Dáil Éireann - Volume 252 - 09 March, 1971

Committee on Finance. - Vote 42: Posts and Telegraphs (Resumed).

Debate resumed on the following motion :

That a supplementary sum not [498] 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.

—(Minister for Posts and Telegraphs.)

Dr. FitzGerald: I wish to speak about the “Seven Days” Inquiry as this is the first appropriate opportunity we have had to speak on this subject. Now that we have an opportunity to consider the matter in tranquillity, we should try to sum up what we have learned from this inquiry and whether it was, in fact, an appropriate exercise at all.

I submit that the inquiry was an inappropriate exercise having regard to the form it took, the terms of reference and the manner in which it was handled. It was based on the assumption that it is the duty of journalists in presenting programmes, articles or features to apply to their preparatory work the same standards and criteria that would be applied in the presentation of a case in court and the action in referring this to the tribunal to judge whether the allegations were justified inevitably tended towards that result. On this side of the House we endeavoured to mitigate the damage that quite evidently would be done to the whole concept of freedom of speech by introducing into the terms of reference an added criterion to be considered by the judges. However, we were conscious that that alone would be insufficient to undo the damage done by the basic approach involved.

That there should have been some inquiry into the conflict between the Minister and RTE was evident. However, the terms of reference were not drawn up as they should have been, to establish whether the Minister's allegations were true. The onus of proof should be on the person who made the allegation against a reputable, responsible State body. Instead, the Government shifted the onus of proof on to RTE—that everything in the programme was correct, factual and [499] provable in a court of law. Such a shift in the onus of proof was indefensible and extremely dangerous. One can only hope that this has now become sufficiently evident to ensure that something of the kind will not recur. It is important that we discuss this matter here in as detached a manner as possible and make sure that in exploring it on this basis we guard against a repetition of what happened.

It is vital that the media—the press, radio and television—should be free within the limits properly imposed by the laws of libel to expose any social evils in our community, any inequities or injustices perpetrated by any individual or public authority. In carrying out this function it is vital that the free press, upon which depends live democracy, should be subject only to the laws of libel. In Ireland and Britain the laws of libel are extremely stringent —much more so than in continental countries or in the United States. I am not aware that there is any pressure to make them more stringent. On the contrary, I am aware that a good case has been made to mitigate the stringency of these laws to some degree because there is a danger that in their present form they may unduly inhibit the communications media.

So long as the law of libel stands it will safeguard the rights of the individual. If there is any abuse in this matter there is a remedy. In practice, when juries consider an individual has been done an injustice by a newspaper or other medium of communication, and if there is evidence of this injustice, they tend to be pretty tough with the organisation concerned. The jury will tend to err on the side of the individual against the institution. It is a human reaction and a sound one. This ensures that the necessary safeguards exist for the individual who considers he has been done an injustice.

However, to try to impose any further requirements on the press, radio or television with regard to the publication of material which criticises any private or public interests for possible abuses is to act against the interests of democracy, freedom and justice. Any pressure of this kind is, of its nature, anti-social if it goes beyond [500] the provisions of the law. Nothing could be more calculated to prevent justice being done and to undermine democracy than to place the onus of legal proof on the media because this would inhibit disastrously the journalists concerned.

In this case the onus of proof was shifted on to RTE and judges in the High Court were asked a question they should not have been asked: whether every statement in this programme was factually correct and fully justified and whether the fullest care was taken in everything that was said. They were asked this despite the fact that, had there been any abuse of power by the medium, any person who suffered by this abuse could take action. One person did this and we know the consequences of that case—we know who won. The judges were asked to apply their legal minds to the question of whether RTE had proved, or could prove their case in a court of law, or had prepared themselves to prove it before the programme was put on.

There would be no journalism of any consequence in any country where this principle was applied—where nothing could be printed in a newspaper that could not be proved in court. I am surprised that the totalitarian regimes in countries such as Greece and Russia have not thought up this technique which would practically obviate the need for censorship. It would provide such countries with an easy legal way to protect themselves against any criticism. It took our Government to provide this ingenious way of undermining freedom of speech. I suspect that the Government did not set out to do this but that it arose out of the action of one member of the Government which other members considered they had to stand over. I suspect other members of the Government were unsympathetic to what was done but they have done damage by their solidarity with the man who acted improperly in the attack he made. The Government did wrong in the way they sought to cover that, by drawing up the terms of reference so that any failure to prove a point on the part of RTE would be shown to be a defect, the subject of criticism by the inquiry. In doing that [501] the Government did a disservice to freedom of speech.

I want to sum up the conclusions of this inquiry. I want to list the main things that seem to me to have emerged positively from it. First of all, the inquiry report says that in making the programme RTE were activated by a desire to draw public attention to what they genuinely considered to be a serious social problem. They did not act mala fide. They believed there was a social problem and in making this programme what activated them was a desire to draw public attention to what they considered to be a serious social problem. They acted in good faith.

Secondly, the tribunal held that the decision to make the programme was justified, that they were right in making such a programme. Not only did they act in good faith, believing there was a social evil to be exposed but their judgement was correct in that such a programme needed to be made and they were justified in making it.

Thirdly, they said the programme was authentic in that illegal moneylending does exist and is a problem of serious proportions in certain areas. That is a very important conclusion indeed.

Fourthly, they said that—these are matters of detail but they are all important details—where moneylending does exist the rates of interest are excessive and that the programme was correct in saying this.

Fifthly, they concluded that children's allowance books are commonly taken as security for loans, as alleged in the programme.

Dr. O'Donovan: Indeed they are.

Dr. FitzGerald: Sixthly, that repayments are secured by taking advantage of the fear of borrowers. They went on to say that it was not, as far as they could establish, a fear of violence but a fear of exposure to friends and relatives.

The last point which I think is relevant and which the tribunal held in their conclusions—this is vitally important from the point of view of establishing [502] that there was a social evil to be tackled and that the programme had beneficial effects—is that before the programme the gardaí had not considered that illegal moneylending was a police problem, whereas as a result of investigations by gardaí which were occasioned by the programme, it was disclosed to them that moneylending is prevalent in the centre city area and that a number of unlicensed moneylenders carry on business in other areas outside the city centre.

The summing up, therefore, of the tribunal was in these words—and everything I have said so far is a verbatim quotation from the tribunal's report:

To this extent, and because the public have been made aware of the problem, the results of the programme have been beneficial.

By any standards it would be difficult to find higher praise for a journalistic exercise. It sounds to me the kind of terms in which a Pulitzer award might be made and indeed I think many Pulitzer awards have been given for lesser things than this. There could not be higher praise of a journalistic exercise.

That was not all the tribunal did. I do not want to give merely one side and be selective. They went on to make criticisms but these criticisms are ones which it seems to me should not have been made, not that the tribunal were in error because they were in fact acting in accordance with their terms of reference but that the criticisms they made were ones they should not have been put into the position to make.

An Ceann Comhairle: I should like to point out to the Deputy that the decisions arrived at by the members of the tribunal are not open for discussion or criticism in the House.

Dr. FitzGerald: I am sorry, a Cheann Comhairle, you must not, perhaps, have taken my point. I am saying that they were entirely justified, given the terms of reference, in going on to do what they did but that the terms of reference should not have been given to them and they should not have been put in the position of having to reach conclusions on these points. I think that [503] is entirely proper and I am most emphatic about that. I do not impute to the tribunal in any of its conclusions that they went beyond the terms of reference or that the conclusions were not justified by the terms of reference. What I am concerned about is that the terms of reference led the tribunal into an area into which they should not have been led by politicians presenting them with those terms of reference. I make no criticism whatever of the tribunal.

An Ceann Comhairle: It is not open to criticism, Deputy, as I have already pointed out. I want to make it perfectly clear that the decisions they arrived at cannot be discussed here.

Dr. FitzGerald: We are in total agreement on this. I want to go on to mention the criticisms they made. The criticisms they made referred to exaggerations in the programme and statements that were not proved. These were the criticisms and I accept that if the tribunal reached that conclusion that must be factually the case. It does not surprise me. It would be surprising if in a journalistic exercise of this kind the case was presented as it would be by senior counsel in the High Court or indeed by the Attorney General prosecuting in the High Court or the Criminal Court with every statement proved and documented to the hilt by direct evidence on oath. Any idea that journalism is carried on in that way or could be carried on in that way is obviously fundamentally erroneous and while the criticisms may be justified in the sense that they may be factually correct they are entirely improper in that the tribunal was asked to advert to the question of whether there were exaggerations or statements that were not proved which is something they should not be asked to advert to in any journalistic exercise.

Of course if in respect of any of the other matters to which I have referred they had found the programme to be defective—if they had found the programme was activated by bad faith; if they had found that the decision was unjustified to make the programme; if they had found that the programme [504] was not authentic; if they had found that the basic facts put forward about excessive interest rates, use of children's allowance books, and fear being used to secure repayments were not correct and that the whole problem was being adequately handled by the gardaí—if on all these issues which are fundamental or indeed on any significant number of them the programme had been found defective then I think legitimate criticism could be made. However, the criticisms in the report are confined to criticisms that having done all these things which it was proper to do there were things in the programme which were exaggerated and statements made that were not proved. “Not proved”, mind you, not necessarily not correct, but “not proved”. To have put a tribunal into the position of having to reach a conclusion on that issue was entirely improper and no journalist should be put into the position that unless he can prove his statements in a court of law he will be sent up before three judges of the High Court and found guilty on that issue even though the exercise is justified, authentic and done in good faith and establishes all the key facts as correct.

I can only hope that the effect of this exercise will be nil and that there will be sufficient realisation of how inappropriate and improper it was that journalists will feel that it is not something that will ever happen again. It is our job in this House to try to get this across, to try to ensure that no residual fears remain among journalists on newspapers, in television or radio that if in the future they write an article or put forward a programme that contains something that cannot be proved in a court of law they will be hauled through the courts on this account. This is a complete reversal of the whole concept of free speech and involves a misconception of the whole purpose of the law of libel which is designed to cover this. What we have to do is to try to get across that this was a once and for all aberration undertaken by a Government in a misplaced effort of solidarity with a Minister who had behaved improperly and who subsequently and for other reasons left the Cabinet and that there [505] is no likelihood of this happening again; that it is not to be taken as a precedent and that they must feel free to continue to do their work without fear or favour and must not in any circumstances be intimidated by what happened here into not doing their job in the future.

That is the message that should go out from this House and from this debate and I hope it will. I have sufficient confidence in the journalists of this country to believe that that is the message they will take from this tribunal and from this debate. Indeed, I have seen nothing since the tribunal to suggest that Irish journalism has become more mealy-mouthed or unwilling to do its job of exposing incompetence or injustice in the public or private sector because this inquiry was undertaken. It is important that they should have the reassurance that public opinion, as expressed in this House, is on their side and that in any future exercise, even if they do make mistakes and cannot prove every statement they make, so long as they act in good faith and what they write is authentic and the main points they put forward can be shown to be true, they will have the support of public opinion against every attempt to muzzle them by requiring from them standards of proof such as are required in a court of law.

There are two other features of this exercise to which I wish to draw attention. One is connected with what I have said. It arises from statements made by the Minister for Justice at that time and by the Taoiseach in the Dáil as recorded in volume 242, No. 12 of the Official Report. I want to contrast the statements made by the Minister and the Taoiseach with the findings of the tribunal in this respect. It will be recalled that what the Minister and the Taoiseach said was not that there was exaggeration in the programme, not that there were statements which might not be proved, but they went far beyond that and challenged the authenticity of the programme which the tribunal found to be authentic, and authentic in that illegal moneylending does exist and is a problem of serious proportions. What the Minister said is [506] recorded at various points in this volume. At column 1859 the then Minister for Justice said:

“I certainly would not question RTE's right to present a work of fiction in order to expose some social evil. But this programme was not presented as fiction—it was presented as fact. The viewers were led to believe, and the great majority undoubtedly accepted, that what they saw on the screen was authentic, factual evidence of a widespread moneylending racket.”

At column 1861 the Minister said:

I suggest that, whatever one's views may be as to how far the people responsible were blameworthy in this way, it is unquestionable that, objectively speaking, the evidence was worthless.

The High Court found this evidence to be authentic, with exaggerations in some points and failure to prove other points, but authentic in the overall picture which was given. The Minister contradicted the very word “authentic “used by the tribunal. At column 1866 the Minister said:

For the reasons I have given, it is clear, beyond question, that the evidence presented in the programme was, as I have said, valueless.

Much the greater part of the evidence stood up to the examinations in the High Court and to the gruelling experience of many weeks of exposure to attack by senior counsel on one side or the other, each approaching it from a different angle. These are the kind of statements which were made. I do not attach too much importance to the statements of a Minister who left office shortly afterwards in circumstances known to us. I think the Minister was discredited subsequently. The statement of the Taoiseach at column 1873 concerns me more than the statements of Deputy Ó Moráin. I think this statement calls for an apology by the Taoiseach. The Taoiseach should be man enough to apologise for this statement made in the heat of the moment. We can all make mistakes in the heat of the moment, but when one says something which is unjust about a person and when the [507] remark is later shown to be unjust common decency calls for a withdrawal. The Taoiseach is a man with whom the quality of decency is associated by many people. The Taoiseach should withdraw what he said at column 1873. After some preliminary remarks he said:

All this controversy could have been avoided if RTE had said at the outset of this programme that the characters and scenes to be portrayed in it were fictitious; otherwise there is the danger that, in future programmes, no matter how laudable or commendable, no matter how much they are put forward in the public interest, they would cause a cry of “wolf, wolf”, in other words, that the credibility of any future RTE programme would be brought into question.

That sounds reasonable enough if, in fact, the programme was found to be fictitious. The programme was found to be authentic containing exaggerations and unproven statements but basically authentic. All the main theses in it were shown to be correct. In those circumstances the word “fictitious” is clearly inappropriate. Had the Taoiseach said that it was important in presenting a programme that it should carry conviction and that there should be no exaggeration and that anything in it should have been capable of proof that would have been a legitimate expression of view, but it would be putting the standard of proof too high. The imputation of fiction to the programme was something the Taoiseach was not entitled to make, and which, having been shown to be incorrect, he should withdraw. I should like to feel that the Taoiseach would withdraw the remark which was very hurtful to the people concerned in RTE who made the programme. The remark came from the Taoiseach whose view they would respect and be concerned about, which might not necessarily be so about something said by the Minister for Justice. It was hurtful to everyone, right up to the Director-General and the board of RTE. I should like to call on the Taoiseach to admit that he said more in the heat of the moment than [508] he should have said and that the view expressed there turned out to be incorrect.

I have at times been critical of the members of the RTE Authority. To be more precise, I have been critical of the membership of the Authority. In the Seanad, I can recall pointing out in debate on the Broad-casting Act the predominantly Fianna Fáil composition of the Authority. By Fianna Fáil I do not mean to say that they vote Fianna Fáil. People are entitled to vote any way they like. Many of the members had been positively and specifically identified in activities for promoting the Fianna Fáil Party at elections or in other ways. I went to some trouble not to impute to any of the members of the Authority any dishonesty or to infer that they permitted their political views to influence their decisions. RTE are independent. The board have not tried to interfere with programmes. I recall defending a chairman of the Authority in the Seanad, although his political views were different from mine. I was concerned that there was a board, the membership of which was obviously, and openly, allied to one political party —the governing party. Confidence in the board was likely to be undermined and this might lead to the belief that the Government party were exercising a wrong influence in RTE—a belief which I said was, and still believe to be, unfounded. The Government were wrong to have undermined public confidence in this board by giving it such membership. I think I was correct in that. It was, and is, a mistake.

I must say, in fairness, that in this particular affair this board, despite its composition which is so much biased in favour of the Government party, has stood up to the test of integrity imposed by this programme. The board stood behind their staff and did not let them down as politically some of them might have been tempted to. One thing which has emerged is that it is possible to get a board, although composed mostly of members of one party, which, nevertheless, when put to the test do not necessarily respond to a party Whip but can stand up to the kind of situation which faced them. [509] I must congratulate them on the stand they made. I think it would have been better if the composition of the Authority were seen to be more evenly balanced and not specifically political so that public confidence would be maintained. They have recovered public confidence which, perhaps, they had not got by the firm stand they made on this occasion. It is to their credit and to the discredit of the Government that the kind of conflict which arose should have arisen. It is an unhappy situation but some positive achievement has come out of it.

I come now to something less creditable to the Government which deserves to be challenged here. That is the action of the Minister in giving an assurance to a House of the Oireachtas as to how the tribunal would operate and the fact that, subsequently, that assurance was repudiated by the Government of which he was a Minister and that the Minister did not then resign. I know of no precedent for this in Parliamentary politics in other countries. There have been a number of unprecedented cases of ministerial misbehaviour in this House in the last year. This may not be the most outstanding or striking instance but I do not wish it to be overshadowed. Attention should be drawn to this point. I think I am entitled to quote from the record of the other House.

From Volume 67, column 723 I want to quote the speech of a Member of the Seanad, Senator Brugha, and the Minister's reply to him. Senator Brugha was speaking on this Bill to establish this tribunal. He said:

I welcome this because it will enable any of those who may have to give evidence to do so in private.

He went on to say:

It is well known that journalists from time to time must protect their sources of information and indeed that some journalists have elected to go to prison rather than disclose information given to them in confidence. This is something that I support and I presume that when this matter comes before the tribunal this principle will be upheld.

[510] Mr. B. Lenihan: It will be upheld.

I do not know of any more unambiguous statement than that particularly from a Minister who is given to a certain amount of ambiguity. Anybody, including Senator Brugha, could not have been in any doubt as to what was intended. There was no question of “It will be upheld if...” referring to something earlier on, because the sentence that precedes it is self-contained. The two sentences preceding it are self-contained. This particular issue is raised by Senator Brugha: “I presume that when this matter”—the question of not sending journalists to jail if they do not disclose information—“comes before the tribunal this principle will be upheld.” “It will be upheld” was the reply given.

I do not think any Government are entitled to repudiate that kind of assurance. Yet, when this matter came before the court this is in fact what happened. On 22nd January last year this matter came up in court and there was a long discussion on the subject. Mr. Justice Butler said to Miss Moody in respect of the name and rank of a Garda contact “I am afraid you will have to give it.” She had said: “I know his name; I will not give his name.” Mr. Justice Butler said: “I am afraid you will have to give it.” Mr. John A. Costello, SC for the “Seven Days” team, asked to be heard and questioned Miss Moody: Did she regard an undertaking not to reveal a source of information as having been given? Miss Moody replied “yes”. Mr. Costello said that an undertaking had been given in the Seanad by a Minister of the Government that sources of information would not be revealed during the inquiry. Mr. Justice Butler said that no such undertaking had been conveyed to the tribunal in its terms of reference. Mr. Costello read from the Seanad Report, as I have done.

Mr. Justice Butler went on to say:

As you know, there is no legal basis for that—

that is, for this principle of journalists' sources being protected.

What I am concerned with is [511] whether the Executive gave an undertaking. If they did give an undertaking which limits the powers of the tribunal such information was not conveyed to the tribunal.

Mr. Costello said:

I would say that the Minister gave that undertaking. The motion would not have been passed by the Seanad without that undertaking.

Mr. Justice Butler instructed Mr. Peter O'Malley, SC, for the Attorney General, to find out if an undertaking had been given and the tribunal then adjourned.

When the tribunal resumed the counsel had not been able to contact the Government, I think. There was some further discussion which went on quite a while. I shall not detain the House with details of it but, finally, the next morning, on Friday, 23rd January —I am quoting from the Irish Times of the following day in each case:

Mr. Niall McCarthy, SC, for the Attorney General said that he had now obtained instructions as to the attitude of the Executive. The Tribunal is established in pursuance of resolutions of both Houses of the Oireachtas. If it had been intended that the ordinary rules of evidence were not to apply in full, provisions to that effect would have been made in the terms of reference. Mr. Justice Butler asked: The Executive did not accept that an undertaking was given by the Minister for Transport and Power in the Seanad? And Mr. McCarthy said: “That would appear to be so.”

That was a disreputable and dishonourable action by the Executive or Government because the Minister who took this Bill in the Seanad gave an absolute undertaking not merely to the Opposition but to one of his own Senators who had, very properly, sought such an undertaking. It could not have been more explicit. There is no way in which you can say it referred to something else. It could not have referred to anything else and yet the Executive refused to stand over it.

How can we proceed in this House or the other House if an undertaking given by a member of the Government [512] in such explicit terms can be repudiated? Over the last year we have experienced an extraordinary deterioration in the standards of Parliamentary life in this respect. We are entitled to challenge this and entitled to say that until this situation is remedied, until there is some evidence of a change of heart on the part of the Government, some evidence of a sense of shame when undertakings are repudiated or the truth is not told to this House, we are not in a position to accept what comes from the other side of the House. And this is a matter which is a source of shame and concern to us all.

It has been the tradition of this Parliament, despite the deep differences which in earlier decades were very deep indeed arising out of the Civil War, but despite that, that people could accept what was said on the Government side of the House. If a Government Minister said something in clear and explicit terms, not evasive or ambiguous terms but in clear and explicit terms, one had to accept that. It would have been regarded as quite improper for somebody to say: “I do not believe a word the Minister says. I do not believe he will keep his undertaking.” We accepted undertakings given and we accepted that when Ministers made specific statements they were true. We sought very often to find if there was some evasion or ambiguity; had a word been slipped in or a word omitted because we felt that the Minister, while he would stand over what he had said and while he would only tell the truth, might try to twist or turn a little or try to change the sense of the statement he was making in reply to a question when he replied to a different question. These are legitimate evasive tactics of Parliament and are practised by both sides. That is part of the Parliamentary game, but given that the statement was made, whether in reply to the question asked or not, we had the belief and were entitled to it, that when a Minister said something if it was a statement of fact about the past or about the present it was true, and if it was an undertaking about the future that the Government would honour it.

[513] Both these beliefs have been shattered in the past 12 or 15 months. I do not know which is the more serious. Certainly, we are dealing with a very serious one because it is not merely a question of a factual misstatement; it is a question of a House of the Oireachtas being led into taking a legislative decision, voting for a Bill on the strength of an assurance given by a responsible Minister in explicit terms and finding then that assurance publicly and openly dishonoured by the Government. That makes it impossible for us to accept assurances and undertakings from the Government. Yet, how can legislative processes continue if we cannot do that? Hardly a Bill of any consequence goes through this House that the Opposition does not raise an issue on some point or other which they want to amend to make it more explicit and that the Minister does not say: “The Deputy has a point but I can assure him that in the way the Bill will be administered as an Act we will certainly not do such and such.” Or “We will do such and such”. The Opposition are not very happy with this at times. We have our doubts about it in the legislative process. We may often prefer that these matters be included in the Bill in explicit legal language that is binding but frequently because of the problems of drafting or if the Government are reluctant, for reasons they think proper, we accept the undertaking or assurance in the belief that it will be honoured.

How can we do that in future? This process of legislation, this process of Parliamentary activity depends so completely on this kind of trust at a particular level—distrust at political level, distrust of the intentions and policies of the Government and no doubt, on the Government side, similar distrust of the policies and intentions of the Opposition—but trust that at least if an explicit statement or undertaking is made or given it will be honoured. How can we continue without that? I should have thought in this debate Deputy Lenihan might have intervened—sorry, it is untrue to say that I thought he would; I had rather say that I knew he would not but I think he should have. I think we are entitled to stress that [514] both the Taoiseach and he should have intervened to set things right and to undo the damage the pair of them did, the Taoiseach less blameworthy in an aside, in a remark made in haste using a form of words which no doubt he regretted afterwards but which nevertheless as a matter of honour he should withdraw but the Minister much more seriously and the Taoiseach, as head of the Government responsible for the continuation of the undertaking, much more seriously involved in the matter I am now raising.

I do not know what action we can take; in fact there is no action that we on this side of the House can take to put this matter right, unless we can get some explicit change of heart on the part of the Government. It is difficult to see how that could be phrased. What kind of undertaking can we accept from a Government that they will honour undertakings in future when this undertaking is broken? We are in a position where I cannot see under what circumstances the Opposition can recover confidence in the integrity of the Government, under what circumstances the Government can maintain and continue to have the confidence of the people in their integrity in these circumstances. I am not choosing, I think, language that is too strong. Some people who are not concerned with matters like this, who prefer to deal with matters of broader concern, may feel I am picking on minutiae, that I am unduly fussy about a small point, but this is, I insist, an absolute point of principle in Parliament. We have seen recently in the Norwegian Parliament an example of the Government falling because of a lack of integrity on the part of a Minister, because he told the House he had not leaked a document and he subsequently had to admit that he had. He went and the Government went in Norway, but there are different standards there from what we have become used to here.

This is, therefore, a matter of vital importance and in speaking on this debate and confining my remarks to the “Seven Days” Tribunal I want to end on that point. I can suggest no solution. I cannot see how we can restore the authority or the integrity of the Government, but it does seem to me that [515] there is one more good reason for removing this Government from office at this time.

Dr. O'Donovan: I am afraid the standard of the debate is going to descend very low immediately following the high standard of political point made by the Deputy who has just spoken. I intend to talk about a very mundane subject.

Minister for Posts and Telegraphs (Mr. G. Collins): Women's Lib.

Dr. O'Donovan: Since the Minister has mentioned it, I happened on Saturday night to come in just as the “Late Late Show” had reached a certain stage to hear a young man in the audience shout: “How did Deputy Garret FitzGerald come to occupy that chair?” Of course, Deputy FitzGerald is now gone. He never listens to anyone else but he expects others to listen to him. The answer to the question asked by the young man did not carry any great conviction to me. The particular people who were talking about Women's Lib. did not get very much sympathy from me subsequently when one of the people on the panel said: “We were around Dáil Éireann last week and of the whole 144 Deputies only six saw us.” The reason they did not get much sympathy from me is that I know who two of the six were: one was Deputy Paddy Malone and the other was myself. It is a poor thing, if there are supposed to be decent standards of political life by people who are outside politics, that they should make that kind of statement, that only six Deputies saw them and they then had not the common decency to say who the six Deputies were. Of course this does not surprise me; I am well used to this kind of thing from such people. I give the Minister the point. As to the explanation given, that when Deputy FitzGerald heard what Miss Mary Kenny said he got so worked up that he charged down and occupied the chair. Who would believe it?

Deputy FitzGerald was talking about a programme, which I never saw by the way, that was the moneylending programme, but from what I heard about it—and goodness knows we all [516] heard a great deal about it—I thought that, on the whole, the programme was fair and reasonable. Anyway I would say that if the Government were to go through it all again they would not have had that investigation, and perhaps there are other investigations that various people are going through at the moment that they would not have if they were to start all over again. At least I had some wisdom on that point but nobody would listen to me.

Let me get off the political hook to talk about a much more serious matter in relation to the Estimate for Posts and Telegraphs. I raised with the Minister in the form of a question one official advertisement, or what I regard as an official advertisement, about the payment of licence fees. The Minister gave me one answer in the House but subsequently in relation to a Bill he said a very different thing which was reported in the daily papers. His answer to me was that he was not responsible for the particular advertisement, although that was denied by a spokesman on behalf of Telefís Éireann. I am not blaming the Minister in that respect but I want to refer to his answer in the House—I was unable to be here at the time—in which he said: “I do not necessarily agree with the Deputy's comments.” However, as I say, within a week in connection, I think, with a new television Bill the Minister did say in public in quite a short statement that he did not agree with this advertisement.

Since I was not in the House then, I wish to explain to the Minister why I objected to the advertisement. First of all, I have been told by one of my colleagues that children of eight years of age get great fun out of the advertisement. In other words, it was directed to an eight-year-old level: the fellow who occupies the picture and falls down off the ladder appeals to a certain level of development of the mind. It was not only that I objected to the bad English in it—as distinct from bad English there was bad grammar in it—but that I also objected to the clear inference in it that only poor people and poorly educated people do not pay their television licences. That very week there was [517] evidence before the Fair Trade Commission from a person representing a supermarket that most of the shop-lifting that goes on—such as it is; I do not know what the extent of it is—in supermarkets was done by well-off people. Therefore, I object personally to that inference. Certainly the accent in which this advertisement was given out and the language in which it was couched was extremely objectionable in relation to an official advertisement.

It does not matter whether the advertisement was concocted by Telefís Éireann or the Post Office—from what I know of these things it is more than likely that it was concocted in Telefís Éireann—but it was approved by the Post Office. The Minister shakes his head. It is not often the case but it could have happened; when the Minister shakes his head I accept his denial. However, the usual thing, when somebody in Telefís Éireann, say, would concoct such an advertisement is that he would read it over to somebody in the Post Office, and the Minister at the top does not necessarily know it was not read over. It was somebody down the line who said: “That is OK” and now when a rumpus arises denies that it happened.

Large organisations have untold tricks they play on the ordinary public: “That was done by a junior.” How often have we heard that? I could give examples from my own experience of such tricks. One organisation of the State played such a trick on me: “You cannot blame us. That was done by a person way down the line.”

Another advertisement I want to talk about was also a semi-official one about the coming into existence of the decimal currency programme, where the bus conductor says: “Me and the lads” are going to do something or other. The whole emphasis is wrong. I am not going to bother whether it was CIE, Telefís Éireann or anybody else who concocted that advertisement. I suppose it was intended to be racy. It is strange that I have never come across anything of this sort in a commercial advertisement on RTE. I challenge the Minister to produce such a case. It is bad enough to have to put up with the advertising on Telefís [518] Éireann. It certainly gets under my skin. For years I did not view Telefís Éireann but, unfortunately, where I am situated now I can only get Telefís Éireann. I cannot get the BBC at all. At one time I was quite a television addict but I have rather gone off it. I have seen a great deal of Telefís Éireann recently. I see an awful lot of Telefís Éireann. I am a television addict. I adopt the same attitude towards television as an addict does towards tobacco—towards television in general, not particularly Telefís Éireann. At one time it was always BBC.

However, I wish to speak about a much more serious matter, particularly because of the nature of the speech which preceded mine. There is considerable public exception being taken to our postal rates. Our ordinary postal rate for a letter is now 4p, 9.6 old pennies. The full rate in England is 3p, 7.2 old pennies, or one-third less than ours. These remarks put me in mind of the fact that one of my children came home from boarding school in 1965 and suddenly over a meal produced this information: “When I went to school we could post ten letters for half a grown and now when I leave we can post only six.” That is the kind of thing that can impress children.

I know it affects old age pensioners and other social welfare classes whether they pay 6p or 3p. It makes a difference to them. It may be all right for the bulk of us because we are not affected that seriously. The point I am making is that the difference in the rate between 1959 and 1965 was quite abnormal. Formerly the rate was too low. I am not denying that. It remained threepence for far too long. It is possible to say that when one thinks of our rate during the war. It was twopence. There was penny postage in England at that time and that, too, lasted a long time.

There is another angle to this, that is to say, the service has disimproved considerably. There is now no Saturday delivery of letters and this means that you cannot get a letter between the evening of Friday, at least 12 hours before Saturday morning, the whole of Saturday and Sunday, and Monday [519] morning. In other words, one cannot get a letter during 2½ of the seven days of the week. During that period one cannot officially communicate by letter in this country.

There was a great deal of objection when the first Government created a system of three-day deliveries. If you were in the country, you did not get a letter between Friday and Monday. This system was improved gradually and, of course, the inter-Party Government had a lot to do with it. The following Fianna Fáil Government and the second inter-Party Government improved it further until eventually there was a daily delivery. That is one angle. There is another but I am not too sure about it. In the area in which I live letters come as early as I want them, normally at about 8 a.m., but in other parts of the city people have left home long before delivery. I am not putting undue emphasis on that. What I want to emphasise is another aspect of the service. Most of the late collection boxes in the city have all gone. I am not a barrister, a medical doctor or a businessman working hard who wants to post letters late at night but once in a while there are certain communications which can be made only in writing and I have the greatest difficulty in finding anywhere at which to post a letter late at night. Last collections are now made at 8 p.m. There used to be collections at 11 p.m. and there were collections as late as 2 o'clock in the morning. That is a deterioration in the service. At the same time, the charge is 4½ times what it was during the war and twice what it was in 1965.

We have been told that one of the reasons why more frequent deliveries of letters in the country were stopped was that the Post Office were losing money. It is a long time since they lost money and I am wondering if they will not run into trouble because of these new charges. I know of organisations which are making other arrangements. The Minister is probably aware that there are large organisations who will have no trouble in passing their letters around themselves, particularly in view of this new charge of 9.6 old pennies. It would be quite remunerative for large organisations to make their own [520] arrangements instead of paying the increased charges and it will not surprise me a bit if the Minister finds the Post Office revenue turning downwards.

One thing that astounds me is the extent to which people who have had telephones installed for years have to pay substantially increased charges. I admit it is not easy to have different rates for something like the telephone but where a telephone was installed 25 or 20 years ago and where the rent and the labour have long since been paid for, surely there is a case for not increasing the rent. What is the case for increasing it? What I am saying is that if the service charges have long since been paid for, when the cost of installation has been reimbursed, surely the rental charge should remain the same.

Of course, such a suggestion does not appeal to the present Government. Neither does any suggestion of economy because there is not the slightest evidence of economy at the present time. Economy may be a dirty word but as far as John O'Donovan is concerned it means looking after things carefully. Economy is a much more serious matter on this Estimate than is the suggestion that we have too many commissions of inquiry. We will have untold opportunities for discussing the matter of inquiries and we will have at least one ample opportunity. Therefore, the Minister should now set about creating a situation of improved productivity, as it is called. I am not thinking of machines. I am extremely sceptical of the operation of machines because the fellow who sells you a machine can always prove it will save you this and that, but experience is a different matter. I urge the Minister to try to bring about a situation in the Post Office where there will be no further increases in postal, telegram or telephone charges for many years to come. Those charges have now reached a point where, to use Mr. Lemass's words, they have reached a new plateau.

Mr. Cooney: The Minister made the point in his speech on this Estimate that the accounts are compiled in accordance with commercial practice. [521] He made reference to a balance sheet being available but I have not been able to get it. I have the financial notes prepared for the assistance of Deputies. There is one thing which appears from the Minister's speech and from those notes which cuts across the claim that these are commercial accounts. It is this: the rate of interest at which money is borrowed for investment purposes in the Post Office is 8½ per cent. This is a rate which is not available to the commercial sector. If in this instance a non-commercial rate of interest operates in the Post Office, then all their activities are possibly on a non-commercial basis, despite the Minister's claim to the contrary.

The general picture is a gloomy one because despite the fantastic increases during the year in letter charges, telephone charges and telegraph charges the Minister forecasts a loss of about £1 million this year and a similar figure for next year. Any commercial venture which would forecast such a loss for this year and for next year must be in very deep water.

Sir Anthony Esmonde: Keeping in line with CIE.

Mr. Cooney: The disappointing thing is that there is no indication in the Minister's speech of any remedies that might be taken to reduce that loss next year. We presume it will not be possible to do anything about it this year because time is too far advanced. Next year we are apparently faced with a loss of £1 million and no apparent remedies are offered to counteract that position.

It is quite apparent that, were it not for the profitability of the telephone service, the losses would be astronomical altogether. The expenditure in the postal services has gone up by a steady 10 per cent each year. Income, according to those figures, has more or less kept apace. The deficit at the moment on that part of the operation is manageable because of the profitability of the telephone account side.

The telegraph accounts show much the same picture. In the last ten years the surplus on the working of the telephone service has doubled itself, but in the last two years the picture is not [522] so happy. There is still a growth in that section but the rate of growth is not keeping pace with the rate of expenditure vis-à-vis income. It will not be too long until we will have warning signs in regard to the telephone accounts as well as the other accounts. I would compare the telephone accounts in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs to the position of the Dublin buses in regard to CIE. The Dublin buses kept the losses in CIE within a fairly reasonable figure for a good number of years, but this year the surplus on the working of the Dublin buses is away down and there is an anticipated loss. The same trend seems to be apparent in the money-making section of this Department, that is the telephone section. When the surplus is there, it is caught up on by expenditure.

There is no reason why if commercial standards, which is the standard the Minister wants to apply, were applied to the working of the telephones section a surplus would not merely be increased but would be increased vastly. Two things are necessary in order to do this. There must be a vastly increased investment in telephones and the operation of the telephone system must be put on a more efficient basis. The investment must be on a more efficient basis.

The Minister makes the point that there a grave shortage of capital, which is something we are all well aware of. Apparently capital for telephone services suffers because of this. It would seem to me that within the Post Office itself there would be a source of investment. I should like the Minister to state why the funds available within the Post Office, in the savings section, could not be made available for investment in telephones—the most profitable part of the operation. There may be some reason why those funds cannot be invested in that manner.

The Minister in his speech dealt in some detail with the savings section. The amount of money which is turned over in this service is quite fantastic. He says:

The aggregate result for 1969 for the savings media with which my Department is directly concerned [523] 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.

I do not know what precisely that means, but to my mind it must mean that this sum of money was in the Department and was available. It was a net saving. If figures of that magnitude are available they should be available to the Department to invest in the sector of that Department which is most profitable, that is the telephones. It defies reason that money is not poured into the telephone service because there is an insatiable demand among the public for telephones and for telephonic services generally. There is a very long waiting list and when all those people are satisfied it will produce a profit for the Department. I fail to understand why there should not be a vigorous drive to satisfy that demand and take advantage of the potential profit in that huge list of people waiting for telephones.

The money for this would appear to be available within the Department. The excuse that there is a shortage of capital would not seem to be relevant in that regard. The Minister's speech is strangely silent as to the amount that was invested in telephones last year. He does not say whether it was enough to meet requirements, whether they wanted more but he was not able to give it to them, or whether what he gave them was enough. He gives no indication whether enough is being provided for next year. We have no details in regard to what the telephone section feel they could usefully use. We have no indication why they would not get that figure and we have no indication at all about the detailed investment in telephones.

I am subject to correction on this but I think the Minister said in his statement that he does not yet know how much he is going to get for next year. How can there be forward, profitable planning unless the Minister and his Department know at an early date how much money will be available? This again cuts across the Minister's claim that the Post Office is run on [524] commercial lines. It would be an odd business indeed that would be heading into a year without knowing what sum it was going to invest in its most profitable sector to ensure continued growth in it. It is a great pity that the telephones are neglected in the way they are. We do not know even whether the available capital is being well spent.

I have heard a whisper, and no more than a whisper, that there is considerable dissent within the Department about the method of forward planning in regard to telephone equipment, who decides what type of equipment will be purchased, the time it will be purchased and if when it is purchased the engineers and technicians and ancillary equipment will be all available to ensure speedy and efficient installation. I do not know if that is an entirely happy subject within the Department at present but, if it is not, it should be looked into urgently.

The Minister confesses that in some areas service is below standard because of overloading. He said that some areas were awaiting installation of equipment which was ordered a considerable time ago. How long ago? What type of equipment? Is it extremely sophisticated equipment or is it everyday run of the mill equipment? This again would seem to substantiate the point I am making that the system of buying is not all it should be because equipment ordered by a customer as big as the Department of Posts and Telegraphs should be delivered when ordered. If it cannot be delivered the Department should change their suppliers. The Minister also said the bad standard of service has been because of difficulty in dealing, within the resources at their disposal, with all the areas in which improvements are needed. That is another way of saying that he is not making sufficient resources available to meet the demand. I should like to hear the Minister deal with the point about using the capital available within the Post Office itself. It does seem extraordinary that the Minister can say that, 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 [525] factor in determining the extent to which it will be possible to implement schemes for improvement and expansion. A major factor. It is the only factor. Therefore, the fact that the amount of capital has not yet been settled for the coming year makes it an impossible task to plan ahead. This may be the reason why supplies are not being delivered: because orders are not being received with any regularity, they are coming too late.

Another disturbing matter is the increase in expenditure. Over the past ten years expenditure increased nearly four times on the telephone account but the surplus has only doubled. It is a disturbing trend and I should like to see a vigorous campaign to arrest expenditure, or certainly to maintain the ratio between the increase in expenditure and the increase in surplus. In terms of real money the surplus has not doubled and it is a warning sign that the growth in surplus has not matched the growth in expenditure.

One section of the Department's operations which is being neglected is in regard to the provision of public telephone kiosks. The Department claim to be a commercial concern but they are first and foremost a Government Department and to that extent must serve the public need. The provision of kiosks for the general public should be a matter of concern and should get priority. I find it difficult to know at exactly what rate these are being erected. The Minister says that over 100 new kiosks, including 65 rural kiosks, were provided in 1969-70 but in the notes which were issued for our guidance it is stated that the average each year is 40 to 50 and that it is hoped to reach 150 rural kiosks each year. It is difficult to know exactly how many are being erected. It seems too, that there is very rigid planning in regard to where kiosks should be situated.

Recently I asked the Department to provide a kiosk for what I might call a suburb of Athlone, Garrycastle, which is a local authority housing scheme. You might call it a dormitory suburb in modern gobbledygook. The scheme consists of 100 houses not one of which has a private telephone. It is [526] a place in which there is a constant demand for public telephones and if one was installed it would have a high rate of use. But because it is not part of the Department's pre-ordained plan a kiosk cannot be established there. I was told that there was one at Bunavalley Bridge which is about one and a half miles away on the main Dublin road at a notoriously dangerous section of the road, where three fatal accidents have taken place in the last six months. The people of Garrycastle have to travel a mile and a half, some of it along this extremely dangerous road, to use that kiosk. The kiosk is situated in a white collar area in which most of the people in the adjoining houses have their own telephones. It is a matter of social justice that the kiosk should be transferred to the local authority area where none of the houses has its own telephone. I fail to understand why the Department would not erect a kiosk in a place where there is an obvious demand for it instead of putting the burden on people who have to travel considerable distances and very often over dangerous roads.

There seems to be a serious imbalance between the number of telephone kiosks in Dublin and the number in the provinces. In Dublin, there are 500 kiosks while there are 1,280 in the remainder of the country. The availability of a kiosk is much more important in rural Ireland than in a densely-populated area like Dublin where there are many private telephones available in shops.

Mr. Bruton: Hear, hear.

Mr. Cooney: I presume that the position in this regard is better in some parts of the country than in others but I have no doubt that the Minister, not having a Dublin bias, will see to it that the apparent bias as to the installation of kiosks will be reversed and that rural Ireland will receive a greater share in the future.

I am somewhat puzzled as to forward planning in the Department and the information made available to Deputies. On the 11th February last, I asked the Minister what was the cost of converting telephone coin boxes [527] consequent on the increase of local calls to 6d and how long this would take. In reply, the Minister told me that the cost was about £40,000 and that the time required was within three months. According to the Minister, there is a total of 24,500 call boxes in the country. If these boxes were to be converted within three months, the operation would have to be completed within 65 days. This would mean converting 350 boxes per day. I raised this point because it seems to me that it would be a tremendous achievement if the Department were able to deal with 350 boxes each day. If the Department can do this, they should be able to speed up the rate of installation of new telephones. The cost at £40,000 would work out at approximately £1.75 for each box. That seems to be tremendous value because I presume at least two men and a van would be required to carry out the operation and if the men were only to drive to where the box was and drive back, it would cost the Department at least £1.75. Looking at the figure in that light, I am sure the Minister will agree that it seems odd. I wonder whether the figure is accurate.

On the same day I was told that the cost of conversion to decimals will be an estimated £127,000 and I was told that the operation would take about three months to complete. Again, I cannot accept that this can be done in three months. If it were to be done in this time, every other operation of the telephone section would have to be curtailed seriously if not suspended.

The important point that arises here is that at the time of the conversion to the sixpenny coin, it was known that decimal currency was on its way so that the Department would have been aware that a further conversion would have to be carried out. Therefore, this would appear to have been an uneconomic exercise because it necessitated two changes within a comparatively short period of time. That was bad planning.

I know the Minister stated that the general operation of his Department was under review. In this regard, I would appeal to the Minister not to let in McKinsey. I hope that whoever [528] is carrying out the investigation is not one of these bluff merchants. I am convinced that there is sufficient intellect and commonsense within the Department to form a competent committee for the purpose of carrying out a review. It is important, too, that if the investment is to be adequate, it would be properly invested and that there would be advanced buying so that there would not be a situation, such as that mentioned in the Minister's statement, of waiting on supplies. I would have thought that a national Department would be sufficiently big to be able to lay down the law as to their supplies and that they would be able to ensure they would get their supplies in time and as required. I wonder if the cause of the delays is faulty ordering. Who plans the buying? Is it planned by the engineers or by some other section? What arrangements are made or what plans are laid for proper and efficient buying? There might be something in that respect that could be investigated.

The Minister mentioned that the problem of lack of technical staff is being overcome by the special department scholarship scheme. That is heartening news. I would hope that that scheme would be extended both at the engineering and technical-level. If we are to have an efficient telephone service, we must use sophisticated modern equipment and that cannot be used or installed unless we have sophisticated and modern technicians.

In regard to the telephone service generally, I would urge that there be no slackening in the rate of investment and that the possibility would be considered of using funds that are within the Department and their savings branch in the extension and improvement of the service. I would like the Minister to deal with that point when he is replying. If the investment can be made available, I am sure there is sufficient intelligence within the Department to see that it is used efficiently. It defies reason why a monopoly with a growing demand and having a sizeable and profitable product, should not make every effort to satisfy that demand and take advantage of the profit.

[529] It would appear from the Minister's statement that the increased charges which were imposed some time ago had to be made to meet increased costs. However, we are not told why there were such increased costs and neither were we told that these costs are to be contained in the future. It is no answer to increase charges continually. At some stage there will be a reaction. As the Minister said, the Post Office is a commercial type of business and is run on a commercial basis. But, no one should take advantage of a monopoly position. Increases in charges will have to be considered from the point of view of containing them and not from meeting them all the time by way of increased revenue.

I should not like to see introduced here the British system of first-class and second-class mail. By and large, our mail collection and delivery service is good. There are some people in Dublin who regret that there is no longer a Saturday postal delivery. However, this arrangement is realistic because the amount of business now being carried out on Saturdays is becoming less and less and hardly warrants the expense of a Saturday delivery. Whether the same should apply in rural Ireland is a moot point. I do not think it should apply yet because the five-day week is not sufficiently universal in rural Ireland to do away with Saturday delivery. This is a comparatively small community, small compared with Britain, and there would be no need for the kind of first-class and second-class mail they have introduced. In any event, the cost of our ordinary mail is the cost of their first-class mail so the Department would have nothing to gain by introducing any variation of that kind.

With regard to postal deliveries, deliveries could be done in rural areas if postmen were provided with scooters or autocycles. Many have their own actually and are allowed to use them. The regulation in that regard has been very sensibly relaxed. Motorisation would speed up deliveries and possibly effect an economy in the number of postmen employed because, if they were provided with scooters or some kind of mechanical transport, the [530] delivery area could be vastly increased. From the breakdown of expenses manpower is the most expensive element in the operations of the Department.

In the notes provided I notice that income and expenditure in the case of agency services match exactly and have done so over the past ten years. I do not understand that and I should be glad if the Minister would explain what exactly is involved and why there is no profit in these agency services. I think there should be a profit. It seems to me there could be a great deal of profit in them.

The Minister states that the value of money orders was £37.7 million and the value of postal orders was £8.9 million. These two figures represent a staggering sum and this should be a most profitable piece of business for the Post Office. I agree that these agency services should be provided free for the Department of Social Welfare but in the case of money orders and postal orders there is no reason why this should not be a most profitable operation. Would it not also be a source of investment for the telephone service? There is an increasing flow of money and I have no doubt but that it will continue. I cannot see anything wrong in the Department using that money for investment in its most profitable sector, the telephone. That would leave other Government capital available for Departments which do not generate capital.

The time has come when the Department should consider seriously introducing the Giro system. This has been advocated in the past and consistently rejected. Why I do not know. It has a tremendous profit potential. Whilst the commercial banks were closed the Department acted as the poor man's bank and that is all the Giro system asks one to do. I join with the Minister in the praise he gave his Department for the work they did during the bank strike. The services they provided alleviated the hardships caused by that intolerable strike or lock-out. The Post-Office was able to handle a vastly increased volume of work most efficiently and most competently and, I am certain, with profit when we see the figures [531] next year. This proves that the Giro system should be introduced into the Post Office. It is widespread on the Continent and highly successful there. The Department have a duty to what I describe as “the small man” to ensure that he is no longer dependent on the whims of the directors of our commercial banks. Basic facilities should be made available to him through the agency of the Post Office. The reviewing body should seriously consider the establishment of this system. If it is profitable there should be no hesitation in introducing it. The Minister and his Department should not be held back by any consideration for the finer feelings of the commercial banks. They do not deserve any such consideration because of the way in which they deprived the public of their services for the greater part of last year.

With regard to the tribunal of inquiry into the “7 Days” programme on moneylending, it would appear from the Minister's speech that he has accepted the criticisms in the tribunal's report. He mentions their lucid analysis of the matters on which they were asked to report and he refers to the severe criticism the report contains. He mentions one specific matter: in presenting a picture of laxity on the part of the Garda the programme was not authentic. That was the tribunal's findings. He does not say what passed between himself and the Authority but the implication is clear. Having accepted the tribunal's findings, noted their severe criticism and their actual finding of something that was not authentic, one must presume that the Minister had something sharp and critical to say to Radio Telefís Éireann. I have read the report and the appendix to the report which contains the programme in question. It seems to me that the case the tribunal were asked to find against this programme has not been made. The kernel of the matter is contained in chapter 4 of the report. The title of the chapter is “Consideration of the Authenticity of the Programme and the Other Matters referred to in the Tribunal under Heading 2 of the Terms of Reference”. Heading 2 of the terms of reference dealt with the authenticity of the programme and, [532] in particular with the adequacy of the information on which it was based, the number of moneylenders, violence, whether there was reasonable journalistic care on the part of those responsible for the programme.

On page 62 of the report the tribunal set out certain things the programme stated or implied. There is a world of difference between a statement and an implication. A statement is a matter of fact but the meaning of an implication is essentially a subjective judgment. To this extent the tribunal are themselves open to criticism.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy may not proceed to criticise the tribunal.

Mr. Cooney: May I not comment on their findings critically?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: No. The members of the tribunal, their work and their decisions are not subject to criticism.

Mr. Cooney: In his speech the Minister accepts the tribunal's report. He comments on it and on his action on foot of it.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Comments on it, but he does not criticise the decisions provided by the tribunal.

Mr. Cooney: I presume I am in order in commenting on the decisions.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: In so far as the Deputy is commenting on it. The tribunal is the same as any other judicial commission.

Mr. Cooney: Very well. I shall comment without being critical. I take it it is not a criticism to disagree with the tribunal's findings. The first thing the programme stated or implied was that illegal moneylending represented a social problem of serious proportion in the urban area of Dublin. The report indicates that this was not so, but it would appear from reading the report that it was, in fact, a social problem of serious proportions in the urban areas of Dublin. Paragraph 135 reads:

As we have indicated we found that the programme was authentic in [533] that illegal moneylending does exist and is a problem of serious proportions in certain areas.

There is no criticism there of the programme.

The next thing the tribunal states the programme stated was that moneylending was widespread and pervasive in all areas of the city and that it was expanding. The tribunal took issue with the programme on that particular fact. At page 68 of the Report it states that there is little or no moneylending in the majority of corporation estates. There is a world of difference between “little” or “none”. There is either moneylending or there is not. It is clear from other statements made by the tribunal that they found there was moneylending in the centre of the city, in Crumlin, Cabra, Finglas, Coolock, Whitehall, Raheny and Sallynoggin. This covers the entire working class parts of the city.

The tribunal admit that the programme was correct when it said that moneylending was widespread and pervasive in all areas of the city. They take issue with the statement in regard to the number of unlicensed moneylenders. They spent a great deal of time analysing figures brought in by the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Garda, Telefís Éireann and social workers and decide that the number was not 500. They would appear to have a genuine criticism with regard to that.

The tribunal said the programme alleged that unlicensed moneylenders preserve anonymity and secrecy of their operations by deliberately inculcating fear and that serious physical violence was, in fact, inflicted on borrowers. Some people who appeared on the programme said that, but none of the commentators did. They asked leading questions which the tribunal objected to in order to procure answers dealing with physical violence and fear. When reviewing the evidence the tribunal stated in the case of women borrowers there can be little doubt that lenders do use the threat of disclosure. They referred to one case where there was evidence of a more serious form of blackmail. They mentioned that there [534] had been an indication of some form of intimidation. If the threat of black-mail and the threat of physical intimidation are not calculated to induce fear and preserve the anonymity of the moneylender exercising the threats the language has lost its meaning. That statement of fact by the programme is admitted by the tribunal as being correct.

The last statement paid tribute to the programme in which they went on to consider the Garda were guilty of laxity in detecting the operations of unlicensed moneylenders and in prosecuting offenders. It is a matter of opinion whether the tribunal made that accusation or not. On reading the programme as a whole, I took the view that the Garda had not brought prosecutions although they might possibly have taken prosecutions, but whether they would have got convictions was another matter. It would appear that the Garda did not institute prosecutions and I think the programme was entitled to comment on this fact without being criticised by the tribunal as if it had committed some sort of serious offence in criticising the Garda. If the reporters connected with the programme were able to get evidence to satisfy the tribunal that moneylending was a serious problem in the centre of the city and was taking place in all the working-class suburbs of the city, it is fair comment to ask why the Garda do not do something about it.

The fact that the tribunal was set up is a disturbing precedent. The fact that its report appears to have been accepted I can only assume holus bolus by the Minister and criticism on foot of it conveyed to the Department are also disturbing. It goes very near an unwarrantable censorship of journalists carrying out their duties in a bona fide manner.

One issue on which the tribunal severely criticised the programme was failure to comply with what they set out as canons of journalistic standard and journalistic care. They heard from three experienced journalists, two newspapermen and one sub-editor in television and they laid down the norm. I submit that the norm which might be [535] applicable in a theoretical situation cannot be applied to people making a television programme highlighting a social evil of the type this programme highlighted.

I am quite sure that when the Minister is making an introductory speech he highlights the nice things relating to his Department. He will highlight the matters he wants to draw attention to even though they might not necessarily be the most important. If a television programme is presented in the same way and in the same manner as a learned article in a technical journal very few people will heed it. The purpose of television is to entertain and enlighten. This programme set out to expose a social evil and it appears to me that if it was to be effective it had to be presented dramatically. In effect, the programme was criticised as being over-dramatic in its presentation. Its essential authenticity cannot be denied and that is the kernel of the matter. If the Minister shows any reaction to Telefís Éireann which might in any way inhibit the crusading spirit that made that programme he is doing a serious disservice to the station.

Mr. Dowling: I should like an opportunity before 6 o'clock to raise a matter of grave public importance. It is in relation to a scurrilous television programme on “Seven Days” last week. The people of Ballyfermot are demanding an inquiry——

Mr. Desmond: On a point of order, this matter is out of order.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: This matter is irrelevant. The Deputy may not raise such a matter at this stage.

Mr. Dowling: I want an opportunity to discuss the “Seven Days” programme——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy may not pursue this matter. He has spoken already.

Mr. Dowling: There was a scurrilous attack made——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The [536] Chair is telling the Deputy he may not continue on that line.

Mr. Dowling: May I raise it on the Adjournment?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy will have to deal with the matter in a fashion other than he is doing now. The Deputy may not intervene again.

Mr. Dowling: Surely a person may raise a matter of grave public importance——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy is aware that there is a way of dealing with the matter.

Mr. Dowling: This has been a further attack.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Chair has already told the Deputy that he must resume his seat.

Mr. Dowling: Will the Chair please give me some advice as to how this matter can be raised properly?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy may communicate with the Ceann Comhairle on this matter at a later stage.

Mr. Bruton: The first matter I wish to deal with is an item in which I have been interested and I raised it on the Adjournment on one occasion. It is the policy which is in operation by the Minister's Department in regard to the siting of rural telephone kiosks and I think Deputy Cooney also referred to this matter. The system of selection of areas for the erection of telephone kiosks is unduly rigid.

A telephone kiosk is an essential in every rural area because people in those areas are much more isolated from various services than those who live in large centres of population. For example, in the event of their requiring medical assistance the only method of speedy communication is by telephone. It is important that any policy which seeks to counteract this sense of isolation should be broad in application and sufficiently flexible to suit the peculiar needs of each area. [537] The present policy in regard to the provision of rural telephone kiosks is the reverse. It is unduly rigid and appears to have been constructed solely for the convenience of civil servants to enable them to take the minimum number of awkward decisions. They appear to have a readymade formula which determines whether a telephone kiosk should be provided and this formula is not relevant to the needs of the area except in an indirect way. The use of this formula enables the people concerned to wash their hands of any genuine investigation of the areas requesting kiosks.

If an area has a post office and the phone in the post office is used to a certain extent, that district will get a kiosk. If the place has not got a post office it will not be considered for a telephone kiosk, unless the county council are prepared to erect one and bear the loss themselves. I might add that very few county councils are prepared to do this. I asked Meath County Council to do this in a few areas in my constituency and they refused.

It is wrong that areas which do not have post offices are not even given consideration in the matter of the provision of telephone kiosks. Many of the areas may require a kiosk on social grounds. The kiosks may not make a profit but the isolation of the areas concerned warrant the provision of this service. It can be said fairly that if an area has a post office it is not so isolated and, therefore, does not require a telephone kiosk to the same extent as the more remote areas.

To take the usage of the post office telephone as representative of the actual need for telephonic communication in the area is not fair. The position could obtain, as it does in many areas, that there are a number of licensed premises and shops which have coin-operated telephones on the premises. During the day-time people in the area might use these telephones, to the exclusion of the post office telephone. However, in an area where the post office telephone is the only telephone available the number of users would be much greater. Areas such as the latter would get a telephone kiosk [538] much more readily, solely due to the greater number of calls made in the post office.

The situation in this regard is most unsatisfactory. I have in mind the village of Kilmessan in my constituency which might well be ruled out simply because it has a large number of shops with coin box telephones. Clonee is another instance. It is situated on the main road and has a number of licensed premises. During the day motorists can stop in the village and make telephone calls but from 11.30 p.m. to 10 a.m. it is impossible for motorists to telephone from the village as a kiosk is not provided.

In Northern Ireland the authorities provide kiosks both on busy and isolated roads. I remember travelling to Donegal and on the road past Ennis-killen I noticed a kiosk in the middle of the countryside. To my mind the provision of a kiosk in such an area is sensible but under our system there is no provision made for the erection of kiosks in isolated areas. The sole criterion is whether a post office is in the area concerned and the usage of the telephone in the post office.

I wish now to turn to the question of staff rules 8 and 9 which govern officials in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. I asked the Minister nine or ten months ago whether anything was to be done by him to ensure that people, at least in the lower positions in the Department, would be in a position to engage in political activity. The Minister said he was looking into the matter very sympathetically and he conveyed, by the very concerned expression on his face, that he meant this and that something would be done immediately.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.