Kevin Doyle: ‘Voters must pick who to believe as all parties ratchet up the rollout spin’
Never has there been such unity in Leinster House on a topic. Everybody is on board. Left-wing. Right-wing. Even the flip-flop wing. They all agree that rural Ireland needs, nay deserves, high-speed broadband.
It’s actually fascinating to watch statement after statement from TDs who insist broadband must be brought to every boreen.
All sides say it’s coming up on the doorsteps ahead of the local elections on May 24 – but as is often the case they are hearing very different things.
For example, Fine Gaelers are hearing that people just want them to ‘get on with it’.
After years of lowering their heads in shame over the closures of post offices and Garda stations, Leo Varadkar’s troops have found a one-size-fits-all defibrillator for rural Ireland.
Over in Fianna Fáil, it’s the exact opposite. The cynical voters on the doorstep are telling it that they see through “Leo’s spin machine”.
Sinn Féin, Labour and the rest are getting a similar message – but people tell them it’s all Fianna Fáil’s fault for propping up Fine Gael.
Either we’re a nation of liars or the politicians are all desperately fighting to write their own narrative. They are all spinning.
The Government faces the charge of making its long-awaited move on this issue for election purposes.
“It’s dressed up as a good news story to assist your candidates as they go for election,” Fianna Fáil’s Timmy Dooley said yesterday.
But if the Department of Public Expenditure felt there is an “unprecedented risk” to the Exchequer here, there’s a similarly big political risk.
In the era of fast-moving news, voters are not as susceptible to big election promises as they might have been in the past.
Any party that claims to have a silver bullet for the trolley crisis or housing shortage at the next general election will be met with a closed door.
So the challenge for Fine Gael now is to try to take the broadband story beyond the ‘controversy’ phase.
“I believe people will find this to be the correct decision,” said Communications Minister Richard Bruton, adding in a most friendly tone that he would continue “to try and win this argument among my peers”.
Fianna Fáil will desperately try to keep finding holes in the project while refusing to pull the plug on it, as it could under the confidence and supply arrangement.
Party leader Micheál Martin will continue to argue that the Government has a track record on missing “every target” on broadband and “every promise has been broken”.
At the same time, the number one promise in his own local election manifesto under ‘Balanced Growth’ is to ensure “universal fibre optic to the home is rolled out”.
Voters will have to decide who to believe in two weeks’ time.