Dáil Éireann - Volume 322 - 11 June, 1980
Adjournment Debate. - Radio 1 Reception.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle Sean Browne
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy O'Keeffe has 11 minutes and the Minister six.
Mr. O'Keeffe Mr. O'Keeffe
Mr. O'Keeffe: I am raising the problem of reception of Radio I in west Cork and other areas along the western seaboard. The background to the situation is that there were considerable difficulties in the past about reception from Radio Éireann in my own area and all along the seaboard. After considerable pressure and agitation these difficulties were resolved by transmitting programmes on a VHF fréquency. The problem has reared its head again because of the introduction of Radio 2 on VHF. This has meant that Radio 1 has been taken off the VHF frequency. When Radio 2 was introduced, RTE decided to allocate the VHF frequency to that new channel. The result now is that listeners in the remoter parts of the country who have been accustomed to listening to Radio Éireann — which is now Radio 1 — are in many cases unable to receive the signal on that channel. This decision was made in Dublin without either a knowledge of or any concern for rural areas.
It is important to remember that this is not just an issue which affects a few cranks. In west Cork the junior chamber of commerce in Skibbereen conducted a pilot survey recently and of those surveyed they found that well over 90 per cent disagreed with the present policy of RTE in removing Radio 1 from the VHF frequency. Even though this was not a survey of the entire population of west Cork it involved 3,700 people. This makes it clear that there is a massive rejection of present RTE policy in this matter.
I raised this problem in the Dáil last October and I was then told by the Minister that RTE were considering the  question of how to provide reception of Radio 1 on VHF throughout the day. But nothing happened. The difficulties continue and there has been no change. The matter was referred to by the Minister in the debate on his Estimate on 30 May. He acknowledged that the decision to allocate the VHF frequency to Radio 2 had drawn much criticism. He said that from the point of view of a further VHF frequency being available there would be a delay of a least a further five years. At that stage, therefore, he said that an early solution to the problem would have to be found within the framework of RTE's existing frequency allocation.
This is the nub of the issue as it now stands. I want to impress on the Minister and the House that for very many people their only enjoyment in life is to be able to listen to their radio. many of these people would not have television and live in areas where there is no television reception, another problem in rural areas that I have often referred to as the “no-channel areas”. Many of these people would be elderly.
The Minister may say Radio 1 is available on VHF at certain times of the day but these are people who would not be able to adjust their sets frequently so as to be able to get reception even during those times when it is available on VHF. Common practice with such people would be to have their radios permanently tuned, in the past to Radio Éireann and now to Radio 1 if they could receive it. In effect, the result now is that these people are being deprived of the radio reception to which they have grown accustomed. Therefore, I demand immediate action in this area. I know that the Minister is from a rural area and very probably part of his own constituency would be affected by this problem — I am not too sure of the exact boundaries of his constituency. But, as somebody from a rural area, I am sure he will appreciate that this is a very small, basic demand for those people in rural areas.
 I ask the Minister to ensure that there will be an immediate change in policy by RTE and that Radio 1 will be restored to VHF. If this is not done there will be a continuing descrimination against people living in rural areas. It is not an answer to suggest that they can receive Radio 2. The type of programme transmitted on Radio 2 is not the type of programme they have been used to or the type they wish to hear. They have their favourite programmes which they have listened to over the years and they are unable to receive those now on any regular basis. I demand from the Minister that there be an immediate change of policy in this regard and that Radio 1 be restored to VHF.
Minister of State at the Department of Posts and Telegraphs (Mr. Killilea) Mark (Jnr.) Killilea
Minister of State at the Department of Posts and Telegraphs (Mr. Killilea): I welcome the change of attitude of the Deputy this evening compared with that adopted today at Question Time when I thought I was rather courteous and kind in replying to him at the time. Obviously, for some unknown reason, it was not acceptable. I would like to start my reply on the notion with which Deputy O'Keeffe finished when he demanded that the Minister ask RTE to change the situation concerning the major problem in West Cork and other rural areas around the country.
A fortnight ago, when we were discussing the Estimate for the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, most speakers of the Deputy's party told us we had no right to demand anything from RTE, that RTE were an authority on their own and we had no right to make any demand from them — we have no right to demand anything from them; RTE are an autonomous authority independent of this House. I am afraid I cannot demand anything from them. If I did the allegation would be made that we were using our influence to change the situation in RTE.
The Deputy, for that reason, will understand that I have no right to demand something from them. As I indicated in my reply today, I looked up the Official Report to find out the exact situation concerning RTE vis-à-vis VHF, particularly  with regard to Radio 1. I know there has been much criticism of this decision. We are controlled by the Geneva Conference in relation to extra allocations of VHF frequencies and it will be 1985 before we can do anything about that.
There is, however, a responsibility on RTE to make certain adjustments within the system as it stands. I would go so far as to say that not alone as a result of the Deputy's question but in response to many other representations, the Minister has courteously asked RTE to look into this problem immediately.
I will bring the Deputy up to date in relation to the facts. The problem is that RTE Radio 1 is broadcast on the Tullamore and Cork medium wave transmitters and on the Radio na Gaeltachta VHF network, when that is not being used. RTE admit that difficulties in providing satisfactory reception on RTE 1 are being experienced in South West Cork, South Kerry and other rural area since the change in the assignment of VHF frequencies took place with the introduction of Radio 2 on 31 May 1979.
The Deputy said he brought this question up in the Dáil last October. I wish to refer him back to last July when he asked a question from my predecessor. I should like to quote part of the reply which is relevant. It is in Volume 315, column 1797, of the Official Report of 10 July 1979. The Minister said to Deputy O'Keeffe:
 If the Deputy wishes to supply names and addresses of individual complainants to RTE, they will be happy to investigate their complaints.
Mr. O'Keeffe Mr. O'Keeffe
Mr. O'Keeffe: This was sent to RTE.
Mr. Killilea Mr. Killilea
Mr. Killilea: It might have been sent on to RTE but it certainly was not sent on to us to enable us to help any way we can. The responsibility for solving this matter rests with RTE and not with the Department or the Minister. I want to bring this point home clearly to the Deputy. We will use our influence in whatever way we can and I assume the party opposite will appreciate that we are using our influence for the betterment of the service in RTE 1. I hope that in future allegations will not be made against us that we were using it for political reasons or any other reason they may deem fit to allege at the appropriate moment — that we were interfering with the RTE authorities.
We are seeking the same as the Deputy is seeking. We want to remedy the problem which, as I said, had already got the attention of the Minister who made certain suggestions to RTE. I hope this will be appreciated by Deputy O'Keeffe. I hope in future when he asks a question in the House that he will remember the facts and not get up on his high horse making false allegations against me and the Department about a matter over which we have no control whatsoever.
The Dáil adjourned at 9 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 12 June 1980.
Dáil Éireann 322 Adjournment Debate. Radio 1 Reception.