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National Broadband Plan (Continued)

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 959 No. 7

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley] It can do it as slowly as it wants and turn the roll-out of it on and off. It is in the command position because of the 300,000 households but also because it already has copper going to many rural homes. The Minister knows the reasons SIRO pulled out of the process. It was because of the competition aspect and it said so in its statement, but any competitor that would be in the race to get this contract would have to roll it out much quicker because Eir already has a cable going to a house. It is already getting €30 or €40 a month from that house.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher Thank you, Deputy.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley There is no incentive for it to roll out the fibre quickly to the house for the reason that it will not get anything extra out of it, or very little, whereas any competitor would have to reach the household and connect the fibre to it to get any payment of any kind. I do not believe the Department has thought that through.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher I ask the Minister to observe the allotted one-minute timeslot.

Deputy Denis Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten First, and it is not me who stated this, because no one in this House has believed me when I have said it on numerous occasions, but Adrian Weckler, in the Irish Independent on 6 July, who stated: "It is very possible that much of the current private-sector fibre rollouts from Eir...and...SIRO [and now Enet] would not [have happened] without the spectre of the National Broadband Plan hovering in the background". He is one of the experts in this field and not exactly a fan of mine. That is what he has said in this regard. Therefore, I would reject the Deputy's comment.

  The reality is that by the end of next year the vast majority of villages in Ireland will have up to 1,000 Mbps pure fibre, super fast broadband available to them. That would not have been contemplated 12 months ago. The Deputy said that the winning bidder, whoever that may be, may drag their heels, or that one of them may drag their heels on the roll-out.    I will cite the example of the Eir commitment agreement that I have signed. There are quarterly targets set out in it and penalties built into it if the company fails to meet those targets. Whoever the winning bidder or bidders are, they will be tied into similar targets with similar penalties and funding held back until they achieve those targets.

Deputy Timmy Dooley: Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley The Minister said that SIRO informed him just before close of business last week that it was not going to participate in this bid contract. The dogs in the street have known for the past six months that SIRO was not going to bid for this. That should have been no surprise to the Minister. Folklore has it that he was on bended knee to SIRO to remain in the race because he wanted to have at least the rules met with respect to having an effective competitive process. He does not have an effective competitive process now because it is down to two entities and there are two contracts to be awarded. That would be fine if we were speaking, to some extent, in isolation but the real losers here are the 520,000 households-----

Deputy Denis Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten No, 542,000.

Deputy Timmy Dooley: Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley -----or 542,000 who are no closer to having broadband.

We have all sorts of experts and the Minister has identified them. Do we have a project management expert as part of that? The Minister listed an array of what he has at his disposal. Surely there is a project manager. Every project manager that I have met requires, as per project management 101, a start date and a finish date. Could the Minister enlighten us as to when the contract will begin? When will the contractor be able to put a shovel in the ground and begin the roll-out of broadband, and what is the projected end date? The Minister can have all the other fancy teams in place. He can dispute whether SIRO is affected by whatever. Adrian Weckler's comments are all relevant but they are only relevant in the context of when this process begins.

Deputy Denis Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten The quicker broadband is delivered to rural Ireland, the better. If it comes on a hare's back it cannot come quickly enough. We are all agreed on that. A significant amount of work has been done, which I will come to in later parliamentary questions, in facilitating the maximum deployment by the commercial operators in this regard. It is a complex procurement process. It is also an unusual one in that we are going through a competitive dialogue procurement process. It means that one is slower to sign the final contract, but it also means that the physical deployment will take place quicker.

As I have said previously, this is a 25-year contract. None of us can afford the mistakes that were made in the past in terms of the electronic voting machines or even the national broadband scheme which was obsolete the day it went live. Irrespective of what side of the House we are on, we are all committed to this. In fairness, every Member's heart is in the right place on this but we have a significant challenge. We must get it right and we will get it right, and it will stand the test of time.

Deputy Sean Sherlock: Information on Seán Sherlock Zoom on Seán Sherlock I want to focus on the procurement process. Notwithstanding what I believe to be the Minister's bona fides in seeking to get this project over the line, and I believe him to be genuine, we are getting bombarded with metrics, statistics and the use of a language that for many people who do not have broadband is indecipherable in terms of the political rhetoric around this.

The first question I have is very simple. Do EU rules on procurement allow the Minister to descope or make a tender less attractive to certain vendors, thus favouring others while the tender process is live? If SIRO has pulled out of this process, what is to stop it or any other bidder, who might not partake in this tender, from looking at the legal position and saying it signed up to a process and the Minister, the State or the Government has now made that process less attractive for it as a tenderer or bidder and why should it not take legal action to protect the investment and commitments it has made?

The public is confused and I am confused because I do not believe that the transparency and the information that we require on this is adequate at this time. I do not believe it is right for the Minister to use the cover of the fact that this is a competitive tendering process. As Deputy Dooley said, it is down to two entities at this stage. The Minister can hardly use the cover of the tendering process in the language he is using to explain the process itself. What were the original EU rules on procurement? What was the language that was used by the State in regard to the EU so as to protect those people who have now come out of the process on the basis that the original tender is less than what was articulated and advised to them in the first instance?

Deputy Denis Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten I thank the Deputy for acknowledging the fact that we have now moved from a situation where the proposed intervention area, which comprised 900,000 premises across rural Ireland, is now down to 542,000 premises. The European Commission has been kept fully updated on an ongoing basis on all of this. It is fully conscious of every aspect of this, from the pre-notification decision that was made in July 2015. It is being kept fully informed throughout this process.

I wish to address an issue that has been raised by a number of people. It has been said that we do not have a competitive process because there are only two bidders in it. I will cite this example again. If one is building a one-off house in rural Ireland, one would probably go to one's neighbour to price the cost of it and get a second price for it, and if a similar house had been built in another part of the country, one would ask the owner of that house how much they paid for the construction of it. That is what we have done here. We have two competitive bidders in the process. We also have independent advice on the likely cost. We know what the indicative cost of this will be, the level of State support that is required and what will be the bids that come in for it. We have a very competitive process. I, as Minister, am not going to undermine this. A predecessor of mine is still involved and named, and my Department is still named, in legal cases that are taking place in the courts.

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