IrelandOffline received yesterday’s news with some dismay
Eamonn Wallace, chair of IrelandOffline noted: “It seems Minister Naughten, having talked the talk of machismo, has now capitulated to legal threats from Eircom. There maybe a different spin on it of course, but a plan that was put together by better minds than his has now been seriously compromised.
The short of it is that Eircom has laid claim to the most lucrative parts of the NBP intervention area, leaving behind a thinly scattered mess of one-off houses. It is doubtful if what remains is viable even at an operating level; meaning that in order to complete the plan an operating subsidy might have to be paid to the winning bidders in perpetuity, assuming they’re still interested. The Department was warned early and often to guard against ‘strategic announcements’ like Eircom’s, but repeatedly told us that the project was being ‘intensely managed’. The Minister bragged about his indifference to Eircom’s sabre rattling.”
Wallace continued : “The spin and excuses will follow, but Minister Naughten has form. He has already sold out on the question of ownership. A chance to regain control over this key national utility was passed up because he could not, or would not, make the case for it in cabinet last year. As a result the clock is now running down to when the new network, paid for with public money, will be released back to the depredations of the private-equity wideboys; in effect a repeat of the original 1999 blunder.
There was ample ammunition to decline Eircom’s “offer”; the flagrant cherry-picking of their plan, the lack of commitment to complete any definable “area” and Eircom’s deplorable record on both previous and current rollout commitments should have been sufficient.
On this Department’s form it is also doubtful we will see any actual reasoning behind the Minister’s decision. Don’t expect ever to see the penalty clauses in Eircom’s written commitment, or the legal advice from Mason Hayes & Curran, or the financial analysis from KPMG. Just as with the ownership decision the rationale will be vague, political, short-term and hidden behind claims of commercial sensitivity or legal privilege. All the relevant details should be put into the public domain so that everyone can understand what has happened.”
It is unlikely that Mr Naughten will be around, several years from now, to take responsibility when the effects of his climbdown become evident. Even so, it would be better that he should consider his position now before he can do any more damage.
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