a rural area thanks to research, development and innovation supports from Údarás na Gaeltachta.