ON Tuesday evening, hours after he signed off on a deal worth billions and as news bulletins showed him with the Taoiseach, David McCourt was shovelling coal onto the fire in O’Neill’s bar in Newmarket-on-Fergus and drinking tea.
He was enjoying some respite after a marathon couple of days concluding a saga that began in July 2015.
It was a bruising process, which saw the resignation of Minister Denis Naughten following news that he had met with Mr McCourt as he pursued the contract.
Getting to Tuesday was not easy and McCourt explained he was not happy with some of the things said about him throughout it. “Everyone called us the last man standing, we were the last man willing to stand, we’re the last one capable of standing.”
Some of the reportage left a lot to be desired, he felt. “They have their job to do, they have to sell newspapers. I can’t fault them for doing their job. There was a lot of reporting that wasn’t thorough. To refer to me and my company as not having the experience is laughable; we have more experience than anyone. I built the first competitive phone company in America, I built a competitive phone company in Mexico and Colombia and all over Europe. So I’ve been doing this for 30 years in much harsher environments than this, so I think that’s a little unfair.”
He also insists there is far more experience in his company than people wanted to give credit for. “They kept saying we had no experience, we have more experience than anybody in telecom in Ireland, I’ve been in telecom my entire life. I’m someone who wants to create value, not someone who wants to extract value. We want to be proud of what we do and we’re proud of what we do.”
The civil servants working on the project were also treated poorly, he said. “All I know is everyone I dealt with in the Department of Communications worked unbelievably hard to make this a reality. Those civil servants were in there nights and weekends. Repeatedly I would find them in the office at 9pm, on the phone and email at midnight. They worked very, very hard and I think they were treated a little unfairly. I think most of that was for political gain.”
He said that doing business in Mexico and Colombia wasn’t for the faint-hearted and when it was put to him that Ireland must be much more straightforward, he quipped, “I thought that until last year”.
Now that the deal is over the line, he said things can start to move fairly quickly. “We have areas in Cork, areas in Galway, other areas I can’t remember off the top of my head that we’re getting to right away to start building. Our design contract is done. We have 60 employees already, our civil contractors are already lined up, our supply chain is already lined up, so we can start design right away. You’ll see people in high-vis vests out checking the poles and doing detailed design right away.”
The importance of providing rural broadband cannot really be overstated, he feels. “Rural Ireland is not sustainable without broadband. Rural Ireland, rural America, rural UK, rural Poland, they’re not sustainable without high-speed internet.”
He said he is utterly determined that the project will succeed. “If I have to string the cable myself, I will. I will make sure this is a success if I have to do it myself.”