Dáil Éireann - Volume 319 - 20 March, 1980

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Citizen Band Radio.

2. Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs if he has received requests for the provision of citizen band radio in this country, if so, the provisions, if any, he proposes to make and if he will make a statement on the matter.

3. Mr. Donegan asked the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs if he will legalise citizen band radio.

4. Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs the interference caused to life services by citizen band radio users and if he will give specific details in each case.

5. Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs if he will withdraw his Department's threat to prosecute citizen band radio users, and investigate thoroughly the complaints of interference [293] with other systems to ensure that these complaints are genuine, and if so, to eradicate this interference.

6. Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs if he will set aside a separate wave band for users of citizen band radio.

7. Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs if it is intended to legalise citizen band radio, and if he will introduce a licensing system to control its use as recommended by the National Citizen Band Council.

8. Mr. O.J. Flanagan asked the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs the proposals, if any, to have citizen band radio licensed, and if so, when such licences will be granted.

Mr. Killilea: With the permission of the Ceann Comhairle, I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 to 8, inclusive, together.

I have received a number of requests from individuals and groups seeking to have citizen band radio legalised.

I appreciate the desires of the people concerned and am favourably disposed to meet their wishes in so far as they are capable of being met without causing unacceptable interference to other users of the radio spectrum.

An immediate difficulty is that the type of equipment popularly known as citizen band radio, which is being used and offered for sale in many parts of the country, is imported equipment, designed to operate only in the 27 megahertz band. It may be legally operated in certain other countries where this frequency band has been allocated for it, but not in this country where the 27 megahertz band has, for many years, been allocated to other users.

Existing licensed users of the radio spectrum expect to be protected against harmful interference from unlicensed users.

I am informed that during the past six months RTE, in particular, has received many complaints alleging interference to [294] television reception by the types of citizen band radio equipment in use here at present, but no similar complaints have so far been received affecting safety of life services, although that risk exists. The number of such complaints could be expected to increase significantly if a new and potentially very numerous class of user were to be freely licensed to operate in the 27 megahertz band. Before I could do so, therefore, I would have to be satisfied that the types of equipment to be licensed would not cause unavoidable interference to other radio users and/or that a more suitable band was not available. I am not so satisfied at this stage.

My Department is, at present, carrying out an in-depth intensive investigation regarding the frequency bands most suitable for a service of the kind in question. It is also seeking more detailed information about developments in this field and about general technological development of this type of equipment elsewhere. Until I have this report on those aspects, it would be premature for me to make definite decisions.

Meanwhile, the legal position is as stated in my answer to Deputy Enright's questions on this subject on 13 December last, columns 1861 and 1862 of Volume 317 of the Official Reports refer.

Mr. Deasy: Could I ask the Minister, if he is not going to allow the 27 megahertz band to be used by citizen band radio users, if he will set aside some other band?

Mr. Killilea: Yes. As indicated in my reply to Deputy Deasy, in the first paragraph of my statement:

I appreciate the desires of the people concerned and am favourably disposed to meet their wishes....

Mr. Deasy: Could I ask the Minister if he is satisfied that the complaints he has received about interference from citizen band users are genuine?

Mr. Killilea: Yes, I am quite satisfied that they are genuine. I give the Deputy [295] some instances, because there are a lot of questions here. The Department have not received complaints of interference to the other services—such as safety services. I emphasise, however, that there is a risk and while there is a risk, it is my responsibility to eliminate that risk. There are numerous complaints concerning television, as stated in my reply. There are other complaints as well, that there have been cases of interference in categories such as model airplanes. This has not been proved outright beyond doubt, to have been caused by citizen band radio but we believe it may be. Does that answer satisfy Deputy Deasy?

Mr. Deasy: No. Is the Minister aware that there are 13 other countries in Europe operating citizen band radio legally and that there are no such complaints of interference?

Mr. Killilea: In my reply, if the Deputy remembers, I stated that 27 megahertz is the band used for other radio equipment in this country, which may not be so in the countries the Deputy has mentioned.

Mr. Deasy: I ask the Minister if he is familiar with the letter which was sent by his Department to the National Council of Citizen Band Users on 4 January last, in which the Department threatened users of CB radio with prosecution under legislation which has not yet been discussed in this House and if he condones——

Mr. Killilea: I beg the Deputy's pardon?

Mr. Deasy: A letter which threatens users of CB radio with prosecution under the terms of legislation which has not yet been even discussed in this House but which was introduced into this House on First Stage in April 1979?

Mr. Killilea: I am not so aware.

Mr. Deasy: I draw the Minister's attention to that letter, which is completely [296] out of order. The threats contained therein should be withdrawn.

Mr. Killilea: Would the Deputy please illustrate them for me?

Mr. Deasy: Of course, with the Ceann Comhairle's indulgence.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Chair does not encourage quotations at Question Time.

Mr. Deasy: This is an extract:

However, under the Broadcasting and Wireless Telegraphy Bill, 1979, which has been introduced in Dáil Éireann, the penalty provisions for being in possession of or using unlicensed wireless telegraphy apparatus are being increased to a maximum of £500 on summary conviction and £10,000 and forfeiture of the equipment on conviction on indictment.

Mr. Killilea: That concerns the matter of unlicensed wireless operators. They are separate from CB. Citizens band radio is basically a social service, operating in smaller districts. In certain circumstances that we have knowledge of citizen band has been used as a form of communication from this country to Florida. I suggest that those people are not working within the controls normally laid down by citizen band radio and citizen band radio organisations. They should be licensed as amateur license holders. That is not what citizen band radio is for. That is the point made in that letter.

Mr. Deasy: I am well aware of what the Minister has stated.

Mr. Killilea: The Deputy will not wear me out on that.

Mr. Deasy: I do not think the Minister has taken the point. The letter from which I have quoted is addressed to the secretary of the National Citizen Band Council of Ireland.

[297] Mr. Killilea: Yes. It is about the abuse of citizen band radio.

Mr. Deasy: It is about the use of citizen band radio.

Mr. Killilea: The inference is about the abuse of citizen band radio. I assure Deputy Deasy that those people would quite agree with the Minister and that the Deputy would as well.

Mr. Deasy: There is no mention of abuse. It just refers to the use of citizen band radio.

An Ceann Comhairle: We are getting into an argument. We should pass to the next question.

Mr. Deasy: We must accept that 99 per cent of the people using citizen band radio are doing so quite properly and the CB Council wish to know is the Minister aware that they have asked that the users of CB radio be licensed, because they are just as anxious as the Minister to eliminate abuse.

Mr. Killilea: I have answered that question clearly.

Mr. Deasy: I should like the threat implied in the letter of 4 January to be withdrawn because it has caused great concern.

Mr. Killilea: I will look into the matter but, as I have tried to explain to the Deputy, it is for a specific reason and perhaps the people to whom the letter was addressed understand specifically what we mean. I am sure the Deputy and House understand it as well.

Mr. Deasy: It is a blanket letter.

Mr. O'Keeffe: How many items of citizen band radio equipment are in the country?

Mr. Killilea: That is a difficult question to answer. I have not got that information and I do not think anybody could have.

[298] Mr. Deasy: Is the Minister aware that, although a citizen band radio is now illegal under the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1926, it is quite legal to import the equipment into the country and that the Government are getting duty and VAT from the import?

Mr. Killilea: I am so aware.

Mr. Deasy: There seems to be a great contradiction.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Does the Minister accept that there are about 10,000 of these items of equipment in the country?

Mr. Killilea: There could well be or whatever figure the Deputy likes to put on it.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Is there any record of VAT and import duty being paid on these items?

Mr. Killilea: That question does concern my Department. It is not my responsibility.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Can the Minister give any explanation to the House why threats of prosecution were issued against the people who legally imported those items and paid duty on them?

Mr. Killilea: They may have imported them legally but they illegally used them.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Can the Minister indicate what the people who imported these sets would do with them other than use them?

An Ceann Comhairle: The question does not relate to importation.

Mr. Killilea: The Deputy should take my point in the reply, in which I have tried to be as open and as clear as I can concerning this matter. I told the Deputy that we have intensive investigations going on. Senior officials of my Department are having the matter investigated in its entirety at present so that when we bring [299] in legislation to legalise citizen band radio it will be good and will never again in the history of the State have to be tampered with. That is very important from two points: first, there will be no risk to users of any other type of radio equipment and, secondly, when they purchase their equipment it will not require readjustment and extra cost on them.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Is the Minister giving a commitment that an amendment will be introduced to the Broadcasting Act of 1977?

Mr. Killilea: No. We will legalise citizen band radio properly and correctly.

Mr. O'Keeffe: When?

Mr. Killilea: I could not give an exact date but I assure the Deputy and the House that it is a major priority in the Department.

Mr. L'Estrange: The Minister has a lot of major priorities.

Mr. O'Keeffe: There will be no prosecutions in the meantime?

Mr. Killilea: I have given the answer to that question in my reply.

Mr. O'Keeffe: The Minister will allow the law to be ignored?

Mr. Killilea: I did not say that and the Deputy should not twist my words.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Why not change the law?