Estimates, 1980. - Vote 44: Posts and Telegraphs.

Friday, 30 May 1980

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 321 No. 8

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Minister for Posts and Telegraphs (Mr. Reynolds): Information on Albert Reynolds  Zoom on Albert Reynolds  I move:

That a sum not exceeding £234,864,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of December, 1980, for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs and of certain other services administered by that Office, and for payment of certain grants-in-aid.

The net Estimate for my Department for the year ending 31 December 1980, is £234,864,000. The corresponding figure for 1979 was £185,888,000, including an amount of £8.3 million provided by way of Supplementary Estimate. All but two subheads show increases and substantial extra provisions have had to be made in a number of subheads on which I will now comment individually.

[1222] The amount being provided for subhead A—Salaries, Wages, and Allowances—is £160,827,000 as compared with £126,962,000 in 1979. Part of the increase of £33,865,000 arises because expenditure on pay in 1979 was below normal due to the postal dispute. The balance is needed because of additional cost of pay increases granted under the 1979 national understanding; additional staff requirements; increased cost of standard increments and of remuneration to scale-payment postmasters; higher cost of social welfare employers' contributions and fees to An Bord Poist and An Bord Telecom.

The provision of £6,267,000 for subhead B—Travelling and Incidental Expenses—represents an increase of £1,048,000. This is required mainly to meet increased travelling and subsistence costs by engineering technical staff; higher costs of agency services performed for the Post Office by other Government Departments; and extra expenditure under a number of miscellaneous headings.

Under subhead C, Accommodation, £26,500,000 is needed. The increase of £9,237,000 is required to meet the cost of additional accommodation, mainly for telephone development purposes; additional provision for rents and rates; and higher costs of light, heat and power.

Under subhead D—Conveyance of Mails—an extra £1,014,000 is required mainly to meet higher contractors' charges for the conveyance of mails by rail and extra costs of conveyance of mails by air because of increased traffic.

An additional £1,827,000 is provided for subhead E—Postal and General Stores—mainly to meet increased mechanical transport costs for postal purposes and higher contract price for the telephone directory.

Under subhead F—Engineering Stores and Equipment—£67,576,000 is being provided. The increase of £13,817,000 is needed to cover the extra cost of engineering stores and equipment and contract work for the development [1223] and maintenance of the telecommunication services.

Under subhead G—Telephone Capital Repayments—£47.8 million is needed. The extra £9.1 million is required for increases in telephone capital repayments because of the continuing investment of capital in the telephone service.

The increase of£1,122,000 on subhead J—Superannuation—is required to meet the higher cost of pensions and lump sums because of increases in pay under the 1979 national understanding and other pay increases granted to engineering and postal grades.

The provision of £18.0 million for subhead L1—Broadcasting Licence Fees—represents an increased grant-in-aid of £2.0 million to Radio Telefis Éireann in respect of increased net receipts from television licence fees. The increased grant-in-aid will be offset by a corresponding increase in the amount payable to the Exchequer as Exchequer Extra Receipts in respect of the sales of television licences.

The estimated receipts of £115,216,000 under subhead T—Appropriations in Aid—show an increase of about £24.0 million. The increase is due to higher expenditure on telephone capital development; this expenditure is recoverable from telephone capital funds.

The figures in Appendix C to the printed Estimates Volume show the commercial results of the Department as a trading concern for 1977 and the three preceding financial years. They also show a provisional deficit of £19.4 million for 1978 made up of deficits of £2.9 million on the postal service, £1.1 million on the telegraph service and £15.4 million on the telephone service.

Present indications are that the Commercial Accounts for 1979 will show an overall deficit of about £29 million made up of deficits of £12 million on the postal services and £17 million on the telecommunications services. It is estimated that £4 million of the overall deficit in 1979 was due to the postal dispute which [1224] resulted in a drop of about £22 million in revenue, offset by a reduction of £18 million in expenditure.

The deficits would be still higher in 1980 and 1981, as costs are continuing to rise, and it was therefore decided to increase postal and telecommunication charges as from 1 July 1980. As a motion on these increases was discussed in the Dáil recently it is hardly necessary for me to say anything further about this matter.

As Deputies know, the Department have experienced in the last few years very difficult and protracted disputes in pursuit of higher pay involving many of the staff in both the telecommunications and the postal services. There is no point in conducting any sort of an inquest here into these difficulties. Since the resumption of work following the strike by members of the Post Office Workers' Union last year considerable and sustained efforts have been made to restore good staff relations at all levels and a significant measure of success has been achieved. There have been isolated instances of unofficial industrial action or of withdrawal of co-operation by certain groups of staff, but these cases of difficulty were either settled in consultation with the staff representatives or are being pursued with the unions concerned with a view to having them resolved.

Deputies will have seen media reports of pay offers being put to ballot by the Post Office Workers' Union. The pay increases being offered represent very substantial improvements and there is considerable retrospection attaching to them. I am sure I do not need to remind the House that pay increases have to be paid for and I should perhaps point out again in this connection that higher costs due to pay increases already given are mainly responsible for the recently announced increases in post office charges. There have been references in the media to productivity conditions attaching to the pay offers and I am aware that a good deal of misleading propaganda about these conditions is being circulated. In fact, the pay claims were based in part on productivity aspects and [1225] these were argued strongly in support of the claims. The pay offers would only be justified on the basis of staff co-operation in improving efficiency and standard of service to the public. We should stop codding ourselves, our workers and the public now about these matters. Either the Department must move with the times and give the community the service to which they are entitled, or else see the services stagnate with all the consequences which that would have for the future of the services and the staff. Let me add categorically that nothing unreasonable is being sought from the staff by way of productivity, simply the co-operation and flexibility in coping with change which has traditionally been expected and given. There is, incidentally, no question of staff redundancies arising from the proposed agreements and there has never been any question of this.

The public deserves a return to the long tradition of loyal, reliable and unbroken service by Post Office staff. With industrial harmony and staff co-operation, 1980 can be a year in which really significant progress will be made in telephone development in particular and in the modernisation of the Department's services in general. I believe that the Post Office can surmount the difficulties of recent years. I have spoken to many people at all levels in the Department since I became Minister and I have met no one who thinks that the task is beyond us or who is less than anxious to get on with the job. I was greatly encouraged by these discussions with staff and I am fully satisfied that management and staff, working together, are well capable of restoring public confidence both in the postal service which they have traditionally provided so efficiently and in the telecommunications services which face an explosive growth in demand. It is one thing to say this, however. It is up to the Department and their staff to show that they are equal to the task in practice.

I will not pretend that, in an organisation as large as the Post Office, there will not be problems. I accept that, if unrealistic [1226] expectations are encouraged, if there is an absence of realism in formulating demands or a failure in industrial negotiations to take account of community as well as of sectional interests, then progress will not be made. But strikes and interruption of services are not inevitable. Negotiating structures are available which provide a means by which problems over pay and other matters can be resolved in a sensible and reasonable way without industrial strife. I make no apology for asking and expecting that these agreed procedures should be used by all parties. Success will depend on there being a will to compromise and to settle differences peacefully.

Last year was one of unprecedented difficulty for the postal service, because of the industrial action taken by staff catered for by the Post Office Workers' Union in pursuance of pay claims. The strike lasted from 19 February to 28 June and it is greatly regretted that the public generally and businesses largely dependent on the postal service were caused inconvenience and in many cases hardship during that period and for some time afterwards.

When the strike ended, a massive backlog of mail had built up in Britain and other countries. Thanks to the special efforts of management and staff it was possible to clear this backlog and to resume acceptance of new postings earlier than had been expected. However, this presented a further challenge as the level of new postings was substantially above average for a long period The task of dealing with these postings would ordinarily be a formidable one but it was made particularly difficult because staff numbers had been depleted mainly because recruitment had to be suspended during the strike and staff leave had to be compressed into a shorter period than usual. Delays, some of them considerable, arose and my Department quite understandably experienced a great deal of criticism on this account. However, special measures were taken which brought about a significant improvement in the service. [1227] Recent checks by my Department indicate that over 80 per cent of first-class letters are now being delivered on the working day after posting and we are striving to get up to the 90 per cent which was the traditional figure down through the years.

The postal service is highly labour-intensive and is vulnerable to industrial action not alone by its own staff but by staffs of other organisations engaged in the conveyance and handling of mails. In fact there have been quite a number of in tances in recent years of industrial action outside the Department's control which disrupted or delayed the mails.

Normally the postal service can rely on a steady if unspectacular growth in traffic and this was the trend in recent years up to 1978. The volume of traffic handled that year was 480 million letters and over 9 million parcels. Because of the strike, comparable figures are not available for 1979 but there are current indications of a reduction in both letter and parcel traffic. It is to be hoped that, with an improvement in the standard of service, lost traffic can be recovered.

Since 1971 the quality of service for mails to and from County Donegal has been adversely affected by the discontinuance, because of the security position, of the movement of mails across Northern Ireland. The Cross-Border Communications Study drew attention to the disadvantages this presented for postal users in County Donegal. The question of restoring the former mails conveyance arrangements which would improve both the services in County Donegal and the service generally with Northern Ireland is under active consideration at present between my Department, the Northern Ireland Postal Authority and the staffs concerned.

Motorisation of rural delivery services, which commenced in the sixties, has slackened and will probably be slow for the next year or so because vacancies which would otherwise provide opportunities for motorisation are being absorbed in schemes for giving postmen a [1228] Monday to Friday working week. At present there are approximately 970 motorised delivery services in operation covering about 70 per cent of the total mileage travelled on rural postal delivery daily and they have replaced largely part-time jobs with good full-time employment. Further motorisation of services may also be affected by the petrol situation. Indeed the need to conserve energy may necessitate a review of some existing mails services and other auxiliary functions which this Department could operate.

A settlement reached on a staff claim for extension to postmen generally of the Monday to Friday working week which postmen in the Dublin area have enjoyed for some years will result in the eventual cessation of Saturday deliveries throughout the country.

In fact the scheme is already operating in about three quarters of the country. In order to avoid redundancies or cuts in pay, the five-day week arrangements are being introduced area by area as normal staff wastage occurs. Advance notice of the introduction of the changes is given to the public in the areas affected.

Cessation of Saturday delivery has the effect of heavier mail arrivals at delivery offices on Monday with the result that deliveries commence on that day generally a half an hour—or sometimes more—later than on other days. Deliveries are spread over the postman's working day which means they finish somewhat later than when the six day week applied, although the aim is to preserve delivery times as far as possible, and, in particular, to maintain early deliveries to business users and the more populated areas.

The Department have been expanding their philatelic activities. Special stamps are being issued on a greater number of subjects, giving scope for more varied designs which can better depict the country's history, culture, national heritage, activities and achievements. They are attracting growing public interest at home and abroad, which is well reflected in [1229] philatelic sales, now approaching £700,000 a year. The recent appointment of philatelic agents in North America, Britain and continental Europe should help boost sales further. The special philatelic sales office in the GPO Arcade in Dublin is proving most successful, and the Department have been conducting sales stands at major philatelic shows abroad with encouraging results.

This year's programme of special stamps includes stamps on Irish music and dance and the centenary of the birth of Sean O'Casey, as well as other noteworthy subjects. The popular fauna and flora series, which featured Irish wild flowers in 1978 and birds in 1979, will be continued this year with animals of particular Irish significance.

I am pleased to record my thanks to the members of the committee who advise me on ways of promoting interest in Irish stamps and postal history and to the committee who advise me on stamp design, for the time and expert advice they unselfishly give to the public interest.

A decision has been taken recently to establish a philatelic museum in Dublin and my Department are at present in consultation with the Office of Public Works about the suitability of two premises which are being considered for this purpose.

Postal authorities all over the world are becoming increasingly concerned about the future. They fear that the competition which is inevitable from the increasing development of new telecommunications technology will eat into postal revenue, creating difficult financial problems. Postal authorities in other countries are already beginning to gear themselves to face this challenge, and we have to commence appraising our own position. Inter alia, special consideration will have to be given to the prospect of attracting new business, whether in existing activities or by developing new services, not only to replace lost business but also to make more extended use of the postal services' unique network. [1230] However, the main task for the postal service in the immediate future and over the next few years is envisaged as restoring and maintaining the traditional high quality of mails service, achieving a greater cost effectiveness and development of a greater orientation towards a marketing approach.

The staffing of the postal service has recently been strengthened by the appointment of an additional principal officer who will be responsible for marketing, planning and considering the possibilities for new business.

The number of money orders issued in 1979 was 780,000 as compared with 1,000,000 in 1978 but the total value of £120 million was approximately the same as in the previous year. The number of postal orders issued was five million and the value was £15 million, as compared with 8,000,000 and £23 million in the previous year.

The reduction in remittance business was mainly due to the postal dispute but a further factor was the break in parity between the British and Irish currencies. Neither the British nor the Irish Post Office operate a currency conversion service at the counter, but formerly each accepted the other's monetary documents at their face value. My Department still cash British postal orders at their face value in Irish currency but as the British pound is now more valuable than the Irish pound there has been a substantial drop in this traffic. On the other hand the British Post Office would incur a substantial loss if they were to continue cashing Irish postal orders and money orders at their face value in British currency and they have, therefore, discontinued this service.

Agency service payments made by the post office, mainly on behalf of the Department of Social Welfare, amounted to £430 million in 1979 as compared with £396 million in 1978. The total would have been higher if departmentally staffed offices had not been closed during the postal dispute. Agency service payments were also affected by the break in parity between the British and [1231] Irish currencies. Revised arrangements had to be made for the payment of British social security pensioners living in Ireland and Irish social welfare pensioners living in Britain who formerly were able to cash their pension orders at their local post office. They are now being paid by means of payable orders encashable at banks.

Development of the telecommunications service requires the provision of new buildings and extension to existing buildings on a very large scale. In most cases it is necessary also to acquire a site for individual buildings. For many years past lack of sites and buildings has been one of the main constraints on the development of the telecommunications service. A major effort to tackle this problem was initiated by my Department early in 1979 when an accelerated building programme was launched. Radical changes in structures and procedures designed to achieve a substantial increase in the output of buildings and more rapid provision of indiviual buildings were introduced in co-operation with the Office of Public Works and special steps were taken to expedite the acquisition of sites.

The accelerated building programme provides for the erection or extension of more than 500 buildings over the next few years at an estimated cost of nearly £100 million. It includes buildings to accommodate and train an increased intake of staff, buildings for telephone exchanges, stores, transport and so on. The result of the steps taken under this accelerated programme can be judged from the fact that while something over 100 new telephone exchange buildings or extensions to existing buildings were completed in the period since July 1977, work is now in progress on a further 100 buildings or extensions and it is expected that work will commence on a further 200 projects during this year. It is expected that contracts will be placed for some 150 projects during 1981. The progress achieved to date is a credit to the staff of my Department and of the Office of Public Works who have devoted themselves [1232] to the task with great energy and dedication.

When this programme has been completed one of the major constraints on more rapid development of the telecommunications service will have been eliminated. The list of buildings to be provided or in course of construction is very extensive and I do not propose to give details of them here. However, if any Deputy wants information about buildings planned for a particular area I will be glad to have the information supplied.

A special effort to meet the building requirements of the postal service is also needed. While there has been an ongoing programme for the provision of new post offices and for improvement of existing post offices the scale of the programme has not been sufficient to keep pace with the requirements of the service. Many of the existing buildings are inadequate for a modern postal service. A detailed examination is under way to determine the precise requirements and how these can be met in the shortest time practicable.

Turning to telecommunications, demand for telephones continued to be buoyant last year and despite the five months' postal strike, when few applicants could be processed, a total of 50,000 applications were received. Although the figure was somewhat short of the record 58,000 in 1978, it was nevertheless substantially higher than in previous years. Over 60 per cent of the applications were for residence telephones. Telephone density here about 17 telephone per 100 population is still one of the lowest in Europe and is substantially the lowest in EEC countries. All the indications are that the demand for telephones will continue to grow for many years ahead and planning is proceeding on the basis that it will do so.

Only 32,000 connections were made last year, compared with 39,000 in 1978 and over 41,000 in 1977, which was the highest figure ever achieved. The relatively low connection rate last year [1233] was due primarily to the non-availability of stores which could not be distributed during the strike by postal and warehousing staff. With a demand of 50,000 and a connection rate of only 32,000 the waiting list for telephones continued to grow and at the end of last year stood at 80,000.

The value of stores being issued for works carried out by departmental staff is now over £2 million per month and the value of stores on order is over £15 million. The increase in the rate of issue will help to improve the connection rate and ensure continuity of supply. The prolonged steel strike in Britain in the latter portion of last year delayed deliveries of some supplies but I am glad to say that the position in this regard is now greatly improved.

The target for telephone connections this year is 60,000 and it is planned to increase the rate progressively in the following years. Increases of the order required to reach a situation where in about five years' time it will be possible to meet applications for telephones promptly will not be achieved easily; the whole infrastructure of the service, in terms of accommodation for both equipment and staff, telephone exchanges, trunk circuits, local cabling and the necessary skilled staff must first be built up. I will return later to these matters.

I know that in general there are many non-believers and many people who criticise the target of 60,000 telephones as being totally unrealistic and non-achievable. I should like to put on record that at the conference of the post office engineering staff in Sligo last night I received a very positive response from that union to the effect that my target of 60,000 telephones this year was realistic and realisable. I was told that if the stores supplies continue to flow out to them and if small minor hurdles are overcome they have no doubt, as I had no doubt, that the target can and will be reached.

With demand continuing to be buoyant and likely to be well in excess of 60,000 this year, no reduction in the size [1234] of the waiting list can be expected in the short-term. Indeed, it is likely to grow for the next two years or so, but with an increasing installation rate, the average waiting time should fall gradually from now onwards. Measures are being pushed ahead to reduce and eventually eliminate the waiting list. It would not, however, be realistic to expect that this can be done in any short time or, indeed, in one week as Deputy Kelly suggested recently. There have been particular difficulties in meeting the greatly increased demand for telephones in Dublin. For many years the underground cable network serving the city and suburban areas has been inadequate. Work programmes undertaken to remedy the situation have been hampered by shortages of skilled engineering staff, particularly jointing staff. Over the past two years special measures taken to increase the numbers of staff on this work have been interrupted by the necessity to divert a large proportion of the underground jointing force employed on new cabling work to maintenance work for long periods following industrial action and flood damage to old cables. The resulting arrears of work added to accumulated previous arrears and the need for new cables to meet the exceptional growth of extensive housing and industrial estates on the perimeter of the city have aggravated an already serious shortage. The problem has been tackled in two ways—by accelerated training of departmental jointing staff and by the employment of contractors on a greatly increased scale. Both of these measures are now producing good results but the arrears of work to be done are still formidable.

In the provinces the principal difficulties are congestion in the trunk network, which must be cleared before big numbers of applicants can be given service, and inadequate staff. I will refer later to what is being done to improve the trunk network. Substantial numbers of extra staff are being recruited this year—the figure we expect to reach is 600—and this will be continued according as the accommodation to house them becomes available.

[1235] Last year over 80 telephone exchanges were extended, 15 manual exchanges were converted to automatic working and some 1,300 additional trunk circuits were provided mostly on major routes within the country, but also to Britain and to a number of continental countries. If the Deputies wish I will have a tabular list made available of the exchanges extended and converted.

The quality of the trunk service within the country and to Britain has been less than satisfactory. This is due basically to the capacity of some of the key trunk exchanges and trunk routes being inadequate to handle the volume of call traffic. The international service and the local service in most centres is by comparison reasonably good. The shortcomings of the services generally have been described by the review group in their report of last year and I do not propose therefore to dwell on them here. Instead I will outline what has been and is being done to correct them.

Last year the Government approved an accelerated telecommunication development programme estimated to cost some £650 million. Action was taken quickly to implement it in various ways such as a major drive to provide all the sites and buildings required, and the placing of massive orders for extra stores, transport and equipment. Many of the measures taken are referred to elsewhere in this statement. The capital allocation of £75 million for the year was spent in full and an allocation of £100 million was approved for this year.

Needless to say, it is too early to obtain the benefit of much of this investment because of the long lead-times required, but work has been going ahead on hundreds of development schemes already in the pipeline and I shall refer only to some of the larger ones here.

The Dublin trunk exchange system is the hub of our telecommunications network and shortages or inadequacy of equipment here affects the whole national system. The first phase of a multi-million pound exchange is nearing [1236] completion at Adelaide Road, Dublin; the in-service date is expected towards the end of the year. When in operation it will enable thousands of badly needed trunk circuits on routes to and from Dublin to be brought into service. The second phase will be the installation of further trunk switching equipment of digital electronic design which is on order and due to be in service in 1982.

It is of course also important that the trunk exchanges in the main provincial centres and the main trunk routes be designed on a scale which will remove once and for all the danger of further congestion in our time. The buildings, equipment and trunk schemes now being provided will ensure this. A major exchange complex at Churchfield, Cork, is in course of installation and should be in service next year. In Limerick a building to house a major extension to the existing trunk exchange building is almost completed and the exchange is on order; buildings for new exchanges are in progress at Galway, Sligo, Drogheda, Dundalk, Athlone, Tralee and Kilkenny, to name but some of the new bigger centres, and the exchange equipment is on order for most of them; these exchanges should be ready for service within the next two years or so.

The first phase of a new exchange at Portlaoise, another key centre in the national network, was opened a few months ago and the second phase is to be in service later this year. An interim extension of the Waterford exchange is being carried out. What I have said will give some indication of what is being done to improve the trunk exchange system. The provision of an adequate and reliable trunk circuiting system is also well under way.

Work on the installation of a new microwave route to Britain is in progress. This will have an initial capacity of 2,700 circuits and can be extended several fold. The link is expected to be brought into service later this year, when the new trunk exchange at Adelaide Road, Dublin, to which I referred earlier is in operation. These two [1237] schemes will provide major relief on the cross-channel routes.

A microwave link is also being installed between Dublin, Sligo and Letterkenny. The installation work has, regrettably, been seriously delayed by a dispute between staff in the Department and in RTE over certain rigging work. This dispute has now been resolved and work is commencing today. In that event the link should be in service later this year, and should provide additional circuits to and from the north west on a scale that will improve substantially the general quality of the trunk service in this area. It will also enable the Dublin-Sligo co-axial cable to be withdrawn, overhauled and increased substantially in capacity.

Other major trunk schemes in progress which are expected to be completed within the next year include 1,800 circuits systems between Dublin and Athlone, Dublin and Galway and Dublin and Waterford, 960 circuit systems between Enniscorthy and Dublin, Macroom and Cork, Tralee and Limerick, Waterford and Cork, Wicklow and Dublin and Carlow and Kilkenny and a co-axial cable link between Sligo and Manorhamilton. The capacity of the Navan-Drogheda-Dublin co-axial cable route is being upgraded threefold. In all, over 5,000 additional trunk circuits are programmed for provision within the next year.

Completion of the new trunk exchanges and additional trunk works that I have mentioned will bring about a marked improvement in the trunk service within the country and to Britain: Indeed, with the opening of the new trunk exchange in Dublin, there should be a noticeable improvement towards the end of this year. In the meantime and particularly during the summer peak traffic period, difficult conditions resulting from overloading and congestion will, unfortunately, continue. Every effort will be made to reduce these difficulties as much as possible by special maintenance attention and other measures. It is understandable that callers who experience difficulties in [1238] making calls via an operator tend to blame the operator for the delays. In practice, the delays are outside the control of the operators and I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to telephone operators generally for their efforts and co-operation often in very trying circumstances.

During the year the planning functions carried out in a number of sections in the telecommunications services were concentrated in an expanded new branch to ensure as far as practicable that medium and long-term planning work will not in future be neglected in favour of pressing current work.

As Deputies will be aware, there were problems recently with the trunk service to certain parts of Britain following a rearrangement of numbers of traffic routes in Britain, problems which were accentuated by a general shortage of circuits between here and Britain. The service is now much improved. When this matter was raised in the House earlier this month, I said that we had made certain suggestions to the British Post Office which would ease the position considerably. We received total co-operation in this matter from the British Post Office and I should like to place on record now my appreciation of the speed with which they responded. Adequate circuits to the various routes in Britain will be available when the new microwave link to which I have referred earlier is brought into service.

Despite the general shortage of circuits on certain routes to Britain, the cross-channel service was greatly improved last year by the extension to all automatic subscribers in this country of direct dialling to six major centres there. Until then this facility had been available only to subscribers in Dublin and some of the bigger provincial centres. Subscriber trunk dialling to Belfast was similarly extended. This extension benefited some 60,000 subscribers. The problems involved in extending subscriber dialling between all automatic areas here and in the British Post Office system are being studied with a view to [1239] making the most rapid progress practicable in this regard.

Some 10 per cent of subscribers are still served from manual exchanges and one of the objectives of the current accelerated development programme is to provide an automatic service for all subscribers by the end of 1984. Providing automatic service for the remaining 10 per cent may seem an easy task. The position is however, that this 10 per cent are served by nearly 500 manual exchanges, or almost half the total number of exchanges in the country. last year, as I have already mentioned, 15 exchanges were converted to automatic working; these include Letterkenny and Roscrea. Arrangements have been made to convert a further 20 exchanges and to increase sharply the pace of conversion from next year onwards. Equipment for over 200 further automatic exchanges is on order. This part of the accelerated programme is, therefore, well under way.

The volume of traffic on international routes continues to increase rapidly, the annual growth over the past five years being around 30 per cent. The number of international circuits in use is now almost 460, including 48 satellite circuits.

Our international circuits are broadly provided either via submarine and underground cables or through the earth station at Goonhilly, Cornwall, in which we have an investment share. Within the next few years it will be economical for the Department to have its own telecommunications earth station for the requirements of the North Atlantic routes. As I have indicated in the House recently, my Department has taken the first step in this regard by acquiring a 60-acre site near Midleton, County Cork. The first installation there will cater for transatlantic telecommunications traffic, but the site is large enough for extensions to meet satellite circuit requirements to Europe and elsewhere. The proposed station will enable us to have direct communication with overseas countries without having to rely, as at present, on transit facilities provided by other [1240] telecommunications administrations. Until last year subscriber dialling to countries abroad was available only to subscribers in Dublin and Shannon. In the course of the year international dialling facilities were extended to Cork city, Limerick city, Waterford city, Galway city and Drogheda. This year they have been extended to Dundalk and they will be made available to Athlone and Sligo subscribers later this year. At that stage about 70 per cent of subscribers will be able to dial international calls. The number of countries to which calls can be dialled is being increased gradually and is now 49. They include all the countries with which we have any significant volume of trade so that this service is a highly valuable one from a commercial viewpoint.

Telecommunications technology is changing rapidly. It is now generally accepted that the merging of telecommunications and computer technology will have far-reaching consequences affecting the distribution and processing of information and the control and monitoring of commercial, industrial and so on, operations over long distances.

Last year for the purpose of making long-term arrangements for the procurement of computer controlled digital electronic exchanges for our system and, at the same time encouraging the manufacture of the exchange equipment here, my Department sought tenders on a worldwide basis from leading manufacturers and at the same time invited them to make industrial proposals to the IDA. As a result of the competition two firms were selected to supply these exchanges and to manufacture the equipment in this country. The first such exchanges are due to be in service next year.

The type of equipment to be provided by one of these firms was designed in France and is more extensively used than any other kind of digital electronic exchange. In connection with its introduction here my Department has entered into a technical co-operation agreement with the French PTT Administration covering the loan of technical experts, the training of Irish engineering [1241] staff, the transfer of know-how on an extensive scale and so on. The other supplier is L.M. Ericsson Ireland Limited who have been manufacturing telephone exchanges of a different technology for quite some time past in this country.

The provision of telephone kiosks has always been a matter of interest to Deputies and to the public generally. The stage has now been reached where a kiosk has been provided in practically every rural area in which receipts from the local sub-post office telephone indicated that a kiosk would be used to a fair extent. In areas where there is no local post office, there have been practical difficulties in estimating to what extent kiosks would, if provided, be likely to be used and in determining an order of priority among competing centres. A study was carried out to help in establishing criteria for the provision of kiosks in such areas and a method has been devised which will, it is expected, overcome these difficulties. The method takes account of social and demographic factors such as the number of houses in the catchment area, the distance from existing public telephone facilities, the density of private telephones in the area and so on. It has already been used to select 22 areas for the provision of kiosks. It is proposed to provide over 50 more this year. The position will, of course, be kept under review.

The need for kiosks in rapidly expanding urban areas has also been reviewed. A special examination of new housing estates is being carried out in the Dublin area and it is proposed to provide some 50 new kiosks in these areas including 25 in the Tallaght area. My Department will have discussions with local community groups in these areas and with the Garda Síochána on the measures that can be taken to safeguard the kiosks against vandals so that they will be available to the public to the maximum extent practicable. Similar schemes are being planned for other major housing estates. In general only local calls can be dialled from coinbox telephones in automatic areas at present. It is proposed to commence later this [1242] year the replacement of these coinbox telephones by multi-purpose coinbox telephones enabling callers to dial trunk and international calls directly without the assistance of an operator.

Damage to telephone kiosks by vandals is estimated to have cost the Department over £100,000 last year. It is not of course practicable to make kiosks fully vandal-proof and measures taken to reduce its incidence, include reinforcing coinboxes by special steel construction, replacing glass by specially strengthened plastic and the use of specially armoured cords and handsets in kiosks.

About 473,000 telegrams were handled in 1979. There was a drop of 43 per cent on the previous year's telegram traffic attributable mainly to the effects of the strike in the first half of the year.

The number of telex subscribers at the end of 1979 was over 4,800 an increase of almost 10 per cent on the corresponding number on the previous year. Demand for telex service continues to be buoyant. To provide for continued growth a third telex exchange is being installed in Dublin and will be brought into service in the course of the next year. Automatic telex service is now available to 80 countries, including 16 added during the course of the past year.

The number of data transmission terminals connected to the telephone network is over 1,000 and growing rapidly. A new data control centre was opened in Dublin during the past year.

New major trunk switching exchanges are at present in course of installation at Dublin, Cork, Mullingar, Kilkenny, Navan, Arklow, Tuam, and Midleton. Commitments recently entered into with L.M. Ericsson and Telectron—in association with C.I.T. Alcatel—will provide for new digital trunk exchanges at Dublin, Athlone, Galway, Naas, Limerick, Sligo, Dundalk, Drogheda, Ennis, Longford, Mallow and many other centres. The necessary buildings for these exchanges are already available or well advanced.

Commitments have already been entered into with equipment contractors [1243] for the conversion to automatic working of over 270 exchanges including new digital exchanges at such places at Bantry, Ceanannus Mor, Kanturk, Ballymote, Manorhamilton, Donegal, Carrick-on-Shannon and Enfield.

That information is available on a separate sheet to anybody who wants to read it.

My Department are participating with other telecommunication administrations in bringing into service specialised data networks giving rapid access to a computerised library information service. In March last, a service of this kind, called EURONET, was made available here and in other EEC countries. Arrangements are in train to introduce a similar information service from this country to the US and Canada later this year. These services are particularly useful to those engaged in research in technical, medical and allied fields.

I turn now to the proposed reorganisation of the postal and telecommunications services. A Green Paper containing proposals about the reorganisation of the services was laid before both houses of the Oireachtas on 14 May. A copy was also made available to each Deputy and Senator. Before dealing with the Green Paper, I would like to mention something of the background to it.

In July 1978 my predecessor set up the Posts and Telegraphs Review Group. The group submitted their report at the end of May 1979, that is, within 10 months of their appointment. This must be a record. I know of no other enquiry of this kind which was completed so speedily. I would like to take this opportunity of having formally recorded in this House the debt of gratitude owed by the community to Dr. Michael Dargan and the other members of the review group for the amount of time they devoted to producing their most valuable report and the speed with which they completed it.

Their sense of urgency was matched by the Government. A little over a month after its receipt, the Government [1244] decision on the basic recommendation in the report was announced, that is, that both the telecommunications and postal services should be taken out of the civil service and set up as two separate State-sponsored bodies.

The Government also decided to set up two interim boards, one for the telecommunications service as recommended by the Review Group, and one for the postal service. The decision to appoint an interim board for the postal service reflected the Government's concern that the postal service should be put in as favourable a position as the telecommunications service in tackling the challenges facing it.

Within three months of the decision to set them up, the two interim boards were appointed. As Deputies are, I am sure, aware, Mr. Fergal Quinn, Chairman and Managing Director, Superquinn Limited, is Chairman of An Bord Poist, and Mr. Michael Smurfit, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Smurfit Group Ltd., is Chairman of An Bord Telecom. They and the many other eminent people who agreed to act on the two boards have taken on formidable tasks. I am sure this House joins with me in wishing them every success.

It was considered desirable that, from the outset, there should be an input from the staff at board level. Two of the directors on each of the boards are persons nominated by recognised staff associations and unions. They are not, of course, appointed to the boards in a representative capacity.

The functions of the interim boards are to participate in the arrangements to reorganise the two services as separate State-sponsored bodies, formulate comprehensive and integrated plans for development of the services, and develop the management structures needed to exploit the new freedoms and opportunities which the reorganisation will provide. Up to now the boards have been engaged primarily in familiarising themselves with the two services and examining the problems and opportunities they offer. An Bord Telecom has selected a [1245] chief executive and I have approved his appointment. He is Mr. T. Byrnes, formerly Managing Director of IBM Ireland Ltd. An Bord Poist are still in the process of selecting their chief executive.

It would be unrealistic to expect quick results from the appointment of the two interim boards. Their research and the plans they formulate will be crucial to the success of the reorganisation of the postal and telecommunications services to which the Government are committed. The scale and complexity of this task which is unique in the history of the State should not be under-estimated. We are talking about moving roughly half of the civil service into the State-sponsored sector. At the same time an accelerated telecommunications development programme at a rate matched by very few telephone organisations must be pushed through and the postal service revitalised to enable it to survive and flourish in an increasingly competitive market.

Turning now to the Green Paper, I would like to stress that it is a discussion document. Basically it is about structures, about the form of organisation which would provide the most favourable environment for development of the postal and telecommunications services.

It is generally recognised that the structures, the form of organisation, the environment within an enterprise operates, can determine whether it will succeed or fail. The Posts and Telegraphs Review Group considered that the civil service is not a suitable type of organisation for the postal and telecommunications services both of which are large commercial type operations. In coming to this conclusion they did not intend to criticise the Department of Posts and Telegraphs or their staff. Indeed, they specifically said that the shortcomings and inefficiencies that they found were primarily structural and that they found the officials of the Department to be dedicated and able. They recommended that the postal and telecommunications services should be taken out of the civil service and set up [1246] as separate State-sponsored bodies. The Government agreed with this conclusion.

The Green Paper sets out proposals about how this might be done. I have sent a copy together with a personal message to each member of the staff of the Department. The Green Paper is intended to provide a basis for discussion and for consultation with staff unions and associations and other interested bodies.

When this consultative process has been completed, the Government will consider in depth the views and comments received. They will then make the necessary decisions on all relevant issues and publish these in a White Paper. Draft legislation providing for the setting up of the two State-sponsored bodies on the lines indicated in the White Paper will be introduced in the Oireachtas at the same time or as soon as possible afterwards.

I would like to be in a position to give Deputies a forecast of how long the reorganisation is likely to take. Unfortunately, this is not practicable at this stage. All I can say is that it took about three years from the date the decision was made to carry out somewhat similar reorganisations in the USA and Britain. However, in these two cases only one State-sponsored body was being set up; for the postal service in the USA and for both postal and telecommunications in-the case of Britain. I understand that the legislation dealing with the setting up of the British Post Office as an independent corporation took longer in its passage through Parliament than any previous piece of legislation. That is indicative of the task facing us.

I will, of course, welcome the views of Deputies on the Green Paper and the House may be assured that these views will be taken fully into account before the White Paper containing Government decisions has been issued. Meanwhile of course, the responsibility for the day to day affairs of the Department rests with me.

With the growth in the telephone network work will increase in volume for [1247] most grades in the service; technology in telecommunication is developing at an unprecedented rate and unless the structure of the service is flexible enough, it will be difficult to adapt and utilise this new technology; the expectation of the public not alone for a wider range of services but for ready availability and for high quality of service will grow.

To ensure that we are in a position to meet the expectations of the public in this regard I am at present considering possible approaches towards reorganisation of the Department in the interim period. This reorganisation would of course be undertaken in full consultation with the staff associations. I am considering appointing district managers and second line district management to whom certain responsibilities for administration of their respective areas could be devolved.

I am considering the feasibility of appointing district managers, who could have full responsibility for day to day administration within their districts and who could also have responsibility for budgetary matters having regard to the overall budgetary position in the Department. This approach to reorganisation, I would hope, would enable the Department to respond quickly to consumer needs.

I should like to mention, just very briefly, some of the computerisation developments within my own Department. It is expanding its use of computers in areas where this can clearly lead to greater efficiency. Several large blocks of clerical work have been converted to computer processing over the past five years, including: savings bank accounting, national instalment savings, investment and index linked bonds, payroll, telex and telephone accounting and billing work. At the moment computerised systems are being developed for stores accounting and general Post Office accounting work which will be implemented over the next couple of years. A new system of processing operator assisted trunk call tickets by the use of optical character recognition equipment [1248] has been developed and will begin implementation shortly.

A new computer system for handling the maintenance of Telephone Directory information and for providing a much-improved directory inquiries service will be installed in the latter half of this year. Development of a computer system to handle television licence recording is under way at present, and it is hoped to begin implementation of the system on a phased basis during 1981.

A major study of the practicability of developing an integrated telecommunications information system has just been completed, and work has commenced on the development of the first stage of this system.

In 1979 there was an estimated shortfall of about £700,000 in net TV licence fee receipts due to the postal strike. It is hoped to collect the greater part of this sum in 1980 in addition to what would normally be collected, and the provision of £18 million in RTE's ordinary grant for 1980 has been calculated accordingly.

A nationwide campaign to tackle the problem of television licence evasion was conducted recently. The campaign was quite successful. More than 36,000 unlicensed or incorrectly licensed television sets were detected and sales of television licences during the campaign were almost double the normal level. Despite the good results achieved during the campaign I am satisfied that there are still people in possession of unlicensed or incorrectly licensed sets. My Department will continue to do everything in their power to remedy this situation.

Under subhead L.2 provision is being made for a grant-in-aid of £495,000 to RTE equivalent to net receipts from licence fees on cable television systems.

The Broadcasting Authority (Amendment) Act, 1979, which was passed in December 1979, provided for an increase of £10 million to £25 million in repayable advances that the Minister for Finance may make to RTE for capital purposes. The previous limit of £15 million was exhausted earlier in 1979.

[1249] RTE's capital programme for 1980 amounts to £5.667 million, of which £2 million will be financed by Exchequer advances. The 1980 programme provides for expenditure on production facilities for RTE 1 and RTE 2, the improvement of television reception in various parts of the country and other general broadcasting works.

RTE's report and annual accounts for the year ended 30 September 1978 recorded a surplus of some £1.23 million. I am informed that RTE's accounts for the year ended 30 September 1979 will indicate a deficit of about £0.5 million. This is due in part to the fact that (1) because of the low television licence sales during the strike the grant paid to RTE during the first nine months of 1979 was less than normal and (2) additional expense over and above planned expenditure arose from the unanticipated need for extensive radio and television coverage of the Papal visit.

This return to a deficit situation is regrettable. RTE have applied for an increase in licence fees and this is being examined in my Department. This application will require very careful consideration particularly as this year's budget strategy was based primarily on curtailment of growth in public expenditure.

The past 18 months have seen an unprecedented expansion in RTE broadcasting services. RTE 2 television, which was inaugurated in November 1978, is available to approximately 90 per cent of the population. I expect that RTE will be devoting a considerable amount of effort this year and for the next few years to extending coverage to those areas of the country where it is less than satisfactory or not available at all at present.

On the radio side the second national radio service, Radio 2, has been in operation for 12 months. There has also been an extension in the hours of broadcasting of Radio 1 and Radio na Galetachta. Deputies will be well aware that the establishment of the second radio service has given rise to certain problems. Radio broadcasting transmitters operate on frequencies and at [1250] powers agreed internationally. This country has sufficient VHF frequency assignments for two national radio networks. Prior to the advent of Radio 2 the national radio service was broadcast on VHF as well as on medium wave from the high power station at Tullamore and from low power stations in Dublin and Cork. The second VHF network was used by Radio na Gaeltachta. RTE decided to allocate the VHF network formerly allocated to the national radio service to Radio 2 and to provide Radio 1 VHF transmissions on the Radio na Gaeltachta network when Radio na Gaeltachta is not broadcasting.

This decision has drawn much criticism. It has meant that in parts of the country satisfactory reception of Radio 1 is no longer available at certain times of the day because medium wave reception from Tullamore is subject to interference from foreign medium wave stations. It is unlikely that international agreement can be secured for the use of a new set of VHF frequencies for a third national VHF network before 1985. Accordingly, any early solution to this problem will have to be found within the framework of RTE's existing frequency allocations.

I would like briefly to mention future broadcasting developments. In recognition of the demand for independent local community radio the Government decided last year to proceed with the preparation of new legislation to provide for the establishment of an independent local radio Authority. I expect that the necessary legislation will be circulated to Deputies before the end of the current session.

The Broadcasting and Wireless Telegraphy Bill, 1979, the primary purpose of which is to give my Department stronger powers to suppress illegal broadcasting stations, was circulated some time ago. It is not proposed to debate this Bill until after the enactment of the Independent Local Radio Authority Bill.

Finally, I would like to say a few words about citizens band radio. [1251] Deputies will be aware of my statement in the Dáil on 20 March 1980 in which I indicated that I was sympathetic to the idea of citizens band radio provided unacceptable interference is not caused to other users of the radio spectrum. My Department's investigations to date show that one of the main concerns of every country where citizens band radio on 27 MHz has been licensed is the interference problem it creates.

At the recent meeting of the CEPT Radiocommunications Group in Palermo the question of authorising a form of personal radio service in the small part of the 862-960 MHz band was considered. European administrators took the view that the 27 MHz band is unsuitable for a CB Radio Service which is intended for short distance communication only and that as the United States Federal Communications Commission and the Canadian Department of Communications have expressed an interest in the use of CB Radio in the 862-960 MHz band it would be desirable if worldwide agreement could be obtained on a common part of the spectrum and on harmonisation of equipment specifications and licensing conditions. The preliminary views of certain CEPT countries were that combined 27 MHz/900 MHz equipment should be prohibited; 900 MHz equipment should be used for short distance communication only and that 27 MHz equipment should be phased out over a period of not less than ten years from the introduction of 900 MHz CB equipment. My Department are about to carry out extensive tests using various types of equipment so that a recommendation based on practical experience can be made to me on the matter.

European countries are actively pursuing the question of authorising a different slot of the frequency spectrum for this service. I have not taken a final decision on the frequency band to be used here. However, it is obvious that there will be difficulties in arriving at a decision, given the developing European attitude. In the light of the foregoing I [1252] would sound a note of warning. The recent upsurge in advertising for citizens band equipment of a type which is not generally licensed elsewhere in Europe is causing me concern. I can say at this stage that it is most unlikely that much of the equipment being advertised will be licensed here even if it is decided to go for the 27 MHz band. Therefore, I would advise all concerned to be patient. I will be licensing a form of personal radio service but I hope that the service I license will meet the wishes of people genuinely interested in such a service as well as affording protection to other users of the radio frequency spectrum.

Before I conclude my speech there are some points which Opposition Deputies asked me to cover when we were discussing Post Office charges recently.

Deputy Enright wanted information on how the £650 million which is to be spent on the five-year accelerated Telephone Development Programme affects the Department's financial position. The £650 million will be drawn on as required and £100 million is being provided this year. Under the Telephone Capital Acts, the Minister for Finance is authorised to make advances out of the Central Fund for telephone development and to borrow for that purpose. All advances made for telephone development are repaid with interest to the Central Fund by annuities extending over a period of 25 years and provision for these annuities is made under subhead G of my Department's Estimate.

In addition to the ordinary annual Estimates and Appropriation Accounts, which are prepared by all Government Departments and are on a receipts and payments basis, my Department prepare commercial accounts which set out their position as a trading concern. These are used to determine financial policy including the fixing of charges for the various Post Office services. The commercial accounts show expenditure incurred and income due. Part of the expenditure consists of depreciation and interest on capital invested in the services. These provisions naturally go up according as more and more money is invested [1253] under the accelerated Telephone Development Programme and, therefore, they affect the size of the surplus or deficit on the Department's services.

Deputy Deasy said that the increase from £60 to £100 in the connection charge for a telephone would be hard on old age pensioners and asked that it should not apply to them. While I can sympathise with old age pensioners in this matter, any question of subsidising them further would be a matter for the Department of Social Welfare who already pay my Department the appropriate rental in every case where a pensioner benefits under the free telephone rental scheme.

Deputy Deasy maintained that it should be possible to have a new charge for local calls from coinboxes between 5p and 10p sinces there are 1p and 2p slots in coinboxes. I can assure him that it would be very difficult to arrange for a charge between 5p and 10p. In fact, that is the reason why this particular charge was not increased last year when other telephone charges were increased by 20 per cent.

Most coinboxes can take 2p coins and some can take 1p also, but these slots are used only for trunk calls where the operator can check on the coins inserted. The mechanism of the coinboxes would have to be adjusted extensively to accept 1p or 2p coins for a local call dialled automatically. All 30,000 or so coin-boxes would have to be altered. This would be a major and time-consuming task and it is doubtful from tests carried out if the coinbox mechanisms could be adjusted in a way which would discriminate effectively between certain combinations of coins other than 5p coins.

Mr. Deasy: Information on Austin Deasy  Zoom on Austin Deasy  I welcome the opportunity to discuss this Estimate. Before I start my contribution I should like to point out to the Minister that I do not have the last page of his statement which was obviously omitted in error. However, I do not think it has any great significance to the debate.

[1254] I welcome the Estimate itself because I regard it as a step in the right direction and as a further indication by the Minister that he is prepared to implement the many promises he has made since coming to office and also to implement the recommendations of the review body set up to examine the workings of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs.

As the main Opposition Party, we will be extremely vigilant to see that the promises given are fulfilled and that the scale of expenditure envisaged is maintained. Too often in the past politicians have made grandiose promises of what they would do in the future and we always found ourselves eventually with a watered-down edition of the original promises given to this House and to the public. I sincerely hope that does not happen with regard to the postal and, in particular, the telephone services.

I imagine that the public generally are more concerned about the state of the telephone service than about any other section of the Department's operations. I do not wish to understate the importance of the postal system but our greatest problem has been with regard to telephones and that is the area in which I would like to see major developments. Of course there have been major problems in the postal services, particularly since last year's unfortunate strike.

Fianna Fáil have been in office for the past three years and grandiose promises have been given on what would be achieved in the telecommunications sector. We have got a commitment of an expenditure of £650 million which seems an enormous sum. People would expect that to provide the type of service which would bring us up to general European standards. Technical people have told me that money may not be sufficient to meet the proposed target and that a figure of £1,000 million might be a more realistic amount to spend if we are to have the type of services promised by the Minister within the next ten years.

It is unfortunate that we have been incurring hefty losses in recent years in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs in [1255] the operation of the postal and telephone services. The Minister said today that in 1978 those losses amounted to £19.4 million and that in 1979 they had jumped to £29 million. If it were not for the increases announced recently, which we debated on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, the losses for 1980 and 1981 would increase quite considerably. I believe that those services should at least be operating on a break-even basis and quite likely on a profit-making basis. Both of those services have a vast amount of earning potential. The target should be to completely eliminate operating losses and, in fact, to make sufficient profit to offset the capital expenditure to a large degree.

An executive in the telecommunications industry told me recently that if he had a franchise to operate and maintain an international line to the USA he could live in luxury because the profit-making potential is enormous. We should strive to maintain the position where those services are profit-making. The idea of the public sector making money should be promoted and we should not reconcile ourselves to losses in all semi-State and State bodies. Profit can and should be made. That profit should be utilised to subsidise other services which, because of their social nature, are loss-making and are a burden on the Government and the taxpayer.

We should not have any qualms of conscience about doing that but, firstly, the standard of the services provided must be tiptop and in the case of the postal and telecommunications services they must be greatly improved. We have come to a sad state of affairs when morale and general performance have deteriorated. This has been stated by Mr. Fergal Quinn, who was appointed by the Government as chairman of the interim postal board. Staff relations, due to industrial problems, have disimproved. I regret that and I hope things will improve in the coming years.

There was civic spirit among the people working in the postal and telephone [1256] services. I would hate to see that disappear because it made those services operate so efficiently. We were renowned for having the best postal service in the world until quite recently. I would like to see us getting back into that position again. Rural postmen, urban postmen, people working behind the counters in post offices and in sorting offices have given the country outstanding service over the years. They were the salt of the earth and went out in all weathers and worked most unsocial hours at times. The postmen worked a six-day week until quite recently often on foot or with the use of a bicycle working in dreadful weather conditions. We cannot praise too highly the type of service which those people have given.

Many of the people, unfortunately, working in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs are very disillusioned because of the staff relations problems which have arisen in recent years. I would like to see the Minister and his Department making great efforts to bring back a proper spirit among those people because the attitude of mind more than anything else dictates the standard of service. In several sectors of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs the employees feel they are being left behind in successive national understandings and wage agreements in comparison with people who work in similar jobs in other State, semi-State and even private companies. Clerical officers in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs 20 years ago had a salary scale comparable to that of a bank clerk but nowadays their salary scale is way behind that of those people.

Besides that, their conditions of work have not improved but have disimproved and they do not get the perks available to people in the private sector. There is disillusionment due to the deterioration in wages and salaries and in the conditions of employment. The Minister should look at the staff relations problems and the conditions of work and pay in the Department. In relation to State and semi-State bodies I fear that there is a tendency to put the duffers into [1257] the staff relations departments as it is regarded as a backwater and to put the best people in the front line. I would like the Minister to examine this tendency because nowadays industrial relations is of paramount importance. Despite the expenditure of £650 million and the grandiose promises, if staff relations are not improved there will be no improvement in the highly unsatisfactory situation with regard to the telephone and postal services. The Minister should take it upon himself to see that the employees in his Department get a better deal.

I compliment the Minister for the first-rate public relations job he is doing and I hope it brings about the type of improvement I am advocating. I note that the Minister visited most of the telephone exchanges and I hope that it leads to an improvement in staff relations. I also saw that the Minister of State, Deputy Killilea, has visited a number of exchanges, and yesterday in the paper there was a photograph of him embracing a beautiful telephone operator. I do not object if Deputy Killilea mixes pleasure with business if it achieves the purpose I have in mind. Industrial relations has been the main stumbling block in the improved operation of the Department but another matter is also giving rise to concern especially to people who have a good grasp of technology.

It appears that the intake of professional highly qualified people has diminished in recent years. In years gone by one could expect an annual intake of 40 or 50 qualified electrical engineers in the Department but that number has now been reduced to a mere handful. It is not due to a lack of effort by the Department to recruit these people; it is simply because the present salary structures are not sufficiently enticing and because we are in a boom in the electronics sector. No industrial sector has expanded as the electronics sector has in recent years. All credit is due to the IDA for their success in this field. We are deficient in the number of trained personnel in all fields of electronics, electrical engineering and associated activities such as computer studies.

[1258] I have repeatedly asked the Minister for Education and the Minister for Labour to get the second level school syllabus to provide the type of education needed to produce these skilled people. Unfortunately we do not have a recognised syllabus in computer studies or we did not have it until recently, and even now it is only associated with the subject of mathematics. That is not good enough. We must have the skilled personnel and there is only one way to get them. That is by programming for the introduction of a proper syllabus in the secondary school education system. We are not producing enough people at third level whether through the universities or regional colleges to provide the necessary expertise. Dr. Eamonn Lawlor of the Board of Science and Technology stated recently that what we need are centres of expertise. We have not got them. We have a hit and miss situation which is geared to the needs of the 1950s and 1960s, a system which is not even geared to the standards required in the seventies. This deficiency is bound to affect the performance of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. It is bound to affect the promotion of the schemes which the Minister has outlined and it is bound to bring about greater involvement with the private sector than would be wished in such circumstances. The private sector will become involved in the workings of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs to such a degree that private firms will get the gravy. They, and not the Department, will be providing the expertise. I would like the Minister to bear that in mind.

The other night I was accused of not putting forward concrete suggestions but I am endeavouring to do that in a constructive manner. Dr. Lawlor of the National Board of Science and Technology said that the total investment in telecommunications over the next ten years would exceed £1,000 million and that if we do not develop out own telecommunications industry much of this money will go abroad. In his report Dr. Lawlor urges the Government to take advantage of major development in telecommunications and the [1259] related field of micro-electronics and to facilitate the establishment of a home-based industry which would create thousands of new jobs and valuable export earnings. The report notes that computer and communications technologies are converging and that this will produce a whole new range of information, products and services. Dr. Lawlor also says that if Ireland does not participate in a meaningful way in this development she is unlikely to develop to advance European standards and that the Irish scientific and technological infrastructure in this area is very weak at present. That is what I have been endeavouring to outline about the deficiencies in our second level and third level education.

The competition from private industry for the few experts we have results in the Department being highly depleted in that regard. The area is a very weak one at present and it needs to be strengthened. It notes that there is very little inter-action between the Post Office, the manufacturers and the universities, although this would be essential if progress is to be made. It recommends the establishment of a council for telecommunications research to promote effective inter-action between these three interests, the setting up of a telecommunications laboratory in the Post Office and the creation of a chair in telecommunications in one of the universities.

That statement by Dr. Lawlor is highly significant and I pinpoint it all the more because it is not really dealt with in the Minister's statement is. I day, comprehensive as the statement is. I would appreciate if the Minister in his reply would deal with the points raised there at some length.

I am a politician and at times I have to be political. The Minister of State, Deputy Killilea, accused the National Coalition Government of not investing in the telephone service, thereby causing the chaos which exists today. I quoted some figures on Wednesday evening to contradict and show the falsehood in the statements made. In 1975, 1976 and [1260] 1977 the capital investment in the telephone system in this country by the National Coalition Government was £44 million, £46 million and £48 million respectively. Deputy Killilea went to pains to state that during those years all the problems were created. I went back a little bit and pointed out that in 1971-72 the capital expenditure was nearly £11 million, in 1970-71 it was £9 million and in 1969-70 it was £7 million. I have the figures right back to 1960 and, as can be imagined, there is a declining trend to say the least of it, right back to 1960-61 when the capital expenditure was £2 million. I am not here to apologise for what the National Coalition Government did with regard to telephones. They showed the way. The expenditure in 1975-76-77 was the first major breakthrough, the first major recognition that we had a problem of major significance.

That problem has not only remained with us, it has multiplied. I want to recall that the last Government were the first to recognise that unsatisfactory situation and set about doing something to alleviate it. Fair play to the Minister present, he is maintaining that trend. I do not want to think that the announcement of £60 million is something new and fantastic. It is only a natural evolution of what was started in 1974. If you take the amount being spent at the moment in 1974 terms I would say that £34 million in 1974 compares favourably with the £100 million being voted for 1980, so we make no apologies whatsoever in that regard.

I have gone to great lengths in the debates on the Department of Posts and Telegraphs to plead with the Minister to improve the liaison between his Department and the general public. Is it not ironic that the telecommunications portion of that Department has the worst record by far in this country for actually communicating with people? “Telecommunications” is almost a misnomer, a contradiction. I refer to the impersonal manner in which telephone subscribers, telephone customers and telephone users are dealt with. Again I plead with the [1261] Minister to do something about it. You cannot deal with a person's complaint if you do not know that person, if you have never met him and if you deal with him through the written word, that is through postal services, or a telephone line. “Get out on to the main street”, I said to the Minister here some months ago. He re-worded that in a subsequent statement and he said he was going to get out on to the high street. That is a very British expression. We have main streets in Ireland. You have high streets in Britain.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  It is also a Longford expression.

Mr. Killilea: Information on Mark Killilea Jnr.  Zoom on Mark Killilea Jnr.  The farther you go the higher it gets.

Mr. Deasy: Information on Austin Deasy  Zoom on Austin Deasy  Therefore, I am asking the Minister to set up an office for the convenience of the public in each town in this country dealing with matters relating to the telephone service. Listen to their complaints. Explain why a service cannot be provided and when it is hoped to provide it. Deal with their queries regarding the last quarter's accounts which a lot of them feel are three times too high. That type of service is very necessary and the lack of it has been a large part of that reason for the very poor public relations image that the Minister's Department has got. I ask him to get going and meet the people. It was only last month that Minister of State Killilea told us in this House that in one quarter alone recently his Department had 72,000 queries from the public about the telephone service. Virtually all if not all of those queries were dealt with either through the post or by telephone, and that is a colossal figure which justifies the setting up of the type of service I am suggesting.

We welcome the review body's report. We have said that before and I want to say it again. We support the Government in their efforts to set up two semi-State bodies, one, An Bord Telecom, to run the telephone services and the other, An Bord Poist, to run the postal services. We welcome the opportunity to discuss [1262] the Green Paper recently published by the Minister's Department and we presume that we will be doing that as a White Paper in the months ahead. It is a little alarming—not very—but I see a drift in that Green Paper away from the proposals of the review body. Seemingly the mix of private enterprise with the State body is not adhered to in the Green Paper statements as rigidly as in the report itself. I would like the Minister to examine that and maybe in his reply to give me his interpretation of whether my views are correct. It seems to be slipping back into the grasp of the civil servants within the Minister's Department.

The tendency to have the private sector involved is not as strongly urged in the Green Paper as in the review body's report. You have to have that mix if you are to get the operational profit I advocated earlier. There should be an operational profit within these two Departments. I would not say that they have a licence to print money, but they are in a position to make big money. You have to have imagination, you have to have an injection from the private sector—call them whiz kids or whatever—people with a killer instinct who know how to make money and how to provide a service. I strongly support the idea of bringing in the private sector.

I was interested to hear the Minister's remarks regarding citizen band radio. Some months ago I asked the Minister if he was going to license citizen band radio. The Department had sent a strongly-worded letter to the National Council of Citizen Band Radio threatening them with prosecution under the 1926 Wireless Telegraphy Act. I was pleased to learn from the Minister of State that that letter did not really reflect the views of the Minister. I am gratified that the Minister intends to license citizen band radio, and I fully agree that it must be done on a rational basis. One cannot have people using radios which are likely to interfere with voluntary life saving services.

I am aware that some transmitters being used are far too strong and give rise to unwelcome interference. Having said [1263] that, I also think that 99 per cent of people using citizen band radio are highly responsible and are entitled to enjoy a facility which does not harm anybody and gives them great pleasure. When the Minister is replying I should like him to say when he proposes to bring in a licensing system because, if these life saving services are being endangered, it is high time that a licensing system was brought in. From meeting the National Council of the Citizen Band Radio users and various branches of the Citizen Band Association, I know that these people are highly responsible. They are just as anxious as the Minister is to weed out the mavericks. They hold no brief for these people who are giving them a bad name. I should like an early statement from the Minister on his proposals. There may be difficulties regarding wavebands and international agreements, but they are not insurmountable.

The Minister, in the latter part of his statement, deals with Radio Telefís Éireann. We all regret that, as in the Post Office, this body are not making money. While they made a profit in 1978 they made a deficit of £½ million in 1979. I do not regard that deficit as being of enormous or frightening proportions. It would be nice if we could make a profit. It is a difficult service to run. I sympathise with the management in RTE. They had a most frustrating time recently. The performance of the station is not always in their hands. We had that awful industrial action there some weeks ago caused by a small group and which gave rise to bad feelings throughout the country. The management were more incensed than anybody else because the action taken was seemingly unnecessary and did a great deal of damage. That type of action by small groups promotes a call by people in the single channel area for a second television service. We all recognise the rights of trade unions to take industrial action, but we must condemn unofficial action, especially where it causes grave discomfort to large numbers of people.

I live in a single channel area, together with 50 per cent of the population. We [1264] are thoroughly fed up with breakdowns and disputes which leave us without any service, whilst the other 50 per cent can switch over to ITV or BBC. One could say two traditions are building up. We often hear about the two traditions which have been here for the past 400 or 500 years between the North and the South. We have had enough political play on that issue without my referring to it further.

We are building two traditions at the moment—those who can see cross-channel television and those who cannot. It is not a North-South split, it is an East-West split. Unfortunately, I am one of many on the wrong side of the line. There is agitation—and it will continue—for relaying BBC and ITV to the rest of the country. While the RTE situation is so unstable, we have to have a reasonable opportunity of watching television. Television is a high profile facility. You can do without certain things for a few days, but people have got used to watching television. One might not recommend it but people are accustomed to it and resent it greatly when that facility is cut off. I was an opponent of the idea of RTE 2 about five years ago when it was discussed here but RTE 2 has been a reasonable compromise and provides a pretty good service. The public generally are pretty happy with it. I do not hear too many complaints. One hears the unreasonable or frivolous complaint but it has been quite successful. What will be demanded if we have an unreasonable attitude as regards cuts in service is that this alternative be provided.

I should like the Minister of State to make reference to cablevision because under existing law that is the only realistic hope that major population centres on the wrong side of the line can get an alternative television service. We have it in Dublin, in certain towns and cities including Waterford. We almost had it in Dungarvan. It is spreading slowly from the tops of mountains. They want it in Cork, Limerick and Galway. I should like the Minister to make a statement of intent about his proposals in that connection [1265] because if it is not provided in these major centres you will have agitation that the alternative service be provided by microlink or otherwise. The reasonable thing initially would be to allow it to be promoted by cablevision and give licences to people who have applied for them—there are a number in Dungarvan and Clonmel and they will be in Cork city shortly—and meet the position half way. People do not want Utopia, just an opportunity to have a reasonable service.

This brings me to a reference in the Minister's statement to the independent local radio Bill which has been promised for some time past. We welcome the concept of local independent radio, and even of local independent television if it could be provided, or national independent television as long as it did not affect the finances of RTE. I can see that problems would be created but the matter could go to tender and the receipts from a licence could be used to offset the drop in income which would obviously be suffered by RTE in advertising revenue. We look forward to the introduction of that legislation.

I could not let the occasion pass without referring to recent happenings in RTE. It looked like a power struggle. We tried to raise the matter in the House and were told we could not. That is an unsatisfactory situation. We would like to know what has been going on. At one time it seemed to be a clash of personalities. On another occasion it seemed like politics being introduced. The whole thing was quite unsavoury. This type of wrangle should not go on; there should be a more consistent method of appointing people irrespective of their political affiliations. Surely artistic people should be above surveilliance on that level. I think it was a shameful episode and the public were bemused and bewildered by it. If RTE have to reconstruct their staff strata let them do it in a reasoned basis and let us not have this ugly odour of political interference whether it is coming from the RTE Authority—which obviously is appointed on a political basis; we probably [1266] had a finger in the pie in our day; the Government have it now—or from elsewhere. Television and radio should be above political interference of any kind.

I shall look forward to the Minister's comments particularly in regard to the suggestions I have made about improving the postal and telephone services.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  I am only standing in for our spokesman, Deputy Corish, who is attending the transport union conference in Wexford. The Minister has given a fairly factual report of things as he sees them and I have little quarrel with what he said. I am inclined to give him credit for the enthusiasm which he seems to show for his job. In my experience there are different types of Ministers. You have those who go into a Department and feel that it is a cushy job to which they do not need to give much attention, that they can go in and out as they like; if anything goes right they get credit for it while if anything goes wrong they blame the civil servants. That is the oldest game. There is also the Minister who will do his job properly and it is his job to see that things go well. I hope the Minister keeps up his enthusiasm. If he is able to do what he says he set out to do he will certainly get credit from me and my party.

After the last general election I said publicly that, if Fianna Fáil could do what they said they would do in the manifesto, I would be the first to give them credit because I would gain considerably by it. For that reason, for about two years I did normal routine constituency business and did not severely criticise the Government. I gave them an opportunity to prove they could do what they promised. Only when I discovered that they had no intention of trying to do it but had just used this as a gimmick to get into office did I come back to be severely critical of them. But I shall not be severely critical of the present Minister because during the most critical time I remember in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs we had a situation where the then Minister could [1267] not be found. He could not even be seen; he seemed to be out of the way. He certainly made no statement and seemed to be able to hide away when anything came up and was not even to be seen on television. For that reason the Minister at present holding that portfolio seems to be a complete contrast and appears to be trying to do the job for which he was appointed. I hope he keeps it up and does many of the things he says he will do. As in the case of the Government, if he does them I shall be the first to congratulate him. I said the other night that if he succeeded in getting in the 60,000 phones which he said he would get in this year I would compliment him on it at the end of the year. Le cúnamh Dé we will both be here at the time.

Mr. Killilea: Information on Mark Killilea Jnr.  Zoom on Mark Killilea Jnr.  No danger in the world.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  I have heard those statements made before and there is always the possibility that those who change once might change again. If they do that with the assistance of those who did not get anything, one would not know what might happen along with those who were kicked out. For that reason, we, like the boy scouts, will be prepared.

Since the Minister of State, Deputy Killilea, is here I should like to comment on one or two matters—and this is not carping criticism. I believe a politician will be judged on how he does things—he is either straight or he is not. Personally, I do not go behind anybody's back. If I have something to say, it is said. If I have to write to a Department I prefer to write to an official rather than to the Minister because if the Minister is doing his job he has more than enough to do without my bothering him. I have written to the Department of Posts and Telegraphs on a number of occasions mainly about telephones. In the normal way I get an acknowledgement immediately and after some time a reply but there is one issue on which I have been writing to them fairly often. It is one to which the Minister referred here the other night, [1268] the question of telephones for an industrial estate in Ashbourne, County Meath. Here a promise was made nearly 12 months ago that 100 phones would be made available for that estate. The person who, with the aid of the IDA, is attempting to get industrialists to go there has complained to me that a number of people who had come to look at the place had indicated that it would be ideal, being close to Dublin and so on, but there were no phones.

For that reason I have again and again, the last time about three weeks ago, written to the Department asking when they propose to put in the telephones and again I get the acknowledgment. What I dislike is that, according to the Minister of State, he told a Fianna Fáil TD and me three weeks ago that 32 telephones were going to be installed. Since he made no announcement about it, he went down to Ashbourne and announced it himself. That makes very little of the officials in the Department who at the same time were writing to me that they did not know. That is the wrong way to do things. I would ask that this be discontinued. When I was a Minister I found on going to my Department that a system had grown up whereby the Minister's own side of the House got replies quicker than the Opposition and I stopped that, and while I was in the Custom House everybody who made an inquiry got replies at the same time whether he was on my side or in Opposition. That is the way public life should be run. I suggest to the Minister, who is new as a Minister, that he should not build up a reputation for being a fellow who will try to help his own boys irrespective of whether or not they are entitled to it.

Mr. Killilea: Information on Mark Killilea Jnr.  Zoom on Mark Killilea Jnr.  That cannot be said about me.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  The Minister of State said it himself the other evening and that is why I mention it. The Deputy he gave information to, Deputy Fitzsimons, is a personal friend of mine, a very decent man and I am not objecting——

[1269]Mr. Killilea: Information on Mark Killilea Jnr.  Zoom on Mark Killilea Jnr.  The Deputy should have his arguments at home.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  I am having the argument with the Minister of State because he is the person who said here in this House when I said that I was not au fait with what was happening that he had announced it three weeks ago to Deputy Fitzsimons and had announced it in Ashbourne. I do not propose to labour the point now but I do not think that is the way to treat a Member of this House or the staff of the Department who, as a result, wrote out something which was incorrect.

We have here a report, which the Minister put across very well, on the pay and conditions of Post Office employees and, indeed, a reference to the strike which occurred last year. I would imagine that if the Minister who is at present the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs had been in office then the strike which took place and which caused chaos here would never have taken place. It was outrageous—and there is no other word for it—to allow the postal service to be on strike for 19 weeks when the offer which was finally made was about four times as much as what was offered in the first place. I was a trade union official for 30 years and I know that if one goes to an employer and the employer offers buttons he is looking for trouble and if he makes a fair offer there is a fair chance of it being accepted. If he offers a very small amount and subsequently, after a dispute, comes along with an amount which can be accepted which is very much in excess of the amount he offered originally he is building up for himself a situation where the next time there is a dispute the employees will refer back to what happened the last time and come to the conclusion that it is likely to happen again. That was the biggest danger in allowing this dispute to drag on for as long as it did. Eventually it was partly settled and there are still arguments going on as to whether the conditions under which it was settled have in fact been carried out and we have a blow up here and blow up there. That is the wrong way to have [1270] public relations. The Minister might very well have a look at the public relations sector in his Department, the people who deal with labour relations, to see if there is somebody there who is trying to be tough at the expense of the public. The fellow who causes the dispute by refusing to consider something which is reasonable does not lose anything.

No worker wants to go on strike. If a worker has any sense—and most of them have a lot of sense—he will not go out on the street just to prove he has a point. He will if he is pushed and these people were pushed very hard. Nobody knows that as well as I do, because I represented post office workers here in this House for many years and I know how anxious the people employed there were not to have a dispute in their job. I know many of them were hungry as a result of the actions of people who were not hungry, who still had their jobs and their pay. At the finish of it there was a nett loss of £4 million to this country, to the taxpayers who actually had to pay for it. It makes the matter look a lot worse.

I appeal to the Minister to ensure that it does not happen again. Every effort should be made to straighten these things out because, while it might cost a little bit here and there, eventually if we can get back on an even keel the employees certainly will not cause further trouble. I appeal to the Minister to do something about it. I know that before the strike was finished a lot of things which could not be conceded over many years, even during the period when we were in office, were conceded to the people concerned, and if they could have been conceded then they could have been conceded much earlier, even before the strike started. Some of these people still work in very bad conditions and something should be done to alleviate those conditions when further discussions are taking place.

The number of items that have to be dealt with by this Department is very great. I would not agree at all with Deputy Deasy that the duffers found their way in. In every section of the [1271] Department of Posts and Telegraphs they have the finest people.

Mr. Deasy: Information on Austin Deasy  Zoom on Austin Deasy  I was making a general point. Sometimes the poorest people are placed in personnel.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  In every section in the Department we have the finest people, as in most of the civil service. Lest there be any misunderstanding, I am glad Deputy Deasy changed that. With regard to the people who are employed in the postal service, we have groups of people, mostly men. I can speak with a certain amount of experience here as an ex-employee of the Post Office, albeit a holiday employee only. So I know what it is to have to go out and push letters through the door or look for the person who is contrary and who insists on having letters handed into his hand, and to have to put letters through the type of letter box that we heard about some years ago mostly in the new estates where the unfortunate postman was likely to leave portion of one of his fingers inside on the sharp corners when pushing letters in. There is also the problem of people naming estates, for some peculiar reason, with similar names, with very little variation, so that somebody addressing a letter may address it to the wrong estate and cause all sorts of trouble. The postmen are the public image, the public front, of the Post Office and as such they are entitled to much better treatment than they have been getting down through the years.

In relation to the telephonists, I hope the Minister succeeds in his ambition to have a lot of new telephones. It is quite true—and I am glad that Deputy Deasy has made the point—that the trouble in the existing telephone service did not occur over the last few years. It had been building up because for 16 years Fianna Fáil Governments had been giving nothing to the Post Office for new equipment except for telephones; they added on telephone after telephone with no equipment to service them. The result is that when we took over we found a miserable £9 million being given. I agree [1272] that when we went out it was still only £48 million, not nearly enough. But in the middle of a world recession it was a great effort to try to do something about it, to try to have order. What annoyed me at that time was that no effort was made to try to find out where the equipment could be found. There was not a thought of manufacturing it here. There was no effort to find out where the equipment could be found, where orders could be laid, because they had no money to order it. When the money was produced a start was made. A couple of weeks ago an effort was made here to try to prove that Deputy Connolly, Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, who is a very decent man trying to do his best, had in fact succeeded in putting into operation group water schemes and sewerage schemes which had just been finished. Moses was only trotting after him. The same type of effort is being made here today but we know from our experience that about three to four years elapses between the planning stage and the completion of such schemes. The programmes appear very good but most of the schemes that have been completed between the takeover from us and now were schemes that were planned and partially financed before ever Fianna Fáil even thought of their manifesto.

Mr. Killilea: Information on Mark Killilea Jnr.  Zoom on Mark Killilea Jnr.  Would the Deputy name the schemes?

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  All the Minister has to do is to ask the excellent officials in his Department to give him details of these schemes I am talking of. There is no question of either the Minister or his Minister of State, since their appointment a few months ago, having succeeded in that time in planning, financing and completing the schemes for which they are claiming credit nor was the work concerned planned by their predecessor, much as he would have liked to have done so, because the planning was carried out a long time ago. Within a couple of years the Minister of State will find that those schemes which can be mentioned so easily by him now [1273] may not be so easily mentioned then. However, I expect that the Minister will have left the Ministry long before the schemes have been completed.

Mr. Killilea: Information on Mark Killilea Jnr.  Zoom on Mark Killilea Jnr.  The Deputy will be disappointed again.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  I have been here long enough to be able to judge when things are happening.

Mr. Killilea: Information on Mark Killilea Jnr.  Zoom on Mark Killilea Jnr.  There will not be any shave-the-cat effort by me. I will be here.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  I did my best for the Deputy when I was re-drawing the constituencies.

Mr. Killilea: Information on Mark Killilea Jnr.  Zoom on Mark Killilea Jnr.  The Deputy did not mean to do that.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  I hope the Minister comes down on the right side anyway. The situation regarding existing phones is appalling. We cannot blame the Minister or the people who are attempting to put the phones into operation for this situation but something must be done about it. Any Deputy who tries to make a phone call from this House, particularly a trunk call, finds that he must dial at least eight times out of ten before getting the number he requires because of being linked to a wrong number, because of telephones being out of order or whatever.

Mr. Killilea: Information on Mark Killilea Jnr.  Zoom on Mark Killilea Jnr.  That is nonsense.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  That is the position during office hours.

Mr. Killilea: Information on Mark Killilea Jnr.  Zoom on Mark Killilea Jnr.  I deny that.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  The Minister may deny it but I am telling the truth. The situation must be quite intolerable for people involved in industry. If it is so bad in the city, what must it be down the country? Some months ago I raised the matter of an area in which seven lines had been made available but only three of which worked. The local people got together for the purpose of deciding what action [1274] they might take. A Fianna Fáil councillor who was present suggested that a deputation be sent to the Minister but I said that the best way of getting action is by way of parliamentary question. I tabled a relevant question and within a week the problem was resolved.

Another situation that is very wrong is that even in this House one can pick up a phone and find in about three cases out of ten that there is somebody else on the line or that somebody may cut in on the line while one is speaking. It happened recently that after I had been talking with someone by telephone here for almost ten minutes, another person cut in to tell me that he was very interested in my conversation. There is no reason for this sort of thing happening at this point in time.

Therefore, apart from the new telephones that are needed, an effort must be made to put in order the system we have. I am aware that during the very bad weather damage was done to many lines but this should not have happened because these lines are not supposed to be affected by dampness. During that time my telephone was out of order first for a fortnight. Then it was operational again for a short while before going out of order again. One evening somebody from Posts and Telegraphs phoned me and asked if my phone was working to which I replied that it must be working when he was able to get through to me. Following that call the phone did not work again for about five days.

Mr. Briscoe: Information on Ben Briscoe  Zoom on Ben Briscoe  Perhaps the Deputy should have been nicer to the caller.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  When I complained again that I was not able to make trunk calls from my own phone I was told that the line between me and the office was out of order although the Posts and Telegraphs man was talking to me from the office. The point I am making is that the existing system must be put in order.

As I mentioned the other evening, we are talking about £650 million being made available in the next few years. I understand that the Post Office [1275] Engineering Union, whose members are the people who do most of the work in regard to the installation of telephones, made a submission to the Minister to the effect that for the coming year the amounts required, if the necessary work were to be done properly, would be £100 million for capital equipment, £70 million for building, £40 million for staff and £40 million for technology, making a total of £250 million. I am not suggesting that private enterprise should be brought in to do the work because if that were to happen the people who have been doing the work for a long time would be pushed aside, but a sum of £250 million out of a total of £650 million is very big before any work is done. There appears to be no provision made for the increases in wages which must come about this year. I wonder if any effort will be made to stall again in this regard, thereby causing another dispute which will put us back where we started.

I am very pleased regarding the new stamps because I am very keen on the idea of new designs. Some of those new designs show a good deal of imagination while some of them could show a lot more imagination but the system is one that could make a lot of money for the Post Office. The Minister referred to the amount of money that will be taken in in this way but this figure would not bear any relevance to the actual profit. Therefore, perhaps he will tell us what the profit margin is likely to be in this regard.

Something that amuses me is that, while the Minister talks about handing over operations to supermen who will make the Post Office pay, it is rather a pity, now that we have a Minister who seems interested in doing the right thing, that he will, in fact, lose a lot of the authority to do what he would like to see done in two, three or four years' time. It appears from the Minister's brief that he is looking that far ahead. It would be ridiculous to suggest that the people concerned are going to work miracles. That just does not happen. If they adopt a [1276] system which operates in the world outside, they may, in fact, do completely the reverse of what they propose to do.

Would the Minister give us a guarantee that there is no danger that the postal system as such will be dismantled by allowing private enterprise to take over a slice of it? I thought, from some of the earlier statements, that this was at the back of somebody's mind. This would be a pity because we have a postal service run by the State and if that monopoly is broken it would eventually have the effect of doing more harm than good and might cost the State a lot of extra money.

I am glad that CB Radio has been mentioned here, and that the Minister has taken the attitude he has towards it. Of the people who run CB Radio in this country—and there are many—most are responsible people, anxious to keep well within the law if they knew what the law was. Unfortunately, at present there is a considerable grey area. People are afraid that they may wake up suddenly one morning and find a guard, accompanied by a Post Office official, knocking on their door wanting to confiscate their radio, on the grounds that it is breaking some existing rule which they have never heard of. The Minister must, as a matter of urgency, look into this matter. The boys and girls who are running these CB radios are spending money in a much better way than if they spent it in lounge bars.

Mr. McMahon: Information on Lawrence McMahon  Zoom on Lawrence McMahon  Hear, hear.

Mr. Killilea: Information on Mark Killilea Jnr.  Zoom on Mark Killilea Jnr.  I agree.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  People are spending their money on this, amusing and educating themselves. It is an excellent idea which should not be interfered with too much.

There is the question of interference with local television reception. This is because some people who do not take advice instal CB radio without knowing what they are doing. Cheap equipment is one of the chief causes of interference. However, if someone has a TV set in one corner of the room and a CB radio in the [1277] other, both running together without interfering with each other, it is fairly evident that they are not interfering with the neighbours' equipment. I know of neighbours of these people who, in the pub, have complained that the CB radio of their neighbour is interfering with their television reception. This is in many cases in the old Irish tradition of begrudging the neighbour because he has something that they have not got. Usually the reason for the interference is that their own aerial is not properly aligned, or something like that. However, interference does happen when the equipment is not properly installed.

There is an association, as the Minister well knows, who make every effort to ensure that there will be no interference. They test, with their meters, equipment installed to ensure it will not cause interference. They do not want people to instal CB radios which interfere with the television reception of the general public. Co-operation at this level is very much needed. Indeed, on this question of complaints about interference, I have recently discovered that two well-known firms manufacturing television sets in this country are alleged to be omitting two small components, suppressors, which perhaps some years ago were not heard of but which for quite some time now have been commonly used by other makers of television sets. These firms manufacture and sell sets which can be affected even by a car outside on the road with faulty plugs. The cost of the necessary equipment to remedy this is about 30p but the firms do not include this. Something should be done to ensure that these components are included.

That brings me to the question of television and radio reception. I listen to the radio a lot in the car. Most old people listen to the radio because they have no television sets, but I think people in cars do listen to the radio as they travel along. The radio programmes of Radio Éireann are excellent. I have absolutely no complaint on that score. They do an excellent job and I hope they will continue to do so. I have mixed feelings about television. I am in an area where it [1278] is possible to get four or five channels and for that reason, as Deputy Deasy mentioned, disputes in Telefís Éireann do not annoy me as much as they would someone without this choice. I want to correct Deputy Deasy on one thing. I am all with him as far as unofficial strikes are concerned. As a trade union official I was always opposed to unofficial disputes. It is ridiculous that people who have someone negotiating for them, at the same time want to do their own negotiating. That is out and as soon as the trade union movement and the workers of this country realise it, the better. However, as far as official disputes are concerned, I take a different line from that of Deputy Deasy and put the blame in every case on employers who after several weeks or days can concede what is the original cause of the trouble, not on the workers who have taken action.

Mr. Deasy: Information on Austin Deasy  Zoom on Austin Deasy  I only referred to unofficial strikes.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  The Deputy referred to one which happened recently where, like the rest of us, it was a football match that the Deputy was worried about.

Mr. Briscoe: Information on Ben Briscoe  Zoom on Ben Briscoe  I have to support Deputy Deasy on that.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  Good for you. I would not expect anything else.

An official dispute may be caused by something which subsequently is conceded is no trouble to anybody. The people causing the trouble are those who refuse to concede what is asked and not the people who are in dispute.

The Irish television service is quite good. I do not, however, agree with everything on television. If I can afford the time to look at Ulster Television, particularly BBC 1 or 2, I find that they have far better Irish music and dancing programmes than RTE, who seem to be moving away from this type of entertainment. This is a terrible mistake. I also cannot understand why RTE 2 who apparently have bought in a [1279] number—some of them rather good—of British and American tapes of shows, ignore perfectly good live shows in this country. One exception is Tops of the Town, which I suggested some years ago and which I am glad is now televised because it is good. There are a number of other excellent shows which have been ignored by Telefís Éireann, which is a mystery to me. They buy up fifth-rate British and American shows when they could get a good Irish show to put on. Perhaps the cost is more than they could bear.

Someone said to me recently, perhaps not entirely truthfully, that if a white bird was shot in South Africa, we would send a camera team along to find out what was wrong. If it was a black bird, of course, nobody would bother. This seems to be so. There will be pictures and voices from all corners of the globe reporting very minor things. There is no point in saying that we must put up the television licence fee because we have not got enough money if, in fact, the money is being spent like that. If we can get coverage from other stations—if RTE can get shows from the British stations they could also get the news items, as sometimes they do—this would be a great saving.

I was appalled at the recent dispute in RTE. I do not know what caused it. I admit I am biased, but it appeared there was a political power struggle taking place because somebody was doing a job the Government did not like and he was being kicked upstairs. I dislike the attitude of some television and press reporters who seem to be prepared to publicise one side of a story only. A particular instance occurred here during the debate on the Estimate for the Department of the Environment. The Minister handed around his brief. The Fine Gael and Labour speakers took part for over an hour. Then there was a minor dispute across the floor of the House as to who should follow. That matter was ably dealt with by the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and nobody was a worse friend [1280] when it was over. What appeared in the papers and on radio next day? Part of the Minister's speech and the row. Nothing else was of importance. In my view the media should report what is important for the country rather than a squabble on the floor of Leinster House over precedence to speak. That is entirely wrong, but I know there are people who disagree with me on this.

When the National Prices Commission issue a report, which is sent to the newspapers and RTE, there may be 40 increases approved but they will only mention two. I remember on one occasion some fairly savage price increases were mentioned on the 7.30 news but they were not mentioned on the 8 o'clock news. There must be some reason for that. When the Coalition were in office everything against the Government was publicised at length. At that time we had a Minister for Post and Telegraphs whom many people did not like. In my opinion he was a very honest man and his attitude was that we could not interfere in any way with the media. I wonder has somebody taken the line that they should not let anything which would embarrass the Government be publicised because it might be noted?

RTE show some great programmes. Amuigh Faoin Spéir is excellent. The only programme that comes near it is shown on BBC and called The World About Us. Some RTE programmes do not do them any credit. I am not talking about the programmes as such but the injection into a programme of very distasteful matters. I am no prude but some of the programmes we produced have, in the middle and without any prior warning, produced material which 90 per cent of the people would rather not see. That is a mistake. I am not suggesting that everything should be tightened up, but it must be remembered that we are inviting them into our sittingrooms. The wise guy will say that we should turn off our sets. Of course we can turn them off, but if we are looking at a programme which we enjoy and have been watching for many years and if there is a distasteful item in it, we do not turn the set off. We [1281] tend to sit through it. I may not be saying what everyone will agree with, but that is my opinion.

The Minister has to come to terms with piped television. There is a great demand for it. There are areas where people are paying licence fees for very little because they do not even get good RTE 1 or RTE 2 reception. It is ridiculous that they should be told they cannot have piped television which would give them four or five stations at very little extra cost. The Minister should not rush to increase the cost of television licence fees every time somebody wants more money. This is very wrong.

We have a report of people caught without a licence or the right kind of licence, but I wonder how many of them would have had a licence if it had been for an amount they could afford? The cost of the licence fee is fairly hefty. I am not sure if there is an arrangement for them to pay by instalments but, if there is not, there should be. This might do away with the idea that licences are not necessary. There are people who never had a TV licence. A few years ago a man bragged that he had a television for many years but never bought a licence. I could not say “Good luck” because I told him I was paying part of his licence fee.

Has the Minister looked seriously at the operation of a Post Office giro? There must be some way this could be operated. Because of the flexible hours worked by the Post Office staff there must be some way the people could be encouraged to use such a system. Small savers would be more anxious to use a Post Office giro because there is a post office in almost every town and village. The Post Office giro system should be encouraged.

The interest paid by the Post Office Savings Bank is not sufficient. These savers have never been treated fairly and an effort should be made to redress the situation. They were increased recently but they do not compensate for what happened over the years. I ask the Minister to make an effort to get the [1282] Post Office interest rate above the building society rate. Small savers invest their money in the building societies.

I consider the Minister's speech was reasonable and I compliment him on his efforts to make the Department of Posts and Telegraphs a live organisation. That organisation needed somebody who was interested in seeing how things should be done and who was operating the service. We often forget that somebody must operate these services, but I warn him to watch what happens when he hands over to the new body. I do not wish the Minister any ill luck, but when he is making arrangements I would ask him to remember that if he has the enthusiasm now to try to get things done properly it is not the right time to hand over to people who may have an entirely different idea.

Mr. Briscoe: Information on Ben Briscoe  Zoom on Ben Briscoe  I wish to compliment the Minister on his excellent speech and to praise him and his Minister of State for the thorough job they have been doing since taking up office. Everyone is very impressed by the determination and grit they have shown in tackling many serious problems in the Post Office. I wish them continued success in their task and I am satisfied that we will see the fruits of their efforts in coming months. I do not wish in any way to take credit from the former Minister, Deputy Faulkner, who had a very tough job indeed.

I have waited a long time for this debate and this is the first opportunity we have had for several years to debate the Estimate for this Department. I feel like the wanderer in the desert who finally comes to an oasis.

I am surprised that Members of the Opposition did not focus more attention on the problems of people who have piped television. There is a great deal of dissatisfaction at present because the service may be cut off from many homes simply because one neighbour has failed to pay his bill. Although I am not a legal man, I believe this practice is illegal and it is certainly immoral. Perhaps the Minister would look into [1283] this problem. I can give the names and addresses of people who have suffered as a result of their service being cut off in this way.

The behaviour of the RTE Authority has made it imperative that a commercial television station be set up so that we can get away from the awful RTE monopoly over broadcasting. They have abused this power and think they are God's gift to the country. The arrogance of those people leaves a lot to be desired. In their recent squabble they did not give a tuppeny damn about people living in the single-channel area. Thank God I have the old fashioned aerial and can receive all stations. When one of these squabbles is taking place one of their spokesmen may suggest that an increased television licence fee would be the answer to these problems. In fact, I feel people are getting very poor value. RTE spend much money on trips abroad; let them spend a few pounds on a survey to find out what the man in the street thinks of them and they will be told quickly enough that people are very dissatisfied with their conduct. It is about time they cottoned on to themselves.

RTE 2 was a mistake because of the abuses to which people have been subjected due to certain industrial disputes. This is very wrong. I suggest that consultants should be asked to examine the workings of RTE because I am not at all satisfied that people are getting good value. I understand there are about 73 producers in RTE. How many hours of home-produced programmes are being provided by them? What is the payroll for these 73 people? What are they doing? The Minister should get some answers to a few quiet questions as to how many hours these people are putting in because we do not get very many hours of home-produced programmes.

I feel I am entitled to be very hard-hitting. They have the freedom of the wavelengths to hammer me and they have not missed their opportunities in the past. How many complaints have been received since the complaints [1284] tribunal was set up? I would ask the Minister to inquire as to the number of complaints received, the dates on which they were received and the date on which action was taken. I know that when Judge Kingsmill-Moore died he was not replaced for some time and, in fact, I am not sure whether he has yet been replaced.

I made a complaint two years ago which I have not formally withdrawn, although my attitude is not to pursue it in any way. I have not tried to find out why it has not been dealt with. The complaint concerned a programme called “Printout” broadcast about two years ago which was supposed to deal with the treatment by the news media of certain stories. At that time they were dealing with the story of my visit to the opening of Loughan House and the only paper with which they seemed to be concerned was that awful rag Hibernia. On the programme they had the editor of that newspaper, together with a member of my own party from the Seanad, Senator Noel Mulcahy, who had been asked to take part in the recording of the programme on a Thursday for broadcasting on the following Sunday. No approach had been made to me. In the course of the programme an attack was made on me to which Senator Mulcahy could not offer an answer because he had not discussed the matter with me or told me he had been invited to appear. They showed a photograph of me outside Loughan House which Hibernia had used when they called me “Commandant Ben” grinning like a commandant outside a concentration camp. This was a matter about which I felt deeply hurt. I know a politician must have a thick skin but I felt very strongly when I saw this being used on our national broadcasting station, aiding and abetting this fellow in his character assassination of me.

This picture was taken from a photograph published in The Irish Press of myself and the director and assistant director of Loughan House but they were edited out of the picture which was published. The published picture was of [1285] myself grinning. I considered that a dishonest use by Hibernia of a photograph. The producers of that RTE programme permitted themselves to be used as willing pawns because of certain attitudes held by some of the people on that programme about Loughan House. That was wrong and there should be stricter control over such matters. I registered a complaint with the complaints tribunal, through my solicitor, but I did not receive any communication. We decided not to pursue the matter and it will be interesting to see how long it will take for a reply to be sent to me.

That is an example of a blatant bias against a person whose views they did not agree with. I do not think I am the only victim of that type of behaviour. I have also an objection to the manner adopted by some of the RTE interviewers. Some of them are good but others are extremely arrogant and do not seem to realise that to be a good interviewer they should not be more important than the least important person being interviewed. Some RTE interviewers adopt an inquisitorial manner. They should try to remember that they are meant to be objective. I have listened to many interviews of Deputy Garret FitzGerald by the people I am referring to. Many of them, I presume, are his friends because he seems to get an easy time.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  It may be that he is more available.

Mr. Briscoe: Information on Ben Briscoe  Zoom on Ben Briscoe  That may be so but those interviewers when they face Members from this side of the House approach the matter in a different way. It is not a question of seeking information but a cross-examination. Our Members are well able to defend themselves, and the public, who have a good sense of judgment, recognise the difference. Some of these interviewers may be appalled at what I am saying. They are very sensitive to criticism but in their view politicians are not supposed to be sensitive to criticism. The public redress the balance, fortunately, because otherwise Fianna Fáil would not have been returned to office [1286] so many times. The public realise that a certain few in RTE do not like Fianna Fáil and do not expect members of that party to be treated fairly.

RTE when televising the US Open concluded the live broadcast before the end of the match. Fortunately, being in a multi-channel area, I was able to switch to ITV to watch the conclusion of that tournament. RTE should have continued to show that tournament. I would not be surprised if those responsible for the transmission of it watched the conclusion in the studio. That is another example of the type of contempt some of the people in RTE have for the public.

This morning I received a post card from a constituent pointing out that RTE devoted only 15 minutes to religious programmes during the week. That constituent felt that as RTE was the most popular station for the young people it should be possible to devote one hour to good progressive religious music on RTE 2 on Sundays. That is not unreasonable. We are all aware of the great religious music that exists and of the very fine singers such as Mahalia Jackson. RTE should examine that request because I am sure the view of my constituent is shared by many people.

I am not happy about the Dublin section of the new telephone directory. I do not know whether it was published under the Minister's direction but it appears that the print is smaller than in the 1979 directory. It will be very difficult for many people to read the numbers. I have a magnifying glass beside my directory because of the difficulty I have in reading the numbers. We should not have to do that. Will the Minister consider having a separate directory for Dublin city and another one for Dublin county? The existing directory is too big. I accept that this would be awkward because one would find it difficult to know whether a person lived in the city or county.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  If it was divided into constituencies it would be better.

[1287]Mr. Briscoe: Information on Ben Briscoe  Zoom on Ben Briscoe  That would be helpful but I would have thought the Deputy had done that himself.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  I did but the telephone numbers keep changing. It makes computerisation very difficult.

Mr. Briscoe: Information on Ben Briscoe  Zoom on Ben Briscoe  Those of us who have visited the United States are aware of how helpful the telephone operators are there. When one returns thanks to an operator one is greeted with the reply: “You are welcome”. When the new board is set up an effort should be made to improve the working conditions of the operators so that they can sound happier on the telephone. I would like to see a return to the system whereby operators, if they failed to get a number for a subscriber, would ring that subscriber back when the number was free. I agree with what Deputy Deasy said about the impersonal manner of many of the operators. There is a real coldness about some of them. Occasionally when one cannot get through to a number and resorts to seeking assistance from the operators one is asked if an effort was made to contact the supervisor. It is often the case that the number of the supervisor is engaged. There is a great need to make the job of telephone operator a lot more fun than it is. Some time ago I wrote to the Minister for the Environment about an unhelpful telephone operator in his Department and I was informed that the operators were supplied by the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. Such operators should be under the control of the Departments concerned so that the Minister responsible can make himself aware of the way telephone callers are dealt with.

I am not happy with the speed at which telegrams are delivered. I know from experience that when I ring up to send a telegram it will be the next day before it is delivered. Has the Minister any plans to speed up this service? Anyone sending them would be wise to do so a day in advance. I sent a telegram on Friday and was told it would not be delivered until the Monday.

[1288] I congratulate RTE on the magnificent manner in which they televised the Papal visit. Everyone recognises that it was one of the finest pieces of television work we have ever seen and was as good as any anywhere in the world. We excelled ourselves. Has the Minister any information on how successful we were in selling the film to other stations throughout the world and what the proceeds were? What have the sale of records by RTE been?

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  About £80,000, donated to charity.

Mr. Reynolds: Information on Albert Reynolds  Zoom on Albert Reynolds  Is that a record?

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  I think so.

Mr. Briscoe: Information on Ben Briscoe  Zoom on Ben Briscoe  Wonderful. They also made cassettes and I would be interested to hear what sales abroad were as well as here. I congratulate all those concerned with this aspect.

I too add my voice to those who are sympathetic to citizen band radio. I agree that as long as it does not interfere with ambulances, fire brigades or essential services it is fine. They are doing good work in their own way. The Minister may have seen a report in a newspaper recently concerning a constitutent of mine on a kidney machine. Because of the inability of the Department to provide a telephone kiosk in Rutland Grove, this person had to be facilitated by people using CB radio. Would the Minister have another look at Rutland Grove? I have recently written another letter to him and made many representations about the telephone kiosk. The people are about half a mile away from one. There are 118 houses there.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  The Ben Briscoe hour.

Mr. Briscoe: Information on Ben Briscoe  Zoom on Ben Briscoe  We are here to represent our constituents.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  I am admiring the way the Deputy is doing so.

[1289]Mr. Briscoe: Information on Ben Briscoe  Zoom on Ben Briscoe  Thank you. The Minister in his speech referred to the method by which they will be allocating telephone kiosks. He said they would take account of social and demographic factors such as the number of houses in an area. In the Rutland Grove area there are 118 houses and there is need for a vandal-proof telephone kiosk. It would be a good place to try out a new vandal-proof machine.

I received a letter from the Minister recently referring to the refund of licence to a person who was sent into hospital and who would not be coming out. He mentioned that when legislation was coming up again this might be examined with a view to allowing a refund of licence under certain conditions. We are very anxious to see that everyone pays their licence but we should also have a situation where a person can legitimately get a refund of rental for that.

I hope we will see an end to the difficulties the Minister is faced with in industrial disputes which are still bubbling below the surface in certain parts of the Post Office. We have provided enormous amounts of money for the improvement of our telephone service and it is necessary that this be done as quickly as possible. I was glad to hear of the progress about which the Minister was able to tell us. I wish the chairmen of An Bord Poist and An Bord Telecom respectively every success in the manner in which they carry out their functions. I am glad that An Bord Telecom has been able to select as chief executive a former managing director of IBM. This is a man who obviously has the qualifications necessary for the job.

There is general recognition, both inside the House—as shown by the speeches of Members of the Opposition—and outside that the Minister and Minister of State are working hard and making a good impact. Reference was made to the visits to exchanges and other places by the Minister endeavouring to meet the staff and personalise a Department which, to a large extent because of its size, has become very impersonal. That is a worthwhile investment [1290] in good personnel relations. The personnel and welfare sections of the Department should be well staffed with adequate men and women to see to the needs of the employees. If people have good working conditions and good welfare plans, one will get a return by way of better productivity and people will have pride in their place of work. This is something the Minister will see the benefit of in the future. I hope the disputes bubbling below the surface will be settled. The Minister and the Minister of State have the goodwill and wishes of every Member. We saw the enormous damage done last year by the postal strike. We do not want a recurrence of that and neither do most of the people who were on strike.

Mr. McMahon: Information on Lawrence McMahon  Zoom on Lawrence McMahon  This is the first opportunity I have had to publicly congratulate the Minister and Minister of State on their appointments. I take this opportunity of wishing them both well in their Department. I hold out as much expectation of satisfactory results as do other speakers. However, it is worth remembering that no matter who occupies the post of Minister for Posts and Telegraphs the results of his efforts rarely manifest themselves within his term of office. I suppose that is truer today than at any time in the past.

This Department has been neglected to such an extent over the years that only a massive financial injection will bring it back to its feet. Some figures were thrown across the House, not so much today as earlier in the week. Expenditure in this Department over the years warrants some reflection. Here I do not wish to be political because this is an area affecting industry, commerce and the general life of the country. Irrespective of what party was in power or what Minister held this office I would hope they would be as anxious as anybody else to improve the services. I think this boils down to whoever is strongest around the Cabinet table. I think the present holder of the office will hold his own at the Cabinet table. I hope he will succeed in keeping money flowing into the Department because, if he does not, we [1291] will be in for many years of the same kinds of speeches in this House and the same types of complaints all of us hear continually from our constituents.

I have said I do not wish to be political but it is worth nothing that in the year 1960 expenditure in this Department amounted to £2,164,000. Looking at the figures here this morning I find that in 1968 the corresponding figure was just over £5,500,000, an increase of almost 150 per cent. It is my conviction that it was during these years that great damage was done in the Department because it was a time when communications were becoming all-important, when we were endeavouring to build our industrial sector. I am convinced that we do not have here today many an industry we might otherwise have attracted because of lack of telephones. Many a foreign industrialist was discouraged from coming here on that account. Indeed not alone foreigners, but many people at home were discouraged from setting up in business for this reason also. I shall revert to that matter later and perhaps cite a few examples of people who were unable to get started in business simply because they could not get a telephone.

In the year 1970 expenditure in the Department was £7,500,000 and, in 1978, £61 million, an increase of approximately 700 per cent. If we examine the expenditure in this Department when the National Coalition took office in 1973 we find the figure was £17 million and that, when we left office in 1977, it was £54,500,000. There has been a lot of tossing of figures across the House this morning and during the week. It was political tossing, but it can be seen clearly that the first real effort to bring the postal and telephone services up to an acceptable standard was made during the period of the National Coalition Government. That is as political as I shall be because the figures speak for themselves. I wanted to see this Department being on a par with any of its counterparts in Europe.

In one of the first speeches I made in [1292] this House, around the 1972/73 period I described our telephone service as the worst in Europe. Since then they have fallen so much behind the standard in other countries I could probably stengthen those remarks and say that we have now probably the worst telephone service in the world, that is where there are telephones in existence.

Before dealing with telephones I should like to say something about our radio and television services. We heard quite a bit about them this morning, though the Minister did not deal with them in any great depth. Generally speaking our radio and television services are good but there is room for improvement and there are areas which could be vastly improved with very little expenditure. Certainly our radio programmes are far better than our television programmes. In talking to people lately I have found that they are more inclined to turn to the radio than to television. Of course, in the initial years of television there was a great switch over because it was something new, but people may have expected too much. As time progressed, whether it be that people have become used to having television in their homes and have become somewhat bored with it or that the service has not been maintained at the standard expected, they are now reverting to radio more and more. I am not suggesting that that is a bad thing. Perhaps we should examine the transmission hours of both television and radio. I am not suggesting that a switch over to radio in preference to television is altogether bad. Certainly where younger members of a family are concerned, they have been more inclined in recent years to spend far too much of the valuable time needed for their education looking at television programmes, which had little if any, educational content.

Television programmes cater far too much for young people. Greater attention should be given to producing programmes for those who cannot be put in that category. If the time were counted it would be interesting to see how much time is given to films for [1293] young people. The same applies to pop music on radio. The Minister should see if there is something he can do to reduce the amount of time for pop music on radio. While our young people need to be catered for one can over do it.

News programmes on radio and television are quite good in bringing the news at great frequency. Greater attention with very little expenditure could be given to making television news programmes a lot more interesting. I try to get the news on radio and television as often as I can because, like most of the people in the House, I have not a great deal of time to spend reading the newspapers. It is only the news items that one has time to read. When it comes to important news items it is important to get as much radio news as one can.

I find that many of my friends are switching to the ITV news because there are more films of the news on it. The outside teams send in more news on film than the RTE people do. RTE should try to give more film of news items rather having people looking at the news reader most of the time. I have nothing against the appearance of our news readers but I am sure they would feel relieved if they were less often on the screen.

I would like to congratulate RTE on their handling of the Papal visit. I attended a conference in England while the Pope was still in Ireland and I felt very proud of the congratulations I received from public representatives and other people in England on the week-end television showing which had come from Ireland. RTE should be proud of their operations on that occasion. They have shown to the world that they are quite capable of coping with such an occasion. For that reason I do not see that there should be any difficulty in RTE improving their programmes on the lines I have suggested.

I urge the Minister to do everything he can to reduce the amount of violence shown on television. When one looks at television programmes in the evening or even in the afternoon one sees far too much violence. I know that most of these films are imported but we are getting too [1294] much canned material particularly for children. I do not see why RTE cannot organise a documentary on some simple events happening around the country in which many of our children would be interested and would prefer to see instead of all the films coming from America, the Continent and England. There should be a reduction on television in imported films and a greater concentration on home produced films. If it is not violence in those films it is outer space, which is unreal. We get enough violence on the news without having to watch it right through the evening.

A very high proportion of our child population look at a programme called “Take Hart” which lasts for half an hour on Wednesday. I have received complaints from my children as well as from others that they are not able to take part in the competitions held in connection with this programme. The viewing public are expected to take part in the competitions but Irish children are excluded because it is imported film. If RTE cannot put on their own programmes in which our children can take part they should not put on those programmes. The children are encouraged during this programme to take part in the competitions but cannot do so because they are Irish. I hope RTE will bear in mind what I have said.

I get many complaints about the kind of music which comes over the air. It is catering far too much for the younger people. I am not asking for more emphasis to be put on high-brow music although I know that people who like that kind of music are loud in their condemnation that very little of it is broadcast. I should like more time allotted to middle-of-the-road music; for instance, a programme like the Joe Linnane programme on Thursday mornings after the news would be very acceptable and would please many people.

I hope the Minister will have discussions with RTE about the suggestions I have made. I should like to see more documentary films on television. The new programme called “The Life Game”[1295] presented by Bunny Carr has been well received. I should like to draw the attention of the Minister to complaints I received—I am sure other Deputies also received them—about the dropping of the programme “Calendar”. I think it was originally called “Outlook”. It was the one religious programme that many people enjoyed viewing, particularly the aged. It would be interesting to know the approximate number of viewers late at night. There was an effort to change the programme to an earlier hour but then, for no reason, the programme was dropped without any explanation being given. I did not know the programme had been dropped until I received complaints about the matter some months ago. The programme gave enjoyment to many people and I would ask the Minister to take up the matter with RTE to see if the programme can be restored or if a similar programme can be screened at a different hour.

I should like to see an increase in Irish language programmes on television and radio. The Minister indicated that he would look at this to see if something could be done about the matter. I shall leave the matter there for the moment. The Minister is not long in office but he has made quite an impact already. I shall not comment further about radio or television until a later date when we can judge if the Minister has brought about any changes for the better.

In 1971 in a debate in this House I described our telephone service as the worst in Europe and I used the same words to describe it in debates in this House in 1975 and 1976. We are now in 1980 and the situation has deteriorated further. I accept that the money made available to the Department will not produce results for a short time. The telephone service is absolutely deplorable and I do not have to tell that to the Minister. I am sure he is getting the same kind of complaints that I am getting but he is fortunate to be in an area that is not quite as bad as my area [1296] and I hope he realises that.

The Department have not made a real effort to keep pace with rapidly expanding areas in Dublin. County Dublin must be the worst area in the country in the matter of private telephones per head of population. There are many housing estates in my constituency with up to 900 houses and yet not one telephone is available. In the past I appealed to the Minister's predecessor to provide public telephones in the housing estates. He undertook to examine the matter but I have not heard from him and public telephones have not been provided. Perhaps the Minister or the Minister of State will come to my constituency in the near future and I will take them on a tour of such housing estates. A public telephone is essential in the absence of private phones that will not be provided for many years.

There are people in the new housing estates who have moved from areas such as Knocklyon and Tallaght four years ago and who had a telephone service in their former homes. Yet nothing has been done to provide them with telephones now. A person in Knockaire Estate, Templeogue, complained to me recently that he has been looking for transfer of a telephone for three or four years and because he cannot get a phone his children are leaving home. A telephone is as essential as that. I know of another person in the same estate who has been looking for transfer of a phone since 1977. In July 1979 he received a letter from the Fianna Fáil TD for the area which stated: “I enclose a reply which I have received with regard to representations I have made on your behalf. When I have further news I shall be in contact with you again”. He has not heard further in the matter. This person did not know the Fianna Fáil Deputy and did not ask him to make representations on his behalf. To emphasise the point Deputy Tully made earlier, I hope the Minister will stop this practice of passing out information to Deputies on his side who have not even asked for it. A number of others in the same estate——

[1297]An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Seán Browne  Zoom on Seán Browne  The Deputy is running out of time.

Mr. McMahon: Information on Lawrence McMahon  Zoom on Lawrence McMahon  It is only through the Department that this man could have got the information he had about a telephone transfer.

Minister of State at the Department of Posts and Telegraphs (Mr. Killilea): Information on Mark Killilea Jnr.  Zoom on Mark Killilea Jnr.  At the beginning I should like to say that it is unusual in the House that an Estimate for this Department should attract such attention and anxiety from all sides of the House. Deputies so far have expressed their concern about the achievements and possible achievements of the Department and their hopes that it would be run more efficiently.

In reply I should like to say that we have outlined the policies which the Minister and I have tried to put into operation in the short time since our appointments. I should like to thank Deputies for their contributions, most of which were constructive and down to earth. We will continue with the policy we have been aiming at, which is to make the services administered by this Department as efficient as possible.

Early in the debate Deputies Deasy, Tully and Briscoe expressed concern about the amount of money the Government have been making available to the Department of Posts and Telegraphs vis-à-vis their five-year plan. What everybody has failed to grasp is that that plan in 1979, at 1979 prices, involved an investment of £650 million. First of all, I reiterate that we will ensure that the outline programme will be implemented, and the House can rest assured that the Minister is doing everything he can at the Cabinet table to get as much finance as possible to fund this programme.

While on this point I want to make very clear the distinction between the words “promise” and “target”. I am afraid this has not been clear so far in the minds of Deputies and the public. We set targets, we did not make promises. We set a target for telephone installations, and the amount of money allocated for that purpose will be used. I [1298] hope that from now on the Opposition will look on our targets, not our promises.

Mr. McMahon: Information on Lawrence McMahon  Zoom on Lawrence McMahon  Is the Minister reneging on them?

Mr. Killilea: Information on Mark Killilea Jnr.  Zoom on Mark Killilea Jnr.  It is a target which has been endorsed by everybody in the Department. The engineering union at their conference in Sligo conveyed to the Minister, who was present, that if the Department can keep supplying them with equipment the target will be reached.

This leads me to the point made by Deputy Deasy about morale in the Department. That morale suffered a severe wounding last year. Wounds do not heal quickly and the Minister and I realise that. I can assure the House that the causes of those wounds will be healed as quickly as possible because the Minister and I will do everything in our power to keep morale at its highest, and we have been doing that: we have gone to the different staff sections, starting in the GPO and going to the exchanges, the engineering officials, post offices throughout the country, to the postmen, to the many unions concerned in the services, to every section in the Department, talking, trying to ensure that everything possible will be done to keep morale as high as possible with the object of achieving the highest possible efficiency. I am glad that the morale is there.

It was great to hear the engineering union last night saying they will do their best to achieve maximum efficiency. We do not boast about the task we are doing, though it is a difficult one, and we hope our efforts will achieve the results we have aimed at and that these results will be seen and appreciated by Deputies and the general public.

I was glad to note from the debate so far that many Deputies are beginning to appreciate that we are trying to make this most important service better than it has ever been. Some Deputies mentioned delays in getting replies from telephone operating staff when making telephone [1299] calls. In a number of exchanges the service is less than satisfactory but this is not due to lack of effort on the part of telephone operating staff. These operators encounter much the same difficulties in making calls as do subscribers in making direct trunk calls. They too have to contend with congestion in the trunk network. We cannot expect any great change in the position in the short-term. Delays will continue to be experienced at a number of exchanges especially in the peak summer period. I appeal to the public to be patient for a little longer and not to blame the operating staff who are doing their best in difficult circumstances. When the general improvement in the trunk network takes place there will be a corresponding reduction in the delay in answering callers.

I appeal as the Minister appealed introducing the Estimate this morning, to stop the vandalising of telephone kiosks which give service particularly to the poorer sections who cannot afford to have a telephone in their houses. I appeal particularly to the people of Dublin city not to vandalise the new coin-boxes and the new equipment which is there to enable people to dial trunk calls directly without having to use the operator service. That equipment is of vital importance and by vandalising it people are cutting a very important link for some people.

Both Deputy Deasy and Deputy Tully mentioned the technical skills needed in the Department. We would like to see those working in technical areas being trained in the schools so as to learn this most interesting trade. We are in times of technological change and everything that can be done in education to provide people with these skills will be done by this Department so that we will have the technical know-how for the massive changes likely to come about. The House can be assured that we will play our part to make sure that this is achieved.

We are worried about the engineering staff but when we were given this task [1300] the Minister made certain that an amount of money due to the engineers was salvaged and given to them. They co-operated in return in the implementation of the policy of upgrading 30 of the technicians into the engineering grades.

Some Deputies mentioned the Coalition's performance. The demand for telecommunications started to build up in the early seventies and peaked in the mid-seventies. That was the time to do the work that is being started now. We are six years behind because of our late start. I do not wish to be political but last years' figure illustrates the position clearly. The Estimate last year was for £75 million and this year it is for £100 million. In one year there has been a greater increase than we had in the four years of Coalition Government. That fact speaks for itself.

The philosophy now is not to look over our shoulders but to look forward in a progressive and strong way so that we can give the community the service that is now as important as any other service. At one time rural electrification was a wonder as were group water schemes and water in rural houses. The Government have recognised in their commitment that now this investment in telecommunications is as important if not more important than those services. The development of telecommunications is our job and we will do it.

Congratulations were offered all round to the State boards. One of the Opposition Deputies said that we would have to wait four or five years for a State board and alleged that the Minister had stated that. The Minister did not say that. He instanced other countries who had translated a similar problem, but not as great as ours, in about three years. We hope we can solve ours sooner than that. We gave that example as a genuine appraisal of the fact that it will not happen overnight. We are talking about half of the public service and the implications as well as the problems involved are vast. We will not hold back from that proposal and we will see to it that in the fastest possible time this is achieved. Let us not add on years, let us be factual in statements on these matters.

[1301] A point mentioned this morning which few people took up is the question of “in the meantime”. During the transition period the Department of Posts and Telegraphs is the responsibility of the Minister. The Minister suggested that it is important to have interim change within the Department in the meantime. It will be done in a way desired by everyone so as to enable an easy changeover to a semi-State organisation. The Minister suggested the appointment of district managers giving power to the districts and making available locally, information regarding that district. This is a very wise and positive decision and covers the point raised by Deputy Deasy that we should be able to have a Department where every aspect of their work would enable the people on the street to recognise a certain place as a place where they can come for information. The system that is now in existence within the Department is very complex. It is one in which a change will have to take place. In the meantime we are trying to create a new arrangement where exactly what Deputy Deasy and Deputy Tully have summarised here today could be achieved. It is a welcome move and I hope that all concerned will allow us to do that.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  The Minister said that more than three years is provided for that.

Mr. Killilea: Information on Mark Killilea Jnr.  Zoom on Mark Killilea Jnr.  It was not four or five.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  It was more than three. It took three years in other countries on only one occasion.

Mr. Killilea: Information on Mark Killilea Jnr.  Zoom on Mark Killilea Jnr.  The point I am making is that it was not four or five.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  More than three years could be four or five.

Mr. Killilea: Information on Mark Killilea Jnr.  Zoom on Mark Killilea Jnr.  Fair enough, I like the pessimistic outlook of Deputy Tully. Always the worst. Wherever the horizon is, let there be great clouds about it. Never could he suggest that they will help in whatever they could possibly do to make it less than three years. No, it [1302] is always the old story. Push it as far away as possible, keep the reality away. He passed a remark about himself here today that he was not seen in the House for the last two or three years. Of course he was not. It is only lately when he discovered that he was in a five-seater that he said, “There is a chance again so I will go back in”. That answer to me at the time——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Seán Browne  Zoom on Seán Browne  That has nothing to do with this debate.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  That is a false statement which the Minister made.

Mr. Killilea: Information on Mark Killilea Jnr.  Zoom on Mark Killilea Jnr.  That is what the Deputy said here today or at least that is——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Seán Browne  Zoom on Seán Browne  That has nothing to do with the Estimate before the House.

Mr. Killilea: Information on Mark Killilea Jnr.  Zoom on Mark Killilea Jnr.  Let me continue. I hope that Deputy Tully does not expect me to raise my voice as I had to here the other night in order to get my point across so that I would not be continually interrupted.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  If the Minister of State does not tell lies he will not be interrupted by anybody.

Mr. Killilea: Information on Mark Killilea Jnr.  Zoom on Mark Killilea Jnr.  I do not tell lies. I know Deputy Tully for far too long to tell lies about him. I assure him I know him quite well. Regarding liaison with the public, the interim reorganisation, as I call it and as the Minister stated here today, complements what the board will do and in the meantime we should see this liaison with the public brought to a very fruitful conclusion.

The question of citizen band was brought up again. The points raised in the debate on citizen band radio were good and I compliment the Deputies on them. It is a deep and, so to speak, emotive subject because as the law stands it is illegal, but we are doing our utmost—we have stated that publicly on numerous occasions—to get a proper, good and clean system available for the [1303] use of citizen band. It will take into account the position regarding citizen band in countries about us as well. It is a complex question and it is getting the full-time and daily attention of the Department and as soon—we hope quite soon—as the legislation is ready it will be enacted. The public at large and the House can be assured that this attention is forthcoming freely and daily from us in the Department.

I am sorry that Deputy Quinn has left the House because now I come to the situation raised by Deputy Tully today, and also by Deputy McMahon to a lesser extent, about representations to the Department, a section of which is my responsibility. I refer all the Deputies of this House to a question on the Adjournment raised by Deputy Quinn on 23 April as reported in Volume 319, column 1975 of the Official Report where I made a statement at the request of Deputy Quinn who felt frustrated—as I am sure Deputy Tully and many others in this House do—about representations concerning telephone installations for constituents. I announced then, on 23 April, more than a month ago, that we were having a new arrangement in the Department by which we were turning towards forecasting the installation of telephones rather than the old system that was in operation heretofore. I tried then, as I will try again now, to let every Deputy know the exact situation. Deputy Tully suggested that he wrote to the Department and did not get a reply.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  No, I did not say that. I got an acknowledgment.

Mr. Killilea: Information on Mark Killilea Jnr.  Zoom on Mark Killilea Jnr.  He got an acknowledgment. It was about a certain incident in Ashbourne. I understand Deputy Tully's frustrations in this. I cannot comprehend how I got the information from the official and he did not. I acknowledge Deputy Tully's point and it was not done deliberately by me. I will not harp too long on it. As a result of implementing this change to forecasting, I will issue letters to every Deputy in this House about representations. Furthermore, I will say [1304] this, which is very important. I have been so conscious of the importance of representations to Deputies that I have not differentiated regarding any Deputy in this House in any way that could be taken that my intentions were wrong. I have addressed them by their first names because I believe that every Deputy in this House was elected by the people to make representations on their behalf. The political aspects and the different policies are a separate question. When they make representations concerning their own constituents all Deputies are entitled to the same reply. I have tried to do that. It is a delicate situation. We have moved to a position where now we are forecasting. It is a big change and it will not be easy to forecast to within a week, ten days, a month or whatever it is. To bring it to the tightest possible time is a very difficult process, but it stops exactly what Deputy Tully and Deputy Quinn said regarding files concerning public representations being in the Minister's office. Therefore, any person who wants to go into his local office to find out exactly when his phone will be installed, for example, will know immediately because the file will be in the office. This is a good change and I hope the Deputies opposite welcome it. I assure this House that there will be no favouritism and no giving out of special information to anybody. When a man makes representations to me regarding a named person, no matter what his politics, I will answer it in the most courteous, kind and factual way that I can.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  The Minister of State told me the other night that he had told one of his own Deputies three weeks ago that he did not know.

Mr. Killilea: Information on Mark Killilea Jnr.  Zoom on Mark Killilea Jnr.  Yes, but Deputy Tully did not address his letter to me.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  I do not believe it was left with the Minister.

Mr. Killilea: Information on Mark Killilea Jnr.  Zoom on Mark Killilea Jnr.  Fair enough, but I am not to be blamed if the Department down at the back did not answer the Deputy. Deputy Fitzsimons did ask me [1305] and he has tormented me concerning that situation. I did not say that the builder of that estate was asked by Deputy Fitzsimons. People in that estate had made representations to him and I said to the people in Ashbourne that Deputy Fitzsimons had been asked by some of them, not by all. That is what I said in Ashbourne and I defy contradiction on that. I was quite fair and I emphasised that even to the builder in question, the man the Deputy named today.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Seán Browne  Zoom on Seán Browne  The Minister's half hour is up.

Mr. Killilea: Information on Mark Killilea Jnr.  Zoom on Mark Killilea Jnr.  I am sorry that the half hour is not long enough to allow me to deal with many of the points made but I wanted to clear that one.

Mr. Deasy: Information on Austin Deasy  Zoom on Austin Deasy  I will write to the Minister.

Mr. Killilea: Information on Mark Killilea Jnr.  Zoom on Mark Killilea Jnr.  I want to emphasise that I will be impartial to the best of my ability with every elected Member of this and the other House. When they make representations on behalf of individuals in their constituencies, they are entitled to that service, irrespective of which side of the House they are on.

Mr. F. O'Brien: Information on Fergus O'Brien  Zoom on Fergus O'Brien  This is the first opportunity I have had to congratulate the Minister on his new post. I wish him well for the short time he will be there.

Mr. Killilea: Information on Mark Killilea Jnr.  Zoom on Mark Killilea Jnr.  I thank the Deputy and I am glad he is optimistic about me.

Mr. Deasy: Information on Austin Deasy  Zoom on Austin Deasy  It is what we call a hitching post.

Mr. F. O'Brien: Information on Fergus O'Brien  Zoom on Fergus O'Brien  This is a very important Estimate. Telephones are the life line in the commercial aspect of any country. We have by far the worst record in the EEC. If our business community are to keep abreast of their competitors, they must have a proper communications system. You might expect delays in obtaining telephones and in making trunk calls in the dark ages, but not in the [1306] modern and highly competitive age in which we are living. It is disgraceful that business people and private individuals cannot get telephones. People have to wait two, three or four years for the installation of a reasonably simple instrument. If you had to wait two or three years for an electricity connection you would say you were living in the backwoods. We are living in the backwoods so far as telephone connections are concerned. It is time we took this seriously and grasped the nettle of the whole communications system. Otherwise we will be left behind. It must be difficult for the IDA to promote industry when industralists realise our lack of a telecommunications network.

I am happy that we now have a division of responsibility and that we have split up two units into separate semi-State bodies. Civil Service Departments are not commercial operations because of the many constraints under which they work. By its very nature government tends to restrain and curtail commercial interests. I believe in competition in every field. Competition brings out the best in us all. If there is no competition, we tend to relax because we are not under pressure. I am satisfied that a large number of our semi-State bodies are very efficient and do a very good job. I hope these two semi-State bodies will be as efficient. I am glad a chief executive has been appointed on the telephone side. He comes from a highly competitive section of the commercial world. That augurs well for the telephone section.

There are large sums of money to be made and ploughed back into further development of the communications system. You have to pay for the installation of a telephone. If you live in a large housing estate you do not pay for the installation of electricity. A unit of electricity costs slightly less than 5p. This will keep 1,000 watts burning for one hour, in other words, it will keep a one-bar fire burning for one hour. The standing network required to provide a telephone service is nothing like the standing network required in a generating station. Still we get better [1307] value from the ESB. We are not getting a good telephone service. The sooner it is put on a commercial footing the better. We have to compete in a commercial world whether we like it or not. The problems of our telephone service are a national scandal.

Recently two old age pensioners told me that they had paid their deposit for a telephone. The deposits were held for nine months and then they were told they were not getting a telephone. They got a cheque without an accompanying letter or an apology. Is that the way to treat people? That is scandalous. The general public, and particularly old age pensioners should not be treated in such a manner. If you withhold a payment from the Revenue Commissioners for nine months you are charged interest.

One cannot speak on this Estimate without mentioning staff relations and industrial relations in general in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. Over the years we have had no more dedicated and public spirited people than the general workers in the Post Office. The postman was everybody's friend. He had a smile for everybody even in the highly urbanised areas. He was popular and he did a very good job often in inclement weather. When postmen decided to look for their due reward for their work, there were protracted negotiations and utter frustration. To seek justice those men were forced to go on to the streets as a last resort. They were treated like common criminals. These men were badly treated, abused. The Minister seemed struck with some type of paralysis. He could not or was not able to move and was prepared to do nothing.

What private individual could have adopted the same attitude and survived? None. The private individual has to survive in a commercial world and has to make a living while the Minister could stand back with the Government in the greatest Pontius Pilate act of all time and wash his hands saying: “We are not responsible and can do nothing. We have machinery.” That industrial machinery is like much of the telecommunication [1308] equipment in the Post Office. It has been run down and is of little use. It needs modernisation and a fresh look at it. These men had never gone out on strike before. I said then that because of the way their noses were rubbed in the ground their loyalty was being taken away. Loyalty is not for sale; it is bred in tradition. Overnight that was eroded. I said that when the strike was over there would not be happy men or women in that service. Even now after a period has elapsed we can still hear rumblings of more problems.

I admit that the Minister has stated that he will try to meet the staff and get to know them but unless the whole area of industrial democracy in the Post Office and the framework of industrial relations is updated we cannot expect good results. I believe talk is cheap and the staff require positive action.

We see much unrest in RTE. On the day of the cup final when so many people who were not in the multi-channel network were waiting to see a particular match, 20 minutes before the game began the plug was pulled out. I shall not apportion blame but people who pay for a service are entitled to that service and it is the Minister's responsibility to ensure that it is available.

Lately we saw that changes are contemplated within RTE top management. Is the independence of highly competent broadcasters being interfered with? I have grave suspicion. If you want to get rid of somebody you kick him upstairs or give him sideways promotion and you nullify him in that way. Broadcasting authorities must be independent and seen to be so. There must be no interference. A strong and independent broadcasting medium with courageous leadership that does not fear threats of politicians is essential. Otherwise there is an erosion of democracy. People who try to interfere with the media do it at the peril of democracy, whether in newspapers or broadcasting. I am not happy about the way this matter was handled. There are certainly grave suspicions about it. I should like an assurance from the Minister that there is no political interference [1309] whether through channels or political appointments or otherwise. It is a very dangerous exercise to interfere with or try to thwart people charged with the responsibility of presenting the news, the facts unvarnished and untampered with. There is every reason to have suspicion; otherwise I would not have raised the matter. One has to use the opportunity presented by this Estimate to say it. We must be careful. Politicians do not like criticism. The politicians responsible for this service are charged with the duty of seeing that it is independent and seen to be independent and not influenced by any political party or political arm.

The increases in charges for services, in my view, are a further savage addition to the inflationary spiral afflicting the country in the last three years. The present Government took over an economy where the inflation rate was of the order of 7 or 8 per cent. It is now approaching 20 per cent. These increases which are fuelling inflation, adding to the costs of businesses and making us less competitive in the market place, make it impossible for people to install phones, which I believe is as basic a need now in a home as any other piece of equipment, particularly for the elderly to enable them to communicate with their children where ever they may be by just dialling a number. Now they are being asked for a rental of £100. Something should be done. The Minister indicated that that would be a matter for the Department of Social Welfare to deal with. It is time that Departments looked at this and made their own decisions as to where they can and cannot waive charges in certain circumstances without passing the buck on to other Departments. They should not have to wait for some other Department to pick up the responsibility. It is too easy to pass the buck like this. Elderly people in particular, and sick people, need urgent attention in relation to the installation of telephones because if they want to call a doctor, having perhaps had a bad turn during the night, it is their only link with the outside. But now they are being asked to pay this high charge in addition to the increase in [1310] charges for calls. I would ask the Minister not to pass the buck but to take the responsibility himself and do something.

The whole savage increase is unwarranted. This is not the way to keep costs down. If we become a little more efficient all round we could maintain the present charges. Given the type of service we are getting our charges are far too high but again, because there is no competition, because there is no great responsibility to meet competition, the Department just up the ante as they see fit without any real concern about whether industry can meet the increases.

The increase in the coin box charge is indicative of the attitude of the Government towards inflation. What is another 5p? It is handier to double the cost because of the type of coin boxes. The next increase will probably be up to 50p because it is convenient for the Post Office, again in view of the type of coin box. It would be awkward to use 2p meters although I do not know why. That seems to be the thinking. The whole question of increases seems to be tied up with convenience. Just because of our coinage, charges are being doubled and that it no good reason.

I notice that there is a Euro net Data Information Service now since March. That is an excellent idea. It should be brought into the Library of the House and I have made a recommendation that this be done. Any such data from a Euro net computerised service should be channelled here because of the day-to-day operations and our involvement with the EEC. We now have full-time parliamentarians in Europe and Ministers involved on a day-to-day basis. We have Opposition Deputies on EEC committees and all relevant information should be made available to them as quickly as possible. The Euro net Data Information Service should therefore be made available. I see also that there may be a follow-up to this type of service from North America and other places. It is the type of thing that we want so that we can be on top of what is going on and get our [1311] hands on relevant information quickly without wasting too much time. That is very important.

To get back to the telephone situation, I know the Minister has made a start. I hope that we can make some inroads into giving people telephones. Over the last couple of years the connections have been disappointing to say the least. No inroads have been made. We seem to be falling behind. This year there were 50,000 applications and only 32,000 connections made. Instead of talking about two and three years we are talking about waits of about five and six years. This is not good enough. The sooner we get to grips with the problem so that we can provide people with telephones on demand the better because this is the type of service people are entitled to. Every other country operating in the commercial world has this kind of service. If we want to operate commercially then we have to have that kind of communication. I would hope that the Minister, with the new Department of Telecommunications, will come to grips with that.

On the postal side I hope that new techniques will be developed, that industrial peace will prevail and that the respect commanded by the postmen and their respect and love for the Department and their job will be restored. That can only be done on the basis of goodwill from the Minister and his Department.

Minister for Posts and Telegraphs (Mr. Reynolds): Information on Albert Reynolds  Zoom on Albert Reynolds  First, I should like to thank all the Deputies for their expressions of goodwill in the major effort that we have to undertake in trying to bring up the standard of the telephone service to the people who have telephones and in trying to lay the foundations and, indeed, speed up the situation in relation to people who have not got telephones. In the statement I made this morning I covered our programme widely. I listened with interest to what the Opposition Deputies had to say in relation to where the blame lies. However, I am not a man to look [1312] back. I prefer to look forward, but there are a few comments that must be made.

The Opposition have castigated Fianna Fáil for not having invested sufficient capital in the network in the past, but I would remind Deputies that up to the early seventies the demand for telephones was more or less in line with the number of installations and that it was only in the years afterwards that the demand began to get ahead of the installation rate. An the end of 1972, for example, the demand had got ahead by about 9,000. By the end of 1976, however, the demand had more than doubled the installation rate and this meant that the time had come for big investment in the service. I might add that the increased demand for telephones from the seventies on is a reflection of the economic advances we have made. The real investment and planning had to start around 1976. Therefore, I cannot accept the allegation that previous Fianna Fáil administrations were responsible for the present situation. The figures are available in tabulated form for anyone who wishes to see them.

Deputy Tully remarked that the good done by some Ministers is often capitalised on by the people who follow them and in this regard he referred to planning and so on. However, I would like to remind him that the financing for this big programme and for part of the equipment was negotiated only in recent times as a result of our entry into the EMS. Also, the whole aspect of site acquisitions, buildings and so on were only brought together in the past few months——

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  Is this the one that is being finished this year?

Mr. Reynolds: Information on Albert Reynolds  Zoom on Albert Reynolds  Since I came to this Department I have set up a monitoring and planning unit within the Department to co-ordinate for the first time the efforts of my Department and the Office of Public Works in areas such as the acquisition of sites and building programmes as well as monitoring the ordering of equipment so that it would be coming on stream when the buildings [1313] were ready and to ensure that, coincidentally with that, main trunk cabling was being undertaken. Deputy Tully referred to the fact that members of the engineering union would not be capable of doing all the work involved, but we are very grateful to that body for their co-operation because they are coming into this development programme with us with a very positive approach. They have welcomed the introduction of contractors. These people are being engaged so as to ensure that the calling will be brought on stream on time. Subscriber cabling work will be undertaken by the unions' engineers, although they will be getting help in that area too from contractors. Therefore, for the first time all the various strands will be brought together so that from here on, as the Minister of State has said, there will be planned progress.

However, there is not any instant solution to the telephone question, but we are setting out plans and targets towards turning the whole situation around. I would ask the public to bear in mind that the progress will be steady towards an improvement in the service but that in some areas progress will be at different stages than will be the case in other areas. In the Dublin area, for instance, where there is a big backlog, it will be only when the new station at Adelaide Road comes on stream at the end of this year that there will be released into the network the capacity that is badly needed not alone in the Dublin area but throughout the country. The present situation is that the network is not carrying sufficient trunks into Dublin to carry the traffic load involved.

On the question of installations, I am glad to have this opportunity of acknowledging the positive commitment from the Post Office Engineering Workers Union to achieving the target of 60,000 telephones this year. Therefore, there is not any question of fancy promises in this regard. I am the first Minister for Posts and Telegraphs to stick his neck out, but I am acting on a planned basis and I hope that I will be in the office long enough to complete the [1314] programme. I am not a person to run away from a situation.

Although I thought we had covered adequately during the week the question of Post Office charges, Deputy O'Brien saw fit to raise the question again today. When the motion tabled by the opposition in this regard was being debated this week, there was very little constructive reference by them to the charges. They spent their time in condemning the various charges. Today again Deputy O'Brien raised the question of the increase to £100 for the installation of a telephone. In this regard I should like to tell the House that the international cost of installing a telephone today is 2,000 dollars. Indeed, in many parts of the country the actual cost would be much greater than that because of sparse population and the amount of wiring and so on that would be involved. Anybody who would suggest seriously that a connection charge of £100 for an investment of £1,000, having regard to current interest rates, is too high, is way out of line with any commercial thinking.

Mr. F. O'Brien: Information on Fergus O'Brien  Zoom on Fergus O'Brien  The ESB are also a commercial outfit but they do not impose such charges for connections.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Seán Browne  Zoom on Seán Browne  The ESB do not come into this.

Mr. Reynolds: Information on Albert Reynolds  Zoom on Albert Reynolds  To take the Deputy's point, I might tell the House that at a function which I attended recently the managing director of a business firm told me that he had moved three miles to a new house from where he had been living and he asked why since the ESB had been able to provide him with power within about seven days of his application the telephone people could not do the same in regard to a telephone service. In answer to my question as to how much the ESB had charged him for the connection, he told me that he had paid them £1,082, to which I replied that if he cared to write a cheque for that amount in the name of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs I was confident that his telephone would be installed without much delay.

[1315]Mr. F. O'Brien: Information on Fergus O'Brien  Zoom on Fergus O'Brien  I am talking about people in such areas as Tallaght. They are not charged for ESB connections.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Seán Browne  Zoom on Seán Browne  We are not dealing with the ESB.

Mr. Reynolds: Information on Albert Reynolds  Zoom on Albert Reynolds  If I might take the Deputy's point in relation to Tallaght and to other areas in which there are new housing estates in which the cabling work has not been done, I would remind him that I have started a programme that will ensure that where new houses are being built telephone cabling will be provided just as provision is made for water and electricity connections.

Mr. F. O'Brien: Information on Fergus O'Brien  Zoom on Fergus O'Brien  Will there be a charge of £100 for the service?

Mr. Reynolds: Information on Albert Reynolds  Zoom on Albert Reynolds  Yes, and I am not convinced that the ESB do not charge a commercial fee for their work. The cost of installing a telephone is way below the commercial figure. I explained this morning the reason for the change in the situation regarding coin-box calls. This is the first increase in the cost of local coin-box telephone calls since we came into office. I shall not go back over the long political road and the huge increases when the Coalition Government were in power. There is also no increase in the cost of trunk calls from coin-box telephones.

I come now to a more positive note, which is in the area of staff relations in my Department referred to by Deputies Tully, Deasy and other speakers. The Minister of State has gone into this question in fair detail. There is not much that I can add, except to say it is one of our main priorities in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs to ensure the best possible staff relations. We are proceeding along that road and will continue our efforts in that connection.

I will refer briefly to the offers recently made to the Post Office Workers' Union members. These offers are what the negotiators agreed on. I want to dispel the idea that there is any obligation on the workers to accept these offers. They [1316] may, of course, refer the matter to an arbitrator if they so desire, and I hope that course would be taken if necessary. I have gone on record often enough since taking over responsibility for this Department as saying that I am not a man for confrontation. I believe in consultation. I believe in human beings. I believe that every problem can be solved and that it is only by negotiation that it can be solved. When the result of the ballot is known, if it is positive, I will welcome it. If not, I say to the Post Office Workers' Union that they are not at the end of the road. There is another way forward.

Mr. L'Estrange: Information on Gerald L'Estrange  Zoom on Gerald L'Estrange  Well, that is a welcome change of attitude. The Government jailed the farmers and the ESB workers a few years ago.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Seán Browne  Zoom on Seán Browne  What have the farmers and the ESB workers to do this with debate? What has Deputy L'Estrange to do with the debate at this stage?

Mr. L'Estrange: Information on Gerald L'Estrange  Zoom on Gerald L'Estrange  This is a change in attitude.

Mr. Reynolds: Information on Albert Reynolds  Zoom on Albert Reynolds  In case Deputy L'Estrange does not know it, I, too, was a member of a trade union for nine years, and I am——

Mr. L'Estrange: Information on Gerald L'Estrange  Zoom on Gerald L'Estrange  We welcome this change.

Mr. Reynolds: Information on Albert Reynolds  Zoom on Albert Reynolds  ——fully aware of what the workers side of it is. I have been an employer for a considerable time. I know the two sides of the coin and I know how problems can be solved. I have never yet seen a strike where there were any winners. In future, there is a new way forward for the staff of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs.

I must take grave exception to Deputy Deasy's unwarranted and unsubstantiated attack on staff relations in my Department. We are as competent and dedicated as any in the field. This is not the first time that he and other Deputies have made such attacks. I have refrained [1317] from responding before, in the belief that the Deputies were letting off steam or letting their heads run away with them. The Deputy's remarks are unworthy of him or anybody else. You must work with the people in staff relations to know what hours and efforts they put into their work. The Minister for State and I sat down on a Sunday with the people in the staff relations branch and we stayed late until Sunday evening trying to work out a settlement.

Mr. Killilea: Information on Mark Killilea Jnr.  Zoom on Mark Killilea Jnr.  And we did.

Mr. Reynolds: Information on Albert Reynolds  Zoom on Albert Reynolds  And we did, as it turned out.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  That is what is happening to poor trade union officials all the time.

Mr. Reynolds: Information on Albert Reynolds  Zoom on Albert Reynolds  I am giving the trade union officials full credit for what they are doing but I would like to think that the unseen people in the background should be appreciated for what they are doing, their very best. Some of the general public have the idea that there are people in my Department who do not want to settle problems. Of course, they do. I want everyone to know that when they finish negotiations, there is another way forward through an arbitrator who will take an independent look at the scene. The whole decision does not rest with them.

Deputy Deasy raised the question of cable television in Dungarvan and other areas. I have a long list of information which I propose to hand to the Deputy, as I do not want to delay the House. If I can be of any further assistance to the Deputy, I shall only be too delighted.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  Could I have a copy of that information also?

Mr. Reynolds: Information on Albert Reynolds  Zoom on Albert Reynolds  Of course.

Mr. Deasy: Information on Austin Deasy  Zoom on Austin Deasy  I thought the Minister was not going to give it.

Mr. Reynolds: Information on Albert Reynolds  Zoom on Albert Reynolds  There is a question of copyright with the BBC and ITV to be considered. The Department must be [1318] satisfied, before they can issue a licence that this is forthcoming and it has not been forthcoming so far. There are other aspects all of which would be of interest to the Deputy. If all the conditions are satisfied, we shall certainly look favourably on it.

Mr. Deasy: Information on Austin Deasy  Zoom on Austin Deasy  How soon will it be available?

Mr. Reynolds: Information on Albert Reynolds  Zoom on Albert Reynolds  The ball is not in our court at the moment. It is back with the man concerned. I heard many references made as to what the Minister should or should not do in relation to RTE. Many Opposition Deputies said they did not like this, that or the other programme. Others said that I should ensure that this programme was put on and some other taken off. The Deputies are all very well aware that it is not appropriate for me to talk on the points raised, as the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs has no statutory function in the day-to-day running and programming of RTE.

To talk about political interference and then to ask the Minister to do this and that is contradictory. On the one hand, the Deputies cannot ask the Minister to look after the programmes and on the other hand say, if the Minister does try to do anything, he is interfering.

Deputy F. O'Brien asked for a statement from the Minister about the recent comings and goings in RTE. This matter was also raised by Deputies Deasy and Briscoe. In Question Time in the Dáil in the last couple of weeks, I made it abundantly clear that I had not, as yet, had my first meeting with the RTE Authority. I hope that this meeting will be coming up shortly. I have no doubt that the RTE Authority will take full note of the many remarks made here today. It is only right and proper that Deputies should express their views in relation to RTE. I certainly shall convey the views that I have heard today to the RTE Authority when I have my first meeting with them.

In relation to the assertions made that not enough was being done for the Irish [1319] language, I am happy to tell Deputies that extra money has been provided this year to ensure additional programmes to promote the Irish language on RTE. Consultations are also going on between Radio na Gaeltachta and RTE in relation to extra time for Radio na Gaeltachta programmes.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  Where is the rest of the Irish culture?

Mr. Reynolds: Information on Albert Reynolds  Zoom on Albert Reynolds  When I talked about promoting the Irish language, I intended to include Irish culture as well.

Deputy Briscoe raised another point in relation to the Dublin telephone directory. I heard suggestions that it should be split up on a constituency basis. I do not think that that would be feasible at the moment. The Department have commisioned a market research survey to inquire into what is the proper size for this directory and how it should be broken up and I have little doubt that the Deputies who raised the question earlier——

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  Could we have a new telephone directory? The present one is a couple of years old.

Mr. Reynolds: Information on Albert Reynolds  Zoom on Albert Reynolds  It is out. Did I not hear complaints about it here today, so it must be out.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  Part Two is not out. Part One is available to the Deputiés and to nobody else. Part Two is not available even to the Members here.

Mr. Reynolds: Information on Albert Reynolds  Zoom on Albert Reynolds  It must be on its way. Everyone will have the opportunity of making a submission as to what he feels is the correct way of printing the Dublin directory in future. The rest of the country has not that problem yet, but when all those new telephones are installed, we might have to look at directories for the different country areas also.

Mr. L'Estrange: Information on Gerald L'Estrange  Zoom on Gerald L'Estrange  If we could only get the existing telephones to work.

[1320]Mr. Reynolds: Information on Albert Reynolds  Zoom on Albert Reynolds  I went into great detail on this subject and do not want to repeat myself. I made it abundantly clear that these will not be working overnight. I do not have a magic wand but I have the same vested interest as Deputy L'Estrange has in ensuring that the telephones in Athlone, Mullingar and Longford are put in working order as quickly as possible. I think that the telephones in Edgeworthstown have been sorted out so if the Deputy has any clients waiting for telephones——

Mr. L'Estrange: Information on Gerald L'Estrange  Zoom on Gerald L'Estrange  They should drop a note to the Minister.

Mr. Reynolds: Information on Albert Reynolds  Zoom on Albert Reynolds  Charity begins at home and I do not suppose that Deputy L'Estrange will object to that.

Mr. L'Estrange: Information on Gerald L'Estrange  Zoom on Gerald L'Estrange  I do not object to that. I will claim some credit.

Mr. Deasy: Information on Austin Deasy  Zoom on Austin Deasy  He probably would, you know.

Mr. Reynolds: Information on Albert Reynolds  Zoom on Albert Reynolds  One very valid point was raised by Deputy Deasy about trying to put a new commercial face on the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. He mentioned bringing offices out into, as he called it, the main street. I referred previously to the high street. I do not think that we shall argue about which designation to use. In many of the larger centres there are offices already. The point he is getting at is that as a commercial concern, with the approach I am trying to bring into the Department, instead of a complaints section we should have a consumer relations department and in each area there should be an office where all information would be available for the consumers. This would take the heat off the correspondence coming through the system and back.

For some time we have been considering devolving more authority to the districts or the regions. As the Department come more and more into the new electronic age, there is a good case for displaying the type of communications which can be bought, the types of telephones, the PABX systems and so [1321] on. These areas can be developed if and when this programme comes into operation. At the moment we are under stress. I do not think we have the resources to develop that area but it is being examined.

Deputy Deasy said the leaning in the Green Paper was towards a civil service environment. He did not expand very much on that but this is the time for submissions on that paper. It is not my intention that it should be shackled with the strait-jacket of a civil service-type environment and, in my view, it is not a view he could take of the Green Paper unless he had some specific points in mind.

Deputy Tully said there was probably some thinking in the back of somebody's mind that the postal services might be hived off to private enterprise. I can assure him that that is not the case. We have a fine tradition of service over the years. Because of the problems last year we had a fall back. In my view the postal service has to be developed. There has to be a new marketing approach to it because the new technological age will overcome the letter as far as business is concerned. I refer to data processing and other systems. The old letter as we know it will come under pressure.

It will be the task of the new board, and of the Department in the interim period, to look at ways and means of expanding that side of the Post Office. There is no question of anything going to private enterprise. I want to sound a note of caution. I noticed recently that there has been a move from the parcel section towards private enterprise. There has also been a drop in traffic. This is to be expected when service is less than perfect. That is why I again appeal to the Post Office Workers' Union, in their interest and in the interest of everybody, to get back to the very efficient pattern of 90 per cent delivery the day after posting. The sooner this happens the better. The present figure is over 80 per cent. I do not want to see any further disruption of this service because if there is public confidence will be undermined, more and more traffic will be lost and [1322] that will not mean a bright and rosy future.

Deputy Tully asked about developing post office giro. That was looked at some years ago. At that time we had a manual accounts system and it was not an economic proposition. Things have changed now and with the expansion of computerisation it is being looked at very seriously. We are not at the stage of computerisation where we could introduce it straight away. There too, computerisation and the change to computerisation are the subject of negotiation between the management and the staff. I do not want to say anything further at the moment. This is an area to be looked at because the post office structure is under-utilised as is the talent in that section. There are many areas where the post office can be developed. We have premises on prime sites in every town and village. We have a great service to offer in many areas. That is one but there are others as well.

There have been increases in interest paid on deposits in the Post Office Savings Bank recently. I have been impressing on the Minister for Finance, the final arbiter on the interest to be paid, the need for further increases.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  What about CB radio?

Mr. Reynolds: Information on Albert Reynolds  Zoom on Albert Reynolds  The Minister of State dealt with that. We are formalising licensing of CB radio. I am aware that about 99 per cent of the people who have CB radios are responsible and do not interfere with anybody but there are a small number who use very powerful microphones and other gadgets who are interfering with other users of that waveband and even interfere with television.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  Electric drills do the same and nobody says anything about them.

Mr. Reynolds: Information on Albert Reynolds  Zoom on Albert Reynolds  I am bringing in a licensing system that will be simple to administer and will give users whatever protection——

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  Will there be any danger of [1323] prosecutions being instituted against the people who have CB radio? Many good people are experimenting with it and doing their best to keep within the law.

Mr. Reynolds: Information on Albert Reynolds  Zoom on Albert Reynolds  The Department of Justice will have responsibility for bringing prosecutions.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  At the insistence of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs.

Mr. Reynolds: Information on Albert Reynolds  Zoom on Albert Reynolds  The Department of Justice will be bringing the prosecutions.

Mr. Deasy: Information on Austin Deasy  Zoom on Austin Deasy  Has the Minister referred to the technological shortfalls in the Department?

Mr. Reynolds: Information on Albert Reynolds  Zoom on Albert Reynolds  During my first months in office I looked at the electrical engineering grade. They have been and are running far below the establishment level allowed; they are about 90 engineers short. Deputies said the levels of salaries in the Post Office were not comparable with those paid in other areas. In my early months as Minister this was one of the problems I addressed myself to and we have bridged the gap with the result that the move from the Post Office has been stopped.

We have negotiated an arrangement with the engineers and they have allowed some 30 to 40 senior supervisory people to do engineering work. In other words, we are devolving work from the engineering grade to the technician grade who are capable of doing this work. I also took a long-term look into the future [1324] in relation to electrical engineers. It is true to say that even if we were to get all the graduates coming out of the universities, we would need them all, and that is making very little provision for Aer Lingus and all the other areas.

As more high technology industries come to Ireland there will be more and more pressure on the electrical engineering sections. The points made are valid. There is and will be a shortage, but as a result of my recent visit to France and the contract placed with Telectron in conjunction with CIT Alcatel, the French are putting at our disposal senior design and planning engineers. They are here at present helping to develop the planning of the network and the interlacing of the new equipment with the old equipment. They are also training in France all our technicians in this new technology. This co-operation can continue for some years until our people have a full grasp of the new technology. We are getting assistance in that area.

It is not generally appreciated that within the Department of Posts and Telegraphs there is excellent talent. Our people are quite capable of taking up the challenge of the new technology and grasping the opportunities thus afforded. I am quite satisfied that they have the capacity and expertise to do the job and the Government are providing them with the necessary money. In the years to come this country will be proud of its excellent telecommunications service.

Vote put and agreed to.

The Dáil adjourned at 3.45 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 3 June 1980.

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