From top: Denis O’Brien; Catherine Murphy and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
During Leaders’ Questions.
Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy raised the National Broadband Plan with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and claimed there will be no competitive tendering for the plan as there is only one bidder up for the contract – a consortium which includes Denis O’Brien-owned Actavo, formerly known as Siteserv.
Ms Murphy didn’t name Mr O’Brien.
But she reminded Mr Varadkar how it was a Fine Gael Government which awarded Siteserv a contract in respect of Irish Water – with the sale of Siteserv from IBRC, formerly Anglo Irish Bank, to Mr O’Brien now the subject of a commission of investigation.
And she reminded him how it was a Fine Gael Government which awarded a mobile phone licence to Denis O’Brien’s Esat in the 1990s – a matter which became the subject of the subsequent Moriarty Tribunal.
Mr Varadkar said it wasn’t true to say there was no competitive tendering for the contract, saying there were many bidders but that it’s now down to one.
He said due diligence will be carried out.
He went on to speak about the importance of the National Broadband Plan but didn’t respond directly to Ms Murphy’s comments about Fine Gael.
“Just last week the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission was scathing about the potential monopoly within the waste sector. Yet, here we are, in this process, with only one bidder.
“And even that one remaining bidding consortium has changed so fundamentally from the initial bid, it’s almost unrecognisable from the entity which first entered the process. We had Eir and Siro exit the process while Enet remained on as the leader of the remaining consortium.
“In July of this year, SSE pulled out of the consortium. Enet replaced SSE with a State-backed Irish infrastructure fund. Yet, the consortium continued to morph and just last month, it emerged that Enet is no longer leading the consortium but is a partner, alongside other companies including Actavo, formerly known as Siteserv.
So Enet, the original bidder, is now only part of the consortium which is now led by a private investment firm called Granahan McCourt.
Taoiseach, surely you have concerns regarding the process and a substantial changes that have occurred within the bidding process since it was first launched.
You must surely be concerned with the links that will inevitably be drawn between previous controversial contracts being awarded and some of the same personnel involved in this consortium.
After all, it was Fine Gael in Government, when the Irish Water contracts were awarded to a subsidiary of Siteserv which is now the subject to a commission of investigation.
“It was Fine Gael who were in Government when the second mobile phone licence was awarded to Esat which then became the subject of the Moriarty Tribunal.
And it is looking like Fine Gael will be in Government when the National Broadband Plan contract is awarded to a consortium within which the same high-profile business people are involved.
Taoiseach it is vital that this process, for awarding the tender, is above reproach. Would it not be better and more pertinent to ask the questions now before any contract is awarded to make sure that there is absolute public confidence in both the process and the outcome.
My questions are: are you satisfied that the bidding process, where there’s only one bidder involved, it will deliver broadband and best value for money?
Do you have concerns regarding the sustainability of the remaining consortium given that it has changed so much since it entered the process and who’s stable will that be into the future.
And are you satisfied that the money spent thus far, in the process have achieved the desired outcomes?”
Mr Varadkar said he was satisfied that the tendering process had been “robust”.