The proposed expenditure of €200m on creating metropolitan area networks (MANs) in 67 towns throughout Ireland looked increasingly uncertain following the news that expenditure allocated to the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources for 2003 is to be cut by approximately €46.2m.
However, a spokesman at the Department said that the initial 19-town rollout will go ahead as the funding is in place for the first phase of the project.
In yesterday’s estimates from Finance Minister, Charlie McCreevy, (pictured) whereby Government spending in 2003 would increase by only 2pc over 2002’s spend, it was clear that various roads, schools and infrastructure projects were likely to be deferred.
According to the figures published by McCreevy, expenditure in the majority of departments were cut across the board, with spending cuts ranging from 1pc to 18pc in various departments. The Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, the department responsible for national telecommunications strategy, saw its estimate cut by 9pc to €484.4m for 2003, some €46.2m less than expected.
McCreevy said that such cutbacks were inevitable if the Government wanted to be able to plough resources into key areas while achieving a sustainable match between revenue and spending. The Tánaiste, Mary Harney TD, was reported to have admitted that cuts in funding for development agencies, such as IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and Shannon Development, will clearly impact on support for new inward investment. She said the challenge for the future was to make sure that Ireland remained an attractive location for investment.
However, in terms of how the 9pc cuts would affect the €200m National Broadband Strategy, a spokesman for the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Richard Moore, said that the cuts would have no impact on the first phase of the project involving 19 principal towns. “We are able to draw down the money required for this phase in the coming year,” he said.
In terms of the remaining 48 towns earmarked for broadband infrastructure in the next three to four years, Moore said: “The overall strategy is still in place. The remaining 48 towns don’t fall into next year’s expenditure, so they are an objective for the following two years and we have no need to draw down funds for them in the coming year.
“There has been a lot of speculation that the National Broadband Plan might be scrapped, but we are still steaming ahead. We are still committed to bringing broadband to the regions,” said Moore.
By John Kennedy