The Government has received criticism from opposition parties over its decision to approve the €3 billion National Broadband Plan.

Broadband timing ‘dubious’

A Cork TD has accused the Government of “trying to buy the rural vote” after it signed off on the €3 billion National Broadband Plan just weeks before local and European elections.

Cork South-West TD Margaret Murphy-O’Mahony said the timing of the announcement of the plan, which was rubberstamped by the Government on Tuesday despite warnings from senior civil service officials, was “dubious”.

On Tuesday the Cabinet approved the project, which will see high-speed internet brought to more than 500,000 homes, farms and business in Ireland over a seven year period. It is set to be awarded to David McCourt’s consortium, the National Broadband Ireland consortium, the sole remaining bidder, and the State will not own the project after its 25 year contract ends.

Deputy Murphy-O’Mahony was critical of several aspects of the plan. “We are two weeks away from an election, and I firmly believe this is a way of trying to buy the rural vote. We have no date, you now have a plan that costs six times the original amount, will take three times longer, has a funding structure which is not clear enough, and at the end of it we aren’t going to own it even though we are all paying for it.”

She said that while she welcomed the process moving forward for areas like West Cork, that it would also not give complete coverage to all households.

“Broadband is no longer a luxury; you have people with kids who cannot do projects at home, businesspeople who would like to work from home but can’t. We are very near the airport here, so there is a lot of potential for businesses who set up, but why would they if there isn’t the broadband?”

Cork North-Central Sinn Féin TD Jonathan O’Brien criticised the Government’s decision to push ahead with a project with only one remaining bidder. “The Government has pursued a procurement model that will see the taxpayer subsidise a private consortium, with no experience in the sector, to the tune of €3 billion.

“The Government must now release what percentage of total investment is being subsidised by the State for infrastructure it won’t even own.”

Adrienne Harrington, CEO of the Ludgate Hub in Skibbereen, welcomed the Government’s decision to approve the plan, saying over 100 jobs in Skibbereen had been created thanks to SIRO connectivity, with a digital programme rolled out with local schools and a further 400 jobs planned in the coming years. “High-speed connectivity is crucial if we are to create and maintain sustainable rural communities,” she said.