Seanad Éireann - Volume 149 - 04 December, 1996

Telecommunications (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 1996: Report Stage.

An Cathaoirleach: I remind Senators that they may speak only once on Report Stage, except for the proposer of an amendment who may reply to the discussion on the amendment. On Report Stage each amendment must be seconded.

Mr. Mooney: I move amendment No.1:

In page 4, between lines 29 and 30, to insert the following:

“(6) The Radio Plan shall include provision for the creation of a short wave radio station.”

In proposing this amendment, I take the opportunity, in light of recent events, to sympathise with the plight of the former Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications. Senators from all sides of the House will empathise with him as will the wider body politic. Somebody once said that victory and defeat are both sides of the same coin. This is perhaps the most traumatic event any politician would have to go through and I wish Deputy Lowry and his wife and family well at this difficult time for them. I have known Deputy Lowry for many years. I [860] made a very small contribution at a time when he and a number of other members of the Semple Stadium committee, of which he was chairman, were attempting to reduce their horrendous debt. Because of my experience in the music business he and I had a number of conversations with some of his colleagues in Tipperary. My relationship with him goes back that far and I would not like to let the occasion pass without putting on record my personal sympathy with his situation.

This amendment relates to the regulator and the quality of telecommunications. When I raised this matter on Committee Stage it was primarily to address the difficulty that the Irish diaspora in the UK has experienced for many years in obtaining the medium wave radio signal from this country. Subsequent to that debate the Minister of State, Deputy Stagg, arranged for me to meet technical people from his Department to clarify a number of the issues raised in the debate. In light of those discussions, it seems that, in spite of the best efforts of RTÉ radio and technicians and the technical staff in the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications, due to the delicate balance which must be achieved between the countries of the European Union in arriving at an equitable share of transmission areas, even if there were to be a significant increase of 100 kW in the signal from the Tullamore transmitter, the current strength of which is limited to 500 kW, it is unlikely it would have a significant impact on the signal going into the United Kingdom.

This amendment affords me an opportunity to publicly acknowledge the excellent work carried out by RTÉ in the area of signal development, especially the work carried out under the direction of Mr. Wesley Body, the former head of news in RTÉ television who is now head of broadcasting development. We are mainly concerned with the radio signal in this context, not only to the UK but right across the world. I have been informed by Mr. Boyd that there have been significant developments in this area. The primary concern of RTÉ in relation to improving the quality of signal is not to develop terrestrial but satellite links. Many Members will be aware of the Astra satellite link.

Another significant development is that because of the onward rush of technology, large cities in Britain are now being cabled for radio and television reception. I have an apartment in South County Dublin and receive my television signal through Cablelink. I have the facility, as do we all, to obtain an audio link as well. This is the direction in which RTÉ is going and it is a welcome development.

RTÉ is currently concluding negotiations with a number of major cable operators in large cities, including London and Birmingham. It is hoped that over the next few years most of the major cities in the UK will have cable facilities capable of receiving the RTÉ signal. Emigrants and others living in the UK who have an interest in Irish affairs should contact their local cable [861] operators and request them to negotiate with RTÉ for its radio signal. If there is sufficient demand from subscribers in these cable areas the operators will respond. They should be told that it is now technically possible to receive a top quality RTÉ radio signal through cable. If this was pursued most of the UK would be covered.

Notwithstanding the impressive technical innovations that RTÉ is pursuing, the question of short wave is a live issue and has gathered momentum. In this respect I acknowledge the fine work undertaken by my friend and colleague from County Mayo, Michael Cummins. He held a seminar there within the past 12 to 18 months at which he brought together the various technical experts in this area.

If this service were to be proceeded with, RTÉ would be the main provider. I have been informed by RTÉ that there are no technical objections to the signal or to the establishment of a short wave radio station. The technical expertise available to me from the Department confirmed this view although I have also been advised that, in practical terms, technical advancements such as radio and satellite transmission have overtaken this dimension in radio broadcasting. Nevertheless, short wave is still a viable option.

If RTÉ is not prepared to initiate this process, which it is capable of doing, perhaps providers in the marketplace would see a commercial viability in establishing a short wave station in which they could sell air time. A great attraction of short wave is that it provides global access, even though there are different frequencies. Anybody who listens to the BBC World Service when abroad realises that a variety of frequencies are advertised. In fairness to the BBC, it has several publications providing technical information and which are subscribed to by its worldwide listening audience. It would not, therefore, be beyond a provider's capacity to publicise the same type of information for potential listeners.

The argument for short wave radio has been well made and has not diminished because of opinions expressed to me since Committee Stage. Short wave radio will remain viable until such time as there is a blanket cable coverage. It is one of the best options for use by the widespread Irish diaspora.

RTÉ operates a short wave frequency in various parts of Africa and the Far East for specific programmes, such as the All Ireland Football and Hurling Finals. They operate short wave frequencies when required, as they see fit. They do it already, it is capable of being done, and in the absence of an initiative from RTÉ — which has indicated it will be a costly exercise — an independent provider might be prepared to apply for the franchise. As the Minister indicated, there would be no objections within his Department to an application from an independent operator. However, that is not to say the applicant would succeed. I have reintroduced this amendment on Report Stage because in the [862] period since Committee Stage, important technical information has become available to help us form this opinion. The radio plan should include provision for the creation of a short wave radio station.

I extend a warm welcome and congratulations to the newly appointed Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications, Deputy Dukes. My colleague, Senator Daly, and I have come to know, love and have great affection for him — if that is possible — over the last 12 to 18 months. He was — perhaps he still is, technically — Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and we benefited greatly from his erudition and elaboration on subjects in that area. The committee's loss is the nation's gain.

Mr. Cassidy: I second Senator Mooney's amendment. On a personal basis I was deeply saddened by the events of last week. I have known Deputy Lowry for a long time and admired his contribution to Semple Stadium. I was associated with fund raising activities for the stadium through him. I particularly applaud the great part Semple Stadium played during the centenary year of the GAA. I extend to his wife and family our best wishes for the future. Political life is tough and it is extremely lonely when something goes wrong, as it has now. One has no one but one's family to fall back on so I wish them well for the future. Politics is the business of survival. I congratulate the new Minister, Deputy Dukes. Kildare is now well represented in this Department — it has a full Minister as well as an experienced Minister of State.

To return to the amendment, Senator Mooney has wide practical knowledge of this matter and the Minister should listen to his advice. The Senator has deeply researched the proposal before us, has communicated with the technical experts in the Department and discussed the matter at length. The amendment would allow an independent operator to take this on board and pursue it. I heard the commentary on the All-Ireland Final replay on short wave radio in America, so I know it can be used to promote Ireland. The results which can be achieved are mindboggling.

As the Senator said, cable and satellite systems may have overtaken much of this technology but nevertheless there may be an advantage to be gained. If the BBC and other short wave stations can be heard in Ireland, why can we not use short wave to transmit and broadcast into the UK, a market of 60 million people? RTÉ is now broadcasting most of its major programmes through cable in the UK but short wave would be an ideal way to reach another portion of that market. For instance, Irish entertainment is the in thing across Europe and America at present. I have experience of the changes which are taking place in the German market, the third largest market in the commercial world. It is mind boggling what could be achieved in the German market by the use of short wave radio. If the [863] Department thinks this is not a financially viable proposition, an independent short wave operator could be appointed on a three to five year trial basis. If it is viable, Irish producers will avail of it and there will be many advantages for the tourist industry. Our music and song would be heard across the globe. Irish music is the greatest ambassador to attract tourists. Short wave radio is a wonderful suggestion and I would like the Minister of State to accept it.

Mr. Cregan: I was on a parliamentary delegation to Rome last week and while watching cable television I received a sound signal from RTÉ on one channel. As I mentioned a number of times recently I fail to understand why a signal cannot be received 60 miles from Dublin or why RTÉ cannot provide a signal throughout the island. Is it possible to send a cable television signal through radio? Is it possible to take advantage of this signal commercially? The success of “Riverdance” and what is has done for Ireland should not be forgotten. The world is looking at this country. I have been to many shows and “Riverdance” is one of the finest I have ever seen. It is an all Irish production and has done a great deal to sell this country internationally.

Seventy million people live within a 70 mile radius of Cologne and Dusseldorf. A great deal of business could be done there, yet we are not prepared to promote Ireland. For instance, how many people in Great Britain are aware that the signal from Ireland is better through a blank screen than it is through radio?

Senator Mooney said that RTÉ is putting the emphasis on using cable television channels rather than radio. A short wave signal can be received perfectly throughout Europe via television channels but it cannot be received in Great Britain, Ireland's biggest market. Yet, 60 million people want to listen and are asking why they cannot receive the signal. A signal cannot be received in Holyhead which is 55 miles from Dublin.

This Bill should be taken by the Minister for the Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, not the Minister of State for Transport, Energy and Communications. Telecommunications should be the responsibility of one Department only. We cannot debate this Bill because the relevant Minister is not here. A telecommunications Bill is being put through this House, but the issue of a short wave signal is not the responsibility of the Minister. I do not see the logic in that.

Is it possible to receive a signal through the radio? There is a fantastic signal through cable television. Admittedly if the Minister of State wants to hear a good signal, he should go to Ballydehob, turn off the radio and turn on the television. Everybody wants to listen to radio and Irish people want to hear Irish programmes. It baffles me that people can go to a cable company and receive Irish programmes but they cannot do [864] so through RTÉ. Will the relevant Minister be asked for an explanation?

Professor Lee: I spent much of this year among what are termed “the diaspora” and was staggered by its desire for closer contact and for access to our broadcasting in America and Britain. There is potential there and we are only tapping the surface. I support the general thrust of the arguments being presented to the Minister of State.

Mr. Daly: I would go farther than Senator Cregan in regard to the Departments of Transport, Energy and Communications and Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht. One Department does not know what the other is doing. Recently I got in touch with both Departments and tried to establish who was responsible for what in regard to communications. There is a necessity for ministerial rationalisation in that regard.

I wish the new Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications, Deputy Dukes, well. He was Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and he is an able politician. I am sure that, with the assistance of the Minister of State, the communications and energy needs of Kildare will be adequately attended to. I regret the departure of Deputy Lowry. He had a difficult time during his tenure but he worked hard and diligently. It is regrettable that his term in office should terminate so soon. Nevertheless, I am sure he realises, as many of us have, that there is life after being a Minister and that he will continue to represent his constituents adequately as he has done in the past.

I support the amendment because I have been impressed during my travels abroad by the BBC World Service. The amendment envisages a similar service being provided through a short wave radio signal which could be easily picked up anywhere in the world without the need for a satellite dish or cable. I support the idea because it would provide an inexpensive, efficient and valuable short wave service to the Irish overseas and would also promote Ireland abroad.

This is important because it has been demonstrated by those involved in promoting Ireland internationally, such as the IDA, that there is a very limited knowledge of the country overseas. International business people, who have found it important and profitable to locate operations here, say their friends in business overseas have little knowledge of Ireland and how its economy functions. It is important, therefore, to have an Irish short wave service and I support the amendment.

Will the Minister of State outline the reason such a service was not established in the past? I am aware there has been considerable discussion about it in the last 20 years. Is it due to cost or the lack of expertise to put the system in place? It is an obvious move, given the informative and [865] valuable service provided internationally by the BBC.

Mr. Dardis: I already welcomed the appointment of Deputy Dukes as Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications. I endorse Senator Daly's comments about two Ministers from the same county in the one Department. We can at least expect that the Eircell blackspot at the bottom of the hill in Kilcullen will be sorted out. They can start there and move forward.

I am technically illiterate regarding radio signals but in the era of global communications we should be as competitive as other countries in terms of getting our message across to the world. The large emigrant population is interested in what is going on at home and the wider world should be exposed to what we have to say. This is why I support the amendment.

Members referred to the BBC World Service but I understand it has been considerably reduced in recent years. In broadcasting terms it is not as significant as it was in the past. I do not have doubts about the creation of an Irish signal but about its reception. Most radio is now broadcast almost exclusively on FM and some stations are not available on the medium wave band. It can be difficult to receive a signal as a result of the inadequacy of the equipment. If an Irish short wave service was created, would there be adequate equipment to receive the signal?

I spent Monday in a motorcar in the west of England. In the past it was possible to receive RTÉ on medium wave on the west coast of England and in Wales but now radios almost exclusively search for the nearest FM station. One spends the entire day listening to local radio. This is useful from a driving point of view because one knows where there are traffic jams but it does not have much to recommend it to people other than those living in the immediate area. It provides a useful service to them, as does Irish local radio. I am concerned that major investment would be required in reception equipment if an Irish short wave service existed.

Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications (Mr. Stagg): I thank Senators for their kind and humane remarks about Deputy Lowry, but I would expect nothing less from them. I also thank Members for their comments about the new Minister, Deputy Dukes.

I will be in a position to bring a message to the House before the end of the debate about the issue raised before my arrival. However, Government policies and decisions on the matter are firm and clear. There is no question of a review of such policies or decisions and the new Minister is ad idem with the position. I will bring this matter in a more formal format to the House before the debate concludes.

[866] The amendment affects section 3 in general and subsections (5) to (9), inclusive, in particular. The subsections deal with the transfer of the Minister's current regulatory powers in relation to frequency spectrum management to the director of telecommunications regulation. These functions, in so far as they relate to broadcasting services, are confined solely to the assignment of the appropriate radio frequencies at the appropriate locations within the State for the transmission of the broadcast services concerned. Responsibility for broadcasting policy and content rests entirely with the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht. While I agree with the point about rationalisation, I am sure my colleague in that Department would not be happy if I said I wanted to check that part of his brief.

Mr. Daly: Somebody should do it.

Mr. Stagg: I agree with the Senator. Senator Mooney first raised this issue on Second Stage when I told him that I sympathised with him; that is still the case. An Irish short wave radio station is a good and sound idea. At that time I wrote to the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, raising and supporting the Senator's views. Ultimately, my Department is not in the business of setting broadcasting policy; the director will not be involved in this area either. It is a matter for the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht.

I am sure the Senator will agree there is a need for drive and commitment in the setting up of any broadcasting station. This includes a commitment to financial resources and professional broadcasting expertise. These issues are a matter for RTÉ or a third party in the first instance. In the context of broadcasting policy, it would then be a matter for the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht. It would only be on the finalisation of such a decision that the director of telecommunications regulation would become involved from the point of view of licensing frequency usage for such a service. The amendment presupposes the policy and commercial decisions to establish a short wave radio station. It is not proper or appropriate to provide for it in the Bill.

Senator Cregan asked why one could receive a clear signal through cable but not from the air. The reason is the signal going through the cable is uninterrupted but the signal in the air travels through a packed area which contains interruptions that cannot be avoided.

Mr. Daly: Does the Minister have any idea about cost?

Mr. Stagg: I do not have that information.

Mr. Cregan: The Senator should ask the Minister for Finance.

Mr. Mooney: I am grateful to the Minister of State. It is obvious that the sentiment if not the [867] practicality of implementing this proposal is in my favour. I appreciate, as Senator Daly said, that the Minister is constrained to an extraordinary degree. Because of the overlap between the technical aspects and policy dimensions of broadcasting, we are falling between two stools. In effect, while the Minister has sympathy with the proposal, he is not in a position to implement it. He can only make representations arising from the debate, I urge him to make specific representations to the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht to open up the discussion on the provision of a short wave radio station service from Ireland. As the Minister responsible for policy, it is incumbent on him, given this discussion and the comments of his colleagues in the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications, to have a public debate. That debate should be initiated by the Minister and he should set up a forum where the pros and cons of this proposal could be aired and its commercial viability explored. I fully appreciate that, while it is all very well to call for the setting up of a service, one has to pay for it and the costings must be researched before it can be placed before those who might be interested, not just RTÉ.

The Bill cannot do a great deal to facilitate this amendment but, at least, the subject has been adequately aired. I still believe we should have a short wave radio station. The amendment states “The Radio Plan shall include provision for the creation of a short wave radio station” and I will hold my line on the matter as I believe this should be implemented. Consequently, I will not formally withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Stagg: The Broadcasting Bill has been circulated to all Departments for their comments. In the context of that Bill the House will have an opportunity to pursue the issue which the Senator has raised. My Department will take on board the positive message of the Senator in regard to short wave radio in its comments on the Bill to the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht.

Mr. Daly: May I speak again?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: No, I am sorry the Senator may not.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Mr. Mooney: I move amendment No. 2:

In page 4, after line 45, to add the following:

“(10) The Minister shall have regard to the quality of reception of radio frequencies allocated under international conventions.”

I raised the spirit of this amendment on Second and Committee Stages. It relates to the Minister having regard to the quality of reception of radio frequencies allocated under international conventions. I dealt, to some degree, under the other amendment with the question of [868] international frequencies. This amendment affords me an opportunity to once again compliment the ongoing good work on the establishment of a stronger radio signal to Northern Ireland.

I request the Irish negotiators at the upcoming regular review of international frequencies to attempt, despite the information conveyed to me that even a significant increase in the power of the Tullamore transmitter would not have a great impact, to get it increased. If the RTÉ Tullamore transmitter's strength is 600 kilowatts and the international limit placed on RTÉ is 500 kilowatts, I do not see why we should not push for the extra 100 kilowatts. I appreciate, from the technical advice provided to me by the Minister of State, that the impact would be minimal. However, we are talking about minimalist dimensions — the difference between someone receiving the medium wave signal in the south or south east of England clearly or unclearly.

As a broadcaster, I receive letters from Irish people and others in the United Kingdom, some of whom go to extraordinary lengths to receive the RTÉ signal. I can cite the example of a Welshman who has no contact with this country other than an association with the Brendan Shine band, a very successful Irish band from Athlone. He was a member of the Welsh agricultural society and 20 years ago he was charged with obtaining a suitable dance band for a function in Llandildes in north Wales, which is a mountainous region. As a result of this he came in contact with members of the Irish music industry. Consequently, a part of Ireland now beats very strongly in north Wales.

As a result of his interest in Ireland he started to listen to RTÉ radio. He had some difficulty picking up the signal so he would drive to the top of the nearest mountain — there are plenty of small mountains in north Wales as well as large ones in Snowdonia — and put his aerial outside his car so he could listen to late night radio from Dublin.

Mr. Cregan: His mother must have been from Ireland.

Mr. Mooney: That is just one example I could cite of people with no Irish blood who drive to the exact place in their area where they can pick up the strongest signal because they cannot receive it in their houses. They go to extraordinary lengths to hear Irish radio programmes. We should, therefore, make every effort to even minimally improve that signal. Consequently, despite the technical difficulties, I strongly urge the Government's negotiators in the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications when dealing with their opposite numbers in the United Kingdom, and to a lesser extent in Germany, to ask that the power of the Tullamore transmitter be increased to its maximum strength.

The reason the Germans are involved is——

[869] Mr. Dardis: The Welshman must have gone to Germany.

Mr. Mooney: No, he is still living in north Wales. At this stage, like Jack Charlton, he is an honorary Irishman. If John Dudley Davies hears about this I am sure he will be chuffed that he was mentioned in the Upper House of the Irish Parliament.

Mr. Cassidy: He is on the record of the House.

Mr. Mooney: The problems with the quality of signal received in the United Kingdom centre primarily in London and the south east. The signal can be received fairly strongly on medium wave by those west of the Pennines and the spine of England but it starts to deteriorate east of that line. There are over one million people who are Irish born or of Irish descent in London and the south east, which is a very significant market, but it is extremely difficult or impossible to receive the signal there. I know from my regular visits to England and from my colleagues on all sides of the House that there is extreme difficulty in receiving a clear signal as it comes and goes.

As the Minister of State pointed out, one of the reasons for this is the nature of the medium wave band and the topography involved. The signals bounce all over the place because of the physical characteristics of the land. Also, there is a station almost everywhere on the cluttered medium wave band.

A German station is being received on the RTÉ 567 medium wave signal in London and the south east. I understand the Germans cannot do a great deal about this because it results from a unique technical phenomenon which happens at night where the medium wave signal bounces across the sky. That is why far off medium wave signals can be received much more strongly at night than during the day. One would have hoped that RTÉ's signal would be equally strengthened. Strangely enough it is but not consistently — it is strengthened in pockets. For example, it can be received in Portugal, on the west coast of the Iberian peninsula, and in some parts of northern Spain. It can also be received in the north of Europe, in the Nordic countries, because the signal comes across the North Sea. I urge the Minister of State to reach agreement with our EU partners to increase the signal from the Tullamore transmitter to its maximum, which I understand is 600 kw. That may help to improve the signal for the Irish abroad and those non-Irish who wish to know more about Ireland.

Senator Daly's point on the last amendment was well made. There is great ignorance about this country, even among our closest neighbours. We like to think we are well known internationally but we are not. The images and impressions of Ireland diffused by the British based media tend to distort and misinterpret the country to our detriment. The damage extends [870] beyond music, for example, and affects the sale of Irish products and the development of the pro-Irish view in Europe which is somewhat absent in the UK. The question of the quality of the radio signal is bound up with wider macroeconomic arguments.

Irish producers, many of whom export to the UK, use RTÉ radio to market their products on an all Ireland basis. The corporate sector is not partitionist when it places advertising with RTÉ because it knows that the signal is widely available in Ireland and also in significant areas of Scotland, Wales and north-west England. The commercial aspect of this issue should not be lost in the technical details. The underlying motive is not altruistic but is based on the view that the corporate sector should be given every possible marketing opportunity. As Senator Cregan has pointed out on a number of occasions, there is a market available which is ready and willing to have more information about Ireland via our radio network.

There is an unused extra national FM frequency which Ireland had been granted under international arrangements. This frequency is separate from that allocated to Radio Ireland and would have an impact on the current breakdown of the use of the FM band. Raidió na Gaeltachta shares a frequency with FM3, a classical music station. Ireland should have a national classical music station because such stations have proved commercially successful in the UK. Because of the limited nature of its transmissions FM3 only appeals to a small minority. If there was a full scale, commercially oriented classical music station, it would be successful. In addition, freeing up the FM channel would provide more airtime for Raidió na Gaeltachta and might provide a facility for other broadcasts.

A significant proportion of the population is unable to receive Teilifís na Gaeilge. The chief executive of Teilifís na Gaeilge, Mr. Cathal Goan — a man for whom I have the greatest respect — said that he had underestimated the ability of viewers to receive the signal. The station was born in controversy but has been executed to date with the greatest professionalism. One can only admire its technological innovations and presentational style. However, only a minute portion of the population can receive the signal. The Government and the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications must address this matter. If a national television station is to be provided at a large cost to taxpayers the least they can expect is to able to receive it.

Mr. Cassidy: I second the amendment. Senator Mooney has a wide knowledge in this field and I congratulate him on his enlightened contribution. There has been a major cock-up with Teilfís na Gaeilge and if the signal must be changed then so be it. It is absurd that so few people can receive it. The professionalism and expertise of the young people employed there is fabulous. The chief executive of the station was on Pat Kenny's radio [871] show yesterday and explained that people need the most up to date televisions to receive the signal. Surely that is to hold a gun to the viewers' heads, so to speak. If those involved believe they will be able to educate people in respect of the technical details they will go out of business. The station should be relaunched and it should be made more easily available. People change their televisions every ten or 15 years.

Mr. Dardis: The Senator wants the frequency translated.

Mr. Cassidy: I agree with Senator Mooney's call to increase the signal from the Tullamore transmitter. There are vast markets available in the UK. If the signal can be received in Manchester and Liverpool it should be easy to make it available in Birmingham. In north London the signal can be received in Cricklewood but not in Kilburn, an area that could provide a huge extra audience. That is what a one mile radius in London means. The London market is the most difficult to penetrate because of the enormous costs involved. If one wanted to advertise during “Coronation Street”, it would cost £70,000 for a half a minute. It is extremely difficult to promote Irish products and artists but this is an ideal opportunity to address that problem. Senator Cregan said that perhaps this matter should be dealt with by a different Minister. I have confidence in the Minister of State, Deputy Stagg, and I am sure he will bring our concerns to the attention of the appropriate Minister.

I do not concur with Senator Mooney's views about the classical music station FM3, which has a popular rating of 2 per cent. Country music is the most popular in the western world. Places like Drumlish and Strokestown produce Irish artists who employ a number of people but who do not ask for money from the State. These artists are not supported by RTÉ, 98FM or 104FM, which have been given licences under the legislation passed in this House. This is an abuse of the airwaves which the Minister should not allow to continue. Producers, presenters and everyone associated with RTÉ television deserve praise for the support they give Irish artists. However, RTÉ radio only gives them 25 per cent air time which is appalling. This is of no use to an industry which wants to increase employment. The airwaves are the music industry's most important asset. However, they are being abused.

Senator Cregan mentioned “Riverdance”. Five or six years ago Irish dancing was not seen as cool or modern. However, it is now highly fashionable among young people because of the success of “Riverdance”. Standing ovations of 15 and 20 minutes have been given throughout the world for the best performance ever seen on stage. If that can bring tourists into Ireland and generate developments in our capital city, surely we could do even more if we set up a wave band which [872] could be received in Germany, Australia, America and Canada. This would be a great asset for the Government and it would help to create employment.

I hope the Minister accepts this amendment.

Mr. Quinn: I have been an admirer of Senator Mooney for many years, even when I did not know him. I admire him even more today for his skill, expertise and knowledge of this subject. However, I criticise his amendment, which states that the “Minister shall have regard to the quality of reception of radio frequencies allocated under international conventions”, because it is too mild.

I was not aware until recently of the huge opportunities presented by radio. We know how Ireland benefited during the past couple of years from the Eurovision Song Contest. For the first time, people heard Irish music and saw what was happening on their televisions and they then decided to visit this country. We lose out if we do not pursue the opportunity to advertise Ireland across Europe and further afield. I was not aware of the opportunity presented by the 600 kilowatt station in Tullamore. We have markets for food and other exports, but we also have a market for tourism. It is not necessarily RTÉ's job to promote this market. I got the impression from the Minister that there would not be any opposition if someone wanted to invest in this field.

I agree with Senator Mooney's comments. I admire his ability to send a message from Ireland to many of our emigrants, particularly in Britain. He has done so over the past number of years. It is a shame that people who should hear that message are unable to do so. It is also a shame that we cannot send that message to those who are not from Ireland. I urge the Minister to take this into account and ensure that the message is heard.

Mr. Daly: Perhaps the Minister can give me some information about the new broadcasting Bill because some of the issues we are discussing may be covered in it. He already said it was being discussed in different Departments. My understanding was that this Bill would be before the House before the end of this year. If that is not true, perhaps the Minister could tell us when it will be introduced because we have important issues to raise with the Departments, such as the funding of local radio.

Ba mhaith liom cúpla focal a rá ar Theilifís na Gaeilge. Teilifís na Gaeilge reminds me of the words of Richie Kavanagh's song — “aon focal, dhá focal, trí focal eile, and I not knowing no focal at all”. Many people are anxious to tune into Teilifís na Gaeilge but no one can find it. A person from County Clare telephoned Raidió na Gaeltachta a few days ago to say he had attached his aerial to a nail in the attic and he was getting excellent reception from Teilifís na Gaeilge. The Minister or the authorities in Teilifís na Gaeilge must conduct a national information campaign to [873] tell people how to tune into Teilifís na Gaeilge. People with expensive equipment have endeavoured to find it without success and special aerials are needed in some cases. There is widespread lack of knowledge about how to tune into the station. This must be rectified because many people would tune into Teilifís na Gaeilge if they could find it.

In supporting Senator Mooney's amendment, I question the availability of radio frequencies in Northern Ireland. About a year ago, we had a fairly long discussion about the difficulty receiving signals from here in Northern Ireland. At the time it was partly seen as a political problem. My understanding is that, arising from the discussions that took place, not only in the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs but also at the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation in Dublin Castle, some advance was made on the political problems in Northern Ireland about getting access to the signals from here. Perhaps the Minister of State can enlighten us as to whether there has been any improvement since the matter was raised a year ago.

The second matter I want to raise concerns the internal reception of signals on medium wave and FM. In the early days of radio there was a transmitter in Athlone which could be picked up on 567 metres. There is now an urgent necessity for RTÉ or the Minister to identify signals more with regions and particular towns. When I travel from west Clare to Dublin I have to change wavelengths three times from 88.8 to 88.9 and 89.1. It is most confusing, and I venture to suggest that people endeavouring to change car radio bands are a traffic hazard. This is happening everywhere.

If you try to get a radio signal in the southeast you do not know where to tune. Local radio stations are on the FM band and advertise their wavebands locally but the national bands needs to be identified with regions rather than wavelengths. It would be far easier for people to receive signals if the radio frequency was identified with Athlone, Tullamore, Cork or west Clare. The Minister of State should examine this matter which might be easy to resolve.

The RTÉ Guide could help by printing a map which would make it easier for listeners than reading technical terminology such as kilowatts and other wavebands. That is not a major issue, however.

Mr. Cregan: Senator Daly mentioned the different frequencies of radio programmes. When I travel from Cork to Dublin I have to change the frequency by the time I get to Watergrasshill which is only 11 miles from Cork. At Fermoy I have to change the frequency again but beyond Fermoy I have to go back to the frequency I used in Watergrasshill. If that problem exists within an 11 mile radius of Cork city, what must the problem be in trying to broadcast such signals to Britain when we cannot sort out our own difficulties? I place the blame totally on the RTÉ [874] Authority which is responsible and must provide answers.

Like Senator Cassidy, I was listening to “Today with Pat Kenny” concerning the reception of Teilifís na Gaeilge in Connemara. I cannot believe that six weeks ago I was listening to something being discussed in terms of such commitment. They said there would be no problem getting the programmes out to people who wanted to see them. There are some excellent programmes on Teilifís na Gaeilge. I support the Irish language and like to think I could learn from it but, unfortunately, I cannot receive it on any of my three television sets. Can the Minister of State make it clear who is responsible for this? The Minister has given a commitment on these amendments and he is keen to enhance RTÉ and the promotion of Irish generally. Senator Cassidy is right to ask when will we tell the RTÉ Authority that it has a responsibility to promote Ireland and Irish culture, yet nobody is answerable.

We have spent in the region of £16 million on Teilifís na Gaeilge which will cost £10 million per year to run, yet nobody can explain why no one can receive the signal. Two months ago when Teilifís na Gaeilge was first promoted I was under the impression it had no problem with sponsorship, but yesterday the person in charge readily admitted there is a massive problem because it is not getting sponsorship. If that can happen within a short two month period, is anybody really answerable for the taxpayers' money?

Can anyone say why RTÉ radio can be received in parts of London and Cork but not in other areas? Are we so sophisticated as regards high technology that one does not have to answer these questions? People who suggest that we should look at blank television screens just to hear a voice are not living in the real world.

I am talking about promoting Ireland and, as other Senators have said, the opportunities are there. We have heard much about the 44 million people of Irish descent in America but we do not have to go that far. We only have to look across 55 miles of water to see the opportunities in Britain where people want to listen to Irish programmes. We are situated a short distance from Donnybrook but nobody is answerable. We have a right to answers from the Authority if we give RTÉ the licence fees every year. At present someone can come to your door to demand whether you have paid your television licence, even if you cannot receive a proper signal.

Someone must answer for what is happening in Connemara. We were told to erect different aerials but that is not easy because planning permission is required. I do not want to see the country covered in aerials once more while we grant licences to supply cable television.

Some people can receive Teilifís na Gaeilge using only a nail while others cannot receive it using the best television sets. Perhaps they forgot to tell everybody they need new TV sets because [875] the old ones will not work. We have spent £16 million setting up Teilifís na Gaeilge plus £10 million a year to run it, but it will probably cost £15 million a year if there are no new sponsors. It is going nowhere. It is farce and I am not prepared to accept that.

Mr. Dardis: For the purposes of this debate we had better leave the question of planning permission to one side because it could lead us into controversy. We have covered much ground which is related in some ways to the amendment. I have been provoked to intervene by my good friend, Senator Cassidy, who referred to classical music. It will come as no surprise that, as someone who comes from a minority party, I will spring to the defence of minorities. Even if its audience is only 2 per cent, FM3 is an excellent station and does a good job. There is an audience for such material and I think that audience should be catered for.

Mr. Cassidy: So do I, in a minority fashion.

Mr. Dardis: Classical music is not something foreign; we have an excellent tradition of classical music. One only has to think of the Ó Riada Mass which is an example of superior Irish classical composition. One could also quote other examples in this regard.

Mr. Cassidy: I fully support the Senator's argument.

Mr. Dardis: I have no difficulty about FM3. I recently visited England and I came across a classical music radio station on the FM band which plays very good material. If we argue on behalf of Teilifís na Gaeilge, we must also argue on behalf of classical music because, in a sense, they are analogous.

I see that Senator Cregan has left the Chamber, would it be in order to call a vote?

Mr. Cassidy: We might call a quorum.

Mr. Dardis: We could be very naughty and give the Senator two minutes to return before putting the question. It is incomprehensible that, on an island as small as ours, we cannot obtain national coverage on a radio frequency. People in France would laugh if the national radio could not be heard in Bordeaux or Strasbourg. The same argument applies to Germany. Therefore, It is incomprehensible that we do not have adequate coverage in Ireland. What Senator Daly says about the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation is correct. When parity of esteem was discussed, it was suggested that, if it were to operate properly, people in Northern Ireland who wished to receive signals from RTÉ should be able to do so.

With regard to Irish music and whether it is under-represented on our airwaves, it must compete with other types of music.

[876] Mr. Cassidy: Classical music does not have to do so.

Mr. Dardis: It does.

Mr. Cassidy: Fair is fair.

Mr. Dardis: There are two dimensions in the provision of a national broadcasting service— the commercial and the social. These apply in the case of CIE and other State services and both are important. The national radio station has an obligation to provide social and commercial dimensions. It must be recognised that local radio stations, which operate with small resources and manpower, provide an excellent quality of service.

I would test the system by calling for a vote but I see there is no need because Senator Cregan has returned. It must be noted, however, that he is seated on our side of the Chamber.

Mr. Stagg: I will first deal with the amendment before dealing with the points raised. Senator Mooney tabled this amendment on Committee Stage and I understand his concern involves the Irish diaspora. He referred to the Irish in Britain and Northern Ireland, in particular. The proposed amendment is to section 3 of the Bill and would insert a new subsection to the effect that “The Minister shall have regard to the quality of reception of radio frequencies allocated under international conventions.”. With respect to the Senator's proposal, a Minister, in negotiating for a share of the radio spectrum at international fora, would be unlikely to do other than “have regard to the quality of reception”, apart from the other technical considerations for which he or she must cater.

The central purpose of international agreements relating to the frequency is to optimise the use of a scarce resource, minimise interference and maximise reception quality for all signatories and members. These three points, among others, constitute basic good frequency management principles. Section 3(9) already states that the Minister must have regard to good frequency management in giving directions to the director.

In the event that Senators are concerned about anecdotal instances of foreign stations being received in Ireland, RTÉ is not easily heard abroad. Other European countries are more heavily populated and have more highly developed networks. This means that the potential for overspill of an Irish frequency into these countries is reduced because of local use and signal strength. The same is not true in Ireland because we do not have the same requirement for capacity. The proposed amendment appears to duplicate subsection (9) and is, therefore, unnecessary.

Senator Cassidy and others raised the issue of Teilifís na Gaelige. Like Senator Cregan, I have a daughter who is a whizz kid with electronics but [877] we cannot receive the Teilifís na Gaeilge signal in my house. I contacted the people from whom we receive our television signal to no avail. I take on board the concerns expressed and I will convey the message of this House to the RTÉ Authority, which is responsible for the quality of reception. I will deal with the matter on foot of this debate.

Senator Daly inquired about the broadcasting Bill which has been circulated to Departments for observations. As a former Minister, he is aware of the circuit it must follow. The Bill, with the observations and a response to them from the Departments, will be placed before the Government for decision. It will then be published and proceed through Parliament. The Government and Opposition Whips will decide on the speed of that process. I am not in a position to provide a timetable in this regard but the procedure outlined must be followed.

The Senator also raised the issue of radio bands and the necessity to retune one's car radio when travelling throughout the country. I drive a relatively modest car, for which I have almost paid, that has a radio with an automatic tuning system.

Mr. Cassidy: Are such cars and radios merely for the use of Ministers and Ministers of State?

Mr. Stagg: No, I drive a Nissan.

Mr. Cregan: A Japanese car?

Mr. Stagg: Yes.

Mr. Dardis: The Minister of State does not need that radio because he has someone to change the channel for him.

Mr. Stagg: I am usually so busy in the passenger seat, doing work on behalf of this House and the Lower House, that I do not have time to change the channel.

With regard to reception in Northern Ireland, there are political and technical issues involved. The technical issues are addressed by my Department and its counterpart in the UK. This has been successful and will continue in the future. The Department of Foreign Affairs deals with the political aspect and I am not in a position to comment in that regard. I hope I have responded to the main points raised by Senators.

Mr. Mooney: I thank the Minister of State for addressing the points raised. I also thank Senator Quinn for his gracious remarks which are deeply appreciated. Companies such as that presided over by the Senator spend significant sums of money as part of their annual sales budget attempting to advertise their products to the wider public. I am sure that, because of significantly increased travel between Britain and Ireland, it is in the interest of companies such as Senator Quinn's, which are national players, to obtain access to a strong radio signal to get their message across to the Irish community in Britain.

[878] I am glad the Minister of State clarified the position about varying signal strengths, to which Senator Cregan referred. I am impressed that the Minister of State has access to a radio with an automatic tuning system. Such systems form part of the ongoing technological developments to which I referred. I believe this type of radio system will be standard in all new cars in the near future. Most people listen to radio stations on the FM band because it provides a clearer and less cluttered signal than medium wave and, for that reason, the best way to listen to music is on the FM band, not the medium wave.

Mr. Cregan: If one can obtain a signal.

Mr. Mooney: I take the Senator's point. I concur with Senator Daly's well measured contribution. I suggest that, when the Minister of State conveys our remarks to the RTÉ Authority, he might also include Senator Daly's proposal that the RTÉ Guide should contain a frequency map rather than the current nondescript column that provides details of frequencies and megahertz. I will not try to explain these frequencies because I do not fully understand them.

The RTÉ Guide should adopt the same policy as Eircell and include a map outlining the parameters of transmission regions. The Minister should raise this matter with the RTÉ Authority and ask it to be more user friendly. If this were done Senator Cregan and others would know where the signal was strongest. I hope all of us in this House will end up with a search button on our radios as the Minister has, it is becoming the norm.

The Minister made the point about the ability of people to tune into Teilifís na Gaeilge. How many Senators get the numbers 8888 flashing continuously when they switch on their video recorders? This means that the recorder is not tuned. Most adults do not know how to tune their video recorders and usually ask their children to do it. No one should feel embarrassed about this, it is quite a technical operation and children are better at it because they are more computer literate.

There was a serious underestimation by the planners in Teilifís na Gaeilge when they assumed that people would have no difficulty tuning in. They believed that all they had to do was put an advertisement in the newspaper saying “you can pick us up on channel 65”. People did not understand the advertisement because they did not have 65 channels. In fact, channel 65 is a technical term for the signal. Teilifís na Gaeilge needs to get its act together. It has to get back to basics and give people detailed advice on how to receive the signal. It is extraordinary that with the amount of money being spent on the service they seriously underestimated this basic fact. They assumed that because people were watching existing channels it would be a simple matter for them to tune in an additional channel. It is an unmitigated public relations disaster for Teilifís [879] na Gaeilge and I am sad about this because it is an excellent station. Teilifís na Gaeilge needs to move quickly on this issue because it will be overwhelmed by the new cable and satellite channels.

When the Minister is in correspondence with the RTÉ Authority would he request that the station accelerates its conversion programme of the existing transmission network? For example, the Truskmore transmitter in County Sligo cannot transmit the Teilifís na Gaeilge signal because it is on VHF. The signal in the midlands comes from the UHF transmitter at Cairnhill, County Longford. According to the Minister's technical staff, RTÉ is currently embarking on a conversion programme for all its transmitters but this programme is progressing at a snail's pace. It could be years before the entire network is converted and capable of transmitting Teilifís na Gaeilge's UHF signal.

RTÉ should be encouraged to purchase equity in existing local radio stations in the UK. This would allow it to retransmit many of the its current programmes. RTÉ is in negotiations with an Irishman based in London who has applied for one of the last remaining FM signals being tendered for. RTÉ has taken equity in this company which stands an excellent chance of being granted the licence. They are up against strong competition from people such as Richard Branson. This is RTÉ's first initiative of this kind in radio. It is an equity shareholder in the new Tara TV which is currently transmitting Irish television programmes via a number of cable companies throughout the UK. Hopefully this will rapidly expand and Irish people living in Britain should contact their cable operators and inform them that they can receive Irish television programmes by buying into the Tara TV network. I urge people to do so.

As a matter of policy, the Government should encourage RTÉ to continue down the road of acquiring equity in local radio stations in the UK. This is not an unusual development. It is already happening with Radio Ireland whose equity base has changed since the licence was granted six months ago. Scottish Radio, one of the unsuccessful tenderers, now has a significant equity holding in Radio Ireland. Senators will be aware of the ongoing difficulties experienced by TV3, the independent national television channel. Ulster Television took a significant equity in TV3 but sadly they have withdrawn. This was a bitter blow to the station. Cross-fertilisation between broadcasters, particularly in the private sector, is not new. As the State owned broadcasting company, RTÉ should be encouraged to take equity in local UK radio stations as a means of transmitting Irish programmes to Irish audiences living there.

Senator Cregan's point about the variation in signal quality raises the point that RTÉ Radio 1 has been losing significant numbers of listeners [880] over the last two to three years. This is a cause for concern.

Mr. Cassidy: Too much talk.

Mr. Mooney: People are fed up changing the frequency every half hour as they are travelling around the country. They find it much easier to leave their radio fixed on a local station. Because of the topography of this country, most local radio stations can be picked up across a wide area. Highland Radio is, sadly, one of the few excellent local radio stations that cannot be heard to an appreciable degree outside its franchise area. We cannot pick it up in County Leitrim. Conversely, I can receive Radio 3 and the Dublin stations. This is because the terrain is flat and any stations transmitting into it can be picked up across the country, beyond their franchise areas.

The Minister, in his correspondence with the RTÉ Authority, might ask them to seriously address this question of FM access because of the possible loss of listeners. Perhaps I have gone into more detail than I originally intended but this is one of the final opportunities I will have to discuss these technical matters.

Mr. Cregan: We have the Minister's commitment.

Mr. Mooney: I am grateful on a personal and political level to the Minister of State, Deputy Stagg, who has not only been supportive of the sentiments I have expressed as regards these amendments on all Stages but has taken a proactive role in conveying these points directly to his colleague, the Minister of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, as it relates to the policy areas. It is a triumph for democracy that we can operate in a co-operative atmosphere and that as a result we will have achieved something positive.

Mr. Stagg: As regard conversion in the Sligo area, to which Senator Mooney referred, if the conversion was to go ahead any faster, people would have redundant capacity in the form of televisions which would not receive the new system. It has to be done at a certain pace to accommodate that. Considering the expertise present in the Seanad, I can look forward to Members enjoying the Broadcasting Bill when it comes before the House.

Mr. Cassidy: The Bill was initiated in this House.

Mr. Stagg: My officials have taken note of the points raised by Senators, particularly by Senator Mooney and we will act on the necessary areas, on. As Senators will appreciate, we have been doing this in the course of the debate on the Bill.

The issue of competition and the desirability of promoted competition in telecommunications services was raised by Senator Quinn on Committee Stage. I believe that other areas, in particular the transposition of EU directives into [881] national law, will address this matter. However, if this is not so and the issue remains unaddressed, my Department is already looking at other possible ways of remedying any possible gap in what will be the functions or the responsibilities of the director after this Bill is passed.

One such possibility is to make an order under this Bill, after it has been enacted, to transfer a function to the director in relation to competition. Such an order might oblige the director to favour more rather than less competition wherever that is possible. Of course he could only do so where it was also in compliance with EU directives, national law and Government policy in this area.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Debate adjourned.