The rollout of the National Broadband Plan is now eight months behind schedule, the Tánaiste has acknowledged in the Dáil.

Just two weeks ago, Leo Varadkar had said that the rollout was "about six months" behind.

Independent TD Denis Naughten today underlined that the delay is now two months worse than the figure given to the Communications Committee last month.

Deputy Naughten said that 75,000 fewer homes will have access to high-speed broadband at the end of next year than had been planned in 2019, when contracts had been signed by National Broadband Ireland (NBI).

He dismissed Government claims that the delay was due to Covid, as the work was carried out outdoors, and workers were designated as essential.

"What exactly is going on?" he asked Mr Varadkar.

Speaking during Questions on Proposed Legislation, the Tánaiste said that 60,000 homes would be connected this year, and work is being done to try to "regain any lost ground".

Leo Varadkar said there were delays related to Covid, getting permission to erect polls, and difficulties in getting staff, many of whom were being recruited from overseas.

Just two weeks ago, the Tánaiste had told the Dáil that the rollout of rural broadband was "about six months" behind schedule.

Leo Varadkar had said the goal had been to connect 110,000 homes, farms and businesses a year, but this year it would "closer to half that".

He had added that the company does intend to catch up in 2022 and 2023.

Today, Mark Griffin, Secretary General at the Department of Environment, said that so far this year, 27,000 premises have been cleared to connect or to pre-order a connection.

He was appearing before the Public Accounts Committee.

Mr Griffin told Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy that the department makes sure to "scrutinise or contest" any change to targets sought by National Broadband Ireland.

NBI had originally planned to have a total of 200,000 premises connected by the end of next year.

This has now been reduced to a target of 130,000, Fergal Mulligan, the department's Programme Manager for the National Broadband Plan, said.

Committee chair, Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley, suggested that if NBI fails to hit the new targets, they face no financial penalties, other than not being paid.

"There is no financial penalty", Deputy Stanley insisted.

Mr Mulligan insisted that NBI "would be hit very hard financially" if they fail to meet the targets.