Committee on Finance. - Vote 42: Posts and Telegraphs.

Thursday, 18 November 1971

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 256 No. 13

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Minister for Posts and Telegraphs (Mr. G. Collins): Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  I move:

That a sum not exceeding £36,732,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1972, for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs and of certain other services administered by that Office, and for payment of a grant-in-aid.

The net Estimate of £36,732,000 for Posts and Telegraphs for 1971-72 shown in the Estimates volume is £1,725,990 greater than the corresponding figure for 1970-71, including Supplementary Estimates and the amount transferred from the Vote for increases in pensions, et cetera. The increase is made up of extra provisions totalling £3,317,990 under eight subheads offset by reductions totalling £289,990 under three subheads and higher receipts amounting to £1,302,010 under Appropriations-in-Aid.

[2436] By far the biggest increase is under subhead A where an extra £2,259,990 is needed mainly to meet the extra cost for a full year of the 12th round and other pay increases which were granted during 1970-71. The following comments are offered on the other subheads which show substantial variations from last year's provisions:

Under subhead C an additional £323,000 is required mainly to meet the cost of additional leased accommodation including a new telecommunications headquarters at Marlborough Street, Dublin—and of higher expenditure on sites and buildings. The decrease of £162,000 under subhead D is due to the incidence of presentation and clearance of accounts for air mail conveyance.

Under subhead G an extra £175,000 is being provided to meet higher telephone capital repayments to the Exchequer arising from continuing capital investment in the telephone service. The increase of £258,000 under subhead J is mainly due to higher pensions and gratuities following increased rates of pay. Under subhead K there is only a nominal provision of £10 as against £35,000 last year for commissions and special inquiries.

Under subhead L an extra £250,000 has been provided so that this year's grant-in-aid to Rado Telefís Éireann will reflect the receipts for a full year from the higher broadcasting licence fees which came into operation as from 1st July, 1970. On the receipts side the increase of £1,302,010 under subhead T—Appropriations-in-Aid— arises mainly from the recovery of higher amounts from other Government Departments and from telephone capital funds. The staff costs incurred on agency services provided for other Departments and on telephone capital development have, of course, increased substantially as a result of the 12th round and other pay increases which I have already mentioned.

The total number of letters handled in 1970 was about 456 million representing a decrease of 1.3 per cent on the previous year. The volume of air mail correspondence rose, however, by over 6 per cent, mainly as a result of a substantial growth in second class [2437] mail. The number of parcels handled in 1970 increased by over 2 per cent as compared with 1969.

As might be expected postal traffic fell following the increases in charges introduced in October, 1970. Traffic in the Christmas period, for example, was about 20 per cent down on the previous year. The British postal strike which lasted from 20th January to 7th March, 1971, resulted in a considerable loss of traffic. Nevertheless the traffic figures for the first nine months of 1971 are only slightly below those for the corresponding period in 1970, that is before charges were increased.

There has been a continued increase in the volume of business at post office counters. This business covers a wide range of agency services on behalf of other Government Departments, apart from those required for purely post office purposes. A high standard of mail service continues to be given. Over 90 per cent of internal letters posted in time for outward despatches are delivered on the next delivery day. The standard of service for parcels and second class mail is well above that normally given elsewhere. The bulk of outward mail is despatched by air on the day of posting, and, with few exceptions, letters received from abroad are delivered on the following working day.

During 1970, 49 new motorised delivery services were introduced in rural areas and a further 38 were added in the first six months of 1971. There are now about 480 motorised rural services in operation and about one-third of the total route mileage has been motorised. An additional 167 postmen posts were created in 1970, mostly in the Dublin postal district where they were needed to cater for expansion as a result of housing and other development.

On 25th February last I gave particulars of the special postage stamps issued in 1970 and of the stamps which had been or would be issued during 1971. I also mentioned that in 1972 a special stamp of symbolic design would be issued to honour the many leading figures on both sides who died during the period of the civil war.

[2438] A special open competition has been held for the design of this stamp. It will be issued on 1st June, 1972, and kept on sale until 31st May, 1973. Six additional stamps are also planned in 1972. These comprise the Europa stamp, a stamp in the series on contemporary Irish art, a Christmas stamp, a stamp to mark World Health Day, 1972, which is sponsored by the World Health Organisation, and stamps to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Olympic Council of Ireland and of the issue of the first Irish postage stamp.

The Departmental committee which I set up in September, 1970, to consider the structure, operation and finances of the postal services, including counter services, have been meeting regularly. They expect to be in a position to furnish an interim report shortly and hope to furnish a final report about 12 months from now.

In 1970-71 the number of telegrams handled, 1,198,000, was almost 6 per cent lower than in the previous year. The fall in traffic was greater than normal mainly as a result of the British post office strike in the latter portion of the year.

The telex service, which is carrying more and more messages that would formerly have been sent as telegrams, continues to grow steadily. In 1970-71 over 2,000,000 telex calls were originated as compared with about 1,500,000 in 1969-70. At the end of March last the number of subscribers had risen to 1,150 having grown by 25 per cent approximately in the previous year. In this regard our current rate of growth compares favourably with that in any other European country. It is clear that the usefulness of the service, particularly in connection with export activities, is being recognised and availed of and that we can look forward confidently to further large-scale expansion. Planning is going ahead on this basis.

A new satellite telex exchange was opened in Waterford in September last. Contracts have been placed for further satellite telex exchanges in Limerick and Galway. Arrangements for the further extension of existing exchanges and for the installation of a new international [2439] exchange are well advanced.

To cater for traffic growth, additional circuits were provided in 1970-71 on the routes from Dublin to Belfast, London, Frankfurt and the USA. Further circuits have since been provided and more are planned.

Automatic telex service was introduced in the service to the USA in April last. The arrangements enabled the minimum charge of £2.25 for three minutes to be abolished for automatically selected calls and replaced by a rate of 2½ pence per two seconds. I am glad to report that the level of traffic has jumped in the meantime, the number of calls made in the six months beginning in April being approximately one-third greater than the total in 1970. Over 99 per cent of telex calls are now connected automatically.

The provision of telecommunication facilities for data transmission is a service with considerable scope for expansion. Data may be transmitted to computers either over rented circuits or over the public telephone and telex networks. There are nearly 50 data transmission units, known as modems, in service and such units are now being supplied and maintained by my Department. Developments in data communication generally are being kept under close review. My Department have recently joined with other European telecommunications administrations in a special study of future prospects and developments in this field.

Telephone business was as buoyant as ever in 1970-71. The number of telephone calls handled was about 327 million. Trunk calls at about 42 million were some 11 per cent higher than in the previous year; local calls at 285 million were up by 8.5 per cent.

Applications for telephones again reached a record level. The number of connections was 23,000 but this was not sufficient to match demand and the waiting list increased by over 2,000 to 15,000 at the end of March last. It is now over 18,500. I shall return to this matter later.

During the year 49 manual exchanges were converted to automatic working, as compared with 29 in 1969-70. [2440] In addition, 162 exchanges—51 automatic and 111 manual—were extended by the installation of additional equipment to provide for further growth of subscribers' lines and traffic.

Over 160 new telephone kiosks, including 129 in rural areas, were provided. The trunk service was expanded by the addition of over 1,300 circuits comprising over 125,000 circuit miles. Among the more important trunk works completed were: coaxial cable schemes between Athlone/Castlerea/ Claremorris / Castlebar / Ballina and Portlaoise/Birr; extension of the Dublin/Portlaoise and Dublin/Belfast/ cross-channel microwave links, and expansion of the capacity of the trunk cables serving Killarney. Numerous other routes on which extra circuits were provided are listed in the notes which I circulated recently to Deputies to assist them in discussing this estimate.

In the current year high capacity microwave links have been brought into service between Dublin and Cork and between Limerick and Shannon. I should also like to mention the completion in August last of a radio link to provide additional trunk lines to Inishmore. The two other Aran Islands are each served by single channel radio link to Galway. The telephone operators at Kilronan, Inishmaan and Inishere exchanges can dial one another through the Galway trunk exchange. They can also dial Galway numbers and call directly to a number of manual exchanges in the vicinity of Galway.

Works at present in progress include major trunk schemes, coaxial or microwave, between Shannon/Ennis, Portlaoise / Athlone, Dublin / Dundalk, Athlone / Ballinasloe / Loughrea / Galway, Tralee/Killarney, Killarney/Kenmare/Sneem, Dundalk/Carrickmacross, Drogheda / Navan / Ceanannus Mór, Fermoy/Cork, Galway/Clifden and Ballina/Belmullet.

Contracts have been placed for coaxial schemes between Waterford/ Clonmel, Tralee / Cork, Portlaoise/ Limerick and Portlaoise / Waterford. The Dublin/Belfast coaxial cable needs to be re-equipped; in order to enable this to be done and to increase substantially [2441] the capacity of the cable without adversely affecting service over the route, arrangements have been made in collaboration with the British post office to provide another microwave link between Dublin and Belfast.

Traffic over the transatlantic route to America has been increasing at a remarkable rate. The number of circuits was increased from 14 to 22 in 1970-71 and a further two have since been added. These 24 lines are made up of satellite and submarine cable circuits. Arrangements have been made to have further circuits in service before next summer.

Within the past few months direct circuits have been set up between Dublin and Paris and Dublin and Madrid. These have enabled a much improved service to be given to France and Spain. Substantial extension of direct circuiting must, however, await completion of the new international exchange, the equipment for which is on order and due to be installed in 1973.

Subscriber trunk dialling (STD) between Dublin, Belfast and London was introduced on 1st October (London) and 1st November (Belfast). I am glad to say that from the start about 80 per cent of non-coinbox calls were being dialled and the proportion is increasing. Concurrently with the opening of the direct service to London the three-tier tariff for cross-channel calls based on distance was replaced by flat rates of charge without regard to distance. The new rates would result in a sizeable reduction in call revenue if the level of traffic remained the same. We are confident, however, that the increase of business stimulated by the direct dialling facility will more than offset the reduction.

It will be clear from what I have said that a major programme of capital works is in train. I have outlined only the bigger and more important schemes. Various other works are going ahead throughout the country. Unfortunately, we still have a number of areas where, owing to over-loaded exchanges or trunk lines, service is not as good as it should be and in some areas connection of additional [2442] telephones must be restricted because of shortage of plant. Our resources of skilled staff and capital are just not sufficient to cater quickly for all the works that need to be carried out. In most cases improvements are on the way—sites for exchanges have been or are being acquired, buildings are being erected, contracts for equipment have been placed. Orders already placed for exchange and trunk equipment alone, some placed a considerable time ago, add up to over £9 million. Deliveries are subject to unavoidable long delays owing to world demand in this field.

Coming now to the question of cost, the programme of new works for last year had to be curtailed to conserve capital. Nevertheless, it cost about £9.5 million. The original allocation for the current year was also fixed at £9.5 million, approximately but this was far below requirements and efforts to keep to it have reduced the rate of connection of new telephones. The Government have recently agreed to increase the allocation to £10.73 million and I hope to get more next year when heavy forward commitments for exchange and trunk plant will mature.

Many people may perhaps be surprised at the order of cost I have mentioned but it should be remembered that the use of the system, firstly, by the general body of existing subscribers and, secondly, by new subscribers is expanding rapidly and one just cannot hope to eliminate either delays on calls or delays in getting telephones unless the necessary plant has been provided on an adequate scale in advance. This means having sufficient spare plant— installed and ready—in exchanges, on trunk routes, in the local distribution network, underground and aerial cables, in every exchange area. This in turn requires extremely heavy investment. Unfortunately, so long as the supply of capital available for the public services as a whole is limited we have little prospect of getting our full requirements and a choice has to be made as to what kind of works must be deferred. In such circumstances priority must be given to providing a good quality of service throughout the system and in meeting the expanding needs of the general body of subscribers [2443] even if this means in the short term a growing waiting list. Expansion of the exchange and trunk system on a large scale is necessary in any event to provide the base for substantial increase in the intake of new subscribers.

I am glad to say that a radio link telephone call system is expected to be introduced early in 1972 at Valentia coast station. Ships within a radius of about 200 miles from Valentia will then be able to make telephone calls to subscribers here and in Britain and the subscribers will in turn be able to make calls to the ships.

Within the past 12 months a new post office and manual telephone exchange was provided at Cahirciveen and a new district sorting office was completed at Ballyfermot, Dublin. New telephone buildings and extensions were completed at many centres including Rathmines (Dublin), Birr, Clifden, Cobh, Ennis, Kenmare, Loughrea, Nenagh, Thurles and Tramore. Improvements in manual exchanges and postal accommodation were carried out in Castlebar, Cavan, Boyle, Gorey and Dun Laoghaire.

The new building at Marlborough Street, Dublin, is now virtually completed and is already being used as a telecommunications staff headquarters. It will also house an international telephone trunk exchange which is expected to be ready by the end of 1973.

Works in progress or contracted for includes a new post office and telephone exchange at Cavan, a new post office at Portlaoise, a new district sorting office at Glenageary (Dublin) and new telephone buildings or extensions at Crown Alley, Shelbourne Road, Nutley Park, Phibsboro and Dundrum (Dublin), Castlebar, Clonmel, Drogheda, Dundalk, Limerick, Longford, Monaghan, Newcastlewest and at 26 rural centres.

Accommodation problems still exist at certain post offices and exchanges. Efforts are being made to find solutions to these problems and it will be appreciated that the extent to which improvement schemes can be effected is limited by the money available.

The estimate provides for 20,888 posts for the current financial year, [2444] an increase of 388 posts over the corresponding provision for last year. Most of the additional posts are required for the telecommunications services, but, as I mentioned already, some are needed for postal delivery work, particularly in Dublin because of housing and other development.

In previous years the House was given some details of recruitment of professional engineers for telecommunications work and of the Department's scholarship schemes designed to supplement the intake of professional engineers.

Recruitment of engineers is proceeding with reasonable success and the scholarship schemes are also going well. The Department at present employs some 190 professional engineers. Since 1964, 38 scholarships have been awarded and further scholarships will be awarded this year. So far, ten students have graduated and are serving as engineers in the Department.

Some 700 telephonists were recruited to meet operating requirements during last summer's peak traffic period and the recruitment and training of staff to meet requirements for next summer has commenced.

The Department's welfare officers, of whom there are six in the Dublin area, one in Cork and one in Limerick, continue to provide a most valuable service to the staff and to the Department.

Turning now to staff relations, I would like, first of all, to pay tribute to the staff for the way in which they carried out their work during the last year. We have come to expect a high standard of service from post office staff and may perhaps tend to take it for granted. It is only right, therefore, that I should place on record my appreciation of their efforts during the past year. In the current year, and in the years ahead even greater effort will be needed from them in view of the present tight money situation and the need for the post office to break even financially. I feel sure that the Department will have the understanding and the co-operation of the staff in this situation.

In introducing the Estimate last year I mentioned that management and staff representatives have been examining [2445] together how staff can be given a greater sense of involvement and participation in the affairs of their offices, and with this object in mind it had been agreed to set up consultation councils at some of the major staff centres. Since then further consultation councils have been established. Such councils are now functioning at almost all the major centres. The question of extending them to the remaining offices will be considered by the management and staff representatives after some further experience of their operation. While nobody expected that consultation councils would solve all the problems in the post office I feel sure that they must have contributed, at least in some measure, to a better understanding all round of many of these problems.

I referred last year to the employment on an experimental basis of consultants using the behavioural sciences. While the pilot assignment has not yet been completed the indications are that the use of these sciences can be helpful in isolating causes of dissatisfaction and suggesting ways in which work can be made more satisfying. The question of carrying out a further test is at present being considered.

Because of the demands that training in decimalisation made last year, training of supervisors and other staff had to be curtailed somewhat. Now that the decimalisation hurdle has been cleared, the provision of training courses internally by the Department and the attendance of staff at selected courses conducted by the Civil Service training centre, College of Industrial Relations and other outside bodies has been resumed. My Department are keenly conscious of the need to keep abreast of modern thinking in supervision and human relations, and staff will be released from their normal duties for training of this kind so far as our resources permit. The standard entry training schemes provided by the Department have also been under review during the year and certain changes which it is felt will help in turning out better qualified engineering technicians have been agreed between the Department and the union concerned.

[2446] The use of work study and other techniques aimed at raising the efficiency of the various services was continued during the year, and satisfactory results continue to be achieved. I mentioned last year that the Department had ordered a computer which is expected to be delivered in 1972. Staff for systems analysis and programming work for the computer have been recruited, and preparatory work in the first area to be processed by computer is well advanced. In the meantime use is being made of computer bureaux where there is advantage in doing so and where the necessary preparation work is not extensive.

A subject that has been raised repeatedly by Deputies on this Estimate over the years is that of pensions for temporary and part-time staff. A staff claim on this has been before the General Council under the scheme of conciliation and arbitration for some time past but a report of the discussions has not yet been issued. Under a separate agreement on the claim however, it was agreed to recommend a very substantial improvement in the retirement gratuity for part-time staff, and this improvement has been in operation for some time past.

Pay is such a major part of post office expenditure that it obviously calls for comment. Post office staff were parties to the 12th round agreement in the Civil Service, which in turn was based on an agreement for the public service generally. That agreement remains in force until the end of December, 1971. The 13th round national agreement will then come into operation. The £2 a week increase provided for in the national agreement as from 1st January next will cost the post office £2.4 million a year; the 4 per cent which will come into effect on 1st January 1973, will cost a further £1.3 million, and as Deputies are aware the national agreement provides for a further increase on that date should the cost of living rise in 1972 by more than 4 per cent. Moreover, the Department have had to concede increases in respect of certain claims for restoration of traditional pay relativities with other classes, and other similar claims are under discussion at [2447] the Departmental Council under the scheme of conciliation and arbitration for the Civil Service.

It will be evident from what I have said that rising staff costs will make it very difficult for the Department to maintain present standards of service unless charges are increased further.

Deposits by members of the general public in the post office savings bank amounted to £57 million during 1970 and withdrawals to £43.4 million. At 31st December, 1970, the total balance due to depositors, including interest amounting to £5 million, was approximately £139.4 million, an increase of £18.6 million on the figure for 31st December, 1969. During 1970 the volume of the post office savings bank business was abnormally high because of the banks dispute.

During the first few months of 1971 the volume of savings bank business continued at a high level, the number of transactions being 18 per cent above that for the corresponding period of 1970. The unexpected increase in business during the banks dispute, and since then, strained the Department's staff and ADP machine resources at headquarters and resulted in heavy arrears of work. These arrears led, regrettably, to considerable delays at times in dealing with correspondence from the public and in returning savings bank books to depositors who had forwarded them for the addition of interest. Special efforts are being made to bring the work up-to-date.

Net deposits in the post office savings bank by the trustee savings bank amounted to £5.4 million in 1970. The total amount to the credit of the trustee savings banks at the end of 1970, including £12.3 million in the special investment account, was £33.9 million, an increase of £7 million over the previous year.

Sales of 6½ per cent Investment Bonds in 1970 amounted to £1.8 million—a decrease of £3.5 million compared with 1969, the year of their introduction. Repayments in 1970 totalled £0.4 million, an increase of £0.2 million compared with 1969. The balance to the credit of investors at the end of 1970 was £6.5 million compared with £5.1 million at the end of [2448] 1969.

Sales of savings certificates during 1970 amounted to £4.2 million, and repayments, including interest, came to £5.8 million. The net outflow of £1.6 million was almost the same as in 1969. The principal remaining invested at the end of 1970 was £46.6 million, approximately the same as at the end of 1969.

A new issue of savings certificates, the eighth, was launched on the 14th June this year. The yield from this issue is 35 per cent over a period of five years, which represents a compound interest rate of 6 per cent per annum free of income tax. This is equal to 9¼ per cent per annum for a person paying income tax at the standard rate. The comparable yield from the previous issue was 50 per cent over a period of eight years, a compound interest rate of 5¼ per cent per annum free of income tax. Sales of the new issue for the three and a half months ended 30th September, totalled £3.6 million.

The national instalment-savings scheme was introduced by the Minister for Finance under the management of my Department on the 1st September, 1970. Under the scheme a person agrees to save 12 monthly instalments of £1 or any number of pounds up to £20, and to leave the total so saved on deposit for a further two years. At the end of that period, the saver will receive a tax-free bonus of 25 per cent of the amount saved. In the 12 months ended 31st August last 36,000 agreements and instalments totalling £4 million were received in my Department.

The aggregate result for 1970 for the savings media with which my Department is directly concerned was a net increase in savings of £20.9 million exclusive of interest compared with £4.8 million for 1969.

I should like to record my appreciation of the excellent work done by the National Savings Committee in promoting small savings.

The value of money orders issued in 1970 was £86.2 million as compared with £37.7 million the previous year. The value of postal orders issued in 1970 was £14.2 million compared with £8.9 million in 1969. The abnormal [2449] increase in both money order and postal order business in 1970 can be attributed to the banks dispute.

Agency service payments made by the Post Office, mainly on behalf of the Department of Social Welfare, increased from £64 million—in 1969 to £81.5 million in 1970. Post offices took part as usual in the sales of prize bonds, handling about 33 per cent of the total collected in 1970.

The Department publish commercial accounts which present their position as a trading concern. They are compiled in accordance with commercial practice to show the expenditure incurred and income earned in the year of account. Thus items like pension liability, interest and depreciation are included in the expenditure before arriving at the surplus or deficit. The accounts are audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General.

It is largely on the basis of these accounts that financial policy, including the fixing of charges, is determined. The policy of successive Governments has been that the post office should pay their way, taking one year with another; otherwise the deficit would have to be met by the taxpayer.

Appendix C of the Book of Estimates provides a summary of the results for the four years 1965-66 to 1968-69 and provisional figures for 1969-70. The commercial accounts for 1969-70 have now been laid before the House and show an overall surplus of £512,756. The surplus of £892,857 on the telephone service was partly offset by deficits of £361,373 on the postal service and £18,728 on the telegraph service. In the three previous years there were overall deficits of £823,000, £467,0000 and £430,000.

The accounts for the year 1970-71 will not be available for some time yet but it is expected that they will show an overall deficit of about £1½ million. In this connection the 12th round and other pay increases made very heavy additions to the Department's costs, as also did movements in prices.

As Deputies know, charges for postal, telegraph and telephone services were increased in the second half of [2450] 1970-71 towards meeting these extra costs, but it was realised at the time that they would not be sufficient to take the Department out of the red. I have already referred to various pay awards which will increase the Department's costs still further in the current and in future years. It seems at present that the overall deficits in 1971-72 and 1972-73 will be even greater than the present estimate of £1½ million for 1970-71. In these circumstances, the question of a further adjustment of post office charges will have to be considered shortly but I am not in a position to say any more than that at present.

As has been the practice, my remarks on broadcasting will be confined to important issues and developments affecting the television and radio services and to matters in which, as Minister, I have a statutory function.

Radio Telefís Éireann's accounts for 1970-71 are not yet available. They are expected to show an estimated overall surplus of £3,000. This compares with an overall deficit of £21,383 in 1969-70 and an overall surplus of £144,312 in 1968-69. The very small surplus in 1970-71 illustrates the authority's continued difficulty in making ends meet, notwithstanding the increase in licence fees which came into effect from 1st July, 1970, and which increased the authority's revenue in that year by about £400,000.

In this situation the authority found it necessary to make application for a further increase in licence fees during the current year. It was decided, as Deputies know, to increase the combined licence fee from £6 to £7.50 with effect from 1st September, 1971, and also to abolish the separate radio licence fee of £1.50 as from 1st September, 1972. The abolition of the separate radio licence will mainly benefit the less well-off sections of the community. The number of such licences has, of course, been steadily diminishing with the spread of television, and at the present time almost 80 per cent of licences issued are combined licences. With the abolition of the radio licence, which I am sure will be welcomed by most Deputies, the present “combined” licence will [2451] become a television licence, though, of course, part of the licence fee revenue will continue to be allocated to the sound broadcasting service.

These licence fee adjustments will, it is estimated, provide RTE with net additional revenue of £550,000 in a full year. The extra revenue from licences should enable RTE to show a modest profit during the current year.

Provision is made in the printed volume of Estimates for a grant of £2,785,000 to the authority in respect of the net receipts from licence fees during 1971-72. This does not, of course, include the estimated additional revenue which will be brought in by the recent changes in licence fees. The supplementary estimate which will be introduced later will make provision for the appropriate extra grant, £420,000, to Radio Telefís Éireann in the present financial year.

I regret to say that evasion of payment of licence fees continues to be a problem. A special campaign was mounted by my Department this year and it met with a good measure of success. A feature of this campaign was the use of the television detection van in several areas. Indications are that it had considerable effect in persuading defaulters to take out licences. As I foreshadowed in my speech on last year's Estimate, I expect shortly to introduce a Bill providing for the compulsory registration of purchases and rentings of television sets to facilitate detection of licence evaders, and for heavier fines for possession of unlicensed sets. It is in this Bill that I propose to provide for the abolition of the sound only licence.

In March, 1970 the restrictions on wired television systems relaying external programmes were relaxed. Since then Radio Telefís Éireann have been providing such systems in competition with commercial firms. It is too early yet to make a reliable forecast of the effect which this development will have on the authority's finances generally. The use of these multi-channel systems is confined to the area in which external programmes can be received directly “off the air”. There is no change in the position that authority cannot be given for the use of special [2452] technical means, such as microwave links, to extend the range of external programmes.

On the capital side, RTE were authorised to spend up to £700,000 in 1970-71. Including the outlay on communal aerial television systems, total capital expenditure on new works amounted to £682,000. In the present financial year, the authority have been authorised to spend up to £1,200,000. This is considerably higher than in recent years, and reflects the added demands for capital presented by the Radio na Gaeltachta project and RTE's development of wired television systems. In addition to these two items this capital allocation is intended to cover expenditure on the Radio Centre and equipment, and on general television and radio requirements.

The provision of studios and technical facilities for Radio na Gaeltachta has been put in hands by Radio Telefís Éireann, and it is hoped that preliminary transmissions will commence in spring, 1972. To ensure that programme planning for the service could proceed, I have appointed a Council— Comhairle Radio na Gaeltachta— under section 21 of the Broadcasting Authority Act, 1960.

The council are broadly representative of the Gaeltacht areas and interests. They will be concerned with the whole range of Radio na Gaeltachta activity and will exercise close surveillance of the general policy and operation of the service. They have already commenced their meetings. The service will be available initially on medium frequencies in the main Gaeltacht areas, and also on VHF in those areas covered by the three western VHF transmitters, that is roughly west of a line from Cork to Derry. It is intended to extend this area by providing VHF transmitters at Kippure and Mount Leinster to carry the service. The capital required for Radio na Gaeltachta is being provided by way of an Exchequer grant and, provision for £200,000 to meet the estimated expenditure this year will be provided in a supplementary estimate for my Department.

The position regarding colour television [2453] is that experimental transmissions are continuing. These experimental transmissions consist of programmes—mainly of sporting events —produced by means of one of the authority's outside broadcasting units, live relays from abroad and imported films. I would like to stress, however, for the information of persons who may be thinking of buying or renting a colour set, that regular or studio transmissions in colour from RTE cannot be contemplated for several years ahead. This is because of the heavy cost which would be involved for the authority and the effect such transmissions would have on the general economy through stimulating the purchase of expensive imported colour television sets.

In the course of the debate on my Department's Estimate for 1970-71 reference was made to a short-wave radio station for this country and I promised to have the question reexamined. The reasons for not proceeding with the short-wave service in the early 1950s were the difficulty of getting a suitable wavelength, the negligible amount of international shortwave listening throughout the world because of poor listening conditions, the general absence of short-wave bands on receiving sets in America and the appeal of television. I am advised that the position remains substantially the same. The cost of providing a shortwave service would be very heavy and in all the circumstances I have come to the conclusion that the provision of such a service could not be justified at present.

On the 28th September, 1971, members of an illegal organisation were interviewed on a television programme “7 Days” in a way which I, and the Government, considered to be prejudicial to the public interest. Following full consideration, and with the approval of the Government, I issued a written direction to the authority on 1st October, 1971, “to refrain from broadcasting any matter of the following class, i.e., any matter that could be calculated to promote the aims or activities of any organisation which engages in, promotes, encourages [2454] or advocates the attaining of any particular objective by violent means”.

This was the first time any Minister for Posts and Telegraphs used the powers of prohibition conferred on him by section 31 of the Broadcasting Authority Act, 1960. I need hardly say that it was with great reluctance that I came to the conclusion that it was necessary in the public interest to invoke that section of the Act.

As Deputies are aware, I set up the Broadcasting Review Committee last June with terms of reference which require them “to review the progress of the television and sound broadcasting services since the enactment of the Broadcasting Authority Act, 1960, with particular reference to the objectives prescribed in that Act, and to make any recommendations considered appropriate in regard to the further development of the services”. The committee have been actively pursuing their studies and I look forward to their report when their deliberations have been completed. I have already indicated my intention of laying the committee's report before both Houses of the Oireachtas. It is, of course, too early to give a reliable estimate of when the report is likely to be available.

The term of office of the authority expired on 31st May, 1971. In view of the establishment of the Broadcasting Review Committee, it was considered inappropriate to appoint a new authority for a full term. I am glad to say that the chairman and members accepted an invitation to continue for a further year, and were appointed accordingly for a new term which ends on 31st May, 1972.

Mrs. Hogan O'Higgins: Information on Brigid Hogan-O'Higgins  Zoom on Brigid Hogan-O'Higgins  I should like to thank the Minister for the notes we got some days ago and also for his Estimate statement. It is a very comprehensive and a very complex one. I should like too to make an apology. I had no idea until late last night, or early this morning, that this Estimate was being taken today so I have not got a lot of homework done. I shall work on the Minister's speech as I go along.

The speech is very complex but full of red lights. I mean red lights with [2455] regard to increases here and there. This whole Department have become very large and in many ways very unwieldy, I appreciate that on the whole the Minister's staff are excellent and give a very good service to the large numbers of the community. There are exceptions and while some of them must be mentioned here I do not want the Minister to get the feeling that we are perpetually cribbing about postal services. Nevertheless, it is our duty as an opposition to keep a watchful eye on the service.

I am not surprised that the number of people using the ordinary letter mail has decreased. A charge of four-pence is quite substantial. I can understand why there has been a decrease. On the whole, the delivery of letters throughout rural Ireland is good but the same cannot be said for Dublin city. Although we have been given an assurance that letters posted on, say, Friday morning, will be delivered that afternoon, this has not been the case. I have posted letters from Leinster House to my home in Rathfarnham on Thursday afternoon or Friday morning but they have not been delivered until Monday evening or Tuesday morning. Deputies have complained to me that their post is not being treated as first-class mail. While one might wonder if all our mail deserves to be treated as first-class, nevertheless we are elected by our constituents to look after their problems and I think our post should be treated as first-class mail.

I agree with the Minister that there has been a considerable improvement in air mail post. I get very few complaints about this matter and this is how I judge the situation. Last year we were flooded with complaints about delays in this service.

I am glad to see that motorised delivery services were introduced in rural areas. I have always considered it unfortunate that postmen in rural Ireland had no transport other than bicycles. The uniforms of the postmen could be improved. They are drab and dreary and some complaints have been made about them.

The Minister stated that special postage stamps were issued in 1970 [2456] and that more will be issued in 1971-72. On the whole our stamps, from the point of view of design and quality have improved. It is 50 years since the signing of the Treaty and I think the Government should be adult enough to have a commemoration stamp for Arthur Griffith. He can hardly be termed merely a civil war figure. To my mind, he was the foremost person in this country in the fight for freedom and we should be generous enough to recognise this fact. However, this is something we must wait for until a later date.

The telephone service is a matter of national importance. If we get into the Common Market we will certainly have to improve our telephone service. I have always maintained that this service should be taken away from the Department of Posts and Telegraphs; it should be an autonomous body with power to raise its own capital and run its own affairs. The telephone service is the only one that is making money and yet not enough capital is provided for the extra cables, installations and equipment needed.

The telephone service is chaotic. The lines in Dublin are completely overloaded. Rural Ireland might be in outer space instead of, at most, 150 miles away. It is much more difficult to get a telephone call to Lisdoonvarna than to phone London, New York or Amsterdam. Late last night I received a phone call in my home from Galway and I was told by the callers that they had been ringing my phone number for more than a few hours. They told me they could hear the phone ringing but they could not get an answer. In fact, the phone did not ring in my home during that time. This must mean overloading of the cables. This phone call I received was merely a quasi-social call but it could have been an urgent call from a constituent.

Business people have made numerous complaints about our telephone service. They say that business is being ruined because of lack of proper telephone communications. What is the use of the Industrial Credit Company, the Industrial Development Authority or any other body spending much time [2457] inducing foreign industrialists to set up west of the Shannon, or in remote regions, when they cannot make a telephone call to Dublin? This will discourage industrialists from coming here. The Minister points out that much capital has been spent in improving the service. It is not enough and much more needs to be done.

The Minister stated that the waiting list for telephones increased by more than 2,000 to 15,000 at the end of March last and that presently it is more than 18,500. Even though more money is being spent on this service, the waiting list is increasing and the situation is becoming more chaotic. The Minister should make an all-out effort to raise extra capital and clear this baclog.

The Minister stated that a number of automatic exchanges have been completed. In my constituency the exchange at Gort has been completed for a number of years and in Loughrea the building is completed, although I do not know what it is like inside. These exchanges appear to be completed but they do not seem to have been put into operation. Can the Minister state the reasons for the holdup?

In the meantime, the condition of post office buildings is deteriorating and the staff are working under difficult conditions. Tempers are becoming frayed and the customers are getting a worse service. In my constituency I have had complaints about a certain exchange, about which I have spoken to the postmaster. I went to see the girls in this exchange; I found they were working in appalling conditions and I wondered how they were so polite to the customers.

I spoke to the Minister about a new exchange at Cahirciveen, County Kerry, which I consider is giving very bad service. This is a tourist area and this bad service is not helping tourism. Tourists do not understand when there is a long delay in getting a telephone call— although I admit French tourists might understand this as they are used to a very bad service. Such service tends to give a bad impression of the country. The Irish subscribers in Cahirciveen also think they are getting a very raw [2458] deal. I have spoken to the Minister about this matter and I know he took it up but the service has not improved. I would be grateful if the Minister would take up the matter again.

The telex communication service appears to be going ahead satisfactorily and I have received many appreciative letters from users of this service. We should use this facility more frequently and thus lighten the load on services such as those catering for telegrams, and so on.

I am glad to see that the staff of the Department are now in line, or nearly in line, with the staffs of other Departments with regard to pay. It is very important that we should pay our civil servants a decent wage and give them a decent standard of living. They are the most abused, perhaps, of all the people in the country. We are inclined to blame civil servants. On the whole, they are an excellent body of people. I note that the Minister says that because of the 13th round increase it will be necessary to increase charges. I wonder what charges does the Minister intend to increase.

The people now feel that Post and Telegraph charges generally have reached saturation point. Yet the staff must be paid. If there is an increase in the cost of living their salaries will have to be increased. The Minister can be assured that the cost of living is rising more rapidly than anyone has anticipated and that he will have to pay increased salaries in 1972-73. I cannot see the Minister getting increased revenue from the postal services because, the higher the price of the stamp, the more the customer will start to have second thoughts about writing letters.

I note that there are six welfare officers in the Dublin area. This is very necessary. Young girls coming from the country very often need advice and help. This welfare staff should be readily available to them. I hope these youngsters are made aware that these welfare people are available to them to provide them with advice and assistance. The post office employ young staff and when they come to the city from the country they are bewildered and need advice and assistance.

[2459] I am glad that the Minister has gone ahead with the arrangements to provide a closer liaison between management and staff. In this way a great many problems can be overcome without going to arbitration and without involving strikes. If there is a close liaison between management and staff many small problems can be ironed out to the satisfaction of all.

The small savings scheme continues to prosper. I am glad to see this. In rural Ireland young people are inclined to put money into the post office. They find it convenient and, generally speaking, they know the sub-postmaster or the sub-postmistress. The banks are big and impersonal and they do not like to go into a bank with a few pounds. They feel that it is infra dig. They do not mind going into the post office with small savings. The small savings scheme, from £1 to £20, is an excellent one, and one that we should all encourage.

There will have to be a change of heart on the part of the Department with regard to telephone kiosks in rural Ireland. They should be supplied as a social service and not on the basis of whether they make money. They are vitally important in rural Ireland. Deputy Desmond will probably be talking about the large housing estates in Dublin but in those estates if you knock at somebody's door you will find he has a telephone, whereas in rural Ireland a telephone kiosk can make the difference between life and death. In my constituency doctors live as far apart as 20 to 30 miles. A telephone kiosk provides a vital link between the people and the doctors. Saying to Deputies and other people that a telephone kiosk will not be provided in a certain place because it would not make money is not good enough. It is a “must”.

The telephone directory was improved last year. I think the printing is getting smaller or perhaps my sight is getting worse as I get older. It strikes me that the binding could be better. At present the backs fall off the directories. Even the ones around the House here are in bits in no time.

Mr. Desmond: Information on Barry Desmond  Zoom on Barry Desmond  Hear, hear.

[2460]Mrs. Hogan O'Higgins: Information on Brigid Hogan-O'Higgins  Zoom on Brigid Hogan-O'Higgins  It should be possible for the Department to punch a hole in the directories so that we could put a piece of string through them and hang them up. It is very irritating to find the telephone directory thrown here and there.

To get back to the kiosks. I sometimes go into public kiosks in Dublin to see if they are working. I notice that on the outskirts of the city many of the telephones are out of order. This is probably pure vandalism. I do not know how we can overcome this problem. Possibly more could be done in the schools. The Minister and the Minister for Education might arrange to have talks given to the children to teach them that telephone kiosks are public property and as such they must not be destroyed. They should be told that these telephones are very important. There should not be so much vandalism in the city. There is a lot of it and it frightens me. It is a bad sign. I suppose parents have a responsibility, too, but much could be done, and should be done, in the schools.

I see that money orders are increasing. I find that the post office are very careful about money orders. If there is any question about one being lost they are very quick to look into the matter and replace it.

The Minister said that he had a small surplus but that he expects to have an overall deficit of £1½ million. I do not know what to advise in this situation. That is not my job. I suppose his officials will advise the Minister. Postal charges and telegraph charges cannot be further increased. If telegraph charges are increased that service will go out of business. I have always felt that it is the policy of the Department to discourage people from using the telegraph service. Whether or not this is so, the charges are such that one would imagine that the Department were trying to make them prohibitive rather than to encourage the use of the service. I would not advocate increasing telephone charges although I imagine the Minister will be tempted to do so because of the increasing use of the telephone and because of the absolute reliance of business people and, indeed, all subscribers on the telephone.

[2461] The Minister said:

In these circumstances, the question of a further adjustment of post office charges will have to be considered shortly but I am not in a position to say any more than that at present.

I suppose that when the Minister is in a position to do so he will tell us and we can discuss it further. We could be guessing here all day and wasting our time and the Minister's time. I do not think that would achieve anything.

The Minister has in his Department, if I may say so, a very sticky section, that is, the broadcasting section. It is becoming a big thing. It is becoming the most important influence in our lives. Of all the media television is the one wielding the greatest influence. For that reason it behoves us here to keep a very close eye on television. I appreciate that the people in Montrose regard us as mere politicians, knowing nothing about the workings of television. They are inclined to be a little bit temperamental, shall I say, about criticism or even about advice. They are now ten years in operation and some of the news commentators and some of the producers seem to feel they are practically omnipotent. They are not omnipotent and it is, perhaps, no harm to remind them of that now and then. In saying this, I am not advocating that we should perpetually interfere with the working of Telefís Éireann. That would not be a good thing but there should, I think, be a close check kept on the working of Telefís Éireann. After all, we are elected by the people and, whether the people in Telefís Éireann like it or not, we represent the views of the people.

Last year, on the Estimate, I made a remark about a certain programme and, as a result, my telephone never stopped ringing for two days; they were abusive calls, some of them obviously from Telefís Éireann. The calls were obviously set up because those speaking all used the same phraseology. Then the man whose programme I criticised “had himself a ball” for 30 minutes, or so, on [2462] television, saying anything he liked about me, and he then went into three or four columns of print. Fine. He is entitled to do that. But my advice to the people in Telefís Éireann is to listen to criticism. While nobody likes criticism, one can always with advantage glean a little truth from it. We should be free to raise our voices here without calling down upon us a tirade of abuse.

On the whole, Telefís Éireann is very good. I believe, though I have not discussed this to any great extent with my party, that the Minister was quite right in the stand he took about illegal organisations. Over the past year I have been increasingly worried at the amount of time and coverage given to members of these organisations by Telefís Éireann. I did not think it was a good thing. I can understand their point of view; they say these organisations exist and people should be aware of their points of view. I do not agree with this. We should give absolutely no encouragement, or even any sign of encouragement, to illegal organisations and, as the main moulder of public opinion, Telefís Éireann should be very careful. The Minister gave this directive and most of the programmes behaved excellently about it. Notice was taken of it by the newscasters and by those who run “7 Days”. One Irish programme still gives a little too much coverage and the Late, Late Show is not completely free from blame. Occasionally, coverage is given in that programme to a member of an illegal organisation. Those responsible for these programmes should be alerted and, if the great danger inherent in doing this sort of thing is pointed out to them, I am sure they will act responsibly about it.

We have either become sophisticated or blasé, but the standard of the programmes in Telefís Éireann seems to be going down. Perhaps it is because they are short of money. I just do not know. The “current affairs” programmes are still good, but not as good as they were. Even the presentation has deteriorated. I have noticed a certain sloppiness, bad grammar and poor presentation. Drama is non-existent. The canned American and English programmes are getting worse.

[2463] The schools programme is excellent and the more time given to this programme the better it will be. It is one way of visually educating children. They seem to learn from television when they cannot learn or, perhaps will not learn, from their teachers and their parents. The more time and money Telefís Éireann spend on schools programmes the better.

Sports coverage is excellent. I have seen it in colour and it is really very good. Music is non-existent. I do not know what has become of our orchestras. We are quite a musical people as a nation, but the only music seems to be traditional music and “pop”. The younger generation like “pop”. I do not understand it at all. Surely we could have more light music. We are rearing a generation of children and we are doing nothing to expose them to any cultural influences. Television and radio have an important part to play here and they should play it.

As far as radio is concerned, one listens to it not at all, or only in the car, or when one is doing one's household chores. On the whole, the radio programmes are good but, for £7 10s, Radio Telefís Éireann are not giving the customer a good return. On the east coast one has access to other wavelengths but in areas like south Cork, Kerry, Galway and all along the western seaboard the only wavelength one can get is Radio Telefís Éireann. People ask me: “Can you not do something about Radio Telefís Éireann? We are sick of it.” Unfortunately, in that area we are stuck with it and for £7 10s Radio Telefís Éireann are not giving us a good service.

We used to have a number of continuity girls. Whether Women's Lib went wrong, or what, I do not know, but we see less and less of these girls now. I think that is a bad thing. I think girls make quite good announcers. I know the BBC does not use them, but girls are very pleasant to look at and they have pleasant voices. I do not see why a great deal more use is not made of them.

The report about the shortage of video tapes has disturbed me. I understand Telefís Éireann have wiped off [2464] Jimmy O'Dea and Seán Ó Riada. This is a tragedy. A few years ago I saw a full hour of Jimmy O'Dea and it was the funniest programme I ever saw. Seán Ó Riada was one of the finest musicians this country produced. His death was a sad blow. It is a tragedy that his tapes were not preserved. This shows a shortsightedness on someone's part. These tapes should be preserved. Why not wipe out the politicians? Posterity will not rely on politicians but it will rely on Seán Ó Riada.

“The Politicians”, after an absence of three years, has returned to the screen. I was on the first programme. In my opinion it is too late at night and it is too short. It is not possible to have a decent discussion in 25 minutes. The form in which politicians sit in a V shape is not suitable and as no desks are supplied there is nowhere for them to put their notes. If one has notes in one's hand it is obvious one is reading. Telefís Éireann should try to facilitate politicians in order to get the best out of them. I had nowhere to put my notes when I was on television and I found it rather disconcerting. I know the Minister who appeared with me was quite agitated that he had nowhere to put his notes. I mentioned it to the authority at the time but when I saw the programme last week the position was exactly the same.

It is a good thing to have politicians on the air now and then as it gives constituents a chance to see Opposition Deputies because as Telefís Éireann is set up at the moment all one seems to get are pictures of Ministers opening factories, Ministers making speeches and so on, but one never sees an Opposition Deputy and one wonders if there is any Opposition at all. In point of fact we are labouring away on behalf of our constituents but we never get on television.

My view on advertising is well known. Advertisements should be informative and educational; they are certainly not educational and very often they are not informative either. The Telefís Éireann advertisement about TV spongers irritates me although I understand it is very effective. A number of the advertisements for articles such as toothpaste and washing powders [2465] are made by English firms and the fact that the actors have English accents immediately puts me off buying the product. I am sure English accents have the same effect on other people as well. Surely we have good actors who would be able to make television advertisements. In general I loathe advertisements although I appreciate the authority have to get money from somewhere but I do believe we could get a better standard of advertisement than we get at present.

It seems to me that we had an Estimate debate in March of this year.

Mr. G. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  At the end of February and the beginning of March.

Mrs. Hogan O'Higgins: Information on Brigid Hogan-O'Higgins  Zoom on Brigid Hogan-O'Higgins  For that reason I do not intend to speak for very much longer. I would, however, like to ask the Minister what has happened to the Devlin Report because last year he promised us more information about it. The Devlin Report made far-reaching recommendations for the Department of Posts and Telegraphs but nothing has happened. The Minister is inclined to make these promises. He also said last year that he was going to introduce a Bill but I do not think it has come before the House yet.

Mr. G. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  It is on the way; it is only a matter of weeks.

Mrs. Hogan O'Higgins: Information on Brigid Hogan-O'Higgins  Zoom on Brigid Hogan-O'Higgins  If that is the case we shall have a full discussion on it in a few weeks time.

During the last ten years a number of rural post offices have closed down and this has meant that the paying of social welfare benefits at rural post offices is not as easy a matter as it used be. CIE have withdrawn practically all their services in rural Ireland and as a result people have to hire taxis in order to collect their pensions. There should be some arrangement whereby pensioners could have their pensions posted out to them. I am sure it could be done with very little adjustment.

The services provided by our sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses are second to none. I should like to compliment them for the services they give. I do not know any other person in rural Ireland to whom one can say, [2466]“Ring the vet, ring the doctor, take a message for me, tell the person who is arriving on the 6 o'clock bus such-and-such” and he or she will do all these things with a smile. They work long, long hours for very little remuneration, as the Minister knows. I worked out that my own postmistress works on a Sunday for 2s an hour. She is an elderly woman and she gives a tremendous service. Our sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses give a better service than the young telephonists in the new exchanges.

I do not know what sort of training telephonists are given but they should be given a crash course in basic geography. I find myself arguing with the telephonist that there is such a place as Kinvara.

Mr. Geoghegan: Information on John Geoghegan  Zoom on John Geoghegan  There are two.

Mrs. Hogan O'Higgins: Information on Brigid Hogan-O'Higgins  Zoom on Brigid Hogan-O'Higgins  But there is one in Clare/South Galway. I can understand a telephonist mistaking Castlerea for Loughrea—that is probably due to the subscriber's mispronunciation—but to have a telephonist tell one there is no such place as the place one is trying to call is neither good for the telephonist nor the subscriber and does not make for general harmony. It is also bad for tourism. This is one of the little ways in which we let ourselves down. The girls in the exchange cannot help the shortage of lines but they can be polite and on the whole they are. As I get older I seem to become more short-tempered and like many subscribers I am probably more at fault than the telephonist, but the end result is very unhappy. Generally, I would say the Minister's staff are second to none. I am glad to see they are being reasonably well paid. I can assure the Minister that the cost of living is going to go up 4 per cent. He should make an estimate in his budget for an increase in salaries to which his staff will be well entitled.

In conclusion, I would like to congratulate the Minister's Department on the overall way they are handling services. His Department is one that every member of the public comes into contact with at some stage. I should like to thank the Minister for his detailed speech and for all his assistance during the year.

[2467]Mr. Desmond: Information on Barry Desmond  Zoom on Barry Desmond  May I also thank the Minister for his comprehensive statement and for the detailed background information given by his Department to every Deputy. I notice most Departments do not make available general background information to assist Deputies. I find myself in a slightly cynical frame of mind facing the Minister this morning. I never thought I would see the day when the protégé of Deputy Neil Blaney, already in a ministerial seat, would have voted him out of that party. The Minister perhaps more than anybody else in Fianna Fáil owes his seat to that Deputy.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Denis Francis Jones  Zoom on Denis Francis Jones  This has nothing to do with the Estimate for the Department of Posts and Telegraphs.

Mr. Desmond: Information on Barry Desmond  Zoom on Barry Desmond  These are the ways of politics and this is my way of making a friendly opening comment to the Minister. It is important to point out that the Estimate for this Department is one of the major Estimates to come before the House in recent years. One might regard the Department of Posts and Telegraphs as being one of the major growth areas of the development in this country. There are now almost 21,000 persons employed in that Department. This is a larger number of people than are employed by CIE and that comparison alone indicates the immense importance of the Department in the development of an effective national communications system and in the provision of a major public service. As a fellow trade unionist, I can say that in my experience the staff of the Department are second to none and that the growth in staff is both necessary and welcome.

There are a number of aspects of the Minister's speech with which I wish to deal although I do not propose speaking on this Estimate at any length because a number of the matters involved were dealt with here in February and March last.

It is notable and, indeed, becoming increasingly disgraceful that in all of [2468] the Estimate speeches there is evidence of a complete absence of Cabinet discussion on the reorganisation of the various Government Departments. Last week the Minister for Lands told us that he would have wished to have seen the recommendations of the Devlin Report implemented in respect of his Department. Obviously, all is quite well in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs because there is no indication of any desire on their part to implement the Devlin recommendations. I do not blame the senior departmental staff for this because the blame rests with the Cabinet. The Devlin Report suggested that there was need for the establishment of a new Government Department, a Department of Transport and Communications of which the entire postal and telecommunications service would form a part. The recommendations raised many complex issues relating to the Department not the least of which was the question as to whether there should be a separate Government Department but since April, 1970, the Minister has been telling the House that these matters are under consideration. However, from information available within the Department there is no evidence of any work being done at Cabinet level on the rationalisation and reorganisation of Government administration affecting the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. Therefore, I wonder why we should bother to ask men of eminence to help compile reports and why we should spend a great deal of public money on such reports when they are consigned at departmental level and, particularly, at Cabinet level, to the wastepaper basket. It is a measure of the failure of Fianna Fáil to come to grips with building an Ireland of the seventies and eighties that we are trying to run the country on a departmental structure of the twenties and thirties. I will not labour that point further but we must continue to hammer it here because nothing has been done in respect of the Devlin Report and its implications for the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. I might add that there are very extensive and clear-cut recommendations in the report relating to this particular Department.

I welcome the information that the [2469] Minister intends planning a further six postage stamps in 1972. These are to comprise the Europa stamp, a stamp in the series on contemporary Irish art, a Christmas stamp—I am not sure what that one is all about and whether it is designed to boost sales after the 20 per cent fall of last year—a stamp to mark World Health Day, 1972, stamps to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Olympic Council of Ireland and one to mark the issue of the first Irish postage stamp. Generally, these are welcome. Without any intention on my part of adding further fuel to the flames, I would like to mention a suggestion made during the year to the effect that it might be appropriate to issue postage stamps commemorating Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith. A country which saw fit to issue stamps commemorating Jack B. Yeats, stamps marking the elimination of racialism at international level, stamps in respect of European Conservation Year and a country which could find time to issue a stamp commemorating the 250th anniversary of the Royal Cork Yacht Club and a country which, appropriately, issued stamps commemorating Terence MacSwiney, Tomás MacCurtain and Kevin Barry, might have considered it appropriate to issue, without further ado, stamps commemorating Michael collins and Arthur Griffith once such a request had been made. It might be appropriate to commemorate these two leading political figures who were involved in the gaining of political independence for this country and who made contributions to this country that were distinctive in their own way despite the limitations that the Government Party might attach to these contributions. It was politically immature and, historically, rather vindictive that there was such smallmindedness within the Cabinet, and particularly on the part of certain members of the Cabinet, that the request was not acceded to. Neither the Minister's father nor mine were on the side of Michael Collins in the Civil War but nevertheless I do not think that either the Minister or I would wish to spend political time and energy in having to discuss this matter further because I am sure that he would accept that when there was a feeling within the country that such a [2470] stamp should be issued, this should have been done.

I share the public concern and alarm at the deterioration of the public telephone service, over which very considerable frustration is being experienced at two levels. Due to lack of capital, due to the failure of the Government to plan effectively for capital investment in the telephone service, the standard of general maintenance and of equipment has fallen off notwithstanding the tremendous work done by post office technicians and by the postal engineering staff. I do not think they are to blame in any way. The money is not being given to them, the equipment is not being given to them and the maintenance expenditure, which is now of a very high order with the growing telecommunications network, is not matching the growth of installation. As a result existing subscribers frequently complain of lack of service which can simply be traced to lack of effective maintenance particularly on the eastern seaboard area.

The second level of frustration is one with which most Deputies are familiar. There are now in the country 18,500 people looking for telephones, they cannot get them and many of them are not likely to do so for several years. Many Deputies, including the Minister, are slowly but quietly going out of their minds answering correspondence —I have this experience—from constituents who are looking for telephones. One says: “There is not much point making further representations to the Minister when the exchange is grossly overloaded and when essential equipment has not yet been put into X area and it looks as if what the telephone contract manager says, that you will be waiting for six or 12 months or two years, is in fact the position.” I do not think that in the public service it is good enough that there should be a situation where the waiting list is growing rather than diminishing. I know this is a reflection of the improvement in living standards in the country. All to the good. With the growth in industrial development, particularly outside Dublin, there is an extensive demand for telephones from the business community and from private subscribers. An increasing number of [2471] farmers throughout the country are installing telephones. This is a measure of the increasing wealth of the nation. All to the good. There will be no political objection to it on our part. I do think it is very serious though that a Government Department, in an area where people pay for the service and if you do not pay for it you do not have it——

Mr. G. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  I apologise to the Deputy for his being disconnected recently.

Mr. Desmond: Information on Barry Desmond  Zoom on Barry Desmond  This demands very urgent attention on the part of the Minister. While I appreciate that he personally is doing his best I think the capital allocation by the Government is not sufficient. He must kick up holy hell at Cabinet level and make sure that the money is allocated in the Budget.

The Minister's statement means that we could find ourselves in two or three years time with a waiting list for telephones of up to 20,000, 23,000 or 25,000 people. Nobody wants to inherit the Minister's job in any future administration and find himself with 25,000 people looking for telephones. The original allocation of capital expenditure was £9.5 million. Now the Minister informs us that the allocation is up to £10.73 million but, bearing in mind the general inflationary trend and the increasing cost of exchange and trunk equipment, we are very much in the situation of running fast only to remain where we are. I would strongly urge the Minister that the priority of the Department must be to increase the number of connections in the years ahead.

There is a danger that if the service deteriorates—I am using that word in a relative sense—because of lack of maintenance, lack of money to replace equipment and to build new exchange and trunk plant, there will be in the community a ripening demand for the setting-up of either a State-sponsored body for the telecommunications system or there will be the usual comparisons made with the private enterprise systems of America and so on. I do not know to what extent [2472] the Minister has been under pressure in the political field for that kind of development but it is true that the international telecommunications consortia would dearly love to get their hands on a bloc of 20,000 or 25,000 people looking for telephones. The proposition may well be made to the Government in the years ahead that this should be piped off. I would be completely opposed to this but it is in the interests of the public, in the interest of confidence in the public, that we get to grips with the growing demand for telephones.

On the buildings question I welcome the decision of the Minister to proceed with work in progress for the new district sorting office at Glenageary in County Dublin. That is very much needed and will be a considerable improvement in that growth area.

I would query the Minister's statement in relation to the decision of the Department to order a computer which is expected to be delivered in 1972. At Department of Finance level perhaps there should be a questioning of the extent to which individual Government Departments are tending to order separate computer systems. I have a feeling that in ten years time we will have quite a considerable duplication of computer equipment both in the private and public sector. In view of the enormous cost of this equipment perhaps the Minister would advise the House if there has been an investigation within the Department prior to the ordering of the computer equipment and the employment of staff and whether the available computers have been utilised to the full. I have considerable faith in the expertise of the staff of the Department and I realise they would not go ahead with this project unless it was necessary. However, where such equipment is installed in Government Departments there should be an assurance given to the House that there was liaison and consultation with other Departments who are using computers to ensure that duplication does not arise.

I commend the Minister on the campaign with regard to evasion of payment of television licence fees. I do not know the number of persons who [2473] are not paying their licence fees but I should imagine that the figure of 40,000 would not be far out. Certainly there is a considerable number involved and I would have no great sympathy for them if they were caught. They are getting a free ride and we have had enough of that in the country already without it being extended to radio and television services.

I am worried about one aspect of the decision of the Minister with regard to the wired television system. Where RTE have been putting in the multi-channel system it is found that people no longer look at RTE. With the installation of this system there has been a substantial switch over to BBC, to UTV, to Harlech, and so on. While welcoming the introduction of the wired television system and the relaying of external programmes, this development has considerable implications for RTE. I have found that when many people in Dublin speak to me about political or other reports more often than not they are speaking about BBC or UTV reports. Except for major programmes with a high TAM rating, such as the Late Late Show, people are switching over from RTE. I know that away from the eastern seaboard people have not got a multi-channel choice but it is ironical that one of the outcomes of the wired television system sponsored by RTE is the decline in viewing audiences for RTE.

There is another major difficulty in this matter also. RTE relays must adjust and readjust continuously in a complex system, anticipating the multiplicity of channel distortions and changes made in Britain. We are trying to provide a multi-channel relay system from stations over which we do not exert any control. I am worried that following the installation of this system and the purchase of expensive equipment, policy changes could abort completely the work and the preparations already made. This has happened in recent weeks in respect of one channel beamed from Wales. One had the experience recently of looking at a BBC programme which was accompanied by a [2474] sound track from Madrid. This kind of odd situation could develop increasingly in the future.

While I support fully the work of RTE relays, nevertheless the Minister, in consultation with RTE, might have technical working parties set up in order to investigate the extent to which there could be consultation between him, those responsible for RTE relays and the external interests so that we will not find ourselves with very expensive connections that might not be worth anything in two or three years time. Certainly in my constituency this wired television system is developing rapidly.

One question I would ask the Minister in relation to the postal service is to what extent the Department have ensured that the lodging of mail from major business undertakings and Government Departments has been staggered? When mail is dumped in a pile at the sorting office on a Friday afternoon, major bottlenecks and difficulties arise, particularly in view of the five-day week. I would urge business undertakings and those firms with heavy mail to co-operate more effectively with the Department by staggering their post and handing it in in sufficient time. This would be of major benefit to the staff and increase the efficiency of the delivery system.

At the risk of being repetitive, again I wish to raise the question of the political rights of the 21,000 persons employed in the postal services. We know they cannot join a political party or be officers of a political party and that the rank and file postmen and clerks throughout the country are discriminated against grievously. I understand with regard to the claim for civil rights by the Post Office Workers' Union and the other postal unions that they have received an offer they do not regard as satisfactory and that negotiations are proceeding. From statements made by the Minister for Finance I am aware that the claim is still under consideration at conciliation level. I would urge the Minister very strongly to expedite the completion of this claim. The introduction of elementary civil rights for public servants should be granted.

It is all very well lecturing and hectoring [2475] the Northern Ireland Unionists about civil rights, but a postal clerk in Northern Ireland has far greater and more extensive civil and political rights than a postal clerk in the Republic. We still have the farcical situation in 1971 that an ESB employee who goes up a pole and fixes a light, can stand for Dáil Éireann, or become a local councillor, and get leave of absence to do so, and then go back to the ESB, but if a postman, or a post office employee, who goes up a pole to fix telephone wires, is caught canvassing for a political party, or attending a party political meeting—not that that has inhibited some Government Deputies, as Deputy Haughey can confirm—he can lose his employment under the departmental regulations.

While I do not presume to know the political allegiances of the post office staffs, nevertheless it is time that this terrible anomaly was removed by the Minister. It would be generally welcomed and it would open up political life in the country more effectively. Naturally the situation in regard to the higher echelons of the postal service is different, because they are involved in policy formation at executive level and understandably there has to be some restraint. The Minister should put the screws on the Minister for Finance to do this. This is the current pastime of the Cabinet, I gather. There should be no difficulty in doing this since the Minister for Finance is currently putting the screws on everybody else.

I am glad that the Minister and the Minister for Justice have succeeded in having the position reversed in regard to Standard Time. I am sure this will be a considerable improvement.

I endorse what Deputy Mrs. Hogan O'Higgins said about the telephone directory. To use a word which a colleague of mine, Matt Merrigan, uses now and again, the directory is diabolical. That is about the only word which effectively describes it. A six-year-old child would put a better cover on his school book than the cover on the directory. It is dreadful. It should be harder. The binding is also terrible. There seems to be a craze for built-in obsolescence.

[2476] Vandalism and the lack of public spirit which affects our telephone kiosks cannot be excused. In many areas directories have to be replaced almost every week. In many respects the directory could be better laid out. The Minister should give his attention to this matter. The Department should also arrange to have a hole bored in the directory so that it can be hung up properly. This would involve a danger of its disintegrating more quickly but still it should be done.

While the Minister was interested in the possibility of having a shortwave radio system he did not give us much hope for it. I do not think he has accepted the viewpoint of the Opposition on this matter, which I hold strongly. I welcome Radio na Gaeltachta and I hope it will be of great benefit to the Gaeltacht areas. I commend the Minister for the work he has done in the establishment of Radio na Gaeltachta during the past 12 months. I still think we should have local radio systems. I do not think the capital expenditure would be all that immense. On the continent of Europe, in America and in Britain there are many local radio stations providing a public service, as opposed to local commercial radios. They give a sense of identity to the local community. This would be of major benefit to this country.

I should not like to see local radios becoming local advertising media for supermarkets or something like that. We will have Radio na Gaeltachta in the Galway area but we should have radio systems in operation in Cork, Dublin and Athlone to serve those regions. There is sufficient expertise within the RTE system and sufficient goodwill on the part of the authority to provide this service. The local stations should be under the supervision and control of the RTE Authority. I would hope to see in the future Radio Cork, Radio Dublin, Radio Athlone, RTE and Radio na Gaeltachta. In many respects our communications system is rather embryonic and not very effective.

With regard to RTE and their involvement in the communications system, we should take a hard look at this House and do two or three things. [2477] The RTE studio facilities provided in Leinster House are a disgrace to the national Parliament. I hope that Harold Wilson is not interviewed in the RTE studio in this House tomorrow because, if I may forewarn him, there is a terrible danger that he may break his neck. That would be a major political problem facing RTE and they would get a ministerial directive arising out of that one.

In view of the fact that we spent £2 million or £3 million on this place we might as well direct the Office of Public Works to provide two RTE studios here. RTE have not got the capital. I know that the RTE staff are part of the general Press Gallery of this House and will remain an integral part of the Press Gallery. The facilities in the Press Gallery are already marginal in terms of decent facilities for those who have to work there. Some members of the staff of the Press Gallery are here more often than some Deputies. The provision of extra facilities in this House for RTE would be of major benefit.

I have great sympathy for the RTE staff who seem to suffer periodically from a wide variety of ear diseases because they are constrained to appear on programmes wearing earphones which link them to the station. They are transfixed to a television camera. In the interests of their sanity and our concern for their future, they should have a decent RTE studio here. I wish them well and I think they should get this facility immediately. It would be of major benefit in the presentation of programmes from Leinster House itself.

I would also strongly urge the Minister to consider the introduction of television into Leinster House. There will always be the lunatic fringe admittedly, even in Parliament, who at the mere sight of a camera or a microphone will do all in their power to get into the picture as it were, and make, if they are permitted, a non-stop verbal contribution. However, there are major occasions in this House which should, I think, be televised.

Mr. G. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  I am sure the Deputy appreciates that this is entirely a matter for the Committee on Procedure [2478] and Privileges. It has nothing to do with my Department.

Mr. Desmond: Information on Barry Desmond  Zoom on Barry Desmond  I accept that, but unless we initiate something ourselves it will not happen. I have discussed this with the Labour Whip and he is very much in favour of major debates being televised. The particular areas could be defined. Some of the lunatic fringe might try to cash in but RTE, with their expertise, could well cope with these. Nonsense would be cut out.

There is at the moment a certain devaluation, as it were, of Parliament. There is a growing public disenchantment with Parliament. There is also a wider gulf between the electorate and Dáil Éireann. This is evidenced by people continually asking what exactly is going on inside here. There are the daily newspapers and they perform a valuable public service, but we cannot run a proper parliamentary democracy effectively now on the communications system of the 1930s or the 1940s. It is high time steps were taken to televise proceedings in this House. I make the suggestion seriously. The people are entitled to know what exactly is going on here. They are entitled to see what is happening here. That is their fundamental right in the modern communications and technological system of the 1970's.

Mr. Crowley: Information on Florence Crowley  Zoom on Florence Crowley  Does the Deputy think the people would be better informed if the television cameras were brought in?

Mr. Desmond: Information on Barry Desmond  Zoom on Barry Desmond  They would provide more information, give people a greater awareness of and a greater sensitivity to what is going on. I should not like to see the people witnessing or listening to some of the scenes we have here on occasion; the prospects of some Deputies being re-elected would sharply diminish. Television should be introduced.

The party political programmes are dire. That is the only word that describes them. This is mainly due to failure to have effective public discussions between the political parties. The ratio is one Labour Party Deputy, one Fine Gael Deputy and two Fianna Fáil Deputies. The programmes are put [2479] on too late on Monday night, so late that it is almost gratuitiously insulting to the political parties.

Mr. G. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  Hear, hear.

Mr. Desmond: Information on Barry Desmond  Zoom on Barry Desmond  There are now five political parties and how RTE will work out the proper ratio for the next general election remains to be seen. There are some politicians who literally disgrace themselves on television. They use it for party political propaganda and they make the most determined efforts to get their propaganda across. Actually they destroy themselves and their party in the process, but it all makes for very bad television. I have the greatest respect for the chairman of the programme. He is an agreed chairman. As I say, the programme is put on too late and not enough time is given for a proper discussion. A very sharp look will have to be taken at the programme and its effectiveness. Even if it is a political party programme there is no reason why it should always be manned by Deputies. Non-political people and public personalities should be asked to make their contribution on matters of public importance, such as bringing jobs to regions, environmental pollution, and so on.

I take it that the prime objective of our television service is to reflect, as far as is practicably possible, distinctive characteristics of the Irish way of life. The authority has not been successful in doing this. There is still an excessive amount of Anglo-American canned trash designed to cater for the lowest common denominator of public intelligence. I do not find programmes with dubbed laughter amusing any more. In a very titillating sense some of these programmes are amusing and help to fill in one's leisure hours but certainly the moronic conception of life, humour and contrived domestic situations which one sees on the imported material is terrible. RTE should make a determined effort to broadcast fewer such programmes. I understand the present director-general of RTE is aware of public criticism in this regard —I do not go along with the point of view that engineers know nothing about cultural values—and intends to [2480] improve the general standard of such programmes in a cultural sense, in its truest form rather than in the form of any intellectual cultural obsession. Irish heritage and music north and south could be effectively portrayed on RTE and there could be liaison between UTV and RTE in this field.

It would be improper to allow this debate to pass without paying a tribute to the staff of Telefís Éireann and the newspaper correspondents who have brought us news coverage about the tragic affairs in Northern Ireland during the past 12 months. The staff of RTE have played a major part in putting before the people in the south the events which have occurred during the past 12 months in the North of Ireland. Men such as Liam Hourigan, John McAleese, Paddy Smith and the camera crews have been working in Belfast under extreme difficulties and have been very often in danger. They have succeeded in providing an effective service. The thanks we must give them and the newspaper reporters covering the Northern situation should be recorded.

That brings me to the ministerial directive. I wish to separate the work done by the staff in Belfast from that done in relation to some programmes in Dublin. I have already expressed my concern and worry about certain aspects of the directive. I am not sure there was much point in doing it the way the Minister did and certainly if I was in the Minister's position, it would not have been the way I would have gone about it.

I do not want to see any glorification or glamorisation on any national communications media. Those responsible for news and feature programmes on RTE must ensure that the advocacy of violence does not become the norm of coverage. Likewise, I do not want to see privileged positions given— I shall define what I mean by “privileged positions” later on—either in news slots or in interviews to members of illegal organisations. Where people advocate violence on television RTE should ensure that there is somebody present on the same programme to give a counter-balancing point of view. For this reason I am concerned about exclusive interviews of members of [2481] illegal organisations or, indeed, with politicians who might advocate violence because the advocacy of violence can very easily become the norm.

During the past 12 months we have become attuned to the various manifestations of violence. We accept that a soldier is shot, a housewife is shot, a child is shot, an RUC man is shot, a worker on his way to work is shot, a factory plant is blown up, a pub is blown up or a welfare office is blown up. The public are becoming blasé about violence in the same way as the Americans, who, after seeing the horror films about Vietnam for the past three years, regard it now as so much general boredom. There is a major responsibility on the staff of RTE to ensure that the public will not be infected by any casual approach to violence.

During the course of his speech the Minister said:

On the 28th September, 1971, members of an illegal organisation were interviewed on a television programme “7 Days” in a way which I and the Government considered to be prejudicial to the public interest.

I would ask the Minister to advise the House in what way and in what manner he and the Government considered the particular method of interviewing on “7 Days”, which is the one programme which has given rise to the directive, to be prejudicial to the public interest? The reason I put the question to the Minister is that this is the first time any Minister for Posts and Telegraphs has used the power. Therefore, he should define the reasoning behind the Government's decision and should let us have the information that is available to the Government. In the interests of RTE staff, and in the public interest, and as a right of Opposition Deputies we should be told what transpired between the Minister and the director-general of RTE. I am not asking for the exact memoranda but the views of the Minister on this matter should be elaborated in the House. I say that to the Minister in good faith. It is my opinion that once the RTE authority give an assurance that they will abide by certain views of the Minister, and in this particular [2482] case such assurance was given by the authority, the Minister should then advise the authority that he no longer wishes the directive to apply. We cannot have a national television system operating under a continuing directive, a directive which in this case appears to be going to last for all time. I considered the directive to be vague, extremely generalised and rather sweeping in content. To my knowledge there has been considerable difficulty in the news section and features programme section of RTE in the interpretation of the directive. The Minister should clear the air in this regard.

By and large I do not favour intervention of this kind by the Government but where there is such intervention it should only happen after extensive public discussion of the matters involved. Whether it was necessary to issue the directive is, in the long-term view, very much open to question. Regardless of whether there is a directive in force, I prefer the system whereby the sense of public responsibility of the journalists themselves is relied on to give a balanced presentation of news. These are the men on the spot who have to make instant judgments—judgments that are very often subjective. I do not think we could ever reach the stage at which the Minister would have his own private censor in Montrose indicating what could be presented and the way in which any programme should be presented.

In conclusion, I thank the Minister for his comprehensive statement to the House. I wish him well in implementing the measure he has outlined. I thank him in particular for giving us background information before the introduction of the Estimate. This was very helpful and I can only express the wish that his colleagues in the Cabinet would follow his example.

Mr. Crowley: Information on Florence Crowley  Zoom on Florence Crowley  This Estimate is becoming more important each year particularly in so far as the most powerful medium of communication in the country is under the aegis of the Minister's Department. It is only right that Deputies should devote a large part of their contribution to the affairs of this particular medium.

We can all concur completely with [2483] Deputy Desmond's desire for a balance in programmes and for objective reporting. However, I must strike an unhappy note and say that Telefís Éireann present some programmes that are neither balanced nor objective. One such programme is “Féach”—a programme that is masqueraded as a programme in Irish but half of which is presented in English and one chairman of which was an unsuccessful politician who has a lot of political bias. When we get this opportunity of talking on this aspect, we should speak out as strongly about subjects as he seems to speak, subjects about which, in my opinion, he knows very little.

Mr. Desmond: Information on Barry Desmond  Zoom on Barry Desmond  Who?

Mr. Crowley: Information on Florence Crowley  Zoom on Florence Crowley  Mr. MacAonghusa.

Mr. Desmond: Information on Barry Desmond  Zoom on Barry Desmond  He is not the only person involved in the “Féach” programme.

Mr. Crowley: Information on Florence Crowley  Zoom on Florence Crowley  I am talking about one man. I know that he is a member of the political party to which Deputy Desmond belongs.

Mr. G. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  I think, too, that on one occasion he was seeking Deputy Desmond's seat in Dún Laoghaire/ Rathdown but Deputy Desmond dealt with that.

Mr. P. Barry: Information on Peter Barry  Zoom on Peter Barry  They ran him up to County Louth.

Mr. G. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  There were other reasons for that.

Mr. Desmond: Information on Barry Desmond  Zoom on Barry Desmond  In fairness, there is more than one person involved in that particular programme.

Mr. Crowley: Information on Florence Crowley  Zoom on Florence Crowley  Yes, but we are all aware of the vitriolic pen of this particular gentleman, Mr. MacAonghusa.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Cormac Breslin  Zoom on Cormac Breslin  Individuals should not be discussed in this manner.

Mr. Crowley: Information on Florence Crowley  Zoom on Florence Crowley  I agree, but it was Deputy Desmond who asked me to name him. I had not intended naming him.

Mr. Desmond: Information on Barry Desmond  Zoom on Barry Desmond  I did not ask the Deputy to name him.

[2484]Mr. Crowley: Information on Florence Crowley  Zoom on Florence Crowley  The Deputy did ask me to name him and I did so.

Mr. G. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  The records will prove that Deputy Desmond asked Deputy Crowley to name the gentleman concerned.

Mr. Crowley: Information on Florence Crowley  Zoom on Florence Crowley  However, the most obvious example of what I have in mind and which I saw being perpetrated by the “Féach” programme was an interview with a certain member of an illegal organisation. This interview was in English but in the Irish news bulletin that went out before the programme, this man gave the interview in Irish. I am merely wondering why the interview in Irish could not have been used on the “Féach” programme. I am suspicious about the motives of “Féach”. I do not think they have the Irish language or the interests of the Irish language at heart. They are much more concerned with propounding the views of a few off-beat radicals who are responsible for the design, production and presentation of the programme.

Mr. Desmond: Information on Barry Desmond  Zoom on Barry Desmond  Is the Deputy now referring to all the staff of “Féach”?

Mr. Crowley: Information on Florence Crowley  Zoom on Florence Crowley  I am not.

Mr. Desmond: Information on Barry Desmond  Zoom on Barry Desmond  The Deputy should be more explicit.

Mr. Crowley: Information on Florence Crowley  Zoom on Florence Crowley  We will again have Deputy Desmond denying that he ever asked me to be more explicit.

Mr. Desmond: Information on Barry Desmond  Zoom on Barry Desmond  Which programmes?

Mr. G. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  Deputy Desmond should realise that we could have interrupted him many times and did not.

Mr. Crowley: Information on Florence Crowley  Zoom on Florence Crowley  Deputy Desmond was rightly concerned that there were more and more people tuning in to BBC and ITV. The only reason they are doing this is because they are getting better value, better programmes, from these two channels. Otherwise they would not be turning over to them. I cannot see how Deputy Desmond on the one hand defends RTE and on the other says that they are losing their viewing public. The reason why they are losing their viewing public is they [2485] are not putting on programmes of sufficient quality to hold the audience.

Mr. Desmond: Information on Barry Desmond  Zoom on Barry Desmond  “Féach” has a very high TAM rating. I know that. It is one of the better public affairs programmes—“Encounter” and “Féach”.

Mr. G. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  There is no doubt about it, Deputy Desmond does his utmost to play to the gallery at all times. He is a hypocrite in his heart. He can never help it. He would change his hat and change his coat 100 times a day to get on any bandwagon that might get him a headline. I hate saying that but it is quite true.

Mr. Crowley: Information on Florence Crowley  Zoom on Florence Crowley  When Deputy Desmond was speaking about the people who had foot-and-mouth disease when they went before a television camera the first person who came into my mind was Deputy Desmond.

Another worry I have as a public representative, as a person representing people who pay taxes, is the squandermania that seems to be prevalent in RTE. I counted on one night here, not so very long ago, a very important occasion, 27 people from Telefís Éireann representing “Report”, “Féach”, “7 Days”, the News Room and various other programmes. If we are being serious about producing the best possible programmes and getting value for money, surely anybody in his sane senses would not send 27 representatives to report one item here in the Dáil.

Mr. Desmond: Information on Barry Desmond  Zoom on Barry Desmond  It is not the fault of RTE if Fianna Fáil goes berserk.

Mr. G. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  Twenty-seven from RTE is far better than the entire strength of the Labour Party here.

Mr. Desmond: Information on Barry Desmond  Zoom on Barry Desmond  I did not hear that.

Mr. G. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  The Deputy will read it in the Official Report.

Mr. Crowley: Information on Florence Crowley  Zoom on Florence Crowley  At the same time, we must give credit where credit is due. We must give credit to the people who are doing a good job in Telefís Éireann and I name the Newsroom people who give objective and balanced reporting at all times. I cannot see why the other current affairs programmes cannot be balanced and [2486] objective. We, as taxpayers, are entitled to demand that our money is spent on giving the best possible value and I regret to say that we are not getting that value from Telefís Éireann. I think too that the station is Dublin-orientated. I think there are too many Dublin people involved in RTE.

Mr. Desmond: Information on Barry Desmond  Zoom on Barry Desmond  “Féach” is not all Dublin, you know.

Mr. Crowley: Information on Florence Crowley  Zoom on Florence Crowley  Deputy Desmond waffled for I do not know how long. Surely he held up the House long enough without holding it up further?

Mr. Desmond: Information on Barry Desmond  Zoom on Barry Desmond  Two-thirds of the staff are not native born Dublin people.

Mr. Crowley: Information on Florence Crowley  Zoom on Florence Crowley  The Deputy is not native born Dublin either.

Mr. Desmond: Information on Barry Desmond  Zoom on Barry Desmond  Fair enough.

Mr. Crowley: Information on Florence Crowley  Zoom on Florence Crowley  But he has become very “Dublinised” all of a sudden.

Mr. Desmond: Information on Barry Desmond  Zoom on Barry Desmond  Deputy Crowley is being provincial now.

Mr. Crowley: Information on Florence Crowley  Zoom on Florence Crowley  Even in the audiences on these programmes the vast majority are from Dublin. I will agree on one thing with Deputy Desmond—we should have more local stations because there is too much Dublin-orientation creeping into the programmes.

For some time here I have been advocating that we stop the discrimination against the southern part of the country which cannot receive a second channel. There are in the region of 500,000 licensed television sets in the country of which nearly half are receiving multi-channel television. We in the rest of the country are entitled to demand that we should not be discriminated against——

Mr. P. Barry: Information on Peter Barry  Zoom on Peter Barry  Hear, hear.

Mr. Crowley: Information on Florence Crowley  Zoom on Florence Crowley  ——and that we should be given the opportunity of changing from Telefís Éireann when they are putting out some of the trash they are putting out and selecting our own programmes. The Minister must, as a southerner, be in sympathy with our demands. In fact, I know he is in sympathy with them. We, as public representatives, should bring all possible pressure on him to ensure that our [2487] request is met. I do not think it is an unreasonable request. I do not believe, as some people seem to think, that there will be a dramatic deterioration in our morals, in our culture and cultural appreciation. I do not see that happening in the rest of the country where they have been receiving BBC and ITV for many years, some of them receiving it long before Telefís Éireann came into existence. I do not think that argument stands up. It is of the greatest importance that we should have a competitor in the rest of the country for Telefís Éireann and I think then that Telefís Éireann will not be able to afford the luxury of the few off-beat characters that seem to control the current affairs programmes.

To digress for a moment. I was looking for a second or a third channel but in parts of my constituency we have not yet got one channel because the reception is too weak for anybody to receive the television signal in certain areas. It should be a matter of priority with the Minister to ensure that the whole country starts by receiving at least one channel. We look forward very soon to having booster stations erected in parts of west Cork to ensure that we do get a proper reception. However, we may be saving them a certain amount of mental pollution by not having the signal strong enough for them to receive it but they are entitled to decide for themselves whether they want to be polluted or not.

We should consider seriously the introduction of a second RTE channel. It would have many advantages and it would ensure that we would be able to give a better selection of programmes to gain as much as possible of the viewing audience so that they will not turn over to other channels. This could be especially true of sport. While we do a good job on sport I think that for a country which is so sports-minded we are not really tapping the vast potential that there is for the viewing of sport.

This brings me to the question of getting television into the Six Counties. I do not think it is a great problem. For a small expenditure we could [2488] ensure that more people could receive RTE programmes. This is important in view of the fact that there is tremendous pressure on the BBC from the Tory Government to censor the news coming from the Six Counties, to give a distorted view of the news from that area and to give a purely Unionist viewpoint from that part of our country. The Minister should not delay in ensuring that as many people as possible in the Six Counties can receive programmes from RTE so that they will get an objective presentation and description of events.

Having visited the radio and television studios at Leinster House on a number of occasions I agree with Deputy Desmond that something should be done to improve the facilities available here——

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  Is the Deputy sure he does not mean the people taking part in the programmes?

Mr. Crowley: Information on Florence Crowley  Zoom on Florence Crowley  They might be improved also. However, this colossal weapon we have at our disposal—the communications medium of RTE—is something we should be concerned about and interested in. Perhaps I am biased, but I am afraid we are gradually drifting into a situation, especially in our current affairs programmes, in which there is a constant imbalance. Perhaps I am looking at it through different spectacles than those who present the programmes but I am giving my opinion and this view is shared by many people who have discussed this matter with me. It is important that when we get the opportunity of speaking on this Estimate that we voice our opinions as strongly as possible regarding the manner in which these programmes are conducted. I am disappointed with the approach adopted by RTE.

I wish that RTE could be operated more economically. I think there is a certain amount of squandering of money in RTE and to illustrate this I should like to quote from a debate in the Seanad on 24th February, 1971. Senator Quinian mentioned that he had been invited to appear on a programme in commemoration of UN Day. At column 903, Volume 69, of the Official Report of the Seanad he stated:

[2489] I raised the objection: “I have a very important meeting in Cork the following morning that I must attend.” No trouble at all to send me home by taxi from Dublin. However, I was not going to allow the taxpayers to pay for that, neither would I let myself in for that for a mere two-minute part in a programme.

For a two-minute contribution RTE were prepared, I presume, to pay a Member of the Oireachtas his fee and for a taxi home from Dublin to Cork. If that is not an example of the type of spendthrift policy adopted by RTE I do not know what it is. I hope a much tighter rein will be held on the purse strings to ensure that money is well spent.

A major problem in my constituency is the opposition we encounter from the Department in regard to the provision of telephone kiosks in remote areas. People living in such areas are entitled to certain concessions and I do not think the only criterion that should be adopted in regard to the provision of telephone kiosks is the number of people who may use the phone. A telephone service is vital; it is essential when people wish to phone for a doctor, a vet, or a priest that they should have access to a telephone. I would urge the Minister to do all in his power to ensure that telephone kiosks are erected in remote areas and I would ask him to make a statement on this matter.

Deputy Desmond referred to the installation of telephones and the backlog that exists and I should like to associate myself with his remarks on this point. All avenues should be explored to ensure that as many people as possible who apply for phones receive them. The post office are losing revenue each week by delaying the installation of phones.

I should like to congratulate the Minister on his statement which gave us the full facts and figures regarding the operations of his Department. It is important that we have available to us all the statistics and data relating to any Department which is being discussed because only then can we have a constructive debate on the various [2490] subjects we wish to raise. I know that the Minister has listened with attention to the request I made regarding multi-channel television services. I realise that he is interested in having these services available throughout the country.

I should like to congratulate those responsible for the anti-smoking advertisements that have been displayed on television. They are well presented and are having an influence on young people and are ensuring that at least they are old enough to decide for themselves before they start smoking.

We could very well start an anti-drinking campaign as well. As we all know, drinking is glamorised to make it appear to be the most natural and normal thing to do and to make it appear that a person is neither “with it” nor normal if he does not have his glass of whatever branded product is being advertised. We could very gainfully start an anti-drinking advertising campaign.

This is a very important Estimate and every Deputy shall have the opportunity of contributing to it. It affects us all. I hope that what I have said will have the effect of producing a better and more balanced television service.

Mr. P. Barry: Information on Peter Barry  Zoom on Peter Barry  As Deputy Crowley said, this is a most important Estimate involving £36 million for a Department which is, I believe, the second largest employer in the State. It demands a very close scrutiny by all Deputies. The Department of Posts and Telegraphs invades the life of all of us through letters, telephones, saving stamps, television and radio. We are all conscious of the Department every day of the year.

The fact that it is the second largest employer in the State places a tremendous responsibility on the Minister for the people who are employed by the Department. The wages there must be at least as high as those paid in comparable industries outside the Civil Service. Introducing the Estimate last year the Minister said that his Department were not leaders in wage claims. This is possibly true. Labour relations in the Department, so far as I can judge as an outsider and without [2491] having available to me the details that are available to the Minister, are extremely good. The postmen employed by the Department—and there are more of them this year—have a most difficult job. They have to work under most difficult circumstances and in clothing which is pre-first World War. The heavy beige uniform they wear is out-of-date and out of fashion. Something lighter and more attractive made with modern materials should be provided for them. We are inclined to get caught up in the details of presenting images. I suppose what I have just said could be interpreted that way, but there is also the point of view that, if the postmen were more comfortable and better dressed, the style of uniform would not matter too much from their point of view.

For the past 12 months there has been a new symbol on the post office vans. A new colour scheme has been designed and the “P & T” are in the very “with it” lower case lettering rather than the Gaelic capitals to which we are accustomed. This will not improve the efficiency of the post office one iota. To use another bit of current jargon, it will not improve the “job satisfaction” of the postmen. It is important that post office vans should be kept clean but the contentment of post office staff in the work they are doing is much more important.

I am glad to learn that the telephone service made a profit of £892,000. This is the only paying part of the Department, so far as I can see. A capital investment of £9¼ million is needed this year for telephones, and again next year, and the year after. The Minister said that because of the lack of trained personnel and the lack of capital resources, he cannot go ahead and install new phones. It might be possible to raise capital outside the Estimate for the Department for the installation of extra telephones and to go to the public for a loan as the ESB do. They are profit making and the interest rate involved could be paid. This would increase the revenue of the Department and the profitability of the telephone service and it should contribute generally to the more efficient [2492] working of the Department. I am not sure if this is possible having regard to the present composition of the Department. Probably special legislation would be necessary.

It is suggested every year that the telephone and telegraph services should be taken from the Department and that they should be an independent body. If the capital could be raised outside the Department and if they were successful in providing much needed capital for the installation of telephones, this should be tried, or the possibility explored.

Every Deputy will be familiar with the problem of damage to telephone kiosks in his constituency. The Department repair them as quickly as possible but there is usually a delay of three to four weeks. Telephone kiosks are very important in rural areas. If the telephone is out of order people feel cut off from doctors, dentists, the ambulance and other emergency services. I should like the Minister to consider where these telephones are sited. Perhaps they could be put somewhere else, even into private houses, or some place like the old sub-post offices. An arrangement might be made with private householders that their telephones would be available, and known to be available, rather than having the telephone out in the street. One telephone kiosk in Cork was damaged and it was a few weeks before it was repaired. Within 24 hours it was completely wrecked. All the glass in it was broken. The fitting was torn from the wall and the telephone directory was set on fire by savages or vandals. I do not know what satisfaction they get from doing this. It was repaired and, within 24 hours, exactly the same thing happened again.

The telephone service is a public service. The people who use these kiosks have not got the convenience of having their own telephone and therefore the public kiosks are for their use, particularly in an emergency. It is not good enough to have them out of commission because some crowd of brats have nothing better to do at night than break them up. The Minister should try to find some way in which they could be protected. Perhaps they [2493] could be put some place where they could be more easily watched and would not be so readily available to the vandals.

When he was speaking last year the Minister referred to a committee and he referred to it again this year. One of the depressing things I find in the Minister's speech is how almost exactly similar it is to the speech he made last year. The figures are changed but the order in which he refers to different points and the words he uses are the same. I will give another example of that later on. He referred to the committee which was set up to consider the structure, operation and finances of the postal services. I am disappointed the report is not available but I suppose, since it is such a complex problem, it is better that these people should take their time and come up with the correct answers for rationalising the service as against rushing it and giving us a half-baked solution. I am convinced the Department could be run at a profit and I believe it should be contributing to the Exchequer.

The Minister referred to a 6 per cent drop in telegrams and he blamed the postal strike in Britain for the drop. The extraordinary thing is there was a drop the year before also. Telegrams nowadays are sent mainly in the case of weddings, bereavements and births. A telegram sent on Saturday morning is not delivered until Monday and, if Monday happens to be a bank holiday, it is not delivered until Tuesday. If there is a bereavement in a family and a telegram is sent to a relative in Dublin on Friday night, and Monday is a bank holiday, the dead relative will be buried before the telegram is delivered on Tuesday morning. Even at some extra cost some effort should be made to deliver telegrams more punctually than that.

The Minister listed commemorative stamps, but there was no reference to a Griffith/Collins commemorative stamp. Last year the 250th anniversary of the Royal Yacht Club in Cork was commemorated. Far be it from me to say anything about this club, but Tomás MacCurtain and Kevin Barry never saw the inside of it, and never would, because the outlook of those [2494] running the club at that particular point of time was not sympathetic to the cause for which they died. There was a commemorative stamp for Synge and Yeats. The Minister told us this morning that six additional stamps are planned for 1972—a Christmas stamp, a stamp to mark World Health Day and the 50th anniversary of the Olympic Council of Ireland.

The 50th anniversary of the deaths of Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith will have no commemorative stamp. Events and people can be commemorated but not the founder of Sinn Féin and not Michael Collins. I was not born at the time of the civil war and I do not think it has any place in politics in 1971, but these were men who were recognised as cornerstones of this State and the pettiness of the Government in refusing to commemorate them is incredible. Apparently the civil war on the Government side of the House is not dead. This is regrettable. The Government's action is at once petty and stupid. There should be no necessity for us to have to talk like this in our national Parliament. These men should be commemorated. More will be heard about this until something is done.

To come to a purely local matter, the stamp vending machines outside the GPO in Cork have not been altered and one cannot buy a 4d stamp at these machines. If the post office is shut one has to insert 5p and postage is costing 25 per cent more if one has to post a letter after the post office has closed. This naturally annoys people.

As far as television is concerned, there are 144 different opinions in this House as to how the service should be run and there are probably close on 3,000,000 opinions outside the House as to how it should be run. We all put emphasis on different things. We all have our favourite programmes. It is the head of the authority who has the final word and, until the Minister or the authority are dissatisfied with what is being done, we will have to accept what Tom Hardiman gives us. We may, of course, criticise the offering.

Deputy Desmond is quite satisfied with the “current affairs” programme. Deputy Crowley is quite satisfied with [2495] the news. The “current affairs” programme has a slight bias towards the Labour Party and the news has a slight bias towards the Fianna Fáil Party. I do not know where Fine Gael comes in.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  The Deputy left out the cowboys.

Mr. P. Barry: Information on Peter Barry  Zoom on Peter Barry  I suppose we come in under advertising for cornflakes or something of that kind. I really do not know where we come in. Every Sunday, without fail, we are treated to some Government Minister laying a wreath or attending an anniversary Mass or performing some other patriotic duty. As I said, Deputy Desmond likes “current affairs”, Deputy Crowley likes the news; it is proFianna Fáil and Deputy Crowley thinks it is very fair. I suppose our day will come.

I agree with Deputy Crowley about multi-channel television. This is a sore point. It is ridiculous that people in one part of the country, paying exactly the same licence fee as others, should be deprived of this. In his speech last year and again this year the Minister used almost exactly the same words when talking about the restrictions on multi-channel television. At column 2135 of Volume 251 of the Official Report the Minister said:

The use of special technical means, such as microwave links, to extend the range of external programmes cannot however be authorised.

This morning the Minister said:

There is no change in the position that authority cannot be given for the use of special technical means, such as microwave links, to extend the range of external programmes.

That refers to multi-channel viewing for those outside the east coast and apparently they are not going to get it. As far as I understand, RTE picks up cross-Channel television stations and pipes them into Ballymun. This means that the people in that area have a choice, through RTE, of several channels. I cannot understand why RTE cannot pipe cross-Channel [2496] stations to other parts of the country. It seems to me to be a simple technical matter. I should like the Minister when he is replying, to explain why it cannot be done and what the cost would be.

Multi-channel TV has been causing some concern in Cork and so has the question of damage to telephone kiosks. One will see a headline in the evening paper which states: “Minister promises to look into damage to Telephone Kiosks.” The paper then reads: “At a Fianna Fáil meeting last night Deputy French read a letter from the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs saying he was not going to have any more telephone kiosks damaged.” When the Minister had to turn down the provision of multi-channel TV the paper states: “We have received a letter from the Department of Posts and Telegraphs saying that they cannot provide multi-channel TV.” When the news is good it comes through Fianna Fáil and when the news is bad it comes from the Department. I am sure the Department are able to look after themselves. They will not have to stand for election in Cork and Deputy French needs all the votes he can get.

I can appreciate the concern felt by some people that advertisers could dictate the contents of a programme. The ideal situation would be to have enough money to be able to run a television station without having to rely on advertising but we should set standards. The quality of most advertisements is high. However, one frequently sees what are obviously English-made advertisements advertising products on sale here. There was recently an advertisement on RTE for English biscuits, which was English made. The manufacturer of Irish biscuits had to pay not only to have the film shown but to have a film made as well. This meant the advertisement was much dearer for the Irish manufacturer and put him at a disadvantage. I feel that either manufacturers who have their advertising material made here should get some financial consideration from the authority or manufacturers using English-made advertisements should be fined for using them. It is wrong that some manufacturers should have the advantage [2497] of getting what are virtually secondhand films. It is a form of unfair competition for Irish manufacturers.

The only television programme I get to see is “Tarzan” on a Sunday evening but from what programmes I saw during the summer I must say the quality of the home produced programmes is as high as it ever was although there seemed to be far fewer of them. There are more canned programmes than there used to be. Probably the cost of producing a programme at home is very much higher than buying an American film, but if the television service is going to be of real benefit to the people we shall have to have many more home produced programmes. I am always struck by the amount of social consciousness displayed in “The Riordans”. It gives city people an appreciation of what rural life is like. Irish music programmes have improved a great deal during the past few years.

When the Cork Opera House was built seven or eight years ago it was equipped for use as a television studio. As far as I know, it has been used only twice, once for the opening night and on a second occasion for a series of Seán Dunphy shows last summer although I understand it is to be used next April for the National Song Contest. Much more use should be made of the Opera House and though I do not want to sound parochial, there are a number of gifted amateur dramatic groups in Cork. There is the Cork Ballet Company which last week came to Dublin without a subsidy from the Abbey Theatre and performed here on Sunday night. It is the only ballet company in the country. If they were filmed in the Opera House in Cork, I am positive there would be an audience for them and this could be done very cheaply. I should like to see the authority produce more programmes in the Cork Opera House and, indeed, in any other available centres outside Dublin.

I am glad to say that radio listening is coming into its own again although I am afraid it is a reflection on present-day living conditions that a programme such as “Music on the Move” has to be broadcast every [2498] evening in order to stop us getting frustrated when stuck in traffic jams on the way home. The voices of Gay Byrne, Valerie McGovern and Joe Linnane keep us semi-sane as we drive home.

This Estimate involves £36 million for the second most important employer in the country. Last night Deputy Kenny said that to present Deputies with a copy of the Minister's speech as he is reading does not give Deputies sufficient time to prepare a speech. I would repeat Deputy Kenny's plea that if we had a copy of the Minister's speech even 24 hours beforehand we might do a better job than I feel I have done today.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  The Estimate has been fairly fully debated by those who have already spoken and I shall, therefore, be touching on matters in which I have a particular interest. For that reason I may not spend as much time on this Estimate as I spent on last year's Estimate. I have commented before on the fact that the Minister has succeeded in getting many things done and succeeded also in getting much co-operation both in the House and outside it. This is because, unlike many of his colleagues in the Cabinet, he is able to smile and adopt a pleasant manner. One can accept a “no” much more readily when it is given with a smile rather than when it is given with a growl, as is the case with some of the Minister's colleagues. Therefore, I commend the Minister on his general attitude. I would not say that he is not unflappable but he is the sort of person who is able to give and take and whose officials are in the same mould. The result of all this is that dealing with the Department of Posts and Telegraphs has become for most of us a much more pleasant exercise than dealing with some of the other Departments and, indeed, much more pleasant than what it was to deal with that same Department some years ago. Having said that, I have some criticisms to make but because of the detailed manner in which Deputy Desmond has dealt with the various matters, it will not be necessary for me to go into detail to the extent that I normally would.

[2499]Mr. Geoghegan: Information on John Geoghegan  Zoom on John Geoghegan  I hope the Deputy will not negative the praise he has given to the Department.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  The only way to get the Department to continue to live up to their high standards is by pointing out where they are slipping because if the standard drops the Department would find themselves, like the Fianna Fáil Party, in serious difficulties. On previous occasions, and as recently as last night, I had some harsh words to say about the people who planned, designed and built the sorting office at Sheriff Street. Again, I take this opportunity of pointing out that this sorting office which was supposed to be one of the most modern in Europe has a serious defect in that after the building had been started the experts who did not have to work there decided it was necessary to make economies and found that the only economy that could be made was to omit the dust extracting equipment. The back of the building and the roof consist almost completely of glass with the result that the heat in the building is almost unbearable but the windows cannot be opened because of the dust that blows in from the back. A few minor efforts were made to remedy this defect but nothing concrete has been done. I can only hope that somebody will deal with the matter before the workers in Sherriff Street decide they have had enough and do what is usually done by workers to employers who do not cooperate—go outside on the street and walk up and down until their complaints are heeded. If they were to do that, we would have many complaints from people who would tell us they could not do without the postal service. When I look at allocations being made in this Estimate and at the allocations mentioned in the Estimate that was before the House last night, where not only thousands of pounds but in two cases mentioned, millions of pounds are being spent. I wonder why the relatively small sum required to instal a dust extractor in Sheriff Street is not provided.

At the time the sorting office was being built the Post Office Workers Union, who represented most of the [2500] staff employed there, requested that a parking site for motor cars, motor bikes and bicycles be provided but in their wisdom, the Department of Posts and Telegraphs decided not to provide such facility. There have been many complaints about this. Only today I received a letter concerning a man who is employed in that sorting office and because there are no car parking facilities available he must park his car some distance from the building. His car has been damaged on four occasions within two weeks. Last Thursday it was stolen and when recovered, it was found to be practically wrecked. This is not an isolated incident. One man complained to me that he was unfortunate enough to have to use a car to get to his work and the vehicle he was using was what could be described as an “old banger”. The doors of the car did not lock but bad as it was, it was stolen eventually with the result that this man had to lose some days work.

I understand that at the rear of the CIE station at Amiens Street there is a space that could be rented and used for parking facilities. I appeal to the Minister to use his good office to ensure that this space will be rented. Almost everybody who has had to park a car in Sheriff Street has complained that the vehicle has been either damaged or stolen. Some people seem to take a delight in defacing cars.

Last night I asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance about the position in relation to the post office at Ballsbridge. Has the situation suddenly remedied itself and are there now adequate facilities there for both the staff and public or is it the position that the population has declined to such an extent that a new post office is no longer required? There is a reference to it here. I was interested to note that there is proposed a new post office for Donegal town and also one in Mullinagar. The allocation in each case is £1,000 whereas the cost, respectively, is £44,000 and £50,000. Is it to take 44 and 50 years respectively to build each post office? What is the significance of allocating £1,000 [2501] towards the cost in any one year? Perhaps the Minister might clarify the matter when he is replying because the people who have to work in the existing premises are interested in this information.

I was interested in some of the comments that were made concerning telephone kiosks. It is my opinion that some of the large amounts of money being allocated by the Government towards matters that are not very important, should be allocated to the Department of Posts and Telegraphs to enable that Department to deal with important matters such as the provision of telephone kiosks. For instance, money that has been provided for sites in Castlebar for the Department of Lands and in Athlone for the Department of Education is waste because these moves will never take place. Perhaps the Minister would use his influence in the Cabinet to have some of this money directed towards his Department. In country districts where people may live in groups but where they may be some distance from a priest or a doctor, a public telephone is almost essential. I am aware that telephone kiosks have been damaged in the cities and towns and in the villages, too. There is a telephone kiosk near to where I live and I am appalled that a small number of vandals have been damaging it consistently each week. I cannot understand how those kiosks can be damaged not only at night but in broad daylight without anybody seeming to see the vandals at work. Could it be that these vandals have the invisible man formula? Somebody must see them. Public spirited people should insist that those responsible for damage of this kind are brought to justice. If it is done once or twice the parents—because in most cases they are youngsters who should be controlled by their parents—should be compelled to pay for the damage done to the kiosk. We might then have fewer kiosks damaged.

I suggested to the Minister last year —the suggestion was not taken up— that the type of telephone kiosk which is put up seems to be an invitation to people to see how much damage they can do to it. Is it not possible to put up a simple kiosk with concrete [2502] blocks, plastered on the outside and looking fairly respectable but substantial enough not to be knocked down unless somebody takes an axe to it? Can this not be done? The cost would be very much less than the cost of the present ones. I do not see any other answer if the public will not face up to their responsibilities and report to the authorities the people they see damaging kiosks. On more than one occasion I have stopped at kiosks and chased away people who were damaging them. They usually take on an air of injured innocence and say they are making a telephone call but it is easy to distinguish between the vandal and the user.

In country districts or in villages the kiosk should be placed, if possible, in such a position that somebody can see what is happening and may be inclined to stop people damaging it. One of the weaknesses is that kiosks are put in places where it is easy to do damage without being seen. I have suggested over the last two years that kiosks should be placed outside post offices. I can see no good reason why a telephone which is inside a post office and not being used from closing time until opening time and not being used at all at weekends could not be put outside. It would be a great addition to any district. I appeal to the Minister to look into this matter.

I raised quite a substantial number of items last year and to give credit where it is due most of them have at least been looked at and quite a number of them have been rectified. I thank the Minister because it does appear that he and his officials have done their homework. Even if many of them are still hanging fire it appears that something is being done about most of them.

There is something which is not the Minister's responsibility though his action can have a bearing on it. It is the question of having housing estates, one after the other, getting the same name. It is absolutely senseless to call one estate Vale Park, the one beside it Vale Road and the one beside that Vale Glen. It is bad enough for those of us who must go once in a [2503] lifetime to select one “Vale” from the other but the unfortunate postman must go there every day. If he is new to the district it is too bad. Quite a number of these estates have recently been adopting separate names. The Department of Local Government might be encouraged to facilitate people when there is a request for a name change and not, as I understand is being done, put it on the long finger and ask for impossible conditions. If people want to name their houses that can be recognised but if they do not there should be no objection to putting a number on them. The postman should be in a position to know whether he is giving a letter to John Jones in No. 25 or John Jones in No. 45. This is a great difficulty. I mentioned letter boxes last year and I understand some little progress has been made. It is wrong that the manufacturers of letter boxes should make them in such a way that the postman who puts in his fingers with the letters may leave his fingertips inside. This is stupid. People who are doing a job should get as much co-operation as possible.

The uniform has been referred to. Improvements have been made but we are still a long way from the ideal and we should still aim at the ideal. It is no use to do as they did in the Army. They said that they had so much of the old cloth left that they had to use it up. Then they got the bright idea of destroying old material and dumped quite a lot of new material in with it. I would not suggest that the Minister should do that sort of thing but it is possibly one solution. We get a reasonably good summer and I think that some lighter material should be made available. The postman is the public face of the Department. He should be trim and neat and look comfortable. He should not be issued with a uniform which was made for somebody who was not too well made himself. The uniform does not fit anybody well and postmen look badly in it.

I am glad an investigation is being carried out into Christmas overtime. I spoke again and again on this Estimate about postmen being badly treated over the amount of overtime [2504] they do at Christmas. The Minister might now appeal to people to send Christmas cards early. The number of Christmas cards dropped last year due to the high cost of cards and postage. A Christmas card received a week before Christmas is appreciated much more than one received two days after Christmas. People send cards at the last minute and do not seem to understand that others must sort them, frank them and deliver them. If we could have the big rush a week before Christmas it could be spread over a few days instead of expecting all cards to be delivered on Christmas Eve. That is just not possible. I notice that additional staff have been taken on. I hope it is not proposed to adopt the system they are at present adopting in England —this work is not done by a Government Department there any longer— of reducing the number of deliveries rather than increasing them.

Telephone staffs are doing a fantastic job. People who have not had experience of working a telephone switch do not understand what the staff have to put up with. I operated a telephone switch for a period during my Army service and I have the greatest sympathy with those who are now operating them. It may be bad enough to be delayed getting a number but if you get plugged in to somebody else's conversation it is a different thing. When the automatic exchanges were introduced the Department made a mistake in attempting to reduce the number of manual operators in the areas that are being serviced by the new system. The result is that while it might be relatively easy in some towns to dial the exchange and get a local number, if anything goes wrong it is not so easy to get the operator now and if you are in a non-dial area there can be a considerable delay. Usually the operator is blamed but it is the Department who should be blamed. They should ensure there is sufficient personnel retained to deal with calls coming through the manual exchanges.

Some years ago areas like Navan were put on the automatic exchange. When the exchange at Navan was erected it was supposed to be large enough to cover the area and also to [2505] cater for any expansion. For some reason all the outlying areas have been hooked on to this exchange, starting at Nobber, Athboy and Trim. The situation now is that it is impossible to get an extra line in Navan because that exchange is overloaded. I do not blame the Minister but it was a very shortsighted policy to build an exchange five or six years ago which is now overloaded. Perhaps it was intended then to deal only with Navan or maybe someone decided that it was all right to add in the outside areas but, no matter what the reason, at the moment Navan exchange is unable to cope with all the demands made on it. I would ask the Minister to ensure that when the new exchanges are built provision will be made to allow for expansion.

We see the same thing happening in the national schools. Practically everything that is built is found in a few years time to be too small and inadequate. Perhaps the fault is that we think too small. I realise costs have something to do with it but it would have been cheaper to have built the Navan exchange twice as large than to carry out a small extension now.

The Minister referred to the fact that the Aran Islands have an excellent telephone service to the mainland. I am sure the small population there appreciates that fact but it is a pity that the highly populated areas do not have a similar service. I am not taking from the necessity to give the Aran islanders a service but we should have some kind of priority whereby those who are using the service extensively should have an adequate service.

I welcome the subscriber trunk dialling to Belfast and London—although it shows things up in a peculiar light when we realise that the service to London was available one month before the Belfast service. It is easy now to get a number and it saves much trouble. I am sure the telephone operators sang a Te Deum when this service was provided. When people could not get a cross-channel number quickly, frequently they thought something was wrong and for that reason it was a good idea to have subscriber trunk dialling in operation.

I notice the arrangements the Minister [2506] referred to last year for more co-operation between the staff and the post office have been going on and I welcome this. It is an excellent idea and the Minister is correct when he says that at the moment there are better staff relations than existed for some time. There are one or two other reasons for that but if people get an opportunity of discussing their problems with their immediate superiors when those problems arise it is much better than waiting until they are aggravated and people who are not connected with the problems become involved. I am disappointed the Minister has not accepted the idea that we should be represented on international bodies. I shall not go into detail about it; I did last year and I would ask the Minister to give the matter further consideration.

I would ask the Minister to bring to fruition as soon as possible the matter of political rights for post office employees. It is ironic that a teacher who can shape the lives of the children he or she teaches can take an active part in politics but a postman cannot do so. This does not make sense. I do not know how high up the grade the Minister is prepared to go. I understand he is thinking of granting limited political rights to post office employees and I would ask him to go as far as he can in this matter.

An instance was pointed out to me of one ESB linesman who has full political rights but another linesman has not got any such rights. Perhaps if the Minister gave the good example other Departments who are similarly restricting their employees might make up their minds and give their employees the right to be members of a political party. The suggestion that people are non-political because they are not allowed to be members of a political party is nonsense and the Minister knows this. It would be a pity if we erected a barrier so that certain people were not entitled to join a political party. I believe every person is a politician and it would be a pity if that were changed. I ask the Minister to ensure that employees of his Department are given political freedom. Discussions on this matter have been going on for some time and it is time they concluded. [2507] If we are going to have a general election fairly soon, there are a number of them I should like to see on my side and I am sure the Minister is in the same position.

It is annoying that the Minister has fallen into the old trap of trying to co-relate the cost of his Department with the wages and salaries paid to employees. No more than any other Department, why should the Department for Posts and Telegraphs be asked to take responsibility for increased costs in that Department? If the Department of Finance, of Agriculture and Fisheries, or of Lands, do not incur odium when costs increase, why should the Department of Posts and Telegraphs be singled out? Why should the Minister say that increased costs are mainly due to increases in the costs of wages and salaries? The Minister should not continue with that line because it is unfair to those concerned.

New motorised delivery services have been introduced and this is desirable. However, we still complain about the fact that little villages and townlands near Carrickmacross in County Monaghan, or perhaps near Ardee in County Louth, are described as Lough Bracken, Drumconrath, Navan, when Ardee is two or three miles away and Navan is 15 miles away.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.


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