I have a few questions for the Minister. I will try to cover them as concisely as possible. By the end of June, €3.941 million had been spent under subhead A3. The total Estimate was just over €19 million. What proportion of that has been spent on the national broadband plan? Why has there been such a large underspend in that regard? That is one question.
The Minister's answers on the broadband plan to date have been strange. I am not sure how a Government can plan its functions and budgeting for the next several years without having some ballpark figures for what has been earmarked for this, that and the other under the capital plan. How much is the Government budgeting for the national broadband plan? The Minister has submitted some figures. Surely to God the Minister for Finance has asked him to pencil in a range of figures for what is needed from the coming years' capital budgets to fund the national broadband plan. Is it between €250 million and €500 million, between €500 million and €1 billion or between €1 billion and €1.5 billion? I do not know, but the taxpayer would like to know and, as a Member of Parliament, so would I.
There have not just been dropouts in this process. The day that Eir was allowed to choose the richest 300,000 pickings out of 840,000 was one of the days when this process went under and got into trouble. I said it to the Minister on the day of that press release. I was being constructive. My red lights were flashing and the Minister's should have been flashing too. The Minister has followed this very closely. I do not doubt that he wants to get broadband into every home in the country. I do not doubt his sincerity. However, I have said to him many times that this plan is in serious financial, legal and logistical trouble. As Deputy Dooley stated, it is in the hands of venture capitalists. Two venture capitalists are making mincemeat of the Department and the 80 officials involved, whether they are direct employees of the Department or were subcontracted to help with this.
One is the French owner of Eir, which was sold off by Deputy Dooley's party in 1999. That was unfortunate because if we owned the infrastructure, as the ESB now owns its infrastructure, we would be in a completely different place. We need to be in that place but we are not there. Many right-wing commentators even starting to say it is where we should be, and that we should use infrastructure controlled by the State. However, we are where we are.
I have believed for a long time that we are in serious trouble. I want jobs to be created in rural areas. I represent a rural constituency, as does the Minister, and I do not want people driving to Dublin every day when they could work in towns such as Timahoe, Coolrain, Camross, Mountrath and Rosenallis in County Laois and towns in County Offaly. Are the costs accelerating? Are the delays in announcing when the tendering process will be complete being caused by legal difficulties as we try to join up the impossible? We are dealing with newcomers to the consortium now, people who have been in and out of the High Court more often than some barristers, such as Senator McDowell. These people have the best legal advice, not just in this country but in the western world, and the Minister is up against the big guys here. The State and the taxpayer will be casualties as might part of the rural broadband scheme.
Is the cost increasing because of the cherry-picking and because SIRO, ESB, Vodafone and several components of the Enet consortium have now jumped ship? Are we not now in a much more precarious situation because of the dropouts? We are caught between two venture capitalists - the owner of Eir and the owners of the Enet consortium, which is still in the bidding process.
The cost to the Department is €19 million. Why is it so low? What proportion is being spent on the broadband plan? I hope the Minister does not tell me that the Government has not put in a ballpark figure for the capital expenditure on the NBP. There has to be a range and some official, the Minister or his deputy must put a figure on it.