(South Tipperary): When progress was reported, I was dealing with the telephone service and the general distress evinced by most speakers in the House in relation to delays in installing telephones up and down the country. On every occasion on which this matter is raised here, the defence offered by the Minister is invariably the same—difficulty in securing equipment. He states that all telephone equipment has to be imported. I raised this matter at Question Time but I did not get very much further with the Minister. He reaffirmed that no telephone equipment is produced here and that there is the greatest difficulty in securing supplies from abroad.
I quite appreciate that certain telephone apparatus is of a highly technical character and, in the field of telecommunication in particular, considerable technological advances have been made, and I recognise, too, that there may be some restrictive commercial practices. However, looking at the position from the point of view of one relatively unversed in these matters, all I see coming into my house is a wire with a telephone receiver at the end of it. When people come to me, looking for a telephone, that is all I see going into their houses. I fail to understand, therefore, what extreme difficulty there is in producing in this country equipment of the nature required.
I do not know whether the Minister has ever consulted with his colleague in the Department of Industry and Commerce in these matters and, if he has not done so, I would recommend him to do so without delay. For the life of me, I cannot understand why some part of the equipment essential for the extension of our telephone service could not be produced by ourselves. There is a considerable market. The Minister intimated that there will be a considerable extension in the system over the next few years. Anyone who looks at the programme outlined in the Budget in relation to the telephone system must appreciate that there will be a considerable expenditure of money. It seems to me the Minister would be well advised to have another look at the position to see if anything can be done, not alone from the point of view of our own commercial interests but also from the point of view of expediting the service.
The Minister also mentioned, in his opening statement, that this Estimate contains no provision for the 12 per cent increase in pay. He understands that the Minister for Finance will introduce a global Vote to cover this at a later stage. I did not gather from him whether it is included in the £215 million revenue produced by the Minister for Finance here a couple of weeks ago.
Looking over the Minister's address, I find he stated that 1,150 new trunk circuits were established. He mentioned, in particular, Waterford, Clonmel, Carrick-on-Suir, Carlow, Portlaoise, Limerick, and so on. He went on to deal with the 22 new automatic exchanges. In my constituency, not only in regard to exchanges, but in regard to the telephone services generally, there has been a considerable degree of well-nigh neglect, particularly of Tipperary town and one small area in my locality, the village of Dundrum. I have been in communication with the Minister several times about the latter village. I have been considerably annoyed about it, and I conveyed that annoyance and trouble to the Minister, and got the usual stereotyped reply. I want to know when he intends to do something to resolve the problem in Tipperary town and in the village of Dundrum.
The Minister said it was found possible to connect some 14,350 subscribers. When he said that, he was speaking of the provision of trunk circuits. I take it that is 14,350 new subscribers. The Minister does not make that clear, but that is the interpretation which I am putting on it. If that number of new subscribers have been provided for in the past 12 months, my constituency must have been rather left out of consideration. The Minister also mentioned that people to the number of 13,000 odd are awaiting connection.
When we open the Book of Estimates, we see that the first page deals with the new system of accountancy which is being provided for the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. The accounting system is to be streamlined and put on a commercial basis. A simple man reading that in the Book of Estimates would feel that now we are really going to get something, and that this is a first-class business concern. Of course, in fact, we find that this business concern has 13,000 people clamouring for telephones, and that this wonderful business concern is making a very inadequate effort to meet the public demand. In order to silence that demand and, at the same time, get in a few handy pounds, the Minister is now introducing a new penal charge of £10 per telephone. That seems to be the reverse of what I would regard as a normal commercial course of action. I would, therefore, appeal to the Minister to consider the question of telephone demands, particularly in the rural areas.
I shall give him a concrete example, and I have sent him a letter about this. In the town of Clonmel a man applied for a telephone. He is a cattle buyer, and he acts as agent for a cattle dealer in England. Since last autumn, he has exported 1,800 cattle. Nine months ago, he looked for a telephone in one of the main streets in Clonmel. A telephone was removed from the house opposite to him in which there lived a hackney driver who needed a telephone for his business. Anyone will appreciate that a telephone is a vital necessity for a cattle buyer who is acting as agent for a cross-Channel dealer.
It should not create tremendous difficulty to give him a telephone. When the telephone across the street was removed, one would have thought that surely it could be transferred to his house. Yet he has been nine months looking for a telephone and so far the Department have been unable to provide him with one. That is not only bad commerce; it amounts to virtual neglect. There are many other cases, but that is an outstanding one. I have drawn the Minister's attention to it just recently, and I am sure he will give it full consideration. While I write to him about many other cases, this is one which I feel could be remedied quite easily, and should be attended to.
The Minister dealt with our savings services and, amongst other things, told us that for the first time in our history we had reached a landmark as regards the Savings Bank and that we now have £100 million in the Post Office Savings Bank.
The amount deposited last year was slightly up; the amount in the Trustee Banks was slightly down; and the amount of Savings Certificates was slightly up. The savings service, and particularly the Post Office Savings Bank, as everyone knows, is the poor-man's bank. I find it difficult to reconcile the practically static figure he has given with all this talk we have about our expanding economy. I think that is a good index of the position of what we might call the poorer sections of our community and the less affluent members of our society. The fact that those deposits have remained practically static suggests that that section of our society are certainly not enjoying the expanding affluence which Government speakers and some economists would like to persuade us they are enjoying.
In his Budget speech, the Minister for Finance mentioned that he was going to arrange for improved Post Office Savings Bank and Savings Certificates facilities. I fail to see any mention in the Minister's statement of any projected improvements in these two concerns. In his reply, he might find time to advert to that aspect of things and tell us what plans he has put in train to meet the wishes of the Minister for Finance for improvement of these facilities in the interests of public saving.
He mentions the co-operation of the post offices throughout the country in the issue of Prize Bonds and states that post offices have been responsible for collecting over £10 million of the total of £35 million worth of the Prize Bonds this year. That is very praiseworthy and the Minister mentions it with a certain amount of relish. But the Minister is a modest man and I am sure he often blushes for some of the past performances of his political associates. I am sure he is not unmindful of the amount of condemnation directed at the inter-Party Government, the Fine Gael Party and the Minister for Finance in those days, who introduced these Prize Bonds several years ago. He was also too modest to advert to the fact that, as I understand, since the introduction of Prize Bonds, the Government have made a profit of £25 million.
I welcome the Minister's statement to the effect that the intake of technician trainees is being doubled this year. I welcome it in the context of the difficulty of expanding our telephone services to meet public demand. I feel that perhaps had the Minister taken that step a year or two ago, he might have been better placed to meet the increased demand for telephone services which exists at present.
Criticism has been made by some speakers in relation to the treating of the Post Office as a concern which should be made pay its own way. Up to a couple of years ago, it was making a small profit, as revealed in the Book of Estimates, but the Minister anticipates in the coming year a loss of, I think, £300,000.