Check Against Delivery
The national broadband plan will put every place name, in every county, on the digital map. Delivering high speed broadband to every home, every business, every farm and every school in Ireland is a personal commitment from me. I have continuously said that I would not allow this process to continue one minute longer than was absolutely necessary in order to deliver a future proofed broadband network for every place name in rural Ireland.
I am the only TD who has consistently pursued this issue for the last two decades in this House and the record proves the fact.
Just as roads came, and then electricity, the government is determined that broadband will be delivered. And, it will leave a lasting legacy across rural Ireland.
The Government cannot accept tonight's Fianna Fail Motion on a number of levels.
The Fianna Fail Private Members' motion calls for a review of the procurement process to examine several aspects of the tender, including the degree to which it is "inhibiting the participation of suitable bidders".
Firstly this suggests the remaining bidder, the consortium comprising of enet, sse, Granahan McCourt and John Laing plc – is not a suitable bidder?
This is a group with significant international experience across the telecoms, engineering and infrastructure sectors. SSE is as big an electricity company as the ESB and Enet has a long history in relation to operating fibre networks. Granahan McCourt is a major investor in the telecoms area.
Secondly, the fact is, that the Fianna Fáil review would push this procurement process into 2019 and plunge the entire project into uncertainly.
Deputy Dooley, by his own admission today, said his review has the 'potential to cause delays' to this process.
Deputy Dooley has admitted the consequences of his Motion will result in people in rural Ireland waiting even longer for high speed broadband. This is just not acceptable to me, or this Government.
Indeed this evening on national radio, Deputy Dooley called for a 'period of reflection'. I doubt the families, businesses, farmers, and people of rural Ireland, including those in Clare that are waiting for high speed broadband, require a period of reflection?
Fianna Fail states in their Motion that an independent review comprising of European experts could be concluded in two months. Leaving aside the potential damage to the integrity of an ongoing procurement process, to embark on such a review makes absolutely no sense now as we approach the final stage, nor could it be achieved within the timeline suggested by Deputy Dooley.
My Department has advised me that it would take, at a minimum, 6 months to procure and engage international experts to ensure a meaningful review. They then would of course be required to review 25 months worth of material. This would mean time for interviews, reports, discussions, publications and complex legal work.
Over the last 25 months the 80 strong Procurement Team has been supported and governed by a range of national and international experts in the relevant fields of commercial, legal, technical, procurement, insurance, contract and environmental expertise. Some of the most capable people in Europe, with experience in highly complex procurement projects, have been working on the project from day one.
International experts like Analysys Mason, PwC, Deloitte, Marsh Insurance, Mason Hayes & Curran, RPS Group, KPMG and Here and Now Business Intelligence.
Does Deputy Dooley now want to second guess these experts?
The Procurement Board provides independent advice on the procurement process and the separate Steering Group provides independent oversight on the strategy and again includes national and international experts in the field.
International benchmarks for projects such as these have been incorporated into the governance and procurement processes.
The Steering Group, and Procurement Board, are separate from the Procurement Team's evaluations and engagement, with bidders.
The governance model is consistent with State Aid Guidelines, and structured to address the requirements of the European Regional Development Fund, and the Government's Public Spending Code.
Fianna Fail is also conceding that what they call a "sealed tender" process is not the appropriate process to appoint a company to roll out this network.
They accept the "competitive dialogue procurement procedure" which we are using is common practice internationally for projects of this nature and complexity. It enables, not inhibits, greater participation throughout the process.
This procedure opens up a dialogue with selected candidates in order to identify and define the means best suited to deliver a national broadband plan. It is also important to point out that a bidder cannot go backwards on matters.
The competitive dialogue procedure was also used for the procurement of the Next Generation Broadband Project in Northern Ireland and the BDUK Superfast Broadband Project in Oxfordshire, and is used for Public Private Partnerships in Ireland.
Complexity is not coming from the procurement process; it is coming from the nature and scale of the project.
The remaining bidder, enet, has already identified its final issues for discussion with the Procurement Team and this list was submitted some weeks ago while competition remained in the process.
Yes for commercial reasons two companies have pulled out but also remember for commercial reasons we have seen the build out of broadband across this country, the national broadband plan has been the catalyst for this massive investment.
When I became Minister 21 months ago 5 out of 10 premises had access to high speed broadband, today that is now 7 out of 10. By the end of this year it will be close to 8 out of 10 and it also means that the vast majority of villages across Ireland will have access up to 1,000 megabits per second high speed broadband by the end of this year - that is something that couldn't have been contemplated 21 months ago.
The Motion before the House also asks whether the NBP is future proofed. The submissions provided to date indicate that the technical solution will be predominantly Fibre to the Home.
This solution is considered by industry to be the most future proofed technology and the most capable of meeting future demands. There is nothing faster than light.
Bearing all this in mind I would ask Fianna Fáil to consider the implications of what they are asking and how this would affect families, businesses and rural communities.
Deputy James Lawless has published a Bill that would have practical and positive implications on delivering broadband to people rural Ireland.
I agree with Deputy Lawless when he said "there have already been numerous delays on the roll-out and …. there would be no justification for me, as Minister, to start the clock again." The review that you're calling for Deputy Dooley will rewind the clock considerably, with serious consequences.
Is it not time that this Dail and politicians work together to deliver for the people that they represent?
I gave a commitment to the people of rural Ireland that I would not allow this process to continue one minute longer than was absolutely necessary in order to deliver a future proofed broadband network for every place name in rural Ireland.
Standing on the eve of delivering an historic project for the economic development of rural Ireland, I do not intend to allow politics to push this procurement process out further.
I intend to supply real high speed broadband to rural Ireland, and I have the confidence that this contract and its infrastructure will stand the test of time.
I believe there is unanimous support in this House for the speedy and efficient delivery of the National Broadband Plan. Now is the time to continue the momentum, not the time for indecision, reflection, point scoring or diversion. It is the time for resolve in our ambition, not one for uncertainty. Rural Ireland is waiting and we must step up and deliver.
I understand and share the frustration of those who today do not have access to High Speed Broadband but the finishing line is in sight. Rural Ireland has waited long enough. Let us get on with the work and deliver this to where it is needed.