Houses of the Oireachtas

All parliamentary debates are now being published on our new website. The publication of debates on this website will cease in December 2018.

Go to oireachtas.ie

 Header Item Media Mergers (Continued)
 Header Item National Broadband Plan

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 931 No. 3

First Page Previous Page Page of 82 Next Page Last Page

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Denis Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten] Following this examination, I have three options under the legislation, which are to allow the merger to proceed, to allow the merger to proceed with conditions or to ask the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, BAI, to conduct a more in-depth, or phase 2, examination of the proposed merger.

If the third option is the case, then the BAI will, following its examination of the proposed merger, provide me with a report detailing its recommendations on the matter. It is also possible for me as Minister to establish an advisory panel to provide an opinion to the BAI on the application of the relevant criteria to the media merger in question. Following receipt of the BAI's report and recommendations, I must then make a decision to allow the merger to proceed, to allow it to proceed with conditions or to refuse to grant my consent. It would not be appropriate for me to provide any further comment while this case is under consideration.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley I thank the Minister for his reply. The issue of Mr. Denis O'Brien's Independent News and Media, INM, purchasing the Celtic Media Group is one of the most serious issues facing democracy and the media at this time. I am concerned about whether the Government is taking it seriously enough. There is a great deal of talk about plurality and so on, but are we taking it seriously when we have media moguls with fat wallets running to the courts to silence Members of this House? We need clarity on this.

A European Parliament report was published on the concentration of media ownership in this country. It described Ireland as having "one of the most concentrated media markets of any democracy." An additional report published by KRW Law and Doughty Street Chambers and commissioned by my party colleague, Ms Lynn Boylan, MEP, identified two main controlling entities - RTE, the State broadcaster, and the individual businessman, Mr. Denis O'Brien.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl I thank the Deputy. Time is up.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley RTE is the State broadcaster and that is not a problem, per se.

Deputy Denis Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten The Deputy is right, in that there is a great deal of talk about plurality. There is also a great deal of commentary as to my views on it. I have not made my views known and I am not going to. I have a decision to make and I will make it in line with the legislation. It must be emphasised that the media mergers process is a statutory, regulatory process that I, as Minister, am responsible for conducting. The nature of this process is clearly set out in legislation and the guidelines on media mergers, both of which are available on my website for anyone to view. There is no role set out in the legislation for Cabinet involvement or the involvement of any Oireachtas committee or Member in that process. I will fulfil my requirements to the letter of the law as set out in those documents, which are available on my website.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley Has the Minister read the Doughty Street Chambers report, which was commissioned by Ms Boylan? It describes us as having a perfect storm that threatens news plurality and undermines the media's ability to perform its function as a watchdog. This is important. INM publishes the Irish Independent, the Sunday Independent, the Evening Herald, the Sunday World and the Belfast Telegraph and has a 50% stake in the Daily Star. The Communicorp Group, which is owned by the same shareholder, controls Newstalk, Today FM, 98 FM, SPIN 1038 and SPIN South West, or approximately 20% of the entire market.

  The legislation is clear on this and gives the Minister powers. The 2014 Act refers to "the undesirability of allowing any one undertaking to hold significant interests [which is defined as in excess of a 20% share] within a sector or across different sectors of media business in the State". We cannot have a situation in which one or two individuals can control such large chunks of influence and power.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl I thank the Deputy. His time is up.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley There are rumours and talk about the influence that these individuals have over the Government.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Time is up, Deputy. I am sorry.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley This is an opportunity-----

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl The Minister to respond.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley To conclude, the Minister has the power. He has outlined the three options that he has. I am asking for him-----

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Deputy, please. Your time is up.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley -----to take option No. 1 and to rule against this merger.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl The Minister to respond, please.

Deputy Denis Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten I will make my decision as set out in the legislation and I am not going to take anyone else's opinion other than the advice that I am given based on the assessments, including legal and statutory, as set out in respect of this matter. That is the approach that I am going to-----

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley Has the Minister taken the NUJ's word on the matter on board?

Deputy Denis Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten The approach that I will be taking is on my website in black and white for people to read. Based on the advice that is presented to me, I will consider the three options that are open to me. I will take the most appropriate option in that regard based on the evidence that is presented to me.

I have had the opportunity to read Ms Boylan's report. It is a pity that I did not have a copy of it in advance of the last time these questions were tabled.

National Broadband Plan

 36. Deputy Timmy Dooley Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten if the national broadband plan will bridge the digital divide outlined in the recent Switcher.ie report; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [38774/16]

Deputy Timmy Dooley: Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley The Minister will be aware of the recent Switcher.ie report, which outlined the digital divide based on 27,000 broadband speed tests across Ireland. Will he respond to that report and what is his assessment of it?

Deputy Denis Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten The national broadband plan aims to deliver high-speed services to every city, town, village and individual premises in Ireland. A Programme for a Partnership Government commits to the delivery of the national broadband plan as a matter of priority. This is being achieved through private investment by commercial telecommunications companies and through a State intervention in areas where commercial investment has not been fully demonstrated.

  The Deputy refers in his question to the Switcher.ie report, which points out wide disparities between the levels of service available in different parts of the country. The national broadband plan aims to address these disparities and provide quality connectivity for everyone in every part of Ireland regardless of where he or she lives or works.

  My Department is now in a formal procurement process to identify the entity or entities to build, roll out, operate and deliver high-speed broadband to all premises within the intervention area. The three bidders in the procurement process have indicated that they are proposing a predominantly fibre-to-the-home solution for rural Ireland under the national broadband plan intervention. Householders and businesses may potentially be able to avail of speeds of up to 1,000 Mbps, with businesses potentially availing of symmetrical upload and download speeds. This is a solution that will endure for 25 years and beyond. It will also effectively remove the digital divide.

  A Programme for a Partnership Government commits to measures to assist in the roll-out of the network once a contract is awarded. In this regard, the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Humphreys, is leading the establishment of two regional action groups, working with local authorities, local enterprise offices and other relevant agencies to help accelerate the broadband network build in rural areas once the contract or contracts have been awarded.

  In a further positive initiative, I established last July the mobile phone and broadband task force with the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, to address immediate issues relating to the quality of mobile phone and broadband coverage. I expect the task force to report in the coming weeks.

Deputy Timmy Dooley: Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley The Minister will be aware from previous parliamentary replies that he has given to my party that the data show that nearly 50% of all homes and businesses in 12 counties may have to wait until 2022 to achieve the high-speed broadband set out in the Minister's plan. That is dependent on whether the plan remains on its current track. Since the tender has not gone to the marketplace yet, it is difficult to see how even that date can be achieved.

In the constituency that I know best, the average speed stands at approximately 17.4 Mbps. That is paltry. Has the Minister conducted a further review of the documents that he intends to present to the marketplace and is he still sticking with the benchmark of 30 Mbps? Will he at least consider 100 Mbps as the minimum download speed for the national broadband plan?

Deputy Denis Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten The three consortia involved in the tender process have said that it is their intention to use the fibre-to-the-home solution predominantly. This will mean that homes and premises will receive up to 1,000 Mbps, well in advance of 30 Mbps. That is the challenge facing us with the national broadband plan and was one of the mistakes that was made, in that, at the time of the initial procurement process, the benchmark was set too low.


Last Updated: 06/11/2019 08:19:54 First Page Previous Page Page of 82 Next Page Last Page