Thursday, 23 June 1988
Seanad Eireann Debate
Mr. Manning: It is essential that the Commission and the Government can ensure an orderly transition from the current unlicensed scenario to the licensed scenario with the minimum of close-down time, hopefully to allow for a speedy transition . In the past, when an attempt was made to close down unlicensed radio stations, without there being any alternative in place, all hell broke loose. Every Member of this House and the Minister in particular will find himself inundated with calls, letters, pressure and so forth. Certainly there would be an unnatural hiatus in proceedings if the transition was not smooth and orderly. I hope the Minister will be able to ensure that the transition will not be abrupt but will be smooth and orderly.
Mr. Manning: I would like the Minister's views on the position of unlicensed stations which have been in existence up to now and which have in every other respect of the law been in good faith, stations which are up-to-date with their VAT and PRSI, have paid the proper rates and so forth. Does the Minister think these stations will be in a position to apply for licences with all the other applicants or is there a feeling that, having transgressed the law in the past, they will not be in a position to enter into competition?
Mr. Mooney: I would like to add to what Senator Manning has requested by asking for a clarification in relation to existing illegal operators who have identified themselves with call letters throughout the country. Can they apply with the existing call letters and will they be considered by the Commission for licences or must they form new companies to apply for such licences?
Mr. R. Burke: It is more relevant to the previous Bill but they may apply for new licences. There is no difficulty in doing that, but in relation to their call letters, as the Deputy calls them, their names, depending on what name the company is registered in, there is no difficulty in that either. SECTION 21.
Mr. Mooney: Could I clarify something in relation to existing illegal operators? A great many people who have not become involved in illegal operations have consciously made a decision that they would wait until there was a legal regime. I know from personal experience that some of these people are a little——
Mr. Manning: It has been a long process to get the legislation to where we are today. The length of time has probably been beneficial because the legislation which we are now passing embodies the best of a consensus view as to where we should be going in, on the future of broadcasting. It contains a possibility for enormously exciting and new departures both in radio and television. In this Bill the Minister has shown a great deal of compromise and has gone out of his way to meet reasonable points that were made. The process in the Dáil and Seanad is a very good example of how legislation can be greatly improved in the interest of the common good after free and open discussion. I thank the Minister for his generosity and the manner in which he has gone out of his way to meet points of view from the Opposition parties and the extent to which the Bill was changed on  foot of comments from various groups. I cangratulate the Minister on getting this legislation on to the Statute Book and I commiserate with his officials who had to bear with this legislation for a very long period. I believe that it is good and exciting legislation. I hope it will stand the test of time and I look forward to a very happy era for those who are involved in broadcasting.
Mr. Mooney: I concur with everything Senator Manning has said and I, too, compliment the Minister and his officials, not only on bringing forward this much needed legislation but also on the manner of its drafting and its execution through both Houses, particularly this House, and in the manner in which the Minister has been personally responsive to the many representations that have been made to him from various interested groups. The Minister in concluding might confirm the statement that he made in the Dáil in relation to those operators who are now outside the law. I do not wish in any way to give the impression that I am pillorying or crucifying them in any way. I have always maintained that they have acted outside the law, but one could argue that perhaps the law should have been changed before now. That is not the question before us, but I say in the interests of fairness that many people have deliberately and consciously stayed outside the illegal operation of broadcasting pending the passing of legislation. The fact that legislation has taken some years to pass has not been the fault of those individuals. Consequently, it seems now that they, as law-abiding citizens will be treated on equal terms with those who have, whether one likes it or not, not to put a tooth in it, broken the law consistently, maybe for the highest of motives — I am not taking away from their motives in any way but just stating the fact that they have broken-the law. However, having done that I would like to get confirmation from the Minister on a statement he made to a similar question in the Dáil that he will give preference to those who have stayed within the law rather than to those who have been outside the law, and he might convey those  views to the Commission. Overall I welcome this legislation wholeheartedly. It is the most exciting development in broadcasting in this country since the foundation of the State and one can only wish the legislation well.
Mr. Ross: Despite the reservations I have about the Bill, and they are legion, I would like to say that on the whole it is a very welcome initiative that this Bill should have come to this House. I would like to welcome the relative speed with which it has been passed through this House and the other House. I know the difficulties of getting this kind of legislation through and getting it drafted. Indeed the last Government proved that to us with a similar Bill which it had on the books but could not bring to the House because of disagreements. Despite all its faults this Bill fills a gap, part of the process which was started by the Intoxicating Liquor Bill. There is a very real need where the law is being openly flouted and where the forces of law and order and the State are allowing it to be openly flouted, that either the law should be enforced or the new measures which recognise a new situation should be brought to bear. For that reason I welcome the Bill.
Mr. S. Haughey: I cannot let this occasion pass without making a few comments. This is a very historic moment in the history of broadcasting in Ireland. We have reached a very important milestone. Like it or not, thousands of people around this country have been listening to a number of radio stations and these radio stations built up a huge loyalty and a huge following. We cannot deny that. In Dublin radio stations like Sunshine 101, Q 102 and Energy 103 had huge listenerships and built up a substantial loyalty. Many people will be sad that these stations are now passing. That is a reality which we have to accept.
However, I have every confidence that the new stations when they come onstream in the new year will be able to pick up on the listenership and attract the people who have been listening to these other stations in the past. It has dragged  on for a number of years now and I congratulate the Minister on tackling the matter in a very effective way once and for all.
Minister for Communications (Mr. R. Burke): Without delaying the House I wish to thank the Senators for their expression of support for what has been now passed through this House. It has been ten years coming and I must say I am very pleased to have been the Minister involved in guiding it eventually through these two Chambers. I thank the Members of the Seanad for their cooperation and expressions of support in passing the legislation. Finally, I thank my own officials in the Department of Communications who put so much work into three different Government Bills over the years eventually to see this one coming to fruition. I believe the framework we have established in this legislation, warts and all — I am not claiming it is perfection — will provide the opportunity for a very exciting period ahead in the television and radio world. In two years' time the electronic media will be totally different from the media as we know it in June 1988 when we are passing this Bill.
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