Dáil Éireann - Volume 199 - 30 January, 1963
Private Members' Business. - ESB Special Service Charges: Motion (Resumed).
Debate resumed on the following motion:
That Dáil Éireann deplores the continuance by the Electricty Supply Board of the special services charges, and feels that the time has arrived when these charges should be abolished, thus removing this unfair burden on rural dwellers.
Mr. Tully Mr. Tully
Mr. Tully: When speaking yesterday evening on this motion, I referred to the fact that, as Deputy Tierney had pointed out, the Government, although now in office, are opposing the motion, when they were in opposition considered it was a very fine motion. An almost similar one was introduced by Deputy McQuillan in 1956 and it was seconded by the present Minister for Posts and Telegraphs. When the vote took place Deputy Aiken, Deputy Blaney, Deputy Brennan, Deputy de Valera, Deputy Lemass, Deputy J. Lynch, the Tánaiste, Deputy O'Malley and Deputy Smith all voted in favour of the motion. During the course of the discussion, they made it very clear that they considered that the time had arrived to do away with special  charges for rural consumers who were being asked to pay these special charges. In particular, the Taoiseach was very definite about it. I do not think that this can be altered—or as was suggested yesterday evening—misquoted in any way. His statement in the debate of 8th February, 1956, at Column 169, was:
“So far as I am concerned I will give an undertaking that if ever again I become Minister for Industry and Commerce I will abolish it forthwith as unjustifiable and immoral.”
He was talking about the special service charge which the Minister for Transport and Power now tells us cannot be done away with. He suggested that after the Taoiseach made that statement, he had another look at it and when he saw the ramifications it would have, he thought he was entitled to change his mind.
Mr. Childers Mr. Childers
Mr. Childers: He said it in the light of the subsidies being removed.
Mr. Tully Mr. Tully
Mr. Tully: That has all been dealt with. The subsidies had gone at the time the Taoiseach — then Deputy Lemass—made the point. It was a valid point. Put back the subsidies and you can do away with the special service charge. If the Taoiseach was right, then the special service charge should never have been put on, because when it was put on and while it was operating, subsidies were being paid and the Minister is aware of that. Since the change of Government took place, there was nothing to stop the Taoiseach or his Government from changing the situation and saying: “Now everything is as it was and we will do away with the special service charge.”
Of course they did not do that. The Minister for Transport and Power stated that a number of us voted against the motion at the time. That is quite correct. I want to get the facts straight. It was a Government decision and whether we agreed or not, as the Minister is well aware, the Party decided how we would vote. Since the Minister objects to that procedure, will  he remove the Party Whip tonight and allow a free vote so that we can see how the people in his Party, in favour of this action in 1956, will vote this evening, whether they will be consistent in that they, unlike other people in the House, will vote for something they think is right, or whether the Party Whip will come on and an effort be made by the Government to divide on the motion?
I thought the Minister would have accepted the motion since it was not alone supported by the members of his Party but in fact was supported in such a way by the present Taoiseach that there was no other way out of it except to say: “We cannot get out of this; we have got to abolish the special service charge”.
There are one or two other points I wish to make. I do not want to hold up the proceedings. This has been discussed fairly fully. First of all, while the Minister has stated that the ESB must see to it that the service given is paid for, that there is a reasonable return, I wonder how he or the ESB would justify somebody who has to get three or four poles and the necessary amount of wire put up to connect him with the line having to pay anything up to £2 bi-monthly charge over the ordinary charge? Not alone will it be paid until the wires and the poles are paid for, the interest on the money spent paid off, labour and all the rest, but as long as that house exists and as long as ESB current is supplied to it, that charge must be paid. If that is not, as the Taoiseach said, unjustifiable and immoral, I do not know what is.
The other important point is that the ESB officials—as has been said by a number of speakers—have been very courteous. They discuss the matter and explain their point of view. They write a very nice letter to you. We have no complaint about that. They always come back to the suggestion that this is how things stand, that there is nothing they can do about it. It immediately goes back to the Minister and his Department.
Yesterday the Minister referred to the fact that the taxpayers were not  paying anything. I do not know exactly what he meant because there is a State subsidy for rural electrification. Possibly the Minister has a private income from which he takes money which is passed along to the ESB and if he does not do that, it is taken in general taxation.
Mr. Childers Mr. Childers
Mr. Childers: The Deputy misunderstood me. There was no subsidy for the current operating service of the ESB. The subsidy covered interest and principal on the establishment of rural electrification, the capital service.
Mr. Tully Mr. Tully
Mr. Tully: May I point out that what you did say was that there was no payment from the taxpayer to the ESB. You possibly might not have meant that but that is what you said.
Mr. Childers Mr. Childers
Mr. Childers: If the Deputy reads the script—I may not have spoken clearly.
Mr. Tully Mr. Tully
Mr. Tully: I have read the script. The notetakers are very accurate. We do not always get exactly what is said. Perhaps it is just as well. The position about the whole matter is that time and again over the years, this matter has been referred to by Deputies and in every case the Deputies speaking to the motion are able to make separate points and to refer to instances which they themselves know of people who have to pay charges which they should not have to pay.
The Minister says that, as a result of legislation passed last year, everybody, with the exception of about 12,000 people—and again let me remark on a comment which the Minister made — because of how 12,000 people lived—I assume he meant because of where they lived— would be unable to get current at a reasonable charge and that, therefore, it was assumed they would not have a connection with the ESB.
I do not entirely agree with the Minister. I can understand in the case of somebody who lives ten, 15 or 20 miles across the mountain away from the ordinary ESB connections, that it may be difficult to justify connection  at a reasonable charge, despite the fact that the then Deputy Lemass said that it was right that they should have these connections. Even though I agree it might be difficult to connect them to the ordinary services, I still cannot see how the fact that those people, who are living almost beside the ordinary ESB connections, the people, across whose land the ESB lines are running, who live within half a mile of a village which is lighted by electricity, cannot have ESB current without a special service charge.
I am afraid the Minister seems to have got the idea that all those who are being left out are people who live in the back of beyond. That is a matter which he and his Department must look into, and look into quickly. There is a growing feeling of resentment that the people who live in the centre of an area which is serviced will find they cannot get a supply unless they pay an exorbitant charge.
There is another type of person also left out—and I think it is one of the greatest scandals of the whole lot— that is, the person who builds a house in an area which is serviced by the ESB. If that house had been in existence when it was originally being serviced, the owner would have got current at the normal charge, as all his neighbours did. He builds a house in that area. In spite of the fact that everybody else in the area has got the current at the normal charge, he is told he cannot have it unless he pays an exorbitant service charge.
I have been reminded of the position of council cottage tenants, people who have had new houses built for them. The county council take sites where they can get them in a reasonably suitable place, and it is only after the houses have been built, after some of them have been wired at a cost either to the local authority or to the tenants themselves, that the ESB say they cannot have current unless they pay something which may appear small but which is in fact a high proportion of the wages paid to the people living in those houses.
I was under the impression when  the motion was being introduced that we were pushing an open door, that the Minister would see the virtue of it because it had got not alone support in the lobbies but a volume of support from members of his Party and the Government before that and that we would have no difficulty at all in having the motion accepted by the Minister.
Before I conclude, I would ask the Minister to reconsider the matter. This is something which as stated by the present Taoiseach in 1956 must be a matter which would cost the ESB very little. The reference was made again and again during that debate to the fact that it would cost only a fraction of the subsidy of £250,000. This was stated by the Taoiseach who must have had his figures correct—a fraction of that figure. If it were only a fraction of that amount, then the amount would be less now because the Government have included very many people then left out. Would the Minister not consider that these people should now be protected?
Reference has been made again and again by the Minister and indeed by the ESB to the fact that those who were “outside the Pale,” those who could not get current, could apply for a £10 subsidy for bottled gas. That has been discussed at various levels and I have had communications from one of the agents of bottled gas pointing out what can be done. I am aware that the bottled gas at the present time is a very economical way of lighting, heating and cooking. I am also aware that if the present system of bottled gas had been introduced before rural electricity was introduced, we would not have rural electricity being developed in the way it is today. You cannot run a radio or television on bottled gas. For that reason, people will, if it is suitable, have everything else. They will still want those amenities and they will be entitled to ask for them. Is it unreasonable, in view of the fact that the ESB can now, at a nominal charge go to £75 towards the cost of the installation of electricity in a house, to ask why should the bottled gas subsidy be confined to a grant of £10? If you are already using  bottled gas, you cannot take advantage of the £10 subsidy and if at some future date, you decide to instal electricity, you must return the £10. If that is not a grant with strings tied on it in every direction, I do not know what it is. Therefore, before the Minister  takes a hasty decision on this, he should go into the matter with the ESB and see to it that, perhaps, if not all, at least most of the people who could be connected at a reasonable cost will have that connection made as soon as possible.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 44; Níl, 62.
Tellers:— Tá: Deputies Pattison and Tully; Níl: Deputies J. Brennan and Geoghegan.
Question declared lost.
Dáil Éireann 199 Private Members' Business. ESB Special Service Charges: Motion (Resumed).