Other Questions

Rural Broadband Scheme

Pat the Cope Gallagher

Ceist:

24. Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his strategy for dealing with households in County Donegal which form part of the national broadband strategy specifically under the rural broadband scheme; the timeframe by which all households in the county will be connected to high-speed broadband as part of the rural broadband scheme; the number of households within the county that will be directly affected; if a guarantee can be provided that no further delay will occur and the 2023 deadline will be achieved for all rural households; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7259/18]

I ask the Minister the practical implications of the decision by a company to withdraw from the procurement process last month. Will there be a long knock-on effect as a result? I am being parochial in thinking of my county and the implications for Donegal. It is a very rural county; parts of it have the lowest population density in all of Europe. Perhaps the Minister might give us some solace.

I am anxious to get to Question No. 33, as is the Acting Chairman, so we can talk about the constituency of Roscommon-Galway.

The overall objective of the Government's national broadband plan is to provide access to a high-speed, future-proofed broadband service to every premises in Ireland. This will be achieved through a combination of commercial and State investment and remains a key commitment of mine and of the Government.

Nearly 46,000 premises in County Donegal do not currently have access to high-speed broadband connections. Every single one of these rural homes, farms and businesses will be served under the Government's national broadband plan, some 12,000 by commercial investment and the remaining 34,000 by the State-planned intervention scheme.

My Department is in a formal procurement process to engage a company that will roll out a new high-speed broadband network in the State intervention area. As the Deputy will be aware, one bidder, Eir, publicly withdrew from this procurement process last month. While its withdrawal is regrettable, it is entirely a commercial decision made by that company.

My Department's specialist national broadband procurement team will continue to engage intensively with all the relevant stakeholders in the process, including the SSE-Enet consortium, to ensure the earliest possible achievement of the Government's objective of providing reliable, high-quality, high-speed broadband to every one of the homes, farms and businesses I spoke of, in County Donegal and every other county. My Department will also engage with the bidder to ensure the most efficient deployment as part of any contract.

When the procurement process reaches a satisfactory conclusion for Government, a contract will be awarded and the network roll-out will commence. Through the said combination of commercial investment and State-led intervention the national broadband plan has already provided high-speed broadband connections to thousands of homes around the country, ensuring that today seven out of ten premises can access this vital service. By the end of this year this figure will be eight out of ten and by 2020 nine out of every ten premises will have access to a high-speed broadband connection.

I do not have to impress upon the Minister, as a Deputy from rural Ireland, the urgency and necessity of this. It is vitally important to my county from an economic, social and cultural viewpoint and will contribute greatly to the development of the area.

Children in doing their homework are trying to access information. People working in high-tech companies can now work from home and companies are anxious that they do so, but they do not have that opportunity. In addition, many people I know are using medical devices that are connected to hospitals via broadband. It is critical for them that they have access, but if they do not have broadband in their area, they have to go to the hospital. It would be so beneficial to have it. This is as significant a project as electrification was in the 1950s. I wish the Minister well and hope he can achieve his goal to have it provided for all homes in the county by 2020, but there are some suggestions that as a result of the recent decision, it could be 2023 before it happens. Perhaps the Minister might clarify the position.

I know the issues involved because I am dealing with them on the ground. One of the Acting Chairman, Deputy Eugene Murphy's constituents, my mother, is at me continually and persistently in that respect. She is less than one mile from the existing fibre network and within a few yards of the local primary school. My own nieces are missing out on it. I am, therefore, very conscious of the impact on a personal as well as a political level. The Deputy is right; it does not just affect young people. There is massive potential for the provision of medical services in isolated rural communities which would avoid putting additional pressure on health services. An issue was raised by a county-man of the Deputy on a series of radio programmes broadcast in the last fortnight. His solution to the broadband challenge was the roll-out of 4G broadband to rural areas. Adrian Weckler in his article in the Sunday Independent last Sunday clearly made the point that this would not solve the problem, not only because of the monthly caps that applied but also because of the excessive cost that would be involved. It would discriminate against people living in rural areas. The only long-term, sustainable, future-proof solution is mainly fibre based, which is what I am determined to deliver to ensure we do achieve the future equivalent of the rural electrification scheme through broadband provision.

I would like to be seen to be positive. Eir is providing fibre broadband of excellent quality and with excellent speeds for homes in rural areas. However, there are areas where there are gaps. I ask the Minister to speak to Eir to see if there is a possibility of bridging these gaps in the meantime. I have some very practical examples, although I cannot give them to the Minister now. I do not have high-speed broadband because I am too near to the cabinet. If I were further away from it and the town, it would be much better. I do not know what the answer is to that problem. The connection passes by the doors of many. Perhaps the Minister might consider how in the interim the gaps might be filled. Perhaps eir might consider filling them.

On 30 August last I specifically raised this issue with the chief executive of eir, Mr. Richard Moat. We agreed that we would ask the broadband officer in each of the local authorities across the country to look at the anomalies where a cluster of houses has been left out. The example I gave earlier is within 1 km of the local school. Such examples were submitted by the broadband officers at the back end of last year and it is my understanding eir is going through the proposals to see if it can fill in the gaps as an interim measure. On foot of the release of the 3.6 GHz spectrum, I would expect to hear major announcements quite soon on the roll-out of wireless services which will help to meet the shortfall in some rural areas in the immediate future.

National Broadband Plan

Bobby Aylward

Ceist:

25. Deputy Bobby Aylward asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the measures contained within the national broadband plan to ensure equality in the roll-out of broadband services in rural areas, rural communities and regional towns; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7396/18]

I ask the Minister the measures contained within the national broadband plan to ensure equality in the roll-out of broadband services in rural areas, rural communities and regional towns; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

The Government's national broadband plan, NBP, aims to ensure high-speed broadband access of a minimum of 30 Mbps, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for all premises, communities and towns in Ireland, regardless of location. For those in areas where commercial operators cannot or will not deliver a service, access will be delivered via a State-led intervention. A variety of measures will be undertaken to ensure equality under the NBP State-led intervention in order that no county or community will be left behind.

As the Deputy will know, my Department is continuing the formal procurement process to engage the company that will roll out a new high-speed broadband network in the State intervention area. The practical issue of the roll-out across the country as a whole will be an important factor in the final contract negotiations between my Department’s specialist procurement team and the company. The company will be required to deploy the build and roll-out of the NBP State intervention network in the most timely and efficient manner, while addressing the real need for communities across all counties to quickly access high-speed broadband in the short term.

My Department is working with the broadband officers now in place in every local authority. The Department of Rural and Community Development’s regional action groups have identified strategic community points across all counties where services can be connected at an early juncture after the award of the NBP contract in order that access will be made immediately available on roll-out to provide high-speed broadband for businesses and homeowners. As fibre connections to villages and communities continue to improve, so too will public Wi-Fi, which provides people with greater accessibility to better services.

I have raised this matter consistently with the Minister since he assumed office. As recently as last week, I brought to him a message from rural Ireland that we needed broadband as soon as possible. Given the issues in his constituency, I know that he is acutely aware of the feeling on the ground. People are frustrated, fed up and tired of the delays in the roll-out of the national broadband plan. Rural communities have been kept waiting for seven years for the roll-out by the Government of high-speed broadband. The Minister has to get serious about rural Ireland and rural communities such as those I represent in the constituency of Carlow-Kilkenny. Broadband is not a luxury for schools, families, businesses or farmers but an absolute necessity. I keep saying that if it is not delivered soon, the benefits may be lost forever as investment will flow from rural and regional Ireland. We need to reopen boarded-up shop fronts, create jobs and sustain enterprise in regional towns and villages, but we do not have an equal platform of broadband services on which to compete with the larger cities. Plans and declarations are great, but what we need is action on the ground sooner rather than later.

I thank the Deputy. I agree with him; it is not a luxury. We need to see fibre broadband being rolled out across the country as quickly as possible and it is actually happening The eir fibre broadband roll-out will bring high-speed broadband at speeds of 1,000 Mbps to 4,898 premises in Kilkenny and 3,390 in Carlow. In less than two years, or less than 100 weeks, they will have access to 1,000 Mbps, meaning that potentially they could watch up to 200 high definition Netflix programmes at the one time without any drop-off in service. As I said before, if it comes on a hare's back to rural Ireland, it cannot come quickly enough. I will do everything within my power to ensure it happens as quickly as possible and will not be delayed one day longer than is absolutely necessary to deliver on the objectives of the national broadband plan.

I am grateful for what the Minister has said about the ongoing roll-out. However, I have people coming to me who do not have access. These are the ones who are constantly ringing my mobile phone and constituency office. I have more people who come to me who run small and medium-sized enterprises. They will stay in villages and towns if they can get access, but it is not available. They are moving to the cities and away from rural Ireland. We want regional development but are not getting it. For farmers, applications for direct payments and so on are all made online, but they do not have access. One person spoke to me just ten minutes before I came into the Chamber to ask this question. He is living three miles outside Ross and there are ten in what is a big family. They do not have access to broadband. There is a broadband service on their left and their right and across the road. They are in the middle. They have tried eir and Vodafone and been told they cannot get access to it. This has been ongoing for three elections, since 2015 and 2016, and they were on to me again yesterday about it.

How long will it take for it to be delivered? This family are frustrated because they live three miles from New Ross and cannot access that service.

I understand their frustration. Communities, villages, schools and rural businesses in my constituency are equally frustrated and I understand and appreciate that. We are trying to provide them with a broadband service in the short term. There will be significant announcements in that regard in the coming months on foot of the release of the 3.6 GHz wireless spectrum. In addition, we have asked Eir to look at the anomalies that have been created. Although it is great that 40,000 premises every quarter and 300 farms per week are getting high-speed broadband, that is not much good to those outside that process. Through the mobile phone and broadband task force we are trying to facilitate the faster deployment of the existing potential infrastructure to solve short-term problems for such people pending the roll-out of pure fibre to their doors.

North-South Interconnector

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

26. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment when he expects to receive the two reports that he commissioned on the proposed North-South interconnector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7405/18]

Timmy Dooley

Ceist:

31. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his Department's review of the costs of undergrounding the North-South interconnector relative to the cost of overgrounding same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7467/18]

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

48. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if his attention has been drawn to the concerns of communities in counties Cavan and Monaghan in regard to the North-South interconnector, in particular as regards health, land and property devaluation, tourism and heritage; his plans to underground the project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7465/18]

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

68. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if he will publish the two reports he commissioned in regard to the proposed North-South interconnector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7406/18]

Shane Cassells

Ceist:

89. Deputy Shane Cassells asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if no impacted landowners along the route of the North-South interconnector will have their lands accessed by EirGrid without the prior written consent of the landowner; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7339/18]

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

224. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the status of the North-South interconnector project. [7269/18]

The Minister commissioned two international studies on foot of Fianna Fáil Private Members' motions in Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann which were overwhelmingly endorsed by both Houses. Unfortunately, the two studies do not encompass all issues raised in those motions. At a recent meeting with representatives of Monaghan County Council attended by me and other Oireachtas Members, the Minister stated that he hoped to have the reports in February. When will they be completed, finalised and brought to him? Will he assure Members that there will be no delay in their publication once they have been delivered?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 26, 31, 48, 68, 89 and 224 together.

The North-South interconnector now has full planning permission in Ireland and Northern Ireland as proposed as an overhead line. On 21 December 2016, An Bord Pleanála granted planning permission for the North-South interconnector in Ireland, which concluded a lengthy planning process, including an oral hearing completed over 11 weeks from March to May of 2016. On 23 January 2018, full planning permission was granted for the section of the line in Northern Ireland.

The interconnector is a key project in delivering the objectives of national energy policy, specifically addressing security of supply, competitiveness and sustainability. It will also ensure a safe and sustainable source of energy for both jurisdictions.

I fully respect that the project gives rise to concerns for a number of people, particularly those living in close proximity to the project. In February and March last year, two motions calling for an updated independent study into the North-South interconnector were passed by Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann. To understand better the concerns of those opposed to the proposed overhead line, I met their representatives, the Monaghan Anti-Pylon Committee and the North East Pylon Pressure Campaign, and Oireachtas Members from Cavan, Monaghan and Meath in February 2017. I subsequently met Oireachtas Members in May 2017 and January of this year. In addition, my officials held separate meetings with the Monaghan Anti-Pylon Committee and the North East Pylon Pressure Campaign in March and April of last year.

Those engagements, together with the motions, were important in my decision to commission two independent studies into the project. The studies are designed to address the main points of the motions as well as key concerns expressed by parties opposed to the development of the overhead line. The first is an independent study to examine the technical feasibility and cost of running the interconnector underground. The three independent experts appointed commenced their work last August, held a series of meetings in Ireland in the middle of November and are now finalising their work. The second study is focused, in a European context, on the levels of compensation provided to land and property owners in proximity to high-voltage transmission lines. Its aim is to provide a significant body of independently collated information on comparative practices in several jurisdictions. It is my intention that the two ongoing studies will provide some clarity to the concerned residents of the affected areas. The results of both studies are expected this quarter and I will publish the reports and ensure they are made available to all interested parties.

Following the planning consents and the conclusion of several judicial review proceedings relating to the planning decision in Ireland, the project is an operational matter for EirGrid and ESB Networks and I have no function in it. The delivery of critical infrastructure by public bodies is provided for in legislation enacted by the Oireachtas. However, the long-standing practice of infrastructure providers, including in the roll-out of electricity infrastructure in Ireland, has been to seek to engage with relevant stakeholders and work for the largest possible level of engagement on projects. Although this consultative approach has developed over the decades through consultation and agreement, it is underpinned by the 1985 ESB-IFA code of practice for survey, construction and maintenance of overhead lines in regard to the rights of landowners.

I brought the proposals for the two reports to the Government and will have to bring the reports back to the Government. It is my intention to publish them without delay once that is done.

I thank the Minister for his reply. He referred to the planning processes. Unfortunately, there is currently no Executive in Northern Ireland. A decision on the planning should have been made by the Minister of the Environment in Northern Ireland but, unfortunately, it was left to civil servants to make the decision to grant permission.

There was complete abuse of the planning system in Ireland in regard to this project. All Members and many councillors from counties Cavan, Monaghan and Meath made presentations at the hearing but An Bord Pleanála did not even refer to our participation in the process, which is a disgrace. An Bord Pleanála allowed EirGrid to bring forward additional material during the course of the hearing, which was utterly wrong.

The Minister very clearly heard at our most recent meeting on the issue that the project will not gain public acceptance if the transmission cables are not underground. He stated that the interconnector is needed for the all-Ireland energy market. If it is needed for our island, EirGrid and the Government should now decide that the transmission cables will be placed underground because the project will not otherwise be able to proceed.

I wish to read into the record the words of the inspector in the very infamous An Bord Pleanála report on this matter.

[I]t is difficult to accept any argument that the significant visual effect of the proposed development, where it arises, does not affect, to some degree, residential property values and/or ability to sell. With regard to agricultural land, I would consider that the same issues apply ... I would consider therefore, that if approved, the proposed development would result in a significant impact on the amenity and enjoyment of c.600 properties falling within 500m of the development, with consequential long term, adverse effects for the individuals and families affected.

Those are the inspector's words, not mine. The Minister knows that the anger over how people in counties Cavan, Meath and Monaghan have been treated is palpable. It is incumbent on him to ensure the reports are delivered to the Oireachtas as quickly as possible.

I have a very specific question on access and am seeking a specific answer. The Minister mentioned the ruling of An Bord Pleanála of 21 December 2016. As he is aware, that ruling only gave permission for construction, not access. As outlined in recent High Court cases, EirGrid did not seek access and, consequently, does not have it.

The Minister also mentioned the oral hearing of 11 weeks, during which it changed over 500 access routes. EirGrid has no right to enter the land. It did not seek it; it has not been given it and does not have landowner consent. It does not have a statutory right; that right rests with the ESB. Crucially, the Minister has said he has no function in the process. Will he promise that he will not introduce emergency powers to give EirGrid the power to access the land which landowners have said it will not be given?

I hope I answer all of the questions, but Deputies can come back to me if I do not.

It is my intention to publish the reports without delay. I have to bring them to the Cabinet. Once that has been done, it is my intention to publish them and I have already instructed my officials in that regard. I am anxious to have them placed in the public domain as quickly as possible to let people go through them and have all of the information available to them.

The oral hearing at An Bord Pleanála started before I was appointed. I know of the frustration which has been expressed by colleagues, not just on the floor of the House but also by others, at the manner in which information has been disclosed. I have made my views known on that issue.

On the Northern Ireland process, Deputy Brendan Smith is correct. There was no political or ministerial input into the process. The decision was taken on 23 January by the planning appeals commission in Belfast. It stated that owing to the urgent and compelling need for the proposed development it was in the public interest to take the decision without further delay given the strategic importance of the project for the region.

I will come back to Deputy Shane Cassells' question on access.

The Minister mentioned the Northern Ireland planning appeals commission's reference to urgent and compelling needs. There is also an urgent and compelling need to respect the rights of citizens in this country. At a recent meeting with the Minister I said 97% of the 400 landowners affected had signed official forms of authority requesting that the North East Pylon Pressure Campaign and the County Monaghan Anti-Pylon Committee alone represent their interests and that no access to land be granted to EirGrid. I again want to repeat that the project will not meet with any community acceptance in counties Cavan, Monaghan and Meath. If the project is needed for the all-Ireland energy market, it will not be developed unless the Government and EirGrid make a decision very shortly to put the transmission cables underground. Quite a number of years ago EirGrid accepted at a meeting of a transport committee, following questioning by me and other members, that it was possible from a technical and engineering point of view to put the transmission cables underground and that the price differential had changed dramatically.

It is a travesty that Sinn Féin did not flex its muscles on this issue when it had the opportunity to do so. As my colleague said, planning permission has been granted by civil servants in the North. It is a travesty that we will live to see it come to pass. EirGrid has flip-flopped repeatedly on whether it is economically or technically feasible to put cables underground. The inconsistency and overall unwillingness to engage of those involved in the Grid Link project are central to why the people of counties Cavan, Meath and Monaghan feel so let down and that they have been unfairly treated. They are asking why the cables should not be put underground and the cabling proposal will not be considered when it is in the case of Grid West. While the Minister or his Department may consider land valuation, the heritage and history of the area and people's health not to be priorities to be dealt with in reports, I implore him to ensure they will be and that access will not be granted at a later stage in order to allow EirGrid to plough through people's land.

My question is about access. EirGrid arrogantly claimed on LMFM that the clearing of all obstacles had been achieved. That is not correct. It does not have access rights or landowner consent. As I stated, the ESB has the statutory right to enter a property, but this right has been not granted to EirGrid, something which was repeated in the High Court proceedings. The Minister has stated he will not intervene and that he has no function in the process. I ask him to honour that by ensuring EirGrid will not in any way be granted emergency powers to access land. As has been stated, during the proceedings and in An Bord Pleanála's ruling, it did not seek and was not granted consent to enter land. There is permission to construct certain things, but no permission has been granted to enter land to put them there in the first place. Will the Minister make sure that is honoured?

In response to Deputy Brendan Smith on inspectors' reports, we have commissioned a report on levels of compensation. I look forward to seeing the detail of it. As I said, it will be published with the other report.

All of the Deputies have asked about access. I will be quite clear on the issue. The long-standing practice of infrastructure providers, including in the roll-out of electricity infrastructure in Ireland, has been to seek to engage with relevant stakeholders and work with the highest possible level of agreement on projects. While this approach has been developed over decades through consultation and agreement, the consultative approach is underpinned by the 1985 ESB-IFA code of practice for the survey, construction and maintenance of overhead lines in regard to the rights of landowners.

The Minister did not answer the question. He has dodged a bullet, but he will not dodge it for long. There are people watching who know that he has not answered the question. Will he grant EirGrid-----

I was more than fair to the Deputy and the other Members.

The Minister was not fair to the people of counties Meath, Monaghan and Cavan who are listening to this debate. It will be remembered.

I know and accept that it is a very contentious issue. The Deputy should take it up with the Minister or table a question.

He will not answer the question.

Every other Member has co-operated.

I will take it up with the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty.

Angling Sector Promotion

Noel Rock

Ceist:

27. Deputy Noel Rock asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his plans to support the expansion of angling across communities, in particular among younger persons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7250/18]

I wish the Minister and the Minister of State a happy Valentine's Day. I ask the Minister his plans to support the expansion of angling across communities, in particular among younger persons. I would appreciate it if he made a statement on the matter. As he knows, angling is of vital importance to a great many young people and is a great pastime which provides enjoyment for younger people.

I thank the Deputy for tabling this question. The national strategy for angling development, NSAD, devised by Inland Fisheries Ireland, IFI, is the first comprehensive national framework for the development of Ireland’s angling resource. It aims to increase the economic contribution of angling from €836 million to €932 million annually, an increase of €96 million. It also aims to increase the number of jobs to over 12,800. Angling and the jobs it supports are of critical importance to the economy.

In December I announced funding of €2.2 million under the NSAD. This funding is facilitating 114 development projects across 23 counties nationwide which are expected to be delivered in 2018. I propose to circulate a full list of the projects awarded funding in the December round. The three strategic objectives of the NSAD are making angling accessible and attractive through the provision of information, infrastructure and support, tourism development through the promotion of the angling resource and recognition of angling as a key leisure and recreational pursuit.

In 2017 IFI also provided funding support for 79 projects under its angling sponsorship scheme. The initiatives which are supported by the scheme include large international competitions which showcase Ireland’s angling; novice angler events and training courses which increase participation; information to promote fisheries awareness, conservation and protection; funding of transport hire for participants to facilitate attendance at novice angler events; and angling teams representing Ireland at international events.

Last month, Inland Fisheries Ireland invited applications for this year’s sponsorship scheme. The applications are currently being considered. In addition to funding, IFI also provides logistical and personnel supports for community run angling competitions in areas such as bio-security and competition management.

Inland Fisheries Ireland also supports other initiatives aimed specifically at young people. The Something Fishy education programme is aimed at fifth and sixth class primary school students and teachers. Last year, 113 schools participated involving input from some 3,500 children.

The Dublin Angling Initiative is a programme for youth and novice angling run by IFI with the help of volunteers. IFI also supports 17 angling hubs for Youth Development Ireland nationwide.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. It is to be welcomed that we have the first comprehensive framework in this regard and that we have the jobs and support to the economy that accompanies such a comprehensive framework and investment.

The Minister of State mentioned that a full list of projects could be circulated. I would appreciate it if that could be sent to my office. On a local note, I note that Inland Fisheries Ireland, IFI, has agreed a number of things with the Tolka Trout Anglers, for instance that it will stock fish in the Tolka after an unfortunate incident which depleted that river. It is also going to support club competitions and other community initiatives along the stretch of the river through Finglas and will support a call for the mapping of pipes. This type of project and initiative is not possible without a plan and without full and comprehensive funding in place. The Minister of State's backing for this sector is most appreciated.

Deputy Rock is correct. There are a number of initiatives and I will send the full list to him. There are initiatives planned for the Royal Canal and Grand Canal in Dublin and the expansion of the summer youth angling programme for the Fingal youth resource centre. There are other projects for the Dublin Trout Anglers' Association in terms of marketing and promotional events.

There were unfortunate pollution events and fish kills in the Tolka River in recent years. It is a particularly vulnerable river and is monitored by the IFI. There was such an event in 2015 and a more minor event in 2017 that has resulted in a number of initiatives that have been agreed, including that the IFI will stock fish in the Tolka. This is likely to happen in March this year, ahead of the fishing season. It will also support a club competition and other community initiatives and has supported the call for the mapping of the pipes that caused the pollution incidents in the Tolka. It is a hugely important river and runs through some of the most disadvantaged areas of the country. This is an alternative activity for many young people to take up.

I thank the Tolka Trout Anglers and the Tolka River Environmental Alliance for their stellar work on this issue. I also thank the Minister of State and the various organisations, including the IFI, for interacting with those groups on such a thorough basis. I had met previously with the groups to discuss this matter and from talking to them I can see how much this river means to them and the respective clubs in the area. There is a great opportunity, with the support of the Minister, the clubs involved and the relevant agencies, to make a real difference here and perhaps investigate developing a youth angling venue in this part of the world, perhaps not dissimilar to the Darndale lake, while at the same time rebuilding the river, which would at least give the clubs there some degree of certainty into the future. What the Minister of State has outlined is perhaps the first step in that plan and it is very much welcomed and appreciated. We appreciate the Minister of State's dedication.

I thank Deputy Rock for his interest in this particular river and the potential that it holds for young people throughout his wider constituency. I believe there is an opportunity, with the support of the Government and the support of the Deputy and other colleagues, for the IFI, the clubs involved and the local authority and other relevant agencies - perhaps the relevant education and training board - to make a real difference here and perhaps investigate developing a youth angling venue, similar to the Darndale lake or Cork park, while at the same time rebuilding this vital community resource. This would provide some degree of certainty and would be a wonderful recreational resource in the area. I certainly welcome the Deputy's interest in and engagement with the local clubs and I will certainly provide any assistance I can to the IFI.

National Broadband Plan Implementation

Martin Heydon

Ceist:

28. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if he has satisfied himself that the remaining bidder in the NBP process has the capacity and capability to complete the project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7408/18]

I want to ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if he is satisfied that the remaining bidder in the national broadband plan has the capability and capacity to deliver on what will be a very extensive project of extending high-speed broadband to some 540,000 houses around the country which do not currently have it.

The SSE-Enet, Granahan McCourt and John Laing plc consortium is an expert group with in-depth international experience across the telecoms, engineering and infrastructure sectors in Ireland and across the globe. It was one of three bidders which successfully passed the pre-qualification stage of the national broadband plan. During the pre-qualification phase the Department evaluated the eligibility, economic and financial standing and technical and professional capability of each bidder to provide the services required. The pre-qualification process was designed to assess the suitability of a bidder to deliver the national broadband plan contract requirements.

SSE is Ireland's second largest energy utility and a leading developer and investor in cleaner energy infrastructure. Its UK parent is the largest energy utility provider in the UK. SSE is an expert in energy infrastructure and has significant engineering knowledge. In the UK, SSE has approximately 15 years experience in the telecoms and broadband industries where it has developed and operates almost 14,000 km of high capacity fibre optic networks.

Enet has operated the metropolitan access networks, MANs, on behalf of my Department since 2004. The MANs are State owned open-access fibre networks in 94 regional towns and cities. Enet operates as a wholesale provider of duct and sub-duct rental, dark fibre, managed services and co-location on the MANs network. Separately, Enet has spent 13 years building up both a fibre and wireless infrastructure in Ireland, which covers over 5,000 km of open-access fibre, gigabit ethernet and SDH managed services.

Granahan McCourt Capital is a Dublin-based technology, media and telecommunications investment group. John Laing plc is an international business with long-term experience in infrastructure roll-out, including public private partnerships in the UK, Europe, Asia Pacific and North America.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

As I stated, this consortium qualified in the initial stages of the procurement process and has robustly engaged with the national broadband plan specialist procurement team since then.

 

I thank the Minister for his response. One does not have to be from Roscommon, the west or some very isolated rural part of Ireland to need the national broadband plan to deliver. I am acutely aware of that from my constituents in Kildare South, whether one is young or old, running a small business or has the ability to work from home a few days a week instead of clogging up the M7 and the M50, with the corresponding improvement to quality of life.

I want to recognise the role that the national broadband plan has played to date. While 19% of premises in south Kildare require State intervention, the €2.75 billion private investment in the last five years has provided momentum for this plan. If the consortium is successful in its roll-out, will it start in more than one place? The next row might be where the consortium would start and where it would finish, as there might be years between those points. There is a need for more than one location where this plan will start from. There should be at least three or four locations around the country, so that every county, including Kildare, would see the national broadband plan being rolled out at a very early stage.

Just as the Eir roll-out is happening in every county across the country at the same time, this project - the State intervention phase of the national broadband plan - will be rolled out across the country simultaneously. The broadband offices in each of the local authorities are working, through Minister Ring's Department, to designate the programme of build-out in each local authority. The intention is that it would happen in the first year right across the country.

Based on the rate of building under the Eir roll-out, in which high-speed broadband is being delivered to approximately 40,000 premises every quarter, we expect that type of momentum once the consortium is up and running to achieve similar targets across the country and for the substantial bulk of the network to be built out within three years.