When it comes to the national broadband plan, NBP, my absolute priority has always been to ensure that high-speed broadband is provided to the more than 540,000 households and more than 1.1 million people in rural Ireland who do not currently have access to this essential service, no more and no less.
I am absolutely satisfied there has been no interference in the procurement process by me. The political and media frenzy in the last week has been deeply unhelpful. Commentary by those who are not procurement experts that the process is dead in the water and that the final bidder does not have the capacity or capability to roll out the NBP is incorrect and has been deeply damaging. Commentary such as this is where the real risk and interference with the NBP arises. The use of this language is inflammatory, inaccurate and ill-considered. It calls into question the integrity, ability and impartiality of my officials and the external advisers who have managed this procurement process, and the integrity and capability of the last remaining bidder.
We cannot halt the procurement and engage in discussions with parties that had previously been involved in the NBP procurement process, namely, Eir and SIRO. This is simply not an option open to the Government, nor is it necessary, even if it were open to Government. If we had to reset the clock, it would set the NBP back years.
Insofar as the meetings are concerned, on 26 June I attended a meeting in Leinster House at the request of my officials with representatives of the remaining bidder. I was accompanied to that meeting by the Secretary General, the assistant secretary with responsibility for communications, the chief technology officer and my special adviser. I am making the minutes of that meeting available on my Department’s website. The current position is that the final tender submission for the NBP was received from the remaining bidder in the NBP procurement process on 18 September. Since then, evaluation of the final tender submission has been ongoing by the NBP evaluation teams in my Department to assess the completeness, compliance and robustness of the submission and to evaluate the submission against the technical and commercial award criteria. The fact is that the NBP procurement process is subject to very strong oversight, where the Department has the assistance of expert external advisers and is supported by a procurement board and steering group with external expertise, and with an independent process auditor in place. I understand that the evaluation process is expected to conclude by the end of this month, at which stage a recommendation will then be made to Government. The real risk for the NBP now lies in loose language and irresponsible politics at this critical time in the NBP process.
I met with the Taoiseach last night and earlier today offered the following to allay the concerns of the Opposition about some of the issues that arose recently. This comprised a confidential briefing by senior members of the procurement team, including the project sponsor, programme director, chief technology officer and the process auditor to the Opposition spokespeople - the Secretary General of the Department will write to the Opposition spokespeople in this regard; a review perhaps by a former Secretary General of my role, if any, in the NBP procurement and to address, if there is a concern among the Opposition, that I would in any way second guess the outcome of an independent process recommended to me; and the assignment of responsibility for the NBP procurement to the Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Kyne, who already has responsibility for a number of functions in the communications area, or to another Cabinet-level Minister. This was not accepted by An Taoiseach, who asked me to reflect on my position.
It is clear to me, therefore, that the Taoiseach does not have confidence in me. That confidence does not exist, even though I, as Minister, have introduced the first climate change national mitigation plan and national adaptation plan; secured over €22 billion in the national development plan for climate action; established a climate action fund, with an allocation of €500 million, to leverage additional public and private investment in climate action measures; developed a much higher and credible profile for Ireland at EU and international level on climate issues; introduced a settled waste policy, including the introduction of incentivised pricing for waste disposal and a comprehensive suite of measures for food waste management; provided a new funding package for over 400 anti-dumping initiatives right across the country; established the mobile phone and broadband task force, drawing together the industry, Government Departments and the regulator; developed a comprehensive suite of measures to deal with mobile phone blackspots; had the lead role in developing a Government response to issues of online safety; funded the accelerated roll-out of digital skills and trading online supports for small and micro businesses; secured a rescue package of €30 million for An Post to address its severe financial difficulties and set it back on a path of recovery; provided additional funding for the broadcasting sector of over €17 million and legislation to address the funding issues for regional broadcasters; provided an increase of €74 million in funding for energy measures, including energy efficiency and new initiatives to help the most vulnerable who are suffering health issues due to poorly insulated housing; and introduced new and innovative renewable energy and renewable heat schemes.
I am left now in the impossible, stark position a politician never wants to find himself or herself in. Do I make the decision to resign or wait for the decision to be made for me? What do I do in circumstances where the Opposition has not sought my resignation? If I was a cynic, which I am not, I believe this outcome is more about opinion polls than telecoms poles. It is more about optics than fibre optics.
The fact is that I have to meet investors, whether in telecoms, energy or any other sector. These are the people who provide jobs in this country. That is the context in which I had meetings with Mr. McCourt, and that is how it should be seen. The reality is that Mr. David McCourt has met with every single communications Minister, several members of this Government and members of the Opposition in recent years.
For my family, for my constituents, and more importantly for the 1.1 million people who are waiting for this essential service, a vital service for ordinary people in rural Ireland, I have given An Taoiseach my resignation. I wish my Cabinet colleagues well, and I would ask, most of all, that the NBP process is allowed to reach its conclusion over the next few weeks for the 1.1 million people in rural Ireland who need this infrastructure now more than ever.
Finally, I assure the House that the decisions I took as the former Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment were taken solely in the interest of bringing high-speed broadband, communication services and mobile services to every single home, business and citizen in this country, and for no other reason whatsoever.