Government must hold “Golden share” of national broadband to block any sell off

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The government must retain a “golden share” of whatever company operates the new national broadband infrastructure to protect the taxpayers’ investment.

Galway TD Michael Fitzmaurice said that it is necessary for the government to hold onto a key share of this crucial broadband infrastructure to prevent any “excessive profiteering or sell-off”.

There has been a lot of anger about the structure of the national broadband plan as more details have emerged about how it will be paid for and owned.

Despite an estimated price tag of €3 billion to rollout broadband to over half a million homes, the  Broadband Ireland consortium led by Granaham McCourt will only contribute €220 million to the upfront cost of the project.

Leo Varadkar has said however that the consortium will be responsible for investing an additional €2.5 billion over the next 25 years.

There has also been alarm around the fact that the infrastructure itself will not be owned by the government, but will be retained by the consortium.

“Broadband, like electricity or water, should be the people’s asset,” Deputy Fitzmaurice said. “This crucial national asset should not be allowed to become the plaything of vulture funds”

“The last thing we need is an Eircom II; instead we need a right of veto on excessive profiteering or any sell-off.”

A ‘Golden Share’ allows a stakeholder in a company to have a veto over changes in the articles of association of a company. This is usually used to block a partial of complete takeover of a company.

Michael Fitzmaurice spoke about the need for this structure while calling for greater scrutiny of the entire deal.

The Independent TD called for the creation of for the creation of a Dáil Committee of Scrutiny to go through “every line of that thousand-page document”.

He warned that “fully resourced, high-powered” committee is needed to scrutinise the deal as negotiated to avoid a repeat of the National Children’s Hospital.

“The minister and the department cannot be allowed disappear into the mist after this deal has been announced.”

“The Dail has committees on everything from petitions to procedures. The National Broadband Plan is the largest infrastructural commitment to rural Ireland since electrification and roads.”

“It requires ongoing scrutiny, of the deal itself and its administration. Therefore, a properly resourced committee is required.”

There is no reason to trust the government to deliver this project in a timely manner, he added, given its past performance.

“Having held the project up for seven years through a combination of temerity and indolence, it is more than capable of holding it up for another seven.”

Deputy Fitzmaurice concluded by saying that such a committee should be brought together now so it can sit through the summer to ensure the deal isn’t “strangled at birth by political cowards and civil service laggards.”