National Broadband Plan

Questions (1)

Timmy Dooley

Question:

1. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his plans to engage with Eir on its proposals for rural broadband; the information provided to date on the proposals of Eir; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28665/19]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Communications)

In light of the recent intervention by Eir in the debate on broadband and, in particular, the comments by the Department to the effect that the company's proposals cannot be taken into consideration because the procurement process is already under way - it has been in train for some time - will the Minister accept that said process is no longer fit for purpose? Will he accept that the process has not been fit for purpose since SIRO and Eir withdrew from and outlined their concerns about it? Will he further accept that the final nail in the coffin of the broadband plan has taken shape in the form of the requirement for the State to pay €2 billion to protect a €1 billion investment?

The national broadband plan is the Government's commitment to design, build and operate a network which will make high-speed broadband available to every rural home within seven years and to continue to operate the service under the terms of the plan contract for up to 35 years.

Eir has made no formal proposal to the Government to replace or supersede the national broadband plan. When she appeared before the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment last week, Eir's chief executive officer, CEO, outlined the company's view on whether the plan offers value for money. She also made certain observations regarding Eir's proposed model for the delivery of rural broadband, which could only be delivered outside of the current procurement process.

My Department requested a detailed outline from Eir setting out the assumptions made and the financial model underpinning those assumptions. Eir provided further information to my Department by letter at close of business on Friday, 28 June. I understand that Eir shared this letter with the joint committee.

The letter suggests that Eir could deliver broadband in the national broadband plan intervention area for a lower cost than envisaged under the plan contract if it was to do so outside what it referred to as the "constraints" of the procurement process. It envisages that these savings could accrue through the use of a model that applies in the Eir 300,000 area.

It must be pointed out, however, that the broad terms of the competition to deliver the national broadband plan were set in 2015 after a consultative process. They were designed to meet the requirements of state aid, the requirements to protect the State’s investment and the requirement to deliver future-proofed, high-speed broadband to every home and premises in the intervention area at a comparable price to those outside. These terms were clear from the outset and were accepted by all those who took part in the process.

Under these terms, Eir made a bid of €2.7 billion. Three alternative costings have now been suggested by Eir on the basis of changing many features of its original bid and altering the terms of the bidding process. My Department and its national broadband plan advisers are analysing the information provided.

Will the Minister accept that the State has already engaged with Eir regarding the commercial roll-out of high-speed broadband to 300,000 homes, businesses and farms dotted across semi-urban and rural areas? Will he accept that this was a success? Will he also accept that Eir is essentially stating that it is prepared to provide exactly the same service, as well as the same terms and conditions and the same quality of service, to the 542,000 homes, farms and businesses targeted under the broadband plan? Eir claims that it can deliver this for €1 billion.

We have had detailed engagement with the Department. It now seems that the necessary levels of scrutiny, oversight and controls require the taxpayer to spend another €2 billion to protect the €1 billion it will cost to roll out the service. On behalf of the taxpayer, it would be wrong of me not to question and interrogate that further.

Will the Minister give consideration to the notion that the issuance of a universal service obligation is, in essence, the best way to achieve value for money for the taxpayer, recognising the significant assets which exist in the State by at least two major players in infrastructure, namely, the ESB and Eir?

Eir has suggested that it could do this project for less by abandoning some of the essential conditions that were imposed at the very start of the process. Those essential conditions involved showing that it had the cash and financial commitments to deliver the project. They involved showing that there would be governance of the state aid in order to ensure that we could see that any money provided to the company was used exactly for the purposes for which it was intended. These conditions also involved penalties and performance clawbacks in the event that the company did not deliver and that every home would have 100% delivery of high-speed, future-proofed broadband.

The Deputy must indicate which of those requirements set out in the original national broadband plan he wants to jettison. When those requirements designed to protect the State were put there, Eir was in the process. It made a bid of €2.7 billion. It made no alternative offer because it withdrew from the process. There was engagement with the process but Eir made its decision not to do so.

Now, very late in the day, Eir is offering three alternative prices at which it suggests it could do the project but, in all of those cases, it is proposing to jettison the essential conditions of the contract that are there to protect the State and the rural user and to comply with state aid rules. That is the difficulty with the proposal being put forward.

It is not for me to answer for Eir but it is my job to hold the Minister and his Department to account. It is time he and his Department engaged with Eir in a wholesome and proactive way to figure out what Eir is prepared to jettison and what he and his Department are prepared to accept is unnecessary when the potential savings to the State and taxpayer are considered.

It is also probably now a requirement that the Minister brings in external, independent advisers. It is unfair to ask Department officials and Government advisers to go back and effectively recheck their own work. If we are to be assured of protecting the taxpayer and the people who are waiting for broadband, it is now time to do what this House passed a motion to do 18 months ago when Eir withdrew following SIRO's withdrawal from the process. At that time, Fianna Fáil, with the affirmation of the House, asked the Government to bring in independent, external advisers for a short piece of work and the response of the Government and the then Minister, Deputy Naughten, was that it would delay the process. They wanted to keep going because that was what everybody said. We are now in a much worse position and there is a potential saving of €2 billion to the State. I accept that those lines may degrade but it is now a requirement for the Department and Minister's team to get to the bottom of that and do so in a proactive way. I have no doubt that is his intention, or I hope so.

The national broadband process is clear. The only way in which one could consider any offer from Eir would be by abandoning this process and starting all over again. That is absolutely clear and Eir acknowledged that because it has not made an offer, under any of these various financial scenarios, in which it says it could do it for €500 million, €1 billion, or €1.55 billion. Eir's offer within the process was €2.7 billion.

There has been ample engagement with Eir around its concerns. There were 200 hours, across 65 meetings, during which officials engaged with Eir about its concerns. Progress was made on many of those concerns but Eir decided unilaterally to pull out of the process. That was Eir's decision.

The level of scrutiny and independent advice has been absolutely clear and there have been independent elements throughout the process. It complied with state aid, so the European Commission was involved to see that the process was compliant on that front. There were independent committees with external representation and State expertise brought to bear at every stage. They were reviewed by an oversight committee that was also independent. There was an independent assessor who oversaw the process to ensure it was fair throughout. Eir has had ample opportunity to make its proposal within the terms that were designed to protect the State and its investment and to deliver the service to proper performance standards and to comply with state aid rules. Eir failed to do that and pulled out of the process.

National Broadband Plan

Questions (2)

Brian Stanley

Question:

2. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if he will re-engage with both Eir and the ESB regarding the national broadband plan. [28663/19]

View answer

Oral answers (13 contributions) (Question to Communications)

This question is about the national broadband scheme. Will the Minister re-engage with Eir and the ESB regarding this plan? I am asking him to look again at the current process which, by any measure, is banjaxed. We are looking at a cost differential of €2 billion. Over the past couple of years, an overall cost of €800 million has become €3 billion. Worse still, members of the public who are awaiting broadband and have been promised it for a decade are no further on. The only broadband being provided is being provided by private operators regardless of the Department's plan. The current process is not fit for purpose.

The procurement process in the national broadband plan is not yet concluded. Both Eir and the ESB, as partners, were bidders for the national broadband contract but withdrew their bids. At the time of their withdrawal, the Eir bid was comparable to that of the remaining bidder in the amount of €2.7 billion. Very detailed negotiations and due diligence was conducted and the Government agreed, on my recommendation, to the appointment of a preferred bidder. The award of preferred bidder is now subject to contract close, including the finalisation of financial and legal documents.

The possibility of allocating the national broadband State intervention to the ESB was considered as part of the published alternative options analysis conducted by my Department. The Attorney General advised that there would be significant legal risks in respect of both procurement and state aid law, were the State to mandate and fund directly, outside a procurement process, any economic undertaking. This would include a commercial entity like Eir or a commercial semi-State entity such as the ESB carrying out the national broadband plan.

Furthermore, engagement between officials of my Department and DG Competition, which is the Directorate General of the European Commission with responsibility for state aid matters, has clearly established that it is the view of DG Competition that it would not be possible to provide a State subsidy to an economic undertaking, such as the ESB or Eir, to roll out the national broadband plan without undertaking a new public procurement process.

However, the existing infrastructure owned by Eir and the ESB network will be used by National Broadband Ireland where this represents the most effective use of existing infrastructure at a local deployment level. I understand from their recent appearances at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment that both entities will support this.

I thank the Minister for his reply. The reality is there are two main reasons for the escalation of costs. One is that Eir was allowed to cherry-pick in 2017 and that banjaxed the process and made it more expensive to service the remaining 500,000 premises. The second reason is that the Government is going with a bidder that has no infrastructure and does not own poles or a yard of ducting in the State. There are two providers that do. I do not hold any candle for either provider and would prefer for the ESB to have the contract from an ideological and practical point of view because that way we would have some democratic control. We are going with a provider without any infrastructure and it is questionable if it has the money. We are told there are letters of comfort from other investors saying that they can come up with the cash but this is a highly risky process.

I take on board the fact that Eir originally bid a much higher price but it is now saying that this can be done for a subsidy of €1 billion. At the very least, that needs to be probed further by Government and there should be engagement between Eir and Department officials. I ask the Minister to do that.

On the issue of state aid, the former Minister told me that the Government had to allow Eir to roll out broadband to those 240,000 premises, which then became 300,000. At the committee meeting last night, I asked the Minister's senior officials for a copy of the case that was put to the European Commission to explain to the Commission that Eir was being allowed to doughnut every circle of houses, village or cluster of houses and, in the process, completely derail the rest of the project. I also requested a copy of the instructions received back and the order from the European Commission saying Eir could not go ahead. I would like to see those.

Any state aid process must be done where the commercial sector cannot deliver it. If the commercial sector states it can deliver part of that, under a state aid process, one must allow access to that part and state aid can only be provided in the area which is not commercial.

National Broadband Ireland will be guaranteed access to infrastructure and the price at which they get that access will be regulated by ComReg. It is for ComReg to determine the price at which that is made available.

No contract would be signed if there was any question on this bidder's ability to fulfil the financial commitments of this process. It is absolutely a requirement to fulfil that commitment. As the Deputy knows, one feature of Eir's suggested alternative model is that there would be no such obligation on Eir to demonstrate financial commitment. The way that Eir proposed to do it more cheaply than its €2.7 billion offer was by abandoning all of the protections that were included, namely, the clawbacks, penalty clauses, performance requirements, distinct governance and upfront capital. The Deputy would be saying to me that all of those things were essential to show the State was protected and Eir is seeking to abandon them.

There were 200 hours of discussions with Eir regarding such protections and the State explained why those provisions were there. Eir decided then that if it was to fulfil those requirements it would be bidding €2.7 billion. It then withdrew. The company had ample opportunity to offer alternatives within the process but it withdrew from that process. Eir cannot now re-enter the process at this stage.

The Minister is correct that Eir cannot re-enter the current procurement process. The problem is that the current procurement process has run into the sand by any objective measure. The Minister is now entering into a cul-de-sac. He is going to end up in the situation depicted in the diagram of the governance structure prepared by his Departmental officials. That is not going to work. It can be seen that sharks are lined up to take a bite. It will also be the case that National Broadband Ireland, NBI, will finish up with a board of nine people. This House, and ultimately the taxpayers, will be responsible for lobbing in almost €3 billion in cash. The people putting in €200 million will occupy eight positions on the NBI board. People who have sat on committees never mind the board of a company will know that they are completely outmanoeuvred at that stage.

The Minister referred to checks, controls and balances and protecting the taxpayer. There is little or no protection in the structure into which the Minister is entering. I state that sincerely. I do not mean that to be in any way derogatory. That is a definite cul-de-sac that the State and the taxpayer will be getting involved in, however. Officials from the Department, as well as successive Ministers, have told me that we had to allow Eir to cherry-pick these 340,000 and then 300,000 premises. The first time I saw that map I realised, as would anyone with a bit of common sense, that Eir was doughnutting the clusters and the villages. That is what it has to done. Was it put to the European Commission that this action was going to banjax the process?

I call on the Minister to respond.

Did the European Commission respond? Did it overrule the Minister and state that he had to go ahead with this process?

I cannot allow this.

Can we have a copy of that document?

We are making no progress.

Deputy Stanley is absolutely right. Governance will be essential for taxpayers to get value for money. That is why we have insisted on a separate company, on a contract with performance clauses and penalties, on strong governance oversight and on upfront capital. Those are all conditions that Eir, the company that the Deputy seems to feel is the potential saviour of this project, refused to comply with. The very protections that the Deputy seeks to avoid, the so-called sharks are the ones-----

Eir is not a shark.

-----that it is proposed will be abandoned in order to get a price that is sometimes quoted as €500 million, sometimes €1 billion and sometimes €1.5 billion. The only time that there was a contractual commitment to such a figure in the context of the procurement process it was quoted as €2.7 billion. That is the reality. Deputy Stanley is correct to state that we need strong governance. Let us examine the proposed alternatives, however, from those who suggest that this can be done less expensively. All those protections are being jettisoned.

Bituminous Fuel Ban

Questions (3)

Timmy Dooley

Question:

3. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the number of premature deaths from air pollution estimated to occur following his announcement that a ban on smoky coal will not be extended nationwide for the 2019-2020 heating season; the information he has received regarding potential action against the State due to the deferral of a nationwide ban; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28667/19]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Communications)

The European Environment Agency, EEA, has estimated that around 1,600 premature deaths were attributable to air pollution in Ireland. Will the Minister clarify the projected number of deaths likely to result from the decision to reject a nationwide ban on smoky coal for the 2019-2020 heating season? The Minister has noted that his hands are tied due to the threat of legal challenges from businesses. Individuals and communities might question whether the State is failing in its real obligations to protect the right to health of its citizens. Will the Minister please report on information that his Department has received concerning the legal action threatened against the State in respect of the decision to delay the ban?

The ban on smoky coal, as it is commonly known, was first introduced in Dublin in 1990, and subsequently extended to other major cities. Following a public consultation process, it was further extended in 2012, and now applies in 26 urban areas nationwide. The ban has proved effective and research indicates, for example, that the ban has resulted in more than 350 fewer annual deaths in Dublin alone.

Estimates of the total numbers of deaths attributable to air pollution in Ireland and 40 other European countries are released by the European Environment Agency. This assessment requires information on air pollution, demographic data, and the relationship between exposure to ambient pollutant concentrations and a health outcome. The latest report, published in 2018, gives data for 2015. It shows that although Ireland has one of the lowest levels of air pollution in Europe there were still an estimated 1,150 premature deaths in Ireland attributable to air pollution in 2015. That was out of an estimated 483,400 premature deaths across the EU as a whole. Figures for 2019 are not yet available, and would not in any event give the level of detail the Deputy seeks as they are based on pollution loads from all sources rather than just emissions from residential solid fuel burning.

Regarding the proposed national extension of the smoky coal ban, I am disappointed that a number of coal firms have indicated that they would challenge the proposal of two former Ministers to expand the smoky coal ban nationwide and also challenge the existing ban on the basis that the State should also have to ban the burning of other fossil fuels, including wood and peat products. Banning the use of smoky coal would have a positive impact on air quality, particularly in built up areas. Since I announced that I would not be extending the ban nationwide in time for the 2019-2020 heating season, I have been contacted by a number of manufacturers of low smoke fuel who have expressed a wish to see the national extension of the ban implemented. I am working with the Attorney General to finalise a legally robust plan, which will improve air quality by reducing particulate matter in the air.

I am concerned at the sudden raising of this issue of a smoky coal ban not being possible due to the threat of legal challenge from businesses because other fossil fuels such as peat and wood would be excluded. Surely the Government faces the threat of legal action whenever it makes a change to regulations affecting businesses. The Government must have known for years that initial action on the worst smoky coal was necessary. The situation is farcical. No further information has been provided by the Government on these supposed challenges, when or how they will be overcome or how long it intends to consult with the Attorney General. It appears that the Minister has knowingly made a misguided political decision and, to some extent, these companies are benefitting to a great degree from that decision.

In 2013, the then Minister and former Deputy, Mr. Phil Hogan, confirmed that the current smoky coal ban would be extended. That was confirmed again by the former Minister, Deputy Kelly, in 2015 as well as by the former Minister, Deputy Naughten, in 2018. Companies should have been well aware that this was under way. Why has the situation suddenly arisen today that we are accepting these legal challenges? Why are we not recognising the position that the State has taken for some time now?

The challenge has arisen around this question of the equivalence regarding particulate matter derived from burning smoky coal or wood and peat products. That is the core issue. The nationwide extension of a ban on smoky coal, which I know was made in good faith by the former Ministers, envisaged that it would not apply to peat or wood products. This issue has to be examined carefully and that is why I am consulting with the Attorney General. I want to take action to deal with cases where there are risks to health. In taking such action, however, I have to ensure that I do not jeopardise existing measures which have shown themselves to be particularly effective in avoiding premature deaths. It is a question, therefore, of having to take the due and proper care to ensure that the action that I take is something that will be robust and will not jeopardise protections already in place.

Back in 2017, the State took part in the EU clean air dialogue where challenges facing clean air policy in Ireland were examined jointly by the European Commission and Department officials. To the best of my knowledge there was no mention of these issues then. The relevant conclusions recommended expanding the ban on smoky coal. The Minister might also clarify if the Department is now rejecting those Commission recommendations.

The Department is not rejecting anything. It recognises the merit of extending a ban on smoky coal. The issue that has been challenged is whether it is legally robust to have such protections in respect of one fuel product at a time when other fuel products, that have a similar profile regarding polluting affects, are excluded. That is the issue. We need to ensure that in taking action to protect health that we do not inadvertently jeopardise protections already in place. I want to make sure we are on solid ground with any action I take. That is why it will take some time to find a resolution to this issue.

Climate Change Policy

Questions (4)

Brian Stanley

Question:

4. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his plans for a just transition review group as referenced in the Climate Action Plan 2019. [28664/19]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Communications)

I ask the Minister of State to outline the Department's plans for a just transition review group as referenced in the climate action plan. We know we have a major transition to make and we obviously need to get moving with that. In some ways we need to play catch-up. What are the Department's plans to kick-start that?

The basis on which measures were selected in the climate action plan was to identify those which created least burden and most opportunity. It has also sought to ensure that all sections of our society would contribute and that those most exposed or least equipped to make changes will be supported. Just transition is thus at the heart of the plan.

Certain activities will be particularly exposed, such as the phase-out of coal and peat from power generation. These transitions will be carefully planned and monitored to ensure that those individuals and regions affected will be supported through many policy streams identified in the plan.

The plan also identifies the significant economic opportunities that will open up as a result of the plan's decarbonisation ambitions, including in areas such as: renewables, including offshore technologies, as the installed renewable power capacity goes from 3.5 GW to 17.5 GW; the building retrofit sector, where the 25,000 homes currently participating in energy retrofits represents an estimated €150 million contribution to the economy and where we intend to scale our ambition to achieve 500,000 retrofits by 2030; and new technologies, such as microgeneration, anaerobic digestion, biomass, heat recovery, carbon capture and biomethane, which will come to maturity bringing new business opportunities.

It is encouraging to see how Bord na Móna has been identifying opportunities in the midlands. In addition the recently launched midlands regional enterprise strategy has made opportunities in the decarbonisation economy a key pillar of its plan.

Just transition will also arise in the context of carbon pricing and retrofitting homes. The design of these programs will explicitly take into account the need to address fuel poverty.

To ensure that the theme of just transition is sustained on a consistent basis across the plan a just transition review group will be established within the National Economic and Social Council, NESC, as part of its working group structures. Through this group, NESC will review the ongoing transition and identify specific transition needs among cohorts of workers, enterprises, communities and specific groups of people. It will collaborate and engage with a wide range of stakeholders and will interact closely with my Department’s national dialogue on climate action and sustainable development goals stakeholder forum.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The climate action plan foresees that the NESC will publish a periodic review and strategic advice on the just transition. This will include an examination of the range of national and international funding opportunities, and how these could be used to underpin the work of this group and the priorities identified. The first periodic review and strategic advice will be published by the end of 2020, and is intended to be a key input to the formulation and adaptation of a five-year just transition strategy.

I thank the Minister of State for that reply. He outlined the challenges and it will undoubtedly be challenging. My party and I understand that and we want to take up those challenges. However, there are opportunities. We do not want the transition to create a bigger dependency, particularly for the midlands. We want to see the opportunities grasped quickly. We want to be ambitious and have a framework for just transition that creates jobs to ensure that workers and communities are not left behind in that transition to a green economy.

The Minister of State gave the example of Bord na Móna. However since January, 200 workers have left Bord na Móna and a further 240 will go in the remainder of this year. That is 440 workers gone in one year, mainly in Offaly. It is important that we try to move on this. Bord na Móna needs to be involved in biofuel, wind and solar energy generation, and biogas. It needs €50 million for the transition. When will the just transition review group be established?

I am acutely aware of the situation with Bord na Móna as is the Minister, Deputy Bruton. As I explained earlier, work is ongoing to ensure it has a just transition. I will speak more about that.

The climate action plan foresees that the NESC will publish a periodic review and strategic advice on the just transition. This will include an examination of the range of national and international funding opportunities, and how these could be used to underpin the work of this group and the priorities identified. The first periodic review and strategic advice will be published by the end of 2020, and is intended to be a key input to the formulation and adaptation of a five-year just transition strategy.

The Deputy spoke about the implications for Bord na Móna. It will be a significant milestone for the region that by 2028 Bord na Móna will end the harvesting of peat for power generation. The Government is committed to supporting the company in its transition to the development of new businesses in herbs, aquaculture, resource recovery and renewable energy. Existing initiatives and structures in this regard, include: the regional enterprise plans to 2020; the regional steering committees which oversee these plans as live agendas; the current regional mandates of the enterprise agencies and regional assemblies; and the regional spatial and economic strategies. These initiatives will be mobilised to maximise enterprise opportunities to deal with the challenge faced by Bord na Móna.

I asked the Minister of State when the review group will be set up. He might give me an answer to that question.

The Bord na Móna is the most acutely affected, but motor mechanics will also be affected. We also have the situation with Moneypoint. A number of workers will be displaced and will need to retrain. The scale of what needs to be done is enormous. Bord na Móna was a significant employer. It is possible to have that kind of scale again in terms of a green economy. It has potential to be involved and it is making moves in that direction. It needs to be encouraged to move into biomass, biogas and solar energy generation.

We need a national agency to train people for retrofitting because we do not have the construction workers to do it at the moment. We would prefer to have some sort of commission for a just transition; we do not have that. At least the Minister of State needs to tell us when the review group will be established. We need biomass supply chains. Bringing this stuff half way across the world defeats the purpose of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We need to be growing biomass in Edenderry and throughout west Offaly to supply these plants.

The ETBs and SOLAS are well equipped to train people for retrofitting and have been doing that through their apprenticeship programmes.

The implementation group will be set up in the Taoiseach's office this month. From that the timelines for everything else are set out in the climate action plan.

Bord na Móna is well equipped to face these challenges. It wants to get on with initiatives to diversify its business. It wants to remain as part of the communities in the midlands. It is committed to doing that and with support from the Government and the regional agencies, I have no doubt we will see Bord na Móna become the model for transitioning in a just way from a brown company to a green company.

National Broadband Plan

Question No. 6 replied to with Written Answers.

Questions (5)

Seán Sherlock

Question:

5. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the status of the national broadband plan. [28828/19]

View answer

Oral answers (4 contributions) (Question to Communications)

Does the Minister not believe it is high time we called out Eir for the nonsense in which it is engaged at present and call its representatives out for the blaggards they are in respect of their latest interventions on providing for the national broadband plan?

The national broadband plan aims to ensure that every home, school and business in Ireland has access to high-speed broadband. This is being achieved through a combination of commercial investment across the country and a State intervention in those areas where commercial operators acting alone are unlikely to invest. The national broadband plan has been a catalyst in encouraging investment by the telecoms sector. In 2012, fewer than 700,000, or 30% of Irish premises had access to high-speed broadband. Today, 74% of the 2.4 million premises in Ireland can access high-speed broadband.

I recently brought a recommendation to the Government to confer preferred bidder status on Granahan McCourt, the remaining bidder in the national broadband plan procurement process, and the Government agreed to this at its meeting on 7 May.

The Government decision means that it is intended to award the State intervention contract to National Broadband Ireland, subject to contract close, including the finalisation of financial and legal documents. A period of final due diligence on all elements of the contract is part of the normal conclusion of a procurement process.

National Broadband Ireland will be supported by a number of experienced subcontractors and is currently tasked with finalising negotiations on contracts with subcontractors to assist in the delivery of the national broadband plan. It is anticipated that a subset of these subcontracts will be required prior to contract close to support deployment. The state aid notification relating to the national broadband plan will also be submitted to the European Commission.

It is anticipated that these elements will require a number of months, with contract close expected later this year and deployment commencing shortly after that. That was an update on the status of the plan, which was what was sought in the original question.

I ask the Minister again if he believes that we have indulged Eir for long enough in respect of the interventions that have been made in these Houses in recent days? One interpretation of Eir's activities is that it wants to scupper the national broadband plan.

I will not give a view attributing motivations or otherwise of anyone involved in this project. The position is that Eir was involved in this process, it found fault with a number of elements which the State regarded as key to the protection of the State's investment, compliance with state aid rules and protection of those for whom this service was being designed. In other words, the conditions were for 100% future proofed, high-speed broadband for every home and premises in the country. Eir participated in the process for a long time. It accepted those conditions in the initial period and made a bid of €2.7 billion but then withdrew from the process. It is now suggesting, as it did at the time to be fair, that if all of these protections were abandoned, it could do it cheaper. The State's view then and now was that those requirements are essential to comply with state aid rules and protect the State and those we are seeking to serve. Equally, I recognise and welcome that Eir continues to be committed to supporting the roll-out of the national broadband plan. It has always been envisaged that the most cost-effective way of delivering this is to use the infrastructure of either the ESB or Eir and the company in question would be rewarded with a regulated price for the service it provides.

Question No. 6 replied to with Written Answers.