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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 15 Feb 1966

Vol. 220 No. 10

Private Members' Business. - Public Transport Services.

I move:

That a Select Committee of Dáil Éireann consisting of fifteen members of whom five shall be a quorum, be appointed, with power to send for persons, papers and records—(1) to examine methods of recruitment to all grades of service in CIE; (2) to examine the manner in which contracts are sought and placed by the company; (3) to review its working methods and practice; (4) to examine its advertising methods; (5) to review its income and expenditure generally; and (6) to make recommendations on these matters and such other matters related to public transport services and their operation as the Committee think fit.

I want to state at the very outset that I move this motion in what I consider to be the public interest and as a result of widespread dissatisfaction expressed to me and to others verbally and quite frequently expressed through the medium of letters to the public press. I shall have to refer to some recent statements by persons closely associated with the administrative side of Córas Iompair Éireann and, in order to get the picture into proper perspective, it will be necessary, in my view, to engage in some historical research with regard to this company.

It dates from 1944 when the then Dublin transport company was amalgamated with the Great Southern Railway Company and CIE was born. At that time, the then Minister for Industry and Commerce, the present Taoiseach, had great plans for CIE and great hope, if not well-founded hope, that it would supply the people of this country with means of transport for passengers and goods at fares that would be equitable and reasonable. The present day picture falls very far short of what were then the Taoiseach's very firmly expressed expectations.

Let me say at this stage that I should like this discussion, within the time at our disposal, to be conducted as far as possible from an atmosphere of acrimony or any suggestion that political prejudice or political advantage has played any significant part in the failure to achieve the expectations then expressed. I want to make that very clear at the outset because in my view—and this is the reason for the motion—it is time that this House, through a Select Committee, considered calmly, fairly and as equitably as possible the whole of this situation, with a view to ascertaining what can be done to help in a situation that is economically somewhat appalling and where Parliament is annually voting money by way of subsidy to this company.

Having made those general remarks, I should like now to refer to the matters for which I seek an inquiry. First, I have asked that the methods of recruitment to all grades of the service of CIE be examined. I am not prepared at this stage to make any specific allegation in any way but I do hear from time to time remarks made that recruitment to the various grades of service in CIE leaves something to be desired and, as I have said on a previous occasion in relation to semi-State companies of this kind, once there are rumours and once people are talking in terms of rumour without specific proof, an obligation is placed on those responsible to examine the situation and have the rumours dispelled once and for all, because—let me say this straight away—I do not accept the allegations that I have heard made from time to time, that one has no chance of a job in Córas Iompair Éireann or in certain other State companies unless one is a card-carrying member of the Fianna Fáil Party. I do not accept that but, perhaps, because of some isolated instance here and there, a rumour grows and gathers such force that it brings the whole method of recruitment into disrepute, and quite wrongly probably in the majority of cases. This is the kind of thing that I want to have examined under that heading.

One hears from time to time about CIE contracts. I want to have examined the manner in which the contracts are sought and placed by the company. I am told, for instance, that CIE will quote a figure for a contract for the transport of agricultural or other produce and when one bargains with them, they will come down substantially below that figure, very often to onehalf. That appears to me to be a business method not calculated to attract support for the company.

If I might at this stage talk about fares in relation to certain parts of the country, I am told that the fare for Cavan town-Dublin, return, is substantially lower than the fare Monaghan-Dublin, which is virtually the same distance. The reason I am given for that is that Cavan has got private bus services which can compete with CIE and that Monaghan does not appear to have the same kind of private services. If that be so, it is time the matter should be remedied in some way. I am not going to suggest how. That is something that could be examined by a Select Committee such as I suggest.

In relation to this question of private buses and public buses, I understand that CIE will offer to provide a bus on charter in areas where there are private buses at lower rates than those operating in areas where there are no private buses. This gives rise to a very bad anomaly resulting from monopoly, where a company can proceed, on the people's money, to compete with the people themselves in private enterprise. It is something that should be examined. While it might be suggested, of course, in reply to a Parliamentary Question, that it is a matter of day-to-day administration of the company, nevertheless, it is something that can be discussed and dealt with on a motion such as this. To review its working methods and practice is, of course, related really to No. 2. No. 4, then, is to examine its advertising methods. This is important, I think, because CIE does advertise considerably and pays a considerable amount of money for advertising. In return, of course, they would have a certain revenue from advertising by carrying certain posters for certain enterprises on their buses and trains. However, the manner in which they advertise themselves is, in my opinion, something that requires very careful examination.

Some time ago, not so very long ago, I asked a question about the placing of a contract for scrolls in Irish to show the names of intermediate stations on buses. I was told that the contract for the printing of these scrolls had been placed in England and the work was being done in England. It was incredible; I did not believe it. The matter was pressed upon me and I asked a question. The Minister very fairly told me that that was the situation, initially at any rate. He also added that there were not any Irish companies anxious to take on the particular job. I do not know how accurate that was. The Minister must rely on the information given to him by the company, but I thought I saw afterwards something to the effect that the printing trade were not quite in agreement with that statement as a statement of fact.

I asked the cost of producing these particular scrolls in England—I do not know where exactly the contract was placed—and the Minister was able once more to shelter behind the phrase that this was a day-to-day administrative function and he had no responsibility in the matter. I am told that the cost, whether initially or not, whether it is up to date or not I do not know, is somewhere between £25,000 and £35,000. I hope that is not an accurate figure. I am giving the figure I was given and nobody will be more pleased than I shall be if the Minister is able to reduce it and give us the correct version. I hope it will appear somewhere in the Board's report and accounts.

To review its income and expenditure generally is something that speaks for itself. Then, the Committee having examined these five matters and such other matters as may relate to them, can make recommendations on these matters and such other matters related to public transport services and their operation, as the Committee think fit. Having regard to the history of the company and all that has happened in relation to it in the past 22 years, the Committee should, I think, be a Committee of this House to examine in detail, and particularly in the light of our responsibility for it.

The company was first set up in 1944. I have referred already to the high hopes and expectations then expressed by the present Taoiseach for its future. How far his hopes and expectations have been defeated by the reality of the present day is shown more clearly by giving the relevant extracts from the statement he made at that time. I quote from volume 94 of the Official Report, column 636; the Taoiseach, amongst other things, asked:

Are we to take no account of the fact that the Dublin transport company by more efficient management succeeded in replacing obsolete equipment for fresh equipment and not merely repaid loans but reduced capital liability while, at the same time, giving cheaper fares to the public as well as improving conditions of employment for the workers?

There he was so obviously impressed by the excellent work being done at that time by the Dublin transport company that he felt that the scope of that kind of work could be broadened. He went on to say:

What was done in the case of the Dublin transport company can be done for transport as a whole in this country.

That was in Dáil Éireann in September, 1944. At another part of the same debate the Taoiseach told the House:

It is obvious that Dublin transport facilities will be substantially extended and cheapened. Cheap fares to housing districts and to suburban dwellings generally will be the function of the new company.

In May of that year he spoke in Carlow. For the reproduction of his speech, I am indebted to the Sunday Independent of 9th January, 1966. Here is what he said in Carlow:

The Government proposes the establishment of a national transport organisation operating under Government supervision, charged with the reorganisation of transport services so as to ensure that cheap and adequate facilities will be available in every area. The new company will be constituted from the amalgamation of the Great Southern Railways and the Dublin United Tramways Company. The economies resulting from the scheme will mean cheaper rates for transport, better services, and will give transport workers better security of employment and remuneration, which they can never have unless such a reorganisation is effected. The Government believes that a really efficient national transport organisation with up-to-date equipment can give private traders a better and cheaper service than they give themselves in normal circumstances.

That hope and that policy have not resulted in what was promised. It is true that in the course of the debate on the formation of CIE, the Taoiseach said—he was then Minister for Industry and Commerce, of course— that they were setting their target high and it was for the purpose of getting a very high standard that this high target was being set. In addition, he said that, perhaps in ten or 12 years' time, which would be about 1956, or so, they could have another look at it and see what had happened. They had another look and, in 1958, we had another Transport Bill which showed quite clearly that, whether because of operational inefficiency or because of administrative difficulties, or because of wrong policies being applied, the company was certainly in trouble.

One of the ways adopted at that time in order to get out of trouble was to take up more branch lines. Some of them had been taken up further back, but the intention was to take up more and more branch lines. It is not necessary for me to go into again all the discussion about that at that time. They were taken away in Monaghan, Donegal, Cavan, West Cork, and some lines in County Mayo. In passing, I think it is interesting to note that the Derry and Lough Swilly Transport Company—if that is the right name for them—pay a dividend as a transport company. The same cannot be said——

Without wanting to interrupt the Deputy—he has just interested me—he has made a very long string from 1944 to 1958 but there were two Bills under the Coalition Government in between. The Deputy ought to read the Minister's comments at that time.

I am sure the Minister will read them. As I said at the very beginning, I do not want any political acrimony brought into this at all. I want this thing considered on its merits and I am sure the Minister will accept that spirit.

It was simply that I felt the Deputy really ought to comment on the 1950 Bill, at least.

Perhaps I can do that at a later stage. If there is anything I feel I have to concede, I will be the first to do so. I am talking about the whole history of this. At any rate, it does not seem to have worked.

Then, in 1958, we were told CIE was to get a subsidy for five years and, after that, would have to pay its own way. So far, all that being a fact, we are still subsidising them somewhere to the tune of £2 million per annum. That is a lot of money. It is a sum this Parliament votes and, therefore, I say it is something in which this Parliament should take an interest at this stage because we cannot go on from year to year listening to complaints daily, weekly, monthly, or even yearly, about the operation of this company and what is happening in it without having some exact details. Apart from the annual report—and not everybody understands an annual report, not everybody is able to get a breakdown of the figures given under the various headings and, accordingly, cannot understand it—a Parliamentary Question asking about certain things is virtually useless. I think it is time the Minister departed from the principle which he seems to have made universal now by saying he has no function in the matter. I think he has a function, because the Government have an overriding supervision. The Taoiseach said that in 1954 through the relevant Minister.

I suppose the most up-to-date account we have of the company's workings is the expression by the General Manager of CIE, Mr. Frank Lemass, when he said—and I quote from The Irish Press of 4th January, 1966. Mr. Lemass was speaking to a conference in Dublin and was complaining, I think, about demands being made by workers at the time for wage increases. He said:

It was now a question of survival for the company. Unless there was some change of attitude, unless the winds of sanity blew very strongly through the trade unions, the prospects were very serious.

He continued:

We are in a straitjacket: we cannot increase rates and fares and we cannot get more subsidy. We are losing more than the subsidy we are getting, so that we have no money; we are absolutely broke.

Sad words, but frank words, very frank indeed in that particular speech and quite different from the security of employment envisaged in 1944.

Even though CIE has got a monopoly here, it has, during certain times of the year—particularly during the wheat and beet seasons—to give plates to private hauliers to do the work for it, or assist it in the work. That, in itself, is something into which an inquiry should be made; with regard to how a monopoly works in that way.

To sum up at this stage—in 1958 we gave CIE five years to pay; they were unable to pay their way at the end of that time and they are now running on a subsidy from us of round about £2 million per annum, a subsidy which the General Manager says they are losing, losing more than the subsidy in every year. It is in circumstances such as those that I think it would be to the advantage of the House, of the country and, very probably, to the advantage of the company itself that a Select Committee such as I propose be set up to make the relevant inquiries and make constructive recommendations.

I second the motion and reserve the right to speak later.

The time has come for us to get the problems of CIE into proper national perspective. The time has more than come for people like ourselves, who have a very deep responsibility in the matter, to get an opportunity of making a frank and factual review of the situation. The proposal by Deputy Lindsay is an eminently reasonable one if we keep matters on a proper keel. We have got to face the responsibility of realising that for a very large number of people the national transport company, under the name of CIE, is not only a means of livelihood but virtually a way of life, because we are well aware of the fact that many of the employees of CIE are now running into the second and, indeed in some cases, into the third generation. Therefore, we are facing a very complex problem when one views it in the light of statements made so recently by the General Manager of the company.

It is true that CIE was born in hope and, as I have said previously in this House, it faltered in many degradations but it is time for us to make a factual review as to what can be done to save it or what can be done, if it must go, to supply alternatives by way of municipal transport, national transport or rail transport. I feel it is time we faced, with some sincerity, the responsibilities owed to the Irish people as well as the employees of CIE in this whole problem. We have undoubtedly been the agency through which a tremendous volume of public money has been expended in bolstering this service. We have seen a spectacle of haphazard effort to improve, and some catastrophic mistakes made. Surely we are big enough to realise that this problem is so vital that we should take as broad a view, and have as full an investigation, as possible. A Select Committee like this could bring an air of investigation and sincere interest that might lead to the finding of something practical in the line of a solution to the problem.

Debate adjourned.