I return today to the national broadband plan and yesterday's submission by Carolan Lennon, the chief executive officer, CEO, of Eir, to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment. This is against the background of the documents released under a freedom of information request to TheJournal.ie, which reveal an almost cavalier approach to the ballooning costs of the project on a monthly basis. The Eir submission points out that in April 2017, for example, €787 million was the KPMG estimate of the subsidy that would be required, and that is after 300,000 customers had been taken out of the intervention area.
The Eir submission raises a number of important issues and deserves analysis. Fundamentally, it is no secret that Eir says it could complete the national broadband plan project based on its approach, and with a roll-out to the extra 300,000 customers, for less than €1 billion. The Government is committed to €3 billion. This is in the context of documents that were revealed about a meeting held on 27 September last year. The Taoiseach was too dismissive of Eir's submission yesterday and he made comments that Eir has rejected, in that Eir would not pass houses and would cover the maintenance use, which is the opposite of what the Taoiseach said yesterday.
On 27 September last year, it was revealed that the cost went up by €300 million in one month. The Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform said at that meeting that there was cause to pause and review the project. That was dismissed by the Minister, Deputy Naughten. We subsequently learned of the meetings between the Minister and David McCourt of Granahan McCourt, which led to Deputy Naughten's resignation. The trajectory of the project did not change after the Minister's resignation, despite what we were told. I think the Minister got too close to the Granahan McCourt consortium; the political and electoral imperative took over and the issue of cost in the Government's requirements went out the window.
Given that the costs have ballooned even from the estimates of 2017, never mind the original estimate of €500-odd million, the Taoiseach has been too dismissive of those who have raised legitimate questions about this and of yesterday's Eir submission, which deserves further analysis. Alternatives should be considered.
The Taoiseach might have felt the need to make a big political announcement before the local elections but I return to the words of the Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Mr. Robert Watt, who said there was cause to pause and review. I ask the Government to do that now.