Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Questions (8)

James Browne

Question:

8. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the position regarding the roll-out of the national broadband plan in County Wexford; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41102/18]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Communications)

What is the position on the roll-out of the NBP in County Wexford?

There are just over 82,200 premises in County Wexford.  When the Government came into office, only 51% of these premises had access to a high-speed broadband service. Today, 67% of premises in the county have access to a high-speed broadband service. On completion of Eir's rural fibre deployment this will increase to 74% of premises in Wexford. However, more than 21,600 premises in the county are not covered by commercial operators and the Government's State-led intervention network under the NBP will bring a high-speed broadband service to these. The investment in high-speed broadband being witnessed across the country has been significantly influenced by the Government's clear ambition and commitment to the plan.

In recent years, industry has invested more than €2.75 billion in infrastructure deployment and improvement. In addition to Eir's rural fibre network, SIRO has committed €450 million to providing fibre broadband to 500,000 regional homes and businesses in 51 towns across Ireland. SIRO offers high-speed broadband services in Wexford town, with further deployment planned in Courtown, Enniscorthy and Gorey. Virgin Media is investing in its network to 200,000 additional premises in Ireland, including areas in Wexford town, Gorey, New Ross and Enniscorthy.

The procurement process to appoint a bidder for the NBP's State-led intervention network is now at the final stage. Evaluation of the final tender submission is ongoing and will be allowed the time required.  On conclusion of the evaluation, my Department will make a recommendation to me on whether to appoint the bidder as preferred bidder and I will bring the matter to Government for decision.

I thank the Minister. In 2014, it was announced that the NBP would be a Rolls-Royce, but most of the wheels have now come off. SIRO, the partnership between Vodafone and ESB, has pulled out, as has Eir, leaving only Enet and SSE as the sole wheel. SSE and John Laing have pulled out of the consortium bidding for the tender, leaving the Minister with only an investment fund led by Granahan McCourt. The Rolls-Royce has been left with one wheel and the wheel is left with one spoke. The spoke is getting covered in mire due to questions on the Minister's arranged meetings with David McCourt. Can the people of Wexford or anywhere in Ireland have faith that the national broadband plan will be delivered in a pristine condition?

The Department advises me that the bidder in the NBP procurement process is led by Granahan McCourt and includes key subcontractors, Enet, Nokia, Actavo, the Kelly Group and the KN Group. Enet provides access to the metropolitan area networks, MANs, infrastructure together with day-to-day operational activities. Nokia will provide a range of high-speed broadband equipment across the intervention area. The KN Group, Kelly Group and Actavo will provide the necessary staffing and construction expertise when building the fibre over the Eir network. Eir is also a key subcontractor of the bidder and will provide in excess of 1 million poles and 15,000 km of ducting to serve customers in the intervention area. The lead equity bidder in the consortium remains the Granahan McCourt entity. In statements to the media, the Department has advised that this has been the case since the procurement process commenced in December 2013.

My role in this context is limited. The Department is responsible for the governance and evaluation of the tender in respect of which I have no role. As Minister, I have overall responsibility to ensure the Government's objectives under the NBP's State-led intervention area are achieved and I am also responsible for accounting for the timelines to the House.

The Minister's diary shows a meeting between him and David McCourt in the Members' restaurant of Leinster House on 18 April, at which time the NBP was being processed. David McCourt is the founder and chairman of the only remaining consortium in the bidding process, namely Granahan McCourt. I am informed that Mr. McCourt attended the meeting in the Members' restaurant, to which he must have been invited by a Member. The Minister said it was to celebrate a birthday. Was Mr. McCourt signed in under the Minister's name? Did the Minister meet him at any time during that day? Did the Minister speak with him at any time that day either in person, on the phone or by email or in the subsequent days? If so, what was the nature of that conversation and to whom did the Minister convey its nature subsequent to speaking with Mr. McCourt?

The booking was made under my name. I did not speak with David McCourt either in person, on the phone or any other way that day or on subsequent days in relation to that.

I facilitated the family coming into Leinster House, as many colleagues do, but I had no engagement whatsoever with Mr. McCourt.