Sinn Féin TD and Chair of the Public Accounts Committee Brian Stanley has uncovered through a parliamentary question that the National Broadband Plan (NBP) is set for a disastrous first year, with only 4,000 homes ready for connection in 2021 despite a target of 115,000.
The PQ response came as a significant revelation and indicates serious challenges ahead for the Department.
The Ministers response to the PQ in the Dáil also exposed the fact that there are no penalties contained within the NBP contract to protect the Department and the taxpayer – something which Minister Bruton promised the Dáil in 2019.
Teachta Stanley said:
“The response that we have received from the Minister in the Dáil is truly shocking. Only 4,000 of the targeted 115,000 connections are ready so far in 2021 – just 3.4% of the target 6 months into the year.
“This is a project which we were told is expected to connect 544,000 premises, 90% of them by 2025.
“It is incredibly difficult to see how that could now be achieved considering this slow start.
“It would be fair to put some of this delay down to Covid-19 and all of the issues that arise out of the pandemic. However, we need to know whether this has been the only stumbling block or are there other reasons to be concerned.
“During the NBP procurement process, on behalf of Sinn Féin I relentlessly outlined the flaws and risks associated with the PPP model chosen by the Department and the procurement process itself, which only had one remaining bidder after some calamitous mistakes by previous Ministers.
“We need to know whether the NBP is still a viable project, when can expect to see a substantial increase in connections made, and what oversight is available to the state to ensure taxpayers money is not wasted.
“Perhaps most alarmingly, Minister Smyth told me in the Dáil that he was not aware of any penalties in the contract that the state can avail of to clawback investment if milestones are missed.
“This is in direct conflict with what we were told in the Dáil by Minister Bruton on the 23rd of October 2019 when he said that there were ‘stringent penalties’ and a ‘40% clawback’ in the contract to protect the taxpayer if targets were not met.
“Minister Smyth, in his reply, also mentioned that there would be a “new contract that will define” new targets for the NBP. This is all confusing matters, is there a fresh NBP contract coming down the line?
“The response that I received from the Minister raises a lot of questions and many concerns that need to be urgently addressed.”