Tuesday, 28 November 1972
Dáil Eireann Debate
Dr. Cruise-O'Brien: When we were discussing this matter last Thursday fears were entertained that the Government might be about to take drastic action. The Minister's ambiguous directive was followed up by a demand for disciplinary action under it with what was, at that time, a veiled threat. The veiled threat has now been unveiled. The Minister has dismissed the RTE Authority, who were appointed by his own Government. The members of that authority had issued, as we now have learned, a considered reply to the Government's directive. They admitted that a mistake had been made, that a certain  course of action taken by members of the staff of RTE had been a mistaken one. They indicated that they were prepared to take steps to ensure that this would not be repeated. They could not have made a more conciliatory reply than the one that they did in fact make but that availed them nothing. The Minister and the Government were determined that they should go. They went and were replaced by a new authority of the Government's choosing—in effect, a Government take-over, in humiliating circumstances, of the authority.
I think there are two sets of things which need to be said. One is that, in ordinary human terms, this was extremely shabby and brutal treatment of people appointed for certain responsibilities by the Government themselves. After this treatment of the RTE Authority, first-class people will be very slow to take on this type of assignment from a Government of this kind, knowing that they may be sacked with the brutality of a Victorian employer towards non-union labour, which was what was shown here. That is important and I think it will register with the people of this country. We are people who dislike shabby, unmannerly, uncivil treatment of people and the Government may have cause to regret that they acted in that way towards people whom they themselves appointed.
Of course the matter goes far beyond the treatment of people. It affects the whole issue of freedom of expression in this country and the conventions of autonomy which protect that. Our Taoiseach, Deputy Lynch, has described this action, the dismissal of the authority in these peculiarly shabby and brutal circumstances, as an exercise in democracy. That in itself is a revelation of the depth of the concept of democracy in the mind of this Government. An exercise in democracy in the Taoiseach's mind means anything that the Government do while they have a majority, anything—fire anybody, exercise any arbitrary power and if you have a majority with you that is an exercise in democracy. Genuine democracy in the sense in which the  idea has evolved in western Europe and other parts of the world involves a sensitivity towards certain conventions, including the idea of the kind of autonomy which should protect public service broadcasting. That was brutally violated here and on this I should like to read into the record the best editorial comment on this transaction, I think, which appeared. It appeared in a newspaper of which I am not normally one of the warmest admirers, a newspaper which is controlled by a member of the governing party who no doubt will vote for this Estimate. His newspaper made a very good comment on it which I propose to read into the record because I think it is quite an historic document and in particular coming from the quarter from which it does come. I am citing The Irish Press, a newspaper published in this city on last Saturday.
Dr. Cruise-O'Brien: I am quite ready to take issue with the Deputy or a newspaper on this or any other matter but I am not now and never have been in favour of censorship of the Press and the media because of this, in part, I now propose to read out in full, the editorial which the Deputy must have read in what I must presume is his favourite newspaper last Saturday.
One member of the new Authority learnt with surprise of his appointment from the news broadcasts, and the rest of the Irish public heard with shock of the sacking of the old and appointment of a new directorate to control what we receive over the airwaves.
While it is incontestable that the Government has the right to control RTE—the supremacy of parliament cannot and must not be challenged—it is highly debatable whether this is the right way to go about it.
The insistence is unquestionably there but the welcome is highly dubious, and this is going to reflect on the reception of “the message” by the electorate on whose mandate those elected to parliament depend.
—the manner of its appointment is going to detract from its credibility. Most people will see its prime function as being to “muzzle” RTE so as to prevent any comment or reportage which the Government might not like.
This—if it does not in fact go further and actually seek the resignations  of some of RTE's top men —will be enough to make anyone who can receive other channels switch off, and those who cannot for the moment—and time and technology will make this a brief moment—switch on with extreme dubiety and a sense of getting an emasculated, second-best service. It may be that the new men will develop a loyalty to their newly-found responsibility and champion its cause, as did the old body, but if it does——
RTE may have made a mistake about the Mac Stiofáin interview, but the fact is that the situation which gave rise to it is going to continue, so long as the British Army continues to harrass and intimidate the Catholic population of Northern Ireland and allow the UDA to swagger unchecked.
That comment is very much what the Minister would call “matter calculated to arouse sympathy for certain organisations” and if the Minister had the same control over The Irish Press that he is now acquiring over RTE, presumably that could not appear either.
The RTE upheaveal is only a symptom of the disease that is eating at this country, and we will not have a cure, an end to the physical force tradition until our two communities are living at peace, or learning to live at peace under the umbrella of a declaration of the intent to withdraw the IRA's recruiting agent, the British Army, from Ireland.
——are we to pretend that we do not understand why we may expect  to see henceforth on our TV screens pictures of bomb damage and destruction and interviews only with the Craigs and Andersons to fill us in on why these things happen?
And it is no less than a tragedy that as the leader of this State meets the British Prime Minister to discuss how we may come to a saner future, the mind of the country is distracted from the importance of the Taoiseach's mission to concentrate on a mountain which has been labouriously constructed from what could have been overlooked as a molehill.
Of course, there are oddities about that. It is an oddity for The Irish Press to pretend that this is some kind of strange distraction which occurs by coincidence while the Taoiseach happens to be away and that the Taoiseach knew nothing about it. I think there is nothing this Government does that the Taoiseach does not only know about but directs and that this was undoubtedly directed by him. There are some other things in that editorial with which many of us on this side would not agree.
Mr. S. Browne: Perhaps the Deputy would let me in on a point of order. Now, that he has put it on the records of the House that a member of the new authority said he was unaware of his appointment until he had seen it in a news bulletin that night, that member has asked me to deny emphatically that he ever said to The Irish Press or to any newspaper correspondent that he was not aware of his appointment until he heard it in a news bulletin.
Mr. S. Browne: It may not be a point of order but I want to put it on the records of the House that this man was well aware of his appointment before it ever appeared in a news bulletin or in the newspapers.
Dr. Cruise-O'Brien: I am sorry that Deputy de Valera is not here because I think his position is important in relation to this debate. He is an important and respected supporter of the Government which has taken the action which is described in these very scarifying terms by his own newspaper and I think that the House would like to hear what Deputy de Valera thinks about all this. We are dealing with an intersection of Parliamentary and Press and media responsibility, that is  to say, the whole central area in a modern democracy. The point has been made and Deputy de Valera as a Member of Parliament and as a controller of a group of newspapers is right in the centre of this. What does he think about it? His newspaper, whose staff he appoints, thinks this— what I have read into the record: what does he think? Why is he not here? Perhaps he will come here and tell us what he thinks. Or, perhaps, as has happened before, he will come in at the end of it all and vote with the Government in favour of actions which have been condemned by his own newspaper in the strongest terms.
I do not think that is the kind of transaction that increases public confidence either in Parliament or in the Press. I should like to refer here to a matter which is linked with that. Some people in the Press have suggested that it is odd that Parliament should seem to be more concerned with the freedom of the Press than the Press has been. First of all, I do not think this is entirely so. The Press were a little slow in waking up to this. I am sorry more protests were not coming in from the Press about the danger, before the decision was taken, but, of course, when the decision was taken it was generally condemned by the Press, and there is great concern among pressmen, as those of us who have just met the NUJ deputation know, about the current trend of policy as reflected in this action, in the Offences Against the State Bill and in a certain court decision.
I do not think that we in the Opposition in Parliament need make any apology for being extremely concerned to defend freedom of expression in the media, particularly that section of the media which is falling under Government control and over which the Government have a legitimate right of oversight, a legitimate right which they have now usurped. Those of us who expressed this concern are not doing so out of some kind of simple affection for the Press. The Press is not any more kind to us than to anybody else, nor are we asking that it should be. Our concern about the Press is not for the sake just of pressmen, of newspapers,  of the media; it is for the sake of the public whom we represent.
Freedom of expression in the media, including the legitimate autonomy of such a corporation as RTE, is a part of the life of a modern democracy and its pulse is now beating slower, and has been beating slower in certain specific circumstances. Freedom, including freedom of expression in our society, is now being eroded from two quarters and there is a kind of sinister interplay between them. It is being eroded from the side of the illegal organisations, and notably the Provisional IRA which the Taoiseach, Deputy Lynch, and his Government in this Dáil helped to create, and which he is now trying to forget about and regard as a purely alien threat. That threat is coming in from that side and the Government are responding to this in two ways: one, they are taking a legitimate stance regarding their responsibility for the defence of law and order. We entirely support the Government in the maintenance of law and order and in the enforcement of existing laws, but the Government have taken advantage of this situation in order to extend an area of arbitrary power. This has been done in part by what has happened here, by the brusque, brutal replacement of the RTE Authority by people who are deemed—I hope wrongly— simply to do anything the Government tell them, whatever it is: “Sack X” and they sack X.
This is all happening in a common context of legislation that will be before us tomorrow. The public are aware of a threat from the illegal organisations. The Government know the public to be aware of that threat and to resent it, and they take advantage of that to extend their own powers in a way which has really nothing to do with resisting threats to the security of the State. This is the way in which a country's freedom can be eroded. We could go back a little in history to the period of the thirties. There was a certain real communist threat at the time and governments in many States in Europe took advantage of it to destroy democracy from the right. That was in the period of the rise of  Fascism. I want it to be very clear that I am not accusing the Government of Fascist behaviour—I wish to measure my words—but I am accusing them of using the same reflex, that is to say, taking advantage of one threat to democracy in order to erode democracy from the other side.
In the excitement that has been going on about other matters in the somewhat wild west circumstances we have had over the past week-end, public attention has been distracted and, perhaps, will continue to be distracted from just what is happening here. We are being led to forget that this has been something of a milestone in our history. In a quieter time this action would have been surrounded with the most vigorous public protest, but as so many other things are going on this one quietly slips through. To give an idea of what has really happened, I should like to read something else into the record. The other document which I want to put into the record of this House is a statement by Professor T. W. Moody, professor of history in Trinity College, Dublin, and for a long time a member of the authority in question. Professor Moody is one of the most distinguished of living Irish historians and of living Irish scholars in any sphere. He is a man respected throughout this country, North and South, and in both communities and internationally. He has been fired as a Victorian employer would have fired an office boy with no more respect for what he represents or for those who respect him than a harsh person would display towards somebody of no account at all. There has been, as far as I know, no expression of thanks by this Government to the outgoing authority. They have just been booted out in the most brutal way, and I think the style in which these things are done is significant along with the substance of what is done. With your agreement, a Leas-Cheann Comharle, I wish to read this report into the record:
On Friday evening I was informed in a five-line letter from the Secretary of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs that I had been removed from membership of the RTE Authority. This has ended 20 years of association with the broadcasting service. If I had had my way I should quietly have retired from RTE in 1971 or in 1972 instead of being persuaded on each occasion to remain a member of the Authority for one year pending recommendations on the future of RTE from the Broadcasting Review Committee. I now find myself impelled to make public my views on the situation in which, in common with my colleagues, I have been dismissed from RTE.
Dr. Cruise-O'Brien: I am in something of a dilemma here. I do not want, nor would you permit me, to violate proper procedure. At the same time, this is not a lengthy document. It is quite a short document and is entirely pertinent to the subject under review. I am speaking here, with your permission, about the curt and peremptory dismissal of a very distinguished Irishman in circumstances which must greatly alarm people, both North and South, who have thought about these matters and I would ask your permission to read at least parts of this document into our records. I think it is quite important.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Chair is just informing the Deputy at this stage that it has long been held in the House and there are many rulings on the matter that to quote at length is not permissible and that the quotation of extracts from newspapers, while permissible, should not be in depth or at length.
Mr. M. O'Leary: The understanding has been that in a rather lengthy contribution which I understand Deputy Cruise-O'Brien intends making, a speech of some hours, obviously a statement made in the course of such a contribution must take into consideration the length of the contribution and he is here quoting a statement in the context of the speech he is making.
Mr. M. O'Leary: But there is no limit to the length. It is a statement; the speech is not being read but is being delivered in the normal way and a statement is being made in support of an argument which is being delivered in the speech.
Dr. Cruise-O'Brien: I take your point, Sir. What I want to do if this is permissible is to quote extracts which will be brief extracts from Professor Moody's statement and to comment on it. I do regard this as an extremely important public document. I do want, if I can, with your permission, to get significant parts of it on the record and I do want to comment on it. Among the reasons—not the only reason—why I wish to comment on this is that I think the Government in appointing Professor Moody to the authority originally, had consideration, and quite legitimately so, to the fact that he who is a Northerner is a respected figure in the North among both communities and that the Government were concerned in setting up an authority which is important in relation to the national culture which  involves the whole island that somebody like Professor Moody would be a member of that authority and that concern in so far as it was genuine concern was quite legitimate and proper, but could anyone who ever entertained that concern genuinely dismiss such a person, together with the other members of the authority in the way in which this has happened and can we here gloss over this transaction? Can we refuse to take into consideration his statement? That is why I have asked for your permission to read some extracts from this statement and to comment on it.
One thing which is important here is that the authority were not at all, as has been suggested, contesting the Government's legitimate rights in relation to this under the Broadcasting Act of 1960, section 31, and so on. All that they were doing was to defend the responsibility delegated to them under the Act, which was theirs under the Act, to discharge the responsibilities assigned to them in a manner which they considered to be consistent with the public good and for them this situation was set up, that is to say, they were given an ambiguous directive and when they asked for clarification of what that directive meant, they were told “Get on with it; you will find out as you go along”, and then taking advantage of the first relevant mistake made by somebody the Government moved in and removed the authority.
The first duty of a Government is to govern and if as members of the RTE Authority we were endangering the public interest the Government was right to dismiss us but it was with the public interest that we were always most deeply concerned, especially in relation to the tensions, the perils and the anguish of the Northern troubles. We acted under a strong sense of responsibility and according to our judgment and conscience. I have no fear that our conduct in face of great difficulties will not be vindicated.
 It is inevitable in a democratic society that conflicts of judgment should arise between Government and any broadcasting body invested by Parliament with large disciplinary powers and a monopoly of broadcasting. Such conflicts occurred, not always publicly, before October, 1971. Sometimes the authority gave way; more often it held its ground. The inherent difficulties of the situation were aggravated when invoking for the first time section 31 of the Broadcasting Act, 1960, the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs directed the authority not to broadcast any matter that could be calculated to promote the aims or activities——
That the authority was brought into collision with the Government both before and after the directive was not due to any inclination on our part to flout the Government or to question its right to be concerned about the broadcasting service. It was due to contradictions between the Government's views and the authority's efforts to fulfil its obligations under the Broadcasting Authority Act in the field of news and current affairs programmes. We tried to give due weight to two competing claims: on the one hand, the freedom of public expression and debate; on the other the protection of society and the State against subversion. If the Government had no confidence in us, they should not have extended our mandate in May, 1971.
I think it is quite evident that this authority which has been suspended was no subversive body, no body that had sympathy with violent organisations. Professor Moody is himself a pacifist as he says in the course of that statement. The only reproach that had to be made against the authority was that it conscientiously asserted an independence of judgment in the interpretation of the responsibilities assigned to it. I think the Government did not want a body which was prepared to exercise this  kind of independent intelligence, that they wanted a body that would simply carry out orders and that they have taken this action accordingly.
This whole set of actions involves the State in graver troubles than we need be in. I think that a Government acting responsibly and with sensitivity to the democratic process, facing these threats to the State—and they exist; we agree they exist—would have tried to enlist in this situation all the forces of democracy on the side of the maintenance of the due process of law of the State, of law and order in the broadest possible sense of the word. They could have rallied the overwhelming majority of the people around them if they had set about it in this way. If they had done so in connection with the authority, by keeping in continuous contact with the authority and discussing this whole question with them of the threat to the State and to the lives of people, it is clear that they would have found them as sensitive as they themselves were. They would have found the authority more sensitive than they were for several years and certainly for the period of eight months from August, 1969, to the summer of 1970. They would have found the authority fully responsible to these threats. But they did not do that.
Similarly, in relation to this whole area, they could have drawn the Opposition parties together with them into a front that would have embraced the whole Dáil, covering this whole area of threats to the State and violent organisations. They could have moved towards central consensus democracy. They should have done so. They had a chance of doing so. They seem to have tried deliberately to fend off or push away those in this country who are just as concerned as they are, or perhaps even more concerned, about the threats to the State and the threats of violence. They seem to have tried to push them away suggesting that the defence of law and order is “us”, and the exercise of democracy is “us”, the Fianna Fáil Government, and nothing else. They seem to say: “We want an authority exercising its proper  responsibility, but we want our own creatures there. We say to the Opposition we are not consulting you and what we do about the authority is our affair; what we do about law and order is our affair and you must toe the line if you do not want to be identified in our propaganda with the IRA, with its threats to society.”
It is not just a question of how the Opposition are treated in this matter. That is not all that important but what is vitally important, facing the threats to the State that we undoubtedly face and the threats to the security of our people and the kind of threats posed by the bomb affair and the shooting affair at the hospital, is that the people are extremely alarmed by these threats. They look to this House and to the institutions of the State generally for the discharge of responsibilities on a broad front. They do not want to see one particular party with a monopoly in regard to law and order, deciding for themselves alone what is to be done in these extremely sensitive, delicate areas of broadcasting and television.
This is a disease of democracy in the sense that a threat like the threat directly posed by the violent organisations, with which this directive is concerned, is one thing, but the direct threat in its turn sets up indirect threats by justifying exercises of arbitrary powers if these are held to be necessary for the defence of the State. It then becomes difficult to say : “When did the Government, in facing this threat, act with legitimate reason and when did it simply use the threat as a pretext for extending its arbitrary power?” Our view is that this is a clear case where the existence of these organisations has been used as a pretext by the Government for the extension of its arbitrary power and the intrusion of single party control, or attempted control, over a delicate area of broadcasting and television. This has been made a pretext for expediting the deterioration of our democracy.
A leading figure in the Fianna Fáil Party said once that they were a “slightly constitutional” party. I do not know whether that would be a matter which could be calculated and, therefore, could be banned from  broadcasting in present circumstances. They are also “only slightly democratic”. The interplay which has arisen between them and the Provisional IRA, whom they helped to create, has set in being an oscillating rhythm with every stroke of which democracy is deteriorating and democratic conventions are being eroded. The Provisionals do it by pushing from the outside. The Government do it by tightening up from within.
One would like to appeal to the Government, if one thought it would do any good, for the establishment in the face of the threat to the State of more consensus democracy, more consultation and particularly more consultation between the party leaders here and less exercise of the spontaneous, arbitrary, thrusting acts by which we get a Bill and a note saying “We are discussing that tomorrow and we will pass it the day afterwards.” That is not the way to defend democracy in these conditions. I do not feel there is any good in appealing to the Government in this matter. They are determined to go their own way. The only way the public can reply to that is by helping to provide an alternative to this Government.
Mr. E. Collins: It is rather difficult at this point in time to discuss the Estimate as first introduced by the Minister, in view of the events of the last week. Before discussing the RTE Authority dismissal, I would like to comment briefly on the Estimate as introduced. The increase of £6,416,000, which was mentioned in this Estimate, is needed to cover salaries and expenses of the authority in large part, and so it must be obvious that it leaves no room for any real progress in the expansion of the services under the Department.
While reading the speech of the Minister, I became more convinced than I was previously that a large section of the Department should be taken away from the direct control of the Minister and that a semi-State company should be established to carry out the various services which I will discuss. Largely, the services of the Department are technical services, such as the postal and telephone services, the telegraph and telex services,  and even the issue of savings certificates is largely a technical service also. These services could easily be provided through the medium of a semi-State company or board which would have far more independence than is at present allowed to the staff. Such a company would have access to finance, not only from within but also from without the State. This capital is badly needed for the expansion and modernisation of the services. I would even go so far as to suggest that this Department could be abolished and that little criticism would ensue.
I propose to discuss the headings in the Estimate as introduced by the Minister. I will say at the outset that the postal service is not bad. It has become quite efficient. However, some Post Office buildings are not up to scratch and something should be done about them.
The delay in the provision of new telephones is appalling. The waiting list has increased from 7,000 to 22,500. As well, the existing service is very bad because of overloading and this will continue until the introduction of new and more up to date equipment has been completed. The telegraphic service, as the Minister said, is not doing well because of lack of demand. Perhaps the telex system has overtaken our telegraphic system which needs modernisation if it is to compete. It seems to me that the profit-making services such as the telephone and telex should not be starved of capital. If properly organised they could contribute a substantial surplus to the general services. I suggest that the PO savings service should be made independent and expanded to provide a full banking service. I hope the Minister will examine this possibility.
I had intended to speak at length on that aspect of the Estimate but the events of last week have cast a shadow over it. Before I deal with the dismissal of the RTE Authority I think I must refer to what I consider to be a malaise in our society and which is particularly evident in State  and semi-State bodies and Government Departments. It is the malaise of political patronage. This is a weakness in our democracy, a weakening of the democratic structure, and anything that weakens democracy in this country can be like a fire which may kindle slowly at first but erupt into a death dealing flame.
In respect of the Department we are now dealing with it has come to my notice that the method of appointing relatively minor officers, like sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses, is a crying example of political patronage. It has become obvious to everybody in public life that one of the essential qualifications for appointment as a sub-postmaster is political allegiance to Fianna Fáil. This is sad but it is a fact. It is a method which has been cultivated during the years by Fianna Fáil. The relatively unimportant recruitment of outdoor workers on Post Office staffs is also subject to a political watchdog, the foreman, the overseer, the clerk in the office, who ensures that members of the Fianna Fáil Party are recruited not only on temporary staffs but on permanent staffs as well. A telephone call from the local Fianna Fáil TD or Senator is a simple exercise but a most effective one as far as this Department are concerned.
This is sad because it weakens the democratic process in this country and it weakens the respect people have for State institutions. In recent years these institutions have lost the respect of the ordinary person in the street. Respect has been lost by the Garda, the Army and other Government institutions. The cause of this loss of respect is this canker of political patronage which we experience in our society. If democracy is to survive in this country, if it is to remain healthy, or rather to become healthy again, we must in this generation ensure that political patronage and corruption are done away with once and for all.
It is obvious to me and to many other people inside and outside Dáil Éireann that Fianna Fáil, on the contrary,  are committed to this system of political patronage and political corruption. If we are to face the future with confidence in our institutions of State we must change this system. I am satisfied that the present Government are unwilling and incapable of doing away with this practice because the practice of patronage and corruption has been the way of life of Fianna Fáil down through the years. Now the country is reaping the harvest. Anything that is not of Fianna Fáil, however good, is in the eyes of Fianna Fáil superfluous and unnecessary. Even the Opposition parties in this House in the eyes of Fianna Fáil do not perform a democratic function. Fianna Fáil and their Leader, the Taoiseach, do not think it worthwhile to take into their confidence the Leaders of Fine Gael and Labour and this in turn is weakening the fabric of democracy in Ireland.
I will now come to the brutal dismissal of the RTE Authority. I believe that Parliament, Dáil and Seanad Éireann, have an over-riding right in the matter of news reporting. This is a very delicate sphere and it is one in which a balance must be kept, a balance between the freedom of the Press to report news as it thinks right and proper and our own over-riding authority. If I, for one moment, thought that the RTE Authority had disregarded the directive, however vague it was, of 1st October, 1971, or if I thought that the authority had in any way promoted treachery or the interests of those who want to see an end to democracy here, then I would have no hesitation in supporting the Government in whatever action the Government might take.
It must be obvious to all that the authority was a responsible authority seeking to provide full coverage of events North and South. In the words of the dismissed chairman, the wording of the directive issued under section 31 was so imprecise as to be unsatisfactory in principle and to place an unfair burden on the authority. This was a source of worry. The chairman, Mr. Donal Ó Moráin sought clarification of the directive but he got no help from the Minister. He was literally dismissed.  This is a very serious matter. Because of the Minister's refusal to clarify and because of his failure to set out in clear terms what the Government expected of the authority the Government and the Minister are to be condemned.
The authority were not content to leave the matter there. I was pleased by the statement of Mr. Ó Móráin that the authority was continually involved in formulating a policy for broadcasting and had published a study on the matter entitled “The Future of Irish Broadcasting”. In deference to the establishment of the broadcasting review committee that policy document was not discussed in public. It is patently obvious to us and to other Members of this House that the authority was a responsible authority, an authority seriously involved in formulating a policy, and its brutal dismissal by this Government amounts to a move on the part of the Government maybe a small step, maybe an almost imperceptible step, towards the jackboot policy of a Hitler. It has certainly done nothing to improve the democracy we have.
Like Deputy Cruise-O'Brien, I also read the statement of Professor Moody. He has been associated with broadcasting for 20 years and he was obviously very conscious of the need to develop broadcasting in a democratic way. I should like the Minister to clarify something for me, if he will listen to me and is not engaged in a ri-rádh with one of his backbenchers. I am talking about the RTE Authority. That may be a small thing in the Minister's eyes, but it is something that affects the very structure of democracy here.
I should like to know more about these conflicts. Were they caused by the Minister or by his predecessor? As far as I am aware, the Broadcasting Act sets out quite clearly the method by which the Minister may communicate with the authority. Am I to take it now that there were secret telephone calls and secret messages sent, or hints dropped, perhaps, at cocktail parties? The sneer on the Minister's face is not justified at all. I agree with Professor Moody and I, too, doubt if the democratic process has been strengthened by the outcome of last Thursday's exercise.
The Government's decision of last Tuesday may have been democratic, but I doubt whether the democratic process has been strengthened by its outcome. A democratic society needs to face disagreeable truths and the best service the communications media can render at a time of grave crisis may well be to help it to do so. The danger is that the direction, as interpreted by its authors, may render this impossible in Ireland.
Mr. E. Collins: The Deputy is trying to twist words. I said at the outset of my speech—the Deputy was chatting with the Minister—that I respect the position this Parliament holds and the subservience the authority owes to this Parliament. As far as I am concerned, it is not the Government who should control the dismissal or otherwise of the authority but this House—all the parties in this House. Broadcasting in Ireland is not the prerogative of the Government; it is the prerogative of Oireachtas Éireann.
Mr. E. Collins: I am making it here and I stand over it. The Deputy's party are so bent on staying in office that they will corrupt and twist anything in order to do so. The Deputy is well aware of that. He need not smile.
If the measure of freedom that RTE has had is now to be drastically restricted one of the first casualties will be truth and the process of awakening the public mind to the realities of the Irish predicament may be disastrously halted. We need more, not less, real communication in Ireland.
 It is apparent now that Fianna Fáil are bent on restricting proper communication, real communication, in Ireland. There is grave danger now that the material which RTE broadcasts will be censored in such a way as to make it unbalanced and make the situation in Ireland more serious than it is in fact. I never believe in muzzling unnecessarily the news media. We must have an educated, well-informed public who see what is happening, who are told what is happening in a balanced and up-to-date manner. We will not have it now or, at least, the confidence that the public heretofore have had in the RTE Authority has been seriously damaged. It would appear that the Government are about to censor in a very dangerous and undemocratic fashion what RTE broadcast.
In view of the statement made by Mr. Dónal Ó Moráin, former chairman, in view of the letters which passed between him and the Minister, in view of the positive attempt made by the authority to communicate with the Minister in order to clarify the situation and to get guidance from the Minister and the Government— which attempt failed—I fear for the future.
The Minister has failed so miserably in this respect that the House is entitled to a full explanation from the Minister and, indeed, from the Taoiseach as to why the authority were dismissed so brutally and so unfairly. The letter of 23rd November, 1972, pointed out that the authority wanted to ensure and were taking further steps to ensure that the directive of October, 1971, would be complied with more fully and accepted that they made a mistake. Why was it, therefore, that they were dismissed so peremptorily? On Tuesday, 21st, the Taoiseach said that the course of action was entered into on Tuesday, before the authority even had time to reply. If so, the Government are grossly at fault and have done an injustice to the former members of the authority.
I would suggest to the Minister that, perhaps, the action he has taken in dismissing the authority and in  appointing a new authority was simply a move to create an atmosphere in the country in order to strengthen the Government's hand in introducing the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Bill. Perhaps it was. In my view they have done a grave injustice, not only in a personal sense to the people who were dismissed but to the very principles of democracy. Professor Moody's statement was a very sincere and far-seeing statement and I want to have it on record that this statement deserves attention and is one with which I fully agree.
I should like to finish my contribution by reiterating my worries about corruption in our society. I am convinced and have been for some time that the cancer of political patronage and political corruption which is now so obvious in our society is weakening the very fabric of democracy. It may be imperceptible but it is like a fire which starts as a spark and erupts and, if not properly handled, results in the house being destroyed. Unless we take steps to remove the cancer of corruption and patronage in our society, our very democracy is in danger.
Mr. Briscoe: It is necessary to balance the debate somewhat. No one in this party is against free speech. However, as the Government, we have a responsibility to maintain order. Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act seems to have been clear to most people, with the exception of the authority. It is not the first time that the authority has been spoken to regarding section 31. I would say that almost every man and woman in the country is aware that that section of the Act states that no platform should be given to anyone who advocates violence as a means of overthrowing the State. Some people may hold the view that it would be better if these people were allowed to appear on television and put forward their views rather than to be shooting each other. I would not go along with that line of argument. I would not agree that the vast majority of our citizens would support the views expressed by these people whom we term, euphemistically,  alleged members of illegal organisations. However, there may be a dozen or so people throughout the country who might be impressed by their kind of talk. As the Taoiseach has said before, he does not believe that the national broadcasting company should be used as a recruiting ground for members of illegal organisations. I, in common with many other people, pay my licence fee and I would not wish the television medium to be used as a platform for the views of illegal organisations.
While I regret the step that the Minister was forced to take regarding the authority, the chairman of that authority should long ago have approached the Minister if he considered the directive to be vague. Had he done so, perhaps the Minister could have explained to him what it involved. The persons responsible for broadcasting the substance of an interview with Mr. Mac Stiofáin knew very well that it was not possible for them to broadcast a personal interview with that gentleman. Unfortunately, Mr. Kevin O'Kelly, who read the substance of the interview on a radio programme, lent himself to a means of getting around the spirit of the directive.
Mr. Briscoe: I merely wish to say that this was an unfortunate incident but the point I am making is that there was an attempt to get around the directive and nobody will be persuaded otherwise. No doubt anyone who is not clear as to the meaning of the directive will receive elucidation of it by the new authority. Deputy Edward Collins has told us that he does not agree with unnecessary muzzling. I take it, therefore, that he believes in a certain amount of muzzling and I would ask what might be the limits that he would set to his so-called muzzling. The only authority in this country is the people and the elected Government must act on behalf of the people. I do not believe that our people  would wish to see any other authority. I am aware that there were many phone calls expressing indignation at the broadcasting of the particular programme concerned.
I regard my comments this evening as being fair and honest and I do not think that anyone who professes to be honest can disagree with me. We have a responsibility to the people of this country to maintain law and order. There are times when that task is a difficult one but we have never reneged that responsibility and we never will. In due course the people will have an opportunity of expressing their opinion as to whether we have upheld the responsibility they entrusted to us.
Mr. Coogan: It is interesting to hear Deputy Briscoe talk of freedom of speech. Of course he was not around at the time when people had to go on the streets to fight for freedom of speech. They have become very mature in that party over there since coming into this House. We taught you law and order when you came here first.
Mr. Coogan: Speakers on the other side have drifted from the Estimate but I shall endeavour to get back to it. This Estimate covers a wide field. On Estimate debates in the past I have mentioned the necessity for privacy while transacting business at post offices. I was instrumental in securing a type of shuttering in the post office in my city whereby a customer could transact his business in the knowledge that no one in the queue behind him would be aware of what was going on. I would like to see similar facilities provided in post offices throughout the country. There is always the curious type of individual—the Minnie of the Riordans type—breathing down one's neck and endeavouring to see what amount of money her neighbour is depositing or how much her son sent her from England. If facilities for privacy were provided in all post offices the result might be that many more people would be willing to avail of the Post Office savings schemes.
 Regarding telegrams, there might be a little more imagination in the type of telegrams used. The same type of telegram goes out to a man who has just been married as one sent in sympathy. On the occasion of his marriage, a man has no wish to receive a telegram that looks like a vote of sympathy. There are a couple of boys in the benches near me here whom I would like to see receiving telegrams of congratulation.
Now that Christmas is approaching I might express the hope that this year there will be some decency in respect of the despatch of greetings cards by Ministers some of whom send out 25,000 or 30,000 cards each year.
Mr. Coogan: He is responsible for the delivery of the cards. As we approach the time of a general election, there is a danger that vast numbers of cards will be despatched by Ministers and I can only hope there will be some decency in this respect. A lady asked me how on earth a certain Minister knew of her. I explained that he did not know her at all.
Mr. Coogan: These are matters which are raised on this Estimate. I would like to highlight the free postage. I got three cards from one Minister. Did he think he was going to get my vote? Many Christmases would come and go before he would get it.
We have over 23,000 people waiting for telephones and at the same time the Minister gets three years rent in advance. Business throughout the country is being hampered by the lack of telephones. A man can obtain a car and pay for it later but the Minister expects people to pay for telephones and still have to wait long periods for them. The Minister may smile but he should know that what I am saying is true. I do not blame the staff throughout the country who are hard working people. Will the Minister please tell us how he is going to get over this backlog of people waiting for telephones?
 I would like to see something done about the drunken pranksters who damage telephones. Could there be some sort of alarm system put in public telephone kiosks which would ring in the local Garda station when somebody interfered with the telephone? Something should certainly be done to stop this damage to telephone kiosks. They cost a lot of money to repair. Sometimes when a person wishes to ring a doctor late at night he finds the telephone in the kiosk has been torn out.
We all complain about our television service and say that something should be done about it. We hear a lot of talk about dissidents in this part of the country but the dissidents in the North, Mr. Faulkner and Mr. Craig, have got great publicity from RTE. I did not hear anybody saying we should not see them.
I would like to comment briefly on the sacking of the RTE Authority. It amuses me to see how the new board was lined up immediately. You would imagine they were subs on the sideline, waiting to step in when the other people were sacked. It seems to me the only reason the old authority were sacked was because they were not prepared to be the puppets of Fianna Fáil.
We all missed our television programmes over the past two days. This shows how much we depend on television, particularly in the west of the country where we do not get programmes from other stations. There should not be any muzzling of RTE journalists. They should be allowed to do their job without any interference from the Government. They should be given the same privilege as the Garda have when they are in court.
I listened to the English news during the past two days. It was shocking to hear how innocent people attending a film show in this city on Saturday night were injured. It was also shocking to hear how the unfortunate patients in a hospital were terrorised. The people who caused this trouble should be condemned by everybody.
The Craigs and the Faulkners talk about defending the Crown but there  was a time when those people were going to kick the Crown into the Boyne. If we got rid of all those dissidents we might have some chance of having a united Ireland.
Our television programmes are becoming saturated with drink advertisements. I have never seen one of those customers paying for his drink. The man is only inside the door when a glass is put into his hand. It is about time we tightened up on drink advertising in the same way as we tightened up on cigarette advertising.
I would like the Minister to tell us what the drive against TV spongers cost and how much money was received in return. We are shown a person knocking at a door and asking the lady who opens it: “Have you got a television licence?” Why should he ask that silly question? Surely there is a list in his office showing the people who have not paid for their licences. He should be able to say to the person “You have not got a television licence”. Something should be done to change this advertisement.
Mr. O.J. Flanagan: The Minister for Posts and Telegraphs must feel that he is reaching the end of the debate on his Estimate, which was the subject of very severe criticism. Ministers are usually of the calibre who accept criticism. I would like to raise a few matters in relation to the administration of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. At the outset I want to place on record the kindness and the courtesy the officers of this Department have at all times extended to me as a Deputy for many years. I should like to pay a very special tribute to what I see as a very high standard of efficiency in the office of the Secretary of the Minister's Department. That office is undoubtedly noted for promptness and courtesy. On an occasion such as this Members of the House are given an opportunity of thanking those who are carrying the burden of important Post Office work. It is a most essential part of the whole set-up of the State. I wonder whether the Minister is having a serious look at the situation and taking into consideration  the fact that we have passed the Victorian age and that it is time the whole Post Office structure got a new look. I want to assure the Minister that his Department is still living in the Victorian age. We have seen advances in recent years with the advent of television, with the increase in air travel, with everybody seeking a greater degree of efficiency but, generally speaking, the Department of Posts and Telegraphs is lagging behind. Perhaps that is through no fault of the top men in the Department but because of a lack of progressive policy on the part of the Government. The Department of Posts and Telegraphs will be a very important part of our economic machine in the EEC and because of this I would strongly urge the Minister to examine his conscience and take a calm look at the workings of the various branches of his Department. I have yet, when speaking to the general public, to hear anyone speak highly of or pay a tribute to the efficiency of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs.
The Minister is charged with responsibility for his Department. Would he not pause for a moment and consider his own office surroundings? He works in a building which is almost two centuries old. He has working under him 19,000 or 20,000 people. He controls over 3,000 major and minor office outlets. The Minister can be described as the biggest employer in the State. I put it to him that he has not taken the least practical step towards either improving his own surroundings, getting out of a building which is two centuries old, or improving the lot of the 20,000 people who work for him or improving the 3,000 major and minor offices associated with his Department.
The Post Office is a huge organisation. I want to know in what way it will be helpful to us in the EEC in its present form? If all Departments are tuning up and getting into top gear to meet the competition that lies ahead, what is the picture in relation to this Department? All other Departments have the appearance of preparing for such an event. This Department shows no evidence whatever of preparing for it. It can be compared to Lester Piggot being put on an elephant for the Irish  Sweeps Derby. It is not possible to get efficiency or speed or a good financial return from the Department of Posts and Telegraphs unless it is geared for such and I put it to the Minister that it is not so geared. He has done nothing about gearing it. Our postal services, compared with those of European countries, lag behind. I do not want to be always quoting the United States or Canada but there is no comparison between post office standards outside this country and those we have here. I do not know the reason for that but one of the reasons, I think, is the fact that the head of Government in this country has never viewed the Department of Posts and Telegraphs as a very important Department and usually puts a Minister in charge for the purpose of equipping him with administrative experience for some other Department at a later stage. It is a great pity that heads of Government do not view with a greater degree of seriousness the importance of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs.
The Minister is in Victorian surroundings. I urge him to get out of them, to put proposals before the Government for the complete re-organisation of the Department. I have always believed that we should either have a Department of State or scrap it completely. This Department needs either to be scrapped completely or taken out of the Victorian age. I do not know of any other Department which is more bound up in red tape and blue ribbons in the form of regulations and orders than the Department of Posts and Telegraphs.
Does the Minister hear all the complaints about his Department? I doubt it; I am sure he does not listen; listeners seldom hear anything good of themselves. But a very great volume of complaints must be registered in his Department. He has given us reams of statistics and figures but no record of the number of complaints by citizens in regard to the services for which he is responsible. A long-established export firm with headquarters in this city discovered that their telephones had been disconnected. The managing director was notified that he had not  paid the bill and that the account was due. As one might expect, he was very angry and told the Post Office that he could produce proof that the bill was paid. The bill in fact was paid. Steps were then taken to reconnect the telephones. One would imagine an apology would be sent to the managing director of this firm.
This is only one case but, to my knowledge, there have been quite a number of similar cases including one from my own constituency in regard to which I was in touch with the Minister's Department in the past few days. This was a case of an unwarranted and unreasonable cutting off because of an alleged debt being due, but when inquiries were made the account had long previously been paid. When the Department discover a mistake of this kind, which can completely dislocate business, one would think steps would be taken to see that it did not happen again. The same would apply in the case of an individual who might be very seriously inconvenienced by being cut off. One can readily understand one or two mistakes of this kind being made when such an enormous volume of business is involved but there is no justification for failing to record the payment of telephone accounts so as to ensure that no telephone will be disconnected without proper cause.
The Minister must be aware that the secretary of the Irish Exporters' Association has stated that the position is serious in regard to the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, that contracts could be lost by late postal deliveries, that in the export business —especially in the shipping sector— it is essential to know that postal schedules are completely reliable. If they are not, contracts can be, and have been lost. I hope steps will be taken to keep under constant review the state of efficiency of the postal services.
The Minister must also be aware of representations and comments made to his Department by the Confederation of Irish Industry who were also unhappy about the service. We are told that a letter posted on a Monday was not delivered until Friday, although posted in the Dublin central area for an address in the same area. This sort  of thing happens also in the case of provincial post and the situation there is becoming worse. I have a parliamentary question to the Minister in regard to the postal service in my own town where the post does not now reach the local sub office until half an hour later than was the case three months ago while the outgoing post leaves three-quarters of an hour earlier than three months ago. We have later delivery and we must post earlier. I cannot see how the Minister can say that is an improved service; to my mind, it is worse. It is most unsatisfactory if we cannot get the earlier delivery and must rush to post three-quarters of an hour earlier in order to catch the Portlaoise connection for Dublin. I ask the Minister to examine the postal services in the midlands because, from my experience, they are far from what we expect.
The Minister is also aware of complaints made by a solicitor who posted important documents to his client in the expectation that these documents would arrive on the following morning. These documents were not delivered and this meant that his office had to retype all the documents and have them delivered by hand to a client some miles away. This causes considerable inconvenience to the professional community on which the public depend so much for efficiency. In this case the non-delivery of these documents caused serious inconvenience to the solicitor and his client and general upheaval in the solicitor's office. There have been numerous instances of this kind and complaints of this nature should be examined.
I want to direct the Minister's attention to the fact that some of the pillar boxes are far too small, particularly those in built up areas. In some cases it is much easier to take letters out than it is to put them in. These old pillar boxes are completely out of date. There is one which I usually use if I am travelling to Portlaoise in the evening, that situated on the Green Road, Portlaoise, but I can scarcely get the letters into it. That is convenient for me because it enables me to catch the Portlaoise post, but if I cannot get the  letters into the pillar box I must drive into the post office in the town. Would the Minister consider providing pillar boxes sufficiently large to contain the ever-increasing volume of post being put into them? I am referring to the old pillar boxes that were built into walls, not the large, barrel-shape pillar boxes provided in the cities.
I am sure the Minister's attention has been directed to the fact that very often letters, particularly by air mail, from far off places like Zambia and Tanzania, from which I got a letter the other day, can be delivered here in four days. A letter posted in Mountmellick takes two days to come to Leinster House, as I experienced last week; it takes two days to deliver a letter from Leinster House to Rahan, in County Offaly. To post a letter from Mountmellick to Rahan, on our present system, takes four days, the same length of time as it takes for an air mail letter to come from Tanzania. There is something very wrong with a postal system about which that can be said.
There is no reason why a letter posted in Dublin cannot be delivered to any part of the country the following day. Most of the midland towns are only 50 or 60 miles from Dublin and there is no reason why letters cannot be delivered in Dublin on the following day. If there has been a reorganisation, I do not know what the Minister's Department has been doing about that.
In Britain certain steps have been taken to reorganise the mail. Over there delivery of the mail has been taken out of the stage coach era. When it takes four days for a letter to get from Rahan to Mountmellick or from Mountmellick to Ballybrit, we are certainly in the stage coach era. The re-organisation of the postal service in Britain was brought about by pressure being put on the Government by businessmen whose patience became entirely exhausted with what they considered to be the unsatisfactory postal service. In Britain there is separate management responsibility for letter and parcel post services. A marketing department was set up to promote the use of modern business management and techniques. What have we done  here to improve the speed and efficiency of our mail? Have any special steps been taken to introduce modern business management and techniques? If most of us who are engaged in any kind of business activity were to run our own businesses with the same degree of sloth and inactivity as the Department of Posts and Telegraphs we would all be out of business long ago.
On the Estimate this time 12 months the Minister stated that he was not aware of a deterioration in the postal service. I can assure the Minister candidly and genuinely, as a Member of this House and as a colleague who would not be inclined to embarrass him all the time, that the postal service is deteriorating. It is his job and that of the top men in his Department to find out what is wrong with the service and to put it right, bearing in mind that our postal rates must rank with some of the highest in western Europe. Our postal rates have increased vastly in recent times, and, therefore, people are reasonable in expecting a higher standard of efficiency. There was a time, in the memory of most of us, when a sealed letter could be posted for two old pence; now a sealed letter is four new pence, and there was greater speed and efficiency in the delivery of the letter at two old pence than there is at present. Granted there is a huge increase in the volume of mail, but that is no justification for not having proper organisation and proper business methods in the Department. Taxpayers are not getting value for the high postage charges. It is time a hard look was taken at this matter. The postal service is not good and it is time the Department had a very hard look at it. There has been a drastic reduction in the number of temporary postmen throughout the country and this may have added to the inefficiency. These men have been replaced by men with small vans who are doing the best job they possibly can but no matter how it is done, one man cannot do the work of three or four men. Re-organisation of the postal service in many areas is causing considerable hardship and inconvenience to the public. The service was even better  when we had the larger number employed and to cut down on the numbers giving the public service can be and surely is penny wise and pound foolish.
I want to direct the Minister's attention to the telephone service, or should I describe it as non-telephone service because if there is any medium that can be regarded as a barometer of rising temperatures, it is the present telephone service. It is about time we reviewed the situation and if the Department cannot give a highly efficient service, the Government should seriously consider handing over to private enterprise the administration of telephones because the existing service is driving people to the very edge of nervous breakdowns. I do not intend to quote for the Minister the volume of complaints being made about the service but if it is to continue in the Common Market, I do not know what the position will be. I notice that the chairman of a British-based company which recently moved into this country has said that he was appalled at the long delay in having telephones connected, the poor service on the existing lines his company had and the pre-conditions laid down before telex machines can be installed.
We invite into this country businessmen from other parts of the world to set up industry and to start factories here and, this being so, we must bear in mind that these successful businessmen have been accustomed to an efficient telephone service in their own countries. One thing they have in the United States is a highly efficient telephone service and it creates a very bad impression on industrialists and other businessmen coming to this country to participate in the commercial, economic and business life of our community when they have serious complaints to make in regard to the service. The businessman to whom I have referred has said that in all his experiences in Britain and in Europe, he had never come across a more frustrating time in this respect. The company which specialises in credit management services and credit control consultancies employs six male and four female staff, all of them Irish.
I direct the Minister's attention to a number of complaints in my constituency in this regard. I am grateful to him for succeeding in rectifying some of them but not all of them have been satisfactorily dealt with. In the case of factories and businesses, we should give them the service they expect, a service for which they are paying the highest rates in western Europe. I assure the Minister that our telephone service is very far from being perfect. The rental charges for residents' lines are £20 a year, for business lines £22, for auxiliary lines £18 and extra rental at the rate of £1.60 per annum per furlong is charged for distance in excess of three miles from an exchange. The telephone charges in this country are most unsatisfactory, having regard to the efficiency or lack of efficiency experienced by all subscribers.
The Minister has a three or a five year plan for telephone kiosks and I regard it as most unsatisfactory. If there are demands for the provision of kiosks in parts of the country, they should be met as far as possible. I have been pressing the Department for a long time in connection with the provision of a kiosk in an area called Rath in my constituency. It is an area which is generally recognised as an agricultural district, several miles from any convenient town. There is one shopkeeper there, a general merchant, who has his telephone at Rath crossroads and there is a long queue of people every morning, either waiting for calls or waiting to make calls, with the result that he cannot carry on his business efficiently because he cannot make his own telephone calls with the number of neighbours and customers waiting to make use of his telephone. This is one case in which the demand exists and in which steps should be taken to provide a kiosk.
This well-known businessman has made repeated representations. The local guild of Muintir na Tíre have  made representations and I am sure that all the public representatives have joined in, but nevertheless no telephone kiosk has been provided. The general merchant concerned is prepared to give a free site on which to construct the kiosk for the convenience of his neighbours, to enable them to ring “vets” and the local office of the Committee of Agriculture when advisory staff are urgently required. There are numerous uses which country people now make of the telephone.
Another area which has been deprived of kiosk facilities is Rahan near Tullamore. I was impressed by the plea made by local people to the Minister. I raised the matter in the Dáil on 2nd November, 1971. I asked the Minister then to take steps to provide a telephone service as soon as possible. The Minister replied that the provision of a kiosk at Rahan was not warranted at that time, but that a kiosk would probably be provided under the five-year programme for extension of kiosk facilities in rural areas. That is not sufficient in an area where there is demand for it and where there is sufficient business to warrant the provision of a kiosk. The services should be provided at Rath and Rahan without delay.
I have been in touch with the Minister about the telephone service in west and south Offaly. A constituent asked me to raise the matter in the House. He said in a letter that all the lines were out of order and that it was impossible to get through because the lines were never clear. He also complained that the telephone was indistinct. There is no evidence that the Department are trying to improve the service.
I wish to raise the subject of telephone tapping. It is well-known that telephones are tapped in various parts of the country. If the Minister stands up in the House and gives an undertaking that certain telephones are not being tapped or conversations recorded, one expects the position to be so. I want the Minister to explain whether there is a standing regulation about tapping if the police wish to obtain certain information via telephone  and they have not the ways and means of getting that information. Are there not certain handpicked people who are employed in a temporary capacity at certain telephone exchanges, whose duty it is to note calls going through those exchanges? This is well known. Temporary personnel are recruited. Some of them already hold Government positions. Their job is to record, if possible, telephone conversations on certain lines whose members are listed before them. Attention has been directed to this and to the fact that confidential telephone conversations are repeated.
Mr. O.J. Flanagan: I am quite satisfied that confidential telephone conversations are recorded. I make that charge. With reference to my own  telephone, as a result of a visit which I paid to the internment camp at the Curragh with the permission of the Taoiseach and the Minister for Defence in very recent weeks, I had cause to make a telephone call following that visit, and a caller had cause to make a call to me, and I am satisfied beyond all shadow of doubt that that telephone call was not in strict confidence or secrecy as it should be on a telephone line.
Mr. O.J. Flanagan: If the Deputy wants to call it a military prison I am satisfied. The point I am making is that telephone conversations I had on my own telephone were brought to the notice of others than those at the other end of the line.
Mr. O.J. Flanagan: All I want to say is that the telephone calls I made were repeated by people other than those to whom I made them. If people are to have confidence in this service, if they are to trust it, they must be assured that their conversations on the telephone are confidential. They are paying for a confidential telephone service.
Mr. O.J. Flanagan: They are entitled to get it without interference. It is wrong to get information in that way. It is mean, it is despicable, it is low, and the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs should ensure that such a practice will be stopped immediately. I am not saying that my telephone was tapped but I want an assurance that telephone conversations will not be subject to interruption——
Mr. O.J. Flanagan: If that practice is to continue it will undermine confidence in the service. That is why I advocated before and do so now a telephone service run by private individuals, administered independently of the Department. This will be doubly desirable when we join the EEC, for better or worse. An improved telephone service will be required and I hope the Minister will be able to tell us when he introduces next year's estimate that he is ready to hand the service over to private enterprise.
I wish to refer to the position of sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses. Events of the past week have overshadowed the genuine grievances of those people throughout the country. The sub-postmasters' association have made representations in regard to their  conditions of employment, rates of pay and system of appointment. I doubt if the Minister is aware of the valuable service those people provide for the community throughout the country. They do their work with a high standard of efficiency but they need help from the Department to improve their offices, to provide sound proof kiosks and to enable them to employ the additional help they require. The Minister must seriously consider these matters. One who visits sub-post offices in the country and sees the queues of people in them will appreciate the need for improvement because of the volume of work being done. Those people were never given the recognition they were entitled to.
Special emphasis should be laid in this debate on the grievances of sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses and, when the Minister comes to conclude the debate, I trust he will have some proposals for a general improvement in the conditions of these people. Surely they will not be asked to continue for another year in the vague hope that some day something will be done to improve their lot. These people render an important service. They are not very generously remunerated for the service they give. They are compelled to keep their offices in a proper state of repair, in proper decorative order and to employ assistance if they require assistance. That cannot be done on the allowance they are getting. If it is the intention to follow the pattern set by the Department of Justice in closing down Garda barracks and by the Department of Education in closing down schools and close down sub-post offices in the country, that closure will create greater problems than were ever created by the closure of rural schools and Garda barracks. That is why I appeal to the Minister to walk carefully in the re-organisation of sub-post offices. His first duty is to put those who run these offices on a proper scale of remuneration and give them proper conditions of employment.
I want to add my voice to those raised already on behalf of auxiliary postmen. Their contribution cannot be measured in terms of £sd. These men  should receive a proper wage or salary and they should have provision made for pensions on their retirement. There is the golden handshake for those who qualify for it, but a golden handshake of £300, £400 or £500 after 20, 25 or 30 years, service, walking the roads in all kinds of weather, winter and summer, is just not good enough. Adequate pension provision should be made for these men.
Sub-postmasters, sub-postmistresses and auxiliary postmen have been neglected. They are very important in the efficient running of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. Again, improvements must be made in the conditions of employment of our permanent postmen. Theirs is a position of trust. It is a position of great responsibility. It demands loyalty. Very often it demands courage. It certainly calls for a great deal of hard work. All these people are entitled to a better deal than they have so far got from the Minister and his Department.
A number of new post offices have been erected. Most of them are excellent buildings. I asked the Minister by way of parliamentary question the total cost of the erection and completion of the new post office in Portlaoise. I asked the Minister what had been paid for the site. I had a most courteous letter from the secretary of the Department saying that it was not the practice to disclose the price paid for the site on which a post office was built. This site was purchased with public money. That money is voted by this House. As public representatives, who vote this money, are we not entitled to that information? The only way in which I can get the information now is through the Committee of Public Accounts. But that information should be available here in this House. How can we keep a check on the way in which money we vote is spent unless we are entitled to that kind of information. Any attempt at concealment naturally gives rise to suspicion. If £X is paid for a property and £X is the market value of the property, then one has nothing of which to be ashamed. If, however, £X is paid for a property  the market value of which is £Y then there must be some reason why the Department refuse to disclose the amount paid. Taxpayers' money is taxpayers' money and surely Parliament is entitled to follow up that money until it reaches its ultimate destination. If we cannot do that then we are unable to follow up where the money goes.
Where Members of the House ask for details of expenditure of public money there should be no red tape to prevent that information being given. When I sought information in connection with a post office site the Department of Posts and Telegraphs refused to give the information on the instructions of the Minister. I now want to ask the Minister if he had anything to hide in regard to the price paid for the property concerned and, if he had not, why should there have been a cloud of secrecy? Such secrecy does not indicate satisfactory administration or enhance the public image of the Department.
A great deal has been said on the subject of broadcasting over the past few days and it is not my intention to labour the matter. I want to ask the Minister when it is proposed to improve television and radio reception in the midlands and would make special reference to the need for the provision of a high powered transmitter near Tullamore. I had occasion to go to the broadcasting station in Athlone some time ago. I was appalled at the backwardness of the set-up. The buildings were cold and shabby. No attempt had been made at modernisation. I hope the new high powered transmitter will be provided on the superior site available near Tullamore and that it will be found possible to have transferred from Athlone to Tullamore the existing transmitting facilities. Tullamore is more suitable than Athlone for high powered radio transmission. Athlone, may I say, served our purposes well from the early days.
Mr. O.J. Flanagan: I suggest that  if a high powered transmitter is being sited at Tullamore the complete work should be undertaken there and thus provide better radio reception for listeners at home and in Britain. The Department must realise that radio is our sole link with the vast number of Irish in Britain and that Irish radio cannot be received clearly at night time in Britain. On the west coast, in Cumberland, Lancashire and in Derby County there is reasonably good reception in the morning but the night time reception in London, Birmingham and Coventry of Radio Éireann programmes is practically nil because of the weakness of our transmitting power. One way of maintaining the link with our exiles is to provide a radio service which will be available to them. On our entry to the EEC it should be possible to provide for the reception of Radio Éireann programmes on the Continent. I hope, therefore, that steps will be taken to improve the high powered transmitting service.
We can capture listeners for Radio Éireann by broadcasting programmes representing Irish culture and Irish music. We must be able to compete with other high-power transmitting radio stations and the Minister must get on with the job of providing the type of service that would enable Irish exiles as well as people on the Continent to receive our radio programmes. Whatever may be the expenditure on the high-power transmitter at Tullamore the money will be well spent if the service is available to the people of Europe. It is vital that these people be able to receive our programmes just as we can listen to programmes from Paris, from Luxembourg or any other European station. It is a farce having a radio station if the programmes can be heard only in this country, and even here reception is not always clear.
I wonder what steps the Minister proposes to take which would result in some value being given to those who are paying excessive television licence fees. The vast majority of television licence holders here are confined to the home station. RTE have at their disposal a very efficient engineering  staff and it should not be beyond their capacity to make it possible for Irish viewers to avail of such stations as UTV or BBC.
There has been progress in our television broadcasting service and many very good programmes have been shown. In this respect I pay tribute to the engineering staff, to the artists who have taken part in these programmes and in particular to producers of programmes who take such extraordinary care in the interests of accuracy. We owe an appreciation to those young and energetic people who are involved in the television service and who have been responsible for producing many programmes of interest for our people. We hope that they will continue to produce such programmes.
From time to time our television service is criticised but that is a good sign because when people criticise it is obvious that they are interested. Although television is relatively new to this country, it has become an important aspect of home life. Viewers can expect to be able to enjoy a variety of programmes. As I have said, there have been many worthwhile programmes produced and, in particular, those that have been shown at Christmas time have won the admiration of a great many people. However, I would make one recommendation which I hope the members of the authority will read—that is, if they are on the authority long enough to do so. From time to time certain imported films are shown on RTE which the viewing public could well do without. Whoever is responsible for the showing of some of these films would be well advised, if they believe they must show these films, to put them on at a time when young viewers, particularly children of school going age, would be in bed. At least there might be an announcement on a night preceding the showing of any such film that the film was suitable for adult viewing only.
Mr. O.J. Flanagan: It is all right for the Parliamentary Secretary to  laugh but there are a number of decent parents who do not rejoice when filth is shown on their television screens in the presence of children. These parents have the responsibility of rearing their families as best they can and they are anxious to ensure that the standard in the home will not deteriorate in any way as a result of children being subjected to material that is not suitable. That must be guarded against. I have seen some of these imported films and in my opinion, as well as in the opinion of many parents to whom I have spoken, the films should not have been shown at a time when the viewing public included schoolgoing children.
Films should be segregated for showing at various times. I have seen very fine musical films and also educational films on the screen late at night but they were put on at a time when most children would be in bed. I have seen such comedy shows as the Harry Worth show going out after 10.30 at night. This is the type of programme that would be appreciated by children. I pay a tribute to programmes such as those featuring Eamonn de Buitléir, the various competition programmes and the Andy O'Mahony quiz programmes which are of an educational character and create a lively interest among young and schoolgoing children. There should be a parents advisory committee set up to make recommendations concerning changing hours, alterations in programmes, the suitability of certain programmes and the segregation of programmes for adults and children.
We have heard criticism from time to time of the “Late Late Show” and the programmes compered by Bunny Carr. Mr. Carr and Mr. Gay Byrne have excelled themselves in producing programmes of interest and of a controversial character. Unless there is interest created and unless we have men in the television service like those men who are able to create such interest we will not have the efficient service which we all require.
In the past week the RTE Authority have been the subject of much comment. I want to add my voice to that of other Deputies who spoke today in relation to the shock and amazement  which we felt at the highhanded act of the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs. He has semi-succeeded—he has not succeeded yet as this may have to be decided by the electorate of this country—in having a complete take-over of our broadcasting services, both radio and television. This is one of the most serious acts ever performed by a Minister since the foundation of the State.
When the broadcasting legislation was going through the House there was some comment on the question of directives to the authority. A responsible authority was appointed and they were given the job of administering our television service. The one fault which I find with our television service is the presentation of news items, particularly at weekends. Every Minister of the present Government appears in some shape or form.
Mr. O.J. Flanagan: Everybody has noted the amount of publicity given to Fianna Fáil. I want to say, in relation to three public functions held in this country, at which the President, the Taoiseach, the leader of the Fine Gael Party and the leader of the Labour Party were present, the television cameras were focussed entirely on the President and the Taoiseach. We heard the comment that the leader of the Fine Gael Party and the leader of the Labour Party were there but they were not seen by the cameras. The present Government got a fair deal in relation to publicity from the former television authority, but to men who are greedy for power and authority the flashing of the cameras on the President, the Taoiseach and his Ministers was not sufficient. They want to use radio and television for the purpose of political propaganda. That is serious enough but to prevent Telefís Éireann exercising freedom of choice of programme and freedom of expression of opinion on the air is something to be deplored in any democracy.
The Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, in consultation with his colleagues  in the Government, decided to fire at a moment's notice the RTE Authority. The reason he did this was that he wants to stifle free expression of thought, belief and opinion in this country, which is something he will never do. This is an effort to take a further step on the narrow, dangerous and winding road of dictatorship. There is nothing more dangerous for any Government to control than censorship of press, the muzzling of journalists or the complete takeover of radio and television broadcasting. Those who were fired gave honourable service to this country and I am sure tributes have already been paid to them. I know some of them very well. One of them is a colleague of mine on Laois County Council, a man of integrity, although differing politically from me. This man had a job to do and was prepared courageously to do it right.
Another member, also from my constituency, is the proprietor of one of the best-known provincial newspapers. He had served 12 years as a member of the authority with honour and distinction, gaining admiration and respect. He is a man who has written plays and a journalist of the highest quality. He has won the admiration of his colleagues in the journalistic world. He was the one man who knew something practical about the working of RTE. He was included in the group that was fired.
The two men whom I know who were fired by the Minister are men who are admired for their integrity even by those who differ from them politically. One could always have confidence that they would discharge their duty to the country and that they would do the job well. They performed a public service to this country by allowing both sides of the story to be told. A one-sided television programme is ineffective. Is it not a fact that there was to be a complete shut-down in so far as RTE were concerned on everything that was national and Gaelic and that only one side of the 6-county problem was to be put over? We could hear the views of Captain O'Neill, have expressions of opinion from Mr. Craig and have the  views of Mr. Faulkner frequently but those who held contrary views in the Six Counties were to be denied the right to express their opinions.
The most dangerous prospect for this country is that the Government would control the broadcasting medium completely, that only what suited Fianna Fáil could come over the air, that anything contrary to a complete Fianna Fáil takeover, anybody who would be critical of the creation of a dictatorial police state would not be allowed on radio or television. That danger hangs over this country. It is very wrong that the Minister should hand-pick what can be described as favourites who will not embarrass him or the Government and who will put on what suits the Government. There is a grave danger to democracy to have a politically motivated broadcasting system. There is a bigger danger in the muzzling of journalists and the prevention of free expression of opinion on programmes. I put it to the Minister that the reason why he dismissed this authority, which contained men of integrity and honesty, was that they would not do what he wanted done and he wanted to have a clear run to put over on the country whatever kind of political propaganda suited Fianna Fáil, to brainwash the electorate. The Government want radio and television for their own use and they want to deny free speech and free expression of opinion. One would have expected that from Fidel Castro or from Bulganin; one would have expected it in the days of Khrushchev or when there was Nazi rule in Germany. But we are told that we are a free people and that we have an independent broadcasting service.
The independence has been whittled away from our broadcasting service by the removal of the RTE Authority and this is something which spells danger for every citizen and is to be deplored. I hope that every trade union, every public body, every authority, large and small, will see that this is an infringement of the rights of the citizens. It is the setting-up of dictatorship and depriving the citizen of his rights. The great stride which people like Fidel Castro and Bulganin made in  their areas was that they muzzled free thought, prevented free speech and established their own broadcasting service. What is the difference between the methods of Fidel Castro, of Bulganin or even of Hitler in the thirties and the steps now being taken in this country to prevent free broadcasting, free thought and free expression of opinion? The greatest danger that has ever hung over this country now hangs over it because of the unwarranted and shameless firing of an authority set up by the law as established by this House, a body of impartial people doing their job impartially and refusing to be made political pawns and tools by a Fianna Fáil Minister or Taoiseach. Did the Minister not know that in firing people who were doing their job honourably and well the Government's motives were ill conceived and evilly planned? If the Opposition—Labour and Fine Gael and all the opposition parties outside the House—are worth their salt they now have sufficient material to put this Government out of office and keep them out before they silence freedom of speech on radio and television and imprison a large proportion of the free people.
The Minister has taken extreme strides in the direction of setting up dictatorship, a system foreign to people who love democratic rule and obey democratic laws. The Minister on this occasion has bitten off more than he can chew. While we are free let us hold on to our freedom and while we have a free broadcasting service let us hold on to it. If we allow it to be taken over by politicians for their own use and benefit it will be used to blindfold and handcuff the people. While there is some measure of freedom left I hope the volume of public protest provoked by this despicable and disgraceful performance by the Minister in removing the authority will show the enormity of indignation aroused by actions of this kind.
I pay tribute to the members of the RTE Authority who performed a noble service and were pushed out of office with clean hands, as regards their independence, and I warn the House that the day this country will rue will  be the day when there is a broadcasting service controlled and directed by the Government for their collective and individual advantage. Among the tremendous dangers ahead, I see, above all, the danger of freedom but I am sure the people are alive to the urgency and importance of the situation more particularly as a result of the events of the past week. But nothing has happened in the past week of which we have not warned the people long ago. We are now telling them that unless they rise up now and make their protest loudly and determinedly they will not be able to do so later.
There is a little time left but it is running out for those who believe in freedom with special reference to radio and television. We want that service to be independent of Government control as it has been. It is no longer independent now because of the Minister's new puppet system. The confidence and trust built up in Irish broadcasting is now gone. The freedom which journalists enjoyed is gone. We had an example of an effort being made to muzzle and decry “7 Days” some time ago. Our people were being taught too much through the medium of television. Our broadcasting personnel were enlightening the people too well, exposing wrongs and injustices, exposing faults in Irish society, comparing it with others. This was a cause of extreme embarrassment to the Government and on the first opportunity—if it had not been last week it would be this week or the following week; it was coming in any case— they struck. The men and women in RTE had been rendering too great a service to the country and it was becoming too hard for Fianna Fáil to swallow this. It was not palatable for the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs. So, in regard to this Department there faces the country one of the greatest-ever periods of anxiety and distress brought about by the high-handed action of the Minister.
After calm perusal and serious thought if there is any such thing as shame or embarrassment for any Fianna Fáil Minister, a certain amount of it must descend on the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs. On  the other hand, shame and embarrassment are not readily accepted by members of the present Government; if shame and embarrassment had any effect on them we would have had some result before now. Because these men are intoxicated with power and authority they are out for a complete take-over.
I want to warn this House that a politically motivated and designed broadcasting authority can bring ruin to this country as a free democracy. I have confidence that the majority of Deputies in the House are men of common sense and intelligence who believe in the existence of freedom not alone in the political and economic world but in the journalistic world, believe that the journalist must be free to report and to discharge his professional duties in the grand tradition of the journalist. If you handcuff and blindfold the journalist you cannot have the truth. A system that is based on untruth and deceit is bound to bring about its own destruction. There is dishonesty, hypocrisy and deceit surrounding the present set-up and, as sure as there is, it will not alone be the downfall of the men who organised it but, unless it is nipped in the bud, it will be the downfall of democracy in this country.
What greater gift can God give any of us than the freedom to put on whatever programmes we think desirable, to view whatever we wish to view, to use radio and television to express our beliefs, as I used the television to express my own opinion, even though shared by few on a particular topic. We do not want the day to come when nobody can express a view on radio and television except Fianna Fáil, unless it is censored and sub-edited by an appointee of Fianna Fáil who will do the work of the Minister. The Minister will not be there. He will wash his hands of it and say it has nothing to do with him, but he will have his political henchmen to do his political work for him behind closed doors in Montrose, while he maintains his pretence of honesty. The service provided at public  expense and supported by the licence holders and taxpayers will be used to whittle away the measure of freedom enjoyed by producers and journalists. Only what he likes, through his satellites, may be shown to the taxpayers and licence holders. I warn the Minister that unless I am a very bad judge of Irish character that cock will not crow. There are people in this country who see the consequences that are likely to follow such acts of dictatorship. In order to preserve democracy, the public must be rallied to defeat men who have that idea in mind. Goodness knows I have spoken enough in this House in recent weeks on freedom and democracy. Must I next take to the town bridges and the chapel gates to convince people of their duty in this regard? If needs be I will.
Even though years are beginning to catch up on me, I believe that when a problem of this kind arises, age or years of experience do not count. We are motivated by sincerity of purpose to ensure that those who come after us are not muzzled. We want to give them this country in better condition than we found it ourselves, but the way things are going we will not be handing it over as free and as democratic as we found it. Let us hope the broadcasting service will not be another Fianna Fáil bow to the fiddle but that as a result of the awakening of a sense of responsibility in the people the efforts of the Minister will be defeated.
The Minister's decision was a poor return for men who gave good and valuable service. It was discouraging to men of vision, who could not care less who was in or who was out as long as they planned an interesting programme for the viewers. I know many of the men and women associated with Irish television. They could not care less what were the politics of the person they were interviewing. They were concerned with getting the best from them, getting the truth from them, extracting whatever information was essential for putting an interesting programme on the air. The day that becomes impossible is the day Irish television will lose the  services of such people. Irish television has built up a great volume of talent. Our interviewers are, perhaps, of world standard. Are we going to lose them by telling them they cannot put this or that on, when they can go elsewhere for more money and have the freedom to use their talents in producing the best and most interesting television programmes? Do Fianna Fáil want to drive them out of this country so that there will only be the political puppet left who will present the Fianna Fáil designed programme?
We must give the young men and women in Irish television the ray of hope that Fianna Fáil will not always be there to control it. We must encourage them to believe that we are behind them in the exercise of their rights as interviewers and producers, that we are here ready to defend in the interests of democracy a broadcasting service which will be to the benefit of the entire community, designed to promote the national culture and traditions and to use them for the purpose of keeping Ireland first and foremost, of preserving these traditions and this culture and dealing with its problems economically and politically, together with its differences in many spheres. A Minister who interferes with the free carrying out of that work is bringing disgrace on himself and doing a disservice to the country. Long may we live to enjoy freedom of programmes, freedom of expression of opinion, freedom in the making of programmes and freedom to interview in our radio and television services. I dread to think of the consequences of a complete dictatorship in this country, which is on its way, designed by a small number of little men with big ideas, with small heads and no brains.
It is essential that on this Estimate we should censure the Minister determinedly and severely for an action which has brought no credit on Ireland abroad. I wonder what the Minister will say if he has to attend a meeting in Brussels of Common Market Ministers in relation to broadcasting and has to stand up and say, “I dismissed my television authority and I planted in a new authority, an hour afterwards without consulting  them because I wanted to muzzle free speech in my country”. It would be interesting to hear the comments of the other eight Ministers of Telecommunications, of Posts and Telegraphs, or whatever they call themselves. The Minister will be the only one who has taken firm steps to disconnect, to dismantle and to disrupt the free working of radio and television services of all the Common Market Ministers. I am sure that embarrassment and shame will register on his face as a result of the questions of his Common Market colleagues as to why he did it because he has only one answer to give, that is, to put over on the air, sound and vision, Fianna Fáil propaganda.
I venture to say that this will not work and I hope that some steps outside this House will be taken to bring about a reversal of Government policy and the one way in which it can be done is by a change of Government because we cannot carry on if television and radio are to be silenced and used against the promotion of other political ideas. It is dangerous for Fine Gael, dangerous for Labour and dangerous for all parties outside this House. Let us realise our own responsibility and do something about it. The one way in which we can do something about it is to put them out and keep them out.
Mr. P. Browne: I am very perturbed by the statement made by the Deputy opposite. I can assure the House that I am not prejudiced against anybody on this side or that side. I never thought I would get this opportunity of voicing my opinion in this matter but a gentleman in my constituency who has been 52 years with the Post Office service, with 20 years in Radio Éireann, called to my house on Saturday morning and spoke to me about this matter, and in view of what Deputy Flanagan has said, I am glad to avail of the opportunity to make myself clear on it. He asked me to convey a message to the Minister and with 52 years' service, that man must know what he is talking about. I do not know whether he is Fine Gael or Labour but he is a decent and honourable man. I could not agree with what  Deputy Flanagan said in any circumstances. I want to put it on record that if a man with 52 years' service in the Post Office, with 20 years with Radio Éireann says it, he must know what he is talking about. I agree with the Minister in his action. I thank you, Sir, for giving me the opportunity——
Mr. P. Browne: You are the very man who knows everything about everything. You are one of the people I have no regard for because you are the man who knows everything. I served my time here for about four years but you are a man who came in here a couple of years ago and who knew everything about every department. I sat on the backbench and served my time.
Mr. P. Browne: I will tell you what he said. He has 52 years' service in the Post Office and he asked me to convey his message to the Minister that he agreed with the action taken. I came in here as an ordinary individual and served my time to the best of my ability. If the people opposite were like me, served their time and took it easy, they might be able to get up and speak. I want to convey to the Minister what that man with 52 years' service said and if that man does not know what he is talking about, how the hell do we know what we are talking about?. He said he congratulates the Minister on the action he has taken. I am not going to mention any names. I will talk to the Minister in private. There were two gentlemen involved. We all know one can say nothing. One of these gentlemen asked me to compliment the Minister on the action he has taken.
Mr. Bruton: I am beginning to wonder if the Government have become so fascinated with power that they do not know where to stop in grasping it. The sacking of the RTE Authority is a step which perhaps even  the Government themselves do not realise the seriousness of. If people can not trust the media and believe that they are giving them a reasonable and impartial statement of the facts they begin to lose faith in democracy. If this happens a situation like that which occurred in France could develop. In 1968 rioting took place in France. It almost brought down the institutions of State. The people were concerned about the way in which the news was manipulated by the Government and the way the French radio station was used as an instrument of Government propaganda. They rose up against this in a way which was to some degree destructive. They were provoked by the way in which the French Government had controlled the radio and television service and had made the station an instrument of propaganda. The Government here are moving along the same road. There is a serious danger that the same occurrence may take place here if the Government are not stopped in their course.
Mr. Bruton: The Government set a trap for the RTE Authority. The authority were inexorably led into it. If the Government look at their relationship with the RTE Authority they will see their mounting impatience because the authority were not reflecting establishment thinking, whatever that might be. This can be traced back to the moneylending scandal and the tribunal set up. The Government were trying to get control of the television services. After that we had the softening up process which was seen in the speeches of Deputy Flor Crowley and others. The Minister knew he would get an opportunity. When requested by the RTE Authority to clarify what anybody could see was a vague directive the Minister said that he could see no point in prolonging the correspondence. He was not prepared to clarify what the directive meant. He allowed RTE to go on in the hope that the interpretation which they put on it would not be questioned. The Minister let them go ahead. When they had this interview last week the Minister stepped in and chopped them. He did not tell them beforehand what his exact interpretation of the directive was. He just let them walk into the trap set for them and then he did what Fianna Fáil had been building up to for a long time. He chopped the authority. It is important that the people on the authority should be of independent minds. No matter how independent-minded they are, they are living under the shadow of what has happened and they know what will happen if they do not do what they are told.
Mr. Bruton: It is worth reminding the House that the Fine Gael Party envisaged this use of the powers under section 31 by the Government for political purposes and proposed in 1968 an a amendment which would have insisted that any directive under section 31 be countersigned by one or other of the Opposition party leaders. This would have ensured that when this power was being exercised it would have been exercised genuinely in the interest of the whole community and not for party political advantage.
Mr. Bruton: Another point which needs to be made in relation to the directive under section 31 is that there is no appeal against it. The Minister in this context is exercising a quasi-judicial function. There should be an appeal to a non-partisan body against any decision taken by the Minister in this matter. This is a defect which should have been remedied. I believe that if any impartial body were to examine the Minister's conduct in relation to this matter, if they examined the fact that he failed to clarify the meaning of the directive, then on the basis of an interpretation which the Minister knew was not that which the RTE were putting on the directive, they would on appeal have decided in favour of the authority and not the Minister.
Against the background of such developments, it is almost futile to talk about what one would like to see by way of improvement of the television service. I speak at a time when the Minister has struck so fundamentally at the freedom of television. At the same time, it is worth putting on record a few thoughts in relation to this matter. I believe that television as a medium of communication if used properly can be a very important influence in improving understanding between peoples. It could be a very useful way to promote understanding within the 32 Counties of Ireland. It is unfortunate that the television stations operating from Northern Ireland from which the people in the North of Ireland draw their daily news and on which their lives are depicted in drama as well as in news stories, cannot be seen in many parts of the rest of the island. Therefore, people in the south and west are deprived of an opportunity of understanding not only the political views but the way of life of the people in the North because they cannot see BBC Northern Ireland or Ulster Television.
The same can be said about people living in large areas of Northern Ireland. They do not understand the way we feel and think because they cannot see RTE television. They, too, are deprived of the opportunity of seeing programmes like “The Riordans”, “Tolka  Row” and so on, programmes which do not set out a political viewpoint but which depict the social fabric of this part of Ireland. It is, therefore, important that these programmes should be seen in all parts of the island on both sides of the Border. One of the practical co-operative steps between North and South would be a joint agreement to boost all these television stations across the whole island of Ireland.
On the same topic of North-South relations, one of the things that strikes me as very odd is that we do not have one telephone directory for the whole island. The fact is that one can telephone directly to Belfast. The biggest block to doing so, to using this facility, is that you have to ring up telephone inquiries to get the telephone number. In post offices here there is not access to a telephone directory for Northern Ireland. If this is one island and if we are all one people, surely we should be able to consult a telephone directory if we want to ring a person in Northern Ireland. It is worth remembering that the telephone directory is used not only for telephone calls but also as a source of information about people's addresses and the various services. If we want to promote in a simple way greater understanding between the people of the whole island, this is another practical way in which we can do it. I suggest that the Minister take steps to promote agreement with the people in Northern Ireland to have one directory. It would promote trade as well as social understanding.
I wonder if it is feasible to boost certain continental radio stations in Ireland. I have found that listening to continental radio stations is a good way of learning the language. If one has any basic facility, one can pick up quite a bit by listening to continental radio stations. One can get a knowledge of how they pronounce the language and so forth. The big problem here is that the reception is bad. I do not know how expensive booster facilities would be but I would hope that we could do so for a limited period every day. We could boost a German station for two hours and a French station for another two hours so that people who want to listen to  French being spoken by Frenchmen could do so. This might be a useful way to encourage people to learn Continental languages which will be of considerable practical value in the context of EEC membership.
Mr. Bruton: I was the only Deputy to raise the problems of the Meath Gaeltacht in the Dáil for years. I put down a long series of questions in relation to the Meath Gaeltacht and I can assure the Deputy that the results in the next election in the Meath Gaeltacht will be an indication as to which party in Meath are concerned about the practical problems which those people face, as distinct from going around posturing in a political fashion about love for the language which is not translated into practical concern for the people who speak it. If it comes to that, I can assure the Deputy that I have nothing to answer for to him.
Mr. Bruton: If the Deputy looks at the record he will find that I am the only Deputy who put down Parliamentary questions about the problems faced by the people in the Meath Gaeltacht. The Deputy will not find that any Fianna Fáil Deputy asked questions about the Meath Gaeltacht.
Mr. Bruton: I understand the people's problems because I represent them. The Deputy does not represent any Gaeltacht but he comes in here and talks as if he did. I represent the people and the people are a lot more important in my book than the language.  The mistake the Deputy seems to be making all the time is that he seeks to decry the people while making a big thing about his alleged fluency in the language.
Mr. Tunney: The Deputy said he would deny a civic guard the right to speak the language. That is on record. All the Deputy is interested in is French, German and all the other languages but not the language of the peasant.
Mr. Bruton: That is Navan Road Irish which I do not think has ever been spoken by any true native Irish speaker. At least I speak the language that I know. As I said, consideration should be given to boosting Continental radio stations. Failing that, the news could be recorded by Radio Telefís Éireann and broadcast again by Radio Telefis Éireann. Listening to news in another language is one of the most useful ways in which to learn the language because one has heard the news in one's own language and one has a fair idea of its  content and is, therefore, attuned to an understanding of the news in another language. This is a development that should be considered.
I should like to compliment Radio Éireann on the very high standard of their programmes. It is, I think, fairly well recognised that there are excellent programmes on radio. People do not, perhaps, listen to them as much as they should. I certainly do not but I know from those who do that they have a very high opinion indeed of the programmes on the radio.
We have very many temporary postmen. These men have no pension rights. I find it hard to understand the situation. These men should have been made permanent and could have been made permanent without any great dislocation of the Department's activities. This is really an exercise in cheeseparing. The Minister refuses to make them permanent, thereby depriving them of adequate remuneration and pension rights. The Minister and the Government should reconsider their attitude in this.
Another matter in which the Government and the Minister should act more quickly is in the granting of political rights to officers in the Post Office below the executive grade. These people are not involved in policy decisions. People have been making noises about this for some time, but nothing has been done. It is not right that they should be denied the opportunity of standing in elections and participating in political activities. It cannot be justified on any ground of policy because we have in this House members of local authorities who are much more deeply involved in policy-making but they are permitted to stand for Parliament. I do not see why Post Office clerks, sitting behind a counter and not involved in policy decisions, should be precluded from active participation in politics. This is a regulation that should be revised.
The development of the telephone service is of crucial importance in national planning. We should see the telephone service in the context of social and economic development. It is essential that rural areas should have the best possible telephone service even  though that service may not be economic from the point of view of earning a return for the Department. It is the policy of all parties here to encourage those in rural areas to remain in them. It is also their policy to encourage urban dwellers to move to the country because the quality of life there is better. That is a sensible policy because, if country dwellers leave rural areas, they contribute to congestion in the cities. If it is our aim to encourage people to stay in rural Ireland we must provide them with the best means of communication possible. The first priority is a good telephone service. Capital investment on such a service should be subsidised to ensure that rural telephone services are kept up to an adequate standard.
There is a good deal of matter being printed on regional development and growth targets for particular areas. We have the IDA plan which pinpoints particular areas for concentrated development. These are the areas into which we will seek to attract industry. There is a good deal of talk about the role of the infrastructure in attracting industry to particular areas. Among the items constituting such a structure is a telephone service. There are, of course, roads and rail links, water, sanitary services and so on. If the telephone service is to be a means of attracting industry to a particular area in which industry is needed and one in which it can become viable, then a good automatic telephone service should be co-ordinated into the targets set by the IDA, in so far as these targets are genuinely accepted by the Government. I wonder whether they are accepted or is it just a matter of giving lists of a number of jobs, which might be useful at the church gate for some Government speaker? If these plans are serious then, as a first priority, we should ensure that there is an automatic telephone service in the particular area, a service of the highest standard possible. There is no point in producing regional plans unless they have an effect over the whole range of Government. I should like the Minister to tell us if the activities of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs are being integrated into the IDA regional plans.
 The next point is one on which I feel very strongly. The capital provision for installations should be related as closely as possible to projections of area population. From the rate of marriages and births, the growth of population reflected in the census, the numbers on the electoral register, the age structure of the population reflected in the census and from the development plans of the county council you can project fairly accurately what the population of an area will be for five to ten years. That is a very good guide, if you have basic data of the economic position of the area, to the future demand for telephones. That is the time to start thinking about the provision of capital for new exchanges and additional switching equipment. A period of four years may elapse between the ordering of such equipment and its delivery and installation.
If the Department genuinely want to ensure that the service will be provided when the demand arises, the obvious thing to do is to use these demographic forecasts to estimate the demand in a given area and then to order the equipment which it is estimated will be required. This will involve certain risks. If investment is undertaken and the estimated demand does not arise the Government will be condemned from Opposition benches for squandering money. On the other hand, the Government must take certain risks if the telephone service is to be maintained at a standard adequate to meet demands.
Dunboyne is a case in point. The Dunboyne exchange covers Dunshaughlin, Ashbourne, Garristown and an area stretching towards Summerhill but not including Summerhill. The service there is very bad. At certain times of the day one lifts the phone only to get the engaged tone, which indicates that you cannot get a line. This is particularly the case during office hours. I understand that there is an insufficient number of lines in the exchange, due to the insufficient equipment installed there.
The population expansion of Dunboyne, which is reflected in the increased demand for telephones and an increased number of telephones not  served by adequate switching equipment in the exchange, could have been projected on the basis of the development plans of Meath County Council and population trends. The equipment could be in the area now if the Government had looked ahead. Instead, something is being done about it only now. The result is a bad service due to lack of foresight on the part of the Government.
The same goes for the Navan exchange. Navan is an area where there has been rapid expansion of population. There is bad service for existing telephones because of inadequate equipment and because of the extra telephones in the area overtaxing the very limited equipment there. It is virtually impossible to get a new connection in the Navan exchange area because the Minister's representative quite rightly says that the existing equipment is overtaxed and if he were to add another connection without supplementing the equipment there could be further deterioration in the service. The reason for that is the insufficient equipment provided for that exchange because of the failure to foresee the increase in population. It is well known that Meath is an expanding area, that it is near distribution areas, near the east coast, has industrial potential and there is the predictable expansion of Navan as a result of mining development. I hope that this time the Government will not be found without adequate telephone equipment. Adequate equipment must be provided to cater for the increased population of Navan. Otherwise, in ten years' time the service will be worse than it is now. Now is the time to provide equipment.
I have made the provision of telephone kiosks a subject of special interest. The policy in regard to the provision of telephone kiosks is inconsistent. In order to get a kiosk in a rural area it has to be a place in which there is a post office and the post office telephone has to be very heavily used. This telephone is available only during opening hours. There are many areas where a telephone service is needed and where there is not a post office. Such areas cannot  even be considered under the present situation. There are pubs and other establishments in villages which have coin boxes and where people do not bother to use the post office telephone during opening hours but when all these establishments are closed at night, there is no kiosk available. The classic example in my constituency is the village of Kilmessan. There are places where one sees a kiosk at a crossroads and where there may be only two or three houses. There is no kiosk in Kilmessan. The reason is that the post office is at one end of the village and persons shopping in the village do not see the post office which is hidden at one end and they use the telephone in the licensed premises or in a shop. The result is that the village does not meet the criterion in regard to use of the post office phone.
The real need for a kiosk in Kilmessan is considerably higher than it is in other places where there are kiosks. It is ruled out because of this rule of thumb which is operated. The Minister requires to have some objective criteria. Otherwise he would be open to the charge of favouring one area over and above another, for political or other reasons. He might be accused of providing a kiosk in an area where there was large Fianna Fáil support while depriving another area of a kiosk because the people there happened to make the terrible mistake of voting for Opposition politicians.
There is a way around this which I might suggest to the Minister. Already there is provision for county councils to be brought into this matter. Given that the Minister has a programme for the provision of kiosks and let us say that in a particular area 15 kiosks are to be provided within the next three or four years, the answer might be that in each county half or may be three-quarters of the projected number of kiosks could be provided by the criteria used at present while the county councils would be asked to nominate two or three sites each year where they consider kiosks should be provided. In  this way the existing criteria would be supplemented and no injustice would be done because exceptional cases such as Kilmessan could be covered while at the same time the ordinary run of applications could be dealt with under existing procedures.
Mr. Bruton: Naturally, county councillors who are responsible to the ratepayers are not anxious to take the risk of providing a kiosk for one area at the expense of the ratepayers of the entire area. County Councillors know that they must bear the responsibility of such decisions and that they might be depending on votes in one end of an area while having to vote for the provision of a kiosk in an area in which they would receive no votes. The amount of money involved might not be very great in so far as the ratepayers were concerned but it is something of which they might remind councillors at election time. I am not suggesting a vast increase in the provision of kiosks but rather that a different criterion be used in deciding on locations. I hope the Minister will give some consideration to this suggestion. However, should he fail to do so there will be no great outcry but the proposal is worth considering.
Mr. Bruton: Then, he would understand. Regarding post office buildings, some improvements should be  carried out in respect of the post office in Navan. This town is growing very rapidly and there is a need for an expansion of the post office facilities. I understand that the staff there are very concerned about this matter and working conditions are such that the effectiveness of the staff is being diminished. The Minister said that certain minor alterations are taking place there. Perhaps the only reason these alterations are being carried out is that one official took a legal action against the Department on the grounds that they were not complying with the regulations of a particular Act which provides that people in charge of office premises should ensure that certain standards are maintained. It was found that the Department of Posts and Telegraphs were defaulting in respect of provisions which the inspectors of other Departments were seeking to impose on the owners of other premises. A new post office is needed in Navan to cater for the vast expansion which is taking place and which will continue to take place there.
I wish to reiterate something which was said by Deputy Flanagan. I refer to the failure of the Minister to disclose the price that the Department paid for a site. I do not understand why this information should not be made available to public representatives. The money being spent on the purchase of sites by the Department is not the personal property of the Minister or of any official. It is the property of the people of Ireland and they are entitled to know how it is used.
In conclusion, I compliment the sections of both radio and television who are involved in the production of farm programmes. These programmes have been recognised as playing a very significant role in improving the knowledge of agricultural techniques throughout the country. I hope that those responsible will continue to produce such programmes.
Mr. Bruton: It is one of the very important factors of agriculture but it is not the only one. Mr. Dillion does not comment on policy or decisions, for instance. Indeed, he might be the most suitable man for the job I have in mind but it would be wrong to suggest that he is performing the same function as, say, Mr. Sweeney in relation to labour relations or as Mr. John Feeney in relation to economics. I hope RTE will consider the appointment of an agricultural correspondent.
Dr. O'Donovan: I was just saying I was sorry the Minister was not here to hear my few words, not that they will enlighten him in any way. I would like him to be here out of friendship, especially as I am so out of practice in speaking in this House. One thing that interests me about Estimates in recent times is the fact that nobody talks about the increase in the amount of the Estimates. The enormity of them is such that everybody is afraid to say anything about them. The expenditure on this Estimate in 1966-67 was £19 million and this year it will be £46 million.
Dr. O'Donovan: For the information of the Deputy who has just arrived it was not I who called for the quorum. When the former Deputy Corry was here every time he got up he called for a quorum. It is not a bad idea because if everybody did it there would always be somebody in the House instead of it being empty the way it has been for most of this evening. I would be delighted if Deputy Burke would stay here to help me.
Dr. O'Donovan: It is all right with me. I was interested to hear Deputy Bruton talking so much about kiosks. The cost of the questions asked about kiosks in this House must be a sizeable sum in this £46 million. I do not know why people ask questions about kiosks. The Department of Posts and Telegraphs would put in kiosks any place if they had the resources for them. I am afraid I must talk about Radio Telefís Éireann, not in the sense that certain people have been trying to bell it up into a great public matter of dispute. I want to say what I think about it. I was a television addict for years. I used to sit in front of the television and go asleep. I can say that I never saw a worse television service than we had for a number of years after the station opened.
Dr. O'Donovan: It interested me to compare this with the BBC Northern Ireland. When that station was set up it was pretty crude and had a kind of rural outlook about it. In a couple of years it was the best service in these islands. The reason for that was explained to me by a man associated with it. They had the best camera crews in these islands. I  thought that RTE would never get off the ground. For a period I could not get any other station and I had no option but to watch RTE. I used never look at RTE except when football matches were on or when there were political broadcasts.
Dr. O'Donovan: Ba mhaith liom dá bhfanfadh sé anseo ar feadh cúpla noiméad. Tar ar ais. There is a lot of talk about what the Minister did. He could do nothing worse than was done in the first two months Telefís Éireann was in existence. In that period no Opposition politicans were seen on it. The President and the late Séan Lemass were seen very frequently and eventually in a corner of a church Deputy Corish, the leader of the Labour Party, was shown. I had a real rumpus on one occasion with one of the Fine Gael members of the staff who said this was not true, that he had interviewed Deputy Cosgrave about six weeks after it was set up. I am certain about this because, being interested in television, I used to look at it every night. I looked at it for the best part of two months before an Opposition politician was seen on it. I know the Fianna Fáil idea of fair play is that they should hog the whole thing themselves. If the present Minister for Posts and Telegraphs did anything wrong last week he was continuing a good tradition.
Dr. O'Donovan: In these islands which are called the British Islands— I have the approval of the President for calling them that in a geographical way—RTE was very bad. Why was it so bad? The real reason was the method of recruitment of the staff. It was deplorable—the nice cosy group from Dublin who got into the television service regardless of whether or not they were fit for the jobs. One of the first things that happened on Telefís Éireann was the sad fate that befell “Broadsheet”, and that was because the one first class person in it was Mr. John O'Donoghue. He was the interviewer on “Broadsheet”. The Government party could not take what he was doing to their politicians though he was in the halfpenny place compared with John Freeman of the BBC. He was sacked and the programme was wound up.
I remember when Mr. Kevin McCourt was appointed director of RTE. I met one of the senior men in the place at the time in St. Stephen's Green. I asked him: “Will he be able to do anything with it?” He said: “It is doubtful if he can reach down far enough into the organisation, John.” The man was right. Of all the go brónach, absurd organisations ever, it was one of the worst. The strange thing is that for a period it did fairly well and in the last six months it has gone to bits again. I shall explain why. Let us take the attitude of the Government party. Take what happened during the Presidential election. It would not be right for the Opposition candidate to be seen on television but there was no difficulty about seeing the incumbent on it. Certain things were arranged, such as the honorary degree that was conferred on him by a University in Belgium——
What about the money lending inquiry? How did the staff to whom that happened feel? Can any organisation put up with that kind of skull-dragging without being destroyed? Why was there an inquiry at all into that “7 Days” programme? Because the Government wanted to get their own back on the people who exposed what was happening in the community.
Perhaps the Minister will be proved to have been justified if the authority have, in fact, anything at all to do with the actual programmes because certainly there has been a sad deterioration in the quality of the programmes over the last six months. Frankly, I could see no reason for dismissing the authority. They were mainly supporters of the present Government. I do not know why they were dismissed. The amount of publicity given to the Provisional IRA is supposed to be the cause of this. As was said to me in this House this evening, the father can repudiate his child and, therefore, the Fianna Fáil Party can repudiate the IRA. It would not be so easy if they were the mother but being the father it is easy enough to repudiate the IRA.
I should like to refer to a matter which would interest Deputy Tunney. Both on television and radio there were long stretches of years when the Irish spoken was deplorable. On the whole I can understand even Northern Irish as it is spoken by Deputy Tunney without any great difficulty but there were some newscasters—I can guess who appointed them; I will not mention the man's name but anything he touched he made a mess of it; he is in his old age now but I would say he had some hand in the game—and they were the most deplorable speakers of Irish that anybody ever heard. As far  as I am concerned the standard of Irish on both radio and television has improved very considerably in the past few years whoever has taken over the job of appointing the speakers.
There are certain obvious things in relation to RTE. The most obvious is that not enough of the programmes are original to our own country. In particular there is not adequate drama, not enough stories that are racy of the soil, and so on. “Tolka Row” was a good programme and it was taken off. I do not know why. “The Riordans” has lasted for an exceptionally long period but I have been told that they have been censured recently because of the drinking in “Johnny Mac's” pub. This is quite possible. We all know how fond some people in this country are of censorship of one kind or another. I think that as a nation we do not drink nearly as much as we did 40 or 50 years ago.
There is one other grave defect in both radio and television and that is the complete absence of educational programmes. They would not cost so much. It is not like setting up a huge assortment of cameras as is done for the Sweeps Derby at the Curragh. It would be a relatively simple thing.
There is one other subject which is not adequately dealt with, though an effort was made not so long ago to do so. There is not sufficient Irish music particularly on the television service, though when Séan Ó Riada died there were a number of programmes presented but we could do with more. We have what is generally admitted to be one of the finest folk music systems in the world. The great composers in other countries based their symphonies on folk music. No real effort has been made to build up anything from our folk music. The late Séan Ó Riada was in the process of doing it but there is no evidence of anybody replacing him.
It does not surprise me one bit to see the Fianna Fáil Party suddenly blow their top about the Provisional IRA, their own child. The IRA were shown a great deal more on the BBC than they were on RTE. It shows how absurd we are. For the first few years that there was trouble in the  North, in 1969 and 1970, they were not shown at all here. They were constantly shown on the BBC in Northern Ireland and on the BBC in London. I cannot understand what it is about us that we put up with everything up to a point and then suddenly blow ourselves asunder. This is what the Government are doing about this problem: they have suddenly blown themselves asunder. If it does not bring on a general election it will be just a marginal thing. This is all I want to say on the subject.
Mr. M. O'Leary: The immediate concern of Opposition Deputies, I think, was the circumstances in which this otherwise uneventful annual Estimate which is normally concerned with telephone kiosks—and indeed still is—is being discussed. The telephone service may be one of the more important aspects of the Department's work and may long outlive the memory of the Minister's disgraceful treatment of the late television authority. Let us hope for the good of the Minister's memory that this will be the case. I think it will be agreed on all sides of the House that the Minister has been very keen on telephone installation and with the limitation of the money available to him he has done all it is possible to do in this important matter.
We are aware of the complaints of the many people who want phones installed, about the long waiting period, but, to be fair, the Minister has been doing his utmost to improve the service. I hope his good work in this important area will outlive what was referred to earlier as his shabby treatment of the worthy members of the television authority.
Having seen an official of the sub-postmasters' union complain only last week about the debate being monopolised by the television service, I think he was justified. This Estimate and the debate on it is, in fact, monopolised by this discussion of the broadcasting service in general. That is rather a pity because there are a number of important services undertaken by this Department all of which are worthy of lengthy treatment in this debate. In normal circumstances they would probably  be more worthy of discussion and scrutiny than the television service but the week in which we are having this debate has been extraordinary in terms of ministerial reaction and ministerial treatment of people working on the board of a semi-State body, as were the members of the authority.
Throughout the country among ordinary people there has been the idea, I think, that the Government have taken leave of their senses in regard to its treatment of Telefís Éireann. For people on the east coast this may not be a very important matter because they can always separate themselves from the results of the eccentricities of any Fianna Fáil Minister for Posts and Telegraphs by switching to another station but in the extreme south and west the problem is that the broadcasts and television they are able to receive come from RTE and this is their only source of broadcast information.
What I find inexplicable is the enormity of the Minister's action when you consider the events preceding it. The Minister acted under section 31 which sets out the responsibility of the Oireachtas and its overall control in public matters in relation to RTE. Under that section the Minister issued a directive to the authority and the authority found that directive vague. They subsequently asked the Minister to elaborate on his directive, the terms of which they found confusing. They wanted some clear direction on this directive which they found confusing. The Minister's reaction was to say that he found his directive in all respects absolutely clear and lucid and he saw no reason why anybody should demand any clarification of it. Later, we had the circumstances of the interview which was the immediate occasion of the Minister's intervention and sacking of the authority and we had the authority referring to their action in seeking clarification of the directive and we had the Minister acting under the directive which the authority found mystifying. The Minister based his action on the directive about which the authority members were not clear.
Other speakers have referred to the apparent unfairness of the Minister's decision. The Minister would have us  believe that the authority were a group of subversives, in league with subversives, ready to overthrow the State. I was not fortunate enough to hear the actual interview when it went on the air in the “This Week” programme but the Minister would have us believe that the interview itself was subversive of the State and its fundamental laws and by his action in dismissing the authority he would appear to and that the authority itself was suspect in its approach to supporting the fundamental law of the State. Other speakers have remarked on the fact that the members of the authority were by no means known for their revolutionary opinions: they are a most respectable body of citizens. The Minister would appear to say that he would no longer trust each member of that authority in the positions which they held by his own appointment.
I do not know if any members of the sacked authority have any legal cases on hands. I imagine that any bright and upcoming lawyer could base a very interesting case on the manner of their sacking by the Minister. There have been developments in the past year in regard to suing Ireland as a person and if lawyers are really using their minds they may find that they have the basis of an interesting case in regard to the justifiable sense of grievance on the part of any member of the sacked authority in his or her dispute with the Minister. I believe the Minister's dismissal letter states or posits no reason, expresses no dissatisfaction with individual members of the authority but simply tells them that they are no longer required. It could be that under the Civil Liability Act, 1961 these professional people could suggest that the manner of their dismissal was disparaging to themselves in their occupations and professions. It would be interesting to see how this could be developed. I suggest that if properly examined there may be the basis of an interesting legal case in regard to the manner of dismissal of the authority. I have certainly seen cases based on flimsier pretexts brought before our courts and, as a legal case I think this would provide interesting material on which to base future legal cases—the relationship between  the Minister and his appointees on State boards.
Presumably the Minister originally appoints people to these boards because of their worthiness for the positions. If subsequently the Minister dispenses with the services of such people in the circumstances in which the Minister sacked the members of the authority it follows that the individual members may have material for a legal case against the Minister based on the manner of their dismissal. I am no lawyer and I am not basing my opinion here on any legal advice but simply on the circumstances of the dismissals.
In ordinary human terms the Minister erred. As has been pointed out during the debate, he showed a lack of courtesy. I understand that on the last occasion when the Minister asked the members of the authority to remain on at their posts some of them requested to be relieved and said they no longer wished to serve the authority. All the members of the authority had other interests. They were not merely political appointees who were dependent on this; they had other occupations or interests.
When certain members of this authority asked to be relieved of their positions the very same Minister who came to the conclusion that the services of each and every member of the authority could be dispensed with, asked them to remain on, presumably with the impression forming in their minds, and certainly in his mind, that he regarded them as indispensable. Certainly when Professor Moody, who was mentioned in the debate here today, asked to be relieved, the Minister requested that he would remain on. The Minister did not say: “I am doubtful of your loyalty. You may, in your leisure moments, be a subversive.” The Minister did not say that. He said to each and every member of the authority: “Remain on at your post, I am totally satisfied with the result of your monthly meetings. Whatever misgivings there may be about this or that programme, I consider all you members of the authority honourable men and women.”
This same Minister delivered a peremptory note to the authority last  week demanding an explanation as to why a certain programme was put on, rejected the explanation given and then sent a letter dismissing the authority. In any court the Minister's action would be considered extraordinary and unreasonable. There would be an onus of proof resting on the Minister as to why he considered it necessary to take this drastic action. Seeing that the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs was so satisfied with the labours of the authority a short time before their dismissal, the question arises: did somebody speak to the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs before he came to that decision? Was he influenced by any other member of the Cabinet in taking this extraordinary decision? Who else in the Cabinet would have been interested in seeing the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs take this decision?
The events of the past week have been so crowded and turbulent that it is very difficult to see any pattern emerging, but we can say that the Taoiseach has taken a great interest in this problem of Telefís Éireann. Throughout this 69th Dáil the Taoiseach has been interested in fundamental change in Telefís Éireann. We often forget that the period of the last three years opened with court trials; in fact whether we have had more court trials than politics is anybody's guess. We can recall that very early on in this Dáil there was an attempt to bring Telefís Éireann before the courts. In connection with one of the most important and most interesting of their public discussion programmes, “7 Days” we had the tribunal on moneylending. Throughout, the Taoiseach and certain members of the Cabinet have been very interested in controlling public relations programmes on RTE. I do not know whether this arises from complaints by people in parts of the country where no other television station is received. It is a matter for speculation whether the traditional TDs of the Government party who lived in a spirit of peaceful co-existence with the local newspapers in their own areas have considered the public affairs programmes of Telefís Éireann to be an intrusion into their power bases in the south and the west where previously the only agencies of  public discussion were the local journals. One way or the other, the conclusion is inescapable that since the election of this Government in 1969 they have been extremely sensitive to the public affairs programmes of Telefís Éireann.
The first signal that this Government were out to get Telefís Éireann was the “7 Days” tribunal. That cost us about £250,000. One can recall the various charges that were flung down during that period at Question Time and other times. The tragedy of the northern part of our country has intervened in the meantime and we tend to forget that in a peaceful period of this Government's existence when in fact it was pressurised by no outside event, this Government deliberately and cold-bloodedly took after Telefís Éireann in the matter of the “7 Days” Tribunal so that there may be this pattern, may be this connection, and this consistent thread that this Government and Cabinet have throughout been insistent on controlling that medium of public communication, Radio Telefís Éireann. That at any rate is my opinion.
Now, section 31, this section which expresses in statutory terms that part of the Broadcasting Act which stresses the connecting link between the Parliament or the Government of the country and the radio and television station has been referred to throughout this debate and the point has been made that it is for Parliament and the Government here to decide on matters that concern the citizens of the country, that the Government and Parliament must be in control and in the final resort are responsible for security. I do not quarrel with or argue about that. The point has been made that Telefís Éireann and the broadcasting authority set out to be second guarantors on the matter of liabilities and political questions in the State. I do not believe that this argument holds water but this was the argument set out, the reason, the backing for this drastic action by the Government. We would say that the Government and Parliament and the executive at any time, are obviously responsible for security in the State. Nobody else  has responsibility. It is the majority party holding government of the country who are responsible for security matters. But what we would see in this mysterious directive of the Minister to the authority, this directive in respect of which they said in their defence a long time ago that they did not understand the requirements of the directive and when they sought guidance on the interpretation of the directive, the Minister said that for guidance to them, the directive was sufficient——
Mr. M. O'Leary: Let me say in sympathy with the RTE Authority that I find, as they find, the Minister's letter to them to be mysterious and certainly I find eminently reasonable their request for clarification of what exactly the Minister meant by that particular directive.
Mr. M. O'Leary: No particular organisation was referred to and I think it was quite understandable that the authority in good faith, running day-to-day programmes, should seek clearer guidance from the Minister. The Minister refused to give them any guidance in correspondence form.
Mr. M. O'Leary: He wrote to them on section 31 and gave them a directive in written form, I understand. If the Parliamentary Secretary is saying that the Minister subsequently met the authority and explained further in meetings with the authority what exactly he meant by the letter, I am very interested to hear it.
Mr. M. O'Leary: I am unclear whether the Parliamentary Secretary is saying that the Minister met the members of the authority subsequent to the directive which he delivered to the authority and which the authority found baffling.
Mr. M. O'Leary: We gather that the Minister was on radio today and  that is very good for radio. I hope the Minister has given a certain clarification but what I find baffling, what I think is uncontested is that the Minister did not reply subsequently to the authority's letter seeking direction. The Minister may have met the authority on numerous occasions and may have explained this and that to them, but he did not put down anything so far as I am aware in written form to the authority subsequent to his directive. Subject to correction and to hearing exactly what the Minister said on radio today, I understand that to be the position. I know that the Minister is one of these charming politicians who tells you what he did mean in a written form. This is so, and it is a valuable attribute and asset which the Minister has, but I could understand the authority asking on so important a matter as this for a clear written direction and so far as we are aware, they received no such direction from the Minister. He cannot plead that he is short of secretaries. There is a whole Department of secretaries there ready to write out letters and the same secretaries have been prolific in the number of letters they have addressed to the Minister's constituents in Limerick West. There is no shortage of secretaries and therefore the mystery remains why this problem of non-communication to the authority on their request for clarification of this directive and that, however often they rang, however often they complained, the Minister for some peculiar reason refused to give them any further clarification.
I doubt that the members of the authority were dangerous men, were people who needed to be sacked or were subversives. I do not think they were any of these things. I think that they were attempting in concert with the Director-General to run a television station in very difficult times indeed, and I am not saying that Telefís Éireann has been free of certain excesses in their reportage of certain events in Northern Ireland. I am not saying they have been and neither for that matter have any other media, the newspapers down in this part of the country. I often think that when the history of this time comes to be written, if anybody sits down to write it or if  any of us survive for it to be written——
Mr. M. O'Leary: It would be difficult to get any comedy out of it. If somebody sits down to write anything about the period, he must report that a great number of us at this period took a very one-sided—it would be wrong to call it jingoistic but certainly one-sided—approach to this whole question, this complicated, many faceted question of Irish unity which has been occupying our minds over the past three years.
To get back to the subject, why was it necessary to sack this authority which had evidently sought direction and got none from the Minister. The Government of which the Minister is a member have not been very oncoming, especially before Christmas last, in their own naming of the organisations which were attacking the pillars of the State. This reluctance on the part of the Minister to name organisations and to say which exactly were the organisations considered subversive and who were the persons regarded as subversive has been part of the manner of dealing with the problems which we have been meeting over the last year or two. We have manufactured all kinds of meaningless euphemisms, calling them the men of violence, and the people who wish to subvert the pillars of the State. There has been reluctance to name the organisations responsible. In the past year if Telefís Éireann have occasionally erred in the direction indicated by taking a one-sided approach on a particular incident, they have not been alone in this. Some newspapers have done likewise. Telefís Éireann, in a one station State, have problems. The problem we are discussing here tonight would not be so serious if it related to a State in which there were many television stations and where people could switch from one station to another and tune into a commercial radio station or a commercial television station. Over many parts of our country RTE radio and television are the sole means of communication,  apart from the newspapers.
Henceforth, however much the new authority may fight against it and however much they may attempt to develop some kind of independence in relation to the Minister, the odds are against them. How can the members of the new authority expect to have any independent existence apart from the whim of the Minister when the circumstances of their coming to their posts were so ignominious? How can they expect independence in their new positions? How can any member of the staff of the same station expect security in his position? If the board of the authority have been removed so ignominiously, what security is there for the members of the staff in the same station? What kind of message and what kind of censorship must be working, almost self-automated, in the minds of any producer this week or next week who attempts to produce a programme on a matter of public concern? At the back of his mind something must lie saying “If we take this shot or do this interview somebody up high may say this programme must be closed down”.
These are the inescapable consequences of this action on the part of the Government. I was reading a newspaper editorial which said that the Opposition might do the same. The concern of the Opposition arises from this threat which we see from an all-powerful executive, secure in their power, attempting to muzzle this very important communication medium. People have scoffed at the idea of the arrogance of power in terms of the Fianna Fáil Party. The Taoiseach has earned a certain amount of popularity by dealing rather unceremoniously with members of his Cabinet who were regarded as the absolute quintessence of the insolence of power when they were in office. The Taoiseach sent these members of his Cabinet packing. They were sacked, admittedly under external pressures. But they were sacked. The Taoiseach gained a certain amount of popularity for that action. It was said that the Taoiseach changed the face of Fianna Fáil and banished the charges of the arrogance  of power and gave us Fianna Fáil with a human face. I do not know about that “human face” of Fianna Fáil. That same Taoiseach, that person who never looked for high office and was pushed into the post, surrounded by his Cabinet and by the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, a charming person, has, we see, steel in his glove. We see the steel under that polite exterior and beneath that public relations smile of the Cabinet this week in the manner of their dismissal of the authority.
The Opposition are correct to be alarmed in turning this debate into an examination of the Government action. They are correct in examining, considering and questioning over again in an attempt to seek the key to this extraordinary action on the part of the Government, because it certainly was “extraordinary action”. How many other remedies suggest themselves, short of this final and terrible remedy of the Minister? The Parliamentary Secretary says that the Minister called the members of the authority to his office and explained to them over and over again, as he would to children, what was meant and chided them for their shortcomings and explained to them what he meant by that mysterious letter.
Mr. M. O'Leary: I gathered, subject to correction, that the Parliamentary Secretary said that the Minister, while he did not write another letter to the authority, called them often to his presence and explained to them what he meant.
Mr. M. O'Leary: I find it peculiar, to put no other expression on it, that the Minister was ready to meet the members of the authority on numerous occasions but was not ready to write to them and to set down in black and white which organisations were subversive and what they should be doing. That I find extraordinary.
It has often been remarked that Fianna Fáil were arrogant. As I have said, the Taoiseach was often given a great deal of praise for dealing with this charge of arrogance by dismissing certain members of his Cabinet. I am just saying that that charge of arrogance must be revived, given fresh sustenance, by the action last week of the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs who I imagine consulted the Taoiseach before sacking the members of the RTE Authority.
Mr. M. O'Leary: I do. I was just speculating that the Minister probably consulted the Taoiseach before he took that action. I know personally  that the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs is a most careful person in his political habits and I cannot imagine he took such a major action without consultation with the Taoiseach. I do not think this action can be interpreted in isolation from the kind of party and Cabinet we have in Fianna Fáil. They have been there since 1957 and they intend to be there until 1987 if possible. Obviously, in remaining on in this situation responsible members of the personnel of Telefís Éireann will have to exercise a certain carefulness of tone and caution in the programmes of public comment Telefís Éireann will put out.
In this context, the Opposition are concerned because we have had during the past three years the idea that the will of the majority should be the fundamental influence on the laws by which we live. That has been under severe trial all over Ireland, and I do not believe the Minister's action has had the consequence of gagging RTE. He may say: “I have no desire to impose censorship on Telefís Éireann, I have no desire to manacle this producer or to tell that producer that I do not like that particular programme”, but that is the effect of his action in dismissing the authority. His action must have this consequence.
If one were tomorrow morning to be faced with the task of devising a programme on housing, a programme on a political question, and attempted to fill out that programme with various interviews, surely in the aftermath of the dismissal of the authority the uneasy thought must lie in the head of the unfortunate producer of such a programme whether the programme has a bias which the Minister or his new authority might regard as subversive.
Which political programme could possibly be devised which does not urge the attentive viewer, which is not devised to suggest to that viewer that there should be a change in the fundamental direction of our society? In one broad sense all politics, the politics of all Opposition, is concerned with subversion. There is nothing wrong with it provided the subversion is one that is assented to by the majority of fellow citizens. That is what we mean  by parliamentary democracy. That is its glory above other systems. That is its desirability above other systems. Other systems demand a sudden break in the evolutionary process. They demand revolution. They demand corpses. They demand flattened houses, ruined broken lives, smashed communities.
The glory of the evolutionary form of democracy which we have attempted to follow is that change may come about peacefully. But such change can also be said to be a subversion of the existing order. The subversion to which Members of this House who attempt to be democratic idealists resort to is not the subversion of the gun, the bomb and the bullet. That is the subversion which we have all set our faces against. We are against it, but we are not against the subversion of the political order by rational argument, by persuasion. In this subversion of that order —this desirable subversion by democratic mandate—a free broadcasting station is essential and full rein must be given to the creative direction, the creative urge of producers and other workers in that medium.
What the Minister's cold dish cloth of last week says to directors and producers on Telefís Éireann is: “The rules of the road are not to give any free rein to your creativity. No fundamental questions are to be asked any more and any programme from now until the next election which you devise or make must ensure that you will be on the right side of the new order—that we have somebody here from the true faith, the Fianna Fáil Party, who will give his assent”. I suggest that in this new order the producer who wishes to keep his job under the new authority must at all times ring Flor Crowley before he makes a programme.
Mr. M. O'Leary: Sorry, Deputy Crowley. I suggest that should be in the survival kit of any producer in TE who wishes to stay in his job in the new order. That may be a bit of a caricature but in that direction must lie the best hope for survival of any man  in the broadcasting service from now on. He must have the political approval of the Government in office. The Minister may say that the dismissal of the authority need not have any such consequence. I cannot see how these consequences can be avoided, perhaps not to the extent I am suggesting but I do not think we can avoid these mental consequences as far as the people now in the broadcasting service are concerned.
Why would it be in my political interest as a member of the Opposition, why would it be in my interest if I were over there as a member of the Government party, to have a Press which is as free as possible and to have a television and radio station as free as possible? In our efforts to reform society, the greatest ally we can have, the conditions which are essential to our success, must depend on the minds of our citizens being left open to the realities of the questions before them. Our fellow citizens at all times should have available to them, both in their newspapers and on their television and radio sets the freest expression from all these agencies to mould human opinions. They should have put to them for their consideration opinions that are free and untrammelled by political connection.
That is why it is in my interest as an Opposition politician, that is why it would be in my interest if I am to be over there in any Government of any shape in the future, to get a sufficient body of opinion in this country interested in radical change in our society, and that is why it is always in my political interest to have the freest possible Press, television and radio.
Therefore, I am not disinterested in this argument and this debate. For me and my colleagues it is not simply another Opposition ploy. It is an essential condition of our continued existence and relevance that we try as much as possible to have a free Press, television and radio service in this country. It may be that the Government and the party opposite think it is in their political interest to damp down as much as possible fundamental  questioning of our society. They may believe that it is in their interest to have a television and radio station broadcasting in the main sponsored, non-questioning programmes. That may be their fond belief. It is certainly not mine. From my point of view, if there is to be any future for my political beliefs, it is essential that we have a free Press and free communications media. I do not believe that the television we will see in the coming weeks, and subsequently, will be the same as we saw in the past two or three years.
I regard as patently absurd the suggestion that the sacked authority was constituted of an extraordinary collection of radicals, a bunch of subversives, according to the Minister's logical processes. These people were originally appointed by the Minister and one would assume that they were appointed initially because of a certain loyalty, But, despite that, these were the very people who felt that they could take no other action but the action they did take and, for that action, they were sacked. Whatever the origin of their appointment one can only admire people who stand by their principles to the point at which they are sacked.
We live in a political community not famed for its political courage and the Minister belongs to a party who have swallowed the most extraordinary divergences of opinion in matters of principal in the last three years and have survived. There have not been any earth-shaking battles on issues of principles within the rank and file of the party. One can only admire, therefore, when people deliberately set out on a collision course over a matter of principle with the very man who appointed them. This was what happened in the case of the RTE Authority.
It may be that the new authority will develop an extraordinary independence and may, in turn, have to be sacked. It would seem to me that the dice is loaded against any semblance of independence on the part of the new authority and the result of the Minister's action will be a closing of the minds of those appointed to the authority.
 What has been the effect of the Minister's action? The Minister is a member of a Government who talk about the unity of the nation. The extraordinary thing is that in many of their actions they have shown themselves wholly insensitive to the 32-county dimension. The sacking of the authority is a notable example of that.
Mr. M. O'Leary: Who first suggested internment without trial three years ago? Fianna Fáil. Who wanted to get rid of proportional representation? Fianna Fáil. As I say, the sacking of the authority is just one further example of this insensitivity on the part of Fianna Fáil to the existence of the Thirty-two Counties.
Mr. M. O'Leary: That well-known radical, Captain Brooke, was provoked into saying that he found certain sections of the legislation that will come before this House tomorrow repugnant and we know Tory politicians who have declared their dislike of the Minister's action in sacking the authority.
Mr. M. O'Leary: I have moved from the pending legislation. I am talking about the sacking of the authority. Captain Brooke does not like the pending legislation and Captain Brooke's political colleagues in Britain, British Tories, have expressed their dislike of the sacking of the authority by the Minister. At a time when we are seeking to amend our Constitution in an effort to demonstrate our sensitivity to the feelings of certain sections of the 32-county community we sack the authority and, in doing so, proclaim that we are on the side of political censorship; that is what the action of the Minister proclaims to the Unionists.
Mr. M. O'Leary: I am saying that the manner of the dismissal of the authority and the inevitable consequences of that is a form of political censorship which can cause nothing but dismay to Protestant and Catholic alike in Northern Ireland who would hope for the eventual possibility of a United Ireland based on agreement and consent. This savage action of the Minister shows that the Minister is insensitive to the position of these people. We know what the SDLP had to say at the annual conference in Dungiven. A resolution attacking the action of the Minister and the Government was passed unanimously. That resolution had the support of John Hume, Ivan Cooper, Austin Currie and all the other members of the SDLP. They condemned unreservedly this action taken by the Fianna Fáil Government in the South. Their opinion was that it did not help their cause in the North. How could one describe it other than as the insensitive action of people insensitive to the implications of the 32-county dimension? It is, of course, of a piece with all the other insensitive  actions of this Government in recent years. God knows what foreign journalists will make of this. The Taoiseach has been at pains in the international context to argue that the breakdown and the anarchy are concentrated in the northern part of our island. What a futile exercise that is in the light of the action now considered  necessary by the Taoiseach and his Cabinet colleagues in this part of the country.
|Last Updated: 15/09/2010 01:12:28||Page of 54|