Opening Bell: Cameron's EU mission, KBC's faith in Ireland, bidders line up for rural broadband project

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David Cameron faces a race against time today to get a deal on EU reform in time to call a referendum on Britain's EU membership for June.

The UK Prime Minister spent the early hours of Friday morning in a series of bilateral meetings trying to bridge divides before the end of today.

The president of the European Council says talks on Britain's future in Europe have made some progress - but a lot remains to be done.

Donald Tusk gave an update after hours of discussions in Brussels - between European leaders - which finished at around 3 o'clock this morning.

British officials said last night there was little sign of narrowing differences in key issues.

He surprised some round the negotiating table by asking for an "emergency brake" for benefits restrictions of 13 years, two EU ministers told Sky News.

Allies such as Taoiseach Enda Kenny implored EU leaders to "help David" to get a quick, strong deal to sell to a sceptical party and his Cabinet.

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KBC will decide the faith of its Irish operation during the coming 12 months. Yesterday it reported a profit of €75m for 2015 - this was up from a full year loss of €91m during the previous year.

The KBC Group, which is based in Brussels, has said that it would consider the future of the Irish operation once it returned to profit.

Now that this has been achieved, it will choose between a number of options including keeping a stand-alone Irish bank, selling the Irish business, or entering a new partnership.

Speaking to the Irish Independent, chief executive, Wim Verbraeken said the bank is prepared to invest in its Irish operation: 

"Over the course of 2016 we expect that KBC group will come to its determination, probably to the later end of this year. The primary objective of KBC Group is to build out a profitable bank in Ireland, and it is only if that should fail, that they will consider other options.

"KBC is very committed to building a profitable retail bank in Ireland and they have given us a very, very significant budget to invest in IT infrastructure and the [retail] hubs."

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More than 10 bidders have registered their interest in the Government’s rural broadband project.

The State intends to award two subsidised contracts for the rollout of high-speed broadband to 757,000 homes in rural Ireland.

The project will cost some €1.5bn over 10 years - with half of the funding coming from the State.

Ireland's largest broadband provider Eir, Siro, and a joint venture from ESB and Vodafone have all registered their interest, as have Enet, Gigabit Fibre, Imagine and a number of other operators.

The Department of Communications says that a shortlist will be brought to the Government in April.

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A Limerick based software company has announced plans to hire 30 new staff.

Kneat says the positions are being created through a new investment of €5.5m.

The firm has signed a transaction agreement with Canadian company, Fortune Bay Corp.

Kneat provides software solutions for the global life sciences - healthcare and other regulated sectors.