I wish to refer to Question No. 33 on to-day's Order Paper and the reply given by the Minister. The question is:—
"To ask the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs if he will state (a) whether in September, 1956, a vacancy occurred for the position of permanent auxiliary postman in Drinagh sub-post office County Cork, (b) if a person without means who had satisfactory temporary service, and who fulfilled all the statutory requirements was appointed to the post on 6th October, (c) whether that person after having served in the post for some weeks was peremptorily dismissed and replaced by another person, and (d) the circumstances of the dismissal and of the appointment of the other person."
The Minister's answer was as follows:—
"As I explained in reply to the previous question, vacancies for auxiliary postmen are filled from lists supplied by employment exchanges and from persons already temporarily employed. When the vacancy arose at Drinagh sub-post office, the employment exchange was unable to supply any names and a man was taken on direct. Shortly afterwards it came to notice that there were, in fact, unemployed persons in the area. The first appointment was accordingly cancelled and the employment exchange was again approached. Two names were now supplied and the claims and qualifications of these persons, together with those of the person who had been taken on direct, were considered. In the outcome, one of the persons nominated by the exchange was selected as the most suitable. No question of statutory requirements arises in auxiliary postmen appointments, and the appointments are not permanent but temporary and terminable without notice. In this case, the man discharged was given a fortnight's notice."
The reply of the Minister was so completely at variance with anything that happened before that I doubt if the Minister was aware of the full background of what occurred in this case. My experience of his administration in the past led me to believe that he did not know all the circumstances. At any rate, I was profoundly shocked by the whole business and in order to give the House some idea of what exactly occurred, I wish to present these details to the members.
In August, 1956, Mr. Jer. McCarthy, who had held the post for many years, went on sick leave, and Mr. Timothy Keating, who was the only man from Drinagh registered in the branch employment office and who had already acted as temporary postman during Mr. McCarthy's holiday period, was again engaged in that capacity. Mr. McCarthy resigned from the service early in September and steps were taken by the Post Office authorities to make a permanent appointment. As stated in the Minister's reply, such positions are filled from lists supplied by employment exchanges and from persons already temporarily employed. When the vacancy in Drinagh arose, the employment exchange was unable to supply any name and a man who was already doing the temporary duty was taken on direct.
Everything was quite in order up to that stage. This man was Mr. Timothy Keating, the only man coming within the terms and conditions set out by the Minister in the opening sentence of his reply. Consequently, on Saturday, 6th October, Mr. Keating was notified by the Drinagh sub-post mistress that he was appointed to the position and she also handed to him the following: (a) measurement form for postman's uniform, which was returned duly filled on Monday, 8th October; and (b) a sealed letter from the Department of Posts and Telegraphs addressed to Dr. P.J. Smith, medical officer, Drimoleague, the Department's local doctor. This letter was handed by Mr. Keating to Dr. P.J. Smith on Monday, 8th October, and the latter carried out a medical examination. The medical officer filled the form and handed it back to Mr. Keating who returned it to the postmistress at Drinagh on the same date. Mr. Keating also got typed instructions regarding his route and hours of duty which he signed and of which he retained a copy.
The sub-postmistress also instructed him to provide a birth certificate or baptismal certificate. This was handed by him to the sub-postmistress on Monday, 8th October. His pay was raised on October 6th from the temporary rate to the applicable rate in force for a permanent auxiliary postman of his age, which was 19½ years. Later in the month of October, two new application forms were issued by the local branch employment office, one being to the chairman of the local labour branch. On November 3rd, it was intimated to Mr. Keating by the Drinagh sub-postmistress that his employment would terminate on Saturday, 17th November, giving him a fortnight's notice, as the Minister said to-day.
One of these applicants, the chairman of the local branch of the Labour Party, took up duty as permanent auxiliary postman on Monday, 19th November. Mr. Timothy Keating is an orphan. His father, who was a creamery worker and an Old I.R.A. man, died three years ago, and his mother died in September this year. His only support is a brother who is a mechanic's apprentice, and who lives in a labourer's cottage. Mr. Timothy Keating has no other means of support. He has been unemployed since leaving school, with the exception of periods on relief duty as acting postman for Mr. Jer. McCarthy and the six weeks for which he was permanent auxiliary postman. That is the employment which is now terminated.
The serious thing about this is that whatever circumstances existed in the past regarding appointments of this nature—and they varied at times—we have here something that never, in my recollection, happened before. That is disclosed in the Minister's reply. He sets out the conditions under which appointments are made and he then shows that an appointment was made in relation to the circumstances which existed shortly afterwards. This is the serious aspect of the whole business. Shortly afterwards, it came to notice that there were, in fact, unemployed persons in the area. If that procedure is to be followed in the Post Office services of this country there would be no security for anybody in the Post Office services. That is one of the things to which I raise very serious objection.
I am wondering if the Minister were aware of all the circumstances in this case and if he knew the background to this procedure. The whole thing was disgraceful. After appointing this young man who had given temporary service to the Post Office, it was found possible to dismiss him in favour of another man in the area. This young man was the orphan of an Old I.R.A. man who had given good service in a temporary capacity. At the time when the vacancy was declared he was the only qualified person in the district. He was duly appointed, got his uniform and his medical certificate and was on duty for six weeks when he was dismissed.
I think it was an extraordinary state of affairs. The person who was qualified on the relevant date should have been appointed whether he was the chairman of the local Labour branch or not. The suspicious part of it is that, as the Minister himself says, some time after the appointment had been made it was found there were more unemployed men in the area and that new forms were issued after this young man had been appointed. Then the whole thing was upset. Such procedure is something that should be condemned by this House. Steps should be taken by the Minister to see that nothing like it could occur again. If there should be a recurrence of such procedure it would be a reflection on the whole system and would undermine any confidence in the method of recruitment to the Post Office service.
A situation such as this, where somebody comes along and displaces a person who has been legitimately appointed to a post in the Post Office service, has never occurred before. It has never happened that a man working in the position and carrying out satisfactorily all the conditions of his appointment was displaced for somebody else because that somebody, subsequent to the date on which the vacancy occurred, went to the labour exchange and registered there.
The man who replaced Timothy Keating was not registered in the local labour exchange when the vacancy was first there. He had worked for a local farmer now and again. He was receiving sick benefit when this occurred and some time after the vacancy became known to occur he was told to go to the medical officer and get a certificate of fitness. He did that and then went along to the labour exchange and registered and the whole scheme under which the other young man was appointed was upset and the young man, the orphan of an old I.R.A. man, was thrown out of the position he had secured in the normal legitimate way.
I was very upset and disturbed to-day to learn from the Minister's reply that such a thing could occur in the Post Office service. Accordingly, I have taken this occasion of calling public attention to it. I am very sorry it is the Minister who is involved in this because I think I am speaking for many members of the House when I say we have always found him square and fair in all our dealings with him. Of course this may be an isolated incident, but if it is it is about time a stop was put to it so that anything of a similar nature may never recur.