That a sum not exceeding £287,000 be granted to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charges which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1957, for salaries and other expenses in connection with Wireless Broadcasting (No. 45 of 1926), including public concerts.
This is the annual stocktaking of the broadcasting service. I say annual advisedly, because members of all Parties in the House have continued to observe the gentlemen's agreement entered into in connection with the reorganisation of Radio Éireann in 1953 to refrain from putting down questions about details of broadcasting activities, and to confine their inquiries to matters of substance or general policy. In 1953-54 there were 34 parliamentary questions about broadcasting. In 1955-56 there were only 11. This did not prevent Deputies from getting any information they wanted from the Director, but the absence of Party sniping about sins of commission or omission in the news bulletins or in other speech programmes has had a tremendously good effect on the standard of Radio Éireann. It enabled news bulletins and talks to be prepared and broadcast quite objectively without the fear that they would be held to be supporting one Party or the other. I hope Deputies will say that they agree with me on that point.
Turning to the Estimate, in accordance with normal arrangements the amount voted for the working operations of Radio Éireann corresponds to the estimated amount of receipts from licence and sponsored programme fees, with some smaller additional receipts from such sources as concerts. The anticipated licence receipts in the current financial year are £411,000 and from sponsored programmes and miscellaneous receipts £93,400. The total in sub-head A of the Estimate is £510,900 which approximates to the sum of the receipts. The subsidy for equipment in sub-head B is £13,000. The sponsored programmes are keeping at a very steady level. All the time permitted for these programmes has been constantly filled except for short breaks while new contracts were being prepared. Of course the Hospitals' Trust, which broadcasts for half an hour each night of the week, provides the largest single contribution to sponsored programme revenue.
The licence receipts are still increasing, the estimated number for this year being 470,000; that is 15,000 higher than the estimate for 1955-56. The bulk of listeners pay the licence fee promptly without any special pressure, but I must again complain about a fairly substantial minority. I am not referring to the people who forget to take out their annual licence in time. That will happen to anybody, and reminders are sent. I am speaking of the people who deliberately decline to take out any licence. In a special campaign taken in 1948, there were 70,000 people who had radio sets, but ignored their responsibility for the small fee. In another campaign in 1952, 30,000 people were found without licences. One would have thought that the "pirate" situation would have been cleared up in these two special drives and in the ordinary inspections which are taking place every year.
As a result of the last special campaign which took place early this year a further 16,000 new licences were taken out. My Department has no patience with people who deliberately flout their obligation for the sake of 4d. a week, which they would pay for a single Sunday newspaper, and prosecutions have to follow discovery in such cases. Early this year the Oireachtas passed an Act amending the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1926, in order to remove doubts which had been raised about the powers to issue licences and collect licence fees in respect of wireless sets in vehicles.
There are one or two general matters with which I would like to deal before I refer to programme activities. A proper broadcasting headquarters is, of course, still a major need, but the heavy cost of providing it will, I am afraid, defer the matter for some time further. In the meantime, we are carrying out such improvements as are possible in the existing accommodation. A continuity suite has been provided in the G.P.O. and has been in operation for a few months. All programmes from the 11 studios in the G.P.O., from outside studios in Dublin, and from programme sources anywhere in Ireland or abroad now go to the transmitters through that control point. A continuity announcer has been provided to watch the programmes in transmission, to fill any gaps that may occur owing to underruns, programme failures, emergencies, etc. This new suite has enabled both the technical and announcer staff to supervise the current and following programmes in a way that was not possible before.
A scheme of improvements in the Phoenix Hall Orchestral Studio has been completed except for the installation of equipment in the Control and Announcer's booths. It has been found necessary, however, to exclude audiences from the hall for what I hope will be only a temporary period. Within the past year or two a couple of rather serious fires occurred in premises in the vicinity of the hall, and the Radio Éireann officials are now examining the position, in consultation with the Dublin Corporation and the Office of Public Works, to see to what extent it will be safe to permit the public to be present at concerts.
The broadcasting studios in Cork, which are incorporated in the new School of Music, are nearing completion so far as the building work is concerned, but it will take some months to lay internal cables for the broadcasting equipment and to install the equipment itself. We hope, however, that the studios will be ready to open at least by the end of the present financial year. I shall now say a few words about the main programme activities.
A broadcasting service which is adequately organised and efficiently run must be able to meet the demands both of the ordinary day-to-day programme and the extraordinary festival or anniversary. Radio Éireann meets the festivals and the anniversaries in the course of its work and comes, I think, rather well out of the test. There were, in the year of broadcasting on which I am looking back, tests of this sort in the very different fields of religious observance, national commemoration and tourist effort, and it is a reasonable claim that they were met by Radio Éireann with professional competance and flexibility. I am thinking, as Deputies will probably have guessed, of the Holy Week programmes, of those commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Rising of 1916, and of those in which the Tóstal was mirrored on the one hand and given a broadcasting expression on the other.
Perhaps I might linger for just another minute on this point, since few things demonstrate the advance which we may say Radio Éireann continues to make, better than the response it makes to special calls upon its ingenuity. The Pageant of Cúchulainn in Croke Park was, this year, as was the Pageant of Saint Patrick last year, remodelled from an open-air visual entertainment into a pure broadcasting show. The international events in Cork—foreign choirs and film festival—were covered in newsbulletins and feature programmes; the Currach Races in Galway were highlighted on the air: in a word, Radio Éireann bound together the Tóstal events of the four provinces.
I am suggesting here that one of the great advances made by Radio Éireann in the past few years has been in the gaining of additional mobility—and I would ask Deputies who think that Dublin gets too big a slice of the broadcasting cake to note this carefully. Apart altogether from the fact that the number of local correspondents contributing news-stories has been greatly increased in recent years, the mobility of the headquarters staff is now such that not a week passes without the representatives of Radio Éireann appearing in a dozen towns and villages of Ireland. Many of the Deputies will have had personal experience of these "flying columns of modern Ireland" and I need not, therefore, go into details about their work. I may just mention as one development, however, the quite extraordinary revival of traditional music which is going on at present: and it is freely conceded that the regular broadcasts from Radio Éireann's special recordings constitute a primary factor in the revival.
Traditional music is, by and large, an entertainment for and by the countryman; and there was a time, before broadcasting, when variety or music-hall—or, as the Americans call it, vaudeville, was a cityman's amusement. Possibly it still is more a townsman's than a countryman's pleasure; but the countryman among our listeners has shown that, provided his special tastes are given due consideration, he will respond as cordially as the programme-planners could wish.
As I said last year, Deputies, or many of them, will know as much about programmes as I do, since I have followed my principle of nonintervention in the daily affairs of Radio Éireann: so you are aware that in this very important sphere of popular entertainment Radio Éireann attempts many different things. I will mention only two, selecting them because Deputies will have a special interest in them. I mean that an effort is made to enable professional artistes to earn a due reward for their talents, and, at the other end of the scale, that an effort is continuously made to come upon every grain of talent among the young. From Jimmy O'Dea in "Meet the Mulligans!" or Din Joe or Joe Lynch on their respective platforms, from these to the young soprano or accordion-player in "Beginners Please" is a far cry: but, "Beginners Please" is going to Galway and Cork and Drogheda and so on, seeking and finding talent, and in this way it is, like the show built entirely on professionals, doing a national job.
A national job of a very different sort is done in the Thomas Davis Lectures, with which many of you will be familiar. The steadily-growing attention which is given to these broadcasts, with their always serious and often difficult matter, is most gratifying. The newspapers are now beginning to compete for permission to print certain of the lectures, though their length is somewhat greater than newspapers usually handle. The recent series, on "The Shaping of Modern Ireland" had, of course, many special points of interest, and this series has had a particular success.
I do not think I need specify in any great detail what Radio Éireann is doing for music: last year's debate showed that Deputies were well aware of the activities of the music department—the symphony concerts, proms and tours included; the assistance to opera companies and festival promoters; the development of such groups as the Radio Éireann Singers and the like.
I might just mention one prolonged series which shows how resources are concentrated for an important purpose. In "Round the Counties" we have had, every week for well over a year, the songs and music of one county after another talked about, sung and played. Only those who engage in such a task will know the difficulties; but those who listen must know that they would not readily find such matter elsewhere. The Radio Éireann Choral Society, a voluntary group of about 80 singers, supplemented as required by the staff singers, did a number of excellent broadcasts during the year, including Mozart's Mass in C Minor which was not previously done in this country for a long time—if ever.
I might add a word at this point about the recruitment of professional instrumentalists. There are at present 65 Irish players (including temporary players) and 32 continental players in the two Radio Éireann orchestras. If highly qualified musicians cannot be got for the orchestras at home they must be got elsewhere. The availability of suitable Irish players is a teaching problem. It is not a Radio Éireann job to teach but, of course, the Director of Broadcasting is very interested in the teaching facilities provided. I am glad to say that because of steps taken in recent years in the Royal Irish Academy of Music, and the Municipal School of Music, the situation has improved very much, particularly as regards violin and viola teaching. During the past five years Radio Éireann employed 27 players, mostly young string students of the Royal Irish Academy of Music and the Municipal School of Music, either in a full-time capacity, or part-time for students who were still completing their studies. The number employed included, however, a small number of wind players, mainly men who had been members of the Army School of Music.
Some of the young players have since left Radio Éireann, either to continue their studies abroad, or because they got married, but there is still a good number in the orchestras. Before that time Radio Éireann would have been lucky to get two or three players of sufficient standard for the orchestras in the five years' period. That is a remarkable change for the better. Five of the continental members of the Radio Éireann orchestras are employed as part-time teachers in the academy, and the Municipal School of Music, principally to teach wind instruments, and others are teaching privately. The situation about violin teaching is now, I think, on a firm foundation, although all the Radio Éireann vacancies cannot yet be filled at home, but the position as regards wind players can still only be described as bad. Radio Éireann cannot get suitable players in these instruments and must continue to engage them from abroad.
As I mentioned, this is a teaching problem, and I admit it is a difficult one, because in the ordinary course the number of students for wind instruments is very much smaller than for instruments like the violin which can be played as a solo instrument in the domestic circle. However, teachers are now available for most of the wind instruments in the music schools, and between Radio Éireann and the Army School of Music there should be a good "market" for the finished students. I earnestly hope the teaching institutions will be able to overcome the difficulties that exist about the maintenance of wind classes. Radio Éireann will be glad to co-operate in every way possible.
Last year Radio Éireann broadcast a series in the Irish language which was the longest continuous series of Gaeltacht broadcasts ever achieved. They were greatly relished by lovers of the language and, this year, I am glad to say, Radio Éireann is going one better. You will, I hope, forgive me for referring to programmes still to come, but I am anxious to illustrate further the idea that the increased mobility, and hence its coverage of the country, is the chief advance which has been made in broadcasting here in the past few years. For some weeks now, programme officers of Radio Éireann have been making their way to the islands of the Gaeltacht, accompanied by technicians and bringing with them recording equipment; and in another few weeks listeners may hear Aran, Tory, Clare Island, Cape Clear Island and other outposts of the language talking to the country through the tape-machines of Radio Éireann. That is a great step forward, and I need not argue about it.
I said on the Broadcasting Estimate last year that I proposed to have investigations made as to whether the use of V.H.F. transmitters would solve the problem of poor reception in certain parts of the country. Since then an experimental test transmitter has been obtained and transmission tests are being carried out from high hills in various parts of the country. These tests will, however, take a considerable time to complete as the shadows cast by almost every hill of any considerable size in the country will have to be taken into account in determining suitable transmitter locations. The advantages of placing transmitters on high mountains will have to be balanced against the cost of providing roads and power to such places.
Discussion of broadcasting inevitably raises the question of the establishment of a television service here. As I have indicated previously, my Department has been keeping in close touch with developments in television so that we may have a body of reliable information on the subject. Naturally, the possibility of having a television service of our own has been constantly in our minds. The major obstacle has been the costs involved. Apart from the heavy capital costs, there would be very heavy running costs for a number of years at least. Moreover, unless prohibitive expense were incurred in providing a national network from the start, only partial coverage from a station in or near Dublin could be given initially.
That was the position when there was no question of a shortage of capital moneys for essential and desirable capital requirements. To-day, when we are having the greatest difficulty in procuring money for housing, agricultural development, etc., we are even less favourably placed to entertain seriously considerable public expenditure on a television service. Moreover, the Government must have regard also in present conditions to the nature of the additional expenditure by the public which the establishment of a television station here would certainly encourage. A boom in television sales —which would inevitably follow the establishment of a local station—would mean increased imports of luxury goods, to the detriment of the national economy, and a reduction in personal savings on which a continuance of the capital programme for national development depends. For these reasons the Government has decided not to establish a television service while present financial difficulties persist.
The Government has also decided not to accede to certain proposals which have been received to set up commercial television stations here. At present the establishment of a commercial station would be open to the objections I have already mentioned of encouraging an undesirable kind of spending. Moreover, the Government is satisfied that any television service in this country should be one based on public ownership and management. In our circumstances any service established would, for obvious reasons, be a monopoly service, and apart from the general objection to entrusting any monopoly to private interests, there is a particular objection to doing so in such an important medium as television.
The position, therefore, is that there is no prospect at the moment of having a television service here—we simply cannot afford it. If and when television does come, it will be a public service of some kind, probably integrated with the present sound broadcasting organisation.
I have already informed the House that the Government have been looking into the question of whether Radio Éireann should be set up as a fully statutory public service broadcasting organisation. At present I can only say that the matter is still under consideration.
To conclude my statement I wish to thank the members of Comhairle Radio Éireann for the close attention they have given during the year to matters of policy, and the director and his staff for carrying out this exacting, practically non-stop service without any serious hitches.