Telecommunications (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 1996: Committee Stage.

Thursday, 21 November 1996

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 149 No. 9

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Sections 1 and 2 agreed to.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Fergal Quinn  Zoom on Fergal Quinn  I move amendment No. 1:

In page 4, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following new subsection:

(2) In carrying out the functions conferred by this Act, the Director shall at all times have regard to:

(a) the need for Ireland to have an advanced telecommunications system which is competitive internationally in terms of price, availability, range of features and quality;

(b) the need to regard the satisfaction of the interests of customers as the ultimate objective in providing and maintaining a telecommunications system;

(c) the need to ensure the maximum practicable level of competition in the provision of telecommunications services, consistent with the objectives of (a) and (b) of this subsection, and in particular to identify, prohibit and penalise any actions by any telecommunications provider which in the opinion of the Director might have the [670] effect of raising unreasonably the cost of entry to the market by any potential competitor;

(d) the need to ensure fairness as between the providers or potential providers of telecommunications services, and in particular to identify, prohibit, and penalise any actions by any telecommunications provider which in the opinion of the Director may constitute the abuse of a dominant position;

(e) the need to provide for an arrangement under which all providers of telecommunications services contribute financially to the maintenance of the universal service obligation by the national telecommunications system overall, and for the Director to revise from time to time the definition of universal service obligation having regard to the national requirement for an advanced telecommunications system.

(f) the need to ensure, in the interest of facilitating rural development, that no part of the country is disadvantaged competitively by virtue of its location, and in particular to ensure that the universal service obligation is progressively extended to include an uniform tariff countrywide, and

(g) the need to ensure that “access to customers by both traditional telephone lines and cable systems is open to all licensed telecommunications providers at prices which the Director deems to be fair.”.

This is a comprehensive amendment. Despite the harmless sounding Title to the Bill, this very important and path finding legislation will create a watershed in the history of Irish telecommunications. At present, the Minister and the Department control and regulate a vital sector of our infrastructure. Now, however, very important powers are to be transferred to an independent regulator who will need to operate within a broad policy framework.

If the regulator is to be genuinely independent as the Bill requires, he cannot rely on either the Minister or his Department to provide a policy framework. Equally, we cannot expect the regulator to make up policy as he goes along because this would put an inappropriate burden on him. If he is to have any credibility the legislation establishing his office must set out the broad parameters within which he is to work. The amendment seeks to do this.

We are ploughing new ground here. We are used to dealing with legislation which gives the Minister powers of one kind or another. In such cases we do not have to include a policy framework in legislation because that is for Ministers and it is a role they value highly. We are also used to legislation providing for the [671] establishment of semi-State bodies. Here again it is sufficient only to set out the powers in legislation because the policy framework is provided by the sponsoring Department.

However, an independent regulator is different. It is not his job, as it is the Minister's, to make policy. However, because he is meant to be independent he cannot rely on the sponsoring Department. Unless the legislation provides the policy framework we are asking the regulator to proceed without guidance. This would be very unwise.

I do not suggest that we control the regulator's every move, rather I propose a broad policy framework within which he would have freedom of action. This is what the amendment seeks to do. It contains seven strands. The first sets an overall national objective within which the regulation is to take place. It is “the need for Ireland to have an advanced telecommunications system which is competitive internationally in terms of price, availability, range of features and quality”. This makes it clear that the overall objective is to make Ireland competitive in telecommunications and also to make clear that “competitive” means more than just competing on price.

The second strand introduces the customer. It makes clear to the regulator that, ultimately, the regulation must be in the interests of the telecommunications customer, not the provider or the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications. The legislation should tell the regulator that his boss is the customer, not the Minister or the shareholders of Telecom Éireann's companies. The customer's interests must be paramount first, last and always. This is the only way for Ireland to get the best telecommunications system, one that is run by the market itself. We must make the system customer driven because in the past it has been bureaucracy and technology driven. The regulator must be told this, but this is not, and will not be set out in the Bill, unless this amendment is accepted.

The third strand is about competition, which is the driving force for the changes in telecommunications. We must establish the principle that competition is good in itself and part of the regulator's role should be to actively encourage this. He should be given the responsibility of ensuring that existing players in the marketplace do not seek to restrict the amount of competition by making the cost of anything to part of that market so high that it will scare people off. This is a time honoured way of restricting competitive activity. For example, artificially low prices can be offered so competition is not worthwhile. This part of the amendment will ensure that new entrants come into the marketplace.

[672] Paragraph (d) of the amendment deals with the relationship between the players already in the marketplace. My aim is to establish the principle of fairness between competitors as the bedrock of the regulatory policy. This should be spelled out in the legislation. For over 70 years, Departments have regulated sectors in the interests of the semi-State companies under their aegis. Given that this must change, there is no point having a regulator because he must treat all competitors equally, regardless of whether they are State owned. He must be able to penalise competitors, State owned or otherwise, which seek to abuse a dominant position. The monopolist culture dies hard and State or quasi monopolies often play very dirty when it comes to competing in the marketplace. The regulator's purpose is to stop that for good.

Paragraph (e) relates to the universal service obligation. Telecom Éireann has such an obligation; it must provide a service to everybody, wherever they live. It is a vital national interest that this universal service be maintained in the free market environment. There is a great danger in that regard if this is not spelled out in the legislation. However, it would be impractical to demand each provider to deliver it. My amendment suggests that each provider should contribute to the cost of the universal service obligation although only one may use it. This would address the cherry picking problem but still open the marketplace to competitive forces.

It is also important to realise that it may be necessary to change the definition of universal service in the future. At present there is considerable pressure from the telecommunications providers for the notion that the obligation only applies to what they call simple dial tone and not to more sophisticated forms of telecommunications services, such as ISDF. By giving the regulator the power to define the obligation and redefine it as necessary, and by imposing on him the overall obligation to put the customer first, the universal service obligation will be protected in the future. It would be disastrous if the concept of universal access to telecommunications services was diluted as the telecommunications industry becomes more sophisticated.

Paragraph (f) addresses this vital regional issue head on. Anybody with an interest in rural development understands the importance of this matter in terms of the revolution in telecommunications. The industrial revolution resulted in the flight of people from the land towards cities and large towns where business and work were available. In recent years, various incentives have been given to coax industry away from urban areas but, as a nation, we have not been successful in that regard. The telecommunications revolution offers the possibility of arresting the drift from the land and perhaps even reversing it because sophisticated [673] telecommunications can make location an irrelevant factor in business.

It is possible for a wide range of services — the sector where jobs will be created in the future — to be provided from afar. It is not necessary for them to be in the same room. This provides a potential opportunity to reverse the current balance of advantage between urban and rural areas, but the snag is that this vast potential could be completely destroyed by pricing which handicaps rural areas. The objective should be to have a uniform tariff nationwide and this should be set out in the Bill. There are already uniform tariffs for mobile telephones and access to the Internet. An objective for total uniformity across all telecommunications services, perhaps to be achieved progressively, should be set. If we are serious about rural development, this simple policy direction will create jobs in rural areas.

Paragraph (g) relates to the cable system, to which insufficient attention has been given. There has been much talk recently about who should own Cablelink. Many people say Telecom Éireann should sell it to somebody who will use it to offer competing telecommunications services. However, that is not the real issue. The key national issue is the same whether Telecom Éireann continues to hold Cablelink or is forced by the EU to divest itself of it. Will different providers be able to compete in cable? Under the current liberalisation, the local loop to customers' houses, which is owned by a telephone supplier, must be opened to all competitors who can but access at fair rates. Cable should be treated in exactly the same way.

No matter who owns it, cable should be a highway that it is open to anybody who is prepared to pay for it. The price should be set by the regulator. It would be bad for the country to take Cablelink away from one monopoly provider and give it to another. It should be opened to competition. This is particularly important because cable offers new technical possibilities which old fashioned telephone lines cannot provide. Within the next few years, probably within the next ten, cable will become the predominent means of delivering telecommunications services in urban areas. In addition, telephone lines will, in effect, be practically obsolete. If this happens, the cable franchise will become intensely valuable — much too valuable to restrict it to only one player. We can ensure that the future thrust of policy is in the correct direction if my amendment is accepted. I commend the amendment to the House. I am not wedded to a particular form of words and I will not press the amendment if the Minister is prepared to take my ideas on board and introduce amendments on Report Stage which will satisfy my deep problems with this matter. The amendment is necessary and I look forward [674] to hearing the Minister's view. I may not have used the correct form of words or put it in the right place but nobody, including the Minister, will disagree with the amendment's objectives. I am anxious these matters are included in the Bill during Committee Stage. However, if that is not possible, I am anxious the Minister returns to them on Report Stage.

Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  I support the amendment. Senator Quinn's contribution provided food for thought and I agree that this area must be customer driven in the long-term because, ultimately, this is where major success lies. The part of the amendment which deals with rural renewal is of particular interest to me. Urban renewal has done much in a short time. This scheme was agreed and implemented by all parties in power in recent years and it has transformed parts of cities and towns. The good it has done in terms of long-term employment and investment is beyond belief. Investors would not have invested in such parts of towns and cities had there not been tax incentives.

Senator Quinn correctly referred to the bias against those operating businesses in Mullingar or Longford as opposed to the capital city in terms of telephone charges. All parties support rural renewal but cost is a major problem. The success of businesses in rural areas keeps overheads down. However, one of the biggest overheads today is communications and there is an enormous difference in telephone charges. I, and the Minister of State who comes from the midlands, fully support——

Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications (Mr. Stagg): Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  I come from the west.

Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  The Minister of State's constituency touches on County Westmeath. I am sure his friends in the Carbury areas would classify themselves as being from the midlands.

Mr. Dardis: Information on John Dardis  Zoom on John Dardis  They have left the constituency.

Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  It is unfair that people living in rural areas do not have the same opportunities as those in Dublin, Cork or Galway. The world has become a global village in terms of communications. In the marketing world, with which Senator-Quinn would be familiar, goods are marketed through the medium of television. If a person has a telephone, fax and other necessary equipment, they can run an office from their home in a rural area. People can make a living and rear their families in rural areas because it is cheaper to operate from one's home than from an expensive office in a city. There are enormous opportunities for the self-employed to create employment.

[675] The day has come for a uniform telephone charge to be introduced. Because the economy is so buoyant, we should encourage the Government to introduce this immediately. The time has never been more favourable to do so. I concur with Senator Quinn's proposals on opening up the cable area and I support his amendment.

Mr. Dardis: Information on John Dardis  Zoom on John Dardis  I support Senator Quinn's amendment. It is important to establish broad parameters in the legislation as it is the only way this can be done in an ordered manner. The objectives Senator Quinn outlined in his amendment are ones to which I subscribe. It is reasonable that the director should be guided by the legislation because we are making a distinction between somebody who is independent and somebody who is under the “control” of the Department. That independence must be circumscribed by certain broad policy parameters and this is a good place to insert them because it removes any room for ambiguity.

Subparagraph (f) of the amendment, which struck a cord with me, states:

... in the interest of facilitating rural development, that no part of the country is disadvantaged competitively by virtue of its location, and in particular to ensure that the universal service obligation is progressively extended to include an uniform tariff countrywide, and

That is something to which the Minister of State, as a socialist, should readily subscribe. Looking at the history of the State and the public services which have been put in place, for example, the ESB or the transport services, we can see that one of the greatest achievements of those services was that they did not disadvantage people living in remote areas. Services were provided to those people on an equal basis to those living in the city. That is important because one of the factors of rural depopulation is that people are required to pay more for doctors, veterinarians or groceries by virtue of their location.

The State has an obligation to ensure equity so that people are not at a disadvantage. That is the intention of this subparagraph and it is something to which I subscribe. The amendment also deals with the need for competition in the system. For those reasons and others, I support it.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  I compliment Senator Quinn on opening up this debate. I am sure the Minister of State will welcome the opportunity to respond to the points raised by Senator Quinn's comprehensive amendment. The discussion in the other House on this issue tended not to stimulate debate in this area, which is surprising. This is innovative legislation in that it establishes the office of director of telecommunications [676] regulation which will regulate one of the most revolutionary developments we face. That may sound like a cliché, but we are on the information super highway and moving at a fast rate. Things are happening so fast that we, as legislators, must ensure the checks and balances to which Senator Quinn refers are put in place.

This is not a multi-million pound industry, but a billion pound one — we are talking monopoly money. The players at international level are so huge that their turnover exceeds our GDP. In that context, I welcome Senator Quinn raising these issues. I am not sure if the Bill will be able to accommodate everything he requires, but Fianna Fáil supports the thrust of the amendment.

I would like to hear the Minister's view on a uniform tariff. While this was dealt with adequately by Senator Cassidy and Senator Dardis, I would like to add another dimension to this proposal. My sympathies lie not only with those in business in the midlands but with those on the periphery, on they islands, and those attempting to establish businesses and industries in economically depressed regions.

There is no question whatsoever that the high cost of telecommunications is a contributing factor. I do not wish to over emphasise or exaggerate its importance but it is definitely a contributing factor when decisions are being taken on where businesses should locate. I am sure the Government, irrespective of its political colour, will wish to ensure there is the broadest possible spread of industrial development across the country. Anything that inhibits that development should be addressed as a matter of Government policy.

Like Senator Quinn, I do not anticipate that this initiative will be introduced tomorrow but in the context of the policy directions which the Minister will be placing before the new director, it should be fundamental public policy. There should be an aspiration towards accelerated development of uniform charges.

The other area of particular interest is that of opening telephone lines and cable systems to all licensed telecommunications providers. Will the Minister of State indicate in his reply the remaining period of the MMDS franchises? This question arose in the debate on Committee Stage in the Lower House but the Minister was unable to provide the information then. He said, quite correctly in my view, that other channels were open to Deputies if they wished to table parliamentary questions. I am not sure if parliamentary questions were tabled in the Lower House nor am I sure whether the Minister was able to inform himself about the remaining franchise periods. While this does not have a direct bearing on section 3, it does have a certain bearing on section 4 so I am signalling my intent in that regard.

[677] My reason for raising this issue is that we have moved beyond optic cables as they are currently operated and are now dealing with fibre optics. This has occurred in my home town of Drumshanbo in County Leitrim and is a microcosm of what is happening across the country. Telecom Éireann installed a fibre optic line system from Carrick-on-Shannon into Drumshanbo which will continue north towards Donegal. In effect, that means that if Drumshanbo was able to host the Eurovision Song Contest——

Mr. Quinn: Information on Fergal Quinn  Zoom on Fergal Quinn  Please God, it will some day.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  ——in a physical infrastructural way, as a town of 700 people, there would be absolutely no difficulty from a telecommunications point of view of accessing the town of Drumshanbo worldwide.

Mr. Dardis: Information on John Dardis  Zoom on John Dardis  There would be a terrible problem getting them into the pubs, though.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  I was including the local hostelries in the infrastructural aspect of the question.

This confirms the point that Senator Quinn made concerning developments in this area. This is a small town in the north west where if any major event occurred that required modern technology, be it a visit by the President of the United States——

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  That was Ballyporeen.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  ——or even a visit by the Minister of State, a media crew could swiftly access its home base using modems, laptops or other systems. That is an example of where we are currently. Small town Ireland can now communicate with the world.

In that respect, there should be some debate within Government on subparagraph (g). This an opportunity for the Minister of State to give us an indication of Government thinking on what will happen. For example, our near neighbours in the United Kingdom have already enunciated a policy on digital broadcasting and the use of fibre optic developments there. Technologically, Britain is behind us in terms of telecommunications and, strangely enough, it is trying to catch up because we have jumped the technological divide.

We were so far behind a decade ago that we jumped the existing mechanisms and went straight for state of the art technology. Therefore, in some cases we are ahead, yet we do not have a public policy on how we will cope with all these technological innovations. Senator Quinn has provided a valuable public service in tabling these amendments so that a debate can be stimulated [678] in this area. Like him, I am anxious to hear how the Minister of State views these amendments.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  I thank Senators for their contributions. Senator Quinn has proposed a detailed and extensive amendment to section 3 of the Bill which sets out provisions applying to the functions of the director. The Senator's amendment proposes to set down parameters for the director in carrying out his or her functions. I welcome the opportunity to spell out in detail Government thinking on the development of the regulatory structure and policies. These are of immediate concern to the telecommunications sector but are also critical to the development of other areas of the transport, energy and communications portfolio.

I remind Senators of the purpose of section 3 of the Bill. At present the telecommunications functions of the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications include: overall policy and development of the telecommunications sector; shareholder functions in relation to Telecom Éireann and regulatory functions. The Minister is currently defined as the national regulatory authority for the purposes of EU and national law. The Minister will retain overall responsibility for telecommunications policy and shareholder functions in Telecom Éireann under the proposals contained in the Bill.

The functions of the director of telecommunications regulation will be those created by this section of the Bill, those transferred from the Minister under section 4, and additional functions which the Minister may confer on the director in future as may be appropriate.

The purpose of the section is to provide a clear statement of the director's functions, allow for a smooth transition in the hand over of functions from the Minister to the director, give scope to the Minister to transfer other functions to the director as long as these are incidental to the functions transferred in the Bill and provide a clear framework of responsibilities for making radio frequency plans by the director.

I recognise the desirability of Senator Quinn's proposals in the development of a medium to long-term framework for regulation generally. Notwithstanding this, some of them require further development. For example, there needs in particular to be a clear distinction between what is meant by policy functions which are being retained by the Minister and the regulatory functions which are being transferred to the director.

I also want to draw attention to the emerging regulatory framework for telecommunications at EU level. This has major implications for our domestic policy and legislation. The purpose of establishing an independent regulator and conferring the regulatory functions of the [679] Minister on that office is to give effect to EU directives with respect to the development of independent regulatory arrangements, and the Government's stated objectives for telecommunications regulations in the short-term.

Given the detail of the amendment, I want to address the proposals on a point by point basis. I will also try to cover the points made by other Senators.

Subparagraph (a) of the amendment would provide that the director should have regard for the need for Ireland to have an advanced telecommunications system. Nobody has any argument with that.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Fergal Quinn  Zoom on Fergal Quinn  The Minister is accepting that.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  The need for Ireland to have an advanced telecommunications system is a matter of Government policy and more specifically the responsibility of the Minister. In setting up an independent regulator for the sector the Minister is retaining responsibility for the overall development of the sector. The Bill transfers the Minister's regulatory functions to the director and thereby separates these regulatory functions from his shareholding and sectoral policy functions. The director's duty will be to carry out fairly the functions set out in the Bill and in the enactments listed in the Second Schedule.

My point is not that the paragraph is unacceptable in itself; I believe the definition of policy to be contained in legislation must be more extensive, allow for a more dynamic evolution of policy, if at all possible be consistent with cross-sectoral considerations and must, in the interests of the independence of the office of the regulator, be seen to be separate from the exercise of his or her functions. The place for the definition of the policy regulatory interface should be the legislation dealing with the establishment of a multi-sectoral regulator which has been announced by the Government and is at an advanced stage of preparation.

Subparagraph (b) of the proposed amendment provides that the director should have regard to the interests of customers in carrying out his or her functions. This provision creates problems for a number of reasons. First, the interests of telecommunications customers are pursued both by the Director of Consumer Affairs and the Ombudsman whose remit extends to this sector. In the longer term, it is important that in defining the role of the regulator in a multi-sectoral framework, the relationship with both of these bodies will be defined in substantial detail. Second, growing competition in the sector will benefit the customer by ensuring that service providers supply services which meet customers' needs at the highest quality and lowest cost they are in a position to provide. In a competitive [680] situation, companies that fail to satisfy customers' needs will not prosper. The role of the regulator is to ensure that there is fair competition, thereby ensuring the interests of the customer. Third, the amendment proposes to put an obligation on the director to have regard to divergent customer interests which apply across the sector. There are different levels of customer and different customers have different interests. There is a balance to be struck and the proposed subparagraph may not represent the best approach for dealing with the issue at this stage.

Subparagraph (c) seeks to ensure that telecommunications providers do not thwart emerging competition. This matter is addressed in existing and emerging EU law and in existing Irish competition law. Where EU law already addresses this issue, the relevant functions are being transferred to the director in the Schedule to the Bill. For example, existing EU law provides that tariffs charged by dominant players in telecommunications markets for leased lines must be cost orientated and based on a proven cost accounting system. The responsibility for this currently lies with the Minister but it will be transferred to the director under this Bill.

Where proposed EU law addresses this issue, in the process of transposing that law into national legislation, appropriate powers will be conferred on the director to monitor and enforce fair pricing. At present, there is a draft directive on interconnection and a further draft directive amending the voice telephony directive. When these are transposed into national law, the relevant function of monitoring charges for interconnection and other telecommunications services will be conferred on the director. It is clear, therefore, that the director will have sufficient powers to ensure prices are reasonably related to costs but by the means I have already set out and by means of the price cap order which is provided for in section 7.

The Senator's proposed subparagraph (c) addresses the same issues, so while I sympathise with the general thrust of the amendment, I am convinced this Bill is not the appropriate place for such wording. It is a matter more appropriate for statutory instruments transposing EU law and further telecommunications legislation which will be introduced next year. In addition, I am concerned that the wording suggested might conflict with existing competition law and the functions of the Competition Authority in enforcing that law.

Subparagraph (d) of the Senator's proposed amendment raises many of the same issues as paragraph 3, so my comments on that paragraph apply here also. Existing and emerging EU law addresses the issue of potential abuses of dominant position. For example, that law obliges dominant operators to make services available to competitors on a non-discriminatory basis and to [681] enter into certain arrangements with competitors, in other words, third party access. Any necessary authority to give effect to these provisions will be conferred on the director when these directives are transposed into Irish law. I am also concerned that the suggested wording in this subparagraph might conflict with existing competition law and the functions of the Competition Authority in enforcing that law. The director will have sufficient powers and duties to deal with the concerns expressed by the Senator.

Subparagraph (e) of the proposed amendment seeks to empower the director to establish a universal service funding arrangement and to redefine the universal service obligation from time to time. It is intended that telecommunications service providers will contribute to a universal service fund to meet the net costs of making a defined minimum set of telecommunications services available at all points in the State. Draft EU legislation deals with this issue. The appropriate powers and functions will be granted to the director when that legislation is transposed into national law. I agree with Senator Quinn that the scope of the universal service obligation is of vital importance. However, this is a policy decision and is recognised as such in emerging EU legislation. It should remain the responsibility of the Minister and the Government to set and redefine it. The powers and functions being transferred to the director are regulatory in nature and not policy ones.

Subparagraph (f) of the amendment provides that the director should have regard to the interests of rural development and that the universal service obligation should be extended as necessary in this context. While it is a worthy objective, I am concerned about the rationale behind it and I argue it is not appropriate at this time. This proposal suggests an interventionist regime for the director. It is not intended that this would be the case. An element of flexibility will be afforded to service providers in relation to tariffs while ensuring the maintenance of the principle of universal service. The tariffs which service providers will charge for services, which are subject to competition and where there is no dominant operator, will not be subject to price control. For those services which have no competition or where there is a dominant operator, a price cap will apply which will ensure a reduction in tariffs while, at the same time, providing some flexibility to the service provider.

The first price cap order will be made by the Minister rather than the director and it will specify an adjustment factor of 6 per cent. This means Telecom Éireann's prices will fall by at least 6 per cent each year for the period of the price cap. Over the five year period of the price cap, Telecom Éireann's prices will be forced to fall by a minimum of 30 per cent.

[682] As regards universal service, it is the Government's policy that the principle of universal service should be maintained, developed and expanded, where practical, as competition increases and technology changes. The necessary legislative provisions for this will be laid down in further legislation next year and will incorporate EU requirements. The Director will monitor the extent to which the universal service obligation is being met and the cost of doing so. The director will also review from time to time the definition of universal service obligation, having regard to Government and EU policy, and make changes where necessary in the public interest.

The Government has reaffirmed its strong commitment to ensuring that the public and businesses have access to voice telephony and leased line services at reasonable rates and that free access to emergency call services is readily available throughout Ireland. Public pay telephones should continue to be widely distributed. The key question is what will drive tariffs towards a uniform national rate faster? Will it be the universal service obligation or competition? My view is that it will be competition. We should not permit ourselves to hang too many policy objectives on the universal service obligation because this has been shown to have longer-term negative competitive implications. The universal service is and will continue to be is central to Irish telecommunications policy, but so is competition. The emerging EU framework on competition directives will define how far national Administrations can go in developing the universal service concept in a competitive framework.

Subparagraph (g) of this amendment provides that the director should have regard to the need for fair access pricing by service providers to existing Telecom Éireann networks. As competition develops, there will be a need for fair access by service providers to the networks of their competitors. The Minister's responsibilities in respect of leased lines are being fully transferred by the Bill. More importantly, the draft interconnect directive, currently under discussion at EU level, will define the future responsibilities of the national regulatory authorities with respect to interconnect generally. These requirements will be speedily transposed into Irish law when the EU directive comes into force.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss the issues raised by this comprehensive amendment. The Senator's proposals are either in the course of or have been adopted in emerging EU legislation. In the Irish context, the broad thrust of the argument is both relevant and valuable in terms of the development of this sectoral policy. However, it belongs in legislation which will establish a multi-sectoral regulatory structure [683] early next year, in the comprehensive telecommunications legislation which will be prepared next year and in the statutory instruments which will transpose EU rules on the competitive framework for telecommunications.

While I cannot accept the amendments proposed, the Government is committed to the bulk of their content as will be seen in the statement on regulatory principles for telecommunications issued last January. I am also prepared to commit the Government to taking on board the broad thrust of the amendment in the development of the legislation referred to. I regret taking so long to reply but it was a comprehensive and detailed amendment and merited such a reply. I will deal with the points raised by other Senators as briefly as possible.

A number of Senators asked about Cablelink. The Government is committed to the accelerated development of Cablelink into a multimedia platform open to other service providers. The two principles are accelerated development and a multi-user framework where all would have the right to use the cables for a fee. The Government has agreed to this and will implement the substance of Senator Quinn's amendment in the context of the strategic alliance with Telecom Éireann.

I have some information on the effect of a universal charge for telephone services which demonstrates the difficulty of implementing it as quickly as we would like. There are two broad options. One is to impose local call charges for all calls but the problem is it would cost £2.1 million per week. The effect would be that Telecom Éireann would be broke and its competition would complain of below cost selling.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Fergal Quinn  Zoom on Fergal Quinn  I did not suggest that.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  The alternative is to impose the first option together with a new charge to retain Telecom Éireann's revenues. That would lead to a 40 per cent increase in local call charges. Competitors could not compete on trunk calls because of Telecom Éireann subsidising such calls from local calls and new competitors on local calls would eventually erode Telecom Éireann's revenues. The new competition regime will, over time, bring in competitors who will provide services from Galway, Kerry and Donegal, for example, to anywhere else in the country and this will force down prices so that there may well be, in effect, a universal tariff. That is the best way forward. The immediate consequences of applying a universal charge can be seen. The capping of prices will reduce them generally by a minimum of 30 per cent over the next five year period. That is a minimum and competition may well force that down further. The six per cent per [684] annum reduction over a five year period may also have that desired effect.

The duration of MMDS licences varies between licensees and the information on that was given to the Deputy who sought it in the Dáil. I do not have the information with me today but I will provide it to the Senator.

Senator Quinn complained that the director did not have a map but I say he has a very detailed one. We are taking functions from the Minister and giving them to the director who will operate independently. We are also creating some new functions for him which are clearly defined. He has a clear map and must operate within it.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Fergal Quinn  Zoom on Fergal Quinn  I thank the Minister for his detailed answer. The Bill does not give the director a map, but it is promised in legislation he proposes to introduce next year. However, the Minister told us this was promised last January. That worries me because, it is now November and it sounds very like other cases where Bills were promised and have not yet been seen and I have been a Member of this House for almost four years. I do not believe it is good enough to expect us to accept a promise made last January which is now being made for the new year. The Minister said last January that it would be introduced very soon.

Amendment No. 1. states:

(2) In carrying out the functions conferred by this Act, the Director shall at all times have regard to:

(a) the need for Ireland to have an advanced telecommunications system which is competitive internationally in terms of price, availability, range of features and quality;

The Minister said that he has no argument with this. If that is so, I do not understand why it cannot be written into the Bill. The Minister said it will be in the legislation next year but it should be in this legislation because it will do no harm and no one disagrees with it.

Subparagraph (b) of the amendment concerns the customer. This makes it clear that, in the final anaysis, the regulator is acting in the interests of the customer rather than telecom providers. We have been discussing fairness and independence with which I agree entirely. I have no problem with the regulator being independent and fair. What I suggest in this amendment is fully in line with the thrust of the Strategic Management Initiative introduced by the Government some months ago and also with recent ministerial policy. It is necessary to state it explicitly in view of the anti-customer activity by various organisations in the telecom area.

We have come from a culture where the number of telephones we could have was [685] rationed. We were grateful when someone used their influence to get us a telephone. I am sure no one in this House would have ever done anything like that. We were used to being rationed and did not actively think of the customer as the person who created the demand. We must change our attitude and, if we are to do so, we must spell it out. If we say we want an independent regulator who will be fair to the various providers concerned and do not mention the customer, then we are not acting in our best interests.

That is close to the substance of subparagraph (c) of this amendment. It establishes the principle that competition between telecom providers is a good thing. It is recognised as the principal mechanism of change. The regulator should act as a midwife helping the birth of new competitors. However, he or she must do more than that. For example, the regulator should ensure fairness between two competitors, just as a referee does in a boxing match although it might be like a Thai boxing match with two or three in the ring. The regulator should not only be fair to those in the ring but should be proactive in seeking other competitors. If this element can be incorporated, we will have a healthier telecommunications industry acting in the interests of the customer.

We all grew up with a State-owned airline of which we were proud. Britain had a state-owned airline of which they were proud. We wanted to protect our airline and ensure we were acting in its best interests and the British wanted to do the same. We came to an agreement with the British that there would be a British Airways flight and an Aer Lingus flight between Dublin and London and that there would be competition between them on that route. For many years that was the only competition and, if I remember correctly, the fare was £239. Then it was decided to allow greater competition. Peter Sutherland must take the credit for doing this in Europe. We now have competition between British Midland, Ryanair, Cityjet, etc. I heard on the radio this morning that, last week, Ryanair had a very successful campaign where they sold thousands of tickets.

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  It was 80,000.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Fergal Quinn  Zoom on Fergal Quinn  They sold 80,000 tickets at £39 each. We all believed ten years ago we were acting in the best interests of the State and the taxpayer because we ensured Aer Lingus made money. British Airways ensured they made money for their taxpayers also. Looking at what happened, we were not acting in the interests of the customer. Aer Lingus is now successfully competing with others on the Dublin-London route, in the interests of the customer and the taxpayers who are shareholders in Aer Lingus. That is an example of the importance of the customer.

I worry when the Minister says he will cater for the customer in legislation promised last January [686] which will be introduced next year. I do not believe we can take that as a promise. The Minister must accept this House has difficulty with any promised legislation which is dependent on the passing of this Bill. This is not acceptable and is not in the customer's interest. The Minister has already said he has no argument with subparagraph (a) so I assume he accepts the principle of it.

We should not allow the Bill pass through this House, particularly after the Government's Strategic Management Initiative, if the customer has not been mentioned but will be in promised legislation. The proactive encouragement of competition rather than just relying on fairness is also important.

Mr. Dardis: Information on John Dardis  Zoom on John Dardis  The Minister began by saying he recognised the desirability of the proposed amendment. He then gave reasons for stating it could not be done. There seems to be inconsistency.

Section 3 (7) (b) states that the director must:

... comply with decisions made by the Minister and specified to be necessary to enable the State to discharge its obligations as a member of an international organisation or as a party to an international agreement.

Why do we need further legislation to deal with EU law? Under that section, we agree to be subject to EU provisions and it would be inconsistent for the legislation to be other than in accord with them.

As regards the Ombudsman and the Competition Authority having certain functions, I do not see why we cannot confer duties and obligations on the director which will allow him to exercise discretion as far as competition or dominance is concerned. That is not inconsistent with having a Competition Authority or Ombudsman.

The question of the customer is a central part of Senator Quinn's amendment. It is now becoming apparent that the telecommunications industry will be the last vestige where the customer will not be king. Agriculture has made that transition as a result of BSE.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  It took a long time.

Mr. Dardis: Information on John Dardis  Zoom on John Dardis  I accept that.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  Farmers were dragged roaring and screaming through it.

Mr. Dardis: Information on John Dardis  Zoom on John Dardis  I have consistently said in this House that it is long overdue. In 1994 I put down an amendment to the An Bord Bia Bill, asking that a consumer be put on the board. This was not supported. I do not have to defend my record in that respect. Will this be the last place where the interest of the customer is not the most apparent and dominant one? Will we go back to creating State agencies that are there to serve themselves? I am not suggesting that is the [687] intention behind the Bill. The amendment is reasonable and should be accepted. It is important that the customer's right be recognised, which is consistent with the right of the person who is living at a remove in a rural area.

Under subparagraph (d) of the proposed amendment the director may ensure fairness between providers, etc., and penalise any actions by any telecommunications provider which, in the opinion of the director, may constitute the abuse of a dominant position. I do not see anything wrong with conferring this power on the director. Why it is necessary to involve the Competition Authority or the Ombudsman? We frequently implement legislation which impinges on other areas.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  Given the responses to it, my first statement must have been confusing. Neither Senator has taken on board anything I said. They blithely ignored and confused what I said. For example, I did not say, and I am not saying now, that the required policy to have the best telecommunications service in Ireland should await other legislation. What I am saying is that everybody says that. This is clearly stated in Government policy and there is no need to include it in the Bill. Bills are for implementing policy, not stating it. We have legislation to implement policy.

A clear map of functions is set out for the director. It is not dependent on legislation next year or in future years. It is contained in existing EU and Irish law as it now applies to the Minister and as it is formulated in this Bill. The Senator constantly confuses the role of the Minister, whose remaining responsibility will be policy, and that of the director. He seems to want to transfer all the powers the Minister has at present as a shareholder, regulator and policymaker to the director. The director is a regulator, not a policymaker. This country still elects people to formulate policy. I do not propose, and the Senators should not propose, that we remove the policy making role from the Oireachtas.

Mr. Dardis: Information on John Dardis  Zoom on John Dardis  Nor are we.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  That is what they are suggesting. The effect of Senator Dardis' suggestion would be to give this huge policy role to a regulator. The director's job is to regulate, not to make policy; our job is to formulate policy for the regulator. Are Senators suggesting that we should tie the hands of policymakers by stating the policy in the Bill — effectively writing it in stone — or are they saying we should instruct the director as policy evolves? I am saying the latter and it is something with which the Senators would agree.

The suggestion that we are anti-customer because the customer's name is not up in lights, as it were, is nonsense. The thrust of the legislation is to take power away from a monopoly and to create competition in the [688] interests of the customer, not in the interests of the providers.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Fergal Quinn  Zoom on Fergal Quinn  Can we say that in the Bill?

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  I am saying it. It is now on the record.

Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  It is not in the Bill.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Fergal Quinn  Zoom on Fergal Quinn  Accept the amendment.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  Bills are not for stating policy, they are for implementing policy. We can write a tome of policy and include it as the preamble to the Bill but I doubt that Senators would welcome that.

Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  That is not true.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  Competition is a requirement under EU law and it has been transposed into Irish law. We have a regulator to ensure that competition is fair. The purpose of EU law is to ensure the customer gets a better deal. We have seen that in the airline business, as Senators have described, and in other areas.

The House should be conscious that this legislation represents the biggest shift in power in this country probably since the war. We are proposing to introduce legislation next year that will remove huge wedges of power from the Oireachtas and the Minister and give it to unelected people who will be described as independent and will have a minimum of accountability to the Oireachtas or the public. We should be conscious of what we are doing. It is a major step.

Mr. Dardis: Information on John Dardis  Zoom on John Dardis  Is the Minister of State disagreeing with the Government's legislative proposals?

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  Not at all. I am saying the House must be conscious of what it is doing. It should also be conscious of how far out it should push that parameter and whether it wishes to transfer policymaking in addition to regulation. No matter what one does the regulator will have a certain policy role through the form in which he will implement regulations. Senators must be conscious of that. We must decide how much power we want to retain or if we wish to reduce these Houses to the status of local authorities where county managers, as opposed to the regulator or policy makers outside, have the power rather than the people elected by the public.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Fergal Quinn  Zoom on Fergal Quinn  I do not understand why the Minister of State claims we are being disloyal to the objectives of the legislation in saying that the functions should include “the need for Ireland to have an advanced telecommunications system which is competitive internationally in terms of price, availability, range of features and quality”. Surely that is the objective of what we are trying to do? If that is the policy, why not include it?

[689]Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  It is in the Bill and it will be achieved.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Fergal Quinn  Zoom on Fergal Quinn  The amendment also refers to “the need to regard the satisfaction of the interests of customers as the ultimate objective in providing and maintaining a telecommunications system”. There is no reason that provision should not be included. It is the basis of Government policy. I cannot believe a Government would wish to be able to change that policy.

The Minister of State says the two provisions will strengthen the Bill. That is what we are trying to do and it is the Government's policy as outlined in the strategic management initiative. I cannot understand why the two provisions are not included in the Bill. They would strengthen the Bill and provide a road map, which I believe is missing, to the regulator.

The Minister of State said we have not listened to him. We have listened carefully. He said the Government announced its policy last January and would introduce relevant legislation. We have still not seen the legislation. The Minister of State says it will be introduced next year. That is the part that worries and frightens me.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  How long does the Senator think it takes to prepare legislation?

Mr. Quinn: Information on Fergal Quinn  Zoom on Fergal Quinn  It was promised last January.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  That was the first stage of it.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Fergal Quinn  Zoom on Fergal Quinn  We have not seen it yet.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  It is not ready.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Fergal Quinn  Zoom on Fergal Quinn  It could be January 1998 before we see it.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  It could be.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Fergal Quinn  Zoom on Fergal Quinn  Paragraph (c) of the amendment is also important. It refers to “the need... in particular to identify, prohibit and penalise any actions by any telecommunications provider which in the opinion of the Director might have the effect of raising unreasonably the cost of entry to the market by any potential competitor”. The best example of what this provision refers to is airlines, because we are familiar with airlines operating in non-competitive situations.

When Ryanair started a route from Knock to London, Aer Lingus altered the fare on the Dublin-London route whereby passengers who wished to continue to Knock could do so for an extra £10. That was aimed at ensuring that Ryanair could not succeed on that route. There is no way anybody could run a route from Dublin to Knock at a fare of £10, yet Aer Lingus charged an extra £10 on the Dublin-London route for passengers flying on to Knock. It is an example of low pricing which should be in the customer's interests but is clearly aimed at ensuring no [690] competitor comes into the marketplace. That is the practice to which the amendment refers. The regulator should have the power to be able to identify such practices and say they are not acceptable. They might appear to be in the public interest but it is not in the public interest to use competitive pricing to such an extent that a company puts a competitor out of business by preventing him from competing.

I have only discussed paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) and I am disappointed that the Minister of State has not understood the point we are making and has not said he will try to include it on Report Stage.

Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  I concur with Senator Quinn. This House has had experience of what happens to Minister's interpretations of legislation. I do not doubt that the Minister of State's interpretation in this regard is the same as Senator Quinn's. However, it is not stated in the Bill. When the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 1988, was before the Seanad, Senator Mooney and I advocated that a certain procedure be included in it. The Minister of the day agreed but the procedure was not included. The interpretation of that Act by judges and legal practitioners is different because the correct interpretation was not stated in the Bill. There is another precedent in the case of the Arts Council. That body has a different interpretation of the legislation from that of the Minister of the day who introduced it, the former Deputy Charles Haughey, with regard to originality, artwork and copyright.

Unless something is clearly stated, as can be seen from the experiences I quoted, it will not be implemented. Different interpretations can be made and the spirit in which legislation is brought before the House might not be the spirit of opportunistic people who might use it for purposes which do not reflect the legislation's good ideas or common sense. All legislation must make sense. The Minister of State should look at Senator Quinn's proposal.

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  Usually Senator Quinn's amendments are reasoned and argued well and this is no different but there is a lack of balance in some of the comments he made, particularly about Telecom Éireann. There was a time when getting a telephone was a great favour. Members of the Oireachtas spent a lot of time trying to secure telephones for individuals or private businesses. The suppliers of the service — the workers of Telecom Éireann — were constrained by a number of factors. One was that the infrastructure was not there to provide the telephone service we should have had. Another element was that the Government did not provide sufficient funds to update the telecommunications area.

In that respect, there was a lack of balance in Telecom Éireann in 1996. Now, if one goes into any Telecom Éireann sales office, one is in a [691] commercial building with telephones of different prices and colours. There has been a sea-change as I am sure Senator Quinn accepts.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Fergal Quinn  Zoom on Fergal Quinn  I do.

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  The other point on competition I specifically address to Senator Dardis. My concept of the free market is that one competitor tries to put another out of business and take that business. Those are market forces and let nothing get in their way. That is the credo. In the case of a company who can fly into Knock for nothing, if they can do it and make money Senator Dardis' party has consistently said let them do it.

The main thing to be achieved is control of the market if the market forces allow one to do so. Senator Dardis cannot have it both ways. The customer can sometimes be ill served by the market. It is the function of this House——

Mr. Dardis: Information on John Dardis  Zoom on John Dardis  As Deputy O'Malley has tried to do.

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  ——as the Minister of State has said, to make public policy in the public interest.

Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  The parochial constituency interests are coming out.

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  I am not from the midlands.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Sherlock): Information on Joe Sherlock  Zoom on Joe Sherlock  I will ask the Minister of State to speak and then ask if the amendment is being pressed.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  I agree with some of Senator Magner's definition of market forces but would he and the Minister of State not agree initially that market forces are about providing services to the customer who ultimately decides if it is the right or wrong product and that one gobbles up the others until there is only one left?

Senator Quinn made play of the operation of a competitive element on the Dublin-London route. I am not misinterpreting or criticising what he said. It is a historical footnote. As an emigrant, I know it was the cause celébre of the 1960s and 1970s. There was no competition on the Dublin-London route. A cartel operated on that route between Aer Lingus and British Airways. It was so successful that it became the most used route out of and into Ireland. The pricing structure on the route subsidised all other loss-making routes out of Britain and Ireland. It was a national scandal aided by acquiescent Governments on both sides of the Irish Sea. A cartel operated against the interests of the consumer and especially against Irish emigrants.

Senator Quinn referred to other airlines. I hold no brief for them but it was Ryanair who broke up that cartel. Ryanair deserves our gratitude for [692] that if nothing else. It led the way in liberalising airfares across the Irish Sea. Since then Peter Sutherland has, as EU Commissioner, has gone into liberalisation, but even then national airlines resisted and continue to do so. However, that is a side issue.

Senator Quinn's point was that we could have a similar situation unless safeguards were put into this Bill. One could have two or three main operators and that could work against the customer. I raised this briefly on Second Stage and both the Minister of State and Senator Dardis have alluded to customer rights. The Minister of State said that the Ombudsman and the Director of Consumer Affairs are responsible for protecting consumer rights. I raised the issue of a users' council or consumer council in the context of the National Cultural Institutions Bill, 1996 but it may not be possible to pursue it on this Bill. However, in light of the Minister of State's remarks, does he not see a need in future legislation for some form of public watchdog if, as he rightly says, there is and will continue to be a significant transfer of ministerial powers out of the elected area to the non-elected area? I welcome the Minister of State's note of caution. It is refreshing to hear a Minister of State, irrespective of political complexion, saying in this House that we should exercise caution as legislators.

He is correct in his analogy of where real power lies at local authority level; it is not with elected members but with county managers and the executive. We are already on that slippery slope. A continuous dismantling of policy decisions that were the remit of elected representatives has meant implementation of those policies has moved farther and farther away from the centre of legislative power. This started in the mid-1980s. Despite, or in spite of, our rush toward progress and the proper framework for national prosperity, there is a need to ensure that we do not have, as the Minister of State pointed out, a sequel to “1984” in 2084. By that time there could be multinational corporations and non-elected individuals making all the decisions and not Members of the Oireachtas.

Is there any policy on digital television? What is the state of development of the fibreoptic cable network here? The Minister of State has touched on this and used the term “multi-use”. Presumably in following legislation the Government's position on the area of digital television will be spelt out. Will RTÉ television be given the same development rights as the BBC have been granted by the British Government in developing terrestrial digital television services? Given the Minister of State's comment that “There will be an accelerated development of Cablelink”, as a result not only of the physical development of the cable network nationwide will there be an opportunity for competing [693] television production companies to provide television services to the consumer? As matters stand, it is an astonishing situation. Cablelink is a monopoly with hundreds of thousands of subscribers. Relative to our population, we have one of the highest penetrations of cabling in Europe. With the exception of some weekend service on Cablelink, there is no alternative to RTÉ television. Why is there no Cork, Galway or Dublin television service on cable?

Mr. Dardis: Information on John Dardis  Zoom on John Dardis  Drumshanbo?

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  Most certainly Drumshanbo. I am curious to know to Government's thinking on this. I presume the Government is the motivating force which sets the policies and that it is not due to any inhibition on the part of cable or independent television operators that these services are not being provided. Is there a policy block in the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications which prevents the same orderly development which is happening in other countries?

Mr. Dardis: Information on John Dardis  Zoom on John Dardis  The most appropriate place for myself and Senator Magner to discuss deep philosophical aspects of politics is in the bar over a cup of coffee. If market forces are allowed to run unfettered one will end up with a monopoly. I assure Senator Magner that no Progressive Democrat would want to see that. The market forces should be regulated——

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  By public policy.

Mr. Dardis: Information on John Dardis  Zoom on John Dardis  Market forces should be regulated to the advantage of the consumer. The Companies Act, 1990, introduced by Deputy O'Malley when he was Minister for Industry and Commerce, was significant legislation. It is part of the regulatory framework within which competition operates.

Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  Protect your leader.

Mr. Dardis: Information on John Dardis  Zoom on John Dardis  As regards the airline analogy, I remember going to London twice a months in 1979 and 1980. It cost £220 return, and as a result, many businesses which were trying to develop markets in England could not afford to do so. That has been rectified and this reinforces the point made by Senator Quinn.

My final point relates to the map. We are asking the climbers to get to the top of Mount Everest where they will find the map which tells them how to get there.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  I thank Senators for their contributions. A number of Senators raised the issue of the consumer. The consumer is not best served by a regulator whose role is to take over the regulatory functions of the Minister. The law [694] is there to provide competition. The regulator will operate under that law to ensure fair competition and so the consumer will be well served.

I do not think the regulator should subsume the role of the Ombudsman or the Director of Consumer Affairs. It is the intention that consumer councils will be established in the regulatory commission framework and that they will have an input. These people are dedicated to protecting consumer rights. To suggest that the regulator should also be the consumer's champion is not possible because one is giving him contradictory roles. His role is to ensure fair competition under EU and Irish law. The Ombudsman and the Director of Consumer Affairs will ensure that the regulator performs his functions to the consumer's benefit.

A number of Senators raised the abuse of dominant position. We have very specific competition law to deal with this matter so there is no point in adding it to another Bill. Senators also mentioned that there was a Bill promised last January and we might never see it. This is true; I cannot predict the future.

Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  You are moving on to greener pastures.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  However, I can give some educated guesses. The regulatory principles were set out by the Government last January. The Government had a number of options at that stage. It could have retained the regulatory regime within the Department's and the Minister's remit. If it did, it would have to sell all the companies as EU legislation does not allow one to be owner and regulator. All parties in Government are opposed to mass privatisation but are agreed that some joint venture and privatisation would be allowed for the benefit of the original parent company. Arising from this, there is a need to give the regulatory function to an independent body.

If the Government had gone the other way it could have kept the regulatory powers within the Minister's remit. I believe the Government made the right decision. The laws required for that are detailed and complex, and cannot be produced at the drop of a hat. Oireachtas procedures are complicated enough but to bring a Bill before the Oireachtas is also a very complicated procedure. There are many checks and balances to be made which take up time. The more complicated the law the longer this takes. This is complicated legislation because we are proposing a three-person regulatory commission which will oversee the regulation of the utilities sector.

Some Senators mentioned digital television and regional broadcasting. I am not kicking to touch or looking for a place on the Irish rugby team but these matters are in the capable hands of my colleague the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht.

[695]Mr. Dardis: Information on John Dardis  Zoom on John Dardis  If the Minister was on the Irish team he would not find touch.

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  Not if the Senator was the referee.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  Cablelink operates in Galway and we have an extensive cable system. It is not of the highest quality and needs to be upgraded. I assure the House that, within the near future, people other than the present owner will have access to that upgraded system.

I want to return to the need to insert detail into this regulatory legislation. We did not do this in the case of the airlines, instead we transposed very similar EU legislation into Irish law. We did not do any of the things Senators have asked me to do with this legislation and they noted the benefits for the airlines' customers. I have no difficulty with the policy statements Senators are making. If there is any place suited to it, it is this omnibus regulatory commission. In that context I would see it as desirable. This is a relatively narrow measure to transfer the regulatory powers of the Minister to an independent regulator.

The market is not about customers but about making profits for those who operate in it. We can seek to regulate that market and give a level playing field, as far as possible, to the operators. The competitive forces that will be created will augur well for the customer, but we must not fool ourselves. The market is about making profits for the operators. We want to ensure there is a system in place so that the market and competition will benefit customers.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Fergal Quinn  Zoom on Fergal Quinn  The Minister stated that the job of the regulator is to ensure fair competition. If he does that he will serve the customer. I do not understand why we do not actively pursue that. I am concerned about the promise of omnibus legislation. I do not believe we should pass legislation on the promise of omnibus legislation later on. The Minister will agree that it is wrong. It would be better to have omnibus legislation first and introduce this legislation later. It has not happened this way so on that basis let us protect ourselves by making sure we include it in this Bill.

I have a problem with the area of competition. Subparagraph (e) of my amendment states that the director shall at all times have regard to:

the need to provide for an arrangement under which all providers of telecommunications services contribute financially to the maintenance of the universal service obligation by the national telecommunications system overall...

The Minister gave a glib answer and gave the impression that he was expected to do it right away and that it would cost many millions of pounds. That was not proposed but we must do something in this area.

[696]Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  Is the Senator talking about a universal system or universal tarriffing?

Mr. Quinn: Information on Fergal Quinn  Zoom on Fergal Quinn  Perhaps I misunderstood the Minister's answer.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  I was speaking about the universal tariffs and the effect of their immediate implementation. I have no difficulty with a universal service.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Fergal Quinn  Zoom on Fergal Quinn  Competition will never solve the problem of the universal tariff. We will not solve it because it is unlikely to be economical. I would like to claim that I came up with this suggestion; I did not. It is an EU suggestion but I thought it was brilliant. All of those in the business who do not want to provide a universal service because it does not pay to do so must contribute towards the company providing it. I had some experience of this when I was in An Post. We made very strong arguments that it cost An Post a lot to deliver to remote areas. It was not fair to expect us to do that and compete with couriers who only delivered in the Dublin area. We had a very strong case.

This amendment proposes that all others in the marketplace should contribute towards the cost of the universal service so that the one who is obliged to provide the universal service, in this case probably Telecom, receives funds from the others. This avoids the cherry picking problem. I believe in this way we can reverse the tide of the industrial revolution. For example, a brilliant young designer from County Leitrim who wants to set up a design workshop can only afford to do so in a big city at present because it is too costly to do it in Leitrim.

If we could steer towards a universal service at a universal tariff by charging all those in the market with the obligation to subsidise those providing the universal service, that young designer could, with modern technology and telecommunications, set up a design workshop in Leitrim, Clifden or Kerry, and deal directly with Paris, London, New York or anywhere else. That was not possible a couple of years ago. Although it is possible now, the price may be so prohibitive that it is, in effect, impossible and nothing has changed.

There is an opportunity here to reverse that trend. We must stitch into the legislation the obligation:

...to ensure, in the interests of facilitating rural development, that no part of the country is disadvantaged competitively by virtue of its location, and in particular to ensure that the universal service obligation is progressively extended to include a uniform tariff countrywide,...

[697] Subparagraph (g) of my amendment deals with cable. It states that the director shall have regard to:

the need to ensure that “access to customers by both traditional telephone lines and cable systems is open to all licensed telecommunications providers at prices which the Director deems to be fair.”.

It is not enough that Cablelink will allow other users onto its system if the price is not deemed to be fair. That should be part of the legislation so that others who wish to provide services on that system are not outpriced by the owner or operator of the cable. The future of telecommunications is quite likely to be cable and I would like to make sure it is open to everybody who wishes to enter that market.

Mr. Dardis: Information on John Dardis  Zoom on John Dardis  We have been discussing the difference between regulation and policy almost to the extent of suggesting that there is some clearly defined line between the two; there is not. If policy is enacted in legislation, it then becomes regulation.

I wish to speak on Senator Quinn's remarks in respect of technology. One of the ways of arresting the rural decline — it has existed for so long it is questionable if it can be arrested — is through the use of technology. We have heard about the concept of “telecottaging” whereby people can work from home because of the availability of high speed technology and communications equipment. The possibility exists to transform rural living as Senator Quinn said. People can live in rural areas if that is where they choose to live and can work effectively from home. For that reason the spirit of subparagraph (f) of the amendment should be taken on board.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  I welcome the Minister's commitment to the setting up of consumer councils. Am I to assume that this will happen under the omnibus legislation that has been referred to?

The Minister refers to an upgrading of the cablelink system in order to allow more operators to get involved. I am grateful to him for reminding me that substantial investment is needed in the cablelink system as it is currently operated to bring it up to modern standards. This is a very costly investment and I am curious to know who will bear the cost. Will it be the new alliance, for example? Will they be responsible, as effectively, they own Cablelink? Has the Minister any idea what this will cost? Are we talking about hundreds of millions of pounds? How long will it be before this is completed so that the competitive environment that Senator Quinn is talking about will be created? Are we to wait until the next millennium? If so, we would be in real danger of falling behind. Does the Minister agree that, in the overall context of these [698] and his subsequent proposals for next year, a significant overall cost factor is involved, specifically in relation to upgrading Cablelink?

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  Senator Quinn mentioned the difficulties An Post had in trying to introduce a market force element into its services. Introducing that element of commerciality to social instruments such as CIE has important public policy implications.

However, I do not understand the point Senator Quinn is making in subparagraph (g) which states:

the need to ensure that “access to customers by both traditional telephone lines and cable systems is open to all licensed telecommunications providers at prices which the Director deems to be fair.”.

My understanding was that the whole purpose of the drive to introduce competition into the market was that the market would determine the fair price. If the director wants to determine the price, why introduce competition? Why not let the director use comparisons elsewhere to deem a fair price? There is either real competition or there is not. The Minister of State said it is the specific job of other agencies to ensure there is a level playing pitch and fair competition. If that is not the case the market is distorted. However, if the market is not distorted the price should be determined by the elements in the field.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Fergal Quinn  Zoom on Fergal Quinn  To clarify the point, as I said earlier, the question of who owns the cables is not important — Telecom may continue to own Cablelink — as long as outsiders have access to them. However, if the owner is also in the market, he or she may impose a prohibitive price to stop outsiders using them. The point of having a regulator is that he can ensure the price is fair. If the owner is in the marketplace he can charge a high enough price to make sure that others cannot use them.

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  In this case the owner is not——

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  I thank Senator Quinn for tabling this omnibus amendment. I appreciate its importance which has been reflected by the debate in the House.

The Government accepts the universal service obligation and has set it down in its policy position and will continue to pursue it. A uniform tariff is desirable but I explained to the House the difficulties in implementing it. If a formula can be found to introduce that without greatly upsetting present customers in the main user area in order to give an advantage to rural areas, I would be delighted to hear it. However, in time, competition from others, with Telecom Éireann, will create that climate. That may not happen as quickly as is desirable but it is one way towards [699] it. However, I cannot see a method of introducing it forthwith without causing major disruption.

There will be a clear obligation on the owners of cable systems to allow third party access to them. The regulator will determine a fair price for that access where there is disagreement between the two parties. It is similar to third party access to gas. If Roadstone wanted to bring gas through the Irish interconnector and the Bord Gáis pipes and Bord Gáas wanted to charge it an arm and a leg for that access, Roadstone could refer that price to the gas regulator, who, until the Bill is enacted next year, is temporarily myself. I would then adjudicate on that and deem a fair price for transporting gas through that system. Owners of cables will have a similar obligation.

Money for upgrading the system will come from investors. However, it is the business of the present owners to organise the investment. We will encourage the present owners to do that. My officials advise me it could take as long as three years to get a top class system, which is different from what we have now. I do not understand the technicalities of the difference but it has to do with fibre optics and so on. I do not know very much about it.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  That makes two of us.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  The costs can range from £50 million to £150 million, depending on what courses are taken.

The important point, as I said at the beginning, is that I have no difficulty with anything proposed by Senator Quinn in this amendment. I am simply saying that most of it is either already covered or is a policy statement. I am not sure that primary legislation is the place for policy statements.

I cannot give the House an absolute date for the other Bill — there might be a general election, I might not be in Government and there might be a different Minister by this time next month.

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  Highly unlikely.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  I do not know what changes will occur.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  We will have the Minister of State anyway.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  The media are listening — I hope they do not think I am seeking an election before Christmas.

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  It is getting more unlikely by the minute.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  Is that a personal opinion?

[700]Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  The Minister of State could be in the leadership — Senator Magner would be protecting him then.

Acting Chairman:  The Minister of State, without interruption.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  I would see it as desirable to put a large preamble into such a Bill stating a policy position. I hope I have dealt with the amendment as fairly as possible and that we can return to it on another day.

Mr. Doyle: Information on Joseph Doyle  Zoom on Joseph Doyle  I am very interested in what the Minister of State said about how the owners of cables must make the system available to third parties. Sky Sports, which is now available through Cablelink, having made an agreement with its subscribers has now added an extra cost for certain events. Would it be within the director's remit to deem whether such an action is fair?

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  My question relates to the Minister of State's response on the undeniable need for the upgrading of the Cablelink network to provide access to other providers in a competitive environment. We are talking about a sum of money between £50 million and £150 million — I appreciate he cannot be more specific. The owners, who are effectively Telecom and the new strategic alliance, will now be responsible for financing this development. It seems to me that they may not be able to finance it out of existing resources but will have to borrow. Bearing in mind that a main criticism made of this Bill in the other House, to which I and others alluded on Second Stage, was the absence of access by private investors to an equity base in Telecom, will the Minister consider selling off a share of Cablelink to the Irish public to finance its development costs?

I make this proposal in light of the stated view of the Minister of State that what was needed in the strategic alliance was not money but expertise. However, in this case money is plainly needed rather than expertise. Would selling off a percentage of Cablelink to Irish institutions which operate pension funds and private investors, or directing Cablelink to do so, not give the Government an opportunity to provide the access which many people want? That would open up the sharing of a State utility among the general populace.

I wish to emphasise, as I did on Second Stage, that I am not an advocate of full blown privatisation. Personally and philosophically I am opposed to full blown privatisation. However there are occasions where, for a variety of reasons, it is in the State's interests to sell portions of State bodies, as happened with Greencore and Irish Life. There were no ideological differences in [701] those cases, although there may have been arguments about value. Does the Bill provide a mechanism for the eventuality of privatisation or is it purely a matter of policy on which the Minister, on advice from the Government, would have to decide?

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  The question of hijacking the All Ireland Finals and making them so expensive that only a handful of people would be able to view them would be for the television authorities to decide; it would not be the responsibility of the regulator. Nevertheless I would dearly like to see regulation in this area and I will support the Minister if he introduces it. That people can purchase events of enormous public interest and then blackmail the public into paying huge prices for the pleasure of seeing them is outrageous. I like to take a drink and I smoke, but those who do neither often have to view sporting events in pubs, which they do not want to visit.

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  Only a tiny minority do not want to visit pubs.

Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  There are 800,000 pioneers in Ireland.

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  They represent a dying breed.

Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  They are greater in number than those identified with the liberal agenda.

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  It depends on whether one identifies members of the liberal agenda on the basis of whether they drink.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  I do not see the need to address the issue of privatisation of Cablelink. Perhaps it is something Senator Mooney and myself could discuss later. Telecom Éireann's business plan provides the funding required for the upgrading of the cable system while KPN has specific expertise in Cablelink.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  We should acknowledge the initiative undertaken by the head of RTÉ television sport, Mr. Tim O'Connor, in concluding recently an exclusive deal with the GAA to ensure that all our national games under the auspices of the GAA will be accessible to the majority of the viewing population well into the early stages of the next millennium. I am sure the House will wish both organisations well.

Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  I concur with Senator Mooney because it is very important that our national games are protected. The other great Irish sporting events in rugby, soccer and racing, such as the Irish Derby, should also be available to home viewers. Perhaps we should follow the line taken by the British Government——

An Leas-Chathaoirleach:  This has nothing to do with the amendment and little to do with the Bill.

[702] Amendment put and declared lost.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  I move amendment No. 2:

In page 4, between lines 29 and 30, to insert the following new subsection:

“(6) The Radio Plan shall include provision for the creation of a short wave radio station.”.

The Minister of State and I exchanged views on this on Second Stage. I wish to express my appreciation to him for not only taking on board this issue but other matters on the broadcasting area I raised on Second Stage, and for communicating by letter with his colleague, the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, not only outlining my views but also endorsing on a personal level much of what I said. I am grateful that he took the time and effort to do this. Perhaps something positive may emerge.

I may have made a faux pas with regard to the organisation to which I referred that concluded the television deal on sport. I understand it may have been the Football Association of Ireland rather than the GAA.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  Subsections (5) to (9), inclusive, of section 3 deal with the transfer of the Minister's current regulatory powers with regard to frequency spectrum management to the Director of Telecommunications Regulation. These functions regarding broadcasting services are confined solely to the assignment of the appropriate radio frequencies and the appropriate locations for the transmissions of the broadcast services concerned.

Responsibility for broadcasting policy and content rests with the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht. Any decision to establish a short wave radio will involve, in the first instance, an expression of interest by some operator, RTÉ or otherwise, to establish such a service. The formulation of policy would then be a matter for the Minister. It would only be on the finalisation of such a decision that the Director of Telecommunications Regulation would become involved from the point of view of licensing frequency usage for such a service.

I agree that a short wave radio station is a good idea. I have passed on the Senator's sentiments to the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht; a copy of the letter is available to him. Although I support the intent of the amendment, this Bill is not the appropriate place for such a wording.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  I understand the question of the separation of policy as distinct from facilities. It is an inherent flaw in the make up of Government administration, which cannot be addressed here, that one Department is responsible for the creation and implementation of broadcasting policy while another is responsible for providing the facilities under which that policy is to be implemented. It is long past time to ensure that, after the next general election. The incoming [703] Administration should seriously address this contradiction. It is not best practice to have a continuance of the present situation.

We are dealing here with enabling legislation which will establish a director who will have specific functions in the context of the allocation of frequencies. The Minister is ultimately responsible for that, yet my request, which it is legitimate to debate in the House, cannot be acted on by the Minister because it is not within his area of competence as it is a policy, not a technological, objection. There is no technological objection or inhibition to establishing a short wave radio station. The Minister of State has said it is a matter of policy. He outlined the ludicrous position whereby the idea must be initiated by a provider. This means RTÉ because there is no competition in the national context. It must initiate a request, not to the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications but the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht who, in turn, will reflect on it and decide whether it is in the interest of the greater good. He will then communicate with the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications to set in train the technical details of the decision.

The purpose of the amendment is to open up the debate — this matter was not addressed in the other House — and I will return to it. I do not intend to pursue the amendment because I realise the impracticalities which would be placed on the director. However, there must be some movement in this regard. If the debate did nothing else, it specifically stated for the first time that if there is to be a short wave radio station service operating from this country, RTÉ in the first instance must make a specific request to the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht. I hope it will do so sooner rather than later.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  The difficulty with making the type of Government infrastructural changes the Senator mentioned is that Departments and Ministers are protective of their patches. One is inclined to hold on to one's patch because any movement out of it may result in a lessening of one's authority and a reduction in the matters for which one is responsible and the actions one wishes to take. However, the trend in other European countries is to separate the two areas. This is already the case in Ireland.

RTÉ is not the only body which could initiate the idea of an Irish short wave radio service broadcasting all over the world. Anybody could purchase their programming from RTÉ or other local or regional broadcasters under a licence and broadcast it. Anybody can initiate it in the same way as Radio Tara, which broadcasts from a mast in Ireland. If it had space on its airwaves, it could transmit Irish programming. Perhaps that would make better use of the mast.

[704]Mr. Quinn: Information on Fergal Quinn  Zoom on Fergal Quinn  I am delighted the Minister said anybody could initiate it. When I read it first I thought it was an interesting idea but, having checked it out, I question whether it is likely to be a flier. The trend is towards a two way system and the Internet/World Wide Web appears to be the direction that is being taken. The ability to communicate in that way is likely to be much more attractive than short wave radio. I may be wrong and some people may be keen on it and make a commercial go of it. If so, I am delighted by the Minister's comments.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  I endorse Senator Quinn's remarks and I welcome the Minister's clarification. Given that the matter has been clarified, somebody may put forward a viable business plan which would make it workable. The Minister has cleared up any doubt or confusion which may have arisen that, given the monopoly position enjoyed by RTÉ in a national context, there may not have been access to other providers. The Minister clarified that access is available if somebody wishes to initiate the idea. A journalistic colleague of mine, Mr. Michael Cummins of the Connaught Telegraph in County Mayo started, and has continued, the lobbying on this matter. He held a number of seminars on it and the Minister, who comes from County Mayo, will be aware of his initiative in this regard, which I applaud. Perhaps there will now be some developments in the area.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  I move amendment No. 3:

In page 4, subsection (7) (b), line 40, after “agreement.” to add

“Such agreements shall have regard to the quality of reception required by Irish citizens abroad to access Ireland's national medium wave stations.”.

This relates to a matter I raised on Second Stage. The Minister is familiar with this issue and I thank him for his generous initiative following my contribution on Second Stage. He repeated my point in his letter to the Minister. I assume the Minister's reply will be that this matter is outside his area of competence but until the position is clarified, my impression is that, under the section, the international obligations we will enter are two way.

I said on Second Stage that one of the main reasons it is difficult to pick up medium wave RTÉ radio in certain parts of the south and south east of England and parts of north western Europe is not just the international conventions which limit our transmission area but that some of our partners in Europe and some of the signatories to the conventions outside Europe are not playing the game in the same way as we are playing it. They are crashing in on our signal and if there is to be a regulatory body and parameters to which we will adhere at international level, we [705] should at least ensure there is some policing of the obligations of other member states in relation to the allocation of frequencies.

The purpose of the amendment is to ensure an attempt is made to ultimately secure an improvement in the reception of RTÉ and Radio Ireland when it goes on air next year. These two stations are primarily accessible outside Ireland because the local radio stations use FM rather than medium wave. This has limited transmission in terms of its geographical spread. The amendment provides an opportunity to address the ongoing debate among the Irish Diaspora. The discussion has not gone away — it is similar to votes for emigrants — and it will exist until the problem is solved.

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  Senator Mooney's point is fair. The Minister was generous on Second Stage. However, he can be sure that many emigrants wish to listen to Irish radio. I question RTÉ's commitment to agreements, given the level of facilities and infrastructure in that organisation. A strong emphasis is put on FM rather than medium wave reception. I do not understand why RTÉ does not give more consideration to that aspect, particularly from a technical point of view. Many programmes are relevant to emigrants.

From 7 p.m. each evening, many programmes are exceptionally good and I hope more emigrants are listening to them. However, unfortunately, emigrants who are only a few miles away cannot hear them despite modern reception facilities and communications systems. I know people who live in the British midlands, Bradford and south London who want to listen to Irish programmes, such as Senator Mooney's programme.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  Thank you.

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  That is a fact. Every time I go to England, one of the first people mentioned is Senator Mooney.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  I should have declared a vested interest.

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  I congratulate the Senator on his commitment.

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  Hear, hear.

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  I hope others will show the same commitment. The Minister wrote to the relevant Minister and I hope he also wrote to RTÉ. I question the commitment of RTÉ and whether it is aware of the number of people who want to hear Irish programmes on medium wave but who cannot. While RTÉ does a good job, it could do better. Given the number of people working in the station, it should be able to provide this service. Senator Mooney is right in this regard.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  It is recognised that effective use of radio can make an important contribution to [706] telecommunications development. The purpose of section 3(7) is to ensure that the Minister retains a policy role by providing that the director be obliged to prepare, publish and implement a plan for management of the spectrum subject to general policy directions issued by the Minister. In issuing such policy directions, the Minister will have regard to appropriate international obligations and agreements.

I sympathise with the general intent of the amendment. I agree with both Senators on the importance of radio as a medium of contact with Irish citizens abroad. I assure the Senators that the very nature of Ireland's involvement in international agreements and organisations dealing with frequency management is designed to get the best deal for Ireland having regard to all the constraints imposed by the nature of the radio frequency spectrum.

The amendment is not necessary or appropriate to this Bill. Any policy decision on national broadcasting for reception outside this jurisdiction is a matter for the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht and RTÉ. I have informed the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht of the Senators views on the issue. On the question of crashing into our signals, the Department is not aware of any such occurrence and I would like to hear about specific instances. Once our signal goes into other people's territory, they have not obligation to protect it.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  I agree it is outside our jurisdiction but it is happening in south-east England specifically. There are other stations on 567 MW which has been allocated under international conventions. There must be a stronger signal emanating from another source. Who knows?

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  Or the Brits being bloody-minded.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  A German station is creating a difficulty. I am grateful for the gracious remarks made by my friend and colleague, Senator Cregan——

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  Supported by me.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  ——and by Senator Magner. It would be not only be a gross discourtesy but churlish of me not to acknowledge them. The cheque is in the post. In case my remarks might be misinterpreted, that was not my intention.

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  I know that.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  The Senator clarified that.

I have a vested interest in this area not because I was a broadcaster in another life but because I was an emigrant and lived abroad for seven years. Senator Cregan, Senator Magner and I have said on many occasions that we have been frustrated by being unable to pick up the signal in south-east England. The reason for the amendment is [707] that I can pick up other signals from a similar distance within the European Union. We are part of an international agreement on the allocation and strength of frequencies — the departmental officials may be more aware of the technical detail than any of us.

I fail to understand why in an era of modern communications — Senator Cregan's point was well made — only a few miles down the road, one cannot hear our national network. Surely representatives of our Government sitting on these international bodies and who regularly review frequency allocations could fight a little harder? We are only talking about a slight increase in transmission power, not about something which will be broadcast to, say, the Indian Ocean which, incidentally, the 600 kW strength station in Dublin is capable of doing. We are only asking that it be broadcast a few miles down the road. Why should sympathetic engineers working the night shift — Senator Cregan said it is at night that most people wish to listen to our national station — unofficially tweak the knobs? That should not happen. We should fight our case at these international meetings.

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  The Minister of State said this matter did not come within the brief of this legislation. This is a farce because, although this Bill relates to communications, the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht is responsible for stronger signals from RTÉ. Communications should be the responsibility of one Minister. Is MW relevant to arts and culture or communications? The Minister of State said this is the responsibility and policy of the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht and RTÉ. I hope policy introduced by the Minister will be implemented by the director and that policy introduced by either House will be implemented by RTÉ. I do not believe that is happening and that RTÉ is answerable to us. The Minister made a good point about not taking power away from those who represent the people. Senator Mooney spoke about a power station 600 kW in strength, yet one cannot get MW in Castletownbere——

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  One can get it in New Delhi.

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  ——Schull or the far side of Kinsale. Driving to Holyhead from London or Liverpool I would like to listen to RTÉ, but I cannot, although I am only 60 miles away. Many people want to listen to RTÉ and we should ask why it is not considering this matter seriously.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  I will take Senators' points on board and I give a commitment to refer the detail of the debate to the appropriate authorities — the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht and RTÉ. I will refer any responses to the Leas-Chathaoirleach.

[708] Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  I move amendment No. 4:

In page 4, between lines 40 and 41, to insert the following new paragraph:

“(c) to ensure that Ireland's national interest is protected as a member of an international organisation or as a party to an international agreement.”.

The Minister will be aware that this amendment relates to amendment No. 1. If one falls at Beecher's Brook, it does not necessarily mean one is out of the Grand National. The amendment affords me the opportunity to again put on record what we spoke about in the earlier amendment. I appreciate the commitments the Minister has made. The reference to RTÉ confuses me a little. I understand RTÉ only implements policies; it does not create them. It is possible that some people in RTÉ have a different view of its role.

I understand RTÉ is limited by the agreements into which Ireland enters. I am not familiar with them as that is a technical area. I have no idea, for example, what the parameters are under which our medium wave transmitter operates. Is there a map of Europe, as Senator Quinn referred to earlier, showing footprints — which is the term used for satellite transmissions — which states “thus far you shall go, and no further”? Is there any flexibility in this area?

Senator Cregan made a valid point. My wife comes from Castletownbere and I visit the town regularly. While it annoyed me intensely initially, it fascinates me now that they had to install repeater stations into the south west in order to be able to pick up FM radio signals. Strangely enough, one cannot receive medium wave because the signal varies.

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  Three minutes late.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  The major success of the penetration of Radio Kerry and County Sound is primarily, though not exclusively — I would not wish to diminish the quality of their programming — because of the technical inability of people in the south west to pick up a continuously clear signal from RTÉ radio.

Ireland's national interest should be protected when we sit on these international bodies. I understand the representation on these bodies is continuous. They do not meet once every four or five years although they may do so to review the situation. However, there is a permanent or standing committee to monitor these matters. It is a grey area and one with which, because of its highly technical nature, most members of the public and, I admit, most Members of the House, are not totally familiar. In the context of this amendment, it would be useful for the Minister of State to outline how these decisions are arrived at and whose interests they serve.

[709] I appreciate that national frequency allocations involve a delicate balancing act and that they are, as the Minister of State said on Second Stage, a finite national resource which most European Governments jealously guard. It is, however, unacceptable that a station operating from Germany should have full access to the island of Ireland while our national station cannot be heard a short distance across the Irish Sea.

Under section 3(7)(b) the Minister may, following consultation with the director, issue directions in writing requiring the director “to comply with decisions made by the Minister...”. Amendment No. 4 adds a third subsection as follows:

(c) to ensure that Ireland's national interest is protected as a member of an international organisation or as a party to an international agreement.”.

That is in the context of telecommunications which is why I did not specify the wording in that regard.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  In the area of frequency management members of international organisations are normally the member states as represented by their Governments. This Bill does not change that. The status quo will remain with the Minister being the signatory to such international agreements on behalf of the State. Membership of such organisations is, in itself, designed to ensure that Ireland's national interest is taken into account and is protected. The section already provides that where the Minister signs any such agreement which gives rise to obligations he may direct the director, that is the regulator, to carry out the actions necessary to fulfil these obligations.

I assure the Senator that the very nature of our involvement in international agreements and in organisations dealing with frequency management is designed to get the best deal. I hope Senator Mooney will agree that there is, therefore, no need for the amendments he has moved.

On the specific points he raised, frequency management is a matter for my Department while broadcasting policy is a matter for the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht. We try to get the best deal we can and, by and large, we succeed. There are spots where we have not succeeded and these require attention. As part of the international co-ordination, however, constraints are placed on us and others concerning the power, height and direction of transmitters required. I take the Senator's point that if one country can transmit all over Ireland why can our national station not do so? That question requires attention.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  Am I to take it from the Minister of State's reply that his Department is responsible for international agreements as they relate to frequency allocations and management, and not [710] the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht?

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  Yes, that is correct.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  On the basis of that reply can I take it that, in the context of this amendment, the buck stops with the Minister of State? In other words, does the Minister of State or his representatives decide what is in Ireland's national interest?

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  We seek to promote and protect Ireland's national interest. My Department is in charge of frequency management and, therefore, the Minister or his representative represents Ireland at international level. The buck stops at the Minister's desk as far as getting the best deal is concerned. We seek to do that and will continue to do so. We have been relatively successful although there are areas that can be improved upon. We must get agreement from others before we can improve them.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  I do not want to exaggerate the difficulties faced by Ireland as a peripheral EU member state having to negotiate with larger countries that have greater resources including a multitude of transmission facilities far in excess of our own. A country such as Germany, with a population of 80 million, can argue logically that it needs powerful transmitters to cover the whole country. However, since our accession to the EU we have been treated as a special case both because of our peripheral location and the emigration of our people. In recent years this has been directed more towards Europe than towards traditional destinations such as the United States. I do not want to get into that argument but let us say there are increasing job opportunities on the European continent which, traditionally, were not there for Irish people. A greater migratory factor is now involved and more people see themselves as migrants rather than emigrants in the European context.

This leads me to the conclusion that Ireland's message and image should be exploited to the fullest via the propaganda nature of radio, to put it bluntly. All these factors should be taken into account in agreements which the Minister of State decides upon. What we are looking for is small in the European context. We are only seeking an extra boost in power to ensure that the United Kingdom is covered initially and perhaps parts of north western European also. It is not just because of what we want but because, as the Minister of State acknowledged, it must be a two way communication.

May I assume that the director will now be responsible for representing Ireland or will it be someone from the Minister's office? If so, who is that person or persons? How many of them are there and how often do they meet?

[711]Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  May I draw back slightly from what I said to the Senator earlier? When deciding upon frequency management and our national interest we consult with RTÉ, the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, and the Independent Radio and Television Commission. That being said, the buck stops at the Minister's desk in my Department. I do not have detailed answers to the questions raised but I will get them for the Senator. The director will not be responsible for policy as this will remain part of the Minister's remit. I do not know the name of the official who will attend the meetings and I do not know how often they will meet, but I will get that information for the Senator.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  I do not except the Minister to have detailed answers with him, but I know he will get the information for me. It is interesting that the Minister consults with RTÉ. Has RTÉ made representations to the Department to improve the signal for the Irish emigrants in the UK? Does it receive representations on an ongoing basis or when did it last receive them? Has this matter arisen in discussions between the Department and RTÉ?

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  I fail to understand how this relates to the amendment we are discussing. I am not aware of any representations from RTÉ to the Department on the matter to which the Senator referred.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  I want to ensure that our national interest is protected. RTÉ currently holds a monopoly licence for national broadcasting and it is also involved in the development of overseas broadcasting, which is looked after by Mr. Wesley Body's department. New technology has been introduced, such as satellite and telephone broadcasting. RTÉ has advertised through the Irish media in Britain that its programmes may be accessed by these two methods. Yet, despite the existence of a strong lobby in this regard, RTÉ has not pressed the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications to improve the arrangements between Ireland and other European countries. I do not want to put the Minister or RTÉ in a box, but it is long past time this issue was addressed.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  The reason we consult with RTÉ or the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht consults with the Independent Radio and Television Commission is that we want to be fully informed before we make decisions in the national interest. The television signal into Northern Ireland has been approved by lateral agreement with the UK authorities. My officials will be available to give information to the Senator or to any Member of the House.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[712]An Leas-Chathaoirleach:  There is a correction to amendment No. 5. Senator Mooney's name should appear.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  I move amendment No. 5:

In page 4, after line 45, to add the following new subsection:

“(10) The Minister shall have regard to the quality of reception of radio frequencies allocated under international conventions.”.

I want to ask the Minister about cross-Border transmissions and about Radio Tara to which we referred on Second Stage in the context of the quality of reception of radio frequencies. Has agreement been reached on cross-Border television reception rather than radio reception? There is an ongoing demand for the improvement of radio reception in the North. I appreciate its more glamorous colleague, television, has been getting more press, and rightly so because the old cliché of a picture telling a thousand words is as true today as it was when it was first coined for the printed media.

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  “Good Morning Vietnam”.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  Perhaps the Minister could tell us when this agreement will come into effect. Are there similar agreements for radio? The proper placing of transmitters might improve the signal into Northern Ireland which could then be extended to the north of England and Scotland.

Ireland currently has one long wave frequency which is operated by Radio Tara. RTÉ, and therefore the State, has a share in it. I am not a regular listener to Radio Tara because it is aimed at a preteen market and I do not fit into that marketing niche.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  The Senator is just beyond it.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  I may be slightly beyond it but I have discovered that my nine year old daughter, who is a big Boyzone fan, changes stations on my car radio. For weeks I could not understand why the station had been moved from RTÉ to the 252 frequency. The fact that she was inclined to tune in to Radio Tara rather than 2FM says a lot about the adequacies or otherwise of our national radio station. Could a case be made to extend Radio Tara's frequency, because of the clarity of its signal, into approximately two-thirds of the UK and to produce programmes of special interest to the Irish in Britain on the long wave channel?

This amendment seeks to ensure that Ireland's case at international conventions is made on the basis of its peripherality and its large diaspora. The main reason we have not introduced votes for emigrants is that there are so many Irish people overseas who might decide to vote in multi-seat constituencies. The Tánaiste said he would not like to wait for the box from Brooklyn to decide the final seat in Kerry North.

[713]Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  The Senator can also include Deputy Bertie Ahern.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn said there were more people from Galway West in Boston than there were in Galway West. Although we pay lip service to the idea of helping our emigrants and we express concern about their welfare, whenever opportunities arise to help them we put all types of obstacles in the way. Surely, in this age of modern technology, it is not beyond the technical capacity of those involved in broadcasting to ensure that the Irish in Britain get a strong clear radio signal from Ireland? We should not allow the present situation to continue. RTÉ has no clear access into England as English television channels have into Ireland. One can read correspondence in the letters' page of The Irish Times constantly commending the wonderful services of BBC Radio 4. We have a classical music channel in Ireland, FM3.

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  Have we? I have never heard of it.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  It used to be sponsored by one of the major banks.

Mr. Sherlock: Information on Joe Sherlock  Zoom on Joe Sherlock  Can é an cheist?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach:  Senator Mooney, without interruption.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  I am talking about the quality of reception. It is no longer acceptable that we should be subjected to a message from outside this country when we cannot get our message not only to English people but to Irish people as well. These amendments are to stimulate debate and action.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Fergal Quinn  Zoom on Fergal Quinn  I agree with Senator Mooney's words about the Irish in Britain. I wish to put in a word as well for the Irish in Northern Ireland. The reception of RTÉ television there leaves much to be desired. Everything Senator Mooney has said about the Irish in Britain relates also to the Irish in Northern Ireland. There is a huge difficulty with television and radio reception in County Down and I am sure something can be done about it.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  An agreement has been concluded on an improved RTÉ television signal into Northern Ireland. Negotiations are continuing about the siting of required masts and equipment and concerning an improved RTÉ radio signal into Northern Ireland. Long wave radio is, by its nature, intended to cover long distances and Ireland has rights to the 252 wave length. The use of that is a matter for broadcasting policy which brings us back to the separation of provision and use.

The purpose of international agreements on frequency spectrum is to optimise the use of a scarce resource, to minimise interference and to [714] maximise reception quality for all. Among other things, they include good frequency management principles. Within these constraints, our objective is to maximise the benefits to the State from any such agreement. Our track record on this issue is very good. Section 3(9) states that the Minister must have regard to good frequency management in giving directions to the director. Both amendments appear designed to achieve the same effect as this subsection. The Senator's concerns are consequently addressed and the amendment is unnecessary but I take on board the other points which he made.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  I will not press this any further as I realise we need to progress. I am grateful to Senator Quinn for his support.

Am I to assume that, since the Minister has concluded agreements between the United Kingdom Government and the Republic of Ireland regarding penetration of television and radio signals into Northern Ireland——

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  Negotiations are continuing for radio.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  ——one of the reasons we have been unable to extend our signal into the United Kingdom is because of its Government's objections?

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  I am not in a position to answer that.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  In the same way we could object to any extension of BBC services into Ireland, would any extension of the quality of RTÉ's signal into the United Kingdom depend on its Government's attitude?

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  Agreement is required between participating countries before transmission of signals can be implemented. If signals are transmitted without agreement they will be blocked, as the Senator will be aware. We can do the same to people who transmit into this country but do not have and agreement with us to do so. It is also required that we agree not just with the UK but with others involved in international agreements.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  I ask that the next time there is a discussion on good frequency management and the quality of signal the Minister ensures the United Kingdom Government is in agreement with us so that our European partners do not raise objections.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed: “That section 3 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. Sherlock: Information on Joe Sherlock  Zoom on Joe Sherlock  While I do not have the fluency required to be a radio presenter and know little about frequencies, etc., I wish to make a point arising out of section 3 which states that, “The [715] Director shall provide such information and assistance as may be required by the Minister”. The director has wide-ranging powers under the section. The effect of establishing the office of director will be to reduce the annual cost of management, etc. which is £250,000. The collection of existing telecommunications, radio communications and cable television fees will be transferred to the director.

As the Minister is aware, there has been a long standing debate and conflict in my area between the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications and the community as a result of the efforts of South Coast Community Television. The reason it did not get a licence is because someone said it interfered with the UHF frequency. It is a service provided to 20,000 to 25,000 households in the Cork and Waterford areas and is a community effort as well. As there seems to be no technical objection to South Coast Community Television in that it does not interfere with existing frequencies, does this mean that the power transferred to the director will give him an opportunity to consider this matter and review the situation? If so, I welcome and support that.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  The powers are not affected either by the Bill or the proposal to transfer them to the director. The Minister will do what he can to resolve the outstanding matter in the 90 days available to him from when the Bill is passed until it becomes law. He is determined to resolve it and is awaiting a report from consultants he appointed to advise him on this. That is not to hand as yet but is expected shortly.

Question put and agreed to.

Sections 4 to 9, inclusive, agreed to.

Question proposed: “That section 10 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  I wish to make a point on section 10 regarding the shares for worker participation. The Minister gave a commitment to consider a five per cent shareholding for the workforce left in RTÉ. Are there ongoing discussions on this and what percentage of shares would the workforce be allowed to accrue? If people become involved in worker share schemes within the new company, is there tax relief for them?

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  The matters referred to by the Senator are the subject of negotiations which have not commenced in detail yet. There is a commitment in the Bill for 5 per cent.

Question put and agreed to.

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  I propose we spend another five minutes on this Bill.

[716]An Leas-Chathaoirleach:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Sections 11 to 14, inclusive, agreed to.

Question proposed: “That section 15 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  As regards the laying of orders, does this go back to the comments the Minister made in that much of what is included in this Bill will require the introduction of regulations discussed on section 3?

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  This is a normal section which allows for the laying of orders in the interim period before the 90 days when the Bill will automatically come into operation. The Minister may implement various sections of the Bill in the interim by laying orders.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  The Minister, if I interpret him correctly, will act in the role of director until one is appointed. There is a great deal of discussion and debate on the capping of pricing, which the Minister referred to earlier. I discovered that Telecom Éireann, through its Eircell subsidiary, in the last adjustment of prices in October, planned to introduce a charge of 40p per call for directory inquiries for domestic as well as Eircell customers. When I checked with Eircell, I was informed that the Minister had intervened and directed Telecom Éireann not to proceed with the implementation of that charge. If that is the case, the Minister is to be complimented. It was a small line in a list of rebalancing and readjustments of prices which would definitely have had a big impact on Eircell customers who do not have access to telephone directories. I know they use the directory inquiry service a lot. One can imagine what the cost would have been at the end of the month. My understanding is if anything of that nature were to happen between now and the 90 days, and an attempt was made to implement certain elements of this Bill before it was enacted, the Minister could introduce an order.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  The Minister makes the first cap order. The lifetime of that is five years, unless the Minister asks the director, who will be subsequently appointed following the passing of the Bill, to do otherwise. It is a minimum of 6 per cent per annum and is for a basket of goods in that category. The Minister may request the director to vary the order. If he does, the director is in charge. That can only happen after two years as there is automatic control by the Minister up to then. In the interim, the Minister has the same powers he always has over Telecom Éireann — he owns it and can tell it what to do.

[717]Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  If a subsequent attempt were made to introduce that type of charging mechanism, would the Minister intervene?

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  The Senator will recall the controversy when his party colleague, Deputy Cowen made what I considered very good changes to Telecom Éireann charges. He had to make the changes, not Telecom Éireann. It was his responsibility to sanction the changes. The Minister can also direct changes to take place. The capping order will direct downward movement of 30 per cent over five years in real terms, which is a real reduction.

Question put and agreed to.

Sections 16 and 17 agreed to.

First Schedule agreed to.

Second Schedule agreed to.

Third Schedule agreed to.

Title agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach:  When is it proposed to take next Stage?

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  Now.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach:  Is that agreed?

Mr. Quinn: Information on Fergal Quinn  Zoom on Fergal Quinn  I was under the impression we were not moving to Report Stage now. I was told Committee Stage was being taken today and Report Stage later.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  I asked our party leader the same question and he referred to the Order Paper which stated we were taking Committee Stage today.

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  The understanding was we would try to get the Bill through. If the House does not want this, we have no objections.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Fergal Quinn  Zoom on Fergal Quinn  I would be disappointed if the Minister did not have time to consider the cases made today. In my contribution, I referred to my hope that if he did not respond on Committee Stage, he would do so on Report Stage.

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  If the Opposition wishes to take Report Stage on another day, we will agree. If it also wishes the Minister to reply directly to the Senators on the relevant questions perhaps we could take Report Stage now.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach:  It appears the desire of the House is to take Report Stage next week.

Report Stage ordered for Wednesday, 27 November 1996.

[718]An Leas-Chathaoirleach:  When is it proposed to sit again?

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  At 10.30 a.m. next Wednesday.


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