Thursday, 27 November 1980
Dáil Eireann Debate
That a supplementary sum not exceeding £26,266,000 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.
My Department's original Estimate for 1980 was for a net sum of £234.864 million. This Supplementary Estimate makes additional provision for £49.766 million under nine subheads but there will be increased appropriations-in-aid of £23.5 million. This reduces the net amount now required to £26.266 million making a net total for the year of £261.130 million.
An extra £22.458 million is needed under the subhead A. Of this amount £21.34 million is to meet pay increases, including the cost in 1980 of the first phase of the second national understanding. Here I might say that the staff of my Department, like other employees in the community generally, benefit under the national rounds of pay increases. They also secure other increases in pay or improvements in their conditions of employment where these are necessary to bring them into line with comparable groups of employees inside and outside the civil service. I would like to emphasise that all these increases in pay and improvements in conditions have been granted under the agreed scheme for conciliation and arbitration for the civil service.
The balance of £1.118 million required under subhead A is made up of higher social welfare employer's contributions, increased expenditure on overtime, and the staff costs of a second television licence campaign, partly offset by savings elsewhere in the subhead.
The additional sum of £520,000 under subhead B is needed mainly because of higher subsistence rates and more travelling by engineering staff arising from the accelerated telephone development programme.
Under subhead C an extra £10.34 million is required. Of this amount £9.3 million is for purchase of sites and provision of new telephone exchange buildings and extensions for the telephone service. The balance of £1.04 million is to meet increased expenditure on rents and rates and higher costs of light, heat and power.
A further £11.66 million is required under subhead F mainly because of increased expenditure on engineering stores and equipment. The extra provision includes £300,000 for price increases in petrol and oil used by engineering vehicles.
Under subhead G an additional sum of £1.068 million is required for repayments to the Exchequer because telephone capital investment in 1979 was higher than expected when the Estimate was being prepared.
Of the increase of £23.5 million under appropriations-in-aid, all but £100,000 represents the recoupment from telephone capital funds of higher expenditure on telephone development under subheads A, B, C and F. In fact, expenditure on telephone development will amount to £123.4 million as against the provision of £100 million on which the original Estimate was based.
That £23.4 million extra proposed for telephone development reflects the Government's commitment to providing a high quality telephone service in the shortest possible time. Improvements in the telephone service cannot, of course, be brought about without paying the necessary cost. For example, the revised provision for subhead A includes the cost of about 1,000 extra engineering staff recruited this year to enable, in particular, the local cabling systems to be strengthened and more telephones to be installed in the years ahead. More overtime was worked also this year to allow of more connections being made than would otherwise have been possible while awaiting the recruitment and training  of extra staff. Similarly, in order to provide more telephone connections, more stores were needed and this has contributed to the increases under subhead F.
Deputies may recall that in earlier statements in the House I referred to the streamlining of procedures associated with the provision of buildings, including both the internal precedures in my Department and in the Office of Public Works and between both. This streamlining is bearing fruit and more progress is being made with a number of buildings than it had been expected would be possible. This, in turn, will lead to improvements in service in the centres concerned earlier than would otherwise have been possible and this will, I am sure, be welcomed by Deputies generally. The speeding up of course has had the effect that more work will have to be paid for this year than had been provided for in the original Estimate, and this additional expenditure is now included in the increased provision sought under subhead C.
Similarly, it has been possible to make substantial progress with the ordering of new telephone exchanges, both trunk and local, and with development of the trunk network generally, and this too has affected the expected out-turn under subhead F.
These three subheads — A covering pay, C which deals with accommodation and F which provides for engineering stores and equipment — account for most of the additional money now required. As the extra money is needed mainly for telephone development purposes, I propose to deal briefly with progress on telephone development.
Before I do so, however, I would like to preface my comments by repeating what I have said in the House and elsewhere before, that there are no instant solutions that will provide a better telephone service overnight. It is a long haul, involving as it does, providing some 500 new buildings, replacing or extending all existing trunk and local telephone exchanges, converting about 480 exchanges, or almost half the existing  number, to automatic working, strengthening all existing trunk routes to carry at least double the existing volume of traffic, adding to the overhead or underground cabling to enable the number of subscribers to be doubled, increasing the rate of installation of new phones from 40,000 to well over 100,000 and recruiting and training a few thousand extra staff. It will involve doing as much work over a five-year period as in the previous 80 years. This is a formidable task.
It is important that Deputies and the public generally should appreciate what is involved. I have never given the impression, and I do not want to do so now either, that there are instant solutions to our telephone problems. There are not. The Department of Posts and Telegraphs Review Group when reporting last year gave their estimate of the time required to bring the standard of our telecommunications service in terms of quality and availability up to the level in other EEC countries as at least five years. That is also my Department's estimate. It is unrealistic to expect that substantial improvements can be achieved nationally in a short time; it simply cannot be done. There are no overnight solutions. But it is a problem that is being tackled with vigour, as will be evident from this Supplementary Estimate. This year I set a target of 60,000 new telephones or almost 50 per cent more than the highest in any previous year. Next year, the target will be 80,000 or almost double the highest achieved previously. That, I submit, is progress — solid progress.
Improvements will come progressively, too, in the quality of service. Quite soon, a new stored programme trunk exchange will be opened here in Dublin and will be brought fully into service over the following six months or so. This will provide substantial relief for the Dublin trunk exchanges which are severely congested and will enable many badly needed trunk circuits to be provided on the trunk routes to and from Dublin and cross-Channel over the next six months. But, again, I want to put it on record in case of any possible misunderstanding that the exchange to be opened shortly  will not eliminate all the congestion in the Dublin trunk exchanges. The additional exchanges that will do this are on order and will be in service by 1982.
New trunk exchanges are in course of installation or on order for all key centres where they are needed. These include further exchanges for Dublin as well as major new exchanges for Cork, Limerick, Galway, Athlone, Naas, Tralee, Sligo, Drogheda, Dundalk and at some 14 other centres. These will begin to become available from about the middle of next year onwards and will obviously bring substantial improvements in those areas, as well as contributing to an overall improvement in the system nationally.
Side-by-side with this, the trunk circuit system is being strengthened. New microwave links will be ready for service shortly between Dublin and Sligo, and will be extended to Letterkenny in the first half of next year. A new link is due to be opened shortly between here and Britain to coincide with the opening of the new trunk exchange in Dublin. Microwave radio link or co-axial cable schemes are in progress or are on order for such routes as Dublin-Navan-Mullingar, Cork-Waterford, Dublin-Cork, Cork-Middleton, Navan-Drogheda, Westport to Castlebar, Bantry to Cork, Tralee to Limerick and an east coast link serving Dublin, Wicklow. Arklow, Enniscorthy, and Waterford. Most of these should be in service next year.
This year, 18 manual telephone exchanges serving over 2,500 subscribers were converted to automatic working, and automatic exchanges to replace about 290 of the remaining 450 exchanges are on order. These will be installed over a period of about two years beginning next year.
The telex service is one that is most useful to business and industry and this is reflected in demand which over the last year or so had been running at a record level. As a result there is a backlog of applicants waiting for telex service at present despite the fact that the installation  rate is also running at a very high level. But it is planned to virtually wipe out the waiting list during 1981, and I am confident that this can be done, for this increased exchange capacity is needed. A new telex exchange is in course of installation in Dublin at present and will be ready for service in the first half of next year. This will have a capacity to meet expected demand up to the end of the decade.
While, as I said at the outset, there is no magic formula for providing instant, overnight solutions for the problems of the telephone service, it will, I hope, be evident from what I have said that the problems are being tackled with the utmost vigour. And while improvements in many aspects of the service will necessarily take time, solid progress has already been made and the fact that more cannot be achieved more quickly is due to the sins of the past rather than any neglect of the present.
So far as the postal service is concerned. I am glad to say that regular monitoring shows that for the past few months over 85 per cent of first class letters are now regularly delivered on the next day after posting. This represents a considerable improvement and my Department will continue their efforts to improve the standards of the postal service still further.
Mr. Deasy: As the saying goes “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time”. This sums up the Minister's term of almost one year of office. Despite his extravagant promises earlier this year at the Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis, and repeatedly here in the House, the fact of the matter is that the telephone system has, if anything, deteriorated, especially in the past year and particularly during the past three-and-a-half years, during the term of office of this Government.
What the public want and expect is to see a concrete, definite, visible improvement — an audible improvement, I suppose, is the word in this case. Such has not been forthcoming and until such time  as there is a practical solution and a viable improvement, we shall keep on saying “Promises, promises, more promises”. We want to know when we will get results. We on this side of the House have repeatedly supported the Government when they have advocated improvements in the telecommunications services. We lauded the findings of the review body set up to investigate the workings of the telephone communications system and postal system within the Post Office. We would like some tangible evidence that the recommendations of this review body are being brought into force. Unfortunately, that is not the case. The incidence of telephone breakdowns is far too high, of the obtaining of wrong numbers when dialling is far too high, of not getting a reply at all is far too high, of crossed lines or interference is far too high. The whole system has not improved, but disimproved, in particular over the past three-and-a-half years and more so, I should imagine, in the last year.
The situation has come to such a pitch that many telephone subscribers are making less use of their phones, particularly in the Dublin area and perhaps in certain other parts of the country as well, because of the inadequate nature of the service, because of the faulty manner in which it is working.
This idea of installing tens of thousands of telephones each year is a beautiful concept. Unfortunately, the infrastructure within the exchange network in the Post Office is not sufficient to meet the demand of a huge number of new telephones. It is no good the Minister promising at the Ard-Fheis or in this House to install 50 per cent more telephones this year than last year — he gives today a figure of 60,000 — unless those telephones and the existing telephones work satisfactorily, and they are not working satisfactorily at the moment. The problems of the infrastructure should be tackled immediately.
The Minister is obviously trying to produce statistics which will show him to have brought about a major achievement. We on this side of the House would prefer to see concrete evidence — we  would much prefer a tangible achievement. We would like to see the telephone system working. There is no point in installing 60,000 more phones in 1980 if they are not going to work satisfactorily and if the existing ones are going to work less satisfactorily, as has been the case heretofore. The frustration of the consumer is enormous and is growing. The Minister is irritating the public, rather than assuaging their fears, by his promises of a greater and better service. The first hand evidence proves that the contrary is the case. We would like to see more money going into the infrastructure, into the provision of larger and better exchanges, better equipment, before trying to overcrowd the present exchanges. That is basically the reason why the service has virtually collapsed in many areas. We are trying to pump so many new telephones into an inadequate trunk system and the problems are accentuating the whole time and increasing to such an extent that in areas there is an almost total breakdown in service. The Minister should not be so egotistic but should be practical and not try to produce figures which will make him look like the whiz kid of the Government. I wish he were. I wish he could prove that by getting the results, but he is trying to prove it by producing figures and not getting results, which is what we on this side of the House object to.
In reply to a question here last week, despite the extravagant promises and despite the figures produced here before us today, it came to light that at the moment there are 94,000 applicants for telephone installations waiting to have their requests met. When the Ceann Comhairle was Minister for Posts and Telegraphs he was probably the most modest Minister in this House. He did not promise 60,000 telephones in a year. He did not make such extravagant promises, but then he did not have such a long waiting list.
Never before was there such a waiting list. Of that 94,000 on the waiting list 26,000 have been waiting for two or more years. I obtained that information from a reply to a parliamentary question. That is an enormous number of people to be  waiting for two or more years. The Minister should not be boasting unduly or raising people's hopes when the situation is that serious. Statistics are easy to read off. The figure of 94,000 is just another statistic but it represents a huge waiting list, and when one considers that 26,000 of those people have been waiting for two or more years it is difficult to understand how the Minister can pretend that everything in the garden is rosy.
Mr. Deasy: Maybe I am exaggerating a little. I will not say that the Minister said everything in the garden is rosy but he would like us to believe that. He qualified all his statements by saying that there was no overnight solution to the problem. Of course there is not but the Minister would like us to think there was.
Mr. Deasy: There is no over night solution when one considers that some 26,000 people have been waiting for two or more years. Basically, the problem is in the infrastructure of the Post Office. I should like to see that problem tackled in the first instance. We have been told in reply to questions that huge areas of the country suffer from breakdowns. When it rains in Blanchardstown, Clonsilla, Leixlip the whole system in County Dublin goes wallop. We would like to see a basic improvement. What is happening at present is that thousands of telephones are being installed but they are not being connected. People are paying installation fees in advance but the telephone instrument which is put in is left for months without being connected. The Department are collecting the installation fee and the Minister is collecting the statistical kudos as well as the egotistical kudos but the telephones are not connected. When replying the Minister should tell us how many of the new telephones have been connected and are working. I suspect that the percentage is alarming.
From my information from within the Post Office there is still a tremendous lack of the basic commodities needed for  our telephone system. Repeatedly I have been told by officials in the engineering section that they do not have enough telephone cable, the basic necessity for transmitting a signal or a voice from one centre to another. They do not have the necessary stores, as they are called, and they do not have sufficient trained personnel to carry out the installations. A lot of the chaos is due to that type of underfinancing. There is little use in the Minister telling us that it was due to four-and-a-half years of neglect by the National Coalition.
Mr. Deasy: I will give the Minister some definite reasons why the system is chaotic and why we need infrastructure. Up to now we have not had a proper infrastructure because of the lack of money which successive Fianna Fáil Governments failed to pump into the Post Office network. The allocation of capital expenditure for the telephone service went as follows up to 1970: 1960-61, £2 million; 1961-62. £2,400,000; 1962-63, £3,500,000; 1963-64, £4,500,000; 1964-65, £6 million; 1965-66, £6,500,000; 1966-67, £5,500,000; 1967-68, £5,800,000; 1968-69, £6,400,000; 1969-70, £7,500,000.
Those figures are ridiculous in the context of a national telephone system and Fianna Fáil were in power in those years. In 1969-70, a mere ten years ago, the capital allocation was £7,500,000 and in 1970-71 it was £9 million while in 1971-72 it had increased to £11 million. At this stage the Fianna Fáil Government were beginning to see the light of day and the capital allocation in 1972-73 for the telephone service went up to £17 million. We first saw the light of day as far as the telephone system was concerned in 1973-74 and I do not think it was a coincidence that that was the advent of the National Coalition to office. In that financial year £24 million was spent on the telephone system. That is a multiple of what was spent by a number of Fianna Fáil Governments in the preceding 12 years, not just a 33 per cent or 50 per cent increase.
In 1974, when the financial year of  April to April was changed — there was only nine months in that financial year — the National Coalition invested £24 million and in 1975 they invested £45 million. In 1976 they invested £50 million while in 1977 they invested £54,500,000. We are all a bit fed up on this side of the House at being told by the Minister, and his Minister of State, Deputy Killilea, that the problems are as a result of neglect and under-investment by the National Coalition. Nothing could be further from the truth. The National Coalition was the first Government to make a decent and realistic attempt to tackle the problem and the figures I have quoted prove that point. We have heard such great play of this enormous phased investment, over five years amounting to £650 million by the Government. In fact, the investment, taken at the 1974, 1975, 1976 and 1977 prices, is much the same as in those years.
The inadequacy occurred in the preceding 12 years of Fianna Fail Governments when as little as £2 million was invested annually in the telephone system. I should like to see credit given where credit is due. Credit should be given for the fact that in 1973-74 the first practical step to improve the chaotic telephone system was taken. There is no use in the Minister in the House or at a Fianna Fail Ard Fheis craw-thumping about what he is going to do to revitalise, renew or improve the system. He is merely continuing a trend which started in 1973 and he should not forget that. I wish the Minister well. I do not wish to be unduly critical but I have a duty to set the record straight. We are all browned-off with hearing Deputy Killilea making incorrect statements in relation to investment in the telephone service.
The present system is highly inadequate. As spokesman for my party on Transport and Telecommunications I am deluged with letters of complaints from people all over the country about the poor quality of the telephone service, the length of time they have been waiting for a connection, the impersonal response they get to their complaints and the fact that their claims about wrong accounts  are not, in their opinion, properly adjudicated upon. Obviously there is a serious lack in the Department in this respect.
It may be due to understaffing but, to my mind, the complaints are due to a lack of personal contact. This is not the first time I have made that type of statement in the House, and, despite the Minister's repeated promises to rectify the position, we have not seen any improvements in that regard. I see no positive evidence that there has been an improvement. I should like the Minister in his reply to comment on the dissatisfaction which is being expressed by the public, and I should like him to tell us what he is doing about it.
The basic reason is quite obvious. The system is inadequate. Some things can be improved without spending vast sums of money or without spending any extra money at all. It is an attitude of mind. A shake-up is long overdue and probably the people in the Minister's Department would be the first to agree with that. They would be delighted to be allowed to have closer communication with the public. It is extraordinary that the Department of Posts and Telegraphs are the worst Department in the whole civil service system when it comes to communicating with the public. That is deplorable and it should be improved.
I will refer to that again shortly. I was referring to the number of complaints I get from private individuals who have been waiting for four or five years for the installation of a telephone, private individuals who are frustrated by the inadequate manner in which their telephones work and by the number of times they get a wrong number or some other such problem. Existing customers surely should be given a preference in improvement work, but that does not seem to be the case. It is a by-word in industry that in any service the existing customer should get priority when the service provided is inadequate. That used to be the case in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs but it seems it is not the case any longer. If you are looking for the transfer of a telephone to a new address the priority seems to have slipped. That is bad enough, but when the exchanges are  overloaded to such an extent that the service to the existing customer becomes inferior that must be a cause for concern.
The Minister tells us repeatedly that things are improving. I suggest that he should read the letters in the Irish Independent, The Irish Press, The Irish Times or The Cork Examiner. He should also have a look at the special notice columns in those newspapers. Recently they have indicated that the service has deteriorated. This is not myself as the Fine Gael spokesman slating the Minister, but the public in general. Today there is an editorial in the Irish Independent which tells the Minister that the time for promises is over and we should have some action.
We have the diabolical situation that industry is suffering gravely as a result of inadequate telephone and telex services. To illustrate that point I made a note of the complaints in the special notice columns on the back page of The Irish Times. Each notice I refer to was a case where the company were apologising to their customers and to the public in general because of the fact that their telephone or telex system was no longer working and that they could not be contacted. On 14 October Skyway Couriers Ltd. made such an apology. On 18 October a company known as the General Accident Company made a similar apology. On 20 October the Allied Irish Banks apologised to their customers because their telephone system had gone wallop. The well-known auctioneers, Keane Mahony Smith, apologised to the general public for the same reason. On 22 October the Allied Irish Banks Ltd., Foster Place, Dublin 2, apologised because of the fact that they no longer had a telephone system. The Abbey Group Ltd. made a similar apology. The Texas Instrument Company made a similar apology. It was not that these companies had not paid their bills. The system was not working. They had not been cut off for any other reason. Texaco Ireland Ltd. also apologised to the public.
As always with complaints, these represent just the tip of the iceberg. We are told that nine-tenths of an iceberg is under the sea. If four companies saw fit to apologise to the public on the same  day for the non-existence of their telephone service there must be 36 or 40 companies who did not have a telephone service but who did not think it worth their while to apologise or felt that the position was so hopeless that there was no point in apologising. There never was such a list of complaints in a national newspaper until recent months. There might have been one such notice in a year. This is indicative of the collapse of the telephone system.
I say to the Minister: “Go out and make the existing system work before you try to prove that you are the greatest, in the words of a well-known former heavyweight boxing champion. Get the damn thing to work and forget about your glowing statistics and the boast that Albert is the greatest and he is the man who can deliver. “That is no good to the telephone subscriber. We want a system that is seen to work. All credit is due to the previous Minister, the present Ceann Comhairle. He did not do any ranting or raving at Ard Fheiseanna. He did not do any shouting or bawling. He did his work and continued the good work done during the years of the National Coalition and things were going fine. What irritates the public is that the Minister keeps telling them things were never so good. There is a touch of Harold Macmillan about him in that respect. Things were never so bad. If the Minister told the people the truth more often——
Mr. Deasy: ——and made fewer false claims, they would be more receptive and more tolerant about the deficiencies in the system. We all recognise that there are deficiencies. The Minister should stop trying to produce statistics to prove that the system is a lot better than it is and that it will improve faster. This Government have been in power for three-and-a-half years and despite their promises in that time we have not had any improvement. We have had a deterioration. In the four-and-a-half years from 1973 to 1977 things improved greatly. In reply to a Dáil question put down by Deputy B.  Desmond on 23 October 1979 in relation to the workings of the telephone system we were told that the number of telephone connections for the four years starting on 1 July 1969 to 30 June 1973 was 95,000. From 1 July 1973 to 30 June 1977 there were 142,000 telephone installations, a more than 50 per cent improvement.
Mr. Deasy: In the same period the number of trunk circuits increased from 5,800 to 9,400, a 66 per cent increase. The mileage of trunk circuits increased from 270,000 miles to 413,000 miles. The number of new telex lines increased from 1,086 to 1,839, a 70 per cent increase. The number of data transmission terminals increased from 42 to 392, almost a ten-fold increase. The number of new telephone exchange buildings increased from 103 to 189 and the number of new postal buildings increased from 15 to 22. Those statistics prove that the first major leap in improving the telephone system occurred during 1973, 1974 and 1975.
Relations between the public — the subscribers — and the Department are something about which the Minister promised to do something, but nothing has occurred. When people engage in a financial transaction they go to the local bank and speak directly to the manager, the assistant manager or the cashier. If somebody wants to deal with the ACC most provincial towns have an office that a person can go to, and a person can go to any local ESB office to discuss an account. All national institutions have a front office where one can discuss one's  problems, all except the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. If one has a problem with the Department one is sent around in circles if one is lucky enough in the first instance to get through to inquiries. There is no personal contact and that situation should be improved. I am only asking the Minister for what all the other State, semi-State and private commercial firms are providing, an opportunity for the subscriber to meet somebody to discuss his complaint. It is like a secret society at the moment. Where does one meet an official who will give a satisfactory explanation in relation to a query about the doubling of an account, for instance? The time has come when the Post Office besides selling stamps, postal orders and sundry items will have to provide an on-the-spot inquiry service. The public will not bite them. They may bark as they do at all of us from time to time, possibly because we do not produce the goods. People should be given a reasonable opportunity to express their complaints and have them discussed and to have finality reached.
I have had to ask a number of Dáil questions about trivial matters affecting telephone accounts. That is a waste of time, it is infuriating for the subscriber and it ends up that nobody is satisfied. I have yet to see a satisfactory conclusion coming when people are dealing through correspondence. It is not the way to do business. When will the Minister redress that situation? The Minister told us during the debate on the original Posts and Telegraphs Estimate that he would do something, but nothing has happened. The reply by Deputy Killilea to a supplementary question which arose as a result of a Dáil question on 24 April 1980 told us that in the quarter referred to in the question 72,000 queries about accounts had been raised by members of the public with his Department. That is an astounding figure and it proves the gravity of the situation. These queries were obviously dealt with in an impersonal manner. That is not good enough. Deputy Killilea also said that 15,000 of those complaints referred to disputed metered call charges.
 How can we have a satisfactory service when we have that many disputed accounts in the one quarter? Will the Minister explain the system whereby disputes or queries are dealt with? There is not an adequate system to deal with them. The Department of Posts and Telegraphs will not provide an adequate service until they can give the public a reasonable opportunity to discuss their grievances. It is impossible to do business with an anonymous person over the telephone. We all know from experience that it is far better to approach a Department and meet the people involved so that when we later discuss problems with them over the telephone we will realise that they are not monsters, and that they are human. The Department should operate a system whereby the people we are dealing with can be met not by just Dáil Deputies or Senators but by the general public. What we need is personal contact.
The Department of Telecommunications is by far the worst Department when it comes to communicating with the public and with its own customers, that is, subscribers. There is a huge breakdown in communications and, while we appreciate the commitment by the Government to spend £650 million over five years, there are other things which are more important than money and the main one is a proper attitude of mind. It will not cost anything but a restructuring of the existing service. It will satisfy the customer to a great degree and also those in the Department. I pity telephone operators because of the unfair abuse and hardship they endure. I put it down to the impersonal attitude adopted within the Department.
The Minister, as head of the Department, is the person to change the existing structures and I am sure employees in the Department, in particular telephone operators and those dealing with the public's complaints, would be grateful if the restructuring I am talking about were brought into operation. Meeting people face to face one may get the occasional burst or insult but it is the best way to deal with problems.
In his statement the Minister made reference  to the recruitment of new staff into the Post Office. It has been brought to my notice that there is a potential corrupt practice being brought into operation. I am not a man to make allegations lightly. The source of my information is in a Department of Posts and Telegraphs staff magazine known as The Relay. I am sure the Minister has seen it.
Mr. Deasy: September-October 1980. The contents of an article on page 20 must give rise to grave public concern. It reinforces stories that we have heard and have been told about methods of recruitment within the Departments. The article I refer to is headed “General Secretary's Report” and the subheading is “Recruitment of Trainee Installers”. It states:
became aware that the Department were recruiting trainee installers from the last competition in an irregular way — i.e. they were not calling them in the order of merit as decided by the Interview Board. The effect of this was that Number 27 on the list could be called before Number 1, and I am sure most people will be able to guess why this was happening.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Chair has ruled that a charge of corruption will not be made. If the Deputy wants to allege political influence that is a charge against the political head of the Department and that is fair enough.
Mr. Reynolds: The Deputy said there was corruption in the recruitment to jobs in my Department which is part of the civil service. That is a terrible allegation to make against any section of the civil service in any Department.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Chair is speaking. Deputy Deasy should wait to hear the Chair. The Minister has no say in this. It is the Chair who decides these  things. If a charge of political corruption has been made against the civil service it must be withdrawn.
Mr. Deasy: What I said was that in the magazine, the official organ of the Irish Post Office Engineering Union, they, the civil servants, complain that the impartiality of the interview board for the employment of trainee installers is not being upheld. They say the effect of this was that Number 27 on the list could be called before Number 1. “I am sure most people will be able to guess why this was happening.”
Mr. Deasy: Besides saying that there has been an exchange of correspondence on the matter the general secretary's report says that branch secretaries should furnish details of all recruitment of trainee installers in their branch area as soon as possible so that the operation of the agreement can be monitored. They have insisted that people be given preference according to the order in which they appear after being selected by the interview board. Obviously the intercession of the union has straightened matters out. The first paragraph certainly would lead one to believe that things were not above board, to put it politely.
Mr. Deasy: I would like to think that recruitment of a technical person such as a trainee installer, which surely is a post where people are selected because of their aptitude, would be done strictly on a basis of merit and of the applicant's aptitude for the job. I share the concern of the Post Office Engineering Union on that matter that things were not being done as ethically as in the past. I would like to ask the Minister what steps are being taken to improve the influx of qualified engineers from Irish universities and third level institutions of technology into the Post Office service.
We have had repeated complaints from  people in high authority that the number of qualified people is decreasing rather than increasing. It is obvious that we need an increased influx of highly qualified people, but this has not been the case. We have a complaint from the National Board for Science and Technology that, to quote from Dr. Lalor, a director of that board. “There is very little co-operation between the Post Office, industry and the universities” and he suggests that this should change. If the telephone system is to improve, surely the acquisition of highly trained and skilled people is imperative.
The statement by Dr. Lalor is disturbing. I am told also that in recent years there has been a tendency for the number of people from the universities and these third level institutions going into the Post Office to decrease because the financial attractions of private industries are so much greater. I would like the Minister to let us know what plans he has to improve the salary structure and, as a result, the ratio of recruitment. Obviously there is no point in getting hundreds of millions of pounds worth of equipment unless you have the trained personnel at all levels. We accept that the bulk of the trained personnel will come from within the Post Office itself up through the ranks to the engineering section. However, we need different levels of trained personnel and it is accepted that trained university graduates in electrical or mechanical engineering or whatever degrees or diplomas are necessary are needed, or at least a strong element of those are needed. The Minister might tell us what plans he has to improve the present rate of recruitment from the highly qualified sector of the community.
That is as much as I have to say on the matter. I reiterate my opening statement that we have heard it all before from the Minister regarding promises of a better telephone system and an increased number of installations. We have not seen any tangible results of his promises. We want to see results. There is no point in having telephones dangling without being connected up to the local exchange. We want to see a telephone system that works. We  do not necessarily want to see a telephone system that is expanded out of all proportion and which only becomes more chaotic as time passes. That, unfortunately, is the situation that pertains at present.
Mr. Corish: As the Minister has stated, the original Estimate was £235 million and we are told now that the Department need another £26.25 million. By any standard that is a really heavy increase. It is an increase of £50 million when one disregards the amount set down for appropriations-in-aid. In any case, it could be regarded as a hefty increase notwithstanding the fact that there is provision in the Supplementary Estimate for salaries and wages. The Minister in his speech did not give us a breakdown nor is there a breakdown in the estimate except to say how much the national understanding will cost the Department this year.
Apart from that, there is too large an error in estimation, save for the commitments that have been made. This Estimate shows a requirement of £50 million over and above the original Estimate and that amounts to a quarter of the original Estimate. The Minister cannot excuse himself on the grounds that when the Estimates were being prepared he did not hold the portfolio. He was appointed Minister in December of last year, 1979, and I believe that at that stage the Estimates had been fixed and agreed upon by the Cabinet in either November or December. The Deputy was Minister for three months before the budget was introduced. It appears to me — possibly because he was not experienced enough, and I do not blame him for that — that he could have looked for much more money than was allocated to him in the Estimates agreed in the Cabinet in November or December of last year. In the meantime it appeared to the public that he was on top of his job. The impression was given at the Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis, and we all remember his speech. I forget whether I saw him on television or listened to him on radio, but he gave a very good theatrical performance. I do not blame him for that because that is  what is required at an annual conference or Ard-Fheis. However, he more or less ran away with himself, egged on by his Minister of State, who wanted him to up the ante all the time.
We heard in a very dramatic speech a promise of 60,000 new phones a year. I do not know what base year the Minister had, but he has not achieved that goal in the last nine or ten months. We are to get 80,000 telephones the following year, followed by 100,000 telephones and then 120,000 telephones. The Minister more or less retracted in his speech this morning when he said that this cannot be done overnight. Of course, we would all agree that this is the case and we must also realise that the demand for telephones is increasing from year to year. At one time only certain kinds of people had telephones, such as those involved in business, but now many more people need a telephone for social and semi-business purposes. The provision of telephones will be a particular problem not only for the present Minister but to Ministers in the years to come. Egged on by his Minister of State, the Minister was enthusiastic in his efforts to give the impression to me and others who watched the proceedings of the Ard Fheis that every person would get a telephone and if people did not want one he would force a telephone on them. He is now very far away from those promises. If the number of telephone installations is as far off the mark as his estimates, people will recognise that this is another Fianna Fáil promise which has gone wrong.
It has often been said that the Department of Posts and Telegraphs is the only Department of State which is equivalent to a business concern. That being so, this Supplementary Estimate could be regarded as very sloppy indeed. We are told that an increase of £22.5 million is needed for overtime payments and for the second TV licence campaign. I should like to have a more detailed breakdown of the figures and in respect of the amount for overtime I should like to know whether this is to cover overtime working in the postal services. The Minister expressed satisfaction with the postal  services, but I do not think the House and members of his own party would entirely agree with him. There is evidence of a gradual decline in the standards of the postal services and the main complaint is irregularity in deliveries. I do not know how big a problem this is for the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. It cannot be the fault of the postmen themselves but rather of the system. Perhaps in his reply the Minister would reiterate what he said regarding his satisfaction with the standard of postal services.
Will the extra money being provided for overtime working mean an increase in the speed of telephone installations? Deputy Deasy has outlined in great detail the delays which are occurring. The situation is still very unsatisfactory. Apart from the matter of installations, the Minister should consider the whole question of defects in the present system. It is almost impossible to contact the switchboard when one requires it and I find it extremely difficult to make a trunk call to my constituency. When one dials a number one hears screeches and whistles and one is very lucky if one is eventually able to make contact. Our telephone system is considered a joke by business people and visitors to this country, but it is not a joke for those people who have to use the telephones. It is easier to contact London and various other cities in Britain than to make a simple call within this city or to some other part of the country.
There is also provision for the free telephone rental service. The promise in the manifesto to provide a scheme of free telephone for certain people was welcome, but we believed at that time that the promise would not be completely fulfilled for those qualifying for free television rental.
Mr. Corish: This scheme is confined to people over the age of 66 who receive an allowance for living alone. This is the connection with the Department of Social Welfare. I would point out to the Minister that very few people have had telephones installed under this scheme. There was no mention of it in the Minister's speech, although I appreciate that he may have mentioned it in his speech on the main Estimate. People who qualify under this scheme are very disappointed that as yet no move has been made to instal a telephone. Perhaps the Minister would tell us how many applications have been received for this scheme during the past three years, the number approved and the number of telephones installed.
There is also provision for the second TV licence campaign. I believe this is necessary. Those people who criticise the recent increase in the cost of TV licences are justified to the extent that the Department have failed to collect a very substantial sum of money which is owing for TV licences. Quite rightly those who do not pay for their licences have been called “spongers”, but it is unfortunate that good citizens must now pay an increased fee because of this. I would ask the Minister to tell the House what type of personnel these inspectors are. Are they recruited from the Department? Are they permanent employees of the Department or have they been recruited in a temporary capacity?
There is one other thing I would like to mention in respect of that TV licence campaign. A report about it appeared in the Evening Herald the night before last. It described an incident where an official of the Department — and I am sure it was an official of the Department — called to the house of an elderly couple after dark. They were reluctant to open the door, as many people are, because of the level of crime and vandalism, thinking that it might be somebody who was going to demand money from them. The officials of the Department should use  greater discretion. If they are trying to find out whether or not people have a television licence they should do so during normal business hours, particularly where old people are concerned because many of them are terrified when they hear a knock on the door. I would therefore ask the Minister to ensure that these spot checks would be carried out in daylight as far as possible.
Mr. Corish: Yes. It is infectious when one has anything to do with Deputy Killilea. There is provision for an increase of expenditure for An Bord Poist and An Bord Telecom. There was a very interesting report published a year or 18 months ago by a review body but since then there has not been any progress. There is a sum of money in respect of the work they have to do and the expenses they have but, in respect of this review group, will the Minister tell us what the next step is. What are they doing? Will there have to be legislation and if so when will it be introduced in Dáil Éireann? This idea of a separate board for the postal services and the telephone service has been acclaimed by many people. We are told it will be the solution to all our problems in relation to posts and telephones. But we will only have to wait and see whether or not this is true. There was in that report a statement to the effect that there has been a consultation or consultations with the trade unions. But there will have to be very many more consultations with the trade unions because they are very concerned as to what their status will be if the new proposal to establish a bord Poist and a bord Telecom is adopted. Perhaps the Minister will give us his views on that.
We all remember the last postal strike in the first half of 1979. It would be agreed that it was a disastrous dispute and the type of dispute that this country cannot afford to have ever again. For that reason I would like the Minister, in this discussion, to tell us whether or not there will be worker participation. It is of vital importance if we are to avoid trouble or  any sort of industrial dispute within the postal and telephone service. As the Minister is aware there was a Bill brought through this House by the former Minister for Labour, Deputy O'Leary, and it has been successful particularly for many of the semi-State industries. I would suggest to the Minister that the establishment of these two boards will not be a success unless there is worker participation as there is in many of the semi-State bodies at present. Worker participation will ensure that at all times the view of the workers and of the trade unions will be presented to the board and that we will not have a situation where two sides will be facing one another in a long drawn-out battle to the detriment not alone of the participants——
Mr. Corish: I am not making a meal of it and I think the Minister takes my point. There is provision for sites and buildings in an amount of £10 million. I wonder has the buying of sites and buildings been done, as was suggested in the review report, in preparation for an improvement in particular in the telephone service? It is well that the Minister should give us some sort of breakdown with regard to the purchase price paid for the land. Perhaps he would let me know and let the House know. Recently the Department of Posts and Telegraphs purchased a site, owned by Pearse's of Wexford, at Distillery Road. Perhaps the Minister would tell me what was the purchase price. I cannot understand why, in respect of the item for sites and buildings, there was an under-estimation of £10 million. The purchase of these sites and buildings must have been foreseen this time last year. To come along a year afterwards and look for £10 million would make one believe that the preparation of the Estimates has been very sloppy. That £10 million could have been provided for and should have been provided for in the original Estimate. For some unknown  reason it was not. Perhaps the Minister would comment on that as well.
In relation to engineering stores and equipment £11.5 million is required. That again shows an under-estimation by one-sixth. Why the Department could not have estimated what was required for engineering stores and for equipment this time last year I cannot imagine. An under-estimation of one-sixth is pretty big indeed. We are told that in respect of the £11.5 million it is to provide for petrol and oil increases but that would certainly not be the amount for that despite the fact that they have gone up steeply. I cannot remember whether the Minister referred to it in his original speech, but perhaps he will tell us where the bulk of that is to go.
Everybody appreciates that the telephone system must be fully automated. The Minister has said that this will be done and that there will be only approximately 250 exchanges left that would not be automated in another year or so. But we trust that every telephone system in every district will be fully automated and that we will get away from the old-fashioned system of communication that we have in so many places at present. The telephone service must be regarded as an essential service. To some extent it should be regarded, where necessary, as a social service. The Department of Posts and Telegraphs is the one more like a business outfit than any other Department of State. I would appeal to the Minister that public telephones be provided for in local authority housing areas. In particular, when a housing scheme is being built by the local authority, the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs should move in to see that a public telephone kiosk is installed.
Whenever there is a request from a local body for a telephone kiosk the department reply is that it is not considered to be economic. Possibly it is not economic in money terms but consideration should be given to terms of human life. There are vast housing estates and smaller estates in the provincial towns many of which have no public telephone kiosks. I urge the Minister and his colleague, the Minister for the Environment,  to ensure that when a new housing scheme is being built provision be made for a telephone kiosk and that the notion of an installation of a kiosk in an existing housing scheme not being economically viable be disregarded. In the present situation in Dublin, where crime appears to be rampant, the victims very often have to travel long distances to get to a telephone and contact the Garda. The same applies in the case of fire. In many Dublin estates I am told that even where it has been agreed to instal a kiosk there is delay of from three to five years. There is a similar waiting period in the case of private applications.
As far as my party are concerned the Minister will have our full support in any measures to improve the telephone system and the postal services. It is a formidable task. I think it would be agreed by the House that too little attention was paid to the Department of Posts and Telegraphs over many years. Ministers in that Department found it very difficult to get their colleagues in the Cabinet to agree to advance adequate finance to ensure that we would have proper telephone and postal services comparable to those in any country in the western world. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Our telephone system is a joke, particularly with foreigners. We have lost industry due to poor communications. It is a big consideration for somebody who seeks to set up an industry here when they are not impressed by our telephone system. Unless we can improve our communications systems we shall suffer as regards attracting foreign industry.
The Minister smiled when I referred to his Ard-Fheis speech — at least he has a sense of humour. I suppose that speech was made in the euphoria of his new office which was only three or four months old but I would suggest to him not to make promises that he cannot fulfil.
Mr. Cogan: I congratulate the Minister and the Government on the success story to date of the telecommunications system since 1977. His predecessor inherited a Department that was in a shambles  and the present Minister is to be complimented on his efforts to make our telecommunications systems the most modern in the world. I congratulate the Government on providing him with the necessary money to do the job. A sum of £650 million is to be spent over a five year period at present day prices. By the time it is spent the figure will have reached about £800 million.
This will not happen overnight but it will take a number of years. In some areas the situation has been transformed and the systems are up to date and phones are supplied on demand. We must be realistic, however, and I think the Minister is being realistic in saying that it will take three, four or five years before the entire country will be up to the highest standard. Deputy Deasy suggested that enough money was being spent on infrastructure. That is exactly what is being done; the money is being spent on infrastructure. The direction and leadership being given by the Minister, Deputy Reynolds, and by the Minister of State, Deputy Killilea, has brought new life into the Department. Cutting of red tape and getting through the bureaucracy has meant a speeding up in the whole Department as regards acquisition of sites for exchanges and the building of exchanges. Some 500 are being built at present and a further 480 are being converted. These exchanges are being fitted with the most modern equipment of the digital type and in order to facilitate the work of these large exchanges and speed up cabling microwave links are being used.
I am glad that the Department are using the most modern methods for which I commend them. This also gives the staff the necessary task of building up our telecommunications system. I have spoken to many of the workforce engaged in installation and repair services and they are very pleased at the transformation that has taken place. They are especially glad about the increased availability of engineering stores and equipment. I am glad that the Minister has included another £11.6 million under that heading. That was one of the difficulties that caused frustration in the past among staff who wanted to see  the job done. It has now been rectified. The staff are anxious to get on with the job and provide the best and most modern system possible.
Some of the major faults about which Deputy Deasy spoke were due to old cabling which, because of the design at the time it was laid, put the whole system out of action if it became waterlogged. That situation has been rectified with new cabling and pressurisation of existing cabling, and the problem will not recur. Leadership is being given by the present Minister and targets are being set, as must be done in any business. The Minister's targets are not pie in the sky but targets that can be achieved. I have confidence that this year his target of up to 50,000 telephones will be met. The people on the ground are responding to those targets and for them reaching those targets will be an achievement. Where extra workers are necessary they are being recruited. I am glad to find that an extra 1,000 have come into the engineering side of Posts and Telegraphs this year. This is a welcome development to ensure that the job will be done and done in time.
In many areas telephones are now available on demand. In some areas in Dublin in which installations are taking place, Post Office people are knocking on doors and asking people if they want phones. Deputy Deasy spoke of the great backlog but this situation is being remedied. I understand that within six months people in County Waterford, for instance, will be able to avail of a telephone service on demand. In regard to my own area of Carrigaline, I was very pleased to hear from the Minister this week that of the 320 people who are awaiting connections, 300 will be facilitated within six months. This is a very happy situation in a town that is fast expanding.
I would suggest that in areas in which new exchanges are being made available, promotion such as that which takes place in Dublin, would be continued and that all the spare capacity be put into production with the least possible delay. In urban areas the Department might consider providing a caravan to be used as a promotion unit and at which potential  subscribers could inspect the various types of telephone instruments that are available and discuss the range of services. In this way people would be encouraged, at the time of information, to arrange for necessary extensions and so on. During my maiden speech here in 1977 I suggested that in rural areas which involve some miles of line for, perhaps, one or two subscribers, every house in the area should be canvassed with a view to installing the maximum number of connections instead of having to impose a heavy initial charge on the one or two people who had applied for service. This should be much more economic than the present situation whereby five miles of cable may have to be provided for one or two subscribers. With the modern equipment that is available eight or 10 people could be accommodated from a line that up to now accommodated one or two. We should make every effort possible to provide telephone service for people in rural areas so that they may keep in touch with their families and friends who are living away from home. Farmers, too, need a telephone service for business purposes.
Much money is being spent in the development of our telecommunications systems. I take this opportunity of complimenting the Minister on his Make-It-In-Ireland campaign which is proving very successful. The Department are now using simple every-day items in the course of their work that up to now had to be imported. Even some highly sophisticated pieces of equipment that had to be imported in the past are now being made here. A small enterprise in Carrigaline have proved very successful and are supplying the Department with manhole covers which also had to be imported in the past. Industries such as these are responding to the encouragement on the part of the Government and are filling gaps in the home market. Undoubtedly people from the developing countries will be coming here to see our modern digital communications system. This system is likely to be the most modern in the world and in this regard it may be a blessing in disguise that we arrived late in terms of the development of our telecommunications  system since we will be able to avail now of the best and the most modern available.
Regarding the television licence fee campaign, I would suggest a system of ascertaining details of those who do not have television sets rather than the other way round. I say this because there is a set in almost every home today. It is very unfair to those who pay their licences to have to bear this increased cost because others are evading the fee. However, the campaign is proving effective and the advertising that is taking place in this regard is a major factor in this success.
On the question of television reception, there remain a number of so-called black spot areas throughout the country. These may be the areas that are given a low place in terms of RTE's priority. Perhaps the solution to the problem could be found in the provision of local, inexpensive, low-power transmitters or boosters. I suggest also that local communities be helped in this regard by way of grant aid and by way of technical back up from RTE. That might speed up the whole operation. I understand that this type of system works well in other countries. I should like to raise the question of medium-wave radio reception in the Cork area.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy is moving into a whole area that is not covered in this Supplementary Estimate. The only aspect of the estimate relating to RTE concerns the TV licence campaign. A discussion on RTE would involve an entirely different debate.
Mr. Cogan: The increased demand for telex services is a reflection of the advances in technology and of the need in industry for better communications. Those people who are awaiting the provision of telex services should be glad to hear that most of the backlog in this regard will be cleared during 1981.
So far as the postal service is concerned, ours is an excellent service by international standards. The records show that more than 85 per cent of first-class mail is received on the day after it is posted. That is a very good service. I hope the postal service will deliver all the Christmas mail in time and ensure a happy Christmas for many people. I should like to congratulate the Minister and the Minister of State on the excellent job they are doing in their Department.
Mr. Donnellan: In view of all the congratulations expressed by the previous speaker to the Minister and the Minister of State one would think they were men with real power in the Government. It rather reminds me of the Ayatollah — if one does not bow one's head to them one will not get the best service from them. At any rate, it appears that both the Minister and the Minister of State intend to wield their power to the fullest extent.
I should like to support the campaign of the Minister and the Department in getting people to buy television licences. However, I object totally to the proposed increase in the licence fee especially as I come from an area where we get only RTE 1 and RTE 2. When one compares the situation in other parts of the country where people have a choice of four stations, one sees that we get a poor service.
Mr. Donnellan: I accept that. I shall deal with our telephone system which seems to be continually out of order. I have frequently put down parliamentary questions on the telephone system in the  western area. The dialling system is particularly bad — one is in a kind of limbo and one cannot get the connection one wishes. In the 093 area — the Tuam area — it is impossible to dial any number. On many occasions I have got five or six wrong numbers when I attempted to dial a local number. Many times I have just left down the telephone after trying in vain to dial a number. The Galway City area — the 091 area — is almost as bad.
We hear from the Minister — and in my area from the Minister of State — about what they are doing to provide a service. They start off by saying that they inherited the system. We know it was bad but they have made it worse. The main lines have not been improved, yet they have added many more telephone numbers and the result is even more overcrowding. The old subscribers are not getting as good a service as they had before and the new subscribers are totally disgusted with the type of service they are getting. The Minister and his Minister of State think they are giving a present to people by giving them a telephone, particularly those who have applied some time ago. However, this week I raised in this House the case of a person who applied for a telephone in 1974. There have been three Ministers in the meantime but to date he has not been given a telephone. I raised this matter in a parliamentary question and perhaps officials of the Department would check on the details with a view to providing a service for this applicant.
When Deputy Reynolds was appointed Minister for Posts and Telegraphs it was not his intention to attack his immediate predecessor, now the Ceann Comhairle, but to attack a previous Minister, Dr. Cruise-O'Brien. At a Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis Deputy Reynolds told the gathering that he would meet targets. People should not fool themselves. Pounding the desk or voicing opinions about leadership will not provide a telephone service.
The Irish Times dated 18 February 1980 reported the Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis at which Deputy Reynolds spoke and they referred to opinions expressed regarding the bad telephone service. On 23 September 1980 there was a leading  article in the Irish Independent under the heading “No Phones”. It stated:
When the Minister of State at the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, Mr. Mark Killilea, tells us all that “in five years time we hope to be in a position to provide telephones on demand” he does nothing more than to make tens of thousands of people moan in despair. Bread today, jam tomorrow — is the present experience of large areas of Dublin City. These are mostly new areas where the arrival of houses seems to have caught the Department of Posts and Telegraphs by surprise and where the people who move into them have to wait for years before they hear the ringing of a phone bell in their rooms.
By what gigantic lack of planning did such a situation develop? It cannot all be put down to lack of funds — after all the Department gets a huge allowance from the Government every year. So why are we so woefully behind in the provision of phones? The answers are as various as the spokesmen.
The present Minister cannot be blamed, of course, for a decade of slippage during which the number of individuals and firms waiting for phones actually went up, not down. But he should refrain from telling us what we will have in five years time and explain to some of the more frustrated would-be telephone renters why they are not getting the service now.
The business community, also, has had a bad time at the hands of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. How on earth can the Government expect firms to move to localities where securing a line out of the area is difficult? How many investors were put off when they discovered that the phone service was non-existent?
The article goes on to say that it is no wonder people here talk about the system that operates in the United States, where you make application for a telephone and get it tomorrow. No words of mine could express more clearly or plainly what the problem is. The Minister should investigate the possibility of making available  telephone kiosks in rural areas. We have come to the stage where farmers who cannot afford a private telephone, or who, if they applied, would have to wait a long time, are at risk in an emergency situation. Telephone kiosks should be erected in rural areas to serve 20 to 30 houses. The cost would not be totally unbearable and the Department would service a lot of people and take off a lot of the pressure which is exerted on them by waiting applicants. On occasion, when we have raised this question in the House, the Department have come up with the idea that one should get one's local authority to provide the finance for erecting the unit and give a guarantee that it would be financially viable, or something to that effect. The previous Government were at the same racket, which is a handy way of dodging the issue, but this goes no way towards satisfying people at a local level. I urge on the Minister to provide telephone kiosks in rural areas, particularly where there is no applicant for a private telephone. This may go some way towards solving that problem.
The telephone and telex system in large areas of the west is so bad that the Minister must not fully realise it, but the Minister of State does. He knows that the telephone system in the area in which we both live is the worst in the world. I had occasion recently to report my phone out of order, a thing which I could do every day of the week if I wanted to. The official in the repair section of the Department in Galway admitted that they could do nothing about it, because the system was totally overloaded. It is no good saying that it will come some time. We know that it will come sometime, but the people in these areas at the moment are in great difficulty. Something should be done and is not being done. I am expressing an opinion on their behalf and trying to impress upon the Minister the necessity of providing these areas with the service which they do have to have at the moment.
There are a lot of complaints about the telephone accounts system, although this has been denied here recently by the  Minister. The number of complaints about accounts is totally out of proportion to the number of consumers serviced by the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. What people possibly do not know is that when they get a wrong number that call is recorded against them. People generally, as consumers, want to know the calls for which they are being charged. I put a Parliamentary Question on this subject recently and I do not know whether these questions get the ear of this Minister or of this Department. I want to know what I am being charged for and so does everyone else, rather than being presented with a codal system. The Minister has stated that for a small sum — and I do not know what this sum would be — the numbers could be provided. Would it not be just as easy to provide the numbers at the start, as to have the codal system? It would be a great lot easier, because when you ask for a number it is recorded and then it is transferred to a codal system and for an additional payment if you want to know the number the number is transferred back to the consumer. Everyone wants to know what numbers he has dialled. If the Department included this information in the accounts, they would save themselves a lot of trouble.
I conclude by wishing the Minister luck in the field to which he has been appointed but ask him sincerely to take a note of what I have said, particularly about the telephone and telex system of the western region.
Mr. McMahon: This Supplementary Estimate which has just been introduced by the Minister has given an opportunity to this House to either, as the second last speaker did, compliment the Department and the Minister, or to voice a grievance. It is true to say that no Department or Government have caused more annoyance down the years to a greater number of people than the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. This goes for the present Minister and for the previous Minister. One listens to ministerial announcements and, indeed, to the contributions of some Fianna Fáil Deputies, which, may I say, are few because if there is something to  be faced and trouble is brewing, they seem to run away. That seems to be the norm of the party on the opposite side.
I should have imagined that the Fianna Fáil Deputies who represent the same constituencies as we represent would have been as anxious as we are to voice their opinions and to bring to this House the annoyance of a great number of people with the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. No amount of glossing over by the Minister or his Ministers of State will change that situation. Indeed, it has been highlighted in the leading article of the newspaper quoted by the previous speaker, Deputy Donnellan, that nobody is being fooled by these ministerial announcements. Particularly in relation to telephones, people know the service they are getting or not getting. If I remember correctly about 12 months ago a Supplementary Estimate was introduced. I contributed to the debate on that occasion and I believe that, without going to the trouble of looking it up, I could repeat almost word for word what I said on that occasion because the situation has not changed.
No statement by the Minister at dinners or elsewhere will change my mind. It is the people I represent who give me my information in relation to the service they get from the Department. The situation is as bad today in my constituency as it was 12 months ago. The Minister is getting a great press — he is following in the footsteps of the Taoiseach — and I do not blame him but my complaint is that through that great press he is able to fool some people into thinking that they will get a better service than they got from his predecessors.
I accept that new telephones are being installed. Why not? We are looking for progress but in spite of all the progress the Minister claims he is making it is still easier for me to telephone my home from London, Paris, Strasbourg or Berlin than it is for me to telephone from this House and other parts of the country. I can walk into a public telephone booth in Paris, dial my home number and get through quicker than I can get through from this House and other parts of the city. The  difficulty is not because my number is engaged but because it is not possible to get a line. I have seldom failed to get a line to my home from a European city but I have often failed after three or four attempts to get through to my home from Leinster House.
I accept that telephone receiving instruments are being installed in many homes but it would be interesting to hear the number of new connections that are made. Another problem will arise when those new telephones are connected. I can recall that when a big number of new subscribers were connected in Tallaght the existing subscribers had great difficulty in getting a line. It is for that reason that existing subscribers will not welcome the news that a further 4,000 new phones have been installed. They are fearful of the day when those new phones are switched on because of past experiences. There must be a reason for this defect in the system. Telephones are being installed in spite of the fact that there are not sufficient lines at the local exchange to take them. That is not progress.
I was interested to hear Deputy Cogan state that telephones were available almost on demand. I was not aware of that situation but I am aware that people have to wait years for a connection. Deputy Cogan told the House that officials of the Department were knocking on doors asking people if they were ready to receive the telephone. It is possible that they are knocking on the doors of people who applied for a telephone up to six years ago. In my constituency many telephone instruments are being installed but have not been connected. I am suspicious that the Minister is running hard for a deadline to keep a promise he made at the Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis that a certain number of telephones would be installed by Christmas. Apparently, he is classifying the installation of the instrument as being equivalent to providing a service to the people. People in my constituency have commented that the Department were decorating their houses with receivers but there was little hope of getting a line.
Installing the telephone instrument is one way of collecting extra finance  because those who get a receiver must pay a certain amount of money on its installation. However, that is not a guarantee that a telephone line will be provided. Not so many years ago a line was given to the person who received a telephone instrument within a matter of days. Those who have had a receiver installed recently do not have any guarantee that they will have a service by Christmas. Based on the past record of the Department they may have to wait up to two years. It appears that the officials, the linesmen and technicians installing the telephones, including those working in Deputy Cogan's area, are being asked to work every day, including Saturdays and Sundays, in a race to fulfil the Minister's promise to the Ard-Fheis of having a certain number installed before Christmas. That will not make anybody happy. The installation of the telephone instrument is only providing the children with something to play with.
The Minister should investigate that complaint immediately and tell us when replying the reason why it takes so long to carry out connections, and why he is taking money from people who are under the false impression that they are now being connected to the telephone system when all they are getting is the decoration of a receiver in their hall, or wherever they care to place it. That may seem to be a niggling complaint to some, but it is quite serious if, for the sake of bringing in revenue, a Government Department are now installing a decoration in people's homes. I would ask the Minister to have this matter investigated. He may not have the answer with him today, but he might let me know what it is.
Complaints about the lack of telephones are not the only complaints I am getting about the service provided by the Department. It would appear that they overlooked the fact that we were building a new town in County Dublin. They are not the only Department who overlooked or ignored the fact that we would need extra services of one kind or another. Ten years ago Tallaght was a village of about 3,000 people. At that time we had a post office. It is no longer used by the  Department, and they have been moving around from one room to another. That post office was far bigger than the post office now serving 60,000 people.
Could the last Fianna Fáil speaker tell me if that is the progress he talked about? I do not think it is progress. I should like the Minister to take my remarks as a protest at the lack of consideration by his Department for this fast developing area. Will he find time to see what he can do to make some improvement? I have seen the post office in Tallaght on children's allowances day. It might be no harm if the Minister were to visit the Tallaght post office. I would not advise him to delay there, but he could pass it on the first Tuesday of the month when children's allowances are being paid, and he could check it out that I am giving him the facts. We have a much smaller post office serving 60,000 people in Tallaght today than we had ten years ago serving 3,000 people.
I asked this Minister, his predecessor and the previous Minister to provide an emergency telephone service for new housing estates in County Dublin. His predecessor gave me an undertaking that he would consider providing at least one telephone kiosk in the large new housing estates in south and west County Dublin. I am quite sure his predecessor, who is now the Ceann Comhairle, was serious when he said he would give consideration to that matter.
Many new housing estates have been built since then and it is still the same old story. People apply for a telephone when they purchase their house and they have to wait until private telephones are being installed before a public telephone arrives. The Minister will say this is a matter of cost, and that if he runs one line to an estate he might as well run 100 lines. We have had instances in County Dublin where a great deal of fire damage was done and people's homes were burned. Much of that damage could have been prevented if a telephone had been at hand. Apart from the length of time it takes for a fire tender to get to these new housing estates, it also takes time to alert the fire brigade to the fact that they are needed. We had one very serious incident  which I put on the record of the House and I will not repeat it. We had another not quite as serious since then.
It is a serious matter that housing estates are being provided in County Dublin without these essential services. There was a time when a telephone was not considered essential, but it is essential today. Perhaps that is dealing with it on a parochial basis. I could talk for an hour about the inconvenience caused by the lack of a telephone service. In my records I have the names of people who were unable to set up in business because they could not get a telephone, and people who could not transfer their business to a better or more convenient premises because they could not have their telephone transferred. Very often the transfer was to be made to another place within a mile in one of the built-up areas. That is deplorable.
People were prepared to expand their business and give further employment, but the lack of a telephone prevents them. I know many instances of people who wanted to move their business to improve it and to give more employment. They could not do so because the Department for which the Minister is responsible could not give them a telephone service. That is hard to imagine in 1980, when jobs are so precious, and when it is so important to get people off the unemployment register. The Minister's Department can take some of the blame for the high rate of unemployment. That may be hitting the Minister fairly hard, but if he checks out what I have said he will realise that it is correct. He may not like to think that he shoulders the responsibility for so many people being on the unemployment list. I say it with regret because that is my experience.
Last year I appealed to the Minister to consider reducing the price of the stamp for Christmas cards. The Minister should seriously consider it this year because due to high costs people are getting out of the habit that has been prevalent here for centuries of sending Christmas greetings to their friends. The cost this year will be even higher as it costs 35p to buy a Christmas card and a Christmas card worth sending cannot be had for under 20p.  That is not the Minister's responsibility. I understand that it has something to do with the exchange rate between sterling and the punt. The Minister could encourage the sending of cards by reducing the cost of postage. It would be a nice gesture that probably would not mean a reduction in the Department's income because people would probably send more cards.
Mr. McMahon: On licence fees and on the proposals to bring in these fees, if these licences did not cost so much people would not go out of their way to evade paying. Evasion is a form of protest — I have to bring services into it whether the Chair likes it or not — at the services people are getting. Only this morning some people were interviewed on the radio and they indicated that if they got a better television service they would have no hesitation in paying the licence fee.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy will have to leave it there because I have already shot down every other Deputy who spoke on the thing. We cannot go into television or RTE. There is nothing in the Estimate, only money to continue the campaign to make people pay up for their licences.
Mr. McMahon: ——but it is important. If the Minister were to reduce the cost of television licences instead of increasing it practically everybody would pay it. Something in the region of £3 million to £4 million has been lost to the Department simply because licences are not being paid. It might not be easy for the Minister to make strides in improving the programmes or the services but he would have a strong say in reducing the cost of television licences. It is generally felt that  if one pays the licence fee one is subsidising his next door neighbour. That is not a healthy situation and the whole problem stems from the fact that people feel that they are not getting value for money.
Deputy Cogan talked about progress in the Department but there has not been progress in relation to the re-location of the sub post office at Firhouse. Twenty years ago the Department would not have put a post office where it has just been put and we had far less traffic then. The Minister and the Department in having this sub post office moved from its original location are forcing their employees to break the law because to collect or to deliver to that post office the vans must stop at a continuous white line only ten or 20 yards from a major junction where there are traffic lights. If I parked there I would be summonsed but they park there all the time and they are adding to the hold up of traffic on the Firhouse road. The Department say that they had no alternative, that the sub post master had resigned and that they had searched the shopping centre for an alternative location. The Department were not serious about looking for a location in the shopping centre. One area there is available and the people who are running the centre are having difficulty in opening some kind of business. It is small enough to be considered by the Minister and large enough to give the service.
Anyone who wishes to use the post office now would have to travel a mile from the shopping centre, even if they only wanted a stamp. Effectively the Minister have reduced post office services to the people of Tallaght by moving the sub post office to its present location. I am sure the record of the post office will show a reduction in the number of people using it because of the move. When the  post office was opened two or three years ago the residents of the housing estates on the Old Bawn Road welcomed it. It meant that they did not have to go to the overcrowded post office in Tallaght. They crossed the river down to Firhouse.
That facility has been denied to them now and if they come to shop at the Firhouse shopping centre they will not travel a mile for it. Also the footpath is little more than two feet wide and if a person with a pram who has used the post office happens to be coming back and another person with a pram is coming to use it one pram must go out on that very busy narrow road. I voiced my protest about this as I have received upwards of 100 letters from people there not to speak of the numbers of people from Tallaght who wrote to me about the moving of the post office. Would the Minister take what steps he can to have it relocated in a more convenient position back in the shopping centre at Firhouse?
Mr. White: The one thing that strikes me is how quiet everyone is when we are talking about a Supplementary Estimate for practically £50 million. As far as most Ministers in Fianna Fáil are concerned, their full Estimate does not even approach the figure we are speaking about here for the Department of Posts and Telegraphs.
At the beginning of this year the Minister got £234 million for his Department and now he is looking for another £50 million. It just goes to show the type of spiralling costs the country is facing. I hope the press and the media generally will not be so silent when it comes to speaking this evening about this massive Supplementary Estimate. To give a breakdown, £22½ million is for pay increases, £22½ million is for pay increases, £9½ million for the costs of developing different sites, £1¼ million for the cost of delivering mail by rail, £¾ million for petrol with regard to maintenance vans and postal deliveries and £3 million for pensions — 20 per cent of an increase since the beginning of 1980. Everyone should be concerned at the way inflation is ruining the country  especially with an Estimate as massive as this one.
In his speech the Minister referred to the telex service. In the county I come from, which is far removed from Dublin, the telex service is an urgent priority. We have been very disappointed over the last year with this. Industrialists who applied for this service are waiting in some cases for three years. The delay in other cases is one or two years. The Minister has given a commitment that by the end of 1981 there should be ample telex services throughout the country and I hope his wishes are fulfilled. We cannot emphasise how important these facilities are to industries at present.
As regards the telephone radio service which goes under the heading of CB radios, I understand the Minister intends to bring in legislation to deal with this system. I welcome that and hope he will keep in mind the interests involved. A lot of these people are giving a good service at present. I recently came across cases where there were car accidents and it was only because we had this service that ambulances and fire brigades were brought out very promptly. What the Minister is probably worried about, as are other people, is that it should be given a four watt system on AM. If my information is wrong the Minister can correct me when he is replying but rumour has it he is asking them to change to FM rather than AM. I am not an expert but the advice I have been given was given to me by an expert who maintains that if they could be left on AM it does not interfere with ambulance services or——
Mr. White: I appreciate that but I would like the Minister to see that there is a four-watt system introduced on AM and also on SSB and not bring in the wrong kind of legislation which rumour has it he intends to bring in. Perhaps the Minister could mention that in his reply.
Like other Deputies, and the Minister as well, I am very concerned at the number  of representations we are getting as regards telephone installations. Today I got 17 replies, very nice letters, stating that they are being looked into. As far as proposed telephone subscribers are concerned, they are not interested in it being looked into, any more than I am, but in getting the connection. In such cases phones have been installed but one could be waiting weeks before getting a connection. Perhaps the Minister would check on this. There is no point in putting in phones unless they can be connected immediately. It is causing “aggro” on top of “aggro”. This time last year there was the excuse that the Pope's visit took up all the cables and so we could not have any new lines. The Pope paid his visit and has departed. We are another year further on and are still waiting for a lot of these urgent lines. They are particularly needed in the ribbon developments around our towns. Money does not seem to be available to extend these lines to such developments.
The greatest number of complaints I get as a Deputy at present come from people waiting for telephone connections. I know that the Minister states he is increasing them from 40,000 to 60,000 by the end of 1980. Are all these new connections going to the cities and is rural Ireland being left last on the list? Old age pensioners are entitled to free phones and rightly so. If they are living alone it is only right that they should be able to contact relatives or a doctor. Many of them have applied for phone connections and they have to wait and wait. Whether it is money that is not available or lines I do not know. I had a case where there are no manual telephones available in Donegal. These people should be given priority. There is no point telling them there is a free phone scheme when we cannot give them a phone.
Touring around the country I have come across the horrible sight of big black poles in the heart of scenic areas. When the Minister is driving around he should look out for them and not allow them to interfere with scenic beauty. I was in County Clare recently and was horrified to see hundreds of these big black monuments against society erected in the  heart of the Burren country. There should be some way the lines could be kept underground when they interfere with scenic views. If any of us want to extend any kind of building in the slightest way we must apply to the local authority for permission to do so. Yet the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs has authority to sanction these monstrosities of poles in areas where they should not be. It is very serious. They should not be erected. When the Minister is replying I would appreciate if he would mention this and write to me with regard to the Burren country and tell me why the Department have erected these poles. I have seen this also in Donegal but not as markedly as when I was driving down in the Burren. I was horrified that we talk about looking after scenic views and the tourist industry and yet these things have been there for generations.
To return to Donegal, we have three main problems there. Firstly, even a county as large as Donegal and as far away from Dublin still is not fully automatic. I have had questions down to different Ministers from time to time and I do not think that the Minister even now can tell us when the county of Donegal will be completely automatic. I hope it is not a matter of the cities, particularly on the east coast, getting priority while places like the west and the north of Donegal are low on the priority list and it will take four, five or maybe ten years before a great part of those areas are automatic. The Minister can say that a new telephone exchange has been opened in Letterkenny and another in Donegal, but the one good thing about the last by-election is that it showed a lot of the Ministers the problem we have in a vast county like Donegal particularly with communications. At least it brought home to the Minister how neglected we have been in County Donegal for generations. I would like a commitment from the Minister that within the shortest time possible — and I am a realist say two or three years — Donegal will be completely automated. We would be happy with that because not only have we trouble with the manual service but we have trouble  also with the night service and a lot of the phones are on party lines whereby up to five people could share a night line or party line, and that is completely unsatisfactory. The only answer to that is that faraway areas that need night service most should be given priority.
Regarding automatic phones, recently when I was abroad I saw a very good system whereby at the top of the automatic phones there was a sliding slot. Maybe the Minister has seen this on his travels abroad. You place the money in the sliding slot and as you speak the money drops in automatically. When we are buying new equipment we should, like any other business concern, be looking for new ideas for our post and telegraph services. The system in other countries is very efficient compared to that in Ireland. The system we have at present is not the most efficient, and if you put 10p or 20p into the slot and the operator cuts you off you put in another 20p. A more automatic system would probably be much cheaper in the long run.
Another matter that always strikes me when I am abroad is how easy it is to contact home from abroad. No matter where you are abroad it is possible to contact home in about three minutes, yet in the House of Parliament here, Dáil Éireann, Kildare Street, if you want to phone west Cork, Clare or Donegal, it often takes half an hour to get a reply with the present system. I am not blaming the girls who answer the telephones. I do not know under what kind of pressures they are working. I blame the system. Something is wrong when you dial 10 and then have to wait half an hour for somebody to answer and maybe another half an hour to get your call through and perhaps after that hour the girl will tell you that the lines are engaged. Nothing is more frustrating than to get that type of service.
In the country particularly there is lack of telephone kiosks, especially in the new ribbon development areas. I understand what the Minister is trying to do. He is trying to erect only telephones which are going to pay, particularly in rural Ireland. Here there are two things he must look at. Firstly, a telephone kiosk should be  erected where we have this ribbon development spreading out from the different towns and villages. People should not have to cycle or maybe walk five, six and seven miles to get to a telephone kiosk in the heart of the country. Nobody should have to walk such distance to get to a telephone kiosk. It is not good enough for the Minister to write to the different councils asking them to underwrite the loss incurred by these rural telephones. We give a social service in the free telephone service for the old. Surely country people who have to walk four, five and six miles to get a telephone service should get some consideration. Recently in Glencolmbkille, County Donegal, the post office closed, and the telephone lines went as far as the post office. Even to this date the Department have not erected a telephone box outside the original post office where the lines and so forth are available. People in that area had to walk seven miles to get to a telephone. When the Ministers were in Donegal it is a pity that the State cars were not taken from them for a few days so that they would have had to walk six or seven miles to the nearest telephone box to make an urgent telephone call for a doctor, a vet or an ambulance. Again I ask the Minister to consider this type of thing. He is from the country and he knows what I am talking about.
The Minister will be interested to hear me criticise the way the Department are sending out the telephone bills. We talk about saving money, and there is money to be saved as far as telephone bills are concerned. It is coming to the stage that I am afraid for my life when the next telephone bill will come. I received the last one about six months ago. A far more up-to-date system of sending out telephone bills should be introduced. The present system is not efficient. The Department are behind time with the bills and the longer the bills are delayed the larger they become and the more revenue goes out. The Minister should see if he cannot have a far more up-to-date system for sending out bills immediately at the end of the two-month period or whatever the case may be.
 As I said at the start of my speech, we must all be shocked to think of a Minister bringing a Supplementary Estimate of £50 million or a 20 per cent increase for the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. I will be the first to admit that we need a good telephone service, but the cost is spiralling and spiralling and I am very concerned at an Estimate of that size being brought before the House.
Mr. Hegarty: Like previous speakers, I welcome the Estimate. As Deputy White pointed out it is a very substantial Estimate, a lot of it due to inflation which is something that will have to be tackled. While the Minister has collective responsibility for inflation, I do not intend to nail him on this point. In my dealings with him he has been most courteous and efficient. He has a very difficult task. We should not concentrate on comparisons between the performance of one Government vis-à-vis another. The performances of all of us have not been very great and as a result we are lagging behind all European countries in our telephone service. I will not apportion blame between the present Minister and his predecessors, the present Ceann Comhairle and Dr. Conor Cruise O'Brien. It is a pity that a greater proportion of the money available could not be allocated to bring our telephone service into line with that of our competitors, and I know this is what the Minister wishes.
Everybody who is in business knows that a good telephone service is vital. Unfortunately, we still have a situation where many small businesses must operate without a telephone because, we are told, of heavy pressure of line work. It is not as if the businessman is looking for a grant or a hand-out; he will have to pay for a telephone.
Deputy Deasy's comments about the recruitment of young people to the Department are not without foundation. The Minister must consider the political implications of the placing of these people. There is some unrest about this matter and I should be interested to hear the Minister's reply.
The use of temporary mobile  exchanges would help to improve the telephone situation. Initially some of the Japanese exchanges did not work very well and as a result there is some nervousness about them. However, I have talked to people abroad and they tell me that over the past 12 months these mobile exchanges have been vastly improved. Where there is a developing situation, as in parts of Cork, the demand is massive and the only solution is the provision of mobile exchanges. We need not have any fears about them. Of course, there are problems relating to line work but many of the present problems lie in the exchange.
Industrialists and businessmen talk very freely about the poor quality of our telex and telephone systems. Picking up a telephone in this House is like listening to the Tower of Babel and one might as well be on CB Radio as far as privacy is concerned. I am consistently careful about what I say on the telephone and certainly would not engage in a confidential conversation. When trying to make a telephone call at home it is not uncommon inadvertently to overhear someone making a date with his girl friend or discussing some personal matter. Obviously there are some technical problems. On a damp morning it is sometimes impossible to get a line from my house. I have complained several times about this matter without reaching a satisfactory conclusion. On occasion I have been unable to contact Dublin by telephone for half a day.
As the Fine Gael spokesman on tourism I meet many people involved in the tourist industry and they are still talking about the damage caused by the postal dispute. They also have great difficulties in communicating with agencies abroad. It is easy enough to phone Ireland from Athens or Strasbourg but not the other way around.
There has been much discussion from time to time on the subject of telephone kiosks and the damage caused by vandals. I suggested long ago that in housing estates such as Elsinore Heights in Midleton a telephone kiosk similar to that provided by the Automobile Association  should be provided and every resident given a key. The kiosk would be locked and would be for the use of local residents only. They would respect it and treat it as part of their own property. I have yet to open an AA kiosk and find it out of action or vandalised. If I achieve nothing else today, perhaps I could persuade the Minister to consider this suggestion. There is no point in asking any county council to bear the responsibility for telephone kiosks. Cork County Council have not enough money to build houses and look after the roads. The Department must shoulder the responsibility, and they will get plenty of money from the kiosks if they do not have to be repaired.
Regarding the postal service, I would agree that there has been an improvement in deliveries. However, in some mysterious way letters are disappearing all the time and I would like to get to the root of this. Documents that have been posted from Dublin have never arrived at their destination. I will give one example that can be followed up. It is so vital because a man lost a vast quantity of money as a result. An Ordnance Survey map that was posted to a man in September never arrived. I would like if that one example could be taken up by the Minister. I will give him the name. That is what I mean by inefficiency somewhere along the line because this must be a fairly substantial envelope. But where on earth is it?
The next point I want to make involves complimenting the Minister. I have quite a lot of dealings here and, along with other Deputies, I make representations to the Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy Killilea, in regard to telephones. We get replies which are sometimes good and leave the constituent happy. But I had an experience recently where a constituent went to the Cork office and was told that because of political representations the file was now in Dublin, almost indicating that if political representations had not been made the matter would have been attended to. This is very serious, and it has happened more than once. Let me make it clear that as long as I am elected I have a right to make political  representations and get a reply. I am not going to be put off by this sort of behaviour. When I rang the Minister in connection with a local industry which had got that sort of treatment that industry got a telephone the following day. I was very pleased about that. If ever we get back into government that would be my idea of how political representations will be met; they will be dealt with efficiently and the staffs in Cork and Dublin and everywhere else should bear that in mind.
In relation to CB radio, I am very much in favour of it. There will be a certain amount of tidying up needed. I would like to see well in advance what the Minister has in mind. This is an area where we should get together. It is a pity that in this House, unlike the European Parliament, everything has to be decided on one side of the House and everybody on this side cuts it to pieces. It is a pity in non-controversial areas we cannot get together and have the joint help and advice of all parties. We are all interested in seeing that if we have a licensed CB radio it is a good one and will not cause trouble for other people. I will not go any further than that. That is the only point I want to make.
In regard to old people and free telephones I am inclined to agree with a previous speaker who said that we are inclined to neglect this area where new installations are concerned. I would humbly ask the Minister to put these people on a priority list, especially where their application can be accompanied by a letter from their doctor, where they are living alone or far away from their families. Because of these difficult times, with robberies and violence and so on, a telephone is often the only link that these people have with the outside world. Very often, albeit sometimes of their own choice, they are living in remote areas. Giving them telephones would involve expensive cabling but they should be on a priority list. I am convinced that they are being put on the long finger. They are not getting their turn when it comes to getting a telephone even when they are prepared to pay for the installation, and I gather the Department can recoup fully from the Department of Social Welfare  the cost of telephone calls so there should be no loss to the Department. I hope therefore that these people will get better treatment in the future.
The Minister probably has one of the most difficult Departments in relation to getting things done. The installation of one telephone means quite a lot of organisation and a lot of manual work. Quite frankly I would not be as worried as Deputy White about the intrusion of poles on the landscape. Perhaps in places like the Burren we should avoid it, but if we are to get out of the doldrums and to compete, telephones are essential. Quite recently I was in touch with the Minister in relation to the owner of a small garage who was told that because he had not enough employees he did not qualify for priority. I do not know what the number is, but he will never have that number of employees if he does not get a telephone.
Anyone who has the courage in this day and age to set up a business here should be given every encouragement. I am talking about local industries and small industries, because when it comes to bigger industries and industrial estates they can get telephones as quickly as anywhere else in the world. But the person who decides to do something in his local village is definitely not being looked after. I have made representations in connection with garages which have opened up in some of the small towns and nothing has been done about them. If we are serious about industry, if we are serious about helping these courageous people, we should provide them with telephones. They should even be given priority above telephone transfers because they are giving a service and employment and are essential to the community.
On that point I appeal especially on behalf of the farming community. We hear and see and read every day of the week about saving energy. In agriculture the greatest waste of time and energy, apart from the farmers' own energy, is in driving back and forth from town to make telephone calls. It is a pity, especially where the line work already exists, that we cannot give these people the service they so badly need. This is particularly relevant where there are large dairy herds  and the AI man has to be called in all hours of the day and often a person has to go to town three or four times a day. A telephone is an essential part of such a person's business and could be a big factor in cost cutting.
Previous speakers mentioned this high Estimate. A substantial part of this money will be spent on wages. I am not in favour of borrowing because I think we have borrowed ourselves into big trouble, but if we are to get out of these troubles we may have to borrow further. If there is a shortage of money in this area, that money should be found somewhere.
The EEC pay a lot of lip service to helping countries which are endeavouring to fight back. I am convinced that the majority of our people do not want handouts. While deprived area funds will always be essential. I believe what we want is an opportunity to compete. A big factor in making us competitive is having a telephone system equal to that enjoyed in Europe. If Government put sufficient pressure on the EEC, I am sure further money would be made available for this purpose. As I said, no matter where a businessman lives, the bulk of the goods he produces will end up on the European market place. Therefore a telephone is essential.
I want to summarise some of the points I have made. I mentioned telephone kiosks, telephones for industry and said the Minister should cut out the clause which says an industrialist must have a certain number employed before he is put on the priority list. Our priority list is very good and covers doctors, clergymen and so on. Recently a clergyman in our area had a telephone installed overnight. That is excellent, but this emergency service should also be provided for very small industries. At the moment these industries are not grant-aided; they are not getting anything from anybody and the least we could do for these industies is give them telephones.
As spokesman for tourism I said that prerequisite for an on-going successful tourist industry is a highly efficient international telephone and telex link. The  people in that business tell me we do not have this link. I suggested that telephone kiosks in small estates should be kept under lock and key and every resident in the estate should be furnished with a key. That would cut out a lot of vandalism.
I am not going into our performance versus Fianna Fáil's performance because our spokesman dealt with that. Somebody said yesterday on the agriculture debate that there seemed to be no light at the end of the tunnel. If communications are right, the Minister's side is right and when the light appears at the end of the tunnel, it will not be hindered further by a lack of funds.
Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Mr. Moore): Like Deputy Hegarty, I think the Minister has one of the more difficult ministries. He is under constant pressure for the improvement of the telephone service, among other matters, and the appetite for telephones seems to be insatiable. It is very hard for him to please everyone, but he and his Minister of State have shown a refreshing approach to these problems and we can record that they are making very good progress.
Earlier this year the Minister told us 60,000 telephones would be installed by the end of this year and a further 80,000 next year. I call that real progress. If we were to examine why there is such a demand for telephones, we could point out that as we become a more affluent society, more people can afford telephones. There are three or four categories into which telephone applicants are put. High on the priority list are old people who feel that a telephone is an extra means of security. In these days when we have increasing crime and intimidation of old people, the telephone can be a great source of comfort and security. Old and elderly people should be given the highest priority for the installation of telephones.
In the business community a telephone can mean further employment. Public representatives receive requests from business firms in our areas asking if we can do anything to have further phones installed. Naturally where the installation  of such a telephone would create more employment, that firm is given priority. Then, there is the person who wants a telephone for his or her own convenience. In some cases a telephone may be regarded as a status symbol. However the vast majority of reasons for seeking telephones are very worthy.
The Minister and his Department are making commendable efforts to satisfy the great demand and have taken another step by their agreement with an outside company to repair and manufacture the apparatus needed for expansion. In doing so we will also expand the field of employment in the manufacture of telephones which are needed to improve the service.
Apart from satisfying a social need the Minister is also ensuring the creation of more jobs, which are so badly needed. I appreciate that previous Ministers for Posts and Telegraphs had problems, but there has never been such a demand for telephones as there is at present. The fact that technology has been greatly expanded and perfected means that in the very near future we will not have the old wired telephones with ugly poles along the roadway.
Wires should be laid underground. Americans ensure that a new town is not a “Wireville”, meaning that wires will be laid underground. The Department have done this in some new housing estates. Gas and electricity cables are also laid underground. We must pursue this policy so that we can give the best possible service and at the same time provide an aesthetic quality. We accept the telephone pole on the country road, but we should dispense with it. Members mentioned this morning that there were ugly poles being erected in the Burren area in County Clare. Perhaps it would be very difficult to lay underground cables in that area because of rock formation, but I am sure that engineers of the Department know more about that than I do. I feel that engineers are just as concerned with the aesthetic problems as we are. We should give them our full backing in any plan to ensure our skylines are not marred by numerous telephone poles which are needed to carry the service throughout the country. Thomas Edison  and Alexander Graham Bell did not know what they were starting. The telephone is an essential service. But it will be some considerable time, despite strenuous efforts being made by the Department, before all demands are met, if ever.
The Minister should consider the provision of more public telephone kiosks, especially in new housing estates. Even if residents had not got private telephones they would be sure of one which worked in the centre of the estate. With public telephones we have to deal with people who perhaps are of a rather weak mentality, people who destroy telephone kiosks. It is sad to see a telephone kiosk wrecked when one realises that it could be the means of saving a life. It is a terrible thing, when trying to make an emergency call, to find that some vandal has destroyed the phone. Perhaps it is just thoughtlessness. We appeal to all young people to be vigilant and to ensure that their local telephone kiosk is maintained and not damaged.
Deputy Hegarty suggested giving each resident a key to the kiosk. It is an original suggestion but I do not know if it is practical. I know one area in Dublin city—I will not identify it—where a public telephone kiosk was installed and the local representatives encouraged the people to keep an eye on it. That kiosk has never been vandalised. Community spirit is needed for the preservation of public telephone kiosks. When every person who requires a telephone is supplied with one we will not need so many public kiosks. No doubt technology will expand and improve so much in the next decade that we will see a revolution in the telephone service. The old dialling system will probably vanish and will be replaced by the digital apparatus which is in use in some offices at present. We have to pay for the service, which is very costly, but I do not think people cavil at the cost of providing a basic and essential service.
It is comforting to know that the Minister, the Minister of State and the Department are so committed to the advancement of the service. Sixty thousand new telephones were installed this year and it is hoped to install 80,000  telephones next year. For a small population they are big figures. The Minister has brought the wind of change into his Department. The public will back him very strongly. I feel ineffectual when an old person tells me he or she has applied for a telephone. The Department are doing their best but that old person must wait for many agonising years before a telephone is installed. To some of us the telephone may be a status symbol, but to old people it is his or her line of communication to the local Garda station or to relatives so that in an emergency he or she may be able to contact them. Therefore, the Department of Health and the Department of Social Welfare should back a drive to ensure that old people are given telephones in the shortest possible time. We should expand further the policy of subsidising the old person's telephone account.
We are not complacent because, as every Deputy knows, representations for telephones are increasing daily. I would give top priority to elderly people. Apart from the fact that an old person's genuine need is being satisfied in giving a security line, we are also helping to curb the activities of some gangsters in our midst who prey on old people.
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