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Taoiseach defends ‘agonising’ decision on rural broadband

13 May 2019 / home affairs Print

Varadkar backs 'agonising' decision on rural broadband

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar defended expenditure on rural broadband as something he “really believes in” despite “agonising” over the decision to go ahead with the €25 billion plan.

Speaking at the Law Society annual dinner on Friday night he said “this may well be expensive but it is absolutely worth doing,” he said.

“Digital technologies offer new opportunities to all of us,” he said, “ and that is why this Government is determined to unlock this potential for all parts of the country.

Social division

The digital divide between urban and rural Ireland contributes to an economic divide which gives rise to social division, he said.

“If we don’t close it now, we never will,” he said. “If we don’t move forwards as a country, we can fall backwards.”

“Bringing high-speed broadband to every home, every school, every farm, every business, every legal practice in the country, the vast majority through fibre, may well be expensive but it is worth doing.

First country in world

“We may well be the first country in the world to do it but that’s not something to be afraid of. It should be considered a good thing,” he said.

“This is a decision we agonised on – Paschal, me and many others,” he continued, but said that listening to recent debate, he is more convinced than ever that it is the right decision.

He said within one year of the contract being signed in September, there will be 300 hot spots around the country, and 170,000 premises connected by year two.

Maximum exposure

“We know what the maximum exposure to the state will be, with all additional risks taken on by the private sector,” he said.

“As I know from bitter experience of being in Government, you don’t get to choose between the perfect option and the option in front of us,” he said.

“You get to choose between the options that are viable and on the table.

“This is very much the best option in my view. It’s a real plan as opposed to an alternative that doesn’t actually exist,” he said.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that he felt a close attachment to Blackhall Place, as a past pupil of Kings’ Hospital school which was located in the building up until the late 1960s.

Society

He said that one can tell a lot about society by looking at its professionals – lawyers, accountants, doctors and judges.

“One of the strengths of the legal profession here in Ireland is its diversity. People from all backgrounds, from all parts of the country, become members of this profession,” he said.

Ireland has achieved gender parity in the legal profession since 2015, he said and its solicitors are modern and embrace change and new technology and reflect Ireland as it should be.

“We need to make absolute change immediately and provide a much more appropriate and better family court with better buildings,” he said.

Case management

Upgraded IT and better case management must also be embraced, An Taoiseach said.

He congratulated the Law Society on its Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on the arts, entertainment and media law which is currently running.

He said the Law Society and the wider legal community had played their part in a period of transition and reform.

Transparency

He praised the Law Society for championing the introduction of a new legal costs transparency regime and a legal practitioners’ disciplinary tribunal.

He said that continuing support of the Law Society for personal injury and insurance reform sends a very important signal that change is possible in this area.

Values work

“The Government values and recognises the work that the Law Society is doing,” he said.

Law Society President Patrick Dorgan said the solicitor profession is fully signed up to the recommendations of the Personal Injury Commission report published in November 2018, including the review of awards for whiplash-type injuries in particular, ultimately leading to judicial guidelines on quantum for such injuries.

Care

“Care should be taken by Government in such a process however, that there should be no undermining of the separation of powers provided for in the Constitution,” he said, “bearing in mind that the State is very frequently a defendant in personal injury cases.”

Finally, he said that if there is to be a reduction in awards to personal accident victims, it is vitally important that the Government insists on a cast-iron and necessary statutory guarantee that insurance premiums will reduce.

Excessive profits

Otherwise, excessive insurance profits will increase with no benefit to insurance-payers, he said.

He said that regulations enabling legal partnerships to practise with limited liability have been adopted by the Legal Service Regulatory Authority (LSRA) and are now with the minister for signing.

“There is no reason why legal firms, almost uniquely among other businesses and professions, should have their homes and private assets exposed to the vagaries of business,” he said.

“We are very glad to hear that the regulations are now awaiting the ministerial pen,” he said.

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