Thursday, 17 May 1945
Dáil Éireann Debate
Mr. Flanagan: I happen to represent a constituency where there was a very tragic railway accident not so long ago, a few miles from Portlaoighise. A few hours after that serious accident, members of the post office staff at Portlaoighise were on the scene, and with the least possible delay established a splendid telephone service between the scene of the accident, the town of Portlaoighise and the City of Dublin. In view of the very special circumstances, and of the great services that the officers concerned rendered on that occasion, I think the Minister would be well advised to have this matter examined for the purpose of giving them some gratuity or remuneration, or having them placed for promotion when a suitable opportunity arises. I am absolutely convinced that had that accident occurred in any other part of Ireland there would not have been available a post office staff as capable or as efficient as the staff that came  out from Portlaoighise to do that very essential work on that occasion.
Mr. Flanagan: Well, I suppose it is no harm to say it anyway. I think the Great Southern Railways Company very much appreciated what was done, and has sent to the Minister a very strong resolution of thanks for the services carried out on that occasion.
Deputy Dillon made a reference here last night to small post offices in country districts which have shops attached. I think it is about time the Minister took some action about those shops. They should be either shops or post offices. The sub-master should be given a sufficient salary to be able to live without having a small shop in the post office as well. I remember passing through Cloneygowan some time ago, and I wanted to make a very urgent telephone call, but when I arrived at 2 o'clock, I was told that the post office was closed for a half day. Who ever heard of a post office with a half day? I thought the post office had to be open for the convenience of the general public until a certain hour at night. Assuming that the owners of those shops have not a sufficient staff to carry on, I think that, with the approval of the Minister, they should employ somebody to carry on at least the post office side for the convenience of the general public. I also have a very great objection to having a telephone kiosk in the centre of a shop. I heard the parish priest making a telephone call some time ago, and it was discussed at the four ends of the parish, because it was made in this post office which has a shop atached. I wrote to the Minister calling attention to those conditions in the Cloneygowan post office, and he said you could hear absolutely nothing out  of the box, but I can assure him that every word can be heard at the corner 150 yards away, and you need not shout.
Mr. Flanagan: It is more of a broadcasting station than a post office. As far as the Department is concerned, I have no axe to grind, but I should be very glad if something could be done about those shops. I would also strongly recommend to the Minister that in cases where men are carrying out temporary duties as postmen they should be given first preference for employment. I know a case in my own town where the postmaster hired a messenger because the Department of Posts and Telegraphs cut off the messenger for that town, the town of Mountmellick. The Department stated that the volume of telegraph traffic was not sufficient to warrant the appointment of a telegraph messenger. There are some crazy notions about saving expenditure. The postmaster hired a local boy to deliver telegrams, and he worked there for many years. When he got too old for that position as telegraph messenger he was always called upon to carry out any relief work during Christmas and Easter or when the ordinary postmen were on holidays. The Minister very carefully examined this particular file, but nothing was done to have that man's case sympathetically considered when a suitable vacancy did arise in the district. I think the Minister should have sympathetically considered his case in view of his years of experience, and in view of the very strong recommendations which the postmaster gave him.
Like other Deputies, I should be glad if something were done by the Department to speed up trunk calls. One day a few weeks ago I received a very important telegram from Kilbeggan, County Westmeath. It was handed in at 2.30. I live about 21 or 22 miles from Kilbeggan, and I received the telegram at 5.25. The telegram asked me to go to pick up a friend in Kilbeggan, but he had left on his bicycle before I got there. There  must have been unnecessary delay in sending that telegram from Kilbeggan Post Office on 3rd April, 1945. On another occasion, I made a telephone call from Moate Post Office. I got Dublin in ten minutes, and it took me an hour and three-quarters to get Mountmellick, which is only a few miles away. It is up to the Minister's Department to have those delays investigated, in order to avoid inconvenience to the general public.
I would again ask the Minister, in regard to those shops attached to post offices, to see that those people get a sufficient salary to enable them to live. They should either have the shop or have the post office. The vast majority of them have to have shops because they are unable to live on what they receive from the post office. The people should get a good service for what they are paying and the Minister ought to consider sympathetically the question of paying these people a decent wage so that they will be able to live up to their duties in the service of the people.
Mr. Byrne: I wish to draw attention to the inadequate pensions paid to officials of the post office who retired in pre-war days and who have now to meet the high cost of living due to the war without any increase in their pensions. They are suffering very grave hardships after their long years of service to the State. This matter was referred to last year when the Estimate was before the House and we thought the Minister would do something for these retired servants of his Department who, as I say, are undergoing very grave hardships. Then there is the position of temporary postmen. The wages paid to them are not a credit to the Government or to the Minister's Department and something ought to be done to increase their pay.
I also notice that the Estimate for the carrying of letters by air is down by £14,000 this year. Some explanation is required for such an enormous reduction in that Estimate, especially at a time when business people are hoping for a revival of trade with foreign countries. Other Deputies have drawn attention to the failure of the  Department to supply business people with telephones in their business premises and also in their homes, so that they can transact some of their business in their homes. I hope the Minister will be able to tell us that the difficulty of getting materials for the installation of telephones has been overcome and that those people who are waiting for telephones will get them at a very early date.
I am not an art critic, but some people have drawn my attention to the fact that the designs of our stamps are not giving satisfaction. It is thought that there should be better designs and a better quality of paper. Now that we are looking forward to a development of our tourist industry we could utilise our stamps for helping in that development if they were better produced. I would also make the suggestion that in the coming years we should pay some tribute to our A.R.P. services by means of our stamps, something that would indicate what these services have done for the past few years. We know what was done by those services in connection with the North Strand bombing and some tribute should be paid to them, apart from the practical tribute that we hope will be paid to them when they are being disbanded. In fact what has been done by all our services, the A.R.P. services, the L.S.F., the L.D.F., the Army and our sailors should be commemorated by an issue of stamps. Do not think for a moment that I would be satisfied that that would be in any way an adequate tribute to these services or that it should be used as an excuse to deprive them of some more practical tribute. One hears that when men are discharged from the Army their overcoats will be taken from them.
Mr. Byrne: I hope the Minister will accept the suggestion I have made about an improvement in our stamps and paying a tribute to the services generally by means of the stamps.  But my principal reason for intervening in this debate was to draw attention to the inadequate pay of temporary postmen and to the hardships which pensioned servants of the Department are suffering.
Mr. Carter: I should like to appeal to the Minister to give consideration to the question of the wages paid to girls who are recruited for sub-post offices in the rural districts. I understand that these girls come in as learners for a period. I find that they work from 8 o'clock in the morning until 6 o'clock in the evening and that they receive the large sum of 10/- per week in wages. I am open to contradiction by the Minister, but that is what I am led to believe. I think that is very wrong. I have no complaint to make so far as the working of the service is concerned. During the emergency we had to tighten up in many ways and I think things worked out very well. I do not agree with Deputy Flanagan that we should prevent people who carry on a sub-post office at country crossroads from having a little shop as well. That has been the practice since sub-post offices were established, and I think it has been working fairly well. I have heard no complaint with regard to it, and I travel round a good deal. I should like to have Deputy Flanagan's opinion privately on the matter. He must have found something wrong or he would not complain in the way he did. I hope the Minister will consider the question of these girls in the sub-post offices to whom I have referred who are recruited from the farming community and the labouring community and are paid only 10/- a week. Probably they are boarded in these places.
Mr. Carter: It is a very poor wage anyhow, and I hope the Minister will give the matter consideration. These girls are very old before they are given a decent wage. It is hardly fair that they should be expected to toil from 8 o'clock in the morning to 6 o'clock in the evening for a paltry sum of 10/- a week. I congratulate the Minister  on the working of his Department. I know that he has been working hard and conscientiously, but I hope he will give consideration to the appeal I have made to him.
Mr. Corish: A good deal has been said in connection with delays in telephone trunk calls, and I want to add my voice to the complaints that were made. Speaking yesterday evening, Deputy Dillon mentioned a call he made from Ballaghaderreen to Dublin City and he said it took 40 minutes before the call came through. I would like to point out to the Minister that in many cases it takes two hours before a trunk call can be made from Wexford to Dublin. I think that is absolutely disgraceful. I have been told there is no direct line between Dublin and Wexford, that the call goes through Kilkenny or Waterford, and that may be responsible for the delay. There are many big businesses in Wexford County; there are many manufacturers there, notably the firm supplying the country with agricultural implements, and I think there should be better telephonic communication between Wexford and Dublin. It is my experience that invariably it takes two hours to get a telephone call through from Wexford to Dublin or from Enniscorthy or New Ross to Dublin. If it is a fact that the line goes through Kilkenny or Waterford, I think the Minister will admit that that is not fair treatment for Wexford. The people there should have a direct line to the city.
Some time ago I drew attention to the fact that Wexford Post Office is understaffed. Immediately after that there was an improvement and an additional person was sent there. But the Wexford Post Office is still understaffed and, coupled with that, the accommodation there is not at all sufficient. The staff in Wexford Post Office are working very hard, but they are unable, on certain days and at certain times in the day, to cope with the amount of business offered. It must be remembered that in recently years the post office deals with certain new social services, such as children's allowances and coupons, and within the last four or five years a good deal of English  money has been passing through the offices. That takes up a good deal of the time of the post office employees. I should like the Minister to examine the situation in Wexford again. The staff there are certainly overworked.
A good deal has been said about the payments given to auxiliary postmen. Here also I want to add my voice to what has been said. Yesterday evening Deputy Dillon stated that, so far as he knew, the reason was that these people were not subject to being transferred from one place to another. I do not know if that is the reason, but admitting it to be the case, I suggest that the difference between a permanent and an auxiliary postman is altogether too great. These men have to work very hard. In most cases, perhaps not in all cases, they have to use bicycles. During the emergency it was extremely difficult to get parts for bicycles. It has been most difficult to get tyres and the probability is that some had to pay more for a tyre than they should have paid—more than the permitted price of the article. Something should be done to relieve the burden on those people.
Deputy Norton dealt with the gratuities paid to auxiliary postmen. I understand the position is that only in certain cases is there a gratuity paid when an auxiliary postman leaves the service. The gratuity or pension is not given unless the Minister is satisfied that there are necessitous circumstances. If there is a certain amount of money going into the house the Minister, in his wisdom or otherwise, decides that the retiring auxiliary postman will not get a gratuity. I do not think that is fair. I think a man who has given service over a long period of years should get sympathetic consideration. All these men should be treated alike. It might be that at the time a man leaves the service the Minister would intervene and prevent that man from getting a gratuity or pension, but three weeks later the man's position might have disimproved considerably. I think that every auxiliary postman who has given definite service should be treated reasonably. I should like to have the Minister's views on that matter. Perhaps he will pay special attention  to the desirability of a direct telephone line from Wexford to Dublin and deal also with the understaffing in Wexford Post Office and the lack of accommodation there.
Mr. Cafferky: I wish to draw the Minister's attention to postal deliveries in Mayo. No doubt he is aware, through the representations that I have made to his secretary, that many areas in North and South Mayo have only three deliveries in the week. From my own experience I can say that there is a delivery on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. There are no deliveries on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Friday being the last delivery day of the week, the people have to go without deliveries on Saturday and Sunday and, if Monday is a bank holiday, there is no delivery that day either. Tuesday is also a nondelivery day and so the people in Mayo have to wait for the delivery of their mail until Wednesday. That means that for four days there are no postal deliveries.
The people who live in the rural areas are just as much entitled to a daily delivery as are the people who live in large town or cities. They are citizens, they are paying rates and taxes, and they are certainly entitled to consideration. Admittedly it will cost more to give them a six-day service, but we must not look at the cost; we must look at the fact that all the people there are ratepayers and taxpayers and they are entitled to an equal service with other sections of the community so far as postal deliveries are concerned.
Another factor in support of this point is that in the Swinford area a large proportion of young and middle-aged men travel to England to work there from May till September, During that period there is a very heavy mail in that area and many telegrams and money orders pass through and the postal services are not sufficient to meet the requirements of the people. Perhaps the Minister will inquire into this matter and see if something can be done. I know there are difficulties in the way and it means increased expenditure, but if there is any possible  way in which to solve the problem it ought to be solved and I ask the Minister seriously to consider the matter.
Deputy Flanagan and Deputy Carter referred to sub-post offices and inefficiency in the postal services. There is a certain amount of inefficiency in some sub-offices in County Mayo. While I do not object to the selling of tea, sugar, tobacco, candles and other articles which may help the owner, I do suggest that, now that many changes are taking place and new hands are taking over the administration of these sub-offices, the Department should be very careful to see that the persons appointed are equipped with a certain amount of knowledge and understand the post office business fully. I know places where there was complete disorganisation, where it was not surprising to see registered letters thrown on the ground, 5/- or 6/- worth of stamps stuck to the bottom of the official's shoes, money orders scattered about and everything completely upset, with the telephone ringing and nobody to answer it or capable of answering it. I do not blame the Minister, as Deputies and other influential people are constantly approached and asked to make representations to the Minister on behalf of certain persons and they, being weaklings, go to the Minister and try to get him to consider certain persons, never taking into account their ability to administer a sub-post office.
When there is a change-over and a new person is appointed, the Minister should send down one of his servants from Dublin who understands the administration of sub-offices, to ensure that the person who takes over is quite capable, so that in a case of emergency, when the girl or boy he or she employs leaves without notice, or with short notice, he will be able to step in and continue the business until someone else is obtained. Through pressure from Deputies and others, the Minister may be tempted not to consider the ability of applicants and it may be pointed out to him that he can get so-and-so to carry out the administration. That may be all very well at first, but the day may  come when that person walks out and the whole post office business is left with no one to look after it, while people are queuing up for pensions and the official is all excited, with the telephone ringing and people in a state of nerves and wondering if the inspector is going to walk in. I am not suggesting that there is political influence, but apart from any political influence in any quarter of this House I ask the Minister to insist on efficiency. I do not expect him to go down himself, but he has a staff that can make careful investigations.
I understand there will be some changes in certain sub-offices in Mayo in the near future, and I know that I and other members from the county I have the honour to represent have made representations by letter. But let that not interfere in any way with the Minister's appointments. Let him take into consideration the efficiency and knowledge of the applicant in the administration of a post office.
Regarding the delivery of telegrams, in the little town close to which I live there is no one to deliver a telegram. There is an old man of between 60 and 70 years of age, who starts out in the morning and who stands for a conversation with everyone he meets on the road. If he is asked in for a cup of tea, he goes, and it may be later in the afternoon or even up to 12 midnight before the telegram is delivered. Be it urgent or otherwise, it makes no difference, as the man does not even know what a telegram means, the importance attached to it, or the difference between it and a letter. That is the type of man employed for the delivery of telegrams.
Regarding the postmen, I understand that certain postmen are not supplied with State bicycles for their work, but use their own ones in the delivery of the post. Sometimes, when a man falls sick, a temporary man is selected in his place for a week or two. That man may have no bicycle or no tyres. I have received information that, in some cases, the auxiliary postman who is sick has been requested to place at the disposal of the temporary man the bicycle which  is his own property. I do not know if there is any regulation providing for that, and I cannot imagine there would be, but I would consider it very unfair if an auxiliary postman who fell sick and who had purchased his own bicycle should be asked to hand it over to some Johnny or Jimmy who was taking his place for a few days or a week or two and who may abuse it, take it to his home, let his son use it to visit dance-halls two or three times in the week and, perhaps, let it be stolen. I do not blame the Minister or his staff. Certain pressure was brought to bear on a postman in my area and it was only when it was threatened that representations would be made to the union that the pressure was relieved and the bicycle, which had been handed over to the temporary man, was taken off him again after a day or two.
In regard to winter clothing for postmen, I know there are difficulties due to the war, but now that hostilities have ceased I hope the Minister will make every effort to fit out the postmen properly for the coming winter with the necessary protection, so that they will not be in danger of losing their health.
I listened to Deputies complaining about the telephone service. There is reason for that complaint. On a few occasions, I have called the City of Dublin and, instead of waiting for the 40 minutes that Deputy Dillon mentioned, I have on occasions to wait for an hour and a half, or even two hours, and on some occasions I have had to cancel the call owing to the long delay. The same applies to short calls. The town of Swinford is only seven miles from where I live, but I have often waited for an hour for a call and sometimes have had to give it up, as I would have cycled there and back in the time. Whether it is the exchange that is at fault or not I do not know, but I would ask that the matter be examined, so that we may get a better service in the post-war period.
In conclusion, I would ask the Minister, in all sincerity, to give careful attention to the postal deliveries and see if it would be possible to have a six-day delivery for our rural areas. I  know it is a point that has been raised before, but it is my duty to keep pressing it and begging for it, in the hope that we may achieve what we believe is our just right.
Mr. Blowick: Now that the emergency is rapidly passing, a lot of us look forward to many improvements. In regard to delays in telephone calls, I can quite understand the difficulty. The use of the telephone is increasing year after year and, naturally, during the emergency there was not sufficient equipment to provide extra lines to meet those growing demands. I would like to see established, as soon as the equipment and material become available, when the emergency has passed, an extension of telephones to rural districts.
I think that I, and others before me, have brought to the attention of the Minister's Department that there should be an extension of the telephone service in connection with areas which are ten or 12 miles away from the nearest telephone office. I hope that that situation will be remedied, because in some of the backward areas in the country—I can certainly speak for my own constituency—people have suffered great loss from the lack of a telephone service. Some of these people have come to realise the great advantage of such a service because, during the emergency period, telephone services were established in the Gárda Síochána barracks to which the people could go, and they have come to realise the necessity for such a service, such as in the case of a call for a doctor where, if they had not been provided with such facilities, it might have resulted in death. Apart from that, however, there are many other uses for a telephone service in the rural areas, and I would press on the Minister that, the moment the emergency has passed, telephone services should be provided in the rural areas and provision made for a linking-up of such services. I would also suggest that where post offices in rural areas are four or five miles apart, a roadside kiosk should be set up midway between these post offices. I do not think that would involve a great deal  of expense, particularly where telephone lines already exist, and I am sure that it would pay for itself in a short space of time.
There is only one other point to which I wish to draw attention, and that is that rural or auxiliary postmen do not receive any kind of gratuity or pension when they retire. These people endure a very rough kind of life. They have to walk or cycle many miles a day, and spend many years in the service, and the only gratuity or pension they receive when they retire is the old age pension. It may be said, of course, that many of these people have some other means of livelihood, but I think it will be admitted that in the case of most of these people they cannot pay very much attention to their other business, whether it may be a little shop or a small farm, so long as they are attending to the business of the post office. Such a man can pay very little attention to his business while he is attending to his duties as a postman, and I think it is unfair that, after he has rendered a lifetime of service to the community, he should not get some form of pension or gratuity when he reaches the age of retirement.
The same applies to sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses all over the country. They have a pretty exacting and even a nerve-racking life, if you like. I know that they finish up at a certain hour of the day, but very often they have to work far into the night making up their accounts, and, for that reason, I think that such people should be more fairly dealt with than they have been up to this.
Mr. M. O'Sullivan: I think it is a matter of common knowledge that the salaries of Post Office officials, which were scandalously low, have been improved as a result of the activities of the trade unions and, I admit, of the Minister, and that there has been some improvement in that regard. As a result of such activities, I think that part-time employment amongst Post Office officials has been abolished in the City of Dublin and in other parts of the country as well. I presume that  the Minister, in speaking of this, is addressing himself to other parts of the country, but there is one aspect of this question in which I am particularly interested, and that is the scandalously low rate of pay so far as certain grades and categories are concerned in the matter of incremental increases. I think the Minister will agree that, in the case of some of the officials, the increments are at the rate of 1/- or 2/- a week, and that it would take them more than ten years before they reached their maximum, and I am sure he will also realise that an increase of 1/- or 2/- a week bears no relation to the present cost or conditions of living. The amount which the official concerned receives each year, by way of an increase, is infinitesimal, and it certainly is no inducement to that officer to give the best service that he can. I would urge the Minister to remove this disability, since it is a cause of disaffection and, obviously, is no incentive to the individual concerned to do his work in a proper way.
In that connection, I might mention what has been done by another body of which I am a member and which might be regarded as a commercial concern. I am referring to the Port and Docks Board. They have taken certain action in the case of young men who have reached the age of 26 and who might be presumed to be contemplating marriage. I am glad to say that the Port and Docks Board, a few years ago, to deal with this matter of the scales of salary and increments in a different way from what had operated in previous years, from the point of view of marriage. The yearly scale of increments had been £10 a year, but they considered that a young man, bringing upon himself the responsibilities of marriage, should be in a position, because of his employment, to undertake these responsibilities, and they actually stepped-up the increments so far as that individual was concerned from £10 to £25 for five years. That meant that these men got £140 where, previously, they only got £40. I am just putting this forward as a headline in this respect. That is the only point I want to make so far as wages and salaries are concerned,  because it is important so far as the lower-paid people are concerned.
With regard to telephones, I am glad to see that the telephone is expanding in the way it is, because I think it is one of the most important of the functions of the post office, but I should like to draw attention to the inadequacy of that service in the country and particularly in the Dublin area. In this respect I want to plead with him for an extension of the kiosk system. Up to now the Minister has explained that it was not possible because of lack of certain materials. I do not know whether that material is cable or coin boxes.
Mr. M. O'Sullivan: I understand that these coin boxes are manufactured outside this country, and I wonder if he has explored the possibility of having them produced in this country, but in any case he and his officers, I am sure, are aware that to get into any of these kiosks in the central city area at almost any hour up to midnight, it is necessary to get into a queue. It even extends to the suburban areas. The extension of the kiosk system in Dublin is urgent, and while the full complement of apparatus may not be available, in view of the fact that the kiosk is a simple construction, he should at least give an indication of his post-emergency plans by setting up these kiosks. They are, as I say, simple constructions and the materials for building them are available here. Advance planning in that respect would give a considerable amount of employment which would greatly be appreciated in the city.
Mr. Brennan: The points I intended to raise have been more or less dealt with by other Deputies. One is the position in outlying mountainous districts such as those in my constituency. There are certain areas which are anything from five to seven miles distant from a post office with telephone facilities, and the Minister can visualise cases arising from time to time in which the services of the local clergy, priest or minister, and the local medical officer are urgently required. If  people are lucky enough to have bicycles with tyres, they can cycle— they surely have no cars—but generally they have to drive in a horse and car to the point at which they can contact a clergyman or a medical officer. I have in mind two or three districts in my constituency where such a position obtains at the moment. I have been in correspondence with the Minister in regard to them, and I take this opportunity of thanking him for his promise that, when materials become available, he will look into the matter.
The second matter is the time involved in getting calls through to Dublin from certain rural areas. In the small village in which I reside, not occasionally but generally, I have to wait and hour and a half to an hour and threequarters to get a call through to Dublin, and on a few occasions it has happened that, having waited so long, having waited until two or three minutes to 1 o'clock in the hope of getting the call through before the lunch hour, I have had to cancel the call and lose an hour and a half of my time. In addition, it is not pleasant to have to stand around waiting in this fashion during the winter. I made inquiries as to the reason and have been informed that it is due to the fact that there is only a single line available.
When telephonic communication was established in the first instance in that village, that single line was probably able to carry all the traffic, but since the emergency arose it has certainly not been able to carry the traffic. A number of people in the area have had telephones installed and, in addition, the L.D.F. headquarters are in the village, and the Minister has evidence in his finances of the number of calls put through by the L.D.F. Further, there is a particular business concern —I hope I am right in saying this— which, I understand, has a monopoly of the 'phone calls from that village, due to the fact that they put through a number of calls early in the morning. I am delighted to see such a business concern in the village, but I think the public should be considered and that we should all get a fair deal.
I appeal to the Minister to take  steps, immediately, supplies become available, to have the necessary changes made in that telephone line —presumably two lines would be required—and thereby relieve the public of the necessity of standing for an hour or an hour and a half in a small post office waiting to get a call through and perhaps, after waiting, having to cancel the call. Deputy M. O'Sullivan drew the Minister's attention to the inadequacy of telephone facilities in the city and made a special appeal to the Minister to provide better facilities when supplies become available. I do not know whether he used the word “priority”, but I suggest to the Minister that he should give the citizens of Dublin the go-by for the time being and provide the necessary facilities for the people in rural districts.
Mr. Allen: The Minister, in his opening statement, referred to the fact that on the telegraph service there had been a deficit. I want to refer now to what has become a hardy annual on this Estimate, and that is the cost of the delivery of telegrams in rural areas. In this modern age the people who, as Deputy Brennan said, live in out of the way rural districts are certainly entitled to the same consideration as those who live in the big centres of population. In many rural districts there is a postal delivery only two or three days a week, so that it frequently happens, when their business or other friends are obliged to send them telegrams, a porterage fee has to be paid by people in rural areas on the delivery of the telegrams at their houses. My point is that, if there is a credit balance on the telephone and postal services, there should be a pooling of the income and all citizens should be treated alike.
It is, surely, unfair that people living in remote rural districts who are helping to maintain the State by the payment of rates and taxes just in the same way as the people in the cities, should be denied the privileges which those who live in cities enjoy. The same services should be provided for all the citizens. It is an obsolete arrangement to make a porterage charge on a person in a rural area who  happens to live a mile outside the post office limit when a telegram is delivered to him. The charge, I admit, is only 3d. a mile for every mile outside the limit, but still it can be a fairly substantial amount when the receiver of the telegram resides seven, eight or ten miles from the nearest post office. This porterage charge, so far as it applies in the rural districts, should be wiped out, and whatever deficit arises on that end of the service should be met out of the excess of income on other branches of the service. It is time that something was done to remedy that situation.
Many Deputies have referred to the delays that take place in the case of trunk calls in the country. I hope that the Minister and his Department are planning for the future on the basis that, so far as the country is concerned, the trunk telephone services are not only obsolete but incapable of carrying the amount of business that is there at the moment, not to speak of the added business that will be offered when the emergency is over and supplies become available. Judging by present trends, there is not a house in the rural areas that will not have the telephone installed within the next 12 years. That, in my opinion, is the tendency, and the post office should plan to meet that situation. In every small and large town in the County Wexford complaints are continually being made about the delays that take place in connection with telephone calls, due to crowding in the amount of business to be done, and the inadequacy of the service. So far as the post office officials are concerned, I want to pay a tribute to them for their courtesy to the public. I know, of course, that irate callers are abusing them day in and day out. They do that when they have to wait an hour or an hour and a half before they can put calls through. But, so far as the officials are concerned, they show great patience and it is my desire to pay a tribute to them for their courtesy. They have got a good training and they belong to a good service. I hope that, when the emergency is over and supplies of materials become available, the Minister and his Department will take steps to provide  an adequate telephone service, and thereby obviate the making of complaints.
With regard to the position of sub-postmistresses in small offices through the country, I suggest to the Minister that he should change his policy. I understand the position to be somewhat like this. There is a certain salary or income allowed to a sub-postmistress. If she happens to die, a reduced income is paid by the Department to her successor. Why that is done I do not know. It seems both unfair and unreasonable because, as we all know, the business in these sub-post offices has increased in late years and is increasing. The number of letters to be dealt with is increasing and the same applies to telephone calls and the amount of money order business to be done. Therefore, I submit to the Minister that the incomes of sub-postmistresses should be increased and not reduced.
The Minister, in his opening statement, indicated that it is proposed to extend the telephone service everywhere there is a post office. I hope, so far as the rural areas are concerned, that will be one of the first works undertaken by the Department when supplies of material become available. We all know that the telephone service in the City of Dublin is perfect. There is never a delay of more than two or three minutes, but the telephone service in the country is at least 100 years behind when compared with Dublin. The policy of the Department, so far as the future is concerned, should be to cater for the rural areas, so that every house in the country can be linked up with the telephone service. Unless the Department does that it will not be giving to the rural community the services that the people are entitled to.
Mr. McMenamin: Is the Minister able to tell the House what are the prospects during the next 12 months with regard to supplies becoming available? His Estimate does not give any hope of substantial supplies being forthcoming within the next 12 months. We all know that there are many people waiting to install the telephone. It would save Deputies a lot of trouble  if the Minister were able to tell the House now what the position is likely to be, and whether there is any hope of people being able to get the telephone installed, except in very particular cases. The complaints made about long delays in getting telephone calls through in the rural areas are, to my knowledge, well founded. It seems to me that the explanation for that is that during the emergency period the services—the Army, coast-watching stations, etc.—had a priority claim with regard to the use of the telephone lines. Now that the emergency has disappeared, I suggest to the Minister that the appropriate authority should at once issue an instruction to the effect that these priority rights should also disappear. My reason for saying that is that when I go to the country I find that great delays occur, for example, in getting an ambulance to take an urgent case to a district hospital. Take, for example, a county where you have two or three district hospitals. The ambulance is at one of them. It may happen that it is required at one of the other district hospitals, which may be 20 or 30 miles distant, to take an urgent case to hospital. It often happens that a delay of from one to three hours may occur before the call for the ambulance can be put through. I think it is shocking, especially when there was no immediate danger to the country, when there was no invasion and no attempt at invasion, and when calls were being made for an ambulance to take people to hospital, that the services I have referred to should have priority rights over the telephone lines. It is bad enough for the layman to have to wait an hour or an hour and a half before he can get a call through, but that delays should occur in getting an ambulance is, as I have said, shocking.
A good deal of wire and instruments were laid on to huts for the coast-watching services. I think there is a huge lot of that material around. I suggest that the Minister should dismantle these huts immediately, and utilise the wire and instruments to meet some of the many applications  lodged for the installation of the telephone service to private houses. I take it that the wire and instruments are modern enough to be used for such a purpose. I do not want to be complaining. There is no use in decrying what has happened. There should be exceptions in certain cases in respect of these priority calls. We should not have this stone-wall obstruction on the ground of priority when there was really no necessity for priority. However, that is past now.
For reasons of which I am not aware, a very early dispatch of mails was introduced, so far as the rural areas were concerned, during last winter. Apparently, the instructions were that, as soon as the mails arrived at a village or town, the Post Office officials and postmen were to have them delivered throughout the country districts. Postmen were going to out-of-the-way places at 7 o'clock in the morning when there was not a Christian about, while, here in Dublin, our letters were not delivered until 9 o'clock. I wrote the Minister about the matter some time during the winter and got an acknowledgment, stating that the matter would be inquired into, but I heard no more about it since. If, for transport reasons, letters have to be sent out early, it should be easy to adjust matters to meet the convenience of the public. When the letters are delivered at the post office, they should be allowed to lie until 9 o'clock or such time as the small shop which serves as the post office opens. They could then be sorted and delivered.
I have frequently referred to the payment of sub-postmasters and I do not believe in flogging a dead horse. Apparently, it is utterly impossible to imbue the Minister with any sympathy in respect of these officials. In every walk of life and in every kind of employment, when people render good service, they should get reasonable remuneration. That is sound policy and policy which pays. I leave the matter there for the time being.
Complaints were made here as to the character of the buildings and the equipment of the post offices. Perhaps  some of those complaints were overstated but there was a good deal of substance in others. A great campaign against tuberculosis is being waged at present and it is hoped, by the means adopted, to mitigate the disease. But, when you enter a post office to buy a few stamps, they are thrown down on the counter where goods have been resting, where baskets have been placed, perhaps having previously been left on the ground on the way into the post office, and the customer has got to lick those stamps and attach them to the letters. That is an abominable practice. It is a mere detail but it is very important. When we are endeavouring to deal with an evil, we should regard it as a whole and not have one portion of our effort destroying another. The Minister should, as soon as possible, procure a supply of sponges in containers, send them to each post office and insist that they be available to customers and not hidden away in some corner. There is nothing more repellent than the present practice of throwing stamps on a counter on which eggs, butter, scraps of paper and other things have been previously placed.
A very important duty devolves on the Minister with regard to the extension of the telephone. That is a matter on which a broad view should be taken when material becomes available. The material may be dear for the first year or two and thousands of people may be waiting for telephone installations. I suggest to the Minister that, instead of charging the increased cost of the materials to the early applicants, he should work out the probable cost during about five years after the war and charge the applicants during the first year only the average amount. It would be rather unjust to people whose names have been in for a couple of years if they were to be charged the full cost of materials during the first year when that cost may be very high. As regards the complaints that have been made about telephone delay, the Minister would be well advised to put his ear to the ground and see if he can tighten up things. He should see that priority calls now disappear and that other delays be avoided. If these  delays become chronic, it will operate against the popularity of the telephone service. People will not go to the post office to make a call if they know that there will be a long delay. That is bound to react on the development of the service. As the telephone is now being universally used elsewhere, it would be a bad thing if our people were to be discouraged by these long delays. There is nothing more irritating than to have to stand in a small shop for an hour or an hour-and-a-half waiting for a call while everybody who comes in gapes at you and wonders what you are doing there. A delay of one-and-a-half hours is not unusual, and the Minister should look into the matter and see if things could not be improved.
Minister for Posts and Telegraphs (Mr. Little): Several speeches which have been made would not, perhaps, have been made if Deputies had either heard or read the statement with which I introduced the Vote. I am wondering whether it would not be better to make my statement at the end of the debate and let Deputies say what they want to say. It does not seem to be of much use to give Deputies information at the opening of the debate. As to the remuneration of sub-postmasters and the small amount of increments and pensions, all these matters involve heavy expenditure. It is a mistake to think that there is a big surplus in the Post Office. For the year 1943-44 there was a net surplus of £288,639. It is estimated that for the financial year 1944-45—of course our commercial accounts are not completed yet—that the surplus will be only £89,000. It should be remembered that the Government services provide about one-fifth of the postal revenue, one-eight of the telegraph revenue and one-seventh of the telephone revenue. That roughly would take away the surplus. Any one of the increases which were asked for would have then made a deficit.
In considering what policy we should adopt with reference to the whole postal service, we shall have to decide whether we are going to impose taxation to give a better service because that is really the issue. I  have an open mind on the subject but at least the public should face the realities of the situation and realise that any reduction in the surplus will have to be paid out of taxation of some form or another. I have a great deal of sympathy with the demands made. I have received a deputation of sub-postmasters which was introduced by Deputy O'Reilly. I went into the question very carefully and I have it still under examination. There are these other questions which have been raised as well but we must have regard to the fact that there is a standstill Order which makes it very difficult to lift the lid on any of these demands because if we do, it will lead to a spate of demands and create a condition of economic disorder which will leave us the victims of a vicious circle.
Mr. Little: We are paying fairly good wages. The Deputy knows as well as I do that there is a standstill Order in existence. If he wants to get rid of that he had better deal with the Department of Finance which represents Government policy.
Mr. Little: How can I do anything? There is joint responsibility for the whole policy. If I had to consider only my own Department I might adopt a certain attitude but I am also a member of the Government and I have to look at the difficulties which the Government are up against. I am in great hopes that with a decrease in expenditure in other Departments we may be able to deal with the three questions which have been raised—sub-postmasters, the question of increments raised by Deputy Martin O'Sullivan and the question of the possibility of paying pensions. That is a matter which I shall take up.
Mr. Little: Yes. It is going to be a  very difficult matter because it involves, as the Deputy knows, all the classes of unestablished officers. It will be a colossal problem to solve but, at least, we shall examine it and see if anything can be done, but I make no promise as to whether it will be done. Deputy Allen, and Deputy Dockrell also, paid a tribute to the courtesy of the postal staff who are acting under very great difficulties at present. As I pointed out in my opening statement, the position with regard to telephones is that there is a real glut. We increased the services and made them much more efficient than they had been. With our new exchange at Exchequer Street, the installation of our automatic exchanges at Crown Alley, Ship Street, Merrion Street, Rathmines, Dun Laoghaire and the experimental rural automatic telephones in Malahide, Rush and one or two other places, we seem to have increased the popularity of the telephone to such an extent that the number of calls has gone up by 2,600,000. Of course that has created a glut over again. We have plans made to increase enormously all our telephone services after the war and we hope to double or treble the number of telephones in the country. These are matters with which I have already dealt. I do not think I need go over them again, because they were referred to in my opening statements. As I say, Deputy Allen and Deputy Dockrell paid tribute to the patience and courtesy of our officials and I think it is very much due to them. I hope that they will remember that they are doing a great national service because you get a reputation, not only throughout this country, but amongst all other countries, if you are able to maintain that standard of courtesy and patience.
Deputy Norton raised the question of building not keeping pace with requirements. Of course, that is true. The increase of business in the Post Office has been enormous. I think it was Deputy Corish referred to that aspect. If one takes the business carried on in the Post Office ten or 20 years ago and considers the number of new services which have since been added— children's allowances, various classes of pensions and social services—it will  be realised that they have increased the work to a tremendous extent. The result is that we have to keep a very close eye, for instance, on the big post offices. Deputy Dillon referred, in his own extravagant manner, to what we should do in the G.P.O. here in Dublin. As a matter of fact, we keep the G.P.O. in Dublin under very close observation. Whenever there is a glut of business, at peak hours, we have additional staff ready to take on and we take them away when not required. That situation is watched so closely that we are able to tell how long people have to wait in queues. A recent observation showed that no one had to wait longer than 2½ minutes. The position, therefore, is not as bad as Deputy Dillon contends.
Deputy Norton asked me about St. Andrew Street Post Office. The plans for that are being prepared and there will be no difficulty about the plant for that particular office. The building there is to get priority. The Exchequer Street position will be improved now because we have removed the cross-channel lines to Crown Alley. Deputy Norton could not get off Pearse Street Post Office.
Mr. Little: Yes. In regard to Pearse Street, I do not know why he should attack that post office. It was built as a distillery and it is an extraordinarily strong building. The wooden part is also very well built. As I tried to inform the Deputy on a previous occasion, from the point of view of an office, a wooden structure  is better than anything else. It is better than concrete or stone.
Mr. Little: I do not know about that. I think there was some question about the site, originally, but there is no question of a difficulty about the site now. I understand that there was a difficulty about title to the site.
Mr. Little: A question was also raised about kiosks, and what we were doing about that matter. There, again, there is the question of materials and supplies being available, and we are waiting until supplies become available. The question of the Howth Post Office was also raised, but, as that is a question of an increase in wages, the standstill Order will hold that up. Again, however, we are examining that question very closely. The Deputy, probably, has received a letter from my Department with regard to sick pay for Post Office  departmental temporary classes. I am afraid he has stolen my thunder in that regard, but since he has been already communicated with on that matter, and may not yet have received the letter perhaps I may give him the benefit of the letter that he should have already received, which is as follows:—
“(1) Temporary full-time classes, who in practice have had no sick pay privileges up to now, will be eligible in the indoor grades — Post Office clerks, etc.—for full pay up to a maximum of ten weeks in one year, if over 18 years of age, and for a lesser number of weeks at lower age points. The subordinate grades — postmen, etc.—21 years of age and over, will get two-thirds pay up to a maximum of six weeks in one year.
(2) The indoor, unestablished classes, whose existing sick-pay privileges are two-thirds pay up to three months in one year will, in future, be eligible for full pay up to ten weeks, if over 18 years, with a reduced period at the lower age points.
(3) The qualifying period of eligibility for sick pay for adult workmen —skilled workmen, quasi-permanent labourers, packers and porters, etc. —in the engineering and stores branches will be reduced from two years to one year.”
The Deputy also raised the question of night telephonists. We are, as the Deputy knows, very strongly opposed to that kind of part-time work and are anxious to get over the problem if it is at all possible to do so, and we would welcome any suggestions from the Deputy if he has any solution that could be made, within reason, for that problem. Undoubtedly, the difficulty there results from the fact that there is a rush of business at one time and then, later on, little or nothing to do, and we would welcome any suggestion from the Deputy to deal with that matter.
Deputy Everett raised the question of the engineer labourers at Dun Laoghaire. Those people are paid on a consolidated basis and are not entitled to other than an emergency  bonus. That is the practice in the service generally, and Post Office officials cannot be treated exceptionally. The Deputy also raised the question of the use of motor cycles for linesmen going on emergency work. As soon as the emergency is over, the practice of using motor cycles will be adopted again. The Deputy was quite wrong when he said that night telephonists are asked to sacrifice their rest hours. That has been stopped altogether. They are not being asked to sacrifice their night hours of rest.
Mr. Little: Well, we shall look into that matter. Of course, the Deputy will realise that there may be exceptional circumstances, and that it might be necessary to ask these people to do that work in special circumstances, but, as a general rule, it will not be done, and we should like to have the co-operation of Deputies in regard to that matter.
Mr. Little: That is what we are  always trying to do. So many of the points that have been raised have been repeated that I think it is hardly necessary to deal at all with them. Deputy Hughes mentioned the question of porterage charges on telegrams. He pointed out that these charges are very heavy, in the case of funerals, and so on. It would be better for the postmaster to keep them and send them out all together. The fact that the telegraph service is losing money makes it extremely difficult for us to do so, because it means, really, putting a charge on the taxpayer once you get beyond a certain point. Deputy Allen also mentioned that point, but Deputy Allen should remember that the people in the City of Dublin pay very high rates for the services they get. Deputy Allen does not have to pay 25/- in the £.
Mr. Little: Well, I do not want to argue that point with the Deputy. The Government, as the Deputy knows, are very strongly in favour of a policy of decentralisation and are providing such services as they can to rural areas. But the process will have to be a gradual one and it will have to be carried out in relation to expenditure and taxation. That is all I can say, but I do not think there is a great deal to be said, because the telegraph service is undoubtedly a service which is decreasing, and perhaps we will get over many of these difficulties when we have a telephone in every post office in the country. That will probably relieve the situation considerably.
Mr. Little: It is not. Deputy Bartley raised a question of laying cable to the islands in the west instead of using wireless. The traffic is very small indeed; it is almost negligible and cable is extremely expensive. If it were not for the wireless, I do not think we would be able to have any service there at all, so I think we are very lucky to have that service for the  islanders. It is there in case of any real urgent necessity. Deputy Anthony raised the question of reducing telephone rentals. That is a very big question and it is one which we are examining very closely. There again, without making any promises, we intend to go into the matter very carefully in our post-war planning. Deputy Anthony also mentioned the Cork Post Office. I have had an opportunity of visiting the post office recently and I saw the conditions there. We had plans for extending the premises but they were held up by the war and as soon as the opportunity arises we will extend our premises there and we are actually increasing the staff at the counter.
Deputy Pattison referred to Kilkenny. There too we are actually going to carry out his own suggestion of taking over the premises which are at present occupied by the postmaster. He will be retiring very soon and we will make other arrangements. In the meantime I would suggest that the public in Kilkenny should use the stamp machines as much as possible for purchasing stamps. That would give a certain amount of relief to the work at the counter. The Deputy also raised the question of the protection of parcels of eggs, etc. We are inquiring into that. If he would give us the details, we will have the matter examined. There are certain types of matters raised on this Estimate which it would be better to raise with the officials because in that way they would be much more satisfactorily dealt with. Deputy Dillon raised a few questions of that sort, which he might have raised privately and he would have got satisfactory answers from the Department. I do not know what is the matter with the particular telephone that he says keeps on ringing.
Mr. Little: I do not know. Deputy Dillon has a way of not coming in for the statement. One year he came in for the statement and did not wait for my reply and I felt very annoyed about it because he attacked my officials for not having sufficient supplies, whereas,  as a matter of fact, we were extraordinarily good in getting supplies and we have been able, from the beginning of the emergency right through, to have sufficient supplies to carry us through to the end. The Deputy charged us with all sorts of neglect and stupidity and then he did not wait to hear the answer. On this Estimate he did not come in for the statement but he came in afterwards and made a lot of points, such as that one about the telephone ringing continuously.
Mr. Little: No, except that it is probably due to the storm and to interference in the wires outside but, as the Deputy has not told us where it is and as there is a great deal of repairs always on hand, I cannot locate the particular case.
Mr. Little: It is a pity he should waste the time of the House on a matter of that sort at all. Deputy Cafferky raised the question of postal services. Three-fourths of the postal services are six-day services and all the others are losing services, so there again you are up against spending money on a service which does not bring in any return and which is already a losing service, where there are three-day and two-day posts. He also raised a question with reference to an individual post office and gave us an amazing picture of stamps on the floor, and that sort of thing. What he should do, as a good citizen, is to report that immediately so that the matter could be corrected. If anybody persisted in carrying out the work of a post office badly we would dismiss them and get somebody else, but generally if mistakes are made they can be corrected by drawing the attention of the authorities at once. The greatest care is taken by the staff, from the local postmaster, who is over  the sub-post office, up to headquarters, in examining the credentials or qualifications of the particular person before any post office is filled and we take the greatest care to make sure that the person who gets a post office is competent to carry out the work. I suppose there are times when one does not get as satisfactory service as one should, but on these occasions, if people will report to us, we will do the best we can to remedy the defect.
Mr. Little: Most of the points are really disposed of on the basis of expenditure. It is a demand for increased expenditure and there is nothing a Minister would like more than to be able to hand out the money with two hands and to do everything that he is asked to do but the taxpayer has to be considered in measuring these things up, especially at a time when there is such tremendous change from  one condition to another, so that all we can do is to promise that we will examine all these applications and go as far as we consider is reasonable.
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