The national broadband plan, NBP, was announced as far back as 2011 or 2012. Various promises were made before various general elections including 85% coverage, 100% coverage and so on but there has been a complete failure of delivery. Tendering started in 2015 and two bidders subsequently left - SIRO in September 2017 and Eir in January 2018. It must be said that the remaining consortium bears no resemblance to the original bidding consortium led by Enet.
The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, met the head of the remaining consortium, Mr. David McCourt, in July and discussed the tendering process with him. Relevant officials from the Department handling the bid were not present, which is very significant. An official who deals with climate change was there but no official dealing with the bid was in attendance. The minutes are clear that four issues relating to the bid and consortium were discussed. Decision makers such as the Minister, Deputy Naughten, are properly and normally insulated from lobbying and any attempt to influence them during a tendering process. It is clear that Mr. McCourt was trying to convince the Minister that he had addressed the concerns of departmental officials, that they were sorted and that the consortium was good to go. He was canvassing and lobbying and canvassing disqualifies. It must be remembered that at this stage, a decision still had to be taken by the Minister on whether to accept the remaining bid. The Minister should be completely at arms' length from the tendering process.
I find it extraordinary that I am even in here, asking these questions and putting these points to the Taoiseach. Remember, this is a massive contract which could be worth up to half a billion euro or more of State funds or taxpayers' money. It is quite extraordinary. I put it to the Taoiseach that the Minister should not have met Mr. McCourt. Does the Taoiseach accept that? Has the tendering process been contaminated by the Minister's actions? Outsiders looking in might be forgiven for thinking that the key to getting a lucrative contract in Ireland is face time with the Minister. We have had tribunals about this kind of thing in the past. It is extraordinary that this has occurred. In my view, the Minister has contaminated the process. The Taoiseach and the Government must reflect on that before any further action is taken.