Varadkar denies multi-billion broadband announcement was election stunt

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar has insisted the government’s National Broadband Plan (NBP) announcement is “not about the election”.

And he hit out at Fianna Fáil claiming their suggestion that the ESB take over the roll-out of high-speed internet is telling rural Ireland to “wait longer”.

Mr Varadkar made the remarks amid Opposition claims that this week’s announcement of the preferred bidder for the multi-billion euro broadband plan amounts to an election stunt by Fine Gael.

Asked why voters should have faith in a multi-euro promise made two weeks from polling day, Mr Varadkar replied: “It’s actually not about the election.”

He said the Government could have given the go-ahead and designated the preferred bidder “maybe a few months ago” but wanted to do “due diligence” first and ensure there wasn’t a quicker, cheaper alternative that could offer 100pc coverage.

He added: “There isn’t.”

Mr Varadkar said he doesn’t believe the NBP will be a broken promise to voters in 10 years time.

He said: “You can’t control everything that happens either now or in the future but… this is a real contract.”

He also hit out at Fianna Fáil for suggesting that the ESB could roll-out rural broadband saying he is “disappointed” with the suggestion.

“To me, when I heard Micheál Martin saying to people in rural Ireland was, wait longer.

“People in rural Ireland have been waiting long enough.”

He also criticised the rival party for the decision to privatise Eircom saying that poles and ducts that will be used for the NBP are “in private ownership and that can’t be changed”.

Mr Varadkar said: “One of the things we toyed with was the idea of re-nationalising Eircom.

“Just to do that alone would take years and we would have to compensate the shareholders many billions of Euros and that’s before we even start providing any fibre so that wasn’t a realistic decision.”

He also said the NBP contract has been designed so that if the contractor doesn’t deliver at certain points, it can be terminated.

“Also if after 25 years the contractor doesn’t want to continue providing the service we at that point have the right to buy,” the Taoiseach added.

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