The ability of the Government to deliver a large national infrastructural projects is being called into question by a local Fianna Fáil TD following Eir's withdrawal yesterday from the bidding process for the National Broadband Plan; though the Minister charged with the plan insists it will be delivered on time and on budget despite yesterday's bombshell.
The shock move came just months ahead of the scheduled start of the State-subsidised scheme, which aims to bring high-speed broadband to 542,000 homes and businesses in rural Ireland by 2023. Eir had been the front runner to win the contract.
The remaining bidder in the procurement process, the consortium comprising of Granahan McCourt, enet, SSE, John Laing Group plc, has reaffirmed its commitment to the successful conclusion of the NBP process.
“The decision by Eir to withdraw from the NBP represents a damning indictment of Fine Gael in office. Rural communities across Cavan, Monaghan and further afield have been kept waiting for the roll out of high speed broadband by this government. Figures released to my party last month revealed that it would be another five years before rural homes and businesses would have access to a high-speed broadband connection,” said Deputy Brendan Smith.
“Following yesterday’s announcement, the 2023 date is in serious doubt and I have genuine concerns about the future of the rollout of the plan as a whole. I get the sense that the Government isn’t really serious about rural communities in Cavan and Monaghan or anywhere else,” he added.
Emphasising the “absolute necessity” for high-speed broadband in terms of attracting jobs and investment to rural counties and towns, Deputy Smith concluded: “I am sad to say that I have serious doubts about when, if ever, it will be delivered. It represents to me one of the greatest government failures in living memory, and demonstrates that when it comes to thinking big and delivering for rural Ireland, Fine Gael always fall short.”
Government committed to project
Describing Eir's withdrawal at this stage as “regrettable”, Minister for Communications Denis Naughten has said that the Government is determined to push ahead with the tendering process and even went to far as to say that the latest development may, in fact, speed up the delivery of the network.
“The National Broadband Plan (NBP) Procurement process is a key priority for Government and is being managed intensively by a specialist National Broadband Procurement Team in my Department,” he said.
Commenting on Eir's decision to withdraw from the process, Minister Naughten said: “I understand their decision is driven by ‘commercial, regulatory and governance’ issues. This decision is ultimately a commercial matter for eir.”
He concluded: “My Department will continue to engage intensively with all relevant stakeholders to ensure the earliest possible achievement of the Government’s objective of providing reliable high quality, high speed broadband to all premises in Ireland. When the procurement process reaches a satisfactory conclusion for Government, a contract will be awarded and the network rollout will commence.”
Eir withdrawal will not impact Cavan rollout
Meanwhile, Cavan Fine Gael Senator, Joe O'Reilly, a member of the Communications Energy and Natural Resources Joint Oireachtas Committee dealing with broadband, has expressed his confidence in the Government to deliver the infrastructure on target.
He told The Anglo-Celt today that he will continue to put pressure on the Department of Communications so that every local premises has access to high speed broadband.
“The National Broadband Plan (NBP) Procurement process is a key priority for Government. While it is unfortunate that Eir has pulled out of the process, our Government colleague Denis Naughten has assured us that it will not impact the rollout timeframe for Cavan.
“Minister Naughton has given a guarantee to homes and businesses that are frustrated with waiting for broadband, saying we will now probably get shovels on the ground quicker because there is only one consortium left in the process.
“The Government is absolutely committed to ensuring the roll out of high speed broadband to the over 500,000 rural homes that are currently without it across the country,” said Senator O'Reilly.
He further pointed out that when the current Government first took office, about 50% of premises had high speed broadband. “That figure is now 71% and by the end of this year, 77% of premises will have high speed access. We are delivering high speed access to 300 farms every week,” claimed Senator O'Reilly.