The issue of rural broadband is not just about connectivity to the Internet, but about sustaining and maintaining jobs in rural Ireland. Broadband is to the economy today what canals were to the economy in the 1700s, railways were in the 1900s, rural electrification in the 1930s and 1940s and telephone connections with the wider world in the 1970s and 1980s. Now there is another delay in broadband provision. We are aware that this is somehow being spun as a victory for the Government, which is quite an amazing achievement. We hear that it is going to be cheaper, or it is going to be the same cost or it is going to be faster, but we all know these are not the facts. Statistics are pliable but the facts are very stubborn. The facts do not lie.
Ireland is ranked at No. 42 in the global index on broadband availability. High-speed broadband is only available to some 40% of the population. Why are we delaying so much and so badly? In fairness to the Government, one thing it has not been short on when it comes to this matter is announcements, targets and deadlines, all of which the Government has not met. The Minister looked very sheepish yesterday as he announced this, somehow or other, victory. He said that they were now going to be able to roll it out on time. As they have not met any other targets so far, for the Minister to spin this as a victory is quite unbelievable and audacious. The spin unit must be working overtime all the time to pretend.
It is a fact, and we all heard this on morning radio today, that people and business communities in rural Ireland are being affected by their inability to work due to the lack of broadband. There is no shortage of plans or announcements but there is no believable plan. The credibility of the Minister of the Department is an issue when one sees very credible companies withdrawing from the process. Most of this is to do with the process that was put in place by the Minister and the Department. The Minister has to take responsibility. I believe that he needs to give an explanation to the people. Coming into this House from across the way and telling us that he has a new deadline, on top of the other deadlines, is simply not good enough. How are the people in Roscommon, Kerry and Mayo supposed to maintain and sustain jobs when the Government’s plans and targets, upon which people are relying to deliver connectivity, are simply not being met?