Dáil Éireann - Volume 315 - 20 June, 1979
Adjournment Debate. - Postal Dispute Effects on EEC Presidency.
Mr. Quinn Mr. Quinn
Mr. Quinn: I wish to raise with the Government the alternative arrangements they have made in respect of our Presidency of the EEC which commences in ten days' time, having regard to the absence of a functioning postal and telecommunications system. I have raised this matter before and I quote now from what the Minister for Foreign Affairs had to say in introducing the Estimate for his Department on 31 May and as reported at column 1904 of the Official Report:
... I must stress the importance of presenting a favourable image of Ireland to the world in the highly publicised period of our Presidency.
The Minister went on to say:
The prospects are indeed great but the alternative is too tragic to contemplate if in the full glare of publicity we were to choose instead to advertise self-interest and irresponsibility in our country.
In stressing the Government's concern for the positive image this country should display during our Presidency, the Minister said, as reported at column 1906:
I can assure Deputies, as I did the Commission, that the Irish Presidency will at all times be conscious of the interests and aspirations of the entire Community and that we are determined to conduct Community business in a well-organised and consistent fashion.
That is the Government's intention as enunciated about 20 days ago but there is still no settlement to the Post Office dispute and neither has there been any solution in the meantime to all the other problems to which the Minister referred both implicitly and explicitly. We attempted to vote a lot of money in presenting the image of Ireland abroad but that image is now at risk seriously as a result of the full glare of publicity to which we will be subjected during our Presidency.
An Ceann Comhairle Joseph Brennan
An Ceann Comhairle: Is the Deputy dealing with the postal strike or with the question of alternative arrangements?
Mr. Quinn Mr. Quinn
Mr. Quinn: I am dealing with the alternative arrangements while stressing the importance of those arrangements  having regard to the Minister's definition of how important the Presidency is to us. While I understand that the talks in progress tonight are very hopeful in terms of a settlement to the dispute, I should like to hear from the Minister of State as to the arrangements that have been made with the Army to establish a radio broadcasting system based in Iveagh House with direct radio contact with the other eight capitals in the Community. If that is the case I should like the Minister to state exactly what is the role of the Army in this instance, what the nature of the communications is likely to be, whether these arrangements have been discussed with the ICTU, and whether this action, if it is being undertaken provisionally by the Government, will not be construed by the ICTU as a major strike-breaking measure.
In recent months the Army have been used in this context in a number of other areas which do not concern us here, but if they are to be used in this instance in the way I have outlined we will be creating the additional precedent of using them as a strike breaker. Therefore, it is important that the Minister clarifies what is going on in that area. I should like the Minister to assure the House also that there is no question of our being deprived of the Presidency in ten days' time because of our not having an adequate telecommunications and postal service in operation. I have heard, but obviously this must be only in the nature of rumour since the sources concerned cannot be quoted, that the French have raised the issue of retaining the Presidency until such time as the Post Office dispute here has ended. I should like the Minister to clarify that position also. If this line is being adopted by the French what is the attitude of the Government to it?
What is the Government's assessment of the load that will fall now on the telex section of the telecommunications system assuming that, even if the dispute is settled, there will be a disruption in the postal services because of the backlog of material that is in the post? What additional provision has been made by the Government to augment the telex service, telephone lines and so on? We know that the difficulties in the Department  of Posts and Telegraphs have been in existence for many years and during the terms of office of many administrations. These difficulties will not be resolved easily. The Government have seen fit to promote very strongly the importance of the Presidency and I, deputising for our spokesman, Deputy Kavanagh, stress our support for the Presidency, but we want to see the evidence of constructive action from the Government benches.
For example, in the context of the Presidency I should like to hear what plans and contingency arrangements are being contemplated for the summit of the heads of State which presumably will take place in the autumn and during our term of the Presidency. These are matters that must be raised because the reality is that for the next six months this capital city of Dublin will be in effect the capital city of the EEC. Perhaps it is not realised by most citizens that this will be the position. During this time the volume of communications, whether by way of the diplomatic bag or by way merely of letters seeking hotel accommodation, will be centred on Dublin if it relates in any way to the EEC. What arrangements are being made by the Government to give effect to the claim made by the Minister that we are determined to conduct Community business in a well-organised and consistent fashion? Ten days from the beginning of our term of the Presidency and 17 weeks into a disastrous postal dispute which, irrespective of whether it is resolved tonight, will still leave a large backlog of post, we should like to see the measure of that organisation.
The points, then, that I am raising are: are the French attempting to retain the Presidency until such time as our postal dispute is resolved? I trust that we will have an assertive answer to that question. Are the Army establishing radio communication with the capitals of the other eight member states and, if so, what is the nature of that communication and what is the perceived role of the Army in this instance? What is the estimated increase in the load on the telex system and what is our capacity to handle that increase? What provision is being made in terms of telecommunications  for establishing the summit which presumably will be held in the autumn?
Finally, what assessment, if any, have the Government of the likely backlog in terms of delayed post that there is now throughout the world and which is destined for this country? How is that likely to affect our postal services in the context of the Presidency over the next six months? What provision have the Government made for ensuring that the claim made by the Minister for Foreign Affairs to conduct committee business in a well-organised, consistent manner can be achieved?
Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Andrews) David Andrews
Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Andrews): Deputy Quinn asked what were the alternative administrative arrangements the Government have made to deal with the Presidency of the EEC in view of the postal and telecommunications dispute. I am not making any special point about this but this question was received at very short notice. If I were making any point about this I would be questioning the ruling of the Ceann Comhairle. It has never been my practice in this House to do anything like that and, on this occasion, it is also not my intention to query the ruling of the Ceann Comhairle. It is entirely a matter for the Ceann Comhairle whether or not he allows a question at late notice, short notice or long notice. The reality of the situation is, as Deputy Quinn has stated, that he raised this matter before. The Minister for Foreign Affairs is out of the country on national business at this time and that is the reason why I am standing in for him tonight. I make no apologies for that as that is one of the many roles of a Minister of State. I wanted to get on the record the reason for the Minister's absence from the House and the reason for him not being able to reply to this question.
Deputy Quinn raised the matter before and the Minister for Foreign Affairs stressed, in reply to that question, the absolute need—I am not quoting the Minister exactly—that a favourable view of the country, the people and the Government must be sent abroad. I believe the Deputy will support that  view. His party leader and the leader of the Fine Gael Party have supported the need for Ireland to present a favourable national image during the currency of the Presidency.
The other point raised by the Deputy in relation to the aspiration of the Government to serve the entire community is also an achievable aspiration by a Minister who has distinguished himself in his role as our Minister for Foreign Affairs since taking office in 1977. I have no doubt, having regard to the Minister's dedication, integrity and his proven ability that he will be able to project a favourable image of this nation abroad. I believe each side of the House shares the aspirations of the Minister in that regard.
The Deputy asked me to reply unequivocably to a series of questions. A number of the queries he asked me to reply to, as he stated, are based on rumour; consequently, the questions which are based on rumour will receive no reply from me because it is not my practice to reply to questions based on rumour. I would like to make it very clear to the Deputy that the Department of Foreign Affairs at this moment and in the past have never been guilty of strike-breaking. It is equally false to suggest that the French president expressed concern about the possibility of this country not being in a position to discharge its duties as the presiding nation of the Community. There is no basis in fact, or, by definition, in rumour, in relation to that. It is absolutely without foundation.
Ireland, during the term of the last Presidency, had a very high reputation, both through its representatives and through the civil service. I am quite satisfied, again without any equivocation whatever, that the Government can do as good a job if not better, despite the problems, than the Coalition. I am not entering into the argy-bargy of politics; I am not denying that I have in the past entered into the argy-bargy of politics; I am a politician, and I am very proud of that fact and I will never, under any circumstances, deny the profession of politics. I do not want to enter into a controversy, despite the provocative questions based on rumour posed to me  by the Deputy, requesting me to answer them.
In recent years the Department of Foreign Affairs have been improving their communication facilities in line with developments in telecommunications generally and with arrangements among our EEC partners. Those facilities, by definition, by the progress of modern technology, include radio communication. I am satisfied, and the Minister is satisfied, that it should be possible for us to discharge our obligations absolutely when we assume the Presidency of the EEC on 1 July. While the position is that if the Post Office strike should continue we would not be able to provide all the facilities we would have wished—I am sure Deputy Quinn shares with me the wish to provide the maximum amount of facilities possible in the circumstances—nevertheless the arrangements we can make, and are making, will be adequate. Like the Deputy, who has referred to hopeful developments in the postal strike, I am not without hope that the post office strike will end in time to enable us to provide  all the facilities we have planned. This, in a sense, is an unreal debate in that we are dealing with a hypothetical question and also questions based on rumour.
Mr. Quinn Mr. Quinn
Mr. Quinn: There is only one question based on rumour.
Mr. D. Andrews Mr. D. Andrews
Mr. D. Andrews: It devalues the Deputy's argument to ask a question based on rumour. One can only query on that premise the value of the other questions.
Mr. Quinn Mr. Quinn
Mr. Quinn: They are not based on rumour.
Mr. D. Andrews Mr. D. Andrews
Mr. D. Andrews: We are engaging in a hypothetical situation. We do not know at this stage if the strike will continue into our Presidency. Talks are continuing between the parties, as the Deputy knows. I do not wish to say anything which would be unhelpful in the circumstances.
The Dáil adjourned at 9 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 21 June 1979.
Dáil Éireann 315 Adjournment Debate. Postal Dispute Effects on EEC Presidency.