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Did Dublin take its eye off the ball on ‘Project Kelvin?’

12 February, 2009

Sinn Fein Economy Spokesperson, Mitchel McLaughlin writing in this week's An Phoblacht has questioned whether the Irish Government took its eye off the ball in relation to the international telecommunications venture, Project Kelvin.

The Chairperson of the Assembly Finance Committee wrote:

'Project Kelvin' is intended to procure direct international telecommunications connectivity to the North West of Ireland. With an estimated cost of €30 million Interreg Cross Border funding, it will provide international connectivity from the North West to North America and mainland Europe. The 22 miles of fibre optic cable connecting to the transatlantic cable will come ashore at Portrush.

In July 2008 when announcing that in collaboration with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI), in the North, the tender for 'Project Kelvin' had been finalized, Minister Eamon Ryan stated "As part of the project, it is proposed that a telehouse facility will be constructed in Derry, directly linking to the areas of Letterkenny and Monaghan, which will in turn provide overall national connectivity to the facility.

€30 million in Interreg Cross Border funding, was secured on the basis that the project would provide international connectivity between the island of Ireland, North America and mainland Europe via the North West. This is a cross border project receiving Interreg funding as a result of a referral by the Irish and British governments called "Direct International Communications into the NW of Ireland" (Project Kelvin).

The North West of Ireland was clearly identified in the report as comprising parts of the North and South, i.e. the North West Gateway region which consists of the Council districts of Derry City, Donegal, Limavady and Strabane. No mention of Coleraine!

Since Minister Ryan's announcement last July clearly identifying Derry as the location for the 'Telehouse' DETI in the North has announced that rather than as first envisaged the 'Telehouse will now be built in Coleraine. While, Coleraine can claim to be part of 'County Derry' it is not part of the North West Gateway region.

DETI's contention that location of the 'Telehouse' gives no commercial development advantage to an area does not stand up to independent scrutiny. For instance, if location makes no difference - why so much effort to change the original location to Coleraine? Or if location makes no difference why did the Irish government go to substantial extra expense after bringing a cable ashore in Wexford to take the project overland to a 'Telehouse' located at CityWest Digital Park, Dublin? Would it not have served the same purpose if it had been located in Wexford?

It is generally accepted in telecommunications circles that the immediate location of the 'Telehouse' acts as a magnet to Insurance companies, financial institutions, Internet Service Providers and other industry requiring instant access to an international high-speed bandwidth exchange (Telehouse).

Ministers Ryan, and Coughlan need to clarify their position as the decision to locate the facility in Coleraine instead of Derry will have serious implications for job creation projects that would benefit the travel to work area of Derry, Donegal and West Tyrone. Did they take their eye off the ball? What are they going to do to ensure this project delivers the results originally intended?

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