The Government is refusing to say if it will accept calls to reform its multi-billion euro broadband plan which could force the project to stay in public ownership and subject it to another in-depth review.
The Department of Communications today declined to say if it is in favour of the recommendations after they were made by the cross-party Oireachtas communications committee.
After 16 weeks of meetings, the committee today said that while it is in favour of rolling out high-speed broadband as soon as possible to all parts of the country, it cannot back the existing plan.
Despite Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and the entire cabinet launching the broadband plan in May, fears over surging costs and ongoing questions surrounding Granahan McCourt have led to calls for the current project to be re-assessed.
Fine Gael has since insisted that any review of the existing €3bn plan could see the project postponed for between three and five years due to the need to start the entire tendering process again.
However, in a series of non-binding recommendations which were backed by all parties except Fine Gael and will now pile pressure on the Government to either accept or reject the calls, the Oireachtas communications committee said:
- A three-month external independent review by an expert "with international experience" should take place into the Government's existing broadband plan, its €3bn cost and its tendering process
- * This review should be given the right to recommend a universal service obligation, which would ensure any broadband system remains in public ownership
- * The review should be allowed to recommend directly awarding a new contract to ESB or Eir to allow either firm to provide broadband at a fraction of the existing €3bn predicted cost, after Eir claimed earlier this year it could provide the service for €1bn
The opposition today demanded the Government accepts the proposals, with committee members Greens leader Eamon Ryan, Fianna Fáil TD Timmy Dooley and Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley all insisting the recommendations should be accepted.
However, in a statement responding to the report, the Department of Communications declined to say if it will accept or reject the proposals - raising the possibility the Government may ignore the conclusions which have been drawn.
"The Government in May 2019 approved the appointment of National Broadband Ireland as preferred bidder. Work continues on finalising the contract. The Department will consider the report of the joint Oireachtas committee once it has been published," a spokesperson said.
Under parliamentary rules, a Government can reject or choose to not act on an Oireachtas committee's report findings if it believes they are contradictory to existing policy.
In addition, a Government can also controversially side-step private members motions tabled in the Dáil by the opposition even if they are passed, on the basis accepting the demands will cost too much money.
However, any decision to do so in relation to the broadband report findings is likely to lead to a fresh stand-off over the project which could become a key election issue in the coming months.