Results of an AIE request
Today IrelandOffline are publishing the results of an AIE request for records associated with the Department’s approval of the Eircom 300K network announced on 7th April 2017.
But first a bit of context.
The so-called 300K network was first proposed by Eircom on June 4th 2015. Subsequently technical and financial criteria were established by which to judge the credibility of ‘planned investments’ such as this one. Minister Alex White dismissed Eircom’s plan in December of that year.
The same 300k premises scheme was reactivated in 2016, it seems that those same narrow tests were reapplied. It could have been expected that Eircom would be able to meet the technical and financial hurdles on the second attempt, and they finally appear to have done so in order to sign a ‘contract’ in respect of these premises in April 2017, although the relevant reports (see below) have been either refused or heavily redacted under articles 8 and 9 of the AIE regulations
Crucially the Department did not set out any wider tests such as the public interest, the damage to the overall NBP plan after the easiest 300k were removed, and the increased cost of the rump NBP, or the incompleted environmental assessments, or the responses to the public consultation on the scheme which were almost unanimously negative.
There were other more technical problems which broke both the spirit and the letter of the State Aid Guidelines of the European Commission. The only hint of any consideration of these issues has been redacted from the PWC State Aid compliance report (see below). The legal advice, on which the Department have relied in public, has been denied to the public.
The importance of the Eircom Agreement cannot be overstated. It has damaged the coherence of the NBP and the bidding process, and will now cost taxpayers in this country several hundred million euro extra if the plan actually succeeds in going ahead. Beyond Ireland the 300k sets a damaging if not lethal precedent for all similar rural broadband plans in all other European member states in future.
In an effort to find out what if any wider objections the Department had either raised with Eircom or the European Commission we sought 11 records under the the FOI Act and the AIE regulations including the legal advice and the correspondence with the European Commission.
The schedule and the partially released records are below.