Thomas Pringle TD

Thomas Pringle TD – National Broadband Plan A Fiasco

For a long time I had been happy to go along with the Government thinking that at least we would get broadband at some stage to the people of rural Ireland. I am beginning to doubt that will happen, especially when I see Eircom going about rolling out this so-called expansion to meet the customers it was given by the previous Minister at a late stage in negotiations. We get calls from members of the public asking why is it not being extended. It is because of the fiasco at the hands of the Government. Eircom will deliver so far down the road then stop and say that it is for the national broadband plan from that point on. The calls move around from place to place as Eircom rolls out its process. It is a fiasco and while I imagine it is hard for the Minister to stand over it, sometimes I wonder.

This fiasco started in 2000 or whenever it was that Fianna Fáil privatised Telecom Éireann. That is the crux of the problem. We have been dealing with that privatisation ever since. We know that ordinary members of the public got shafted then because they were encouraged to buy shares that collapsed in price. Then we come to this Government’s national broadband plan. The Government put it out to tender and got a response from private bodies, Eircom, the ESB and Vodafone came together as SIRO, and the third project came in as well. The Minister then turned around and gave the cream of the crop to Eircom. These are the places Eircom should have been connecting but did not bother its arse because it knew nobody was going to come after it. When it became obvious through this tendering process that it might not get those places, it said they were within its sphere and that it would supply them anyway. Therefore the Government rolled over and gave them to Eircom. Then the ESB and everybody else pulled out and the whole project collapsed again. That led to the situation we are in today and to this motion.

The Labour Party motion probably makes sense but at this stage we will obviously have to stop the whole process, cancel it and throw it out, re-tender and do it in such a way that it remains in public ownership. That may be fair enough. I welcome the Labour Party’s bringing this forward but I wonder if Labour were in government would it do this. I doubt that very much, unfortunately. It is the way we should be going because it is too late at this stage.

The Minister said the EU would not stop a public utility from getting this but that is not the road we have gone down. The Government has gone so far in this process that it is not going to change. That is wrong and the people of rural Ireland would be better served by stopping the process and restarting it. That would make a bigger difference. Maybe we should buy back Eircom because that would be cheaper than the tender that the Government is awarding now to add to the tail of the process. It should just bite the bullet and say the mess was made when Telecom Éireann was sold and buy it back. Then we could deliver broadband that would be of benefit to everybody and we the people would gain from that in the future. It is an ideological problem and question and it certainly would not be in Fine Gael’s remit to decide to do something like that, which is the problem. That is probably the only solution to deliver broadband for everybody and keep it in the ownership of the people. Fine Gael will not go down that road but that is the only viable option left.

If it is re-tendered it will go through public procurement and there will be some weird anomaly of Eircom owning it to a certain stage and the public owning it from another stage and it will be a fiasco. The Government will probably spend the next couple of years working on that, putting together a contract and tendering it for a cost of €5 billion when we should buy Eircom. The owners of Eircom would probably take €3 billion for it. That would deal with the issue.