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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 21 Feb 1945

Vol. 96 No. 4

Committee on Finance. - Vote 61—Posts and Telegraphs.

I move:—

That a supplementary sum not exceeding £136,310 be granted to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending 31st March, 1945, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs (45 & 46 Vict., c. 74; 8 Edw. 7, c. 48; 1 & 2 Geo. 5, c. 26; the Telegraph Acts, 1863 to 1928; No. 14 of 1940 (Secs. 30 and 31); No. 14 of 1942 (Sec. 23); etc.), and of certain other Services administered by that Office.

The Estimate for the Department of Posts and Telegraphs already approved by the Dáil for the financial year ending 31st March, 1945, amounted to £2,928,345. Due to causes which could not have been anticipated, this provision will be insufficient and an additional sum of£136,310 will be required to cover essential expenditure up to the end of the financial year. The actual excess over the approved Estimate amounts to £159,980, but there are offsets of £22,794, representing increased Appropriations-in-Aid, and of £876, a saving in respect of conveyance of mails by air, leaving the net excess at £136,310.

Increased cost-of-living and emergency bonus under sub-heads A (2), A (3), 1 (1), N (1) and O (1), payable as from 1st January, 1945, accounts for £55,855 of the additional sum required. The causes of the other increases are broadly as follows:—

Sub-heads A (2) and A (3): £29,580. This represents the cost of additional staff to meet general expansion of business arising from emergency conditions, including revision of sub-postmasters' remuneration for increased work, etc.; unanticipated expenses of general election and distribution of ration books.

Sub-heads E (1) and E (2): £9,530. The extra money is required to meet the cost of increased parcel traffic by rail, increased cost of conveyance of mails by road and the cost of special journeys to railway stations owing to the irregular running of trains.

Sub-head G (2): £9,000. The additional provision needed is due to credit from other Government Departments for goods supplied being less than anticipated in the financial year owing to difficulty in obtaining raw materials and consequent delay in placing contracts.

Sub-head I (1): £9,045. This is due to the curtailment of telephone construction work, the cost of which falls on telephone capital, in favour of maintenance and renewal works, which are provided for under the Vote. The restriction of construction work has been rendered necessary by the scarcity of engineering materials.

Sub-head N (1): £15,950. This is due to higher cost-of-living bonus and to an unanticipated increase in the number of retirements.

Sub-heads O (1), O (4) and O (6): £14,020. The increased provision is to meet growth of savings bank business, cost of a savings publicity campaign and unanticipated losses due to savings bank defalcations, etc.

Sub-head Q (2): £17,000. This is due to provision for payment in the United States of outstanding accounts for radio equipment supplied for the civil aviation and meteorological wireless services.

As stated at the outset, the Appropriations-in-Aid are expected to be £22,794 greater than anticipated, which is attributable mainly to increased receipts from savings bank funds. I might add that, perhaps, we might do as we did on the last occasion when a Supplementary Estimate was introduced—we might postpone anything in the nature of serious criticism of the Department until the main Estimate is introduced.

Does the Minister expect serious criticism?

I always expect something serious from the Deputy.

The Minister is asking for a rather large amount of money, the major portion of which seems to be made up of bonus increases given to the staff during the year. A good deal of the Estimate, however, is due to under-estimation. According to my calculations, about £55,000 of the amount asked for now is due to that. It is really incomprehensible that there should be such under-estimation in respect of the items mentioned by the Minister. For instance, the explanation of the under-estimation of £7,000 in respect of conveyance of mails by rail, is that it was due to the irregular running of trains. According to my knowledge, at all events, the trains ran more regularly during this financial year than in the previous financial year and I have no recollection that the Minister brought in any Estimate at the end of the last financial year for the purpose of making good any under-estimation in respect of this particular item.

Then there is an under-estimation of about £2,500 odd in respect of the conveyance of mails by road. Presumably this expenditure was, according to the footnote, incurred mainly in Dublin, on account of the increased cost, presumably owing to the fact that the Minister had to get the mails conveyed by horse and van rather than by motor. Under the sub-heads A (2) and A (3), especially under sub-head A (3), the additional sum required is £57,765. The Minister explained that the major portion of this is required to meet the emergency bonus, owing to the increase in sub-postmasters' salaries, increases to staff, etc.; but the Minister has not given any reason for the increase in staff. Why was that increase necessary; are there any special reasons why the staff should be increased during this financial year, and what was the extra work that entailed that increase?

Item Q (2)—Provision and installation of equipment and operating and maintenance charges, rent, etc., £17,000—seems to be due to provision for payment to the United States of outstanding accounts. Well, if the accounts were outstanding, as I assume they were, when the Estimates were being prepared, I cannot understand why provision was not made for them in the Book of Estimates. Judging by the phrasing of this particular sub-head, it would appear that these amounts have been outstanding for a considerable time and that no provision apparently was made for this item in any Estimate so far.

The Minister mentioned somewhere that there was a saving on account of the curtailment of telephone construction work. I do not intend to enter into a general discussion on this Supplementary Estimate, but I should like to know from the Minister if there is any hope that the position with regard to telephone work will improve in the near future. Is there any hope that the Minister will be able to obtain equipment which will enable him to instal telephones which are badly needed by many people, not alone in the City of Dublin, but in many parts of the country as well? I had a letter recently from a lady who transferred her residence recently from Sligo to Dublin. She always had a telephone when she was residing in Sligo. On taking up residence in Dublin, she applied for a telephone, but her application was refused on the ground that it was impossible to obtain equipment, although she states in her letter to me that her next door neighbour got a telephone installed the week before. This is a subject of somewhat general interest and I should like the Minister to make a brief statement on the position with regard to telephone installations. Is the position likely to remain as it is until the war is over, or is there any hope of obtaining any equipment before hostilities cease?

There is one item—sub-head G (1) —Uniform Clothing—which I do not quite understand. £9,000 additional is required, owing to credits from other Government Departments being less than anticipated owing to difficulty in obtaining raw material and consequent delay in placing contracts. Owing to the vague manner in which the item is described in the sub-head, I am not clear as to the actual meaning of it. I thought at first that the £9,000 was an Appropriation-in-Aid, but actually it is an increased item of expenditure due, apparently, to savings in the amount of clothing required by these Government Departments on account of the Minister's difficulty in obtaining material. Perhaps the Minister will elaborate and explain the matter more clearly when replying to the points raised.

The Minister asked us to keep serious criticism of his Department over until a later date. We are anxious to facilitate the Minister in that respect and I suppose we need not raise more fundamental matters now. But there are a couple of matters to which I should like to advert. I notice under sub-head A (3), where an additional sum of £57,000 odd is required, that that is due to certain causes, one of which is the distribution of ration books. I have not got the main Book of Estimates before me, but I assume that the explanation given for the increased expenditure indicates that no credit is being taken by the Department in the form of Appropriations-in-Aid for that work, nor does the Minister appear to anticipate any Appropriations-in-Aid in the catalogue of appropriations set out under sub-head T. I should like to ascertain from the Minister, supposing the Department undertakes the delivery of ration books for the Department of Supplies, is it the position that they get an Appropriation-in-Aid from the Department of Supplies, or is the work undertaken as part of the ordinary delivery service of the Post Office?

Another item to which I should like to advert is sub-head N (1). Here I want to endeavour to enlist the Minister's sympathy for a class of persons who I do not think are covered by this. The Minister is making provision for the payment of certain superannuation allowances and other non-effective charges. I should like to call the attention of the Minister to the fact that he has in the Post Office service a considerable number of persons who are unestablished officers; some of them may be full-time, and some of them may be part-time officers. There is a large number of officials described as auxiliary postmen. Many of these rendered service of up to 40 or 50 years and, at the end of that time, after toiling for the State, these persons are finally compelled to retire on reaching the age of 70 years. At the age of 70, they may make application for an old age pension and probably get a pension. But, if such a person has a son at home who is in regular employment and bringing in £2 or £3 a week, that person gets no grant whatever in the form of a pension or gratuity from the Post Office Department.

I should like to ask the Minister if he knows of any other employer who would keep a person in employment for 50 years and, at the end of that 50 years, send that person out without as much as a penny gratuity. I concede that a person can get a gratuity, a miserably small one, if he can show that he is in necessitous circumstances. Up to comparatively recently, the mere receipt of national health insurance benefit or an old age pension deprived that person of even getting that small gratuity. By dint of constant effort we succeeded in having that odious type of means test withdrawn. But the fact remains that cases come to light every day where, after a person has served the State for 40 or 50 years, he retires and has a daughter sending money from England, for instance, or a son in the Army, or working as a turf worker or a ploughman at home, and the mere fact that that son or daughter is helping to maintain the home is used by the Post Office Department as a reason for not giving that man as much as one penny in the form of a pension or gratuity after a service of 40 or 50 years. I put it to the Minister that he could not possibly justify treatment of that kind. It makes very strange reading when compared with Article 45 of the Constitution in any case.

I suggest to the Minister that in the last analysis he is morally responsible for the conditions of these people; he is their employer. The Minister cannot say: "It is somebody else's job in the Department of Finance. I am sympathetic to those people but the Department of Finance will not soften its heart and provide any money for them." I ask the Minister to get down seriously to the question of making some effort to provide these people with a pension or gratuity on retirement. After all, very few employers would see an employee going out of their service after 50 years without as much as a halfpenny compensation. Many firms in the city, who have not the resources of the Post Office, treat their employees much better in that respect than the Post Office treat theirs. I put it to the Minister that he ought to remove this very serious blot on the whole Post Office administration, of casting auxiliary postmen out of the service after 40 or 50 years without as much as a penny compensation. The cost of meeting the claim would not be considerable, but it is the minimum measure of justice that the Post Office ought to give to men who serve it for such long periods. I hope the Minister will find it possible to say that he intends to get down to an examination of this claim with a view to presenting proposals to the Department of Finance to end that evil system of casting people on the scrap heap after such a long period of service. There are outstanding merits in the claim, and the Minister ought to undertake at least to examine the matter to see what can be done to meet the merits of the claim, which I think are undeniable.

I should like to bring to the Minister's attention the case of temporary postmen in rural districts. I am referring to my own district of Enniscorthy. We have a temporary postman at the low rate of wages of 29/6 a week. He has to pay 1/4 national health insurance and 4d. contribution to his union. He has no uniform, although he has been three years in the service. When he goes to the end of his beat he hands over to a man who receives £2 a week. I would appeal to the Minister to provide uniforms for these temporary postmen who are carrying on the duties of the Post Office in rural areas.

I should like to point out to the Minister that the post office in Enniscorthy is very congested owing to the fact that children's allowances are being paid through the post office officials. A certain amount of extra work has been thrown on the officials in the post office in my town. On Fridays old age pensions are paid and people have to wait a certain time before they are served. The amount of work has increased very much. I would ask the Minister to give these matters his consideration.

One of the unanticipated activities of the Post Office was the payment of children's allowances, which could not have been anticipated in our Estimate. Another unanticipated expenditure was for radio equipment, because we had not got the accounts, until quite recently, as to how much it was going to cost. The other matters referred to I will have to leave over until the main Estimate. The difficulty about getting in telephones is, of course, very great indeed, especially where the lines are underground. There is a tremendous shortage of underground cable, and it is almost impossible for us to meet that lack just at the moment. We are taking very active measures to try to get more equipment in as soon as we can, and we have hopes of getting more equipment, but they are rather slight.

The credit which appears against clothing is due to the shortage of raw materials. The result is that we cannot fill the orders and we cannot claim the credits which we have already claimed as part of the ordinary business of the year, so we have to put in a counter account there showing the fact that we cannot claim that credit for the year.

As to the larger question that Deputy Norton has raised, it is a very big question. It is a question which really applies not merely to my Department but to other Departments as well. That distinction has always been there between the established and the unestablished men. If an unestablished postman is full-time and has 15 years' service he gets a gratuity going out. There is no means test. One would gather from what Deputy Norton said that there was, but there is not.

Let me put the thing right. I know the position too well to say that. The position in respect of an unestablished full-time officer is that he gets a gratuity provided he has a minimum of 15 years' service.

Or, if he has not got 15 years' service, if his office is abolished. I know that only too well. But in the case I am referring to there are 2,600 auxiliary postmen. There are not 150 unestablished postmen in the entire Post Office service, but there are 2,600 auxiliary postmen, and these are the people to whose claims I am asking the Minister to address himself.

Yes. As the Deputy knows very well, that is a larger question than a Departmental matter. There is of course, as Deputy Norton knows, the Rowland Hill Fund for very destitute cases.

Yes, and as the Minister knows, it is in the main provided by the staff, which is a case of feeding the dog on his own tail. Will the Minister examine the position of these full-time officers with a view, in any case, to presenting proposals to the Department of Finance in respect to the payment of a gratuity or pension to them? No other Minister can do it in respect of auxiliary postmen. Will the Minister, who is their employer, do it for them?

It is a question I would have to examine very closely, but, as I said before, it is a matter which affects other Departments as well as the Department of Posts and Telegraphs.

I cannot ask the Minister for Supplies to raise the question of auxiliary postmen with the Department of Finance. I have to ask the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs.

Deputy O'Leary raised a question as to uniforms. There is considerable shortage of raw materials with regard to uniforms, and, naturally enough, it is the temporary men mainly who suffer. We tried as far as we could, but we have not got the material for the uniforms at the moment. The Deputy also mentioned a glut of business in the Wexford post office. I will have the matter examined.



Vote put and agreed to.