£250,000 per year, on the average. In one particular year it went up to £300,000. During that period the industrial district of the North-East was included. An industrial district such as the North-East naturally provides a very substantial backing to the revenue of the Post Office. That loss continued to increase during the course of the war, and in the year 1920 it reached the sum of £1,000,000. The first year of our administration—an administration which by the way the people of this country have not had responsibility for because the machine was handed over and we had no opportunity for making changes—resulted in a loss of £1,412,000. That sum is the loss that the Free State Treasury suffered from the working of the Post Officce during the first year of its administration. It might, perhaps, be right to say that that sum included a figure of £180,000 cash necessary for the replacement of Postmaster's balances. Nevertheless, the Treasury suffered last year the loss of the sum stated. In the estimates submitted to the Dáil which were printed early this year and, as a matter of fact, framed as far back, I think, as November or December, we had calculated on a loss of £1,265,607. That is the loss the Dáil would have had to discuss if the discussion had taken place then. That is the loss which had been contemplated in the working of the Post Office for the current year. In the meantime the particular Committee to which I refer has got to work and a very substantial modification has taken place in our financial outlook. In the meantime, too, the political position has improved, and with that improvement you have a corresponding improvement in the economic position. The Retrenchment Committee tackled not only the wastage of force in the service but it also tackled what are called by economists luxury services. In addition to this it tightened up certain contracts for carrying purposes that were made by our predecessors and took steps which were very pressing for the general improvement of the discipline of the service and the corresponding improvement in output. Because of those steps and of the work that has been done in the interval—work foreshadowed in my previous statement—I am now in a position to tell the Dáil that the loss on the service for the year under review will not exceed £750,000, or a saving on last year's working of something in the region of £650,000.
This is the loss which the Irish people have to face in the Post Office service for this year. As a matter of fact, a still further improvement would have been shown, were it not for an item in the Estimates in consequence of the retirements under Article 10 of the Treaty—a gratuity item amounting to £123,000— and a balance, running up to £150,000, making up for pensions. Had we not been called upon to deal with that £150,000, under Article 10 of the Treaty, the statement now being made would have shown an improvement corresponding to that amount or something very near it. Therefore, instead of having to deal with a considerably reduced sum of £750,000 as a loss, that loss would have been brought down to the region of £600,000 in the first year of our working. You will possibly require to know how these figures are made up. It is not possible to go too closely into details for the reason that a certain amount of elasticity is needed. We may, for instance, bring about a certain retrenchment to-day and after experiment modify it tomorrow. For that reason I can only give approximately how the figures will work out. We expect a reduction of about £250,000 through retrenchment. Retrenchment covers many heads but mainly deals with the abolition of superfluous services, and I may mention incidentally that this £250,000 includes £40,000 now, not for the first time, but for the first time within a dozen years, for delivering telegrams beyond a certain radius. Over £100,000 will be saved in the curtailment and modification of contracts. About £200,000 is included in the category of improved receipts. A further sum is being added to our total deductions by extracting our pound of flesh for doing duty for other services, a recommendation submitted by the Post Office Commission, and one that should always have operated.
It may be well to point out that this is not the only small country losing on its postal service. We have taken steps to ascertain, and find that Norway, Holland, Denmark, Switzerland and Sweden are also losing. They are all small countries with small concerns trying to follow the pace set by larger countries like England, America and other places which make the pace, fix the postal rates, and the incomings and outgoings. The losses in these small countries ranged during 1920 and 1921, between £268,000 in the case of Sweden, and £1,131,000 in the case of Switzerland. Therefore, you will see that even though we are losing in this thinly populated country, and losing fairly heavily we do not stand alone. Even if we are losing now the loss has not been incurred through any policy of ours, but through a policy handed down to us, over which we had no control, and had nothing whatever to say in the making of. It is well that everyone outside should understand these facts. They have omitted them for convenient reasons. Further, it will be seen that there have been very substantial reductions in the Estimates this year on the assumption that the present policy is pursued, a policy which is based on giving no lesser satisfaction to the commercial community. If anything I can safely say that improved facilities will be given for the commercial development of the country. That is on the assumption that there is no undue interference with the service from any quarter. There will, of course, always be some interference, criticisms and all that, but provided the Department can weather the different storms which it will be called upon to face, I can safely promise the Dáil that, within a period of four years my own officials say—I am not so optimistic myself, and I say within a period of five years—the Irish Post Office will pay its way. Not only will it pay its way in that time, but it will also give rates quite in keeping with those given in neighbouring countries. Bearing on that point I think it would be well that we should try to make up our minds to make some reductions in postage next year.
A great deal of pressure has been brought to bear upon us from time to time to do that. It was resisted last year and this year, and rightly so, in view of the heavy losses. On the assumption that this loss is being cut, that the economies continue, and that within a reasonable time it is foreshadowed the Post Office is likely to pay its way, it would not be unreasonable that some consideration ought to be given to a modification of the charges. The amount involved, on the assumption that we lower our charges to a level of those prevailing in England, will be something in the neighbourhood of £300,000. I do not say we can quite keep with the English charges, and there is no reason why we should. We are not bound to follow the lead of England in a matter of this kind, but, in fairness to commercial people, I think next year we ought to give certain modifications in regard to certain charges. I hope the Minister for Finance will not look unfavourably on that proposal. We anticipated a pretty serious outcry from the public when we embarked on this policy of "axeing." We knew very well that we were not going to get off scot- free. Everybody in this world likes to see economies effected, but not at his or her own expense. It does not matter if the economies are effected at somebody else's expense. The public would be very pleased to see the wages of the Post Office employees cut down, but when it comes to cutting down their own superfluous services, they squeak. We were firm on the one hand, and we are going to be firm on the other. Whilst we have no intention of doing the least bit of injury to the necessary economic life of the nation, we will certainly not stand on ceremony on the question of removing superffuous services. As long as the Post Office suffered a loss of something in the neighbourhood of one and a half million pounds, there was no possibility whatever of embarking on new and necessary services. Take the case of telephones, as an example. The telephone in this country has been practically undeveloped. The whole country contains something like nineteen thousand users. On the American average that number should have been one hundred and fifty thousand. There is room enough for development without going too far. In addition to that, practically every town in the country has communicated with us to instal an exchange. There is scarcely a Deputy here whose Constituents have not represented to him that the time has come for a more general utilisation of the telephone. There is nothing very strange in that. Our country is competing with up-to-date countries such as Sweden and Norway and England, and if the people are placed in the position of dray-horses as against race-horses, so to speak, they are going to get left. We are anxious as a result of some of those economies to sacrifice something in the extension of the telephone. I will anticipate many of the criticisms that are going to be made here regarding that. The old charge for the installation of a telephone in, say, Navan, would have amounted to £15 per annum basic fee and possibly £10 for calls, a sum of £25 in all. The people of Navan want an exchange and they sent various petitions and deputations. We say "We will give you an exchange but our rules provide that you must pay a certain sum." The sum of £25 is put up and we get one subscriber in the whole town. Nobody else can afford it. There is obviously a case for the modification of the charges and I am sure it will be as satisfactory to Deputies to know that the Minister for Finance will be prepared to consider favourably the rapid extension of the telephone throughout the country. In view of of that the people may look forward to the position they should have occupied for many years past, and they will be better equipped in the race of life. That is one thing they are going to get as a result of these economies. We are cutting down deliveries in various towns; there is a lot in the Press about that. As a matter of fact, to take a medium town in the country, it had three deliveries. As far as the non-commercial people are concerned, we are satisfied one delivery per day is quite adequate. Though we do not intend to go so far in all cases, yet, in order to secure that commercial people will not suffer the loss of any former facilities, we have decided to introduce a system of private boxes and bags which are being worked in Australia and in the States. This is a system whereby merchants or private individuals can, for three guineas, a very small sum considering the services rendered, secure their correspondence at the office at any time of the day. This will mean a modification of the present charges, and we have some reason to believe that the Minister for Finance will look favourably on our proposals. Instead of disimproving the facilities for the commercial community, we are actually improving them. There is some soreness at the fact that postal deliveries are not as frequent now as they were in normal times; in other words that the Post Office services are not normal. I wonder is there anything in this country normal? At any rate I have not met any business man who could tell me that his affairs were normal.