Wednesday, 20 May 1953
Dáil Éireann Debate
“To ask the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs if he is aware that during a sponsored broadcast on 24th April a song was recited containing an insulting reference to the former Minister; and, if so, what steps he proposes to take in the matter.”
“In the ordinary way I propose to maintain the independence of Comhairle Radio Éireann by asking Deputies to make representations direct to Radio Éireann, but as the question involves a member of the House I feel it right to give a full explanation.
The reference to the former Minister, which was broadcast in a sponsored programme on April 17th, was jocose but not insulting. I understand that this record was not passed for inclusion in the programme by the Radio Éireann staff, and the producers of the programme have since apologised for including it.
I should add that I will give every encouragement to the director to make use of traditional or current political ballads, songs and comedy patter such as can be heard at concerts and variety shows all over the democratic world, using discrimination to ensure that there is genuine humour and that the composition is not vicious in content. Songs have been sung already about Ministers in office and there have been no complaints. I do not propose to inquire into the character of the song referred to by the Deputy, but to rely on the good sense of the director for having not passed it for broadcasting.”
In this case we are told that the director used his good judgment and did not pass this particular record for broadcasting. My reason for raising this matter to-night is to find out through what machinery in Radio Éireann a record has been broadcast which was rejected. What machinery has the Minister available at Radio Éireann to ensure that a record which has been rejected as unfit and unsuitable for the air and, in the good judgment of the Director of Broadcasting, should not be used will not be broadcast? In this instance, the record was definitely rejected by the Director of Broadcasting. The broadcasting  authorities decided that this particular record was considered unfit and was considered insulting. It was thought first of all to be political because the record in question dealt with the appointment of the sub-postmistress at Baltinglass and, in the course of a song, the former Minister for Posts and Telegraphs and others who were concerned with the appointment were referred to. The Minister states that this was not insulting but it was jocose. Can you picture the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, knowing the Minister as we do, asking us to have a bit of humour? If that came from the Minister for Finance it could be understood but it is fantastic to hear the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs asking us to have humour and going on to say that songs had been sung over the radio concerning other Ministers and no complaints were made.
How did it so happen that out of every record that was rejected as being unsuitable for broadcasting, the very one that was used was the one connected with the Baltinglass Post Office? How did it so happen that of all the records that were in Radio Éireann the very one to be rejected was the one dealing with the Baltinglass Post Office and the very one that was singled out as an advertisement for Cott's of Kilcock was connected with the Baltinglass Post Office?
If the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs wanted a bit of humour, he could take the necessary steps to put on the air without delay My Little Angel and give us the other side of a bit of humour. It is all right to say that we will have humour and have a joke at someone else's expense. How was it that it was not something in the nature of a skit at the Fianna Fáil Party and that the skit had to be directed towards a former Minister of State? The skit had to be directed towards the Baltinglass Post Office because it was on the Baltinglass Post Office that the Fianna Fáil Party focussed their attention some time ago. When it was considered that it had been left on the shelf, they had to take down this record, wipe away the dust and shake off the cobwebs; and even though the director decided it was not to be used, it was used for the purpose  of stirring up a little reminder for the people in the Wicklow by-election, a little reminder to the listeners in Wicklow, Bray, Arklow and in Baltinglass and Enniskerry and even on the top of the Sugar Loaf if there was a radio there. Because he wants a joke, a bit of humour, we must hear all about the battle of Baltinglass in Cott's sponsored programme.
Although the Minister is anxious for a bit of humour and a joke, he does not attempt to have the joke at the expense of one of his own colleagues. It was not “Peadar on the Treetop” we heard. There was no question of that but it was Baltinglass Post Office that was picked out. There was no question of their putting on that record “My Little Angel” because if it were put on the Minister would probably lose his ministerial rank within 24 hours for daring to put on a record which would even insinuate any connection between “My Little Angel” and any member of the Government Party. Then there was no question of their putting on—
Mr. O. Flanagan: It was black bread. All right brown bread. We will agree to differ. How is it that record was not put on when the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs wanted some humour? Can the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs tell us why, during the debate here on the purchase of Tulyar, he did not think of putting on “Horsey Keep Your Tail Up”?
Mr. O. Flanagan: There is a particular song which the Minister and the present Government will be singing very soon and that is: “Goodbye, I wish you all a last goodbye”. Apart  from the fact that the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs was anxious that this record dealing with Baltinglass Post Office should be put on the air, have we an assurance that those who sponsored the programme have apologised? To whom have they apologised? Did they apologise to the people who were referred to in this jocose song, as the Minister describes it, or was it an apology to the Director of Broadcasting for having used this record without his consent or his authority?
I submit that while this record was rejected by the Director of Broadcasting it was with the authority of the Minister that the record was again used and the reason the Minister used it again was for the purpose of giving a little reminder and of stirring up a little public feeling in Wicklow for the by-election. The Minister, in the course of his reply to my question, said that the reference to the former Minister was jocose and not insulting. May I say that if the Minister is anxious to use the radio for jocose purposes, he should consider the friends on his own side of the House and should endeavour to provide a little entertainment for the public at their expense and not at the expense of the Minister's political opponents.
Mr. O. Flanagan: The Minister went on to say: “I will give every encouragement to the director to make use of traditional or current political ballads.” When he says that, does he realise that the director, not being an Irishman, does not appreciate the manner in which Irishmen and Irishwomen are able to take those jokes?
An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot discuss the director. The question under discussion is whether a certain  thing happened on a certain occasion and what steps the Minister proposes to take is the matter. That is the subject raised by the question and we cannot discuss other matters.
Mr. O. Flanagan: The Minister has not stated the steps he proposes to take, but he goes on to say that he proposes to encourage this type of record. Not alone that, but he is making representations to the director to see that the director will encourage this type of broadcast. The Minister has also stated that records of this kind have been played before and that no complaints have been made about them. I want a clear explanation from the Minister as to how it happened that a record which was already rejected was used on this occasion. While it may be true that the people conducting the sponsored programme — Cotts of Kilcock — made an apology to the Minister, they made no apology to the people of the country for using such a record over the radio. I hope and trust that no matter what company is conducting a sponsored programme in future — Cotts of Kilcock, or whatever hole-in-the-wall company is responsible——
Mr. O. Flanagan: I withdraw the reference to a hole-in-the-wall company, but if those people are going to include records in the sponsored programme which the director has decided are unsuitable, I want to hear what machinery is available in the Minister's Department to see that we shall not have a recurrence of this conduct. If we do have a recurrence of it and if Radio Éireann continues broadcasting programmes of this kind, offering insult to one side of the House only, will an opportunity be made available to the Opposition to  see that at least the wit and humour which the Minister is now going to encourage both in this House and over Radio Éireann, at the expense even of his political opponents, is also sought on his side of the House for broadcasts at the expense of the Leader and members of his own Party?
Minister for Posts and Telegraphs (Mr. Childers): The Deputy himself in raising this matter appears to lack any sense of humour whatever because he has tried to make a mountain out of a molehill. This was an ordinary sponsored programme and the person appointed by the company to carry on the programme from Radio Éireann substituted the record of the song “The Battle of Baltinglass” for another record. I had no responsibility for it. Deputy Flanagan thinks that I am idiotic enough to spend my time looking for records in Radio Éireann in which to criticise the Opposition. That suggestion is so ludicrous as not to be worthy of consideration. The officers who conduct the sponsored programmes are, I think, able to maintain discipline in the ordinary way, and I do not propose to interfere with their judgment. I want to say that I have no evidence that the director refused to allow the company concerned to play that record because it was insulting or politically undesirable, but he believed that it was out of the context and that it was an unusual record in a programme in which there were not ordinarily political ballads. I have no reason for supposing that he rejected it because he thought it undesirable. Actually the ballad is of the most traditional type. It contains no insulting references whatever. It does not even deal in detail with the incidents which took place. It simply refers to the fact that there was a battle in Baltinglass, in which apparently a lot of things happened, and the only verse in it which could be taken as having a somewhat faintly political flavour is this:—
Mr. Childers: Anybody with a sense of humour I think will agree that no objection could be taken to a song of that kind, sung, not in the context of a sponsored programme where it would appear as an isolated unit, but in an ordinary variety programme. So far as Deputy Flanagan's references to the poor Minister for Finance on my left are concerned, like all Ministers for Finance in democratic countries all over the world who tax people — Ministers in countries such as France, Germany and Sweden — numerous songs have been sung about him over the radio. I am pleading for the point of view that if such compositions are clever and entertaining there should be no objection to them. We should have more songs of the traditional pattern. I hope we shall hear more songs in which the writers can take a Minister to task for his Budget if they are written in a pleasing way. I am sure, for instance, that two-thirds of the chorus who sang in the “Beginners, Please” Programme from Cork, dealing with the taxes imposed by the Budget, were supporters of ours during the general election.
 I may say that I propose suggesting to the comhairle that they should have more ballads of that type, to continue a tradition we have had in this country. If you go even into a public-house very often you find some ballad left there dealing with local events, local happenings and even politics. Some of them regrettably, are unpublishable in any circumstances but I think ballads which are harmless in their content should be collected by Radio Éireann and should be broadcast on suitable occasions, on the occasions of variety programmes for instance. If they are not grossly offensive and conform to ordinary conditions, if they are in keeping with the ballad tradition we have had in this country, I think there can be no objection to them from the point of view that Radio Éireann is trying to use the radio for political purposes or that any ex-Minister is too frequently singled out. I have perfect faith in the comhairle to make a proper selection for such purposes and I do not think that we should take exception to programmes such as we heard broadcast in the “Beginners Please” programme from Cork recently. To stop such a programme would be ridiculously smug on the part of members of the House and would make members of this House look like fools if not worse. That is all I shall say on the matter.
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