Al­most seven years af­ter the birth of the Na­tional Broad­band Plan we are still no closer to de­liv­ery, writes Wayne O’Connor

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - News -

WHEN De­nis Naugh­ten trav­elled to New York to ad­dress the UN last July, he went out of his way to meet Face­book of­fi­cials and lam­baste them. Min­utes and a tran­script of the meet­ing later be­came pub­lic.

The doc­u­ments show he felt let down and “em­bar­rassed” af­ter he “de­fended Face­book pub­licly on a num­ber of oc­ca­sions”.

He told the com­pany he was “ap­palled” it wasn’t do­ing more to pro­tect chil­dren from harm­ful ma­te­rial on­line.

He held the com­pany ac­count­able but failed to ap­ply the same level of re­spon­si­bil­ity to him­self on that trip to the US. It would con­trib­ute to his res­ig­na­tion last week.

Three days be­fore the Face­book meet­ing, Naugh­ten and his ad­vis­ers met busi­ness­man David Mc­Court, the founder of Grana­han Mc­Court and chair­man of Enet, the last re­main­ing bid­der for the na­tional broad­band con­tract.

Hosted by Mc­Court, they had din­ner at Club 21 in Man­hat­tan, a chic, up­mar­ket restau­rant that, ac­cord­ing to The New York Times, is “at its best when you treat the food as a solid foun­da­tion for the liq­uid en­ter­tain­ment”.

This meet­ing was min­uted and doc­u­mented by of­fi­cials in the Depart­ment of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

Ac­cord­ing to the meet­ing notes it in­cluded a brief dis­cus­sion about the Na­tional Broad­band Plan.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin believes such dis­cus­sions have “con­tam­i­nated the process” de­signed to roll out fi­bre broad­band across ru­ral Ire­land.

At the New York meet­ing, Mc­Court told Naugh­ten he was com­mit­ted to the ten­der and con­nect­ing more than 500,000 homes across the coun­try.

He out­lined some­one “Ir­ish-based” had been se­lected to lead the Enet-SSE con­sor­tium he was part of. De­ci­sions were to be stream­lined within the group and its fi­nanc­ing was to be in place by mid-Au­gust, ahead of a de­ci­sion to award the con­tract to a pre­ferred bid­der — from a pool of just one. All other can­di­dates had pulled out of the run­ning, ex­press­ing con­cerns about tech­ni­cal chal­lenges, costs and pric­ing.

Mc­Court said changes to the makeup of the Enet-SSE con­sor­tium were to be “kept to a min­i­mum”. How­ever, SSE pulled out of the bid weeks later — rais­ing ques­tions about the fu­ture of the broad­band plan.

Mr Naugh­ten had made the transat­lantic jour­ney as a min­is­ter un­der pres­sure.

He had nar­rowly es­caped a con­tro­versy with his job in­tact af­ter tak­ing a phone call from a PR ex­ec­u­tive about a pro­posed merger be­tween In­de­pen­dent News and Me­dia and Celtic Me­dia.

There were also is­sues with the long-de­layed broad­band plan which had promised much but of­fered few signs of de­liv­ery.

Bring­ing high-speed in­ter­net to ru­ral Ire­land was Naugh­ten’s pri­or­ity.

He was des­per­ate to get the project over the line af­ter years of bumps and bid­ders los­ing in­ter­est in the project.

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