A schoolgirl from Co Mayo has challenged the Taoiseach over the Government’s National Broadband Plan.

Aoibheann Mangan, 12, approached Leo Varadkar at an event in Dublin and asked him when high-speed broadband would be rolled out across the country.

The girl, who is from Hollymount near Claremorris, said it was important everyone had access as soon as possible.

“Everyone deserves an equal opportunity,” she said.

“People over here in Dublin, they get a good opportunity – they’ve great internet.

“But back home before I got the internet last week I couldn’t connect or anything.

“I had to sit outside Tesco car park to get the internet, which was unfair because that was ages away from my home.”

She added: “Once we got the fibre broadband I was able to stay at home and I had so many opportunities.

“I could do so much more of what I liked doing so I just want everyone to have that opportunity.”

She said it was a particular issue for schoolchildren who liked coding as she does.

“It is a big problem in my area and the areas of several other children in rural Ireland because they, like me, might like computer coding but they may not be able to do it because they’re not able to download software or recent images for projects,” she said.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Inspirefest
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on his arrival to speak at Inspirefest at the BGE Theatre in Dublin (Brian Lawless/PA)

Mr Varadkar was attending Inspire Fest, a two-day science, technology and creativity event at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre in the Dublin docklands, where he gave a speech.

He told Aoibheann that under the Government’s plan 10,000 homes would be connected in the first year including homes, schools, farms and businesses.

In the second year, he said 100,000 properties would be connected and thereafter about 150,000 would be connected every year.

“It still means it’ll take six, seven years to do it,” he told the schoolgirl.

“I wish we could do it quicker but all the experts and people who work in the business tell us that’s as quickly as it can be done.”

He also told Aoibheann he understood how important high-speed broadband was to people living in rural areas.

“My fear is that the opposition and some other political people would stop the contract being signed,” he added.

“Then it’s back to square one and it may never happen.”

The Government last week approved a consortium, led by Granahan McCourt, as the preferred bidder of the project, which aims to deliver high-speed broadband to more than 540,000 homes and business across the country in the next seven years.

It did so despite warnings from senior civil servants in the Department of Expenditure that the plan posed unprecedented risk to the taxpayer.

Since then the plan has come under sustained criticism from the opposition, with Fianna Fail calling for an Oireachtas committee hearing to be held into the bidding process.