Thursday, 24 May 1973
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Colley: As I stated before Questions, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Taoiseach could not bring himself to admit that there had been a breach of their obligations by RTE, although he went very near to admitting it. However, he could not bring himself to admit it fully and this is the relevant factor in all this discussion. Was there, or was there not a breach?
At the time I issued my first statement last Saturday, the position was that a four-hour live broadcast of the Fine Gael presidential election rally was taking place in the Mansion House and no offer of similar facilities had been made to Fianna Fáil. Of course this was a flagrant breach of RTE's statutory and moral obligations to achieve balance in party political matters and particularly in regard to election matters. However, since that time RTE have made an effort to redress the balance and I do not want to pursue that aspect of the matter.
Parliamentary Secretary to the Taoiseach (Mr. Kelly): I must not be taken as admitting that RTE were guilty of a breach of their obligations. They were acting in pursuance of an arrangement made with this party——
Mr. Colley: Because of what has happened since I do not want to pursue that aspect of the matter. What I want to pursue is the Government's position in this. When I issued my first statement I weighed my words carefully and I accused the Government of having displayed a lack of integrity and an abuse of power in “permitting and almost certainly demanding this breach of its duties by RTE”. The evidence that the Government had demanded this breach is not absolutely conclusive and, therefore, I qualified my statement as I have indicated. However, the evidence that the Government permitted this is absolutely conclusive and, for that reason I did not qualify my statement in that regard in any way.
Mr. Colley: The Parliamentary Secretary here today accused me of telling lies in this matter. Will he just listen to the rebuttal? The fact of the matter is that the words I used were “permitting and almost certainly demanding”. It is very interesting that in the first public statement made on this matter by the Parliamentary Secretary he quoted that phrase—“permitting and almost certainly demanding”. That statement was issued by the Parliamentary Secretary on 21st May. In the statement issued by the Parliamentary Secretary on 22nd May these words have been changed. The Parliamentary Secretary then called on me to withdraw my accusation that the Government had “interfered with RTE”. That was the phrase he used today  also. In his first statement he quoted my exact words, but he found that my words were justified and justifiable. To cover up he tried to suggest I used words which I did not use. In case there is any doubt about it, the Parliamentary Secretary in his first statement quoted me correctly as saying “permitting and almost certainly demanding”; in his second statement that was changed to “interfered with” which, of course, is not the same thing.
As far as I am concerned, the evidence that the Government had permitted this broadcast, which was clearly a breach of RTE's obligations, was perfectly clear. The only way in which the Government could avoid this charge was by showing either they did not know the Mansion House proceedings would be a presidential rally, or that they did not know the proceedings were going to be broadcast.
Mr. Colley: If the Parliamentary Secretary would try to get out of his mind the prejudice and arrogance which is afflicting him, as it afflicts Fine Gael when they are in office, if he would make an effort to remove this——
Mr. Colley: If he looks at the position as to whether the Government permitted this broadcast to take place, a broadcast that was clearly a breach of RTE's obligations, the only way he could show they had not permitted it was by showing either they did not know it was going to take that form or that they did not know it was going to be broadcast. I invite the Parliamentary Secretary to tell me what other way could the Government show they had not permitted it.
Mr. Kelly: There is only one way in which it could be logically said that the Government denied something  and that would be to say the Government had prohibited it. I make the Deputy a present of the notorious fact that the Government did not prohibit this coverage. Far from being material for prohibition, this coverage was freely agreed between the parties long before the election whistle blew, in January last. The former Minister knows that well.
Mr. Colley: I should like to deal with the interjection of the Parliamentary Secretary. There were two interesting points in it. He has said that the Government did not forbid it. I am challenging the Parliamentary Secretary, and anybody over there, to say that the Government did not permit this. I said the Government permitted it. I have explained logically that the only way the Government could evade this charge was to show that either they did not know it was going to take the form it did, or that they did not know it was going to be broadcast. The reaction of the Parliamentary Secretary to that was that the Government did not prohibit it. Of course they did not prohibit it. They permitted it. Now, would the Parliamentary Secretary stop fooling around? Cannot he see, as everybody else in the country can see——
Mr. Colley: Every time the Parliamentary Secretary opens his mouth he shifts. He is changing his ground now. May I remind the Parliamentary Secretary of his first statement, in which he correctly quoted what I said?
Mr. Colley: I have already dealt with the question of a breach. If the Parliamentary Secretary does not admit it, and he said he does not, I am pointing out that as far as the Government are concerned, and indeed as far as RTE are concerned, they have tacitly admitted that there was such a breach.
Mr. Colley: I am not interrupting myself. Whether one admits there was a breach or not, and I have dealt with that, one cannot accept that, as far as I am concerned and as far as this party are concerned, there was a breach and for the reasons I have given. If that is so, then it follows that that breach was permitted by the Government. I have explained—the Minister was out when I explained it and I do not think the Chair will permit me to deal with it again—
Mr. Colley: The Minister has now come in and he is apparently looking for the explanation again. Perhaps he would care to read the records. As I have said, as far as we and the public are concerned, the Government permitted a flagrant breach of the obligations of RTE. I am not talking about RTE now but about the Government. The Government permitted it. Having permitted it, the Parliamentary Secretary repeated his interjection, going back on what he had said earlier, asking whether we expected the Fine Gael Party to take Tom O'Higgins out of their programme altogether. Of course we did not. I repeat what I said the first time, and would the Parliamentary Secretary please listen?
An Ceann Comhairle: I do not think the Parliamentary Secretary should be brought into it in such a personal way. It is provocation to bring the Parliamentary Secretary directly into it in this fashion. The Deputy must address his remarks to the Chair.
Mr. Colley: I was not here but I have had an opportunity of finding out what the Parliamentary Secretary said. I think you will agree that he went on at considerable length and in the course of it accused me of untruth. Surely I am entitled in the circumstances to put on the record as clearly as I can what the facts of the matter are and to rebut this charge. That is what I am trying to do.
Mr. Colley: Allow me to do that if that is what he thinks I am doing.  What I am saying is that in that interjection the Parliamentary Secretary also asked if we expected Fine Gael would have withdrawn Tom O'Higgins from the Ard-Fheis. Of course we did not. I said that the conduct of the Fine Gael Ard-Fheis is a matter for Fine Gael and for nobody else. The point at issue is that these proceedings were being broadcast on a public broadcasting monopoly service.
An Ceann Comhairle: The Chair has a feeling that there is an endeavour being made to fight the presidential election here. That cannot be allowed. We are on the Estimate for the Department of Posts and Telegraphs.
Mr. Colley: I am dealing with the Estimate in so far as it relates to the activities of RTE and I am trying particularly to deal with allegations made in this debate and directed against me personally. I want to say that the Parliamentary Secretary in his statement suddenly switched his alleged quotations from me and substituted words I did not say, from the first to the second person. When I hear the Parliamentary  Secretary talking about the honour of the Government and accusing me of telling untruths I am reminded of the old saw: “The louder he talked to his honour, the faster we counted the spoons.” That is the kind of thing we are getting from the Parliamentary Secretary who, demonstrably from his two statements, switched words to try to make a case. He need not shake his head. It is there on the record from his own office.
Mr. Colley: Anybody who is not completely blinded by political prejudice can see that the broadcasting, within ten days of an election, of any election, of what was openly admitted before and after to be an election rally for one party, and offering no similar facilities for the other, is clearly unfair and a breach of RTE obligations. That is the reason for my protest and that is the central core of what this is about. My guess is that in this matter Fine Gael tried to be too clever by half. They have been caught out and the thing has boomeranged on them.
Mr. Colley: The Parliamentary Secretary made some reference to the Chief Whip of this party. I do not know how much the Parliamentary Secretary knows about what happened in the past on this but I want to tell him that the Chief Whip of our party was not aware of what was happening in regard to the Fine Gael Ard Fheis and the television broadcast. The fact is that some months ago there was a discussion on a tentative basis with a representative of this party——
Mr. Colley: Will the Parliamentary Secretary let me deal with this situation as we all want it dealt with and as the public do? The fact of the matter is that there was a tentative discussion about this with a representative of this party, but I understand that at that time the matter had not been discussed with the other parties. I understand that, as far as our people were concerned, arrangements were to be made with all parties, they were then to be clarified to them and confirmed by everybody concerned. Of course, that did not happen. The Chief Whip of our party did not know this. I would point out that the Parliamentary Secretary himself admitted today that he did not know that the proceedings were to be broadcast.
Mr. Kelly: I said that I had been mistaken in assuming that arrangements made by the parties were made through the Whips. When I first issued that statement I mentioned the Whips and I accept that it was not with Deputy Andrews——
An Ceann Comhairle: I must draw the attention of the speaker in possession to the fact that the Chair is concerned that what is developing now is a confrontation between two Members in the House. This is not desirable.
Mr. Colley: The only point I am making in this regard is that there need not be any surprise at the Chief Whip of my party not being aware of these arrangements if the Government's Chief Whip was not fully aware of the arrangements.
Mr. Kelly: The Deputy, and his party, are the ones who are pleading ignorance of what happened here and what was going to happen at the Fine Gael Ard-Fheis. Every man, woman and child in the country knew what was going to happen.
Mr. Colley: In this whole matter the Fine Gael Party tried to be too clever by half. They tried to suggest that there had been some arrangement for the broadcasting of the Ard-Fheiseanna and they switched to make it a rally for the presidential candidate. They want everybody to believe that, because they did that, it makes no difference to the situation. The Parliamentary Secretary may believe that, but it makes no difference because nobody else in the country believes it. Certainly it is clear from what has happened that RTE does not believe it.
Mr. Colley: I believe that this whole ploy by Fine Gael has backfired. It has backfired very badly for them because public attention has now been focussed on this unscrupulous attempt to abuse the power of Government and, furthermore, public attention has also been focussed on the Fascist Fine Gael delegate shouting: “Come on the Blue Shirts.” That is not doing any good to Mr. Tom O'Higgins. The Parliamentary Secretary is making a lot of noise about this matter because he is trying to divert attention from this whole incident which is not doing any good to the Fine Gael presidential candidate.
Mr. Colley: I want to make one final point in regard to what was said by the Parliamentary Secretary. It is not of major importance but it does illustrate his approach. In the course of his remarks today the Parliamentary Secretary pointed out that I had said that our Chief Whip did not know about these arrangements, had not been consulted and, therefore, could not have informed me. The Parliamentary Secretary referred to this as “prevarication” on my part. The fact is that the Parliamentary Secretary in his statement was wrong in what he said. He has admitted today that he was wrong. I was expected by him, in replying to his statement, to allow to go on the records a statement which was false made by the Parliamentary Secretary or, if I refuted it, I am prevaricating.
Mr. Colley: It is merely to keep these records straight by telling the truth and correcting what the Parliamentary Secretary has said which was false. To accuse me of prevarication in that matter is indicative of the kind of approach the Parliamentary Secretary has used here.
Mr. Colley: The Deputy need not try to put words into RTE's mouth, just as he tried to put them into mine. I have dealt with RTE's position in regard to those arrangements and I am not going to deal with allegations by the Parliamentary Secretary of what RTE is supposed to have said. It is bad enough to have to deal with his allegations about what I am supposed to have said.
Mr. Colley: ——and when he finds that he cannot defend that position he switches to say “interfered”. This is something I did not say. I chose my words carefully. The Government permitted this breach and I challenge anybody on the other side of the House to deny it.
Mr. Colley: We have dealt with this matter and the Government permitted this breach. The Minister did not stop it. He is in Government and he is responsible. It is now clear that the attitude of the Fine Gael Party in Government is one of allowing anything to happen on RTE if it is to their advantage. A four-hour broadcast of an election rally was permitted without any offer of facilities to balance to the Opposition.
Mr. Dowling: I do not know what all the fuss is about. I would like to wish the Minister well in his new office. I fully sympathise with him. He is in a tight corner and I would warn him that he is going to be pushed into many a tight corner. It is not the Minister's fault but the Parliamentary Secretary to the Taoiseach has been on record, almost every day, trying to defend this situation. It is hurting his conscience. His conscience must be pricking him every time he comes into the House. Deputy Colley has fairly indicated the position from the Fianna Fáil side.
Mr. Dowling: I understand that the Ard-Fheis was fixed some time ago, with the emphasis on “fixed”. Deputy Colley was quite right to pursue this matter because it certainly was fixed. I will not refer to it as an Ard-Fheis any further. I referred to it early on as a penny dinner because I understand that the delegates were told they would get their dinner in Dublin free of charge. It was a laugh-in, or a clap-in, or whatever other tag you like to put on it, but it certainly was not an Ard-Fheis. This is the whole point. Seeing Mr. Cosgrave and other speakers on television it was certainly a laugh-in.
Mr. Dowling: The Taoiseach was a party to the laugh-in. As a matter of fact, he was the centre of the laugh-in. The Parliamentary Secretary was very vocal about this. I know that his conscience is pricking him and that he will continue to refer in the Dáil and in the Press to this tricky problem. I want to warn the Minister. I have absolute sympathy with that man over there for the position into which he has been pushed by the Fine Gael Party.
Mr. Dowling: I have absolute sympathy for the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs. This will happen again and again. I warn the Minister to be on his guard because the Fine Gael group are here a long time—much longer than the Minister—and they know all the angles. I hope the Minister will not be trapped into a situation like this. Probably it was outside his control. Probably he was not consulted. I will accept that if he says so. If he says he was consulted, then he is a party to it. I do not think that man was consulted at all. With the connivance of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Taoiseach and a few other top-ranking officials in Fine Gael this bun-fight was designed to project the image of the presidential candidate.
Mr. Dowling: There is no need to dwell on that matter any further. I should like to pass from the bun-fight to items contained in the Minister's statement which this House and the public want to hear discussed after this great cover up. RTE have quite a considerable amount to their credit. Their political commentators have a fair amount of balance. I should like to pay tribute to men like Arthur Noonan, Joe Fahy, Mr. Nealon and others who are fair in their assessment of situations and who adopt a well-balanced approach, in my view. There are other people within RTE who are biased and have not got the same balanced approach, particularly to political problems.
We have seen that balanced programmes can be provided. In the past there has been criticism of some RTE commentators. Some of them have now gone to higher posts where they can project themselves behind closed doors in a much better manner, and possibly get many people into trouble from time to time, because of their dictates in relation to the pattern of events and the pattern that must be followed, the shortcuts and the manoeuvres through which projections can be put out in a  very discreet way. I do not know to what degree the laugh-in was influenced by some of these people but I suspect that some of them were involved to some degree. Liam Hourigan in Belfast is an excellent commentator and he seems to be doing justice to political and other problems.
The sports coverage in colour by RTE is very effective. They are doing an excellent job. They have shown that they are capable of matching the best in their coverage of sporting events. There are some programmes with which I agree and some with which I do not agree. A programme like “Tangents” can be very effective and in some ways is very effective. I am not altogether in favour of some of the approaches on that programme. In general it could be developed and the talents of the people on it could be used to greater effect. They have put on some excellent programmes and that is to their credit.
I am not at all happy with some of the stuff projected by Frank Hall. It projects a very bad image and gives an erroneous impression of public representatives and other prominent personalities. While we are all vulnerable to criticism of one type or another, the type of approach used in the Frank Hall programme does not do justice to responsible representatives. If he modified it, it could be a good programme. It is very effective in many ways. He has a large listening public. He should have another look at the programme himself and the Minister should see if this type of conduct——
Mr. Dowling: A discreet word in somebody's ear might be effective. It seems that it was fairly effective a week ago. I agree that the Minister probably did not interfere. The type of image which is projected of responsible representatives on local councils and elsewhere, who are doing a very good job, a very difficult job, an unpaid job and who come in for this type of projection from Frank Halls' programme, does not do justice to them.
Mr. Dowling: Some of the “Late Late Show” programmes are very good. Others are suspect. In general RTE have shown that we have the capacity to produce good programmes and some very good home-produced programmes have been shown.
I was amazed and astonished to read in the Press this morning an article by John Feeney who gave an insight into the workings of RTE: big on staff, short on talent, low on morale. I do not know whether this does justice to the unit as a whole but he had some very revealing facts. He indicated that they defended their budget, defended their time slot, defended their traditions of programme-making which they have built up; they mark off their special area of involvement, such as politics, language, or whatever, and if other programmes dare trespass on this, the result is an outburst of jealousy pique. He goes on to say that one result of this jealousy and suspicion is the situation which is commented upon in the papers whereby, on the occasion, up to five camera teams appear. Programmes are not prepared to pool camera teams. Only grudgingly do they allow free access to their film library and each programme is quite prepared to poach ideas and topics from the other. This certainly can have a depressing effect and it certainly is a situation that must be examined in some detail. The article goes on to indicate that, no matter what Minister is over there, much of this will go on, whether he likes it or not. The station's programmes duplicate each other constantly and fail to co-operate, and that in a station which has limited finance. The article goes on:
I remember when filming a “7 Days” during a mini-crisis going to take some film in the training depot in the Phoenix Park. While there we met other camera crews, all taking the same mute shots of the building. The only person we filmed  actually moving was one cameraman who walked into the view of our camera.
This is an indication of the inefficiency and overlapping and, if there is a shortage of money, this is a matter which must be examined in detail. Neither is there much hope of any falling off in the overstaffing of the station. Reporters who are not doing their work find their jobs protected for them by the union and each year in an effort to get new talent more journalists, more researchers, et cetera, are added to the already overstaffed situation. Each year a few people who could have been deeply involved in the station leave and go back to areas where they were involved before. The basic tragedy of RTE is that it still has tremendous potential for influencing the country for good but already the main national dailies have greater influence. This is a clear indication that there is quite a considerable amount of problems within CIE which must be teased out.
Mr. Dowling: Within RTE. I do not know if the Minister will tease out any of these problems. Some of them are outside his control, but there certainly appears to be need for some type of examination into the whole structure in order to eliminate the type of problem highlighted here by an ex-member of RTE. I am quite positive that the remarks in this article are valid remarks. They show that this duplication of effort and this wasting of money are things that must be tackled at an early date. I hope the Minister will take stock and make the necessary arrangements to have this duplication of effort and waste of money corrected. Perhaps there could be a pooling system to obviate three or four camera crews going out to take the same pictures. It is a nonsensical situation.
Much of the attention of this House has been focussed on RTE from time to time and I trust the Minister will now take note of the comments made by people outside this House and make the necessary adjustments where  they are needed. Judging by this article there would appear to be stupid overlapping. People apparently have entrenched themselves in positions from which they do not want to move. The article's description is: “Big on staff, short on talent, low on morale.” I think there is talent in RTE. They may be big on staff and low on morale and, if that is so, then this is another problem the Minister will have to tackle at the earliest possible moment.
Mr. Dowling: Many speakers have been critical of the telephone service, not alone on the Estimate this year but also on Estimates in past years. There are areas in which priority should be given in the installation of telephones. I refer to new housing estates on the perimeter. When people move into these areas they can be pretty desolate. They find themselves at considerable distances from certain services. Children may fall ill and a doctor or an ambulance may be required. It may be necessary to call the fire brigade. On occasion people have had to walk three or four miles to find a telephone. I know one woman who had to walk from Tallaght to Templeogue  to find a telephone because the phone in Tallaght was out of order. Telephones in new housing areas should be a priority and the Minister should take steps to ensure that in all housing development areas a telephone will be a must.
People should know in their first days in a new estate that at least they had contact with the outside world. Sometimes when a husband goes away to work in the morning there is no way for his wife to contact a member of the family if a problem arises, and problems often arise in the first days of living in a new estate. I mentioned this before, but nothing has been done. I ask the Minister to examine this situation and to ensure that some service is available in newly built-up areas as quickly as possible. It is depressing to find at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. that one has a difficult problem in the house and that assistance is needed, but that the occupants of the house are unable to locate assistance by telephone for a considerable time.
Another problem which arises in areas where there is large-scale building is that contractors who apply for telephones have often moved away from their original sites before the Post Office staff arrive to instal the phones. This increases costs. The increased costs of the contractor are passed on to the purchasers. It is important that there should be some pooling of telephone communication for builders where many of them are operating in an area such as Tallaght, or Kilbarrack. In some areas it may be possible to get temporary telephones installed. Many builders have found it difficult to conduct their business in newly built-up areas because of the shortage of telephones. There are problems in Tallaght, Ballyfermot, Bluebell and Walkinstown.
In years to come the situation may be rectified. The priorities in each area should be examined as the area is developed so that whatever services are available will be available for the common good and not just to the advantage of one or two individuals. There should be a fair spread as between public kiosks and private  telephones allocated in an area. We hear of a person getting a telephone in a particular area while other people in the area are left without phones. I ask the Minister to ensure that priorities are re-examined in relation to problems in places like Tallaght and other parts of the city where services are held up because of lack of lines.
This problem of telephone shortage cannot be solved overnight. The Minister is not responsible for it. It has been caused by the improvement in living conditions. More people are applying for telephone services. Everyone would like to have a telephone. In time to come probably every house will be wired for a phone to eliminate at a later stage the difficulties which arise where temporary provisions have to be made in an unsightly manner with overhead cables carried along the roads for considerable lengths.
Stamps have been mentioned. Other Deputies have also mentioned the types of stamps which should be issued. I have spoken about this subject on previous occasions. We could have a very effective set of stamps which would clearly indicate the beauty spots of the country in good colour. That would be one way of indicating to tourists that we have much to offer. These stamps would go on letters to distant lands, bringing with them pictures of many of our beauty spots. This has been mentioned on many previous occasions. Previous Ministers did not accept the idea as being feasible. Much has been said of how we could improve our stamps. Some of the stamps which have been issued are dreadful while others are creditable. Stamps are important. They project an image which is carried to many lands. Experts should be consulted about the stamps. When one speaks of experts one sometimes gets a certain approach from so-called experts. Opinions should be gathered from a wide field of experts. Certain people might have a vested interest in a particular type of stamp. It is important to consider carefully the image, quality and size of the stamp. I do not like the present issue of stamps. Other people think they are effective.
There are many excellent programmes  on radio. The programme covering the proceedings in the Dáil is an excellent one. There should be a re-run of that programme each morning, because the programme itself comes on late at night. It should have a re-run at 10 a.m. or 11 a.m. giving a review of the proceedings in the Dáil on the preceding day. The listening audience would be large. It is unfortunate that this programme is on at night. That is dictated by the time the House sits. The difficulties could be overcome. This programme is well balanced and gives a very factual account of what happens in the House. It is edited in an effective and efficient way. I have not heard comments that were in any way biassed. The public would appreciate a re-run in the morning. Even at night many people switch off the television to listen to the report on the Dáil proceedings. When a television is turned on one may be looking at a film or listening to a story, and it is impossible to listen to the account of the Dáil proceedings at the same time. A re-run would have a large listening audience and would do real justice to the commentators.
There are many people in RTE who are touchy about comments made in this House and who seek to get their own back with a vengeance. Deputy O'Connell and I were victims of the star-chamber attitude of the people in Montrose. If one comments on their programmes in this House one is invited, as we were, to attend at Montrose. There was a packed house there designed to ensure that the point of view of the commentators or of the people responsible for the programme was transmitted. There were people picked and placed in the audience to ask particular questions. The personnel who were brought on to back up their statements got the coverage they wished for. This happened to me on one occasion. It also happened to Deputy Dr. O'Connell. He and I were misrepresented. I hope in future we can say what we like, in this House and outside it, and freely criticise RTE, or any of its programmes, without this type of touchy tactic that has been used in the past. There are  people out there who are thin-skinned where criticism is concerned.
There are certain areas to which attention is generally directed. They are mostly working-class areas. The bad aspects of those areas are projected while the good aspects are disregarded. Deputy Childers appeared on television the day after the protest about the Mansion House affair. I do not know whether this was the result of a rethink of the situation. In the case of ordinary programmes we know what happens. They do a programme six or 12 months afterwards giving the other side of the story, but they have already got their message across. In this way they do immense harm to many people in many areas. People have been deprived of employment because of references made on television to particular areas.
There was a programme done on Ballyfermot which was the lowest type of programme that could be produced. People were paid on that occasion to drink cider. I did not get an opportunity of asking on the subsequent programme whether the cider drinkers were paid. I asked them afterwards and I was told they received a fee, the same as the other people who appeared, including myself and others who appeared on the second programme. To give people a fee to have themselves photographed drinking cider or engaged in some other such activity is despicable. I hope it will not happen again. RTE may have learned a lesson from that programme. I do not think the Minister will stand over this type of approach, any more than he will stand over the use of hidden microphones. It was made known during the moneylending affair that concelaed microphones were used. I hope this will never happen again. It has not happened for some time. I want an assurance now that the Minister will not countenance this type of behaviour. The idea put forward in a television programme that a certain area is a trouble spot will stick in the minds of thousands of viewers. This will be very hard to erase, even by doing another programme, however good it may be. The second one never atones for the first one. This type of thing is  mainly directed against people who live in local authority accommodation. The cameras do not go to “Snob Hill” and project the problems or indeed the activities there. Sometimes if they would just swing the cameras around they would get a different picture.
These are things that worry me and affect people in the areas I represent. We do not want a stigma attaching to any area as a result of a television programme. The particular programme to which I have referred was screened two years ago but many people still refer to it and at that time people were deprived of employment because of it. People have told me that they have used an aunt's or an uncle's address rather than their own because of how a particular area was projected on television. Young girls in offices were perturbed because of the image projected of their areas. I would ask the Minister to ensure that people are protected from some of the vultures that have been knocking around from time to time. They may be all gone. They may have changed their tune. If the Minister would indicate that this type of activity would not be countenanced by him I am sure his influential voice would go a long way and be heeded by many people in RTE.
I do not envy the Minister his job. He has an immense task in relation to the television service, which is attacked —justly and unjustly—by almost every section of the community. Much of the criticism will be directed at the Minister, sometimes for areas over which the Minister has no control. But there are areas over which he has control and his influential voice can indicate from time to time that certain fields must not be touched on or must be dealt with in a fair manner.
RTE have many credits on their side. If Mr. John Feeney's article is correct, it must be depressing for some people there, waiting for this breakthrough to get one programme with bite, one programme that will attract attention. Whatever the programme is, at all costs it must be put on. If there are problems such as that, they should  be teased out so that the workers will be content. If the workers are content there will be greater co-operation and wider horizons. Where there is stagnation, where the morale is low and where there are groups of people competing with each other, there is bound to develop a situation in which the opportunities afforded by any programme to any individual or group will be grasped by that individual or group.
There are many other aspects of this Estimate that have been covered already. Some people are perturbed about the possibility of additional charges being levied in respect of broadcasting services. Of course if we want these extra services we must be prepared to pay for them but any increases must be within reason. There has been a suggestion that the television licence fee might be increased at some stage to £30. In replying to the debate, the Minister should indicate whether there is any foundation for that suggestion so that people can decide at an early stage whether they will be able to retain their television sets. I expect that the majority of people would continue to avail of the service but if the licence fee should be in the region of £30, there are many people in the working class category who could not afford to pay that amount. Any such increase would also have to be accompanied by an extension of the free television licence fee so that it would apply to many people other than old age pensioners.
I do not know to what extent components for the Post Office telephone services are manufactured here, if at all, but I am aware that most of the components used here are manufactured in such countries as Sweden and Germany. An effort should be made, either in the Department's workshops or elsewhere to set up a manufacturing concern for the production of these components. The fact that they are imported in such vast quantities indicates the justification for manufacturing at least some of them here. I am sure that disabled persons could be employed in any such industry. At present they are employed on such  tasks as packing in the electrical goods industry.
I shall not detain the House further except to say that the recent affair which has been given so much publicity was rather unfortunate for the Minister in that he was manoeuvred into a situation in which some of the blame will be thrust on him. I can only wish the Minister well for the future. I expect that his approach will differ from that taken by Ministers in the past. He will be dealing with different problems. I trust that he will endeavour to sort out the problems within the ambit of his Department which affect the day to day lives of the community and that the necessary services will be provided.
Mr. O'Brien: I shall begin by wishing the Minister well and by complimenting him on his brief. I will touch briefly on the matter which was so contentious here this evening—the coverage by RTE of the Fine Gael Ard-Fheis. The agreement in respect of this coverage was reached in January last and if Fianna Fáil had wished, they could have got the first bite of the cherry because the same opportunity would have been afforded them had they decided to have their Ard-Fheis before ours.
Mr. O'Brien: Before being interrupted from the other side of the House I was pointing out that the agreement relating to the broadcasting of Ard-Fheiseanna was reached in January last. Fianna Fáil must have thought that we would act in the same stupid fashion as they acted. I would say that the reason they decided not to hold their Ard-Fheis first was because they did not have a presidential candidate. They were still looking around for some hopeful but as  we had our candidate we had no problem in this regard.
Mr. O'Brien: We had a responsibility to hold our Ard-Fheis and we honoured that responsibility but the Ard-Fheis happened to concide with the Presidential Election campaign, and the National Coalition candidate, Mr. Tom O'Higgins, was duly invited along to address our Ard-Fheis, and rightly so. As we know from the papers, the Ard-Fheis was a tremendous success. It was only when the Ard-Fheis was over that we heard the complaints from the Opposition side regarding the time on television and radio. They were not able to take it because they saw the effect our Ard-Fheis had, and the fact that the National Coalition had come across——
Mr. O'Brien: They saw, through television, the effect of this new Government. As I say, we acted correctly and we have nothing to apologise for. It has stuck in their throats and let it come up after next Wednesday.
I believe that RTE, when one considers their budget, are putting on first-class programmes. However, particularly between 4 and 6 o'clock I would like to see educational programmes for children on television. There are some which are not very good. I believe we should strive to raise the standard and produce more  such programmes, try to present more home programmes in that field.
Mr. O'Brien: As I say, there should be more educational programmes for children in the afternoon and, where possible, these programmes should be home produced to reflect the culture and the attitude of our country.
As a result of what I believe was gross interference in the affairs of the authority by the last Government, many current affairs programmes on Telefís Éireann have deteriorated. The sting has been taken out of them because of a fear of dismissal, as happened to the authority. People who stood on the principle of protecting the integrity of newspapers and communications, have been instantly dismissed and some even jailed. I believe that has had its effect. Knowing the Minister and his attitude, I know this will not happen. I am looking forward to a greater output from RTE again of a type of programme which would have a social content in it, so that if there are social injustices and things happening in our society which should not happen, they will be shown up for what they are, evils in our society. We saw the colossal waste of money on a tribunal inquiring into a programme which obviously offended people. It was highlighting an evil that was rampant in our city at the time and in my view it was doing an excellent job. Because of interference, because of innuendo and threats, this type of programme does not exist in Telefís Éireann today. All the programmes are very nice, very glossy and offend nobody. It is the business of communications to offend if it is necessary to bring social justice into our society.
Our radio is doing a good job, but one area in which it is failing is that it does not project the programmes into England where we have such a large Irish population. Reception is  only possible in certain areas over there, and I believe that it is important that our emigrants in England are kept informed and that, in relation to the situation in Northern Ireland, the information they get should be factual and not the biased opinion you may and will get from the BBC.
The morning radio programmes are quite good. We have Gay in his usual light mood early in the morning; then we have Liam Nolan in “Here and Now”, a programme concerned with current affairs and one that is to be commended. I would like the Minister to ensure that more emphasis is laid on culture in our radio programmes, both Irish culture and international culture. I would like the Minister to consider that aspect of radio.
Piped television has been spoken of earlier, but my constituency of Dublin South-East is one of the worst constituencies regarding piped television and the restriction of 500 per aerial. By this narrow attitude we are, without reason, depriving thousands of people of facilities which they want. It is, possibly, faceless bureaucrats who are responsible for this idea of 500 per aerial. Piped television may be responsible for loss in revenue but if it is properly controlled that will not happen. If it is properly controlled, one or two aerials in Dublin would meet the need, with microwave links beaming the programmes to various centres. At the major point advertising could be switched on or off at the discretion of the people who control it—in this case RTE. They could go to the major advertisers and tell them they could be switched on at a given price. In Belgium they have piped television and they control advertising in this way. Perhaps the Minister would investigate this matter.
I should like to compliment him on his attitude to this matter. He has gone to England and he has lost no time in carrying out investigations. I look forward to his statements on the matter in the future. My constituency incorporates much of the inner city—Pearse Street. Sandymount and York Street— and this section is known to the television people as a “black” area. It is  unfair that people are deprived of piped television because they live in these “black” areas. I have no doubt the Minister will do something about this matter.
We are increasingly becoming a social welfare State and many more people are benefiting from our social welfare system. Many payments are made through the Post Office and, although the main post offices are not too bad, the sub-post offices were not intended to cater for this kind of development. Most of them are merely to sell stamps and postal orders but they are not able to cope with the increasing demands made on them. Luxury banks are springing up all over the city but the post office premises are dingy. It is time we got our priorities right and did something about this. We also need properly trained personnel; I am not casting a reflection on the staff of the post office but the situation is changing and the post office system must change also. If not, the old system will cause trouble and irritation to the Minister.
The telecommunications service has been badly neglected in the last few years. People have had to wait for long periods for phones and very little new machinery or equipment has been installed. I would ask the Ministers to look into this matter. Nowadays many people wish to have phones but they are being deprived of them because of the neglect of the previous Government. I do not expect the Minister to perform miracles. I know he will have something on this matter later in the year and I am looking forward to his statement then. I would ask him especially to try to clear the backlog of telephone applications.
The vandalism that occurs in public telephone kiosks is a cause of much concern. It can have serious consequences, perhaps even lives may be lost, in the event of accidents or fires when people find it impossible to locate a public telephone in working order. One way of combating the vandalism would be to make it necessary to insert a coin in order to enter the phone booth. At least this might help to reduce the degree of vandalism.
Some of the television programmes  are very good. The “Late Late Show” is first-class in that it can deal with either serious or light topics and it is impartial; in addition, it gives people an opportunity to participate in a live show. For too long we have been getting cheap American canned material that does not reflect any Irish attitude. In many cases these shows have been of a violent nature and they should not be shown on our television, particularly when one part of our country is in a state of violence. Where possible we should have more native programmes on RTE. They may be costly but they give employment, they develop the talents of our artists who are not forced to emigrate and they foster in our people a pride in themselves and their nation.
|Last Updated: 14/09/2010 23:41:26||Page of 22|