Dáil Éireann - Volume 251 - 25 February, 1971

Committee on Finance. - Vote 42: Posts and Telegraphs.

[2112] Minister for Posts and Telegraphs (Mr. G. Collins): I move:

That a supplementary sum not exceeding £10 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1971, for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs and of certain other services administered by that Office, and for payment of a Grant-in-Aid.

This token Supplementary Estimate of £10 is being taken to enable Deputies to discuss the Estimate amounting to £30,547,000 for my Department for the financial year 1970-71 which was passed before Christmas.

If there is no objection, I propose that the discussion should also cover the second Supplementary Estimate of £4,300,000 which will be needed for my Department before the 31st March next.

As we are now nearing the end of the financial year, and as the expenditure proposed in the main Estimate has already been approved, I propose, with the permission of the House, not to enter into the usual detailed comparison of subheads with the 1969-70 provisions.

The second Supplementary Estimate is necessary to provide for additional expenditure totalling £5,835,000 under eight different subheads, but savings of £243,000 under subhead C and an expected increase of £1,292,000 in Appropriations-in-Aid reduce the amount required by £1,535,000 to £4,300,000 net.

The great bulk of the additional amount required, £3.9 million, is under subhead A for pay increases granted during the year.

Under subhead B an extra £142,000 is required mainly to meet higher rates of travelling and subsistence allowances and the costs of travelling to courses on decimalisation, et cetera.

The excess of £160,000 under subhead D is due to the incidence of presentation and clearance of accounts for air mail conveyance.

The increase of £80,000 under subhead E is due to increased costs of [2113] mechanical transport and of producing the telephone directory, and higher expenditure on stamps, stamped stationery and miscellaneous stores.

Under subhead F an extra £1,135,000 is required to pay for engineering stores and equipment and work done by contractors, mainly on telephone development.

An extra £8,000 is required under subhead I mainly in respect of compensation for losses in the post.

The additional £10,000 under subhead K is for legal and other expenses connected with the tribunal which inquired into the RTE “7 Days” televi sion programme on illegal moneylending, the cost of which cannot be closely estimated.

Under subhead L £400,000 extra is required so that the Grant-in-Aid paid to Radio Telefís Éireann in 1970-71 will take into account the receipts from the higher broadcasting licence fees which came into operation as from 1st July, 1970.

On the receipts side, the increase of £1,292,000 under subhead T, Appropriations-in-Aid, arises mainly from the expected recovery of an additional £1,050,000 from telephone capital funds, because expenditure on telephone development will be higher than the provision in the original Estimate.

Over 460 million letters were handled in 1969, an increase of 2 per cent on the previous year. The volume of air mail correspondence rose by 10 per cent. Postings of first-class mail by air were 4 per cent higher and postings of second class matter rose by 28 per cent. The number of parcels handled in 1969 was 2 per cent higher than in 1968.

Comparable figures for 1970 are not yet available. As might be expected there was a falling off in traffic in the current financial year following the increases in postal charges last October. This was particularly noticeable in the Christmas period when traffic was about 20 per cent down on the previous year. Overall, however, the drop appears to have been far less. There is, of course, a very considerable drop at present as a result of the strike in the British Post Office.

The volume of business at post office [2114] counters has continued to grow. This business covers a wide range of services on behalf of other Government Departments apart from those required for purely post office purposes.

A high standard of mail service continues to be given. Over 90 per cent of internal letters posted in time for outward despatches are delivered on the next delivery day. For parcels and second-class mail the standard is well above that normally given elsewhere. The bulk of outward letter mail is despatched by air on the day of posting and, with few exceptions, letters received from abroad are delivered not later than the following working day.

A major change in the delivery service in Dublin was made in August, 1970, when delivery of ordinary mail on Saturday was discontinued. Postmen have been looking for a five-day week for some years. The claim on their behalf was approached on the basis of giving them a staggered day-off while preserving existing standards of service. This possibility was examined in great detail but because of the special problems involved it was not possible to devise acceptable schemes on this basis except for a small number of delivery postmen. In 1969, the union representing postmen advised that many delivery postmen, particularly those in Dublin, wanted a Monday to Friday five-day week. To help in their consideration of the claim, the Department commissioned a market research firm to carry out a survey to ascertain the needs and wishes of the public in the context of the delivery postmen's demands for Saturday off. In the light of the survey findings, it was concluded that normal postal deliveries could be ceased, on an experimental basis, in Dublin and Dún Laoghaire. Accordingly, agreement was reached that Saturday deliveries should cease in Dublin on 22nd August last and in Dún Laoghaire area on 6th February. Registered and express items continue to be delivered on Saturday, and collections continue to be made on that day so there is no delay in the forwarding of post. The question of granting Saturday off to delivery postmen in the rest of the country is due to [2115] be considered at the Conciliation Council shortly.

During 1969 75 motorised delivery services were introduced in rural areas and a further 49 were added in 1970. There are now about 440 motorised rural services in operation and about 30 per cent of the total route mileage has been motorised.

Two hundred and sixty-one new postmen posts were created in 1969 and 1970. Some of these posts were needed because of the concession of a shorter working week for full-time postmen but, in general, the extra posts were for increased mail work arising in urban areas as a result of housing and other development. Most of the new posts were in the Dublin postal district.

The issue of the new series of definitive stamps was completed in the early part of 1969. A special stamp was issued on 21st January, 1969, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first assembly of Dáil Éireann. Other special issues in 1969 were for the 50th anniversary of the International Labour Office, the centenary of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi and a stamp featuring one of the works of the late Evie Hone. We also joined in the issue of a Europa stamp. This stamp which is issued annually in a different design is sponsored by the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations. The stamp is intended to symbolise the unity of interests of member administrations.

Seven stamps were issued in 1970 on the following subjects:

European Conservation Year;

250th anniversary of the founding of yachting in Ireland and of the Royal Cork Yacht Club;

50th anniversary of the deaths of Terence MacSwiney, Tomás MacCurtain and Kevin Barry;

Irish Art, featuring a work by Mainie Jellet and a Europa theme.

The 1970 Europa stamp was of special interest because it was designed by the Irish artist Louis le Brocquy.

Special postage stamps will be issued [2116] in 1971 to commemorate the centenaries of the births of Synge and Jack B. Yeats and to mark international year for action to combat racism and racial discrimination. The latter is sponsored by the United Nations. The programme will be completed by the Europa stamp and by the issue, for the first time, of a special Christmas stamp.

A new series of definitive stamps in decimal values was introduced on 15th February, 1971. The designs are the same as on the previous definitive stamps but the value is indicated by a figure only. There are also some colour changes. The Government have decided that a special stamp with a symbolic design will be issued in 1972-73 to commemorate the many leading figures on both sides who died during the period of the civil war.

The number of telegrams handled in 1969 was 1,270,000 or 3.3 per cent less than in the previous year, and in 1970 it was 1,220,000, a reduction of 4 per cent on the 1969 figure.

The remarkable growth of the telex service was maintained during 1969 and 1970. Some 200 new subscribers were added in 1969 and 270 in 1970 making a total of 1,090 at the end of 1970. The number of telex subscribers has more than doubled in the past three years. The use of telex on a rapidly expanding scale by the largest and most progressive concerns, particularly in connection with export activities, testifies to its importance for business, industrial and commercial purposes. Accordingly, planning is on the basis of meeting the high annual growth rate over the next few years. The capacity of the main telex exchange at Dublin and of the satellite exchanges at Cork and Shannon was doubled in 1969-1970. A new satellite exchange will be opened at Waterford early this year. Limerick and one other centre will have satellite exchanges within a few years and plans for further extension of existing exchanges are in train.

With the introduction of automatic telex service to Spain, Portugal and Greece on 1st February, automatic service is now available to all Western European countries. Arrangements [2117] have been made to introduce automatic service to the USA in late February or early March. When this service is available only a very minute proportion of our telex traffic—less than 1 per cent—will have to be handled by an operator at the Dublin telex exchange.

About 60 per cent of all calls made by telex subscribers are to places outside the country and the number of calls to and from other countries is increasing rapidly. To cater for this traffic, additional external circuits were provided during 1969-1970 on the cross-Channel routes, which carry much of our foreign telex calls, and on the transatlantic route to the United States. Direct circuits to Germany were also brought into service in that year.

Within the past year, further circuits were provided on the cross-Channel and Dublin/Germany routes. The number of circuits to the USA will be more than doubled shortly.

As a result of international agreements, the charge for telex calls from here to the USA and Canada was reduced by about 25 per cent in April, 1970; significant reductions were made in charges for calls to a number of European countries, including France, Germany and Italy later in 1970; and the charges for calls to Spain, Greece and Portugal were reduced as from 1st February, 1971, when automatic service was introduced to these countries.

Telex subscribers will be able to get cheaper calls to America when the Dublin/USA route goes automatic shortly. The present minimum charge of 45s for a three minute call to the USA will not apply to calls selected automatically by subscribers. Instead charging will be on the basis of 6d (2½p) per two seconds. In connection with the introduction of automatic service to the USA it was necessary for technical reasons to make an adjustment in the basic unit of charge in the telex service with effect from 1st February, 1971. This will result in an increase in the cost of some calls on other automatic routes. Telex subscribers who make a reasonable number [2118] of calls to the USA will benefit from the new arrangements but other subscribers will pay more for their calls. In order to offset the average increase in call charges for subscribers who do not make calls to the USA, the basic telex rental has been reduced by £15 a year for all subscribers with effect from 1st February, 1971.

About 14 firms are at present using the telephone/telegraph system for data transmission. In some cases transmission is over privately leased circuits, and in others over the public telephone network. Three firms are transmitting data over the public telephone network to Britain. One firm is transmitting data direct to New York from Dublin by leased line and a few other firms have data access to the USA via Dublin/London and London/ USA circuits.

The telephone service continued to expand during 1969 and 1970.

The number of telephone calls made in the financial year ended March, 1970 was over 300 million. Trunk calls at about 38 million were up by 14 per cent on the previous year; local calls were over 2 per cent higher at 263 million. In the first half of the current financial year trunk calls were up by about 12 per cent and local calls by about 6 per cent as compared with the same period last year.

Applications for telephones in 1970 were some 17 per cent greater than in 1969 and the waiting list grew to 14,000. Although connections at 24,000 in 1970 were 60 per cent higher than five years ago, demand for telephones in the same period rose by 88 per cent.

Over 100 new telephone kiosks, including 65 rural kiosks, were provided in 1969-70 and a further 99 kiosks, including 73 rural kiosks, were provided in the nine months ended December, 1970.

In the 1971 Telephone Directory the new style numbering was extended to include all automatic areas equipped for subscriber trunk dialling—STD. New style entries are shown with the STD code in brackets before the number in lieu of the former exchange name in the same way as the “01” [2119] area numbers listed in Part II of the 1970 issue. The addresses of many of the subscribers concerned were amplified in the directory listing for identification purposes when the exchange names were replaced by STD codes. The new style numbering will facilitate and encourage the use of direct dialling facilities.

It is hoped that direct dialling of trunk calls—STD—will be introduced between Dublin and London and between Dublin and Belfast later this year.

The charges for telephone calls to the United States and Canada were reduced in April, 1970 and the charge of 30s for ineffective person-to-person calls was abolished. The reductions followed agreement between telecommunication administrations in Europe and North America to revise charges on completion of a new high capacity transatlantic submarine cable.

An automatic time service, generally known as the speaking clock, was introduced in July, 1970 for the 01 area. It has proved very popular. Over a half-million calls were made to the service in the six months after its inauguration.

The basic exchange system has been expanded more or less continuously to cater for the increasing demands on the service. Progress with the extension of the automatic system continued during the period under review. In 1969-70, 29 manual exchanges were converted to automatic working, 74 automatic exchanges were extended to provide for future subscriber and traffic growth and 130 manual exchanges were similarly extended. In the first nine months of the current financial year, 34 manual exchanges became automatic and 37 automatic and 80 manual exchanges were extended. In addition new manual exchanges were put into service at Castlebar, Castlerea, Donegal and Listowel.

Over 1,000 trunk circuits were added to about 250 routes during 1969-70 and a further 800 circuits were added to 140 routes up to December, 1970, including an extra 273 on the cross-Channel route. Since April, 1969, nine transatlantic circuits to the USA have [2120] been brought into service, making a total of 20.

The more important works carried out included trunk cable schemes serving Boyle, Ennis, Fermoy, Killarney, Listowel and Westport and new underground trunk cables serving Glengarriff, Cappoquin, Lismore and Athy. Coaxial cable schemes between Arklow-Gorey-Enniscorthy; Cahirciveen-Killorglin; Ennis-Ennistymon; Ennis-Kilrush and Letterkenny-Dungloe were completed. Since April, 1970, a major coaxial cable serving Athlone - Castlerea - Claremorris - Castlebar - Ballina was brought into service. Among the routes improved were many radiating from Dublin, Limerick, Waterford and Sligo. A list of other routes on which additional circuits were provided will be found in the notes which I circulated recently for the assistance of Deputies in discussing this Estimate.

Provision of high capacity radio links connecting Dublin and Cork, Portlaoise and Athlone is well advanced. Work in progress or planned also includes provision of radio links between Portlaoise-Thurles, Limerick - Shannon - Ennis, Dublin - Dundalk, Tralee - Cork, Waterford - Campile and a second Dublin/Belfast/ cross-Channel radio link.

Major coaxial cable schemes are in progress or planned for the following routes: Killarney-Kenmare, Portlaoise-Birr, Galway - Clifden, Waterford - Dungarvan, Tralee - Killarney, Dundalk-Carrickmacross, Waterford-Clonmel, Cork - Fermoy and Listowel - Tralee.

We still unfortunately have a number of areas where the service is below standard because of overloading of trunk or exchange equipment. Some of these areas are awaiting the installation of equipment ordered a considerable time ago. In others it has been a question of difficulty in dealing within the resources at our disposal with all the areas where improvements were needed.

It will nevertheless be clear from what I have said that a considerable effort has been made to improve the service and to meet public demand. To [2121] do so has required, among other things, recruitment and training of staffs at all levels. While we are far from satisfying our needs in this regard we have succeeded in building up sufficient skilled staff resources to make substantial progress particularly in getting many major schemes to the work in progress and advanced planning stages. We could look forward therefore if financial conditions permitted to an acceleration in the rate of development generally and particularly in the carrying out of improvement works in areas where the service is below standard. However, telephone development works make heavy demands on capital and unfortunately there is a serious shortage of capital in relation to the various demands of the public services at present.

So far as the telephone service is concerned the amount of capital available for the coming year which has not yet been settled will be a major factor in determining the extent to which it will be possible to implement schemes for improvement and expansion of the service.

During the financial year 1969-70 new post offices and telephone buildings were erected at Claremorris and Macroom and extensive new warehouse buildings for the Stores Branch were completed at St. John's Road, Dublin. New telephone buildings and extensions to existing buildings were completed at many centres including Merrion — Dublin, Balbriggan and Wicklow. Additional accommodation was provided at Dublin and at other major centres for offices, training and other purposes.

Since April, 1970 new automatic telephone exchange buildings were completed at Tramore and at a number of rural centres. Improvements in manual telephone exchange or postal accommodation were carried out at Castlebar, Cavan, Boyle, Gorey and Dún Laoghaire.

Works in progress or contracted for include a telecommunications staff headquarters and international trunk exchange centre at Marlborough Street, Dublin, a major telephone exchange building at Ballsbridge, Dublin, a district sorting office at Ballyfermot, new [2122] post office and telephone buildings at Cavan and Cahirciveen, a new post office at Portlaoise, and telephone building works—new or extensions—at numerous other centres including Rathmines and Dundrum—Dublin, Clonmel, Cobh, Drogheda, Dundalk, Ennis, Nenagh and Thurles.

A new colour scheme and official symbol have been adopted and are now being used on new post office vehicles. The scheme and symbol were the work of the Kilkenny Design Centre.

A great deal of extra work was thrown on the Department during the period of approximately six months when the banks were closed. Special arrangements were made to keep post offices throughout the country supplied with funds to meet the increased demand of the public for the services normally provided by the Department and other services requested by Government Departments.

The public used the money order and postal order services to a much greater extent than normal for remitting money to other parts of the country and to Great Britain. Savings Bank business also increased very substantially. The normal payment of old age pensions, children's allowances and other social welfare benefits was continued, and, in addition, the Department facilitated the public, but particularly the less well-off sections of the community, in every reasonable way it could within the limits of its resources.

Deposits by members of the general public in the Post Office Savings Bank amounted to £25.1 million during 1969 and withdrawals to £27.1 million. At 31st December, 1969, the total balance due to depositors, including interest amounting to £4.6 million, was approximately £120.8 million, an increase of £2.6 million on the figure for 31st December, 1968.

During 1970 the volume of Post Office Savings Bank business was abnormally high because of the banks dispute. Provisional figures for the year show that deposits amounted to £57 million, or £13.6 million more than withdrawals.

Net deposits in the Post Office Savings Bank by the Trustee Savings Banks amounted to £3.2 million in [2123] 1969. The total amount to the credit of the Trustee Savings Banks at the end of 1969, including £6.9 million in the special investment account, was £26.9 million, an increase of £4.4 million over the previous year. During 1970 net deposits by the Trustee Savings Banks amounted to £5.3 million.

Sales of 6½ per cent investment bonds in 1970 amounted to £1.8 million—a decrease of £3.5 million compared with 1969, the year of their introduction. Repayments in 1970 totalled £0.4 million, an increase of £0.2 million compared with 1969. The balance to the credit of investors at the end of 1970 was £6.5 million compared with £5.1 million at the end of 1969.

Sales of savings certificates during 1969 amounted to £5.5 million, and repayments, including interest, came to £7.2 million. The principal remaining invested at the end of 1969 was £47 million, approximately the same as at the end of 1968.

During 1970 sales of savings certificates amounted to £4.2 million and repayments, including interest, to £5.8 million. The net outflow of £1.6 million was almost the same as in 1969 (£1.7 million).

The national instalment-saving scheme was introduced by the Minister for Finance under the management of my Department on the 1st September, 1970. Under the scheme a person agrees to save 12 monthly instalments of £1, or any number of pounds up to £20, and to leave the total so saved on deposit for a further two years. At the end of that period, the saver will receive a tax-free bonus of 25 per cent of the amount saved. In the four months ended 31st December, 1970, 18,000 agreements to save £3.2 million over a 12 months period were received in my Department. Instalments received in the first four months totalled £800,000.

The aggregate result for 1969 for the savings media with which my Department is directly concerned was a net saving of £4.8 million exclusive of interest. Figures for 1970 are not yet available, but it is probable that the corresponding figure will be of the order of £20 million.

[2124] I should like to record my appreciation of the excellent work done by the National Savings Committee in promoting small savings.

The value of money orders issued in 1969 was £37.7 million as compared with £34.2 million in the previous year. Postal order business in 1969 was slightly higher, the value of orders issued being £8.9 million compared with £8.7 million in 1968.

Agency service payments made by the Post Office, mainly on behalf of the Department of Social Welfare, increased from £55 million in 1968 to £64 million in 1969. Post offices took part as usual in the half-yearly sales of prize bonds, handling about 30 per cent of the total collected.

The 1970 figures for remittance and agency services are not yet available, but it is estimated that the value of money orders increased by about £33 million, the value of postal orders by about £4 million and agency payments by about £13 million over the figures for 1969.

The Estimate provides for 20,500 posts for the current financial year, an increase of 740 over the corresponding provision for last year. Most of the additional posts are required for the telecommunications services.

In previous years the House was given some details of the recruitment of professional engineers for telecommunications work and of the Department's scholarship schemes designed to supplement the intake of professional engineers. Recruitment of engineers is proceeding with reasonable success and the scholarship schemes are also going well. The Department at present employs some 180 professional engineers. Since 1964, 31 scholarships have been awarded and further scholarships will be awarded this year. So far, seven students have graduated and are serving as engineers in the Department. The technical trainee scheme, which has been in operation since 1963, has proved invaluable in providing the Department with skilled personnel. It is being reviewed with a view to further improvement. Changes have been made in the entry competition and in the training arrangements, and [2125] further changes may be made as a result of the review.

The recruitment and training of telephonists to meet extra operating requirements during the coming summer's peak traffic period is well under way. Well over half of the 700 telephonists required have been taken into training, and arrangements are well in hand to recruit the balance.

The Department's welfare officers, of whom there are six in the Dublin area, one in Cork and one in Limerick, continue to provide a most valuable service to the staff and to the Department.

The Post Office is the second largest employer in this country. The last few years have seen many changes in management/employee relations. The Department, like other large employers, has had to adapt itself to those changes.

Pay and conditions of work are determined under the well-established conciliation and arbitration scheme for the Civil Service. Pay and conditions are however not the only matters of importance to staff nowadays, and they seek greater involvement in all matters which may affect them. Post office staffs and management have joined in recent years in efforts to streamline and improve staff relations procedures. One of the key areas in this regard is staff-management communications, because, in an organisation like the Post Office employing over 20,000 people, any failures in communications could seriously impede the promotion of a spirit of trust and understanding between management and staff. Under the auspices of the Departmental Conciliation Council both sides have been giving special attention to this area.

Other aspects of human relations as they affect the staff in the course of their work are also being studied. By making changes and improvements wherever there appears to be need for them, and the finances of the Department permit, it should be possible to avoid friction and to keep morale high. Towards this end the possibilities of using the behavioural sciences, such as sociology, industrial psychology, et cetera, to help the staff to derive [2126] greater personal satisfaction from their work are being examined, and with the agreement of the staff organisations concerned, a pilot exercise involving outside consultants is at present in progress.

Formal training of supervisors in the skills of human relations has been receiving increasing attention in the Post Office in recent years, both in the courses conducted internally in the Department and in those conducted by outside bodies, which the Department's supervisors attend.

At various times the House has been informed of measures taken to raise the level of efficiency in the Department. These include organisation and methods, work study, clerical work measurement, motorisation, mechanisation, use of computers and so forth. Activities in all these fields are a continuing feature of the Department's work and are being intensified wherever there is scope for them. The Department has now ordered a computer and it is expected that delivery will be made in 1972. In the meantime, the Department is having work processed by computer bureaux.

I mentioned earlier the question of training in human relations. The range of the Department's training schemes and the resources allocated to training continue to grow. Training is now given internally in the Department, and in the Civil Service training centre, in most of the skills required for the conduct of the Department's business; and at supervisory and managerial levels the training given is supplemented by releasing officers in the Department's time, and at the Department's expense, to attend courses in facets of management and supervision conducted by organisations such as the Irish Management Institute and the Institute of Public Administration. The Department also draws on the training experience of other postal and telecommunication administrations. Advice and assistance, which I am glad to acknowledge, is obtained from them in suitable cases. This sharing of experience is a two-way process and my Department has been happy to help a number of foreign postal and telecommunication administrations [2127] by training some of their staff.

A factor that put considerable strain on our training resources in the current year was the change-over to decimal currency. The Department's decimalisation committee directed and co-ordinated preparations for Decimal Day. The majority of the 20,000 employed by the Department received instruction to a greater or lesser degree in decimalisation, the use of the new coins, et cetera.

Before passing from staffing matters, I would like to take this opportunity of expressing publicly my appreciation of the staff's co-operation during the past year. When special effort was needed—during the banks dispute and the visit of President Nixon to give just two instances—the staff involved rose to the occasion.

The commercial accounts for 1968-69 have been laid before the House. A summary of the results for that year and for the four preceding years is given in Appendix C to the Estimate in the printed volume.

The commercial accounts present the position of the Department as a trading concern. They are compiled in accordance with commercial practice to show the expenditure incurred and the income earned during the year of account, such charges as interest and depreciation being included in the expenditure. A balance sheet and statement of assets give details of the Department's very large capital investments, mainly in telephone plant. The accounts are audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General.

It is on the basis of these accounts that financial policy, including the fixing of charges, is determined. The policy of successive Governments has been that the Post Office should pay its way, taking one year with another. Otherwise the deficit would have to be met by the taxpayer. In 1968-69 there was an overall loss on the Department's services of £823,000 following losses of £467,000 and £430,000 in the two preceding years. In each of these years there was a deficit on the postal and telegraph services and a surplus on the telephone service. Provisional figures [2128] for 1969-70 show an overall surplus of about £300,000.

The improvement in the Department's financial position in that year followed the rise in charges as from 1st January, 1969. Again there was a deficit on the postal and telegraph services and a surplus on the telephone service. In the current financial year expenditure has grown substantially, mainly because of the effect in a full year of pay increases granted during 1969-70, followed by 12th round increases for Post Office staff generally and further pay adjustments for certain grades authorised during 1970-71.

Because of these additional burdens substantial increases in charges were necessary. These were decided upon and announced in August last. The new postal and telegraph charges came into effect from 1st October last and the telephone charges from 1st November. These increases are expected to bring in additional revenue of £2.8 million in the current financial year and £5.5 million next year. Nevertheless, an overall loss of about £1 million is expected this year, and present indications are that there will be an overall loss of at least as much in 1971-72.

From what I have said, it will be clear that the recent increases in charges were insufficient to take the Department out of the red. I do not think it necessary at this stage to say anything about the telecommunications charges; these have been generally regarded as not unreasonable. I would like, however, to make a few observations about the postal charges because they were severely criticised in some newspapers. The bulk of the criticism was directed at the rise in the basic inland letter rate from 6d to 9d.

The need for a substantial rise in postal rates should not have come as a shock to anybody. On 27th February, 1969, the then Minister for Posts and Telegraphs stated in his speech on the Post Office Estimate that a 7d postage rate was really warranted and that the yield from the revised postal charges which had been brought into operation as from 1st January, 1969, would not fully cover estimated expenditure. He warned that further pay increases in excess of the rate of growth in Post [2129] Office business must inevitably result in further rate adjustments.

Again, my immediate predecessor gave an even clearer warning in his speech on the Estimate on 19th March, 1970. He said that the further big increases in costs expected to result from the 12th round must inevitably raise the question of upward adjustment of rates. He pointed out that each 1 per cent pay rise costs the postal service alone £100,000 a year and that there was no ready means of securing savings without adversely affecting the quality of the service.

In the Budget speech on 22nd April last year the Taoiseach, speaking for the Minister for Finance, stated that no financial provision was being made for pay adjustments in the Post Office, and that, as this service was intended to pay its way, pay increases would have to be met by raising Post Office charges rather than by increasing taxation.

Here I should perhaps say a few words about the Post Office pay increases. Neither the Post Office nor the Civil Service is a pace-setter in wage settlements. Increases in pay or improvements in conditions are negotiated through the Civil Service conciliation and arbitration machinery on the basis of fair comparisons. In other words, increases in pay or improvements in conditions in the Civil Service are agreed to only after comparable increases and improvements have taken place outside.

The 12th round increases were not determined by the Post Office itself. They were settled in central pay negotiations covering the whole of the public service between the Minister for Finance and the public services committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. There were two features of the 12th round, as of some earlier settlements, that affected the Post Office particularly. The first is that as Civil Service wage settlements usually lag behind those outside, compensation by way of retrospection has to be given. But Post Office practice has been not to increase charges until the cost of the pay increases is reasonably clear and it then takes some time to bring in higher charges.

For example in the present financial year the increased wages were backdated [2130] to 1st April for most employees, but the new postal charges could not be introduced until the 1st October and the revised telephone charges did not come into force until 1st November.

The second feature to which I should like to draw attention is that, as a matter of common policy, settlements in recent years have provided for minimum monetary increases which gave much higher percentage rises to lower paid workers than to others. The Post Office has many such workers and the increases in recent years are disproportionately costly as a result. The 12th round settlement in the Civil Service was expressed as one of 7 per cent from the 1st April last and 10 per cent from the 1st January, 1971. But because of the provision for high minimum monetary increases the actual percentage increases for most Post Office employees were substantially higher than the percentages nominally granted.

It has been argued that a revision of charges should have been postponed this year, or else that more modest increases should have been introduced, on the grounds that the Government had been urging price restraint and that the increases would be inflationary. The fact of the matter is that, in recent years, the Post Office has been slow to raise charges, and increases have been kept as low as possible. As I already said, the increases introduced from 1st January, 1969, were intended merely to keep the deficit on the postal service at a reasonable level.

When the effects of the 12th round and other increases in costs became clear, action could not be further deferred. Post Office expenditure must be met either by the users of the postal and telecommunications services or by the taxpayers. It is obviously more equitable that they should be met by the users because the public use the Post Office services in widely differing degree. The extra millions that would have to be provided for a Post Office subsidy if rates were not increased would mostly benefit the larger users, and the Minister for Finance would have so much less available for other purposes.

I am satisfied that no sizeable reduction [2131] in postal expenditure could be secured without drastic reduction of services and laying-off of staff, and that even such action would not have obviated the need for the recent increases in the short-term. At the same time, I am naturally very concerned at the scale of the postage increases which had to be made last October and at the prospect of still higher charges as pay rates rise. I have, therefore, set up a committee to consider the structure, operation and finances of the postal services, including counter services, and in particular to consider what changes are practicable and acceptable in the pattern or standards of postal services to enable them to be operated more efficiently or economically. Under its terms of reference, the committee can arrange, where necessary, for studies by economists or other experts in relation to these matters and for market research or other surveys to ascertain probable public attitudes to changes under consideration.

Since Monday, 15th February, 1971, the post office is in effect a decimal shop. The change to decimal currency was a much bigger undertaking for the Department than for other business because it was necessary to replace all £ s d stocks of postage stamps, postal orders, money orders, et cetera by decimal stocks of these items at all post offices during the weekend preceding D Day. To enable this to be done, counter business was suspended at all offices from 1 p.m. on Friday 12th until the normal opening hour on Monday, 15th February.

Post office charges are now in decimal currency. In general, conversion to decimal rates was arranged by adhering as closely as possible to the new halfpenny conversion table recommended by the Irish Decimal Currency Board. Exceptionally, in the case of ordinary telephone subscribers, where the call charges are used as a basis for calculating the amount due in the quarterly account, the charges were not rounded to a decimal coin but were fixed correct to two places of decimal of a new penny rounded down.

Many changes had, of course, exact [2132] decimal equivalents. No decimal charge was fixed at a higher level than was justified by the ½p conversion table. So far as the public are concerned, the two most important changes were that the basic inland letter rate became 4p—an increase of .6d—and that the charge for a local call from a kiosk or coinbox telephone became 2p—a reduction of 1.2d. Overall, the increases and losses in revenue due to decimalisation of charges are expected to balance out.

The introduction of decimal coinage has made it necessary to modify the mechanisms in the 24,500 telephone coin boxes which are in use at present. This work, which is being carried out as quickly as possible, could not commence until D Day because the bronze decimal coins were not generally available before then. It is hoped that, if all goes well, the work of conversion will be completed in about three months. Priority is being given to telephone kiosks and other heavily used public and rented coinbox telephones.

The change to decimal currency is such a big one for my Department that many problems and difficulties are bound to arise in connection with it, even though every possible care was taken, by planning ahead and by training staff, to minimise the difficulties likely to arise for the public on D Day and during the following weeks. I would, therefore, appeal to the public to make allowances for any inconveniences they may experience in the initial stages.

I shall try, as far as possible, to avoid repeating what I said in introducing the Second Stage of the Broadcasting Authority (Amendment) Bill, 1971 which we had a few weeks ago.

Radio Telefís Éireann's accounts for 1969-70 show an overall deficit of £21,383. In March last when speaking on the Estimate for 1969-70 my predecessor said that a formal application from the authority for increases in broadcasting licence fees was under consideration. Increases of £1 in the combined licence fee and 5s in the sound broadcasting fee were approved with effect from 1st July, 1970. As I have mentioned earlier, £400,000 has [2133] been provided in the second Supplementary Estimate to enable the revenue from the increased fees to be paid to the authority. The total sum of £2,535,000 covered by the Estimate and Supplementary Estimate represents an increase of £535,000 over the grant for last year. The number of current combined licences and those due for renewal at 31st December last totalled 452,000. The corresponding figure for sound only licences was 141,000.

On the basis that £1 5s Od out of the former £5 licence fee, and £1 10s Od of each £6 licence fee from 1st July last are intended for the sound broadcasting service, a sum of £793,000 is being provided in the current financial year for radio and £1,742,000 for television.

The authority is having difficulty owing to rising costs in making ends meet and has had to make certain changes in order to contain expenditure as far as possible. No reliable forecast can yet be made of the outcome for 1970-71, but I understand that it is probable that the authority's income will not be much more than sufficient to cover expenditure on current account.

This situation makes it important that evasion of payment of licences be reduced to a minimum. Unfortunately, there is reason to believe that licence evasion on a substantial scale still exists. The normal means of combating it have been supplemented by the use of a new television detection van of the most up-to-date type. I hope that its introduction will cause people who up to now have not paid their due share of the costs of the service to take out licences and so save themselves the trouble, expense and embarrassment of prosecution. It is hoped to introduce during the year a Bill providing for the compulsory registration of purchases and hirings of radio and television sets to facilitate the detection of licence fee evaders and providing also for heavier fines for possession of unlicensed sets.

On the capital side, RTE was authorised to spend up to £700,000 in 1969-70 but the authority had to cut back on planned works because of compelling current needs and capital expenditure amounted to £490,000.

In the present financial year the [2134] authority has been authorised to spend up to £700,000 on its programme of capital works. These works include the new radio building at Donnybrook and extensions of radio and television coverage by provision of VHF satellite transmitters at Moville and Cahirciveen and television transposers at Achill Island, Castlebar and Clifden. In addition, transposers will be in service this year at Fermoy and Glanmire. Modifications to a number of the existing transposers, including that at Suir Valley, Waterford are being made with a view to improving their coverage. Longer term plans provide for the improvement of reception in Cavan, Carlingford, Donegal and West Cork. Progress in extending coverage in areas of poor television reception depends of course on the availability of capital and, in relation to particular areas, the number of people who would benefit if a transmitter or transposer were provided.

As regards colour television, the position still is that no firm plans have been made for its introduction. Existing transmitters are readily adaptable for colour transmission and the authority has in fact been conducting experimental test transmissions using imported colour film material. Colour programmes are, however, very expensive to produce and the authority is not therefore in a position to put this development high on its priority list. There will be occasional home-originated colour transmissions using an outside broadcasting unit specially equipped for the purpose.

The Eurovision Song Contest to be held in Dublin in April will, I understand, be broadcast in this way. Those special arrangements will not, however, change the general position I have already outlined. Indeed, regular or studio transmissions in colour cannot be contemplated for several years ahead having regard to financial conditions. I think it desirable to emphasise this so that there may be no misunderstanding about the position, particularly on the part of persons contemplating the purchase of colour sets.

In March last it was decided to relax the restrictions on the provision [2135] of multi-channel communal aerial systems in what may be described as the multi-channel reception areas, that is the areas where external television programmes may be received “off the air” from the transmitting stations. The use of special technical means, such as microwave links, to extend the range of external programmes cannot however be authorised.

In November the decision of the Government to provide a Gaeltacht radio service as soon as possible was announced. A full broadcasting service embracing news coverage and a comprehensive schedule of features reflecting all aspects of the social, cultural and economic life of the Gaeltacht will be provided. Radio Telefís Éireann is preparing plans for the necessary capital works. The overall capital cost is estimated at over £250,000 and this will be borne by the Exchequer. The new service should attract a substantial listening audience among Irish speakers generally. I am hopeful that broadcasting will commence within a year.

A provision of £25,000 was made in this year's printed volume of Estimates—subhead K—for legal and other expenses in connection with the “Seven Days” Inquiry into the RTE television programme on illegal moneylending. The total paid to date is £29,390 including £3,715 paid in 1969-70. Liability has been accepted for other items totalling over £3,000. Claims totalling about £11,500 received from some of the other parties who were represented by counsel at the inquiry are under consideration at present. As already stated £10,000 extra is being provided in the second Supplementary Estimate for this subhead.

The tribunal appointed by the Taoiseach to undertake the inquiry submitted their report in August last. It is clear from the report that the tribunal carried out their onerous task with painstaking care, thoroughness and objectivity. I should like to express our thanks to the members, particularly for their lucid analysis of the matters on which they were asked to report. The tribunal stated that they were satisfied that in deciding to make the programme Radio Telefís Éireann [2136] were activated by a desire to draw public attention to what they genuinely considered to be a serious social problem and that this decision was justified. Nevertheless, the report contains severe criticism of Radio Telefís Éireann; particularly in regard to failures, in various stages from the planning to the presentation of the broadcast, to take proper care to give an authentic and objective picture. The tribunal found that, in presenting a picture of laxity on the part of the gardaí, the programme was not authentic and the team concerned had no evidence which would warrant the making of any such criticism.

I communicated with the authority on receipt of the report. I am more concerned with the future than the past and in this regard I can say, without going into any detail as to what has passed between the authority and myself, that I am confident the authority has taken or will take any action required arising out of the tribunal's findings.

I hope that the “7 Days” affair will be allowed to be disposed of on that basis without the heat which the matter generated for some time after it was raised. The months which have elapsed have certainly helped in this regard.

One aspect of the “7 Days” programme in question which disturbed many people was the use of concealed devices to record conversations and to film scenes involving certain persons without their knowledge. This aspect was referred to in paragraph 68 of the tribunal's report but the tribunal decided not to make any recommendation on it. They remarked that the problem involved was one of great complexity and importance and that it might ultimately be the subject of international convention and possibly of legislation.

I raised the question of the use of the devices mentioned with the authority and was informed that an instruction to the staff on the subject had been in preparation before the broadcast and was issued shortly afterwards. The instruction prohibits the use of such hidden devices for broadcasting purposes save in the most exceptional [2137] circumstances and then only under the most stringent control.

The use of sophisticated modern technical devices in ways which constitute an invasion of privacy is at present engaging the attention of specialised bodies under the auspices of the United Nations and of the Council of Europe. It seems probable that recommendations will be made to Governments in due course for the control of the use of these devices.

Dr. C.S. Andrews, who had been a member and chairman of the authority from 3rd June, 1966, tendered his resignation in May, 1970, which was accepted with regret. I should like to express appreciation of the valuable service rendered by Dr. Andrews to Irish broadcasting during his period as chairman. He has been succeeded by Mr. Dónall Ó Móráin, a member of the authority since June, 1966. I am sure we all wish Mr. Ó Móráin every success in his new role.

The fact that the RTE Authority came in for more criticism than praise in the findings of the “7 Days” Tribunal should be viewed in its proper perspective as relating to a single programme. Although various programmes have come in for criticism from time to time—and it is a healthy sign that they should—I am glad to pay tribute to the success which has attended the efforts of the authority to maintain high standards of broadcasting and to effect improvements within the limits of the resources available to them.

Mrs. Hogan O'Higgins: As this is the first Estimate which the Minister has introduced in this House I would like to wish him success in his Department. It is a complex Department.

It is very difficult to get down to specific matters on this Estimate. The best way to deal with it is to reply to the Minister's speech in the order in which he referred to the various points. I would like to thank the Minister for his speech which was clear and concise. I may not agree with everything the Minister said but I feel that he tried in most cases to be honest.

This year, from the point of view of the general public with regard to Posts [2138] and Telegraphs, has been a very dark one. We had an increase in television and radio licences. There were increases in postal charges which have been described as drastic and savage. The telephone rentals and charges have increased. I will deal with these matters later on. The way in which the telephone charges increase was announced was sneaky. The increases were announced in August when people like Deputies and others who would be in a position to comment were, for the most part, out of town. In his speech on the Estimate last year the Minister announced that there would be further increases. The present Minister may not be aware that the former Minister rushed through his speech late one night in July when the Dáil was sitting for an extended time, and we had no discussion on it. Very little attention was paid by the general public to the fact that the increases were coming. In general, Opposition Deputies hear more criticism than Government Deputies. Postal charges have been increased but it is said that the services are deteriorating. The Minister does not seem to realise this fact. I know of someone who on Decimal Day posted four letters in the GPO for delivery in Orwell Road, Rathgar. One letter arrived on the following day, Tuesday, but the others did not arrive until the Friday of that week. Had the letters been sent by carrier pigeon they would have arrived earlier. They were “First Day of Issue” letters, but if they had been urgent business letters this could have been very important.

Every Member of the House appreciates that postmen are entitled to a five-day week. This fact is now recognised. I am sure it is difficult to organise postal services on this basis but we were more or less guaranteed that letters posted in Dublin on Thursday would be delivered in the city on Friday morning. This is not the case. Letters posted in the House on Thursday evening have been delivered in Rathfarnham on Monday morning. I have had complaints from Deputies who feel that their mail is treated like second-class mail. It takes longer now for a letter to get from Dublin to the country. I do not know why this is so. Possibly the post office [2139] are not able to cope with the volume of work. If this continues and if stamp prices continue to increase the amount of surface mail will decrease.

There are some complaints about airmail letters. I had a complaint from a person who said that the American postal authorities seem to think that we have a postal strike here. A student who returned to America from Dublin recently was told at a post office in Pittsburgh that they could not take letters for Ireland because the Irish post office staff were on strike. The Minister should alert other countries to the fact that the post office staff here are not on strike, but only those in Great Britain and our six northern countries.

The Minister referred to the improvements in the telephone and telex services. A certain amount of work has been done but these services are not giving satisfaction. The telephone service is very unsatisfactory. The problems seem to be getting worse rather than better. The Dublin telephone exchange seems to be overloaded. Long delays occur when one dials for trunk calls or to report difficulties. This tends to build up bad relations between the users and the staff. I hope I am not normally rude to staff, but after waiting for a considerable length for an answer from a telephone exchange I find myself getting angry and almost abusing the girl on the exchange for something which is not her fault. We have the absurd position in Dublin that parts of Dublin city cannot be contacted by phone for days. The same applies to places like Dundalk. I know of one businessman who wanted to contact Dundalk urgently and he was told by the exchange that there was no possibility of getting it that day. Eventually the caller got Dundalk via Manchester. That was before the British strike. I also know of a caller who was trying to ring Galway from Manchester and he heard the exchange talking, as one does, and the Dublin operator said to Manchester: “I cannot get Galway” and the Manchester operator said: “I suggest you try Athlone” and then the Dublin exchange got Galway. Surely the operator in Dublin should have [2140] used his or her initiative and got Galway via Athlone. This is what creates a bad impression and I do not think that the Government are taking the whole position seriously enough.

The Government have spent a lot of money by way of grants to encourage industry particularly in the under-developed areas of the west, in Donegal and in places south, but what is the use of establishing industries with expensive equipment if these industries, which to a great extent rely on telephones and telex, cannot contact their suppliers and distributors abroad as quickly as possible? The position should be looked into as quickly as possible. All the good work done by the IDA is lost for the want of a proper telephone service.

I have always believed that the telephone service should be in the hands of a completely autonomous body. There should be freedom to draw up a proper national development plan and to raise the necessary capital. It is not as if the telephone service were losing money; it is making money. Anybody will admit that it is impossible within the present structure for the Civil Service to run the telephone service in a purely commercial way. The Government have set up various semi-State bodies and the telephone service should be treated in the same way with a great deal of control over their own operations. It is something the Minister would be well advised to look into.

Those of us who live in rural Ireland know how hard the staff in country post offices work. Last week I tried to find out from the Department the exact hours which sub-post-mistresses have to work and I found a certain reluctance on the part of the Department to give me the exact information. I was told: “Well, it depends on the number of subscribers.” I appreciate that, but where I come from, Kilreakle, which has two shops and a post office and has eight or nine telephone subscribers, the sub-postmistress is on duty from 8.30 in the morning until 8 o'clock at night. The post office does not stay open until then but the phone is open and, therefore, she must remain there. On Sunday she works from about 5 o'clock [2141] to 9 o'clock or 10 o'clock and for those hours she is paid the princely sum of 2s an hour. This is 1971, Minister, and nobody works for 2s an hour. These are civil servants who have given long and dedicated service to the Department and are sometimes overlooked. It is like temporary postmen who have been temporary for 40 years. This was all right 20 years ago but it is not good enough now. People should be amply paid for their work.

In regard to telephone kiosks, as far as I can see they are always out of order in Dublin. I do not know how this position can be changed. It is pure vandalism and we must educate our young to an awareness of the harm and inconvenience they are causing. In rural Ireland kiosks should be provided as a social service and not merely as a service which will make money. It is essential in places like my constituency where you have large areas of mountain that kiosks should be dotted around the place. Even if they lose money it does not matter because we have to spend money now and again to provide amenities to keep the people in the west.

I am glad to see that we have now become more mature and that the Government have decided to issue special stamps for 1972-73 to commemorate the leading figures who died on both sides in the Civil War. This at least is a sign of maturity and I hope that they will commemorate both sides. The Minister has provided us with a long list of places in which improvements have been carried out, extra exchanges built and so on and while I appreciate this it is not enough. The whole telephone service is chaotic and as I said it should be set up as an autonomous body. Perhaps it may leave a gap but even if it does if it improves the services it should be worth looking into.

Telephone charges are high enough and because of increased postage rates a considerable amount of business is being done by phone which otherwise would have been done through the post, as Deputies have found to their cost. It is a dreadful way to do business but it is done. I do not know if the Minister appreciates just how badly people feel about this service. Before [2142] Christmas I was in Portumna and I wished to phone Dublin. I was told that there would be a delay and I kept going back to the girl at the desk asking about the call and finally I was reduced to saying: “You know, it is not outer space I want, just Dublin.” There was another customer waiting for a call and he said he had worked in Peru or Bolivia, I cannot remember which, for three years and they used say that the phone service there was the worst in the world but it could not be compared with the system in Ireland, which is absolutely dreadful. The service in the west must be worse than anywhere else and while the Minister has probably improved the service in Limerick I would ask him to do something for west of the Shannon where we live under difficult circumstances. I find that it is almost impossible to make telephone calls around my constituency and to get Scarriff, which is only 28 miles away, is like trying to get outer space. It is possible to phone Manchester or London but it is not possible to get a number in Loughrea or in Scarriff; the Ballinasloe exchange is automatic and one can get a number in that area very quickly.

The Minister mentioned that there has been a change in the colour scheme. I rather liked the green but this is a matter of taste. However, the colour of the vans or the uniforms is not important. What is important is an efficient service. In previous years what was known as a digest of charges was issued. It set out the charges for airmail stamps, telephone calls and so on. This has not been issued recently —I presume due to the changeover to decimal currency—but it was a very useful guide and the Minister might consider issuing it again.

The changeover to decimalisation went smoothly in the Post Office and great credit is due to the staff who worked very hard to achieve the changeover. I have frequently thought that alternative arrangements should be made for the collection of pensions and children's allowances. Where elderly people are concerned or where people must travel long distances, the pensions and allowances should be posted to them and it should not be [2143] necessary for them to trek into the post office to collect them.

There is another matter about which I thought frequently in the past few years. It concerns the payment of allowances to itinerants and perhaps in this matter the Minister might act in conjunction with the Department of Social Welfare. I do not think they should be given all the allowance in cash. They should be given vouchers for food and clothing because I do not think the itinerants are educated enough to handle money. Last summer in Kilreakle a number of itinerants who had just collected their social welfare allowance went into the nearest pub. I happened to be there and one of them offered to buy me a drink; he told me he had just got £15. The owner of the pub said to me that I might as well avail of the offer but I told him I did not drink. A great deal of money was spent in that pub on that occasion. I think something should be done in this matter because a lot of money is mis-spent by itinerants.

Mr. Tully: I think the Deputy is speaking to the wrong Minister.

Mrs. Hogan O'Higgins: Perhaps the Minister might consider the points I have made.

Mr. Coogan: The Deputy is right. The itinerants have a field day every Tuesday.

Mr. Tully: Well, they are human beings.

Mrs. Hogan O'Higgins: I appreciate that. Due to the bank strike it is noted that deposits in the Post Office were very satisfactory. Country people have lost faith in the banks and they are more inclined now to lodge money in the Post Office. On this point, I wrote to the Minister last week in connection with a person who has a Post Office account. The person lost his book and notified the Post Office immediately; however, three withdrawals were made from the account to the tune of £50. This should not have happened as the man concerned had notified the Post Office; payments should have been stopped immediately, as is the custom [2144] in the banks. I had an acknowledgment from the Minister but if such an incident happened once it could well occur again.

The new national instalment saving plan is worthwhile and it should encourage young people to save. Nowadays they are not inclined to put money aside but the savings plan is quite attractive. Incidentally, the advertisement on television on this matter was good and was not offensive in any way —which is more than can be said for many television advertisements.

The Minister stated that the Department of Posts and Telegraphs are the second largest employer in the Civil Service. I was not aware of that fact. Every year we tend to rush through the debate on the Department of Posts and Telegraphs and many points are overlooked. I wonder if the Department are experiencing the same difficulty as other Departments in the matter of recruitment? I remember once criticising the telephone service and the girl to whom I was speaking said: “You do not know the conditions under which we work, they are dreadful.” I have not been able to verify that fact but I can appreciate how tiring it must be to listen to phones ringing all day in addition to having to pacify contrary customers who may complain about the service. I know that pay and conditions of work for the staff have improved but I think in certain areas they are not as good as they might be.

I do not know how sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses are paid but in rural Ireland they perform a service over and above what is required of civil servants. The Minister is a rural Deputy and he must be aware that country people do not like to use the telephone. Frequently the official in the post office will transmit a message for the customer and generally be of help. Contrary to what is often said, these officials are most discreet and do not gossip about the business of the post office. This is true about the officials at Kilreakle who are most discreet. There is only one area in my constituency where I know the official concerned is inclined to talk too much. I accept that this is a human weakness. [2145] On the whole, the officials in country areas do their jobs extremely well.

Postmen in rural areas have not an easy job but they carry it out very efficiently. I am glad to see that they have motor transport now. I remember many years ago we had two postmen in Kilreakle who had to cover a wide area by bicycle. The people concerned were temporary for more than 40 years and they got very little thanks in the long run. I understand that some postmen are in a temporary capacity for more than ten years. If they are fit for temporary duty over such a long period they should be appointed permanently and get pension rights.

I agree with the Minister that during the bank dispute the Post Office services were good and were helpful to the public. With regard to the financial position, it is obvious from the Minister's speech that it is not good. The Minister cannot expect the public to pay any more, first, because the service is not good and, secondly, it is not worth it. If there are any further postal increases, in the long run there will be a much reduced number of customers. The Minister says there was a drop of only 20 per cent in Christmas card post. I would have considered it to be a great deal higher. Every other year I have sent 500 to 600 cards to my constituents. This year I took one hard look at it and said “No. It is too expensive. I will not pay 6d for a postcard.”

However, the people who send Christmas cards can take them or leave them but the business people cannot do that. They must send out their bills and must get orders. The man in the street must also meet certain demands. Everything seems to be going up every day but postal increases are going up more rapidly than other charges. Even on decimalisation the stamp went up. I know it had to go up marginally; the telephone calls went down. Incidentally, does the Minister know that the telephone service is being fiddled in a big way, that the halfpenny coin fits into the box exactly? In his statement the Minister says:

From what I have said, it will be clear that the recent increases in [2146] charges were insufficient to take the Department out of the red.

This frightens me. Everything has been increased but the Department is still in the red. I presume this means charges will be increased again. I do not think the taxpayers will take it. They consider they are being fleeced as it is.

For the last four or five years I do not think we have been governed seriously by the Cabinet. Too much time has been wasted by them. Going back to the time when the Taoiseach was elected, there was infighting as to who would be leader. Since then we have not had a peaceful Cabinet, and this is reflected in every sector of government. Work that should have been put into the organisation of the Departments has been put into the organisation of infighting, gunrunning, and this is why we have got ourselves into such a mess. Efforts should be made by every Minister in the Cabinet to get down seriously to the work of his Department. Every Minister can rely on his civil servants. By and large, I find them a most helpful body. If Ministers would get around the table with their officials we would get better results in the Departments than we are getting at the moment. I am not clear whether the twelfth round increase has been given to Post Office workers.

Mr. G. Collins: Yes.

Mrs. Hogan O'Higgins: Their remuneration is up to date. They are not overpaid; in fact, I think they are badly paid, and I am glad to see them getting anything they get. The Minister says:

I am satisfied that no sizeable reduction in postal expenditure could be secured without drastic reduction of services and laying-off of staff.

The laying off of staff would not cure anything but would only make the position more chaotic. I do not want to harp too much on one subject but the telephone service is chaotic and, particularly in Dublin, the postal service is pretty bad. This Department is rather complex in that it embraces not only the ordinary, mundane affairs of posts and telegraphs but also the broadcasting service. I have always thought that the broadcasting service should be [2147] a little department on its own. Television is the most powerful of all the communications media. It is such a vast subject that it is difficult to know where to begin or end in criticising it.

First of all, television licences and wireless licences have been increased this year. I presume this is inevitable if television is to keep going. The Minister has promised us a new Bill, and one matter about which we shall have to think seriously is a new way of financing television. Obviously, receipts from television licences are not enough even if all the dodgers are caught. The Minister says he is bringing in legislation to ensure that people who sell television sets will supply him with lists. I am a little uneasy about this. Is it constitutional? Will it encroach on the rights of the individual?

Mr. Tully: Ask Deputy Ben Briscoe.

Mrs. Hogan O'Higgins: The Minister will get plenty of advice. I do not believe Telefís Éireann will ever be self-sufficient. They are doing a reasonably good job with the money available to them. The public have become more educated and more sophisticated in their taste and are beginning to demand a better television service than we are getting at the moment. I have often heard it said down the country: “It is all right for those who live on the east coast. They can get three or four channels but we are stuck with Telefís Éireann.” It is not complimentary, but “stuck” is the word.

I have a theory about television. Television is primarily to entertain and to educate us — I mean education in the broad sense, to draw out one's mind; I am not referring particularly to school television but to general television. Some of the programmes are very poor. Some of the material is trivial and an insult to the intelligence of the average person. On the whole, the home-made programmes are quite good. The “Seven Days” programme is always good — I shall refer to the tribunal later — but it was better before the inquiry took place. I think they are a little uneasy about doing the exposé programmes they used do. The [2148] “News” is usually fairly well presented. It can be slanted. Television can make or mar a cause. Telefís Éireann have not really been guilty of slanting news except occasionally. I am talking of the last Presidential election and, indeed, of the last general election. Then there are programmes like “Anthology” and “Radharc” which are very well done. “Report” is very well done sometimes. Sometimes the “Late Late Show” is good and sometimes it is not so good. Here again we would want to be very careful. Television gives too much platform time to the wrong people. It will be remembered that when Mr. Paisley was elected in the north he thanked Telefís Éireann for all the time they gave him. People like him should be ignored. Obviously, he is news but he should be given as little time as possible.

Mr. Tully: He must have come south to see himself because they get very little of Telefís Éireann up there.

Mrs. Hogan O'Higgins: You would not know where he would be. There is something that puzzles me. Surely there is no need for us to have seven male news announcers. I am not quite sure but I think we have seven. This is terrible over-loading. BBC 1 have only three, and three or four should be enough here. To my mind seven is a ridiculous number.

Mr. Coogan: They have to talk Irish.

Mrs. Hogan O'Higgins: They can all read the Irish news now. Another thing is that men always sneer at women's changing fashions and their slavery to changing fashions, but I object to long-haired television news announcers. They are sloppy looking. I find this offensive and I do not like it. Perhaps this is a personal feeling but it is symptomatic of something in this day and age.

What has become of the political programmes? We used to have political programmes. I do not think the politicians liked them, but the man in the street liked them and the constituents loved them. They loved to see their own representatives in the hot spot. [2149] This is a big loss. These programmes should be brought back. Whether the politicians showed up well or badly is immaterial. People are entitled to have a look at their representatives and to hear the views of the various parties. We never see any politicians nowadays, except Ministers and we get enough of them. We are sick of them.

Ministers have the opportunity of making speeches after dinners, but the ordinary backbencher, or the ordinary Opposition Deputy, does not get a chance of going on television nowadays. This is a big loss. The only one you see is Deputy Loughnane playing the fiddle.

Dr. Loughnane: The Deputy comes from an area where there are ten traditional céilí bands.

Mrs. Hogan O'Higgins: I am coming to that. Before I leave the home-made programmes, I want to say that during the last Presidential election — it is a long time ago now and I suppose Government Ministers, and the Government side of the House, would prefer not to think of it — there was a disgraceful campaign, because one would think there was only one candidate in that election and that was the Government candidate. However, that is water under the bridge but it should not have been allowed and it was allowed.

During the last general election I was frightened for two reasons. I looked at television on a couple of nights. I looked at various home-made newsy programmes and I thought they were completely out of touch with what was going on in the country, or else they were pushing a certain party.

Mr. Tully: Was he playing a fiddle?

Mrs. Hogan O'Higgins: No. A certain clique in Donnybrook got it into their heads that the Labour Party would sweep the country and, in the long run, they did harm to the Labour Party. Either they did it deliberately or they were completely out of touch with the situation. If they did it deliberately, it was wrong, and if they were out of touch with the situation, something should have been done about it. Telefís Éireann is inclined to split into little [2150] cliques who make no effort to disguise their politics. This is wrong. I do not think that any “Seven Days” man or any “Report” man should sit in front of you and shove his politics down your neck. Very often they make wrong forecasts. This is human, but they should try to be impartial as far as possible. As I said, in the end this did harm to the Labour Party. I believe such broadcasters can either make or mar a case.

For years we have not had home-produced drama, which is a great pity, because we have excellent actors and actresses, and we have some excellent plays which should be seen on television. A few years ago one or two were shown, and there was a lot of chipping about the bad language used. We are adults, and this sort of language is used. Certainly it is used west of the Shannon where I come from. I hear it at meetings and in the street.

Mr. Coogan: It is on the records of this House.

Mrs. Hogan O'Higgins: Exactly. I am sure that has not stopped the showing of home-produced dramas. RTE is also completely devoid of any musical programmes. There are one or two pop programmes. I find it hard to understand pop music. I am not terribly musical. There was a time when I was considered to be tone deaf but this is not a fact because, some years ago, when I had to spend a couple of months in bed, I listened to music and I educated myself. People in general can be educated to good music and light classical music. We have a couple of excellent orchestras but we never see them on television, and this is a terrible lack in our television service. We hear them on sound.

Deputy Loughnane talked about traditional Irish music. I like traditional Irish music but I do not think it makes good television. We had a few programmes like “Céilí House” and “Bring down the Lamp” but they were not good television. They smacked of the stage Irish.

Dr. Loughnane: I agree but that was because of the way they were produced.

[2151] Mrs. Hogan O'Higgins: Undoubtedly traditional Irish music is nice on sound.

Mr. G. Collins: Has the Deputy seen “Cé hé sin an té sin”?

Mrs. Hogan O'Higgins: I have, and it is about the best of them.

Mr. Tully: The music is good.

Mr. G. Collins: It is the presentation.

Mrs. Hogan O'Higgins: There was a touch of the stage Irish about those programmes and in the long run that was offensive.

Dr. Loughnane: It was not the musicians. It was the production.

Mrs. Hogan O'Higgins: People like traditional Irish music. We have a lot of it west of the Shannon. It is hard to know what the trouble is on television, and whether it is that the people producing it do not know how to produce it or what it is. I will leave that to the television authorities but we should have more traditional music properly produced.

The schools television programmes are good. I understand from the teachers and others that they are pleased with them but they would be grateful if they could be expanded. I believe this is the only way to teach a child. They always retain what they see on television, unfortunately.

I come now to one of my pet hates, the system of advertising on television. I appreciate that the service needs the advertisements to keep going but the standard of advertising is deplorably low to my mind. Some of the companies have managed to maintain a good standard and to make their advertisements informative and amusing. One thinks of Jacobs and Guinness and the other advertisement about the peas.

Mr. G. Collins: Batchelors.

Mrs. Hogan O'Higgins: Some of them are appalling. The grammar and syntax make me shudder. We are subjected to these every quarter of an hour. A big offender is the Television Authority with the advertisement about people who do not pay their television licence.

[2152] Mr. Coogan: And the Dublin accent.

Mrs. Hogan O'Higgins: This is a ghastly one. I do not mind regional accents. I do not think they are unpleasant. In fact, they are rather interesting provided they are not too broad. I object to bad grammar. There is the advertisement: “You will never get them stains out”, and no matter what you say the children say: “They say that on television and it must be right.” I do not care how flat the Dublin, or the Galway, or the Cork, accent is. Regional accents are acceptable, but I object to badly-produced advertisements with bad grammar. I also object to English accents in advertisements. There are toothpaste advertisements and others, the films for which were obviously made in England. Regional English accents are a little bit offensive to Irish tastes. They are not as good as they should be. This it why I hope that when the Minister produces his new Bill he will have devised some other way of making money for Telefís Éireann other than having us subjected to those advertisements.

I saw a report some time ago that the lady continuity announcers were to be let go. This is a mistake. They were pleasing. They possessed nice soft voices and they gave us a little bit of variety. One gets tired of looking at men all the time on television. Television is mostly a man's world and the lady announcers brighten things up although I think there are too many of them. There are five but I think three are sufficient.

During the last ten days I have heard various newspaper rumblings that there may be redundancies in Telefís Éireann following cut backs in winter programmes. I wonder are Telefís Éireann over-loaded? I am not often in Montrose but occasionally when appearing in a programme it seemed to me they had superfluous staff floating around. Perhaps we took on, initially, far more staff than we needed.

Mr. Coogan: It was well worth it.

Mrs. Hogan O'Higgins: Such would appear to be the case having [2153] regard to the fact that there are seven male news announcers and five lady continuity announcers. If that pattern is repeated right through television, then obviously the staff out there is over-loaded.

Sound radio is a medium which, unfortunately, is neglected. We are losing a good deal of money on it. This is a pity because I prefer sound radio to television. I am not a great television viewer but I feel I have to see it for the Estimate. I am out a good deal at nights and do not see much television. However I have devised a system in my constituency whereby I ask intelligent people to view certain programmes and I ask them for their opinions. I can never make up my mind as to whether Newsbeat is meant to be informative, destructive or amusing. I asked an intelligent constituent of mine to watch this programme for me and give me her views on it. Last weekend I asked her if she had been watching the programme. She said: “We gave it up; it is dreadful. We say the Rosary instead.” It apparently did some good because it drove them to say the Rosary while the programme was on. We are usually having our evening meal when this programme is on and I am nearly always tempted to turn it off. It is a programme which to me does not click. It is the worst of the home-made programmes. I do not know whose fault this is. Perhaps it is the material in it. It is too sordid. I suppose people care whether they have public lavatories here, there and everywhere but to be treated to this topic every night in the week is too much. We have more to think about at that hour of the evening than whether there are public conveniences in Loughrea or Ballinasloe.

Mr. Dowling: You will get a job in the corporation.

Mr. Tully: People have to talk about things they know about.

Mrs. Hogan O'Higgins: I think I saw Deputy Loughnane on it a few times. I also object to the rehashing and reissuing of programmes on Telefís Éireann. I saw the Deputy on the [2154] same programme twice within six months.

Dr. Loughnane: They got the biggest number of requests through the country for a repeat of it.

Mrs. Hogan O'Higgins: The same remarks apply to films. Films are repeated during the year. Sound radio is better than television although there is somewhat too much pop music in the morning. Of course, housewives are the only people who listen then. They are possibly only half-listening because they are doing their chores and background music is soft. Sound radio could educate people's musical tastes. The plays on sound radio are good and the talks are informative. I find there is not as much bad grammar on sound radio as on television. I must say I have been guilty of ringing Telefís Éireann asking them to tell so-and-so that one only waits on table. I wait to see if they will correct it later on and they usually do. It seems to me that the editing of newscasts is not as good as it should be. There is no excuse for grammatical errors.

Now, I want to deal with this vexed question of the “Seven Days” Tribunal. The actual cost, from what I can see, may finish around £40,000. I saw in this morning's Irish Independent that the solicitors claim that they should have been paid but were not paid. I suppose that will all be hammered out. We in the Opposition asked that this tribunal be held and I think that anybody, legal or otherwise, who had to be involved in it should be paid by the State. The costs are enormous but they should be paid. I agree with some of what the Minister said about this tribunal but not with the rest of it. The tribunal's terms of reference were too narrow but a good jub was done within them.

The tribunal were asked to look into the planning, preparation, arrangement, production and presentation of the television programme on illegal moneylending and where it related to unlicensed moneylenders they were asked to look into the authenticity of the programme and in particular the adequacy of the information on which the programme was based, whether the [2155] statements, comments, implications of the programme and the number of unlicensed moneylenders operating in the city of Dublin were correct. The main thing they were asked to do was to make sure that the statements, comments and implications reflected reasonable journalistic care on the part of those responsible for the programme. Reasonable journalistic care is the kernel of the thing. The inquiry were to look into statements made on behalf of the Garda and on behalf of the “Seven Days” team.

The whole “Seven Days” issue was raised in the House in November in a question by Deputy Corish. He asked the then Minister for Justice if he was aware of the growing uneasiness because of this programme. The Minister's initial reaction — it was always Deputy Moran's reaction — was to jump in feet first without thinking too clearly. He said immediately that some of the people interviewed had criminal records, some of them had been paid to make the statements they made, some of them were given drink to make the statements they made and, therefore, the statements of some of those people were nothing but a tissue of lies.

There were further questions the following week and the Minister said he had the Garda look into the matter and they were satisfied that the number of people suspected of being in the business was not more than 12 or 15. He said, giving themselves plenty of leeway, that the figure was definitely under 25. It was then decided to set up the tribunal. The Government, when they framed the terms of reference, deliberately set in motion a whitewashing operation. There was an amendment by Deputy Cosgrave to broaden the terms of reference, that any other matter relevant to but not specifically mentioned in the terms of reference should be inquired into. The amendment was defeated. The purpose of the amendment, as far as I could see, was to broaden in some way the terms of reference.

It was not allowed. It can be fairly said that the terms of reference were carefully framed by the Government in such a way as to put the “Seven Days” team in the dock in a way that no [2156] criminal is put in the dock in this country. They were made to prove their innocence absolutely and entirely. They had to prove that they were innocent of even the slightest negligence. Obviously, they could not prove this. I am not being critical of the legal people who sat on the Tribunal. They did a fairly good job within their terms of reference but it was impossible for the people involved in making the programme to prove themselves innocent of even the slightest negligence. In this country it has always been recognised legal practice that the prosecution must prove its case beyond all shadow of doubt, not that the defence must prove their innocence. This is what happened in this Tribunal.

Let us examine the findings of the Tribunal. It found that the programme was authentic in that illegal moneylending does exist in parts of the city and in some parts in serious proportions. It found that the rates of interest were excessive; that children's allowance books were used in some cases to secure loans and were kept for repayment; that the fear of the borrower was played on while physical force was not used. It is also true — and the Tribunal pointed out this — that before the programme the Garda were not aware that moneylending existed to any great extent in the city. To this extent it was a good programme; it was a programme to inform the social conscience of a racket that was going on. No matter what the members of the Tribunal thought — and they worked within their own ambit and gave a very fair judgment— in the eyes of the ordinary man the Tribunal exonerated the Seven Days team because it implied that the programme was an exposé type of programme, that its aim was to try to achieve some good for the many thousands of downtrodden people in this city. The Government have lost touch with people. If they were more interested in the downtrodden there would be no need for programmes like that.

The report of the Tribunal, to my mind, completely debunked Mr. Ó Moráin, the former Minister for Justice, who jumped in — indeed he dragged the Taoiseach in, too — and [2157] absolutely, emphatically denied that there was moneylending to any extent in the city. The Tribunal found this was wrong. It was a pity the people who made the programme came in for so much criticism from the Tribunal because fair journalistic comment is something we prize greatly in this country, though sometimes I think that if Fianna Fáil had their way we would have no free journalism at all. Anyway, if any people were hurt by this programme they have their remedy. Indeed, one man took an action. The courts will deal with these things. Our law is framed so that the onus is on the prosecution to prove its case, not on the defence to prove their innocence. Under this law sometimes criminals must get away but surely it is better that a few people evade justice than that even one innocent person should be convicted wrongly.

Towards the end of the report it says:

In his comment Mr. O'Herlihy used the phrase: “expanding expensive racket” in relation to illegal moneylending. A number of witnesses were asked for their opinion as to whether moneylending was on the increase. While they did not agree it was, the tribunal itself said that with the general rise in prosperity and the amount of good work done by the credit union movement it thought it was not.

Far be is from me to cast any aspersions on the members of the Tribunal but we can hardly claim at this point that we have a general rise in employment and prosperity with the increased cost of living and the wholesale closure of factories and businesses as a result of the bank strike, for one thing. The need for more vigilance in this area is much more important now than it was when the programme was made. The Garda would need to be very vigilant in regard to moneylending because I believe that at this time in this city and in other cities in the country there are many people very badly off and resorting to moneylenders. We cannot shut our eyes to it. The Government have a grave responsibility here. The credit unions, I agree, have done great [2158] work, but the responsibility rests with the Government.

That is all I shall say about that. The Minister said he hoped we would let it rest but we had to make some comment on it in fairness to the “Seven Days” team, to the people in Telefís Éireann, to the people who took part in the Tribunal. I agree there were some devices used that should not have been used. The Minister has said that this has now been tightened up. On the whole the “Seven Days” team do a good job. I think they are the best team in Telefís Éireann and their efforts were aimed at educating the social conscience of people about the racket that was going on. They have been vindicated to a certain extent.

I should like to thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to speak sitting down.

Mr. Desmond: I should like to thank the Minister for his comprehensive statement and for the material circulated to Deputies in the House several weeks ago. This material is extremely helpful to Deputies in their preparation for the Estimate itself. We should place on record also our thanks to the 20,500 post office workers in the State employ in well over 100 different grades for the tremendous work they are doing and have done down through the years in extremely difficult circumstances, particularly during the recent bank strike.

The Post Office is one of the largest employers in the State. In the past two or three years there have been substantial general improvements in the conditions of employment of the workers engaged in this service. Post Office workers can be regarded as being reasonably well paid, although not as well paid as many Members of this House or members of the Post Office Workers' Union would wish. It is only right that this improvement should have taken place because Post Office customers spend over £13 million a year on postal, telephone and telegraph services alone. The total value of transactions is £350 million which indicates that a tremendous amount of money is handled by Post Office staffs quite apart from the large investment premium [2159] of the Post Office itself which is now running at the rate of £9 million per annum.

Despite the fact that we are a relatively small population there is an average of one post office to every 1,300 inhabitants, which is twice as good as in Britain and nearly three times as good as in Austria and Italy. Bearing in mind the tremendous rural spread of the population, it can be said that an effective general post office system is in operation throughout the country. Ninety per cent of the first class mail posted is delivered the following working day. Such a service is a remarkable tribute to the staff of the Post Office and shows the high standard which operates.

I am surprised to find that the Minister has not made any reference to the Devlin Report in relation to the reorganisation of his Department. In his speech in April, 1970, the then Minister for Posts and Telegraphs said:

The status and organisation of my Department have been referred to on a number of occasions during the Estimate Debates in previous years. The recommendations of the Devlin Review Group in this regard are now being carefully studied. The report recommends that the operation of the postal and telecommunications services should not, for the present at least, be transferred to a commercial state-sponsored body but should remain within the Civil Service. The report also contains some far-reaching recommendations regarding the establishment of a new Department of Transport and Communications of which the postal and telecommunications services would form part. The recommendations raise many complex issues and it is too early yet to come to conclusions on them.

It is now February, 1971 and a good deal of activity has occurred during that period. Some indication should be given of the current thinking of the Department on the Devlin Report and the far-reaching recommendations contained in it. The Government seem to be reluctant to get to grips with the problems of the [2160] Devlin Report and the longer this goes on the more difficult it will be to solve the problems of restructuring government. One does not have to be a member of the Cabinet to sense the frustration felt, not only by the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, but by members of the Cabinet relative to the role which his particular Department plays within the structure of Government.

In September, 1969 the then Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, Deputy Lalor, remarked at the inaugural meeting of the local joint consultative council for the Dublin postal district, that he regarded the occasion as important not only because it marked a new scheme of joint consultation in the Dublin postal district which, with a staff of over 2,000, was very important in itself but also because the scheme there was in the nature of an experiment.

Local consultative councils of a joint nature were set up within the postal service in various areas. It is extremely important that these joint consultative councils, within the Post Office, should be extended to all areas. It would be a good thing if an examination of the success of the system were carried out. With almost 21,000 workers in the postal service regular consultation between managers and staff on all matters of general interest is necessary. It is a large service which could become paralysed by lack of communication. More information on the consequences of the joint consultative councils within the Post Office should be made available to Members of this House and also to the postal unions.

Included in the terms of reference of the joint consultative councils in the postal service was the promotion of general co-operation and mutual trust between management and staff. That is, of course, the usual pious introduction. They also refer to the promotion of job satisfaction, optimum working conditions, welfare, and ways and means of conveying views on staffing arrangements, training, safety and the review of the working of local grievance procedures in examining how efficiency could be increased and customer relations improved.

[2161] This is, in practice, the introduction of a greater element of worker democracy, of industrial democracy, even to the postal service system. The old, rigid, bureaucratic, servile structures of the postal service are rapidly disappearing. This is very welcome. We have a golden opportunity in a service of this nature of stressing the need for greater participation by those who work in the job and greater consultation on on how their own working lives are affected. This is necessary. It could be of tremendous benefit to the country in opening up management services internally in the public service which has inherited all the authoritarian and vertical kind of authority structures from the early British postal service. Our system is probably more open than the British system at present. A better attitude may exist in regard to staff relations. This must be carefully nurtured.

I welcome the Minister's statement on the five-day week. I hope that the granting of Saturday off to delivery postmen in the country generally will be finalised by the conciliation council shortly. The introduction of the five-day week was of benefit not only to the staff, but it was also inevitable. In that regard, we should make a public plea that the public, the major posting Government services, such as the Department of Social Welfare, and the major businesses of this country should refrain from dumping a whole pile of mail on to the staffs of the postal services, and particularly on to the sorters, at five p.m. or six p.m. on Fridays. If there was regular staggering of posting by undertakings, many of whom have a substantial part of their post ready by three p.m. — and this applies to Government Departments and major industrial undertakings — this would be of immense benefit and would help in reducing the cost of postal services. This would also make for better working conditions for the postal staff. Fewer errors would be made also. The mail would then be handled more expeditiously than at present. The Minister is to be thanked for the manner of introduction of the five-day week. This was a difficult problem, particularly [2162] in my own constituency. I would hope to see this development extended throughout the country in the near future. Apart from that, it is not our business as trade unionists to tell the people concerned how precisely they should proceed.

Perhaps I am repetitive on this next point to which I referred last year. I refer to the problem of political rights for the 20,500 people employed in the postal services. I have a feeling that the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs is sympathetic to this approach. Certainly, I think that it can be said with justification that the former Minister for Finance, Deputy Haughey, was sympathetic to this. He had set this in train. The means by which the conciliation and arbitration machinery of the State would grant full political rights to post office staff in this country were under consideration. There seems to be a change of mind in recent months, particularly on the part of Deputy Colley, the present Minister for Finance. It is evident that Deputy Colley has changed the attitude and that he does not intend to give elementary civil and political rights to public servants in this country, and more particularly to postal staffs.

It is a matter of profound regret that this has been shelved. I know of no justification whatever why normal civil rights and political freedom such as are enjoyed by every other citizen in this State should not be enjoyed by the vast majority of postal staffs in this country. A postman cannot be a member of a political party. A post office worker, such as a clerical worker in the post office, cannot be a member of a branch of any political party without the risk of being fired from his job. Such a man cannot stand for Dáil Éireann or for a local council. His job as a post office worker employed in an area which is not in any way contentious politically does not carry the normal political freedom enjoyed by staffs in this country. It is a disgrace to say that, in 1971, when we are talking about giving votes at 18 years of age to more Irish people, the Post Office workers have not got political freedom. I find it inexplicable. It does not balance out with the rights enjoyed [2163] by Post Office workers in Northern Ireland and Great Britain. How can we possibly talk about parliamentary reform or about the concept of a participatory society when we deny postal workers this elementary right? We have raised this point each year, but there seems to be no move on the part of the civil servants in this country. In May, 1970, the Minister for Finance said, regarding the claims which were then submitted by the postal unions, that any decision of that nature would have far-reaching implications which would have to await decision by the Government on certain issues and that such decisions would be taken at the earliest possible opportunity. In Dáil Éireann in October, 1970, there was a further brush-off to the point made in May of that year.

You have the kind of anomaly that an ESB employee can go up a pole to bring electricity to a house but he can stand for Dáil Éireann and he can even get leave of absence to come in here as a Deputy and then go back to his job. He can provide an effective service and participate in political life. He can be a delegate to the Ard-Fhéis or a delegate for Fine Gael or the Labour Party but yet a Post Office clerk or a Post Office worker if he dares to be involved in any way in that kind of activity will lose his job automatically. In every post office and in every rest room for postal workers there is a large notice about involvement in any form of political representation. I cannot see the justification for this and it is no exaggeration to say that it is causing a great deal of bitterness, frustration and cynicism among Post Office staffs because they find this right denied to them. I am prepared to concede that senior men in executive positions in the Post Office or in the Civil Service certainly should not have total political freedom because they are acting, on behalf of the State, in such senior executive positions. That, however, does not apply to the vast majority of staff in the Post Office. That point must be stressed and we want to bring it very much to the Minister's attention, so that this aspect can be reversed. It is something which is long overdue and we will [2164] continue to raise it until such time as the matter is brought into line with conditions in other sectors of employment.

In regard to standard time the Minister and his officials should have a word with the Minister for Justice who is currently seeking submissions in regard to the operation of standard time. Postal staffs are very unhappy about the current situation. I do not know if Deputies would relish the prospect of delivering post between six a.m. and ten a.m. in winter. This has had quite an effect on the efficiency of postal deliveries and the matter should be the subject of consultations between the Minister and staff unions. I have no doubt that this is a good reason for reverting to old time. Another complaint made to me from time to time by postal staffs is in regard to the lack of uniformity and standardisation in such a simple thing as letter boxes. Thousands and thousands of letters are delivered each day and there is a serious nuisance value, and at times one would say a danger value, caused by the appalling designs of letter boxes in the doors of the houses of the nation. There should be consultations between the Minister, the Department of Local Government and other bodies concerned to ensure that at least there will be a standard size for letter boxes. This could be of considerable benefit to the delivery staffs. Another small difficulty is in relation to the extraordinary confusion that arises in major urban areas through bad addressing and bad road names given by or sanctioned by local authorities. For example, I live in Taney Avenue in the Blackrock postal district and around me there is Taney Road, Taney Crescent, Taney Drive, Taney Grove, Taney Lawn, Taney Rise and Taney Park. I wish that some of the mandarins in the local authorities who sanction road names would consult the Post Office staffs because anybody using the abbreviations “Dr.” for drive and “Cr.” for crescent and so on, can cause confusion and such letters have to be treated with great care so that they will not go astray.

In regard to the new telephone directory I welcome the improvements [2165] contained in it but in the interests of the taxpayer I would ask the Minister to ensure that the directory will be given a somewhat better cover. It is frustrating to find that after a few days in a kiosk the cover of the directory has been torn off and the same applies after a few months in one's own home. The directories would be better protected if they had not got such a substandard quality cover. The cost would not be so great and it would be a further improvement. One question mark which remains in my mind is in regard to the role of the “Golden Pages” and the contractual arrangements relating to that directory. This matter has never been elaborated on sufficiently by the Minister and I would ask him to let us know the basis on which the system operates, the general contractual arrangements and so forth. As I say, I have never had this explained adequately when I inquired about it.

I welcome very much the announcement that special postage stamps will be issued to commemorate the centenaries of the births of Synge and Jack B. Yeats and also to mark the international year for action to combat racism and racial discrimination. These stamps will be welcomed by the public generally but in regard to the stamp to be issued in 1972-73 to commemorate those who died in the civil war perhaps the Minister would let us have more information about this. I should like to know more about the Government's intention in this regard. I am not at all certain that it is best to commemorate a civil war in the country by issuing a postage stamp. This matter also raises a question in my mind and perhaps the Minister will have another look at the matter.

There is general public concern in regard to the telephone services. At the moment the waiting list is getting longer and the frustration and difficulty caused to applicants for telephones is a matter of serious concern. I know that the number of connections is increasing but we are getting into a difficult situation in this matter, largely due to the lack of capital in the Department. I understand that at the end of 1969 there was a waiting list of 11,000, which number has now increased [2166] to 14,000 persons. The Minister will have to make a special effort to come to grips with the large backlog and in this regard the amount of capital is not adequate.

The percentage return on capital for 1969-70 was almost 9 per cent, which is the highest since 1960. The Minister has stated that he cannot do very much about the telephone service because the amount of capital available for the coming year has not yet been settled and it will be a major factor in determining the extent to which it will be possible to implement schemes for improvement and expansion of the service. There is an urgent need for the State to invest substantially more capital. This would help the Post Office engineering staffs who work under great pressure and who consider that the shortage of capital in this sphere should be met by the Government.

In a report issued by the Confederation of Irish Industry, a copy of which I received today, there is some criticism regarding the telephone and telex services. The report states that modern industry, particularly if it is located outside the main centres, depends to a critical extent on efficient telephone and telex services. The report states that it is not an exaggeration to say that the efficiency of these services can, in some cases, determine not merely whether a particular new industry is efficient but even whether it survives. It is considered that nothing depresses and frustrates industrialists in underdeveloped areas more than constantly battling with an inadequate telephone service to maintain critical links with customers, with suppliers and with associated companies. The report states that the CII are conscious that this is a major problem.

I have not had any consultations with the Post Office engineering unions — I merely throw out the suggestion for discussion in the House — that there arises the need to establish a State-sponsored body, similar to the ESB, to cope with the telephone service. Such a corporation would have the freedom and authority to raise the necessary capital for the growing telephone, telex and telecommunications system throughout the country. The Labour Party are adamant that the telephone, telex and [2167] the general technology of our communications system must remain under State control. Whether it should be under formal departmental control could be the subject of considerable discussion. I am conscious that the Devlin Report did not accede to the recommendation that such a corporation should be set up. Therefore, I am speaking in a tentative manner on this point, but the suggestion is worthy of serious examination and consultation on an open basis with the trade unions involved. Perhaps we might then have a telephone, telex and telecommunications State-sponsored body that would make a major contribution to the public services and to industry.

In regard to the telex services, it is a matter of pride and congratulation to the Department that the number of subscribers rose from 503 at the end of 1967 to 869 at the end of 1969 and to 1,090 at the end of 1970—representing an increase of more than 115 per cent in three years. This is a remarkable growth and is a major development in this country. The service is to be welcomed as an added ingredient in the industrial infrastructure of the country.

I am rather disappointed that the public telephone kiosk seems to be the poor relation in the service. In view of the very many new housing estates and the tremendous growth in the number of shopping centres throughout the country there is a need for a much better service in this regard. The area of South County Dublin and Dún Laoghaire, which I represent, is not very well served in this regard, although I admit there is a high density of private telephones. It is fair to say that adequate provision has not been made for public telephone kiosks throughout the country. In 1968 approximately 73 kiosks were provided; in 1969 some 83 were provided; in 1969-70 the number was 106 and from 1st April, 1970 to 31st December some 99 kiosks were provided. There has been the same growth rate, with no expansion in the number of kiosks provided.

While we all deplore and resent the fact that there is such a high incidence [2168] of vandalism in regard to telephone kiosks, the design of the old kiosks was an open invitation for destruction. I do not understand why carpenters persist in putting breakable glass in telephone kiosks as more effective non-breakable material can be used, but I think that there should be considerable improvement in this regard in the kiosks now being constructed.

I should like to see an improvement in relation to the uniforms available to postal staff. I accept there has been a very big improvement on the old postal uniform, but there are still complaints about quality and fittings. The quality and the standard of postal uniforms for outdoor staff could be improved. Certainly the current uniform is very much better than the previous one, but more imagination could be used in regard to colour and design.

There is one aspect of industrial relations to which I should like to refer and I do so only in passing, the relations between the Department of Posts and Telegraphs and the trade unions representing the various grades in the postal service. It has been alleged—I think very unfairly and by some of the less constructive elements either within or outside the postal service, particularly outside—that, where public servants from the postal staffs are seconded, under the conciliation and arbitration procedures, from the services to the trade union to act in staff negotiations, they do not have the freedom of action which they might have if they were not civil servants.

This issue has been raised from time to time. I have an open mind on it. Again, I am talking personally, but some consideration might be given by the Government to the insistence under the conciliation and arbitration system, that the negotiating officers in the postal union should at all times be civil servants who are seconded to the postal union to act in that capacity. I would not think the independence of these officers is in any way prejudiced but this insistence on the Government's side can give rise to unfair allegations against such officers and can act to the detriment of the relations between them and their fellow members of the general body. If the Government were [2169] to abandon the insistence on such a rigid formal relationship under the conciliation and arbitration system, then some of the highly selective, half-truth propaganda which has been aimed at these officers would not carry conviction.

I want to congratulate the staff of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs on the excellent manner in which they dealt with the extra work which was thrown on the Department during the bank dispute. That brings me to the suggestion that there should be a double-barrelled banking system. I see no reason why the Post Office, through the Savings Bank and so on, should not act as a second banking system. This would lead to healthy competition. The turnover of the Post Office is something like £350 million. If its banking service were expanded it would be an added source of revenue for the Department and would alleviate some of the major disruptions which can occur through industrial disputes in the banks. The Minister missed out on the introduction of the Giro system, but this suggestion in regard to banking is one which should be given serious consideration.

I should like to know from the Minister what is the extent of the loss as a result of the strike in the British Post Office. There certainly has been a considerable drop in the postal service in the Republic. There seems to be a widespread impression at the international level that there is a postal strike in the Republic of Ireland also. Only today an irate constituent complained to me that her brother was endeavouring to send her a telegram from Australia but they refused to accept it on the grounds that there was a postal strike in Ireland. A number of American relatives of people here have also said they were advised by the postal authorities not to send parcels here because of a postal strike. I was wondering what information the Minister has on this matter. I do not propose to comment on the British strike. It is outside our province, and anyway at such a delicate stage it would be quite improper to comment on it.

I am surprised the Minister did not elaborate in his speech on the general [2170] review of radio and television to which he suggested he was giving consideration last week when he spoke on the other Bill which is before the Scanad. He said that it is now 11 years since the Broadcasting Authority Act of 1960 established an independent authority to control these activities.

I think we can take it from the Minister's speech today that any legislation that may be in very tentative outline form, has not gone to the Cabinet. It does not seem to have reached the full light of day within the Department. Before any such legislation, or any such legislative review, is developed by the Minister, there should be the fullest consultation between him, and the RTE authority, and the trade union groups who, after all, have a basic right to be consulted on any revision of the Broadcasting Act, 1960, since they represent the staff of RTE. Revisions can make a service much better, but they can also make it much worse. We must approach them on that open basis.

Whatever the outcome of the review intended by the Government is—and it seems to be now in its embryonic stage and this is the point of time at which one should make one's views known—I would hope that it would not interfere in any way with the relatively independent status of the radio and television services. The growth and expansion of the radio and television services have contributed largely to the emergence and development of a more open society. The growing independence of the authority and the opening out of those services which started in the 1950s, and developed further in the 1960s, I would hope, will not be hamstrung in any way in the 1970s. I would be extremely opposed to any greater measure of political influence or control over the activities of the RTE authority than exists in the 1960 Act.

It is the job of the Government to provide the public funds to enable the radio and television station to operate effectively. I deplore the fact that we have allowed a situation to develop in which the RTE authority depends on advertising receipts for £6 out of every £10 of income. That is an extremely undesirable situation. It is extremely [2171] undesirable that we should have allowed a situation to develop in which the RTE Authority depends on advertising for 60 per cent of its revenue. That is quite disproportionate and quite unhealthy, apart from the daily jingle-jangle of advertisements, more appropriately called advertising interruptions in programmes, many of which are poor enough without the insertion of advertisements.

The people of the country must recognise the financial problems with which the RTE Authority is faced. The RTE Authority, on one front alone at the moment, seems to suffer a loss of revenue of something like £200,000 a year because of unrenewed licences. This is important. We have been informed by the Department in the information given to us, that unrenewed licences at 31st March, 1970, totalled 39,500. I suppose if one deducted 9,000 as being unrenewed for legitimate reasons, there would be something like 30,000 television spongers in the country. That is a very high figure at £6 ago. RTE could do with that £200,000 revenue.

Harsh as this may seem, I would agree with the Minister that there is a need to introduce a Bill providing for the compulsory registration of purchases and hirings of radio and television sets, to facilitate the detection of licence fee evaders and providing also for heavier fines for the possession of unlicensed sets. That is fair enough. Unfortunately, it seems that there is a substantial degree of evasion as distinct from normal forgetfulness which can happen to any of us. This is a serious matter which the Minister should tackle urgently.

There seems to be an assumption that RTE, and the service provided by the Authority, must automatically be on a break-even basis. No such assumption applies to many other public services. By and large we are getting a pretty good service for the grant-in-aid which is paid to RTE. This year we are giving a grant-in-aid of £2½ million. That is not a massive outgoing of public money into such an essential service in the communications system.

It must also be pointed out that the [2172] Authority has assets worth somewhere in the region of £5 million. This again is State investment. I do not think that the expenditure to date by the Authority has been unduly extravagant. I do not think the grant-in-aid, or the capital expenditure, has been excessive. Nevertheless, we must accept that one other problem arises in relation to the Authority's financing, namely, the loss of £300,000 with the phasing out of cigarette advertising on television from 1st April. This is a substantial loss but I have no doubt that the taxpayer will not resent having to meet that cost. I believe that cigarette advertising on television should be phased out and I am glad that this is being done. Some of the more obnoxious type of advertising could also be phased out without causing any undue public alarm.

No matter what view one takes of the Authority's financing, one comes back to the fact that, in the past financial year, the Authority depended on advertising for 60 per cent of its total income. I feel that the percentage of time given to advertising, namely, 10 per cent of broadcasting time, should be reduced. If it were reduced to 5 per cent, this would be a welcome break, because interruptions of programmes by commercial advertisements are extremely irritating. Faced with repetitive advertisements, I believe that if the Irish people had the choice they would be in favour of reducing the time given to advertisements even if that meant a small increase in the licence fee from its present level of £6. This should be done by the Minister and he should consult with the RTE Authority as a matter of urgency to have this reduced. There is nothing more destructive than the constant repetition of television advertising in the homes of this country, creating in many respects consumer expectation which does not in any way elevate Irish life. Those who want to find out what is available for purchase have no difficulty in doing so without television advertising. They are bombarded with newspaper advertisements and pamphlets are delivered to householders. Advertising should not be further developed.

I am rather confused about one [2173] point made by the Minister today. It would appear that the RTE Authority have a sum of £1 million yet to be drawn under the Broadcasting Act for capital purposes. It would appear that there is some confusion of purpose between the Minister, the Department and RTE regarding the expenditure of that money. This matter could be clarified by the Minister when he is replying.

We should welcome the statement by the Minister that the Government will provide, under the general supervision, jurisdiction and operation of the RTE Authority, a Gaeltacht radio service. I was extremely worried in recent months that this would be done by somebody other than the RTE Authority. If I read the Minister's statement correctly RTE are preparing plans for the necessary capital works. I presume, when those works are completed at an estimated cost of £250,000, that the service will then be operated by the RTE staff and the authority. Gaeltacht services are always the subject of bad rumours. There have been so many rumours about who is to provide the Gaeltacht radio service that the Minister's reassurance here is very welcome.

This brings us to the question of an expanded radio service and to the problem of commercial radio and television in operation in this country. I have no doubt that in a short space of time, certainly by the mid 1970s, we shall see very strenuous efforts made on the part of either British or Irish commercial radio and television interests to have set up in the Republic either a second channel television service or local commercial radio stations. Certainly, as the Minister is aware, pressures in Britain have been very intense and have been given tremendous impetus by the very perverse anti-BBC attitude of most of the Tory Party spokesmen in that regard. We must remember that the Conservative Government in England said if they were returned after the last election they would set up 100 commercial radio stations on a local basis in Britain. There is considerable danger that we in this country could be contaminated by this sort of development with all the overtones of commercial advertising. There is no shortage in this country of “get rich quick” merchants [2174] who would provide the money or who would advocate this form of development in the hope of making a great profit.

Lord Hobson in Fleet Street very popularly described commercial television and commercial radio as being nothing more than a licence to print money. That is exactly what it is if one yields to the pressures in that regard. If this bonanza of commercial broadcasting were permitted by the Government, the Department and the RTE Authority, it would be a most undesirable development. I would favour, and I am sure the Minister would also if he had money available, experimental local radio stations under the RTE Authority. We are going to have such a station in the Gaeltacht. This is appropriate although I would like to see that station having bilingual programmes with a preponderance of programmes in Irish.

I have found from speaking to Irish emigrants working in England, to people generally and to spokesmen of the Labour Party there, that local radio stations such as Radio Leeds, Radio Sheffield, Radio Leicester have been very successful. These stations have given a sense of identity to the local community. I would envisage the setting up of a Radio Cork and of stations for urban Dublin and Athlone. We could certainly set up local radio stations for each of those places on an experimental basis. We are a small nation and I do not believe we would need more than three or four such local radio stations. They could be a valuable means of communication. We talk a great deal of pious nonsense in this House—with due respect to the Taoiseach, some of it has come from him in recent years—about opening up society and developing a more participatory style of Irish life. If we want people to participate we must provide the means of communication. A local letters newspaper column is not adequate for this purpose. If we want to bring on local Dáil Deputies in their own areas explaining why they do—God knows what some of them would say if they got on to local radio stations— this, that or the other, if we want to provide a forum for local organisations, [2175] for community development associations, for the co-operative movement at local level, for farmers to discuss their problems at local level, above all if we want to provide a local means of education which would be a very valuable adjunct to the education system of the country such local radio or television stations would be extremely useful. We hear a great deal these days of how remote Parliament and the Government are from the ordinary citizen. Local radio stations and one or two local television stations under the RTE Authority could change this. They could be of major assistance to county councils, to Dáil Deputies, co-operatives, housewives' associations and the Church itself, which has failed in many respects to avail effectively of the new style of communication. I do not believe the financing would be unduly prohibitive or that it would require massive bureaucracy to develop such a system. Even the local provincial press would be forced to sharpen their presentation of news, views and attitudes. It would create an element of direct, internal competition at local level. It would also be a tremendous training ground for RTE staffs.

We are fortunate in having in the RTE service at present an extremely capable Director General appointed by the Government probably in consultation with the Authority, or possibly not. It is a matter of consolation and of pride that the current Director General of RTE is by generally objective standards of judgment of directors general of broadcasting services in Europe one of the most coherent, articulate and independent persons we could have in charge of the service. There is always a kind of feeling—indeed it is evident in some of the attitudes expressed in publications relating to RTE in recent years—that directors general who happened to have an engineering background would be rather insensitive to and unaware of the cultural and industrial relations work and objectives of such a service. This has been quite unfounded. From my very limited knowledge of the work of the Authority and the role of the Director General I feel we are very [2176] fortunate. This can certainly be said in relation to the “Seven Days” Tribunal. The Director General of RTE, to his personal credit, stood up very strongly to the attempted very nasty browbeating of the former Minister for Justice Mícheál Ó Moráin, prior to the setting up of the Tribunal of Inquiry into the “Seven Days” programme.

Mr. P. Belton: The Taoiseach also said it was a lot of nonsense.

Mr. Desmond: I shall come to the Taoiseach later on. He must be censured too in relation to that unfortunate development. Certainly when the initial hysteria developed, and I share the Minister's view that we should not generate heat on this and I do not in any way hold the present Minister responsible for what happened, there was a rather vicious piece of public browbeating attempted. It is to the credit of the Director General and the other members of the authority who supported him that they resisted any effort by Dáil Éireann to do a kind of father figure takeover almost overnight. This should be placed on record.

We should also place on record our support for and approval of the very limited RTE facilities provided within Leinster House, the video tape facilities which are provided for national transmission. The RTE studio here is completely inadequate—one small room— for effective transmission of national affairs through RTE. Even though there are stringent financial times ahead of RTE and indeed of the nation, better facilities should be provided. I shall never forget the time the Tánaiste appeared on television with the Minister for Development of Northern Ireland, Mr. Faulkner, at the height of the Northern Ireland crisis. Because of the completely inadequate television facilities in this House, we saw the Tánaiste transfixed like a rabbit—he could not be otherwise with a hearing aid in his ear—frantically trying to hear what Mr. Faulkner was saying in a plush studio in Northern Ireland with every facility laid on and with complete contact. There was the Irish Deputy Prime Minister trying to reply to various points raised and he came across in an appalling manner simply because [2177] the technical facilities in this House were quite disgraceful. This kind of thing should be substantially improved.

Every Member of the House appreciates the difficult job facing the staff of RTE. Two members of RTE staff are currently transmitting the proceedings of this House on television and other members have work to do in the House. I do not know to what extent other Parliaments have used limited audio-video tape recordings of parliamentary proceedings but much more imagination should be displayed in the presentation of the proceedings of this House.

There is no reason why discussions between the political parties and the RTE Authority should not take place. I do not think there would be any great difficulty, but I make one proviso: that the political parties are sufficiently mature to face up to this communications problem and do not approach it on a purely party political basis. There is nothing more uninspiring than having to listen to a sober, honest faced broadcaster giving an account of what might have been a very exhilarating debate. It would be much more interesting if the staff had film excerpts and recordings of what was said. This was certainly proved dramatically during last weekend when we were able to see and hear the happenings at a political party meeting. While no one would want the nation to have to suffer that sort of thing every weekend, ability to see what actually happened has far greater impact than a secondhand account would have. If television were introduced in this House there probably would be an outbreak of foot and mouth disease among Deputies trying to get on television.

There could be much better agreement between the parties on effective coverage of political affairs on television. Unless this is done one of the most obsolete places in terms of communication will be this Chamber. One can indulge in popular agitation and get automatic coverage but if the Dáil is not effectively reported I do not think it will survive in the long term. In that regard I should like to pay a tribute to the staff of RTE for the work they have done.

The senior executive staff of RTE [2178] have been trying for the past two years to get agreement between the political parties on the question of party political broadcasts. Many political broadcasts held in the past were dreadful, largely because those nominated by their party to appear on them had not the slightest idea how to use the radio and television media. From the outset of these negotiations the Government have been adamant about having the preponderance of political broadcasts and the Labour Party have been unable to agree with the proposals made. The suggestion was that the Labour Party should have one out of every four broadcasts and if there was to be a group broadcast there should be six representatives from Fianna Fáil, four from Fine Gael and one from the Labour Party. Personally I would welcome that kind of arrangement because if one is the sole representative of a party one can usually make hay out of the situation. I do not think serious political broadcasts can take place with people all shouting at one another in front of a couple of television cameras.

RTE is willing to provide a service for the broadcasting of party political discussions, but I make the plea that the three political parties involved should resume their discussions and reach agreement about this. Even though the nation may have to suffer some political broadcasts the system should be in operation as a matter of public service and parliamentary democracy will suffer unless this is done.

I am pleased to note there is a growing audience for public affairs programmes. I am also very pleased to note that more people are looking at the programmes dealing with the Irish language. This is something which should be welcomed. In this regard the RTE Authority is living up to section 17 of the Broadcasting Act which points out its responsibilities for national culture and national identity. When one looks at the programmes broadcast by RTE one is aware of a poverty of programme ideals and values. The programmes which gained the highest TAM ratings issued a couple of days ago in the national press can hardly be said to reflect Irish [2179] Gaelic culture and the Irish way of life. In many respects these have become meaningless clichés in the context of RTE programmes. A great deal of the riches of history, Irish heritage, culture and traditional music is not portrayed by RTE. The poverty of many of the programmes of a light popular nature is rather sad. This can hardly be said to have raised the cultural standards of the programmes. This brings us back again to the impact of advertising.

An advertiser who wants his product to have an impact will try to have it put on at the time of the “Late Late Show”. Every man and women in Ireland holds views on this particular programme, and I do not want to comment on it. A great deal of what appears on RTE does not live up to the conception that we are supposed to have in this country of a national television station reflecting a unique and distinctive Irish way of life. We have Anglo-Irish and Anglo-American canned programmes purchased at relatively cheap prices and these are interspersed with a few decent programmes. Were it not for the new programmes, the sports programmes provided by RTE, and the good current affairs programmes, there would be no justification in keeping the RTE station open at all. We can get all the canned programmes from the BBC. If one wants to look at “The Virginian” or at “Hawaii Five-O” or “Oh, Brother” one does not have to have a national television service provided for that type of viewing.

Mr. P. Belton: The BBC have it on one week and another station the following week.

Mr. Desmond: The power of transmission is growing every year. Many people can look at BBC 1, and at UTV, and shortly programmes will be in colour, and there should be a reassessment by the Minister of this particular development.

There are a few other points to which I wish to refer. I have been perturbed by one particular programme in relation to Northern Ireland. Television [2180] brought the situation in Northern Ireland, the people of Northern Ireland and the political undertones of that area into our homes and we saw our fellow-Irishmen suffering there during the past two years. Tremendous work was done by the news staff of RTE. Public affairs programmes which came on during that period made a signal contribution to the effective understanding by the people in the Republic of the basic issues involved. We saw a great deal of violence on television at the period. There was a recent programme on RTE which took a rather unusual form. It showed the silhouettes of IRA men of both sides—allegedly provisional and official IRA men. Both of them gave their version of the violence and their attitudes. The cameras zoomed in on automatic rifles and machine guns and showed revolvers and ammunition. The greatest care should be taken with such a programme. Great care should be taken before such techniques are used. Radio can be much better at conveying the actual situation. The House can pay tribute to those who under tremendously cramped and limited facilities on the radio side of Telefís Éireann produce afternoon programmes of extreme competence over a wide-ranging field of great interest. The work of the small radio section of RTE is done with the greatest of professional expertise and they can be very proud of it. Tribute should be paid to the staff in this regard.

Finally, I wish to come now to “Seven Days”. The Minister's comments here, with due respect, were rather selective in dealing with the “Seven Days” report. It should be said at the outset that there should never have been a tribunal of inquiry into this particular programme. That particular point should be established. This is now generally accepted by all sides of the House. It can be said in retrospect that by no stretch of the imagination did a television programme of this nature warrant what can only go down in history as one of the greatest fiascos in Dáil Éireann and particularly the 19th Dáil. The setting up of that tribunal gave a clear insight into the extent to which the Taoiseach had, for all practical purposes, [2181] lost control over his Cabinet, particularly over the former Minister for Justice, Deputy Ó Moráin. One should be charitable but it can be said that the then Minister for Justice showed an extreme dislike of television and of television staff and of those who were in RTE at that time.

Mr. P. Belton: It was a very bad thing.

Mr. Desmond: This in no way excuses the fact that the Taoiseach moved the motion in this House——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy must appreciate that the inquiry was an action of the House. The Deputy is criticising an action of the House.

Mr. Desmond: As we are entitled to discuss the report of the tribunal, I think that, perhaps, in retrospect we should point out that the report of the tribunal appointed by the Taoiseach on the 22nd December, 1969——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy must appreciate that the House appointed the tribunal.

Mr. Desmond: The fact that this House set up such a tribunal is something to its everlasting discredit.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy may not criticise an action of the House.

Mr. Desmond: The Members of this House have been profoundly embarrassed to have received this particular report. It can be said that even the Taoiseach has said to the staff of RTE that the tribunal should never have been set up. The House was browbeaten into setting up this tribunal. I do not accept the Minister's statement that the tribunal carried out their onerous task with thoroughness, painstaking care and objectivity. It can be said that so painstaking were some of the members of that tribunal in their inquiry that, on occasion, they were downright offensive to those whom they brought before them to give evidence. I refer particularly to one member.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy [2182] may not criticise members of the tribunal in this way.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.