Tag Archives: Catherine Murphy

Siteserv; Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy; Denis O’Brien

You may recall the Siteserv sale back in 2012.

Denis O’Brien owed Anglo Irish Bank hundreds of millions.

Siteserv owed Anglo Irish Bank €144 million.

Denis bought Siteserv debt-free for €45 million.

You will find a detailed background to the deal here.

Since then a Commission of Investigation, led by High Court judge Brian Cregan, has been tasked with investigating the sale of Siteserv to Denis O’Brien, and other matters.

In 2017 Catherine Murphy, of the Soc Dems, submitted a 300-page statement to the Commission detailing her research into the sale.

The commission later wrote to Ms Murphy saying, if she doesn’t reveal her sources, “it may not be possible to advance some of the issues raised” by her.

Further to this…

This morning.

In The Irish Times.

Jack Horgan-Jones reports:

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy will not appear at the Siteserv inquiry as she fears she will be forced to reveal the sources of her information about businessman Denis O’Brien’s finances, The Irish Times has learned.

In a 10-page letter to the Cregan commission, parliamentary lawyers acting on Ms Murphy’s behalf argue that if she were to attend, she would be cross-examined by lawyers acting for other witnesses on “the source or sources of information” she relied upon when making statements about Mr O’Brien and the deal that saw him buy infrastructure company Siteserv.

“The commission is unable to afford any reassurance to Deputy Murphy that such cross-examination will not be permitted or that she will not be required to answer the questions put to her in the course of such cross-examination,” the letter, seen by The Irish Times, states.

Catherine Murphy will not appear at Siteserv inquiry (Jack Horgan-Jones, The Irish Times)

Previously: [REDACTED]’s 1.25% Interest Rate

What The Commenter Said

Cregan Commission on Broadsheet

Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy; Fine Gael TD Jim Daly

Yesterday.

In the Dáil.

During the Topic Issue Debate, Social Democrats co-leader and Kildare North TD Catherine Murphy raised her concerns about delays facing people trying to access their Housing Assistance Payment and the implications of these delays.

Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy wasn’t able to be present for her contribution but Minister of State at the Department of Health with special responsibility for Mental Health and Older People Jim Daly responded to Ms Murphy.

Ms Murphy claimed some people are facing a nine-week delay in getting their HAP application processed.

Mr Daly said applications are processed, on average, wait two days.

Ms Murphy said:

“I want to focus on is a serious problem that seems to have dramatically worsened in the past two or three months, namely, the delay in having a HAP application processed.

“This in addition to the lack of flexibility shown in cases where rents are very high and the HAP is not sufficient to cover them, meaning people have to try to source accommodation in a very limited sector.

In the past few months, the delay in processing an application has become dramatically worse and now averages nine weeks.

“One can find a situation where a family will find a landlord who will accept the HAP. However, when they get the contracts and present the application they are told the process will take nine weeks.

Several people have told me they have been told to pay the rent in the interim. Who, in his or her right mind, would say that? If people had several thousand euro in their bank account, they would not be looking for a housing assistance payment.

“It is absolutely mad. These people do not have money to pay rent in the interim. The delay has got dramatically worse.

Ms Murphy added:

“Another major concern I hear expressed all the time is that when people borrow the money they do not feel secure about getting the money back because they will have demonstrated an ability to pay it. This issue is adding to the stress.

“Landlords are also left in limbo because they do not know, if they have accommodated somebody with HAP, that the payment will be processed. It would be enormously helpful if a letter was sent out confirming that people are approved.

“I speak to a number of estate agents, and I had cause to speak to one particular letting agent, who I know is very good at sourcing accommodation and encouraging landlords to take HAP tenants.

“He spoke about having very good experiences and not having an issue. However, he feels he has been left with egg on face because he recommended HAP but it is taking so long to process it that landlords are coming back to him saying they are uncertain they will get paid.

“It is perfectly legitimate and legal for a landlord to evict somebody in that scenario.

The letting agent told me that once a property is advertised in the north Kildare-west Dublin area, he expects to receive 150 or 160 emails within 24 hours, of which 70% would be from HAP tenants.

The remaining 30% of applicants have the best chance of securing that accommodation if the landlord knows he or she will have to wait nine or ten weeks to have the HAP payment processed.

“I have come across several cases where people who have been told to leave accommodation subsequently find other accommodation and then have to reapply for HAP.

When we ring the office in Limerick we are told the reason for the delay is that a large number of additional applications have been received.

Is there a large number of additional applications? Is the problem a shortage of money or a staffing issue? What is causing the problem because the situation is chaotic at the moment?

Mr Daly responded to Ms Murphy by explaining how the HAP system works before saying:

“Limerick City and County Council provide a highly effective transactional shared service on behalf of all HAP local authorities and manages all HAP related rental transactions for the tenant, local authority and landlord.

On average, HAP applications are processed by the HAP Shared Services Centre within two working days of receipt.

“Any rental payment arising for a given month will then be made to a landlord on the last Wednesday of that month.”

Ms Murphy told Mr Daly to ring the Limerick office and warned him that she believes his information is “wrong”.

She said:

“What is in his [Mr Daly’s] reply does not match in any way the experience of the applicants. That information must be out of date.

“It is not fair on applicants to put them in this situation. If their applications were being processed within two days I would not be on my feet raising this issue.

I would not have queues of people coming into my office in tears totally stressed out by this. This is also not fair on landlords who are being left in a precarious position. It is not fair all round.

“Regarding the timelines the Minister of State mentioned, it can take up to two months, and mostly it does, to process a housing application.

“It can take another eight or nine weeks to process a HAP application. What is happening is potentially adding to the homeless crisis.

“The way HAP is being applied is problematic. In some local authorities the uplift of the 20% for a person who is in a homeless situation is not being applied. From my experience of its application in Kildare, it has been very patchy.

The delays in HAP payments are sending the message to landlords that they should stay away from this scheme.

“That is not the message that needs to be delivered when we know people are already in a precarious position in terms of security of accommodation.

“I ask the Minister of State to check the facts he has put on the record because they do not align with the experience of people with whom I have been dealing and the situation has dramatically disimproved during the past few months.

“I believe the information in the reply is wrong.”

Mr Daly said he would relay Ms Murphy’s contribution to Mr Murphy.

Transcript via Oireachtas.ie

This afternoon.

On RTÉ’s News At One

RTÉ Online’s Motoring Editor Donal Byrne told broadcaster Áine Lawlor that motorists can expect a “double whammy” in next week’s budget in terms of the carbon tax.

He said it’s likely the Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe will announce tax increases on new diesel and petrol-run cars.

And he said a €6 per tonne carbon tax increase is also on the cards.

Ireland’s carbon tax – which hasn’t been increased since 2014 – currently stands at €20 per tonne.

Mr Byrne explained:

“When you go to fill your car at the pumps, it’s going to cost you somewhere between €1.20 and €1.60 extra to fill your car.”

But you get to save the world from imminent EXTINCTION.

Which is nice.

Earlier: A Modest Proposal

Rollingnews

Meanwhile…

Catherine Murphy

Yesterday.

Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy asked Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe  for the following:

‘The amount collected to date in carbon tax; the methods of dispersing the revenue generated from the tax; the purposes for which the revenue collected from the tax has been used for the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter?”

In a written answer, Minister Donohoe responded:

‘The total annual net receipts from carbon tax are set out in the following table:

Total Net Receipts:

2010; €223,084,537

2011: €298,231,058

2012: €353,954,210

2013: €388,376,990

2014: €385,361,885

2015: €418,996,237

2016: €430,247,558

2017: €419,603,362

2018: €431,131,923

Total: 3,348,987,760

Carbon tax receipts to end August 2019 were approximately €281,800,000, some €20 million (6.8%) behind forecast. To date the revenue from carbon tax has been remitted to the central fund and therefore used to fund public services.’

Carbon Tax Yield (Oireachtas,ie)

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy

This afternoon.

In the Dáil.

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy raised the National Broadband Plan – for which there is one bidder – during Leaders’ Questions.

She raised concerns that while the plan was initially set to cost €500million, “the Government, and indeed, departmental officials have now conceded that the ultimate cost will be multiples of that”.

She asked Tánaiste Simon Coveney if certain projects from the Government’s Project Ireland 2040 plan will have to removed on account of the higher-than-envisaged costs of the NBP.

She added:

Are we likely to be bounced into something that will cost billions rather than hundreds of millions, purely because we’ve supposedly gone too far into a flawed process? It smacks of not learning lessons from the National Children’s Hosptial shambles.”

Ms Murphy then went on to ask – based on the Taoiseach saying the NBP may not go ahead in the event of a on-deal Brexit – if the NBP is a “casualty”, could this mean Project Ireland 2040 “requires a complete revision?”

She asked how much has been set aside by Project Ireland for the NBP.

And she asked, given it’s going to cost multiples of €500m, where the money will come from and what other projects will suffer as a result of the extra funding required.

Mr Coveney responded and said it’s clear the cost of the NBP is “not going to be cheap”.

“We now have to make a decision on whether we want to go ahead with it or not. The cost is high due to the significant ambition of the project and the scale of the build.”

Ms Murphy told Mr Coveney he didn’t answer any of her questions.

Mr Coveney said:

“With respect, it’s a bit unreasonable to ask what are the implications of the cost of this without knowing what the cost is. I don’t know what the cost is going to be. It hasn’t come before Cabinet yet. So I’m not able to give you that answer and without that answer I can’t give you an indication as to the implications of that cost for the 2040 plan. I would have thought that was self-evident.”

Watch Dáil proceedings live here

This afternoon.

Leinster House, Kildare Street, Dublin 2

Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy welcomes Vladimir Putin-critic Bill Browder, founder and CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, head of the Global Magnitsky Justice Campaign and author of Red Notice.

Mr Browder was the largest foreign investor in Russia until 2005, when he was declared “a threat to national security” for exposing corruption in Russian state-owned companies. His lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky testified against state officials and was subsequently arrested, jailed without trial, tortured and died in prison.

The subsequent American bi-partisan Magnitsky Act authorises the US government to sanction those who it sees as human rights offenders, freezing their assets, and ban them from entering the US.

Mr Browder made a presentation to Senators and TDS regarding a possible Irish/EU Magnitsky Act.

Rollingnews

Last night.

On TV3’s Tonight Show.

Social Democrats co-founder and TD Catherine Murphy – who is a member of the Oireachtas sports committee which will question members of the Football Association of Ireland in April – recalls how she previously raised concerns about governance at the FAI.

Earlier: Ask A Broadsheet Reader

New Balls, Please

Social Democrat co-leader Catherine Murphy and Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty TD on the plinth of Leinster House following yesterday’s Supreme Court victory.

Further to Denis O’Brien’s loss in the Supreme Court yesterday.

Michael Clifford in The Irish Examiner writes:

‘Mr O’Brien was looking to assert what he saw as his rights as a citizen in a democracy. His action was based on asserting a principle.

The 19 individuals [who had their private data removed from email servers in Independent News And Media and taken to the Isle of Man where the data was “interrogated” and costs covered by a company controlled by Mr O’Brien, Blaydon Ltd,] all of whom are undoubtedly people of high principle, will more likely be interested in receiving monetary compensation rather than a legal declaration.

If they can prove their case, they will be entitled to be well-compensated for a breach of their privacy. In such an eventuality, the money will have to be paid out by INM.

It would be something of a bitter irony for Mr O’Brien if, as the main shareholder, he had to stump up for a privacy breach on a court ruling, having experienced, in his own case, a ruling that his privacy was legitimately breached in parliament.’

Bitter irony for O’Brien if INM has to stump up over privacy breach (Michael Clifford, Irish Examiner)

Listen: Kildare TD Says Supreme Court Decision Puts Any Questions On The Strength Of Parliamentary Privilege Beyond Doubt. (KFM)

Yesterday: Dismissing Denis

Previously: We Shall Fight Them On The Breaches

Meanwhile…

Flashbackageddon!

The first in a bowel-loosening series of emails from Denis O’Brien’s solicitors after the posting of Ms Murphy’s speech in the Dáil, May 26, 2015.

Good times.

Previously: [REDACTED]’s 1.25% Interest Rate

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy and Taoiseach Leo Varakar in the Dáil today

Just now.

In the Dáil…

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy repeatedly asked the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar if it’s true that Dublin City Council only built 21 social housing units last year.

Mr Varadkar appeared to confirm the figure when he said that a breakdown of social housing figures is available, he has seen the figures, and “I imagine that that is correct”.

But his answer came after some time.

Ms Murphy is a member of the Public Accounts Committee and recalled a recent meeting of the committee involving  the Housing Department’s Secretary General John McCarthy whom, she said, stated “quite categorically” that the figures for council housing are extremely clear in terms of the breakdown/categorisation of these properties.

She said Mr McCarthy said the department publishes “quarterly updates in this regard” and he “refuted allegations of spin when it comes to the presentation of the figures”.

Ms Murphy said:

“In 2018, the social housing output figures, under local authority build, the number is listed as 2,022 but the minister has bundled all of those categories and has consistently refused to give a breakdown of local authority build by individual category.

“However, at the Public Accounts Committee meeting last week, the secretary general [Mr McCarthy] in response to questions I posed, finally gave us a breakdown of the figures for 2018.

“Those figures: 768 for turn-key units, 200 regeneration properties and that leaves a total of a 1,054 actual newly built local authority houses for 2018.

Why then the continued blurring of numbers by Minister Murphy?

Ms Murphy said that a few weeks ago Minister Murphy, on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Dr Gavin Jennings “grilled” the minister for a breakdown of the social housing output but his questions went unanswered while the minister said the figures would be available the following week.

But, Ms Murphy said, these figures still haven’t been made public, outside of being made available to the Public Accounts Committee; they’re not on the department’s website; and they’re not in the department’s press releases.

The Social Democrats co-leader then asked if the reason for the “reluctance” to give a clear breakdown of the output is that some councils are performing “very poorly”?

Ms Murphy then said:

“For example, it has been said that Dublin City Council, who are at the epicentre of this crisis, only built 21 houses last year or could it be red tape? We need to know?”

“So, Taoiseach, can we get some straight answers to the following questions please?

“Can you confirm that the new builds by local authorities, given to the Public Accounts Committee, by the Secretary General last week, are accurate?

Is it correct that Dublin City Council only built 21 units in 2018 themselves?

“And what’s the actual breakdown by local authority of the 1,054 new builds in 2018?”

In his response, the Taoiseach said people receiving homes don’t ever raise the categorisation of social housing.

He added:

What matters as a fact is that last year 9,000 – more than any in ten years – 9,000 families moved into social housing with secure tenancies and we shouldn’t obsess ourselves about whether it’s done through an affordable housing body or local authority, or trust or Part 5, Part 8 or Part 26. That’s not what matters.”

Ms Murphy said knowing the breakdown does matter.

She said knowing the breakdown allows people to know what’s cost effective and value for money.

“We need to get those breakdowns so that information can be evaluated. This is public information, it’s public money. Why are you so reluctant to give the figures in a way that breaks it down and you can make those comparisons?

Is it true that Dublin City Council built 21 houses last year? The performance of our local authorities matters because they’re going to be the ones that are going to deliver, if we’re actually going to deliver the kind of numbers that are needed, to actually get a grip on this crisis.

“You cannot keep on answering questions in the way you did. The breakdown matters.”

Mr Varadkar said:

Deputy, I’m advised by the minister of state behind me that those figures are available and I’ve seen breakdown so I imagine that that is correct and they are available.

“But I think you’ve got it wrong here. The truth is, after years of running into problems, years of delays, when we didn’t have the money to do it, after years and years of trouble, we’re now delivering on social housing, increasing the housing stock by 9,000 last year.

“We’ll increase it by even more this year. And what you’re trying to do, is you don’t want people to know that. So you’re trying to make that housing provided by affordable housing body like Peter McVerry Trust or the Iveagh Trust doesn’t exist.”

Watch Dáil proceedings live here

This afternoon.

Leinster House, Dublin 2

Catherine Murphy (right), with Roisin Shoirthall her co-leader in the Social Democrats, and Pearse Doherty (above left) with Sinn Féin colleagues from left: Rose Conway-Walsh, Mary Lou McDonald TD and Eoin Ó Broin TD speaking to the media after businessman Denis O’Brien lost his appeal to the Supreme Court over statements made in the Dáil about his banking affairs.

Earlier



From top: Denis O’Brien; Justices of the Supreme Court in NUI Galway today; Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty; Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy

This morning.

The Supreme Court (sitting in Galway).

Denis O’Brien has lost his Supreme Court challenge against a failed legal action in relation to statements made in the Dáil about his banking affairs.

The businessman claimed the two TDs in question were guilty of an “unwarranted interference” with the operation of the courts.

Mr O’Brien’s High Court action arose from remarks made by Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty and Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy under privilege on the floor of the Dáil during a debate in 2015 about the sale of SiteServ.

By revealing details about his dealings with the IBRC, he claimed the two deputies effectively decided a separate case that was before the courts.

An injunction was in place at the time in relation to an RTÉ programme.

Supreme Court Judgement Due Today (Newstalk)

Catherine Murphy said:

“The CPP found that I had not abused parliamentary privilege in making a speech which was very squarely within the public interest and that I acted in good faith at all times. I am pleased that both the High Court and now the Supreme Court have upheld that decision.

Whilst I am pleased that the courts have recognised the constitutional protections afforded to those of us who may find ourselves in the position of having to use parliamentary privilege for a matter of public interest, it is hugely incumbent on us, as elected representatives, to recognise that such privilege must only be exercised with great responsibility.

The public interest must always be to the fore and that is what has underpinned everything I have done to date.”

UPDATE:

Following the Supreme Court’s decision and further to a High Court jury dismissing claims by Mr O’Brien last Friday that March 2015 articles about him in the Sunday Business Post were defamatory…

Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty told Seán O’Rourke on RTÉ Radio One:

I think this is a big week for freedom of parliament and parliamentary debate but also a big week for freedom of the press and, you know, I’ve thought about this over the last couple of days.

If both the judgement against the Sunday Business Post and now against the House of the Oireachtas went the other way – there would be a serious chilling effect in relation to what could be said, both in the press and on the floor of the Dáil in future.

“And I think remember as well, Seán, during this time, there was a period, during this time, when both Catherine Murphy and myself were putting information on the public record, that the press themselves were questioning whether they could report that information.

“So this judgement today makes it very, very clear, if anything good comes from this judgement: it is the fact that parliamentary privilege is sacrosanct, it cannot be tested before the courts.

“The decisions of the CPP in determining whether a deputy or a senator has abused parliamentary privilege cannot be tested before the courts. And that now clarifies it.

“And there’s an onus on us, as elected representatives, to use that privilege very, very selectively, in which we do. As I said, I had other information in relation to Denis O’Brien that I didn’t put on the public record.

“And indeed we have information that is given to us, and I welcome information like that, that is of a highly sensitive and confidential nature, that we decided not to put on the public record because it’s viewed by us not in the public interest and would be, in our view, an abuse of parliamentary privilege.”

Listen back in full here

UPDATE:

UPDATE:

Read the 42-page judgement in full here

Thanks David Kenny

Top Pic: NUI Galway

Previously: [REDACTED]’s 1.25% Interest Rate

‘Deputy Murphy Is Out Of Order’

Always A Privilege

‘It’s Important People Stand Up For Democracy’

Keeping Print Alive

Morrissey And Mar

‘Completely Incompatible With A Functioning Democracy’

Murphy’s Law

From top: light blue areas are where Eir has ‘committed’ to commercial rural deployment plans, amber areas are the target areas for the state Intervention of the National Broadband Plan and blue areas are where commercial operators are delivering or have indicated plans to deliver high speed broadband services; Catherine Murphy in the Dáil last night

Last night.

A Social Democrat motion calling for a “Government commitment that any National Broadband Plan roll-out will prioritise affordability for homes and businesses in rural Ireland” was debated in the Dáil.

Social Democrat co-leader addressed Minister for Communications Richard Bruton about the “laissez-faire approach to the original tendering and contract process”.

Investors in the only consortium left in the process include Denis O’Brien.

Ms Murphy said:

“Although the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, has not been in his current role for very long, I know he appreciates that the national broadband plan process has been ongoing for several years but many people in modern Ireland still have limited or no access to the tools required to participate in a modern society and economy.

It is crucial that we deliver broadband to such people. However, I cannot emphasise enough that we must do so through an unimpeachable process in which the veracity of the winning bidder and its ability to deliver long term are verified as well in a way that focuses on the net result for consumers, particularly in terms of affordability and broadband speed.

There is no point going ahead with the process if an average household will not be able to afford to connect to the infrastructure that is finally put in place or the network ultimately proves inadequate.

This must be about empowering our citizens to connect to a globalised world in their business and personal endeavours.

The process must guarantee the ability of the winning bidder to deliver the project or else the Exchequer will end paying by way of a State subsidy and-or citizens will pay the price of not being able to connect to broadband.

We must remember that if the contract is awarded, it will run for a considerable period of time. If we do not get it right, it could be very problematic to reverse it and doing so may involve the payment of compensation.

The old adage is that one must learn from past mistakes, yet nothing in the broadband process to date gives me confidence that we will not repeat current and past mistakes when it comes to the tendering process and the eventual awarding of the contract.

The results of the clearly flawed process for the development of the National Children’s Hospital are coming home to roost, involving colossal cost overruns, deadlines that have been missed on more occasions than I care to count and serious frustrations on all sides of the project.

Members on this side of the House are being asked to blindly trust the people responsible for projects such as the national children’s hospital to make the final decision on the national broadband plan. The metro north project went through a similarly incoherent and rocky process involving numerous incarnations and setbacks.

The same can be said of Luas and the eventual need for a cross-city Luas line which had been included on the original plans. In fact, there are myriad projects to which one could point as examples of the continued inability of this State to get major projects right first time. I acknowledge that this did not all happen on the Minister’s watch. There is ongoing failure in regard to such projects.

The penny must drop that we need to look at what we have been doing wrong in regard to such failures rather than just blame it on a system failure. If there is a system failure, one must fix the system.

The problems that have emerged with the national children’s hospital, for example, are not in the main resultant from something that happened after the project began. The major cause of the issues is a laissez faire approach to the tender and contract process before the project commenced.

If one does not ensure that the design plan, building blocks and builder are the correct choices, one will have a less than satisfactory outcome. That is why this period in the life cycle of the national broadband plan is of such importance. If we do not get things right now, we will pay the price at a later stage.

We have a one-off chance before any contracts are awarded to ask whether we can stand over the process to date and genuinely believe that the process as it stands will deliver the best possible outcome for users and the Exchequer.

All Members are aware of the significant and serious questions which arose during 2017 regarding the handling of the national broadband plan by the then Minister, Deputy Naughten. At the crescendo of the controversy, I, as well as members of Fianna Fáil and other Deputies, stated that the national broadband plan was fatally flawed.

The Government commissioned a report by Mr. Peter Smyth in a bid to prove otherwise and reassure people that the Minister attending various dinner parties and exchanging regular private calls and texts with the owner of the sole remaining bidder was not a problem.

At the time, I raised concerns about the ability of Peter Smyth to be entirely impartial in his report because he was the process auditor throughout the process which caused the controversy. It was a process failure and he was auditing that process.

When the Smyth report was furnished to the House, most Members were underwhelmed by its watery findings. In the absence of minutes or a written record of many of the interactions between the then Minister, Deputy Naughten, the Minister of State, Deputy Breen, and Mr. David McCourt, Mr. Smyth took the key players at their word that nothing inappropriate had occurred.

When Mr. Smyth commented at a follow-up press conference that he did not interrogate the then Minister or Mr. David McCourt because he did not think it appropriate to do so, he significantly undermined the veracity of the report and left serious question marks over the relationship between a Minister and a billionaire businessman – an all-too familiar vista in major communications contracts. In that regard, we must consider the learnings, or lack thereof, from past mistakes.

In the same way, we must look to the forerunner of the national broadband plan and ensure the lessons from its roll out and operation inform the broadband plan.

The municipal area networks, MANs, project was established in 2004 and contract extensions to run to 2030 were awarded to Enet in 2016. There remain question marks and ongoing court proceedings regarding the detail behind those contracts and their extension. However, in spite of orders by the information commissioner and the High Court to release the details in the public interest, the Department has continually refused to so do.

It has brought an appeal to the Court of Appeal – which, obviously, will be a costly exercise – to keep information the release of which has been determined to be in the public interest out of the public eye. Such secrecy rings warning bells and flies in the face of the stated ambition of an open government or governance approach to the process.

Leaving aside the significant questions regarding the contract process for Enet and the MANs, there are question marks over the operation, efficiency and usefulness of the plan in terms of the end user take-up of the networks.

In 2014, BT Ireland wrote to the Department expressing serious concerns regarding how Enet was operating the municipal area networks.

Several people and businesses, including public bodies, were unable to connect to the network due to the prohibitive cost.

Many industry experts have questioned the scale, coverage and take-up of the MANs across the country.

Those living in the intervention area should pay serious attention to this because if we do not learn from that process, exactly the same thing may happen with the national broadband plan.

A recent freedom of information dump from the Department to The Irish Times journalist Jack Horgan-Jones included a briefing note prepared for the then Minister in 2016 ahead of a meeting he was due to have with Mr. David McCourt who, at the time, was heading the consortium which had acquired Enet, which was operating the MANs.

The briefing note was prepared two years after BT Ireland, a major telecoms player with significant expertise, outlined to the Department its serious concerns regarding the operation of the MANs by Enet.

The briefing note of 2016 makes absolutely no reference to those concerns and states the MANs programme has proven effective. It has not proven effective if concerns are being raised by businesses and individuals and if there is a proven difficulty with take-up and cost.

It is surely hard to argue that a briefing that fails to acknowledge the serious concerns of a major industry expert like BT is comprehensive. One cannot just ignore that.

Thus far, only part of one of the two Department-commissioned reports into the MANs, namely, the Norcontel report, has been put into the public domain. We are still awaiting the publication of the Analysys Mason report into the operation of the MANs.

It is ridiculous that we do not have the information to allow us to consider this issue adequately and determine what has gone wrong or right in order to inform our consideration of the contract. Very often one is an expert after completing a process but one really needs to be an expert in advance.

The documentation on the experience of the forerunner to the national broadband plan should seriously comprise one of the most important sets of documentation available to the Minister and Opposition. That such secrecy and obfuscation surrounds this process should be a concern in and of itself.

That the Minister and his Department have pushed two court appeals – it may well have been prior to the Minister’s tenure – rather than accepting the High Court judgment and a ruling of the information commissioner to release details of the MANs contracts with Enet should raise eyebrows.

That the Peter Smyth report is, by its author’s own admission, lacking in veracity should raise concerns in its own right.

That the process has found itself with only one remaining bidder should raise eyebrows. Surely a contract of this magnitude should have had competitors beating down the doors to win it, yet we are aware that major telecommunications players such as Eir and SIRO pulled out of the process.

They cited governance and regulatory concerns. Do we really know what those concerns are? Have they been properly interrogated? Have we satisfied ourselves as to what governance and regulatory concerns Eir and SIRO were referring to? I do not believe we have.

At my request, Eir has agreed to appear before the Committee of Public Accounts next month. SIRO has not accepted that invitation. Enet has agreed but with some significant caveats as to what it will and will not discuss.

As I understand it, there is no comprehensive map within the Department or regulator of the networks that might already exist or the take-up of broadband within those networks.

Surely it makes sense to have an audit of current capacity before ploughing ahead with anything new so we can reduce duplication and possibly cost. For example, the ESB rolled out a significant fibre-optic domestic network using EU funds.

Individuals with more technical knowledge than I have told me it would not be a major job to use those networks to tack on the necessary hardware for broadband capabilities…

Similarly, we are aware that Bord Gáis rolled out the Aurora network and that Esat laid lines across parts of the country – for example, between Ballina and Tubbercurry.

Again, this was with EU funding. Eir is currently providing fibre-optic cabling to areas it deems economically viable in terms of its bottom line. What consideration, if any, has been given to the possibility of using any, or all, of these networks, even for a partial rolling out of broadband?

As I understand it, the ESB domestic fibre-optic network was established at a cost of €59 million. To date, has any discussion taken place between the ESB and the Department about the potential use of those networks?

The MANs, despite being operated by Enet, comprise a State-owned asset. Surely we must ensure that any current or future use of the infrastructure must oblige the user benefiting from the public finances to provide the service to all, regardless of the cost to the provider.

Having said that, I am acutely aware of the warning given at a conference by one of the consortia. It said a genuine discussion needed to take place on rolling out broadband to the last 15% of the country in terms of economic viability.

It said we needed to have an honest discussion about that. I would like to hear the possible impediments in this regard. I am sure they would have been articulated in outlining the problems with the roll-out.

Rural areas are affected but not-so-rural areas are also affected. Pockets of my constituency, which is really seen as the commuter belt area, are affected. The constituency is not exactly the most rural part of the country but it has pockets with very unreliable broadband.

Therefore, it is not an exclusively rural issue. Even in this city, there are spots where broadband is not particularly good. The required service can be guaranteed only if we get this process right while we have a chance.

Otherwise, we might find that a consortium of self-interested businesspeople will be given free reign to choose when and where it suits it to prioritise and how affordable it decides to make the end product.

There are those who are not taking up the MANs because of affordability. I cannot emphasise this enough.

It is very obvious that there is a really serious problem of institutional deficiency in the oversight of capital projects. There are some areas in which we do reasonably well because there is much expertise, such as roads, but with regard to some of the other projects it is as if we are spending Monopoly money, not the people’s real money.

We have got to be prudent about the process; otherwise it is going to be costly and will potentially not deliver on what has been promised.”

Minister Bruton’s response here

Last night: Broadband On The Run