Postal and Telecommunications Services Bill, 1982: Second Stage (Resumed).

Wednesday, 19 May 1982

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 334 No. 8

First Page Previous Page Page of 59 Next Page Last Page

Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time”.

Mr. O'Sullivan: Information on Toddy O'Sullivan  Zoom on Toddy O'Sullivan  Before we adjourned this discussion I stated that there was complete dissatisfaction with the consultations between the Post Office Workers' Union and the Department. Despite the assurances of the Minister the union are not happy with the situation and the workers have grave fears for their future. Questions were submitted to the Minister last Christmas but to date a reply has not been received and I should like the Minister to say when they will be answered. I am sure that the Minister and his officials will agree that proper consultations have not taken place to date.

Will the Minister inform the House what will be the situation if the staff resist this transfer from the Department of Posts and Telegraphs to the two new bodies proposed, as this seems the likely course they will pursue?

On the occasion of the circulation of the Green Paper the previous Minister, Deputy Reynolds, circulated a document to each member of the staff in which it is stated:

I want to assure you that there will be full consultation with your Union/Association about all aspects of the changes likely to affect you.

[1691] I regret to say that this has not taken place. Another assurance in this document reads as follows:

Chapter 6 describes the broad implications that the setting up of the State-sponsored bodies would have on the staff. During the period of change which lies ahead, the safeguarding of your legitimate interests will be one of my primary concerns.

There is a notable absence of this concern in the legislation which is presented to us and I will deal with that as we go through the various sections.

I have a document from the present Minister, Deputy Wilson, circulated to the staff no later than last week. I quote from it:

—your pay at the changeover will be maintained if you are transferred to An Post or Bord Telecom Éireann, —your pension entitlements will be maintained also,

Further on it is stated:

As you probably know, since the reorganisation was originally announced, there have been consultations with staff organisations about those aspects of the reorganisation which are likely to affect the staff. These consultations will be continued during the coming months.

We are now being asked to pass this Bill with, as yet, no satisfactory outcome to these consultations, and this is the great fear that members of the staff have regarding their future in either body. The Minister further says in his document that it is his wish that both bodies should commence operations later this year.

I will now, with the permission of the Chair, go through some sections of the Bill which I feel are worthy of further consideration and on which I wish to express some doubts. Deputy Cooney spelled out earlier today the problem of funding to get both boards off to a good start. The funds are totally inadequate and before very long the boards are likely to be in a loss-making situation because they would have to get fairly hefty loans [1692] since sufficient funds are not being provided from the Exchequer. Section 10(3)(a) is as follows:

Subject to paragraph (c) the authorised share capital of An Post shall be an amount not exceeding the total of the following— ...

In the case of An Post this will be £50 million to meet capital expenditure. This will in no way be sufficient in view of the extent of the capital programme which the Minister spelled out, which is fairly hefty and which arises from the fact that down through the years the Post Office did not have sufficient finance to maintain their structures properly. In some cases the buildings are not fit for people to work in and are not conducive to good productivity. They were not custom built for their purpose and are long outdated. Therefore £50 million is totally inadequate to meet the demand that is likely to be placed on it in the future if the new company is to be profitable. Unless we can provide proper working conditions so that we will have a happy staff and greater productivity, it is not likely that this company will survive.

Section 12(1)(a) of the Bill is as follows:

to meet the industrial, commercial and social needs of the State for efficient postal services and, so far as the company considers reasonably practicable, to satisfy all reasonable demands for such services throughout the State,

I am concerned about the lack of emphasis here on the social needs of the community. Despite the fact that we are now embarking on a commercial venture, there is a need for concern to be expressed regarding the social work which is to be carried out by both companies.

Section 13(1)(a) provides:

Charges for services are kept at the minimum rates consistent with meeting approved financial targets,

If proper funding is not provided we will incur further trouble because if we increase our charges business will fall off. Everybody realises that the recent [1693] increases have led to a reduction in the volume of traffic and as a result both companies are likely to suffer.

In section 14 the social need is again played down. Subsection (1)(a) states:

To provide a telecommunications service to meet the industrial, commercial and social needs of the State ...

Section 25 is in relation to the power to borrow. Again, I would emphasise that the provisions are in no way adequate to meet the demands likely to be placed on the new companies.

Section 26 refers to guaranteeing by the Minister for Finance of borrowings. In the case of the postal company the amount is £8,500,000 and in the case of the telecommunications company the amount is £1,050,000,000. In regard to the postal company, £8,500,000 is in no way sufficient to maintain services within that company.

Section 27(2) states:

.... the Minister for Finance, after consultation with the Minister, may make available ....

What does the Minister mean by “may”? Is the Minister going to make this available? The Minister has discretionary powers. He may decide not to finance the capital works and as a result we are back to the old problem of plant which is outdated. In the postal section at the moment there is a van fleet which cannot provide an efficient service. Last week there was nearly a major row about 17 motor vehicles which were transferred from the telecommunications side to the postal side. Are we going to be faced with this again if the Minister is not prepared to use the discretionary powers which he insists on holding in this case under section 27(2), which is as follows:

During the period of three years from the vesting day, the Minister for Finance, after consultation with the Minister, may make available to the postal company grants of an amount not exceeding £20,000,000 for current expenditure.

If one takes into account the current losses, we are talking about something in [1694] the region of £6.5 million per year, which is in no way sufficient to meet the demands which are likely to be placed on it in the coming years.

Section 42(1) states:

Subject to subsection (2), a member of the staff of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs who is transferred on the vesting day to either company shall not, while in the service of the company, receive a lesser scale of pay or be brought to less beneficial conditions of service than the scale of pay to which he was entitled and the conditions of service to which he was subject immediately before the vesting day.

This is crucial to the whole approval of the Bill, because we have here in effect the movement of 28,000 people. Their conditions, it is stated, are not going to be worsened. I will not accept that, because they are being cut off from a valuable avenue of promotion. They are going to be deprived of the promotional outlets they had in the past simply because they will no longer be civil servants. This needs to be looked at again. Does the Minister intend to compensate these people? Would the Minister be prepared to allow staff members who enjoy civil service status to retain that status on vesting day? Otherwise I can see quite a lot of unrest and a lot of industrial problems in the years ahead.

It was traditional that civil servants were entitled to a non-contributory pension. Nevertheless, in every wage deal there was a 5 per cent hidden contribution. Will cognisance be given to this in the transfer from one service to the other? Will the workers be compensated for increased PRSI contributions? Would the Minister enlighten me?

Section 44 deals with the provision of certain welfare funds — the Post Office Sanatoria Fund and the Rowland Hill Benevolent Fund. What happens to the moneys already in these funds? Will they be transferred to meet the social needs of the staff? Granted the contributions were small, but these funds have been contributed to by many staff members for a number of years.

Sections 45 and 46 deal with the establishment [1695] and functions of the Users' Councils. Section 46 (5) says:

The Minister may—

(b) recover from the appropriate company the cost incurred by its Council.

The implications are quite serious. Section 46 (3) says:

A Council may, .... employ advisers to assist the Council in its work.

This could prove to be quite costly. If workers in the new company were asked to produce reports which were time consuming and costly, the implications could be very serious for a fledgling organisation which is trying to get off the ground. In my opinion the Minister should bear these costs rather than either of the companies.

Section 47 deals with statutory interim boards. While the Minister will appoint some people to the interim board, there is a need for the election of the worker directors to be carried out prior to the appointment of the interim board. Otherwise there will be a time lag.

Section 48 covers loss making services. Section 48 (1) (c) states:

that company satisfies the Minister that, over a period of at least 12 months, it has sustained a loss in the provision or maintenance of such services,

The Minister is prepared to cover these losses for 12 months. I maintain he should be talking about a five year period at least. I ask him to examine this section again. The only people likely to be happy about sections 51 and 52 are the city and county managers who will collect the rates from both companies' premises.

Part IV deals with the postal company. The Department of Posts and Telegraphs enjoyed a monopoly situation in this area in the past, but we should sound a warning here. If there is to be an erosion of services when it is siphoned off to the private sector, there will be a great danger. We have a monopoly situation at present; yet nobody has been charged [1696] under the Monopolies Act, even though there are people operating openly and providing services which could be termed proper to the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. In this House we have the use of a courier service. The danger is that there might be some people in the private sector who would be prepared to take on this very lucrative service but they would not be attracted to providing the service in sparsely populated areas. The Minister is empowered to issue the necessary licences. This whole matter deserves further scrutiny.

Section 64 deals with the provision of banking services, including a giro service. Had this area been properly worked in the past, we would not be in the situation where we would have to provide funds for the maintenance of a telecommunications system. We cash giro cheques from practically every European country, yet we do not provide a giro system ourselves. This is something the postal authorities can be faulted for. When Britain introduced this service, they made a loss for the first two years; they broke even on third year and made a profit the fourth. This area will need immediate attention. We are moving into the area of plastic card banking. With proper capital investment there are appliances available which will make every sub-post office and every post office a branch of our banking system. In this way we would win back the business we lost. Before the vesting date the Minister should give a commitment that he will introduce the giro system.

Section 65 deals with money orders and postal orders. This was a lucrative operation at one time but because of increased costs it has become run down. It is no longer possible to send money orders to Great Britain because of the change in the monetary system. Under the present money order system, it costs £1.50 to send a limited sum abroad.

Section 70 empowers the company to issue licences to others to provide postal services. There is a need to tighten up this area. As yet we have not been successful in deterring people who want to cut into the monopoly situation enjoyed at present by the Post Office. There is a [1697] need for further examination of this situation.

Section 73 deals with the collection of television licence fees. I do not want to get involved in a Post Office versus RTE argument about the collection of TV licence fees. It has been the custom and practice of the Post Office to collect these fees and to issue licences and I do not think it would serve either system if we were to set up an independent collection system within RTE. I do not think the demand exists to justify the setting up of a special collection system. There may be a need for streamlining, but the Post Office personnel, with their knowledge, are the best people to operate this service. The Minister is aware of this, as he indicated already today.

I am aware that two former Ministers are present and also a Minister of State and I was taken by one piece of Post Office jargon in Section 80 (g) — to defer the despatch or delivery of a postal package where the company considers it to be necessary in the interest of the service. There is a subtle change here. In the past, the exigency of the service was referred to. The change is not in the best interest of the customer. It may be one word, but it is a very important one. I ask the Minister to examine this matter, because the customer is now put in a disadvantaged position.

In Part V of the Bill referring to telecommunications, most of those involved in the telecommunications sector, namely the technicians, are reasonably satisfied, with some reservations, about the introduction of the Bill. Nonetheless, they have expressed legitimate fears. Also in that section there are 5,000 members who would not be too happy about their future in the new company, largely due to advancing technology. Some years back, when an assessment was made of the development of the telecommunications service, 15 automanual exchanges throughout the country were envisaged. This figure has now been reduced to five and consequently a number of jobs have been put in jeopardy. These fears on the part of telephone operators need to be expressed. A reduction in exchanges with [1698] the advancement of technology and the provision of digital exchanges, will inevitably lead to a reduction in manning levels and some provision must be made for those affected. Can we provide alternative employment for them within the system? In the past, outlets were available to such people, if they so wished, to contest a position in another part of the service. This is no longer open to them under the present legislation. Will provision be made for financial compensation? Many of these are in their late twenties and early thirties, married men and women who decided on the Post Office as a career and whose jobs are now threatened by advancing technology.

It is quite heartening to hear the Minister say that in many parts of the country there are no waiting lists for a phone service and this is something which we should all welcome. However, that sounds a warning signal for some members of the union. While at the moment it is an expanding industry, the Minister did say that he would see the waiting list wiped out by 1984. What do you then do with the highly skilled personnel who have been working for you? Could they expand into the section which is now being taken over by the private sector, that is, beyond the point of connection of houses, the private automatic branch exchanges where the private sector have effectively out-paced the Post Office? They have provided a more advanced type of apparatus than the Post Office were prepared to do. As a result, they have taken quite a share of the lucrative side of the market.

This is an area in which the telecommunications company must get involved, if we are to maintain our staff levels. Quite a lot of money has been spent to date on the training of these personnel, who are of a very high standard, second to none. Despite the shortage of capital — and all Governments must take their share of blame for not having provided sufficient capital down through the years — a reasonably good service has been provided against tremendous odds. I hope the Minister will give me information regarding the threat of redundancy [1699] within the telecommunications sector, mainly to those involved as operators.

On section 92, concerning control of telecommunications service, am I right in asking is there a facility for what is commonly referred to as phone tapping? I am not advocating it for a moment, but is it catered for in the Bill?

This is a potential growth area and there are likely to be problems of demarcation between the two services with developing technology. In an article in The Sunday Press last Sunday, Mr. Byrne made a disturbing comment and I would like the lines of demarcation to be very clearly drawn regarding the future of technology. There are several operations within the postal system which traditionally have been carried out by the postal side. With the changeover to facsimile transmission and so forth, there is a danger that some people on the telecommunications side would feel that this was proper to their side of the operation. This matter should be resolved before we have very serious industrial problems.

On Section 105, similar to the granting of licences in the postal section in granting licences for the telecommunications services, we cannot afford to relax our efforts because the whole philosophy is based on this. If this is not successful, it is unlikely that there will be any success at all. Incidentally, I will be awaiting the Minister's reply before making a decision on whether to support the Bill. Several questions will have to be answered before I can indicate the direction in which I will vote. My first reaction to the Bill is that I am not satisfied with the consultation which has taken place to date between the Minister and, especially, the Post Office Workers' Union. Until such time as all these questions have been answered satisfactorily, I doubt very much if much progress will be made.

Mr. Faulkner: Information on Padraig Faulkner  Zoom on Padraig Faulkner  I welcome this legislation. I especially commend the Minister on his comprehensive speech. The statement, particularly the introduction, might provide very useful reading for all whose business it is to comment on the activities of the Department, and indeed, [1700] for the public generally if they are to understand the reality of the almost insuperable problems which face a Department of State endeavouring to operate a gigantic business, and if they are to appreciate the success of the efforts made in this respect in recent times. I appreciate also the Minister's references to me in the course of his remarks, but I might add that it is what I would have expected of him.

I suppose it is understandable that I should wish to refer to the fact that the original proposal to remove posts and telecommunications from the civil service, to set up two separate companies, each under the control of its own board, which would take over the running of posts and telecommunications from the Department of Posts and Telegraphs was first put to the Government by me as Minister for Posts and Telegraphs. In our Election Manifesto of 1977 we had stressed that an efficient and dependable communications system formed an essential part of the strategy of national reconstruction. We had undertaken to examine the question of giving autonomy to the telecommunications area and to modernising the postal system. Having examined the situation in considerable detail, I felt we should go a step further and grant autonomy to the postal services as well as to telecommunications. When I put these proposals to the Government they were anxious to have the matter investigated in greater detail. Therefore I set up a review group, as was mentioned by the Minister in the course of his remarks today, chaired by Dr. Michael Dargan, and here I might quote from their terms of reference:

1. To examine and report on the feasibility of giving to the telecommunications service such form of autonomous organisation as is likely to be most effective in meeting current public demand and providing for future development and expansion; and to make specific proposals regarding the nature, powers, and functions of the organisation recommended.

2. To examine and report on the organisational arrangements necessary [1701] to secure the modernisation of the postal system so as to promote an efficient delivery system nationwide.

The latter part of the terms of reference, that is in relation to the postal services, was in conformity with our election promise though, as I mentioned, personally I would have preferred to have given to the postal services the same autonomy as was proposed for the telecommunications sector. Indeed, in the final analysis this was recommended also by the review group.

The Government, having studied the report of the review group, accepted most of their recommendations and so was begun the process of removing the telecommunications and postal services from the civil service. This process will reach finality when the Bill at present before the House becomes law.

I should like again to express appreciation not only of the exceptional work done by the review group but also of the speed with which this very highly complicated work was accomplished. I know it is often felt that the setting up of review groups is simply an expedient for delay, but in this case the objective was to examine the whole system thoroughly and report with all speed. Indeed, the fact that the review group reported as quickly as they did is now a matter of record in that, as far as I can remember, they reported within 12 months. Invitations to provide information and evidence were issued at that time through press advertisements. Invitations were issued also to approximately 400 organisations having a particular interest. Credit must go to those various organisations which submitted evidence, information and recommendations for the alacrity with which they dealt with the matter and the manner in which they responded to those invitations. There were also quite a number of advisers to the review group, some individuals from other countries, to whom we owe a debt also and, finally, but by no means least, the officials in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs who deserve very special credit for their activity in that period.

[1702] The decision to form the boards and to remove the telecommunications and postal services from the Department of Posts and Telegraphs was not a reflection on the work of that Department or their officials. We must award credit where it is due and sterling work was done in the Department, at both official and worker level, over the years in managing what might be termed an enormous industry, employing half of the personnel of the whole of the civil service, which at present I think stands at almost 30,000 people, comprised of people in literally hundreds of grades. Those who may be critical of the Department's performance, or of the workers' performance in the Department, might take that aspect of the matter into account. If such critics are employers themselves they might well ask themselves how many personnel they employ, what a success they have had in their business ventures, how good are their industrial relations and then endeavour to relate the problems confronting them to those which confronted what was an enormous business employing numerous people within a considerable number of grades. One must remember also that, while endeavouring to run this enormous business, the Department were subjected to all of the restraints and restrictions applicable to the civil service generally. To put it mildly, those restrictions are far from being conducive to good business methodology.

When I became Minister for Posts and Telegraphs I was amazed to discover, for example, that while other Departments with relatively small numbers of people operating within them, had a secretary, a number of deputy-secretaries and a considerable number of assistant secretaries, this huge complex which was the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, employing a very large number of people with enormous responsibilities relating to the whole economic life of the nation, had merely a secretary and three assistant secretaries. At the time I tried to envisage how an industry as large as this one operating as a private company would have developed its management structures. I must say I was appalled at the difference between the management [1703] structures which were then the norm in such private companies and those pertaining to the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. I immediately set about rectifying that situation, with the full support of the Government, and we soon had a top management grouping with some reasonable opportunity of tackling the problems involved. Finally and perhaps most important of all, because it was this particular aspect from which most of the problems arose, the Department of Posts and Telegraphs has been run on a shoestring and has been starved of the finance necessary to develop the postal but more particularly the telecommunications system.

I know I could advance many reasons why various Governments did not feel the need to make more money available to the Department, but that would be of very little help to the Department as such. The Department of Posts and Telegraphs received annual increases such as those received by other Departments with no particular concern being shown for the fact that they were not simply a Department of State but a business on which depended to a considerable extent the development of our whole economy. I shall not today go into all of the reasons I believe such a situation obtained except to say that while developing our industry, which we had done successfully, particularly in the late fifties and early sixties, the vital importance of a good telecommunications system was not recognised in time. We have been endeavouring to fill that vacuum ever since, thankfully I would say, despite all the criticism, with some considerable success. When I was in charge of the Department it was clear to me that to continue to endeavour to develop a system relying on relatively small percentage increases in the income of the Department was ludicrous.

I recommended to the Government that £650 million should immediately be allocated for capital expansion in the telephone service over a five-year period to get going on the development of what I regarded as a vital cog in the wheel of our industrial expansion. This was agreed to by the Government. I feel this was a [1704] major step forward especially when one considers that the proposed sum of money for a five-year programme was greater than the total amount spent on the Department of Posts and Telegraphs from 1922. Even allowing for changes in the value of money, the money represented an excellent and badly needed injection of finance into what until then had been the Cinderella Department.

As a result of this more and more installers and technicians were trained, more and more advanced equipment was bought and installed, more and more exchanges were erected and put into operation. I believe this was the first time the Department were really in a position to develop and expand and the foundation was laid for the rapid increase in the number of telephone installations which has since taken place. I often wonder what different image the Department would have shown to the public had this opportunity been provided much earlier.

I have gone into a little detail in explaining some of the reasons why the Department of Posts and Telegraphs had not got the success in developing their post and telecommunications systems which the efforts of many dedicated men and women entitled the Department to do. It seems to have often been forgotten that the Department of Posts and Telegraphs are not just that large grey building in O'Connell Street known as the GPO. The Department are a body of people who have been struggling for years to run a very large business without business training and without the necessary finance, endeavouring to operate within the restraints and restrictions of the civil service code — in fact, attempting to achieve the well nigh impossible. After being granted greater finance a few years ago a change in development has come rapidly. While we have still a long way to go to reach a satisfactory level of development and progress, it is only fair that a tribute should be paid to this much maligned Department.

The Postal and Telecommunications Services Bill, 1982, is a very lengthy Bill. If I remember rightly, the Bill taking posts and telecommunications out of the civil service in Britain was the longest Bill [1705] ever to come before the United Kingdom Parliament. The proposal in the Bill is to set up two boards, An Post and An Bord Telecom Éireann.

The British Bill decided to set up one board only to run both services, but recently they have also come to accept that our idea of setting up two boards to run the services separately is a better system. After the initial decision to remove the postal services and telecommunications services from the civil service was taken, it was clear that it would take quite a considerable time before it was possible to have a Bill dealing with the very complicated and involved matter before the Dáil and it was decided to set up two interim boards to take over by degrees the running of the services. I feel this had the advantage of helping this vast organisation to get used to the new system and it also helped both at management and worker level to cater for a variety of problems which would become apparent in the course of the change-over.

Two interim boards were set up. My object was to endeavour to prevail on people who had successfully developed their own business to accept places on the boards and also to include workers who had a deep knowledge of the operation of the system and who could interpret their co-workers' hopes, aspirations and fears relating to this new departure. I believed, since I regarded the postal services and the telecommunications services as businesses, as the restraints of the civil services rules and regulations were being removed and as we were about to make a new start, that it was of vital importance that we should have the best possible business expertise available to us at board level. I felt that, where the board members had already shown they had got an ability which resulted in their own companies being successful, we could be all the more hopeful that they would have the capacity, energy and iniative to succeed in these new ventures.

It goes without saying that the work facing the new boards was stupendous and that the time and effort required from each member would be exceptional was clear to all concerned. It is to the credit of all those who agreed to participate [1706] that they accepted the positions offered. I would like to express my appreciation of that fact. It is true to say that they each knew pretty accurately the problems and difficulties which faced them, the vital need for the success of their efforts and the dire consequences of failure at national level and at personal level. One man said to me that he needed the job like he needed a hole in the head. Nevertheless they took on the job and initated something which was new and something which was unthinkable a few years ago.

I was also anxious to have women on the boards but I was determined that I would not appoint them to the boards simply because they were women but that I would apply the same criteria to them as I applied in the case of men — that they had proved themselves to be a success in business and commerce. It took me quite a considerable time to find suitable people in this respect. I want to make it clear that this is not a criticism of the talent and capacity for business of women but rather a criticism of the lack of opportunity which women often experience which would permit them to develop the talents they have got in the business area. It struck me at the time that very worth while talent was being wasted because of a lack of opportunity, to the very serious detriment of our economy. I believe there is some improvement now in this respect but, if my experience is anything to go by, then much remains to be done. I feel both private industry and semi-State bodies would benefit greatly if they saw to it that women, in line with their talents, were given the same opportunity for advancement as is accorded to men.

An official telecommunications system is essential for the business and social purposes of the community. For reasons I outlined earlier, the Irish telecommunications service was not efficient at the time of the review group's report and it has a long way to go to reach the level of efficiency that is of the utmost importance in today's business world. I am convinced that our telecommunications service can reach that level. One need only have regard to the French telecommunications [1707] system, which only a short few years ago was the poor relation of the telecommunications systems in western Europe but which today is one of the best, to recognise what an injection of capital, combined with the will to raise the standard of the system, can do.

The telecommunications system is a business. It has a rapidly-changing technology. The lateness of our effort to change turned out to be an advantage to some extent in that we were in a position to change to the newest type of technology, whereas if we had already installed an earlier type of technology that would have been better than what we had already got though less efficient than what has been available in recent years, the cost of the changover twice could very easily have been prohibitive.

There was also an increasing need for marketing orientation. In all the circumstances the Government and civil service structures were unsuitable for management of telecommunications by reason of their having to accommodate too many restrictions; and, while the officials of the Department, both administrative and technical, were able and dedicated, they did not have the organisational structure and the management freedom to enable them to perform their duties successfully. When the change was decided on and when the interim boards were set up it became clear that the absence for so long of a business structure to meet business needs had brought about a situation in which some considerable time had to be spent in setting up a business organisation, in developing management and to quite an extent in endeavouring to change attitudes. Despite this need, the availability of extra money for capital expansion permitted a rapid increase in the provision of new buildings and of extensions to existing buildings. It led also to an increase in the annual rate of telephone connections and to an improvement in the trunk portion of the system. All of this will give a much better send-off to the statutory board than could have been anticipated only a few years ago.

The two services — the telecommunications [1708] and the postal services — present different types of problems. At the time of the review group report and prior to it the stage had not been reached where the Department were in a position to meet in full all the demands of the telephone service. We have not reached that position yet, though I was pleased to hear the Minister say today that it is hoped to reach that situation by 1984.

I would tend to agree with the Minister because it is obvious that with the amount of groundwork that has been done, especially since the £650 million for capital purposes was made available and having regard to the many improvements that have taken place since then, we can expect shortly to be in a position in which telephones will be available on demand. A number of other improvements needed to be made in this area. I mentioned earlier the number of buildings that were essential — about 500. Many of these were new exchanges some of which have been opened and others will I hope be opened in the near future, and so we should soon reach the situation in which we can provide phones on demand.

At the time that consideration was being given to the setting-up of these new boards we realised that the level of telephone development was far below that of the other EEC countries. Demands for new telephones has increased rapidly and we set about expanding our resources in buildings and manpower up to a level that would eventually enable the arrears to be undertaken and the current demand to be met promptly. We needed a very much better quality of service. Progress achieved by the new boards in the future will be very closely watched.

Much has been achieved in the past number of years but much more is needed if we are to keep ourselves with an efficient and effective service and, consequently, to keep up with the rapid technological changes to be found in the more advanced countries.

The postal service has been reasonably well developed and the amount of business handled by this service has been fairly constant. However, increasing costs and other changes have begun to erode this business. In this connection I [1709] am glad to note from a statement made by the Minister a few days ago that consideration is being given to reducing postal charges in an effort to attract further business to the Post Office. This would be a step in the right direction, one that would have the double advantage of attracting more business while at the same time helping to reduce costs to industry generally.

The targets on which the five-year development programme was based are still relevant and perhaps I might outline them. They were: first to raise the quality of the telephone, telex and data services for subscribers to the level to be found in other EEC countries and to maintain it at that level; secondly, to provide a full automatic service, including STD internally and internationally for all subscribers; thirdly, to increase the rate of connections so that applications for telephone service could be met generally on demand; and, fourthly, to lay the groundwork to cater for continuing growth. Much has been achieved in each of these areas but much remains to be done also. At the time it was easy to list the improvements needed but it was much more difficult to achieve them.

There was involved an attempt to achieve a rate of development within a five-year period which very few other telephone administrations had matched. In our case it included the acquisition of sites for and the erection of more than 500 buildings, the design and manufacture of a whole range of exchange equipment, a major extension of the trunk and junction network, the recruitment and training of extra staff, the provision of accommodation for them, the acquisition of stores, increasing the size of the transport fleet and so on. It was indeed a herculian task and one has only to look at the number of new buildings throughout the country, the new exchanges which have been opened and the exchanges which will soon be opened, to realise that. I include the Drogheda exchange in that but I was disappointed that I did not see the Dundalk exchange mentioned. I do not know why it is not being opened this year also. I had the pleasure of opening the Letterkenny [1710] exchange and I am sure Deputy Harte knows all about that. I laid the foundation stone for a large exchange in Galway which when opened will revolutionise the telecommunications services in the Galway area. They are but a few of the advances which have taken place. The increase in the number of technicians and installers employed in the Department today also points to the progress that has been made. We look to Bord Telecom Éireann to speed up this progress.

On the postal side I was glad to note that An Post sees the possibility of expanding the service provided by post offices. There is no doubt, as a number of speakers mentioned, that post offices could be used for many other purposes than at present. They could make available to the public a range of services not readily available now, particularly in rural areas. Much could be done in the area of social welfare. Developing the facilities to assist people to save money is another area. The Minister has stated that there are many bright ideas at board and administrative level which will improve the service. I have no doubt that that is so and that the Minister will be glad to give whatever assistance is necessary to the board in their efforts to improve the postal and other services through post offices. I have no doubt that postmasters and postmistresses throughout the country will be glad to co-operate with the board in every way possible. The possible introduction of Giro is provided for in the Bill.

I should also like to point out that up to now the interim boards and management had to work within the structural constraints of the Post Office statutory framework. The interface between the board, the secretary of the Department and other officials was a delicate and difficult matter, calling for a flexible outlook on their part and their dedication and commitment to making the transition. It is to the credit of all concerned that things have gone as smoothly as they have to date.

The decision to remove the postal service and telecommunications from the civil service was in no way expressing a criticism of the staff of the Department [1711] at management level. I hasten to add that it was in no sense a criticism of the operating staff either. The reason for the decision was to give greater freedom of action to provide services to the community in the most effective way. As a matter of interest, the Department of Posts and Telegraphs was one of the few Departments that remained unchanged since its inception. The time had come to recognise that the work being dealt with by the Department had expanded beyond what could be efficiently managed within one unit. In modern times postal and telecommunications services should be run as businesses and designed to meet the needs of the multitude of users.

A full recognition that the wholehearted support of the staff is necessary if we are to achieve our objective of providing a first class telecommunications system and a top class postal service is obvious. My recognition of this fact was the reason I gave an undertaking that full consultation with the staff organisations would take place about any proposals or changes affecting them. The task of reorganisation which we were embarking upon is formidable and without precedent in that we were undertaking to remove from the civil service area two large blocks of work involving almost 30,000 people. That is still a tremendous task particularly when one takes into consideration that we are dealing with a considerable number of unions and grades. It is understandable that groupings of workers and individuals would tend to examine proposals in the light of their interests and that agreement to their removal from civil service status would cause them concern. Much consideration of proposals put forward was deemed to be a vital necessity so that the staff could clearly understand the nature of the change, its long term effect on their employment and the ultimate goal we had set ourselves and how we proposed to achieve it.

On the other hand there were many groupings who realised the need for change. They understood that we were basically concerned with giving them greater freedom of action to provide better [1712] services to the community in the most effective way. The various unions in the Post Office because of their involvement in discussions for better conditions for their members understand more than most that because of the statutory responsibility of the Minister for the Public Service for many of these matters in respect of the civil service generally, the Department of Posts and Telegraphs lacked important freedoms which were necessary if they were to achieve the objective that had been set. The Department was not free to determine many matters which the new company would be free to do. As an example, when the ban was placed on the creation of new posts in the civil service in the mid-seventies it had detrimental effect on the Department because technicians and installers were civil servants and the need for more technicians if the service was to be improved should have been obvious. It is clear that there is a need for a different system of personnel management and industrial relations and that this could be achieved only after the telecommunications and postal systems were removed from the constraints which civil service membership imposed on them.

Since the decision to bring these bodies outside the civil service was taken a lot of work has been done in developing a new system by the interim board in co-operation with the Department. Efforts have been made to develop a progressive and comprehensive personnel policy and to provide an adequate management team, but much more remains to be done so as to convince staff that their wellbeing and working environment is receiving adequate and due attention. The new boards must inspire confidence in the staff and if they succeed in doing this we will be well on our way to success in achieving the highly efficient telecommunications and postal services we need. I believe that the boards and the new structures are capable of inspiring the necessary confidence in the staff and that the new system will enable them to do this.

To change simply for the sake of change was not and is not the objective. Change was decided upon because it was [1713] believed that such a change would promote the rapid development of the two systems and thereby help our economy to grow and prosper and create much needed new jobs. If we do not succeed in this area we will have failed in our objective. I do not believe we will fail, but I repeat that the goodwill of the staff is crucial and that every effort must be made to ensure that goodwill.

In respect of the composition of the boards, I note that section 32 requires that one-third of the directors of each company shall be employees elected in accordance with the provisions of that section. This is broadly in line with the provisions of the Worker Participation Act, 1977. I recall that when the interim boards were being set up representatives of the workers were nominated to each board. It was not possible at that time for them to be elected because no machinery was available for that purpose. However, it was intended that worker representatives would be elected to the statutory bodies and the nomination of worker representatives to the interim boards was an acknowledgement by me and by the Government of the vital importance of having worker representatives to voice the views, the fears and the expectations of the staff generally. I welcome the decision to have employees elected to the boards and I am glad to note that it is proposed to have a postmaster elected to a position as a director on the board of An Post. This, too, had been provided for at the time and, as far as I can remember, the secretary of the Postmasters' Union is the representative. He also was nominated because at the time we had not the machinery by which a member could be elected.

I note that the Minister proposes to establish a users' council on a statutory basis in relation to each of these boards. We have had users' councils previously on a non-statutory basis and I think one such council exists at present. I see the Minister proposes that the functions of the new council will be approximately the same as the functions of the non-statutory Post Office Users' Council, except in so far as the new council will have functions in relation to tariffs. The Minister [1714] referred in his speech to this matter but he might give more detail when replying. I agree that this type of council can perform a useful function. There are a number of areas where particular problems can be very frustrating for the public and where such a council can do much to ease that frustration.

I should be interested to know from the Minister whether any considerable number of people have had recourse to the users' council in recent times. My experience was that very few members of the public knew of its existence or availed of its services. The vast majority of complaints reached the Department through public representatives or directly from individuals who felt themselves aggrieved. A users' council can fulfil a worthwhile role in relation to these new companies, both of whose operations impinge on the daily lives of many individuals. Every effort should be made to inform the public that such an organisation exists and what its functions are. This will not be easy, as I know from my own experience. I tried by every possible means to inform the public that the users' council was available, but the public still tended to make their complaints through public representatives and very litle use was made of the users' council. Obviously there is little use in setting up a council unless the public are aware of it and have sufficient confidence to utilise its services.

I am glad to note that very little change has been necessary in the general provisions of the Bill envisaged some years ago. I fully support the Bill and should be glad to see the boards get the fullest co-operation from all concerned. Equally, the boards must be concerned about the wellbeing and conditions of work of the staff. Only when the board get the co-operation of the staff and see that the staff are well looked after can this great venture succeed. The setting up of the boards is not a magic formula; it is not a panacea in itself. Every effort must be made to ensure a peaceful transition to ensure the success of the boards when they are established on a statutory basis.

I am glad to have had the honour not only of initiating and developing the [1715] plans to remove the postal and telecommunications services from the civil service and of appointing the interim boards but also of being responsible for the multi-million pound campaign to improve communications infrastructure. This enabled us to appoint more and more technicians and installers, to contract for and erect hundreds of new buildings and to provide new and up-to-date equipment. This aspect was most important because without it and the resulting developments these new boards would be getting off to a very poor start. The wheels set in motion by this campaign meant that the interim boards, assisted by the Department, were enabled to move forward more rapidly.

The prospects for these two boards are bright and I wish them every success.

Mr. O.J. Flanagan: Information on Oliver J. Flanagan  Zoom on Oliver J. Flanagan  One might consider that this was a very controversial Bill because of its extent, but most of the sections and provisions are merely of a technical character, transferring to the boards to be appointed the functions which now rest with the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. I have been wondering what effectively will be left for the Department of Posts and Telegraphs when these functions are transferred to the boards. This gives us an opportunity for a heart-to-heart debate in relation to the entire telephone service, its past service to us, its present conditions, its future prospects and possibilities, and likewise regarding the postal service. We must ask ourselves why this Bill is necessary. This Bill is necessary because the public now have a growing awareness of their entitlement to a full and highly efficient service. Every Member of this House knows the volume of complaints that in recent years have come from the public to Members of the Dáil in relation to the telephone services and the lack thereof. In the postal services also the long delays, inefficiency and lack of proper service have been astonishing. I have often wondered why steps were not taken long ago to improve matters.

I would have gone much further than [1716] this Bill allows us to go. Concerns such as the Bell Telephone Company of Canada and private companies operating in the US and elsewhere should be invited to come here with the invitation: “Here is a country crying out for a proper telephone service — get to work on it.” Private enterprise could long since have given us a highly efficient telephone service which we have not had because of the structure in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. First and foremost, no matter how enthusiastic the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs might be, he is tied up in black knots, red knots and every other colour knots by the Minister for Finance and he has not the money necessary to achieve what should be done. This Bill gives us the opportunity to say that I do not see anything wrong in encouraging these boards to borrow money, if necessary from abroad or anywhere they can get it, for the development of our telephone service and the bringing to a higher standard efficiency of our postal service.

When we compare ourselves with other countries we talk only about the EEC countries. Russia is not a member of the EEC, neither is the US, Norway, Sweden, Austria, Switzerland, Turkey, Spain or Portugal. Does anyone know anything about the services in these countries? Have we become so narrow-minded in this House that every comparison we make must be within the EEC? Undoubtedly there are standards of efficiency in the EEC, but there are also standards of very great inefficiency there. I venture to say that anyone in Madrid can make a call to practically any part of Spain with the least loss of time and with a great standard of efficiency. We read about conditions in Turkey, but a telephone call can be made from Instanbul to Ankara in a matter of minutes and from Ankara to the southern province of Anatolia. You can get a call from Lisbon to Oporto in a matter of minutes. The same standard applies to the telephone service in Stockholm.

Our trouble is that we are starting so late to tighten up here. I have heard, I suppose 38 or 40 Estimates of the Department of Posts and Telegrpahs introduced to this House and there is very little difference [1717] between the latest and the first one I heard in 1943. Standards may have improved and demands may be greater but charges and expenses are higher. I refer to both postal and telephone services. This is 1982 and we are living in a period of extraordinary scientific and technological advances. How many people are aware that, as a result of the advance of science and technology in the US and Russia, the Russians can now land a rocket in any part of New York that they wish or on top of the White House in Washington and that the Americans likewise can land a rocket right at the back door of the Kremlin or the front door if they wish?

This development has been frightening for both the Americans and the Russians, with the result that a few years ago Russian and American experts got together to find out how they could operate the rockets for the benefit of people and for peace-time purposes. President Carter played a great part in this. The rockets standing in the US and Russia were intended to destroy. These experts got down to consider the possibility of having mail delivered by satellite and rocket. The result of all this is the prospect that by the year 2000 or 2010 mail posted in New York will land in Berlin in a matter of seconds and in London in a matter of minutes and that the same-day delivery will be possible between Moscow and the US. Many of us in this House now will not be alive to enjoy such a highly efficient service; nevertheless future generations will have it. I cannot explain to the House how this will work but people engaged in science and technology in the US and Russia are quite satisfied that mail posted in the US in the morning will be capable of being delivered to any part of Europe in the afternoon. The Department of Posts and Telegraphs must be aware of these advances in science and technology.

The Department of Posts and Telegraphs in the past have been and at present are working on shoestring estimates. They have not been given the money. They have not been given the staff. If complaints have been numerous they have also been justified. The present and [1718] past secretaries of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs are not at fault. They have rendered a very useful and valuable service. On more than one occasion I have had to pay tribute to the outstanding efficiency of Mr. Ó Réagáin and his very limited staff in the Department. I can say the same about Mr. Scannell and his predecessors. All through the years I have found in the Department the greatest of courtesy and a big effort to achieve a high standard of efficiency. We can complain about many things, but recognition has been given to the fact that we have a very great standard of civil servants. How many times do we hear the civil service criticised? The position is that they are the people who do the work with a high standard of integrity and efficiency. Never mind what the cranks or critics will say.

No matter how highly efficient civil servants are they will always be open to criticism as we all are. The postmasters, counterhands, telephone operators, linesmen, maintenance men on the telephones, technicians of every grade and the people connected with the sub-post offices — even though they are not directly civil servants — are all part of a huge organisation from whom the public demand loudly a more efficient service. You cannot give a better service without having the personnel. Every section of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs is understaffed, the postal section, the services in the country, the services over the counter; queues are forming in every post office throughout the country with the exception of the small country suboffice. I have often wondered why there have not been greater staffing facilities provided for night services in the GPO, particularly in the summer. The one way we can improve the services is by spending more money. We need more postmen, more linesmen, more technicians, more counterhands to raise the whole standard of services to give the public the service they expect at present.

Another way we might be able to do that is for the new board to seriously consider reducing charges so that a greater number will avail of the services to be rendered. At present charges are [1719] prohibitive for the type of service that we have. Let us take, for example, the postal service. In the thirties and forties one could go into a post office and buy a 2d. stamp, stick it on a letter, mail it and it would be delivered in London, Glasgow, Hull or Coventry the following morning. Now one can post a letter in any of our rural towns and in the majority of cases it takes a week to be delivered to any part of England outside of London. But a letter posted in Burssels today will arrive in Dublin tomorrow; it will take two extra days to have it delivered to the country. The same applies to a letter posted in Paris. It will be in Dublin in two days and it will take two to three days to reach the person to whom it is addressed in any part of rural Ireland.

What is wrong in cases such as that? Twenty-five or 30 years ago we had a greater degree of efficiency in the postal services and at that time we had the very low paid but highly dedicated postman who had to walk or cycle through all parts of rural Ireland with his deliveries. One would imagine that since the postman can now have the use of Post Office vans and his own car that this would speed up things. But this is not the case. The postman will tell one that he is ready to deliver but he has not got the mail to deliver. Where is the extraordinary holdup or what is happening that it is taking so long for mail to arrive in the sorting office to be sorted and then to be despatched by rail, van or otherwise to various parts of the country? Instead of advancing with postal deliveries we have accelerated in reverse. Where 25 to 30 years ago we had an efficient daily postal service, nowadays nobody can hope to have a letter delivered on the day following the day it is posted; it takes from two to three days. If I write a letter in my own constituency to a neighbour of mine in County Offaly only a few miles away from where I live, it is three days before it is delivered. Yet if a letter is posted in Brussels it can be in Dublin the following morning.

I hope that this new board will examine every aspect of this because the public are now paying dearly for their stamps and the least they expect and that they [1720] are entitled to is a higher standard of speed and efficiency. They are not getting these and it is through no fault of any postman because he does not get the mail to deliver. It has not been clearly explained where this extraordinary delay exists that we did not experience 25 years ago. If we are going to have changes I hope that we will ensure that letters posted will be promptly delivered and that there will be a full examination into where the great lack exists. But when one asks questions of the responsible people, the postman, the postmaster, the post office head or the head civil servant they all say it is not their fault, that the post does not arrive in the central office for despatch. I cannot put my finger on what is wrong. But on the other hand, I am not paid to find out what is going on. We are telling the people who are going to take responsibility on this new board that from now on it will be their job to find out what is wrong. No longer will the Irish people pay dearly for a service they are not getting. It is wrong that they should be obliged to pay for an unsatisfactory service.

It takes three to four days for a letter posted in Dublin to get to the Midlands. If a letter is posted in Dublin on a Thursday it will not be delivered Friday; there is no delivery Saturday or Sunday, and it is a very lucky person who gets his letter on Monday. In most cases that letter will not be delivered until Tuesday. If he lives in an area like Wolfhill in County Laois or Clareen in County Offaly, it is likely that the letter posted in Dublin on Thursday will not be delivered until Tuesday. It took three days for correspondence to reach me from this House. I cannot understand why there is this delay.

Twenty or 25 years ago letters were delivered the following day. Most of the letters posted in Dublin on Thursday arrive in the central post office in Portlaoise on Friday, but are not delivered on Saturday because there is no longer a Saturday delivery. I cannot understand why a person cannot go to the post office to collect his post. Everybody knows there is mail lying in every post office over the weekend. I will make strong representations to the new board to [1721] change this situation. Most post offices are open on Saturday and it should be possible for the public to collect their mail from the post office if they wish. That would provide an efficient service but for some reason that is not and cannot be done.

To accelerate more business into the sub-post offices, the Department of Social Welfare should make more use of them. Many thousands of people in receipt of social welfare unemployment assistance must present themselves to the local Garda station every week. Why do they not present themselves to the post office? No matter what anybody says it is degrading to compel people to line up outside a Garda station to get what they are entitled to. I have been talking about this for a long time but I could never get any Minister for Social Welfare to pay any attention to it. This is not a job for the Garda. They have nothing to do with the Department of Social Welfare. Nobody should be humiliated by having to go to the Garda and have a form stamped saying they have been unemployed for so many days.

I hope the new board will take over this job so that these unfortunate people will not be embarrassed any longer. Social welfare benefits are paid by post offices or sub-post offices. Therefore the whole job should be done there. That might be more efficient, but we are living at a time when inefficiency seems to be the order of the day. Now is the time for the Post Office to take on new responsibility and new activities and to give the public the best service possible. I make this appeal in the hope that before very long the Garda will not have anything to do with unemployment benefits. As post offices pay widows, blind, old age and other pensions, they should do the whole job.

I do not know the Minister's views on this subject but as long as he is a Member of this House he will find numerous people have to attend at the Garda barracks every week, otherwise they will not get their social welfare benefits. If this business was taken over by the new postal service it would be a great help. The mail delivery service is bad, but our telephone [1722] service has exhausted the patience of every subscriber. What is going to be done about this unsatisfactory state of affairs? At night time it is practically impossible to get an answer when dialling the exchange, but there must be somebody there because all these exchanges are staffed. Is there a complete go-slow, or what is happening? Why we cannot get a reply in a matter of seconds has always been a mystery to me.

Look at the vast numbers on the waiting list for telephone installation. I hope that the new board will get on with that job. Under the new boards I trust that all future development will be such that the cables are underground, as they should be. The boards, as soon as possible, should dismantle the present network of wires, which is an eyesore and deprives people of enjoyment of the scenery in its full graciousness and beauty. All the streets of our main towns have this unsightly network of wires carrying electricity and telephone services.

In relation to postal services, I hope that the new boards will undertake the re-establishment of the rural sub-post offices. The loss of these offices ten or 15 years ago has brought about the present high degree of inefficiency. This was an economy measure, but people were deprived of the service. We can all exercise economy. The easiest way is by not eating and by going around in rags. However, that would be penny wise and pound foolish, just as the closure of these rural sub-post offices was penny wise and pound foolish. They should all be reopened and restaffed in order to provide the service enjoyed 30 or 40 years ago and not enjoyed today. Our consideration should always be for the public and the provision of first-class service for them, but in that connection we have not come out with flying colours.

We are told of a shortage of equipment and other items which prevents the development of our telephone service. Let us not continously tinker with this service, but provide one which meets the present needs of industry. Those of us who have continental-based industries in our constituencies know that our telephone service is responsible for a considerable [1723] loss of export orders. It is not long since the Confederation of Irish Industries submitted representations to the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs in this regard. Practically every Deputy has had a similar experience to mine, of speaking to industralists who cannot understand why it is not possible to ring other parts of Europe, the United States of America, Canada and Japan. These industralists run businesses with an extreme standard of efficiency and if they are not supplied with an efficient telephone and telex service, can lose orders amounting to tens of thousands of pounds by half an hour's delay. The textile industry in my own constituency is one example. There are other major Canadian and American industries operating in the midlands, where the management and administrative personnel have been driven into dementia by failure of the telephone services. They will tell you that the rates they are paying for that inefficient service are very high and they are entitled to better.

Regarding the telephone service, I hope that the new board will be able to put an end to the crossing of wires which causes the overhearing of private conversations. I am certainly not a listener to other people's business, but it is not very many months ago since, while I was holding on for a call, I overheard a conversation between a Dublin hospital and a doctor who was, I was sorry to hear, arranging for a bed for a cancer patient. That is a very serious matter. On another occasion, while I was on the telephone, a voice cut in asking how many wagons would be wanted, or were available, for Mallow the next week. I presume that the call was intended for the railway station at Portlaoise, or some place else. This crossing of wires must be avoided. People are becoming very cautious and we are told in many instances that telephone conversations are not confidential. It may be unintentional on the part of anybody charged with the administration of the telephone service, but there is something very wrong when one can overhear a private conversation between a doctor and somebody at a hospital. I [1724] understand that private and confidential conversations can be overheard time and again. Those of us in public life are much too busy to listen to other people's conversations. Nevertheless, the telephone system — even in cases where there may be enthusiastic subscribers wanting to use their spare time listening to other's conversations on the telephone — should not afford that opportunity. I hope more attention will be paid by the technical staff of the Department to the avoidance of the crossing of lines, as in the case of the CIE call to which I have just referred requesting wagons for Mallow station.

There is greater use of telephone kiosks in rural areas in countries abroad. The reason for their lesser use here is vandalism, vandals who have nothing else to do now but take the doors off telephone kiosks or, if possible, demolish the kiosk and pull out the telephone apparatus completely, even tearing into confetti any telephone directory to be found in such kiosks. While such disgraceful conduct is not the responsibility of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs they are the victims of this type of behaviour. I hope when we are discussing the Estimate for the Department of Justice to make a number of suggestions to the Minister and the Garda Commissioner as to how this type of vandalism can be tackled, because in almost every rural town now the telephone kiosks are out of order.

The reason for this is that the gardaí are now moving about in squad cars. The telephone kiosks were not out of order when there were garda foot patrols. I do not know what it must cost the Department of Posts and Telegraphs to repair such damaged kiosks. This is the worst type of vandalism because it deprives the public of the use of that service whether it be to call a vet, a doctor, a clergyman for a dying person or anybody else. The vandal does not care, he will pull the apparatus to pieces while people are being deprived of this telephone facility in many areas. Some other means will have to be devised for making the telephone available to the public and at the same time protecting it against vandalism, against damage perpetrated by [1725] people who have nothing else to do but create further costs for the taxpayer, create destruction and deprive their fellow citizens of the right to call a doctor, ambulance, fire brigade, vet or arrange perhaps for the admission to hospital of a person in danger of death. There is no greater facility in an emergency than that of being able to use a telephone quickly. When will we Irish respect the telephone and the other facilities available? That is something to be answered on another occasion. But I maintain that the Department of Posts and Telegraphs have an obligation to ensure that the service they provide for the public is safeguarded and will be available to them as and when required.

I am sure the new boards being set up will have computers in operation in relation to accounts. Computers have not long been in existence. We were told that when they were operative fewer personnel would be required, that the computer would undertake the work of a number of people. That is not so. On the contrary it appears we need to employ more people because qualified experts must operate these computers. Now we must engage people to replace those engaged in the computer business. Therefore, rather than computers reducing the workload, as we were told, and giving a higher standard of efficiency, we discover that delays and inaccuracies occur and that a computer cannot tell the truth unless fed with the truth — unless the proper material is fed in, it will not reveal the accuracy expected of it. There have been a great number of incorrect telephone accounts issued. Also people awaiting money to be paid by means of the computer must now wait longer, because apparently the computer pays all together. Indeed, we have read of grave errors in telephone accounts. It would be interesting to know from the Minister if there have been as many errors in relation to telephone accounts reported in his Department since the arrival of computerisation. Certainly years ago none of my constituents ever approached me about mistakes in relation to their telephone accounts, but since computerisation I have had numerous complaints. I [1726] hope the new boards will devise some means of devoting greater attention to accounts, that the slip sent to the public will be simplified in format, bearing less information than at present. Such accounts should inform members of the public of their local calls, trunk calls and overseas calls, showing the total and then adding on rental or any other charges that may be relevant and leave it at that. The format should be simplified so that any man or woman can follow their accounts. The account should carry a request at the bottom to pay immediately, and that will be that. I have come across great confusion with regard to the present format of telephone accounts. A public representative will be receiving constituents when one will arrive and say “There is the telephone bill I received. Which of these amounts do I pay?” You just have to mark on it what that person has to pay. It is a pity the accounts are not simpler. I hope the new board will simplify the accounts sent out to people.

I wish to pay tribute to the civil servants in the Department for their devotion to duty in relation to the postal and telephone services in the past. They were not able to achieve their ambitions. This was the fault of the system and the financial structure of the Department. I want to pay a special tribute to the linesmen in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs who have to repair the telephones in bad weather. The weather last winter was possibly the worst for over 100 years but there was very little disruption of the telephone service despite this. Even though the best efforts of the Government and the Government agencies to clear the roads failed it did not stop the Post Office linesmen from getting out into fields where there were very heavy drifts of snow, detecting the breaks in lines and carrying out repairs with the least possible delay.

I do not believe any person stood up in the House and thanked those linesmen who worked so very hard during the heavy frost and snow of last winter to repair the hundreds of breakdowns which occurred. I do not believe anybody said they did a good job in difficult circumstances. I hope the Minister will convey [1727] to the trade unions of the people involved in this work our very sincere thanks for the work they performed so efficiently last winter. If the people responsible for clearing the roads were as efficient as the linesmen we would have had the roads cleared a week sooner than we had. This would have enabled us to get in and out of Dublin and into the various towns throughout the country. I would like to be one Deputy in the House to thank those linesmen for the good job they did.

I hope, before the final Stages of the Bill are passed, that an effort will be made by the Minister to have consultations with the trade unions, the postmasters, the Post Office Workers Union and the trade union of every employee in relation to the changeover from the Department to those boards. We all think we know everything until we meet other people and talk to them and then we realise how little we know. Consultation is vital in order to have good industrial relations. I hope we will never have another postal strike like the long one we had a few years ago. That strike should never have happened, I hope the new boards will have very friendly relations with the trade unions of all the employees of those boards. Almost half the staff of the civil service are connected in some way with the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. It is, therefore, a big job for those boards to undertake this great administrative task in relation to the postal and telephone services. It is necessary to have a complete new approach in relation to those services. I believe this will lead to a greater standard of efficiency.

I hope when the Minister is replying that he will be able to tell us that he will invite representations from every branch of organised workers in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs in relation to the changeover. It would be a very bad thing if the two new boards got off on the wrong foot. It is important that they should have the confidence of the employees. The changeover will not succeed unless all the employees are in step. I am glad to see that on the board of directors there will be direct representation [1728] of the employees, that the postmasters will have a voice and that all sections involved in the administration of the telephone and postal services will havte a voice around the table.

The Department should be very sympathetic to the views of the people who will be employed by the new boards so that there will be good industrial relations and the closest possible co-operation as well as devotion to work and pride in work. There does not seem to be much pride in work today. No matter what we do or how little we do it is important that it is done right and well and when our day's work is over we should be able to sit down and admire what we have done. There are too many people throughout the country watching the clock and there are too many people anxious to facilitate the rushed, quick job. The painstaking job may be the dearest but in the long run it will be the cheapest.

I trust that before Mr. Smurfit, Mr. Quinn and the Minister embark on the operation of the boards they will deliver an address to all their employees asking for co-operation and emphasising the importance of their having pride in their work as well as stressing the need for a continuance of a high degree of courtesy and understanding so far as the public are concerned. The public must be made aware that the boards are being set up to provide a good, honest and efficient public service and the boards should indicate their willingness to accept advice from organised labour, from various community organisations and so on if such advice is considered to be right in terms of improving the services.

When I hear people speak of Europe I take grave exception to their meaning the ten member states. Europe is a much bigger continent than merely that part which makes up the ten member states. Therefore, when I speak of Europe, I refer to the entire continent. We must take our place with all the nations of Europe but unless we pull up our socks we will be left standing. There must be a higher degree of efficiency from all of us and this is particularly important in terms of the services we are discussing today. I [1729] say this because of the extent to which we depend on other countries. We must be in a position to communicate and to correspond if we are to remain in business but we cannot do that if we are inefficient and if there are delays in services. It was inefficiency that left us standing while everybody else was moving. That is why I hope that the advent of businessmen, men of experience and men whose patience has been exhausted because of inefficiency in our services, will result in big improvements in the postal and telecommunications services. I trust, too, that we will be able to review in this House each year the progress of their activities. Mr. Quinn and Mr. Smurfit and anybody else who may be in line in terms of the administration of these boards must not be afraid to develop the services. Courage is vital in today's world. We must be prepared to spend. If we are to develop in a businesslike way we must expand. I have never seen anything wrong in borrowing for development and expansion and if there is any area in which development and expansion are required it must be the area we are talking of. But if our resources do not allow us to develop and expand these services it will be merely a question of cutting a stick with which to beat ourselves, in which case our businessmen will lose orders and our workers will be on short time. We must be able to communicate speedily and efficiently with every part of the world, a world that has become small in the past 25 years in terms of communications. In order to expand we must borrow. I do not see anything wrong in letting the next generation and the generation after them help in paying back what we must borrow now if we are to expand our industrial base. We must develop our international market but in order to do so all this development that I talk of is necessary. Without such development we would be lost in terms of exports, agricultural and otherwise. Business people must be able to communicate with boards of directors who may be sitting simultaneously in other parts of the world when decisions of vital importance must be made.

It is no fault of the higher civil servants [1730] in the Department that the present system has failed although there has been some progress. The reason for the failure was that we did not have the means nor the ability that was necessary. No Minister for Posts and Telegraphs could advance and develop the services if he was being watched over all the time by the Minister for Finance or by the Taoiseach of the day especially in a period in which there were cutbacks. In the past this Department have always been the Cinderella of Government Departments. Every Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, from the time in which the late Mr. Little was Minister did his best to get all the money he could for the services for which he was responsible and all of these Ministers and, in more recent times, Ministers of State, were backed up by a high standard of integrity and dedication on the part of the higher civil servants in the Department but they were not able to break the Cabinet ring for the allocation of money. Perhaps the money was not available. However, I hope that we will see results when the new boards come into operation and that any citizen who has money to invest will be prepared to invest in the boards. I hope the law will permit private investment in the companies and that international investment will be permitted.

Investors throughout the world are aware of what we have to offer. Those of us who read OECD reports occasionally are aware of that. Members who had the honour of meeting the general secretary of the OECD recently were amazed at his knowledge of the situation here. So many people throughout the world are aware of our existence that we cannot be lagging behind in a state of inefficiency. We must aim to be as good as the best. I have great admiration for Japanese industrialists and I would like to see more of them coming here — I have admiration for industrialists from France, Germany, America, Canada and the UK — but I am always afraid of the bad impression they would get if the telephone service was inefficient when they called home. We all have a big part to play in planning our development into the nineties. All we need is confidence in ourselves and [1731] the political will to carry out such development.

We have made wonderful advances since the setting up of this State but a lot of things remain undone because we do not have the political will to do them. We need the political will. It takes courage to invest and invite investment from outside. I have no hesitation in saying that if money is required by the new boards on the international market it will be forthcoming. The financial structure of the boards will have to be widened considerably when they examine the huge programme of work which will be before them. I wish the boards every success and hope they will lead us to a higher standard of efficiency than we have enjoyed in the past.

Under section 27 I hope the Minister will consider my suggestions in relation to the financing of the boards. I do not think we are capable of financing them from our own resources. If we make it known abroad that the activities of the boards are genuine and for the benefit of industrialists I have no doubt that the countries who have industrialists here will help.

The Bill proposes that the Office of Public Works shall have power to undertake work at the request of either company and that when performing such work they will be deemed not to be a State authority for the purposes of the planning Acts. That is clear enough but I hope that any work available will be undertaken on a competitive basis and that it will not be necessary for the companies to depend on the Office of Public Works. The companies should be permitted to seek outside contracts. It would be a pity if the Office of Public Works had to be consulted in all cases. Outside contractors can undertake such work at greater speed. I do not mean to be disrespectful to the officials of the Office of Public Works but that body is known to be cumbersome in proceeding with work. A lot of the work undertaken by the Office of Public Works could be done more efficiently by private enterprise. I hope there will not be any strings in the legislation which will close the door on [1732] major works being undertaken by private enterprise. If the companies must depend on the Office of Public Works only the Lord would be able to prophesy when it would be completed. I have always been a believer in private enterprise and that the State should only interfere where private enterprise fails. I am greatly disappointed at the slow progress made by the Office of Public Works in their undertakings. Their work is always satisfactorily finished and well designed but they lag behind private enterprise in speed and efficiency. I urge that private enterprise be considered.

Section 77 empowers one of these boards in consultation with An Bord Telecom to determine the hours of business of telegraph offices under their control. It is also provided that in the event of disagreement the question may be referred to the Minister, whose decision will be final. This is a very useful section and I believe both boards will realise that their purpose is to serve the public and not to consider their own leisure requirements. The service provided must suit the people and it should not be any excuse to say that the volume of business will not be very great at certain hours. The offices should be open and ready for business and the public should be facilitated as much as possible. There is grave discontent in rural areas regarding the opening hours of the Garda barracks and in many places they are closed at 6 p.m. I am glad that the Minister will be enabled to ensure a proper service for the public.

I am very much impressed by section 91 which empowers the Minister, after consultation with the Minister for the Environment, to make regulations requiring developers of housing and industrial estates to provide facilities for the speedy provision of telecommunications services. These essential services must be provided, especially in the most remote areas which have the greatest need.

Many sections of this Bill are non-controversial and are intended merely to legalise under the new boards the functions which the Minister now enjoys. This is a courageous step and I hope that [1733] within five years there will be a vast improvement in both telephone and postal services. We depend upon them to receive both good and bad news and also for business transactions. Nothing is more important than people, and wealth and property pale into insignificance in comparison. Telecommunications services are for the benefit of people and to assist in the creation of productive employment. They also assist in bringing closer peoples of different nations and different colours, either by the written word or by the voice. These are the great benefits which this generation can enjoy.

This Bill is a courageous step in the right direction and we will be watching with great interest the advancement of these two boards. I wish the Minister well and I wish Mr. Quinn and Mr. Smurfit every success in their undertakings, as well as those who will be appointed to the two boards. I hope they will be men of dedication who will see far beyond the shores of this country and who will be interested in the welfare of those not yet born and the expansion of industries not yet thought of, all of which will depend on the extreme standard of efficiency in our postal and telephone services. May all their efforts be crowned with success and the good luck which they so richly deserve.

Mr. Fitzpatrick: Information on Tom J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Tom J. Fitzpatrick  (Dublin South-Central): I welcome this Bill because it is one of the most important Bills that has been introduced in this House for a considerable time. I congratulate the Minister on introducing it after such a short time in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. What we are discussing here this evening will be of vital importance to the social and economic structures of our country. We must consider the decisions being taken and why they are being taken at this time. The decision in principle was taken by Deputy Faulkner when he was Minister for Posts and Telegraphs to set up a review board in 1978. Previous to that, in 1977, we committed ourselves in our election manifesto to an examination of the whole telecommunications system to see if it could be operated as two semi-State bodies. That is the background [1734] against which the decision was taken.

It is important to consider all that is involved. No Department have been more maligned than the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. I am convinced from my experience in that Department that the finest personnel and finest officers that can be found are employed there. Unfortunately, the structures under which they have had to operate have prohibited them from carrying out the duties necessary to ensure the expansion of the Department. A consideration of the business they had to pursue convinces me that they are far more attuned to working in a semi-State body than in a Government Department where it was impossible for them to operate efficiently and effectively and to fulfil their duties as the public requested.

Very few semi-State bodies have been established with a full complement of qualified staff. We are talking here about something in the region of 30,000 employees, civil servants, who will be transferred to these two semi-State bodies. The boards will be taking trained personnel under their wing, and undoubtedly that is an advantage for them from the start. The decision to separate these two bodies was wise because they will be pursuing two different operations.

I listened to Deputy Flanagan speaking about the postal service. I cannot altogether agree with him about criticism, especially as regards the postal service, whatever I may have to say later about the telecommunications. In my experience we have one of the most efficient postal services in Europe. The standard of delivery in places like Italy or the US could bring about a rude awakening in us. Our postal service operates on an efficient basis and I hope that with rationalisation and so on this standard can be maintained. Modernisation and motorisation have improved the efficiency of the service and the standard of our deliveries is quite exceptional. Deputy Flanagan said that there were delays in posting from one country to another, but I do not believe that those delays were caused to any great extent by [1735] administration in our sorting offices and sub-post offices. An Post will have a huge turnover when they come into operation and will encounter great competition in trying to hold the business which they have at the moment. I am sure they will make every effort to increase business, and this will depend to a very large extent on how competitive their prices are. Postage today is very expensive, and if we push the price of the commodity too high then people will not avail of that commodity. Commercial companies are doing everything in their power to cut down overheads. They are using computers and all types of systems to ensure that expenses and overheads are pruned to the minimum. We may rest assured that the postal service will come under scrutiny as regards their charges in the years ahead.

This is a major part of the expenses incurred by large companies. Many companies today have economised considerably in this sector. Years ago companies had four or five deliveries in a month and an invoice every week following the delivery. That does not happen anymore. There is just one letter arriving through the letterbox once a month. That is how companies have economised because of the high cost of posting weekly invoices to firms. That is the kind of challenge that this board will face in the years ahead. They will have to go out and seek new business to keep the offices and personnel they have at this time. Despite that, they have the broad framework to expand. Throughout the country there are about 3,000 sub-post offices and also their own direct offices run by the Department. I am sure the board will direct their attention to capturing new business in the future.

On the question of expansion, the whole question of a banking system, such as the giro system, could be looked at. If introduced it would, in the long run, pay its way. When this was first established in the United Kingdom it was not very profitable but after three or four years there was a turnabout and it became profitable. There is room for this type of development. The majority of people [1736] today are paid by cheque. Many people are inhibited, although not so much today, about opening bank accounts. I would question whether the facilities are available in the banking world for the average working person because banks are closed at a relatively early time in the evening. I believe that we could succeed in establishing a giro banking system because any type of business can be run to suit the customer. I am sure that if we could establish a banking system within this organisation many people would gravitate towards it. It would be a good thing to accomplish.

There are other ways of expanding in rural Ireland. Sub-postmasters, as we know, are paid on a commission. They have given excellent service over the years and could have been better remunerated for the work they put in. Many of these sub-post offices throughout the country would not be open at all today if they were run directly by the Department of Posts and Telegraphs because they could not provide and pay staff. Where sub-post offices had to be staffed by the Department every effort was made to appoint a sub-postmaster as soon as possible because it was realised very quickly that the cost of staffing these sub-post offices directly was astronomical compared to what it would take to pay a sub-postmaster. They have made a major contribution to circulating business throughout the country and doing work not alone for the Department of Posts and Telegraphs but for the Department of Social Welfare. I have often thought that the sub-post offices were not properly remunerated; if anything, their business is declining and has declined due to the PRSI deductions, so that stamps are no longer on sale through the sub-post offices. There is a challenge in regard to expansion which is necessary. The outlets are there and they should be utilised to the maximum.

An Bord Telecom will not have the same challenge. Apart from telephones, I know of no commodity in this country for which the demand is not fulfilled. We have under-capitalised the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. We had a waiting list up to 20 years ago. Unfortunately, [1737] Governments did not realise the significance of telecommunications to a developing country. There is no easy shortcut to telecommunications. It is not possible to solve telecommunications problems in one or two years. It takes a long drawn out period from the time that plans are drawn up to build a new exchange, through the planning, the acquiring of the site, the building of the exchange and the installing of equipment. This can take four, five or six years. It is obvious that there is no short cut to this type of development. We have neglected it in the past. But this was rectified to some extent when a former Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, Deputy Faulkner, introduced a Bill in this House providing £650 million for capital development. That was a major contribution to the whole capital programme. The Department of Posts and Telegraphs up to then were starved for capital development. But at least a foundation has now been laid and I am convinced that there will be expansion in the whole telephone service.

There is no doubt that in the past industrial development was impeded because of the lack of telephone communication. Nothing else is more important to a businessman than to be able to communicate swiftly with his counterparts in his company abroad, particularly if his business is sited in the west or south-west of Ireland. In the past I have seen companies and manufacturers exasperated to the point that they thought of closing down because of the lack of telephone communication. We just cannot afford to let this happen. If that were to happen our image abroad as a suitable site for development would be tarnished.

There have been considerable improvements and the number of telephones installed has increased in the past three or four years. However, there are industrial sites throughout this city, and I am sure elsewhere, where there is a complete lack of efficient telecommunications. I hope the new board will keep in close contact with the IDA to ensure that top priority will be given to new industrial sites that are being developed. A manufacturer or businessman may [1738] have first-class personnel and may have available all other essential services but he cannot carry out his business without proper telephone communications. When he was Minister in the Department, Deputy Faulkner did an excellent job and I am sure the present Minister, Deputy Wilson, will also be successful in his post. This Bill will ensure that necessary progress in the area of telecommunications is made.

In his statement the Minister mentioned some areas where there is no waiting list for telephones. They include Athlone, Ballyshannon, Carlow, Kilkenny, Lifford, Limerick, Listowel, Nenagh and Tipperary. This is probably due to the opening of new exchanges but there are other areas where the waiting lists are quite considerable. I know of people who are waiting for a telephone for three or four years. In areas such as Tallaght new exchanges have been built and it is easier to lay cables in conjunction with other development works than to open up streets in the centre of the city. In the canal area near South Circular Road there is little development in the installation of new telephones. I accept it is a major job to open main routes such as this but the problem will have to be tackled. We are trying to develop the inner city and that does not just mean houses. Telecommunications are very important. When major development work is taking place in the inner city cabling for future telephone communications should be laid at the same time. Small factories are being developed in the inner city. It is one of the objectives of Dublin Corporation and the Government to establish light industries and thus give employment to people in the area. I hope the new board will consider this aspect of the problem. The same applies with regard to new housing. All the necessary cabling and other works should be carried out in conjunction with the development of new housing so that at the appropriate time telephones may be installed more quickly and efficiently.

Telecommunications are important in the context of tourism. Many holiday resorts have a fourfold increase in population during the summer. People on holiday [1739] may wish to communicate with their families and it is up to the authorities to ensure that the necessary facilities are available. Telecommunications are important also to the average householder. More and more people want to have telephones in their homes and the younger generation consider a telephone an essential item. When these young people leave their parents' house and move to the suburbs they expect to be able to have a telephone in their own homes.

Staffing relations are a matter of vital importance. Strange as it may seem, staff relations in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, except for a period during which there was a postal strike, have been excellent. I think that one major strike was the only strike in the history of the postal section apart from disputes of a minor character. However, we must ensure that there are guarantees with regard to the privileges and status enjoyed by the staff. They must be convinced that their terms of employment will not be worsened in any way. Unless we do this we will undermine the whole structure of the new boards and their future development. We are dealing here with 30,000 employees and there are very few companies in this country with a workforce of that size.

Debate adjourned.


Last Updated: 14/09/2010 10:56:15 First Page Previous Page Page of 59 Next Page Last Page