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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 4 Dec 1973

Vol. 269 No. 7

Return to Writ: Monaghan. - Telephone Capital Bill, 1973: Second Stage.

I move:

"That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

This is the 12th Telephone Capital Bill submitted to the Dáil since the transfer of services in 1922. The first was in 1924 for £500,000. The last, introduced in 1968, was for £50 million, which is now exhausted, hence the need for a new Act, which is intended to provide for development in the period to mid-1978.

When I introduced in this House, on 10th May last, the Estimate for my Department, my statement was criticised, quite legitimately, by several Deputies on the grounds that it did not deal adequately with the telephone service. The reason was that at that date, after a comparatively short time in office, I had not sufficiently taken stock of the situation to be able to recommend to the Government on the scale of the effort that needed to be made, and the Government consequently had not taken any decision on a capital investment plan. Telephone development depends on the scale of capital investment, and there is little point in discussing the subject unless the scale of the capital investment to be provided is known.

The Government have now decided on a major effort in this field, at an estimated cost of £175 million in terms of present money values. The Government consider that nothing less than an effort on this scale will be adequate to modernise the telephone system, and expand it to the extent necessitated by demand and the needs of our economy.

Expenditure on the telephone service falls under two broad headings. One is current expenditure on day-to-day operation, maintenance et cetera. This is met out of moneys voted by this House annually which are more than balanced by telephone revenue paid into the Exchequer. The other is capital expenditure on development works such as provision of new exchanges and trunk routes, buildings, laying of underground cables and so on. The telephone system requires a continuous flow of new investment because growth of the service goes on all the time.

Telephone Capital Acts do not sanction expenditure; they are enabling Acts empowering the Minister for Finance to make issues out of the Central Fund for telephone development. They also authorise him to borrow for that purpose. The issues are made to the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs on foot of annual capital works estimates approved by the Minister for Finance. Capital and interest are repaid by annuities extending over a period of 25 years.

The Telephone Capital Act, 1969, passed in March of that year authorised the Minister for Finance to issue a total of £50 million for telephone development. There had been on hand at 1st April, 1968, a balance of £3,658,000 from previous legislation. Expenditure during the five years ended 31st March last amounted to £51.5 million leaving a balance of over £2 million. The £51.5 million was spent as follows: £26.2 million on subscribers' lines and installations, £15.3 million on exchanges, £7.5 million on trunk routes and the balance of £2.5 million on sites, buildings et cetera.

The £50 million provided for in the Telephone Capital Act, 1969, which was introduced five years ago, was based on a forecast made in 1968 of requirements to the middle of 1973-74, on the assumption that the necessary financial and other resources would be made available as required. On that assumption it was estimated that to meet demand the number of telephone exchange lines would need to grow from about 200,000 to 315,000 at the end of September, 1973. The estimate proved quite close as an estimate. The number in service at that date was 278,000 and there were 34,000 applications on hands.

Kiosks provided exceeded 650 as compared with 500 envisaged. It was hoped to convert some 300 exchanges to automatic working including those with 100 or more subscribers; the actual number converted was 202. The percentage of spare capacity in automatic exchanges which it was aimed to build up to 30 per cent of working lines is 22 per cent approximately. An extensive programme of trunk development was planned and the numbers of trunk circuits were increased from 12,800 to 20,000 approximately—an impressive increase which was not, however, sufficient to cater for the doubling of trunk traffic forecast and realised. There are arrears of underground cabling for local development in cities and towns and of building works essential for the installation of equipment.

It may well be asked why have there been shortfalls in the programme since £50 million was authorised and £50 million has been spent. The first point to be noted is that the two figures are not equivalent. Inflation has been at work in the meantime. In terms of 1968 prices on which the first-mentioned figure was based, only about £37 million has been invested in the system over the five-year period in question. Indeed, this investment was no more in real purchasing terms than the amount spent on the service in the previous five-year period from 1963 to 1968. Clearly, expenditure on this limited scale was insufficient to enable the proposed programme to be carried out.

Severe capital restrictions in 1970 and 1971 necessitated such retrenchment measures as the laying-off of construction staff, suspension of certain recruitment, reductions in purchases of engineering stores and the deferment of the placing of major contracts. Planning staffs who should have been pushing ahead with schemes for major expansion were diverted to seeking ways and means of conserving capital. Planning work was also affected by uncertainty about the future availability of capital.

Here we have a classic example of a "stop-go" policy being applied where it was liable to do most damage—to a service which had arrears and was striving to accelerate to meet a steadily increasing demand.

I do not propose to dwell on the past more than is necessary to emphasise what has been said and repeated by former Ministers for Posts and Telegraphs. Indeed, I cannot do better than quote a distinguished predecessor who addressed this House in March, 1969, in the following terms:

As has often been said before, but is still perhaps not fully appreciated, major telephone development plans take five years to mature in working equipment. Sometimes where new sites and buildings are needed the time interval is even longer. It is clearly impossible to develop the service adequately unless there is a firm assurance that capital moneys to meet forward commitments will be available. "Stop-go" conditions of which there has been some unfortunate experience on occasions in the past are an impossible handicap to development. I am fully confident that they will not be permitted to recur and that the sum of £50 million which I am asking for in this Bill will be made available year by year as required.

That is the end of the quotation from the statement by the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, Deputy Erskine Childers as he then was. The confidence which the then Minister expressed proved unfortunately not to be justified.

What year was that?

1969, and it was in 1970 that the great cut backs in the telephone capital programme occurred.

Deputy Childers was not Minister for Posts and Telegraphs in 1969.

I am sorry. Then I am mistaken. It was Deputy Childers and it is the Deputy who is mistaken. He was also Minister for Transport and Power at that period. The confidence expressed on that occasion proved unfortunately not to be justified and now the accumulation of arrears of development work plus the task of meeting a demand considerably higher than it was five years ago presents a problem of exceptional physical and financial magnitude.

The present position is that the capacity of the system needs to be greatly enlarged. Many exchanges in Dublin and throughout the country have insufficient equipment to take on all the applicants for service until extra equipment can be installed. Likewise many exchanges, particularly in Dublin, are overloaded to some degree in the busy hours. This means that at busy hours some attempted calls either get engaged tone during dialling or no tone at all. In such circumstances repeated attempts tend to jam the equipment and add to the difficulties. The shortage of subscribers' equipment already mentioned also contributes to congestion inasmuch as subscribers whose traffic requires more lines cannot be given them readily and their incoming calls frequently encounter engaged tone. The callers then either make ineffective repeat attempts or call the operator for assistance.

The trunk system is also short of lines and equipment causing an abnormal failure rate in the busy hours on calls made over the STD system, particularly to exchanges in the Dublin area which are subject to internal congestion.

Since capital restrictions were relaxed in the latter part of 1971 efforts to expand the capacity of the system have been pressed ahead as rapidly as possible. The value of the plant and equipment being installed or on order is at present over £40 million. Many other schemes are in various planning stages. I shall refer to the major ones later. Additional equipment has been brought into service in a number of exchanges this year, the most recent being the opening on 24th November last at Rathmines of a 10,000 line instalment of a 15,000 exchange.

A number of other new exchanges will be brought into service next year. Capital expenditure in the current financial year is now estimated to reach £25 million as compared with £17 million last year. However, much more needs to be done. While many large contracts for equipment have been placed to date, quantities ordered have been limited by the availability of accommodation. This problem is receiving urgent attention.

Before I go on to deal with the new programme, I should like to make some general comments on the telephone service.

The first is that if we wish to have a high quality telephone service—and this means a fully automatic service with a sufficiency of lines and equipment for all normal purposes—we must be prepared to invest heavily in it. The exchange equipment required is sophisticated and costly. It is designed not only for internal traffic but to be integrated into a world dialling system. International and intercontinental dialling is already a reality. Equipment must be provided in advance of demand and in sufficient quantity. As the number of subscribers grows, the complexity as well as the size of the system increases. It is essential to ensure that the plant installed is kept ahead of public demand for telephone facilities. The amount of capital required for this kind of investment in modern telecommunications systems is massive. Our nearest neighbour, for instance, has approved a five-year programme estimated to cost some £4,000 million. This is more than the provision for any of the other big nationalised industries in Britain. The system there is already practically 100 per cent automatic and telephone density is much higher than here.

Our telephone density is in fact the lowest in the EEC: 12 per 100 of the population as compared with over 19 in France, which is next lowest.

Once a programme of telephone development is approved and launched, it should normally be expected to follow its planned course. Experience has shown clearly that even a relatively short period of financial restrictions can affect the programme for many years ahead. I have good reason to hope that the programme now proposed will not be cut back. It is now increasingly widely recognised that any cutbacks in the growth of the telephone service would endanger the continued economic growth of this nation. There is a very obvious relationship between the speed of industrial and commercial development and the ease of communications available to the business community.

I note that the Confederation of Irish Industry, in its recent "Newsletter," said that we needed to spend £150 million over the next five years on our telephone system. That is to say the same order of magnitude as we are looking for here though, in fact, we are providing for a somewhat larger sum than they thought necessary.

They drew particular attention to the effect on regional policy saying:

A regional development policy that aims at the dispersal of industry throughout the country is doomed to failure if communications facilities are not developed simultaneously.

The public are in any event demanding telephones, they are prepared to pay a full economic price for them and there is no good reason why they should not get them.

It is in this context that I am glad to have the agreement of the Minister for Finance to the sum of £175 million provided for in the Bill representing the estimated cost of the programme, at 1973-74 price and wage levels, which it is anticipated that the Department will be able to carry out before mid-1978.

Telephone development at a satisfactory rate is dependent not only on finance but on expansion of skilled manpower resources, acquisition of sites, provision of new buildings, time required to instal equipment. There are practical limits to the speed with which progress can be made under these heads.

Coming now to the broad lines of the proposed programme, overall priority is being given to raising the quality of service of existing subscribers to a satisfactory standard by clearing local congestion and providing larger capacity links between the principal exchanges. These links will in effect constitute the clear ways for the heavy traffic. Special emphasis is being placed on alternative routing of traffic to provide safeguards against serious disruption due to interruption to any one link.

The second general objective is, of course, to reduce and eventually eliminate the waiting list for new telephones.

The conversion of manual exchanges to automatic working must also be pressed ahead as rapidly as possible. Apart from the need to do so to give a better quality of service, it is becoming increasingly difficult to provide a satisfactory service at the larger manual exchanges because of accommodation and other problems, and their conversion to automatic working is, therefore, an urgent need.

The programme which it is proposed to carry out before mid-1978, may be considered under the following main headings.

Provision is being made for a net increase of 190,000 subscribers' lines —from 270,000 to 460,000. This would represent an increase over the period of 70 per cent or an annual increase of 11.3 per cent as compared with 6.9 per cent over the past five years. It would give an increase of 250,000 telephones and a density of 19 telephones per 100 population in 1978.

Applications for connection of lines, including removals, are at present running at about 41,000 a year and will, no doubt, be higher in the years ahead. The Department's capability to make connections, which is about 30,000 this year, has been below the demand rate for several years past. Consequently, there is now a waiting list of about 34,000 applications. Clearly the Department's capability to overtake demand must be expanded rapidly. It is planned to at least treble the present connection rate over the period of the programme.

Expenditure under this head includes the costs of local distribution of lines in underground ducts and cables in the cities and towns and on overhead routes in rural areas. These networks connect each subscriber's premises to the local exchange. Their cost is one of the heaviest items in the programme. If telephones are to be provided promptly on application it is essential that there should be spare wires already available in cables near the applicants' premises running all the way to the nearest exchange— which may be several miles away. The need for an independent pair of wires to the exchange and of equipment exclusive to the subscriber at the exchange is one of the features that distinguish the telephone system from other services such as gas or electricity, which require only a connection to the nearest source of main supply.

The programme provides for 24 new exchanges in the `01' (greater Dublin) area, replacing smaller exchanges in 13 places. Work is at present in progress on the following new exchanges: Beggars Bush (Ballsbridge)—20,000 lines of which 12,000 are due in February next; Tallaght— 20,000 lines of which 4,000 are due in June, 1974; GPO—16,000 lines of which 4,000 are due in August, 1974; Santry—10,000 lines of which 5,000 are due in early 1975.

A new 20,000 lines exchange is expected at Crown Alley early in 1976.

In addition, the programme provides for new exchanges at Blanchardstown, Belcamp, Palmerstown, Malahide, Summerhill, Dolphin's Barn, Murphystown, Shankill, Ballyboden, Clondalkin, Dunboyne, Lucan, Maynooth, Ashbourne, Rush, Ballyboughal, Celbridge, Skerries and Balbriggan. The exchanges at Dundrum, Phibsboro', Lucan and Clontarf are at present being extended and extensions are on order or planned for almost all the remaining exchanges.

In Cork a new 20,000 line automatic exchange will be provided at Quaker Road and a major trunk and automanual exchange building will be erected at Churchfield.

Two new automatic exchanges— Cahirdavin and Dooradoyle—will be provided at Limerick and a major extension of the existing automanual exchange will be carried out.

In Galway, new exchanges are planned at Shantalla and Mervue and the automanual exchange at Eglinton Street will be considerably extended. The automanual exchanges at Athlone, Drogheda, Dundalk, Mullingar, Naas, Portlaoise, Sligo, Tralee, Waterford and Wicklow will also be expanded. The exchanges at Ennis, Navan and Kilkenny will be increased in capacity as will very many other smaller exchanges throughout the country.

Major extensions of trunk traffic equipment requiring new or extended buildings will be provided at Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Limerick, Galway, Sligo, Dundalk, Drogheda, Tralee, Athlone, Mullingar, Portlaoise, Naas and Wicklow. In several of these centres it will be necessary to instal equipment in temporary accommodation pending erection of new buildings.

It is planned to convert over 200 manual exchanges, including all the larger exchanges, to automatic working. Apart from Cavan, Clonmel and Fermoy, which will be converted next year, the programme includes Ballina, Cashel, Castlebar, Letterkenny, Listowel, Monaghan, Roscrea, Skibbereen, Thurles and Westport.

This will leave some 380 manual exchanges which it is estimated will be serving some 28,000 subscribers in 1978 when the system should be 94 per cent automatic as compared with 85 per cent at present. However, it is intended that a good deal of the preparatory work, that is acquisition of sites, erection of standard type buildings, provision of trunk circuits, for the conversion of the remaining manual exchanges will be done during the period. In addition the principal centres included in the list to be converted will be equipped with the necessary basic connection equipment to take the remaining smaller exchanges later.

The major trunk schemes to be carried out during the period of the programme will include upgrading the southern and northern coaxial cables from 600 to 2,700 circuits each and the western cable from 960 to 2,700 circuits; 900-channel radio link systems to serve Limerick, Waterford, Tralee, Enniscorthy, Athlone, Wicklow, Arklow, Sligo, Castlebar and coaxial cables to numerous other centres. Some 3,000 additional cross-channel trunk circuits will be provided. Overall the number of trunk circuits will be more than doubled.

New exchange buildings and extensions of existing buildings are being provided at Finglas and Dame Court trunking complex in Dublin, and in Castlebar, Galway, Caherdavin (Limerick), Cashel, Naas, Ballina, Waterford and 25 other places. New buildings are at the planning stage at virtually all the main switching centres and about 200 other places.

I come now to subscriber trunk dialling (STD) coinboxes. Since only local calls can be dialled from the existing type of automatic coinbox the making of trunk calls from these coinboxes throws a heavy load on the manual operating service and is already causing operating problems in some automanual exchanges particularly at night. A number of STD coinboxes have been ordered for experimental use in selected public call offices in Dublin and the provinces and are expected to be in service in a few months' time. It is hoped to provide STD coinboxes on an extensive scale during the next five years.

A number of mobile automatic exchanges are in operation and many more are on order. These transportable exchanges are extremely valuable in meeting temporary needs, that is where there is difficulty or delay in getting a building or extension.

The programme provides for an addition of 750 kiosks. At present kiosks are provided at places where they are likely to pay their way and, in rural areas, in replacement of sub-post office call offices that are used to a fair extent, even where the kiosks are not likely to be self-supporting.

In the next year or so we may be approaching the point where virtually all call offices which are used to a fair extent will have been replaced by kiosks. It is desirable at this stage to give thought to the basis on which future programmes of providing kiosks in rural areas should proceed and this question is engaging my attention. The view has been expressed in this House that the present policy should be more flexible. The difficulty is, of course, to establish criteria which could be applied consistently and would not open the floodgates to demands for kiosks for which there would be little real need. For the present, I intend to continue the present policy, which will mean providing a further 200 kiosks or so during the next year near post offices in rural areas. But if any Deputies wish to make suggestions on the criteria which might be adopted for rural areas where there is no post office, I shall give them careful consideration.

Particular attention will be given to the improvement and expansion of the international service which has already been greatly improved in the past year or two by opening direct circuits to some continental cities. When the new international exchange in Dublin opens for service about March next, the number of circuits on direct routes to various European and North American centres will be increased from 100 to 190 and it is planned to increase this number to over 400. On the opening of the new exchange the operators will be able to dial calls directly to subscribers with automatic telephones in western European countries and in the United States and Canada, and the connection of calls will be expedited.

Towards the end of next year some subscribers in the "01" area will be enabled to dial calls to certain large cities in Western Europe and these facilities will be expanded to include certain large cities in the USA and Canada, and extended to all subscribers in the "01" area in the course of 1975.

It is planned also to extend the STD facilities between the "01" area and London and Belfast to a number of provincial centres. There are several technical difficulties in the way of quick and large-scale expansion of STD to other places outside our Administration.

There is a twopenny call from London to Dublin and I should like to know if the Minister would consider introducing the same service from Dublin to London?

The Deputy will have an opportunity of commenting on my statement and putting any questions he wishes to me at a later stage. I shall answer such questions in my reply.

I hope the Minister will not forget that question, in case I am not here to put it to him again.

Our existing transatlantic satellite circuits are routed via the earth station at Goonhilly, Cornwall, in which Ireland has an investment share. Growth of transatlantic traffic together with the probable development of a European satellite is likely to warrant erection of an earth station here in the late 1970's.

The programme will provide employment for some thousands of extra skilled and semi-skilled men and for many engineering graduates. A substantial part of the stores to be used will be manufactured in the country, thus giving employment to many more.

I should like now to refer to the financial position of the telephone service. The return on capital in recent years has been: 1968-69—8.3 per cent; 1969-70—8.9 per cent; 1970-71—7.7 per cent; 1971-72—6.5 per cent; 1972-73—6 per cent (provisional). If depreciation provisions, apart from any profits, over the period being provided for were reinvested in the service, the amount of capital required would be reduced by some £40 million to £135 million. The raising of capital of this magnitude is now a difficult and a costly operation. We are, therefore, glad to have been able to avail ourselves of our entry into the EEC to secure part of the capital required on favourable terms. A loan of £7.5 million will be obtained from the European Investment Bank this year subject to the passing of this Bill. There are good hopes of getting further loans from the bank in the coming years, subject to the same consideration.

Telephone costs have, of course, been affected by inflation but telephone charges over the years have advanced less than consumer prices generally nothwithstanding very steep increases in telephone pay rates. The telephone service is essentially a profitable one and there need be no doubts about its ability to service the big investment now proposed.

Some Deputies looking at the size and urgency of the development programme to which this Bill is related may feel themselves impelled to ask two fundamental questions which I have been asking myself. May I pose them briefly? Is the present organisation of the Post Office that best suited to present needs? If it is not, how should it be changed? Having posed them, I should like to make it clear that I have a very open mind as to what the right answers are and that I should be glad to hear views from all sides about the answers.

The questions were considered fairly recently by the Public Services Organisation Review Group assisted by a team of consultants in the course of its general survey of the organisation of the public service. In its report, it spoke very rightly on the combination of social and economic functions the Department has to exercise and the problems of balancing social and economic criteria in providing and maintaining services. In its view, the tasks of the Department were similar to those of the ESB and CIE in their respective fields. It recommended the transfer of policy functions to a new Department of Transport and Communications and entrusting the operation of the services to an executive unit to be styled the Posts and Telecommunications Office. That unit would have delegated powers to carry out the day to day executive work of the Department. As the Dáil is aware, an examination is being carried out in certain selected Departments of the feasibility of the Aireacht/Executive unit concept. That examination should help towards a decision on the suitability of such a reorganisation for the Post Office.

I think it well, however, to consider also whether it is desirable to go further than is envisaged in the PSORG report and to put the functions of the Post Office under a state sponsored corporation on the lines of CIE or the ESB? Some administrations have moved in a similar direction and others are considering it, so that there is obviously a prima facie case. Before any such move could be taken I would need to be satisfied, as would the Government, that it would make for more effective and economical performance of the Department's functions. Proposals for so radical a change would clearly require very thorough consideration and full consultation with all concerned and this means, in effect, with the whole community. In particular, if they were to be seriously considered they would have to be discussed with the unions and associations catering for the large number of people employed in the Department, who are interested in the service it gives to the community, and who would also naturally be anxious that any change should not adversely affect them.

The views of representative users on the scope and standards of Post Office services would also need to be obtained. As I have already informed the Dáil, I have accepted the proposal of the National Prices Commission for the establishment of a Post Office users council and I hope to announce the terms of reference and composition of this body soon. The public should have an opportunity of expressing their views through the media, through various organisations, and, particularly, through the Oireachtas. I hope that my remarks here and elsewhere will initiate such discussions.

To return to the Bill before us, it is clear that in order to overtake arrears and to provide for meeting future demands, the telephone service requires a massive programme of expansion—of buildings, equipment, of skilled staff resources. Satisfactory progress depends on heavy capital investment. The amount provided in this Bill is indicative of the Government's determination to carry through the programme required.

I commend the Bill to the House.

This is an enabling Bill, to enable the Minister for Finance to procure or provide capital for the telephone system similar to the previous Bill. Naturally, the attitude of a constructive Opposition party is to welcome such provisions as may be feasible to the raising of capital. The sections of the Bill are not exceptional. Section 1 gives power to the Minister for Finance to provide moneys on Estimates approved by him while section 2 deals with the terminable annuities not specified as to rate.

This is a useful opportunity from my point of view to look over the history of the telephone system in the same manner as the Minister has already done. There has been, of course, an extraordinary increase in the demand for telephones and in the use of telephones in recent years leading to an overloading of the system in general areas and causing dissatisfaction on the part of some sections of the general public and the business element who need an adequate telephone service for the efficient running of their business.

As has been said by others, including, I believe, Devlin, the biggest problem of any telephone system in this country is capital. The next problem that arises is how one secures the capital. Details of what has occurred over the years might be useful at this stage. The Minister has set out some of these details. In the ten years from 1961 to 1971 the number of exchange lines increased from 127,960 to 248,000 at the end of December, 1971, and to 258,000 by the end of September of last year.

The Minister referred to an increased number since then. Since 1967 the applications for telephones increased at a greater rate than previously. In 1967 the number of applications was 16,000 and the number of connections 19,000. In 1971 the number of applications was 26,000 and the number of connections was 20,000. By September, 1972, the number of applications received for the previous year had been reached, and the number of connections was 19,000, with a substantial waiting list.

The amounts in capital over the five-year period were slightly in excess of £50 million in 1970-71, if I am right, it was £9.4 million, and in the following years it was £11.1 million, £15 million and last year it was £19.4 million. I will refer to this in more detail later because the Minister has given us a lower figure.

If the Deputy has references for the figures to which he is referring I would be grateful if he would indicate them.

These are my estimates and may not necessarily be correct. I understand from the Minister's predecessor that the planning being prepared in 1972 related to a push-ahead with conversions, most exchanges to be fully automatic, with some exceptions in rural areas. From experience over the previous ten years it was estimated that the number of telephones required in the following five years would be doubled. He also referred to the need for a programme of new buildings and new exchanges. The Minister agrees. There has been a massive increase in investment. Last year reference was made to two major international exchanges which would be due by 1974, at a cost of £1½ million.

When dealing with Estimates in previous years, the former Minister referred to efforts made to secure money through the World Bank, the European Investment Bank, which provides capital for essential infrastructure and development, and the regional funds of the European Community. It was anticipated that there would be doubling of the programme during the period 1973-78. The Minister is dealing with this problem and has the support of Members on this side of the House.

The demand for improvement and expansion in the telephone system has arisen directly from the expansion of the economy for which the previous administration was responsible. The Minister referred to the stop-go policy of the former administration. The difficulties of providing capital can arise at any time, depending upon the ability of the economy to provide the money and also from a rational priority in human needs. I will deal more fully with this point later.

In his speech the Minister said that telephone capital expenditure in the current financial year was estimated at £25 million. I may be wrong, but I think the amount in the Estimate is less than that.

The figure is £19 million.

Perhaps the Minister will let us know where he found the additional capital. He also referred to £17 million for last year. The figure was in excess of that. Was it £19 million?

The figure was £13 million and we spent £17 million.

I should like to refer to the debate on the Estimate for Posts and Telegraphs which took place earlier. In the Official Report, Volume 265, No. 7, at column 886 of 10th May, 1973, Deputy G. Collins, the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, said:

In 1970-71 the figure was £9.4 million, in 1971-72, £11.1 million and the figure for 1972-73 was £15 million.

On 9th November 1972, Vol. 263, No. 7, col. 1249, Deputy G. Collins said:

I am glad to say that in 1971-72 the Government agreed to increase the original allocation of capital for telephone development from £9.48 million to £11.11 million, and for 1972-73 the allocation of £13.73 million has been approved.

I now turn to the Minister's winding up speech on 20th June, 1973 as reported at column 876 of the Official Report where he said:

Our Estimate for 1971-72 was over £11 million but it was decided in September, 1970 that our allocation would be £9.48 million— another cut, not by the Coalition of 1957 but by the Fianna Fáil Coalition.

I should like the Minister to examine that; I think it contains an error somewhere.

Was there a reference to 1957? Perhaps the Deputy would not mind repeating?

The reference is in the debate, "... another cut, not by the Coalition of 1957 but by the Fianna Fáil Coalition that has just gone out of office". I think the Minister has erred here. I think the record of 9th November, 1972, contains a statement by the then Minister saying that he is glad to say that for 1971-72 the Government had agreed to increase the allocation from £9.48 million to £11.1 million, not as the Minister stated reduce it from £11 million to £9.48 million. If I am correct, I hope the Minister will take an opportunity to correct this statement.

In this speech the Minister said:

The public are in any event demanding telephones, they are prepared to pay a full economic price for them. There is no good reason why they should not get them.

I agree that there is no good reason why they should not get them provided the capital is available.

Later the Minister referred to the opening of new exchanges, either coming or just completed and mentioned Rathmines, Beggar's Bush, Tallaght, the GPO and Santry. He had referred earlier to the £40 million for telephone capital. I think these exchanges were provided for by the previous Administration and, if so, it is proper to say so.

The Minister mentioned the loan of £7.5 million which will be obtained from the European Investment Bank. The Minister will not mind if I point out that that loan could only have become available following our joining the European Community which I think the Minister was opposing. It is incumbent on me to put some questions in connection with this loan which the Minister may, or may not be in a position to answer. He does not state the conditions of the loan. As I understand it, the European Investment Bank normally lays down conditions varying between a 22 per cent provision on their part against a capital provision on ours, to a maximum of 40 per cent. I, and I am sure many others, would be very interested to know what conditions the Minister for Finance had to fulfil in order to qualify for this loan.

The Minister said the loan would be subject to the passing of this Bill but this is merely an enabling measure to enable the Minister for Finance to provide up to £175 million over the next five years. I should like to know how much does the Minister for Finance have to provide for capital telephone equipment in order to qualify for this loan. I presume it does not mean that the £7.5 million will be available provided we in Dáil Éireann and the Government provide the full £175 million. It could not read that way; I should like to know how it reads, if the Minister is free to disclose that. If my recollection is correct, the European Investment Bank publishes these agreements at the end of each year. If that is so, I think the Minister could give us some idea—referring back to the 22 per cent up to a maximum of 40 per cent—whether the Minister for Finance has now to provide £35 million at the lower rate or £17 million at the higher rate. This is how I understand the European Bank functions.

In regard to this provision of foreign capital, it is proper to comment that it is, in today's conditions, at a quite low rate of 8½ per cent and to point out the wisdom and foresight of all of us in deciding to join the European Community. The history of the State over the years has been quite different to that of numerous small states all over the world which have benefited in the past 25 years from such things as American aid and other forms of aid. All along, apart from attracting private foreign investment we have provided, by and large, almost the total capital for our infrastructure ourselves. The Minister might tell me if this is the first time we have got capital of this kind from abroad for such purposes.

The Minister has not referred to the type of equipment being installed. If he has any information on this matter I should like to know if it is the latest solid technology or are we importing mechanical equipment. This is merely a matter of interest.

The Minister criticised the fact that sufficient capital was not made available in the past and he mentioned the cut-backs that were made. At that time the programme of £50 million was a rational and sensible one. The accelerated demand resulted from increased development. Fianna Fáil have been responsible for the financial policy of the country for a considerable period. Their policy has always been to provide capital on the basis of need, priority and on the ability of the economy to provide that capital. I do not want to go too deeply into the experience in relation to the recent national loan but I would put a few questions to the Minister. He referred to the question of the appreciation of costs. Am I correct in assuming that the cost of financing future loans will be chargeable to the Department of Posts and Telegraphs?

I should welcome the proposal of the National Prices Commission for the establishment of the Post Office Users' Council, as the Minister has referred to it. Can the Minister tell me if the European Investment Bank loan applies this year or must we wait until next year? Built into that is the question of how much capital must the Minister for Finance provide so that we may qualify for the £7½ million from the European Investment Bank. These questions are relevant in present circumstances because the Minister for Finance may have a problem in raising the capital. If he has not a problem in this area, I should be very pleased to hear it.

I hope this project will go through, that the Minister will succeed in his efforts and that we will have a continuing improvement in our telephone system.

I have listened to the Minister and I think he and his Cabinet colleagues should be commended for the major effort to develop the communications infrastructure of the country. The needs and deficiencies of the existing services are very widely known but this investment will go a long way in developing our general communications structure.

One of the major side-effects will be the substantial increase in employment for telecommunications personnel in the Department and this is extremely welcome. A significant factor in the employment structure in the telecommunications section of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs is that the employment will be spread throughout the country and the decision to develop a major regional system will mean a substantial increase in employment in the provincial exchange areas.

Inevitably the service will improve and this is long overdue. One could make many party political points in relation to the Bill. One could stress the viewpoint expressed by the Minister that in terms of 1968 prices when the original £50 million figure was proposed, only £37 million has been invested in the system in the five-year period. During the debate on the Estimate for the Department of Posts and Telegraphs there was considerable comment on the unfortunate lack of capital investment by the previous Administration. However, this is no excuse for the present Government and I am not going to dwell on any past deficiencies because that does not solve the problem. We must look forward and this welcome decision by the Government will effect a major improvement.

I am sure the Minister will appreciate that when many people hear of a telephone capital Bill coming through the House providing for major investment they do not distinguish between current expenditure at Government and departmental level and capital expenditure. One hears people saying that as we are spending so many millions on social welfare why not spend some of that for essential social purposes. The distinction between capital and current expenditure often seems lost on the electorate. The point might be made that this is essential authorisation of capital for future investment in the overall facilities on the telecommunications side. As such, it is money well invested in the country. It will help to provide better community services within the nation as a whole. It will also provide a return far in excess of any interest charges which the nation will have to bear for the borrowing.

At this stage I am resisting the temptation to deal with other matters outlined by the Minister, such as whether it would be better to reorganise the whole system in line with the tentative suggestions of the public services organisation. In time in an Estimate debate in this House we will analyse the future structure of the Post Office. There should be several thousand extra employees in the Department in the next five years and they will undertake semi-skilled work. Many engineering graduates should come from the universities to deal with the telecommunications system. The question will arise as to whether a Department of this magnitude with, perhaps, 25,000 employees should be kept entirely within the setting of a separate Government Department. I have an open mind on this issue at present. I do not necessarily believe that the hiving-off of the Department to a semi-State body would increase efficiency. That can be debated later. I congratulate the Minister on this decision which will be widely welcomed throughout the country. This is a practical, basic and utterly essential investment which should lead to future economic, social and industrial development in the country.

It is essential to say at this stage that any proposed legislation which will do anything to improve the communications system within and without this country is to be welcomed. It is important to remember that this is merely enabling legislation. It enables the Minister for Finance to make issues out of the Central Fund for telephone development and to borrow for that purpose. When we examine the record of the Minister for Finance and his recent attempt to raise money and particularly his record in relation to the National Loan, which was a complete flop, we must have certain doubts about the programme and about the Bill before us today. Since the Minister for Finance was appointed he does not seem to have been capable of raising money from a game of bingo, never mind £175 million for the programme outlined by the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs today. I leave this point aside reluctantly.

The Bill as presented by the Minister proposes using £175 million. I would love to see the day when that sum has been spent. By then I should be on the other side of the House complimenting my own Minister on completing the plans which the present Minister will not have completed although he promised to do so in 1973. The main purpose of this Bill is to raise finance for the improvements outlined, by the connection of new subscribers and the improvement of the services to existing subscribers. The quality of service to existing subscribers is pathetic.

Was it all right in February?

The Minister had an opportunity of making a statement and will have another opportunity when concluding. I would be glad if the Minister would allow me to make my contribution.

I speak with knowledge of my own constituency and the amount of housing development which has taken place there. There has been a lack of forward planning in the Department to keep them in line with the housing and industrial developments over the last couple of years. There has been tremendous development in north County Dublin. One of the aims of the Bill is to reduce the number on the waiting list for telephones. There are thousands on the waiting list in the new town of Blanchardstown which is developing into a city the size of Cork. There is similar development at Clondalkin. The towns in north County Dublin such as Swords, Malahide, Rush, Skerries and Balbriggan are expanding rapidly. The Department have been lacking in regard to the proper provision of communications in these areas. I hope that the Bill introduced by the Minister today will take into account the needs of the area I have mentioned.

The Minister mentioned various exchanges in my constituency. I am glad to see that he is aware of the problems. I trust that the money will be available and that we will not be left with promises. Exchanges are proposed at Belcamp, Malahide, Ashbourne, Rush, Ballyboughal, Skerries, Balbriggan, et cetera. I would like to know from the Minister when these exchanges will be available. The demands of the area are not being met at present. The demands of the industrialists there are not being and cannot be met because of the insufficiency of the telephone services. When will the Minister be in a position to give us the services we need?

The Minister mentioned cross-channel and international services. Perhaps he would inform us about what is being done in regard to the telex service. This is a service which is widely used by industrialists in their attempts to secure export orders and to improve the dismal figures in the balance of payments. There are complaints from industrialists in my area that in the telex service there are delays of five, six and seven hours suffered by operators.

On a point of order, telex does not come under the Telephone Capital Bill.

Is it right that the Minister should inform the Chairman of what is and what is not in order, or is it for the Chairman herself to decide what is in order?

The Deputy is discussing something not covered by the Bill.

The Minister is correct. Telex should not be discussed under this Bill. This is a matter for the Estimate at another date. It is not relevant to this Bill.

If it is not relevant, it should be relevant. It is a very important matter and it should have been included in the Bill. I am sorry that the Minister is instructing you in your job. I know you are capable of doing your job without the Minister's instruction.

Acting Chairman

I can look after my own interests.

I realise that. That is why I am surprised at the Minister interrupting me.

It does not come under the Bill. That is the problem. Telephones are one thing; telex is another.

Is it a sore point? Does the Minister not want to discuss it?

Acting Chairman

The Deputy will get the opportunity of discussing telex during the Estimate debate.

I understood we were to have a debate on the telex system later on this year, but we have not had it. May I come to the question of telephone kiosks? Telephone kiosks should be looked upon as a social service rather than as an economic proposition. People in a village in rural Ireland should be able to communicate urgently with the local hospital, the fire brigade or the police in an emergency. I do not see any provision for this in the Minister's statement.

I am glad to see the Minister is considering the provision of kiosks in places where there are sub-post offices with public phones in them. The kiosks in sub-post offices are not being used because the demand for the telephone service is not during the daytime when the sub-post offices are open but rather in the evening when the sub-post offices are closed. Telephone kiosks should be provided, as a matter of urgency, outside all sub-post offices. In my own constituency, for example, in the village of Naul there is a call-box in the sub-post office. The usage of that kiosk is not such as to warrant, on economic grounds, a kiosk outside, but on social grounds it is warranted. When the people of Naul want to use the phone they do not like to inconvenience the owners of the sub-post office by knocking them up and asking them to use the phone at night time. They are more inclined to drive a couple of miles to Balbriggan, which should not be necessary in this day and age. I am very anxious that the Minister would look at the social aspect of the telephone kiosk service.

The Minister referred to improvements in the international service, and any improvement is to be welcomed. It is regrettable in these days of EEC membership that our calls have to go through London, and the sooner we get direct dialling to the main centres in Europe the better. There is one point on which I should like clarification from the Minister, that is, in relation to this part of his speech:

Towards the end of next year some subscribers in the "01" area——

that is the Dublin area

——will be enabled to dial calls to certain cities in Western Europe, and these facilities will be expanded to include certain large cities in the USA and Canada, and extended to all subscribers in the "01" area in the course of 1975.

What areas in the "01" area are to get this dialling facility? Will it include the larger industrial estates around the city? If not, why not? Or will it include residential areas, which should have the service but could wait a little while. Our industrialists, those men and women who are working hard to improve the balance of payments in this country should be catered for first of all when it comes to direct dialling. It is the industrialists who find themselves in the regrettable situation that they are unable on many occasions, when vital export orders are at stake, to communicate with their customers or prospective customers in Europe, America and in the Far and Middle East. I would hope that the Minister would see that our industrialists get priority in regard to this service.

The Minister mentioned the provision of satellite earth stations. There are many people in my constituency who would be perfectly happy to have a telephone, not to mention a satellite earth station based in their constituency. There are growing thousands and thousands of people who are demanding a telephone service, the basic instrument that they need to communicate with emergency services, or for business or for social purposes; yet the Minister is speaking about the provision of satellite earth stations. In relation to the raising of the finance for the programme the Minister has outlined, the Minister says and I quote:

The raising of capital of this magnitude is now a costly and a difficult operation. We are, therefore, glad to have been able to avail ourselves of our entry into the EEC to secure part of the capital required on favourable terms.

Change before death. I am delighted to be able to sit in this House and listen to a member of the Labour Party turning face for the umpteenth time about our entry into the EEC. At the time of the campaign for entry into the EEC, we listened to a tirade of abuse heaped on the heads of those who in any way favoured our membership, a tirade of abuse in which the Minister himself took a large and active part. The Minister is now saying: "We are, therefore, glad to have been able to avail ourselves of entry into the EEC." The Minister is belatedly aware of the advantages of EEC membership— EEC membership which would be more fruitful only for the performance of some of the Ministers on the far side. However, I am glad the Minister is aware of the advantages of entry into the EEC and is availing of some of this money that we spoke about during our campaign to bring the Irish people into the EEC when the Labour Party, of which the Minister is a prominent member, did everything in their power to keep the Irish people out of the EEC. The Minister says that a loan of £7.5 million will be obtained from the European Investment Bank this year subject to the passing of this Bill. What are the favourable terms of this loan? I should like the Minister to tell us in his reply what are the favourable terms he speaks about. I do not see this in the Minister's 15 page statement. What exactly are the conditions of this loan? If this money is available from the European Investment Bank for such a thing as the extension of the communications system, is similar money not available from the European Investment Bank to deal with our appalling housing situation? Would it not be possible to get such money in order to do something to subsidise the interest rates being paid by mortgage holders to building societies? I would ask the Minister to ask his colleagues in Government to look at the possibility of getting some of this money to take the thousands of mortgage holders off the hook on which they now find themselves.

May I ask whether this is considered relevant?

The Deputy should try to confine his remarks to the business before the House.

I am speaking about the money from the European Investment Bank. I appreciate the Minister's instruction and the Chair's instruction.

The enabling Bill is intended to provide for a sum of £175 million over a five year period. According to my calculations, this would be around £35 million per annum. There is £7.5 million for this year. Where is the balance? Where is the £27½ million to come from for this year? What are the plans for the coming year and for the years ahead? The Minister will admit that if we are depending on the performance of the Minister for Finance to produce the necessary money judging by his performance this year we will find ourselves in a pretty sorry state facing into 1974-75.

The Minister spoke of the National Prices Commission requesting the establishment of a post office users' council and said he hopes to announce the terms of reference and the composition of this body soon. I hope it will be very soon because in Ireland in 1973, following years of Fianna Fáil rule, the situation is one of rapid expansion. This expansion has taken place and will take place following our advice to the Irish people, which they wisely took, to go into the EEC, despite the advice of the Minister's party. I want all the users of the telephone service to have an opportunity of making their views known to the Minister. I should like to see this council set up as soon as possible. I realise the Minister has promised it soon but his colleague, the Minister for Local Government, comes in here regularly and promises this, that and the other soon and never seems to produce the goods. I would like the Minister to announce it soon, meaning very early in 1974.

The necessity for such a council is self-evident. The Minister referred to the last programme when in 1968-69 it was decided to raise £50 million for the extension of the telephone service. The estimates of the Fianna Fáil Minister at that time were correct on the figures and information available at the time, on the present Minister's own admission. The Minister said:

The estimate proved quite close; the number in service at that date was 278,000 and there were 34,000 applications on hands. Kiosks provided exceeded 650 as compared with 500 envisaged.

The Minister could not avoid the snide remark that while the £50 million was all right back in 1968-69 in real money terms the figure spent was only £37 million because of inflation. The Minister is on very sticky ground when he talks about inflation because this country has never suffered such a rate of inflation as it has suffered since the coming into power of the present Administration, of which the Minister is a member.

That is untrue. We reduced it by half and the Deputy knows that.

What will be the situation in regard to this programme which the Minister is introducing? The Minister has introduced an enabling Act dependent on the performance of the Minister for Finance and we all know, to our cost, what the performance of the Minister for Finance is. He has introduced an enabling Act providing for £175 million at inflationary rates, even looking at them in the most optimistic light. The Minister will be talking about an expenditure of approximately £175 million over the next five years. The Minister accuses a Fianna Fáil Minister of understimating a situation. He must be aware that the inflation rate in the five year period of which he is speaking will result in the figure of £175 million being drastically reduced, that is assuming that the Minister for Finance can raise £175 million, which I doubt anyway. Assuming he can raise it, which is highly unlikely, we are talking about a drastically reduced programme at a time when we need forward, expansionist thinking rather than the come-day-go-day type of thinking we are getting from the Coalition. I would compare the Minister's forward planning—which, if it is successful will be very desirable because any improvement in the service is desirable—to the non-performance of his colleague, the Minister for Transport and Power, with regard to the petrol shortage. He is leaving the Irish economy and Irish industry at ransom and in a dangerous condition. When he should be acting, he is not acting. The Minister for Posts and Telegraphs is merely introducing an enabling Bill. I hope that the Minister for Finance will improve on his performance in the past and do something to bring this enabling legislation into operation. I regret that I cannot see the Minister for Finance providing the necessary funds to implement this legislation.

This enabling Bill is to enable the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs to provide the necessary means to deal with the next five year programme in his Department. It has become evident at this stage and was certainly evident to the previous Administration that there is a shortage of funds. If we recall the discussion that took place concerning the "Dear George" letter it is evident that the previous Administration treated this Department as a Cinderella one. Unfortunately this had the effect, in human terms, of the laying-off of staff. It also had the effect of a lack of planning and of a general restrictive outlook on a very vital part of the nation's activities and requirements so far as the general economy was concerned.

As a result of the policy that was pursued during the past 16 years we wear the dunce's hat now so far as telecommunications are concerned. We have the lowest density of telephones of all the EEC nations. This is a sad reflection and one that gives rise to serious day-to-day difficulties to people managing their farms and businesses. The Irish character is such that it does not like committing too much to writing. The average Irishman will talk to one much more easily than he will write a letter. That factor should have been borne in mind by the previous Administration. If sufficient telephones had been provided our communications network and general communications within the economy would have been much better.

In his speech the Minister asked for views concerning the matter of telephone kiosks. I presume that the programme to which he referred provides for 750 kiosks in addition to those already in existence. The Minister makes the point that kiosks are provided at places where they are likely to pay their way and in rural areas. I have noted that kiosks have been situated near post office premises. This may have been done on grounds of economy. Sometimes the telephones are provided inside the post office premises. When considering the siting of telephone kiosks the Minister might have regard to the distance between various sources of what I might call direct access to the public. This would have to be done on a mileage and on a population basis because, as Deputy Burke said, one must look at this matter not from an economic but from a sociological point of view. I am speaking as a country Deputy and I would like to see every village having its own telephone kiosk. I am not thinking only in terms of local people but of people who are likely to travel to or through those areas. Telephonic accessibility should be made available to travellers as well as to local residents.

In the event of a road accident or of a sudden illness or, for that matter, some business matter of an urgent nature, one thinks immediately of a telephone. Since the advent of artificial insemination of livestock telephone communication is vitally important to the farming community. Anybody with any knowledge of farming knows that this operation must be performed within a certain period of time and this necessitates the message reaching the depot without delay. Many members of the veterinary profession have their own radio system of communication because of the large areas they cover. Telephone communications from rural areas to the offices of veterinary surgeons are very important.

I do not know in what way the Minister will decide on the distribution of telephone kiosks but I would suggest that housing estates be given a high priority particularly in country towns where, unlike the city, there is no transport system. These estates are built in places where land can be obtained and very often these are not in areas where there is public transport.

We have had discussions in the House already on the lack of availability of land. Sometimes we find ourselves building a satellite town on one side of the original town. For these reasons I should like to see these new building estates getting early priority. I am sure the Minister will give it to them, quite apart from whatever may be the general policy of the Department.

I understand from my experience in my constituency that there has been a lack of staff emanating from the previous policy, and the shortage of money, and the laying off of staff. There is now hope of building up a new and enlarged technical staff. I should like the Minister to give priority to giving employment in their own home areas to technical people who are being brought into the service. If there is difficulty in getting the right people to come forward for recruitment as technical staff— although from my information the situation is otherwise—obviously we should work in co-operation with the secondary schools. The Minister would get every co-operation there in getting suitable applicants to apply for training. I should like the Minister to bear in mind that, when the young trainees are being trained away from home, it may be necessary to review the allowance payable to them while they are being trained in the light of possibly increased rents.

I am delighted to see that the Minister is providing for an extension of the Waterford auto-manual exchange. Anyone who knows anything about the telephone service in the Waterford and Kilkenny areas has very little complimentary to say about exchange prefix 051. Literally if you tell a person that he has to dial 051 he says: "Oh good God." People practically give up hope of getting their numbers through that exchange. On behalf of my constituents I welcome the proposed extension of the Waterford exchange. I also welcome the improvements proposed for the Enniscorthy exchange. I note that the Minister says there are 34,000 souls on the waiting list for telephones. I am quite certain that there is a very large proportion of Wexford people in that number.

Wexford is regarded as one of the really go-ahead counties where agriculture is concerned. Whereas prior to this farmers did not dream of the necessity for having a telephone, they now regard it as being as essential as a tractor. So much can be done by telephone and so much travelling and time can be saved. In farming now margins can be tight and the costs of running a fair-sized farm are high. The farmer is a manager and he must have available to him the same tools as an up-to-date go-ahead businessman. I am getting a bit tired of listening to people talking about the distinction between farmers and businessmen. The farmer is every bit as much a businessman as an ordinary businessman and he requires a telephone just as much as a businessman in a factory or an office.

Much of what I intended to say has been said by Deputy Esmonde. Too much emphasis is placed on having a telephone service for the cities and not enough on having one for rural Ireland. The fact that we have such a demand for houses and telephones is a sign that we have had a great period of development and that the living standards of the people have gone up. I remember a time in rural Ireland when there were not many people looking for a telephone and when there were not many people who could afford to pay for a telephone. Everybody is looking for a telephone now and is prepared to pay for it and able to pay for it. This shows the amount of development and the good Government we have had. This is a good sign for the country. When we reach the stage where we need no more houses and no more telephones something has gone wrong with the country. It is not going ahead and developing.

I am delighted to see the Minister's programme. I am a bit wary about the £175 million over five years. I should like the Minister to tell us if the £7½ million from the EEC will be a yearly loan. He did not tell us the rate of interest. With an inflationary rate of something around 11 per cent, I believe that Deputy Burke's figure of £125 million might be more realistic over five years. This is hard to foresee and I hope it does not continue at the rate at which it is going. If it does, it looks as if it will not be £175 million over five years.

All Members of the House are anxious to have industrial development spread all over the country, to have it decentralised, and established in the western regions. When people think about establishing an industry away from the city the first things they ask about are water, sewerage, good roads, and the telephone service. They ask: "Have you an automatic telephone service?" If you have not, you are immediately downgraded and your chances of getting an industry are weakened. I want to impress upon the Minister how absolutely important it is to have the telephone service in rural Ireland brought up to the proper standard. In farming at the moment it is very important to be on the spot. Farming is a business. It is vitally important for farmers to be able to get in touch with the vet or the AI. They must be able to do so on the spot. They need a telephone service as much as anybody else.

On the question of kiosks, at the moment the policy is to erect them adjacent to post offices. That is all right and they are necessary there, but I know places four or five miles away from a post office and country villages in which there is only one private telephone and the individual who has that service is frequently knocked up at night by people requiring a doctor, a priest or some particular service. Some of these private telephone holders are tortured with these invasions in times of emergency. If the owner of a private telephone is not prepared to convenience local people then they must travel three or four miles, perhaps, to find a telephone. These things should not happen. Economics should not be taken into consideration at all because the sociological side is more important. If we want to keep people in rural Ireland we must give them up-to-date services. Deputy Desmond referred to the fact that only 12 per cent here had telephones as compared with 19 per cent in France, which is the next lowest statistically but, even if we are a bit backward, the fact is we have come a long way.

In the case of provincial towns all extensions should have a proper telephone service. Telephone kiosks are needed badly in both Loughrea and Ballinasloe. I have applied time and again for these but I have been told it is just not on. The Minister should consider these aspects. I cannot over-emphasise the necessity for a proper telephone service where industry in rural areas is concerned. The telephone is of vital importance to the industrialist.

I have listened carefully to the Minister's speech and to the subsequent contributions by other Members. Perhaps I will be forgiven if I relate my remarks to my experience of the telephone service in Dublin city. The possibility is that these remarks would be more relevant on the Estimate for the Minister's Department. I share the view of Deputy Brugha and other speakers on this side. Listening to the Minister one might be forgiven for thinking that the present problem evolved only within the last eight months. We all know, of course, that the Fianna Fáil Government during their 16 years in office pursued policies designed to benefit the economy as a whole and I am sure the Minister, if he can divorce himself from his new allegiance in the Coalition, will recognise the truth of what I say. The approach was realistic.

We were isolated, as has been pointed out by previous speakers, from capital from other countries. Now that we are a member of the EEC it is reassuring to find we can share in some financial arrangements beneficial to our economic advancement particularly in relation to our telephone service.

I believe the telephone should be a public utility like gas and electricity. That would involve a big capital outlay, but I still maintain it should be a public utility. In new housing estates gas and electricity are laid on. Two or three years later the Department of Posts and Telegraphs come along and tear up the road in order to instal telephones in two or three houses. The Minister should frame his policy on the basis of making the telephone a public utility. The demand is all the time increasing. There are some 30,000 applications. A telephone is a social necessity in many homes and a vital necessity where the business community is concerned. Business premises have priority.

The Minister mentioned 750 kiosks being provided. He did not advert to their protection. In Dublin—I am sure it is the experience in other parts of the country—public kiosks are as often as not out of commission. They are the targets of vandals. Has the Minister considered this aspect? It is a matter of vital concern to users of public telephones. I have had the experience of using public telephones and, if they are not broken up by vandals, they are overloaded with coins because of some breakdown in the collecting service.

I should like now to pay tribute to the personnel of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, particularly the telephonists who are very patient and understanding.

I should also like to refer to the unfortunate breakdown recently in the night telephone service. I am not aware of the issues involved but as one who has been and is concerned with community services I was very disturbed about this. When I heard the announcement on the radio that night telephonists were to go slow and that some of them would not be reporting for duty I was concerned that some people who were dependent on such services at night were to be deprived of them. I am very sensitive when services are deprived.

There must be some basic reason for the disruption of such services and I ask the Minister to use his influence as a very prominent member of the Labour Party to iron out any difficulties that arise in regard to the night telephone service. During the day we are given a very excellent service despite all the pressures and strains on the staff but the telephone service between 7 o'clock and midnight is vital. Every effort should be made to maintain a constant service to the community.

I am glad to rise in this particular debate to compliment the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs on his introduction of the Second Stage of the Telephone Capital Bill, 1973. I should also like to compliment him on the note of realism contained in his speech. Essentially, as the Minister has stated, the question of telephone development depends on the scale of capital investment, and there is little point in discussing the subject unless the scale of capital investment to be provided is known. In my view this is entirely realistic. There is little point in talking in woolly fashion in the Dáil in relation to what the nation may desire unless one can spell out, in monetary terms, what funds are required and how they are to be divided.

It is encouraging that the Minister is in the position to introduce this Bill. It is an obvious indicator of the state of health of the nation. We are aware that among the indices used internationally in making comparisons between the levels of development in various countries is the number of telephones which exist per thousand of inhabitants. Obviously, if we were entirely underdeveloped and if nothing was happening, the Minister would not have much of a function in this area. It is most encouraging that the economy should be healthy to the extent that there is a tremendous number of applications for telephones from people in business and from private householders. These are indications of an increased level of activity in the economy and an increased level of income among individual families.

The Minister referred to the question of current expenditure and capital for development works. In this regard I should like to compliment the Department of Posts and Telegraphs in regard to the accuracy of the estimate which they made in 1968. Unfortunately, the problem at present arises because of the fact that at that time, whilst they were accurate in regard to the demand for the number of telephones, they seemed to misjudge entirely the relevance of inflation to the question. The sum of £50 million was authorised and spent in that period; the inflationary factory has meant that progress has not been made nearly to the extent that might have been desired. As a result it has led, in a period of two to three years, to fairly severe capital restrictions in this area which involved the laying off of staff engaged in capital works and other aspects which were detrimental to the national interest.

The telephone service is and must be recognised as being a major tool of development and a major aspect of infrastructure. It is probably one of those areas of infrastructure or availability of services in this country of which people who have been involved in development have been most critical.

Acting Chairman

Will Deputies who wish to converse, please do so in the annexe. Their conversations in the Chamber are inclined to disrupt proceedings.

It is an aspect of life in this country about which people who have been involved in development, particularly in industry, have been very critical, and with great reason. We had a situation, certainly in the west, of indefinite delays in trunk lines to Dublin, and extremely poor communication with other countries. This is not within the province of the staff at the various telephone exchanges. At this stage I should like to compliment the staff of these exchanges who have been most helpful. They have, however, been limited by the lack of adequacy of the tools which they are using. There have been most appalling delays.

People involved in business and industry in the west have been at a most appalling disadvantage particularly during the tourist season when there is heavy pressure on trunk lines. Before I became a Member of this House I tended to think, by nature of my subjective judgment, that this was a problem that only applied to the part of the country in which I lived. Since I became a Member and had occasion to use the telephone services of the city of Dublin fairly extensively I realised that the problem was national and that the problem in Dublin was possibly even worse than in the west. I found when attempting to make calls that there was no reply from the exchange for long periods. I also found it difficult to get through on international lines. In brief, the situation is most unsatisfactory and that is why I welcome the level of investment which the Minister proposes.

It is obvious that this investment will be necessary. Vast as the sum to which the Minister has referred is, it is possible that he is under-estimating the investment which will be necessary when we look at some international comparisons. In regard to the number of telephones per thousand of inhabitants in 1969, which as a year is as indicative in a relative term as last year, our country had 98 telephones per thousand of inhabitants. In the more developing countries in Europe, particularly in the EEC, France had almost double that rate, 161 per thousand; Germany had 212 per thousand; the United Kingdom had 253 per thousand and Iceland seemed to have more than 300 per thousand.

In a European context only two countries of those for which I have statistics had fewer telephones per thousand of inhabitants than Ireland, namely, Poland and Turkey. It would seem that with the level of development in this country, with the increased opportunities which our people have through involvement in the European Economic Community, with the aspirations of our people and taking into account the number of applications for telephones at this moment, we must expand at possibly three times our present rate. We must increase three-fold the number of telephones if we are to reach the level of some other European countries.

Some people might suggest that this level of development is not necessary but the facts of life suggest that when we look at such indices certain things follow and if there is to be an increasing level of development then obviously, there will be extraordinary pressure on a Minister, and his Department, to provide a greater service.

The Department have been the subject of severe criticism over a number of years in relation to telephone development. Frustrations have built up because of the lack of adequate investment. It was fashionable to suggest that the Department were not the vehicle to develop the telephone service. Some people have suggested that private enterprise should be responsible. Others have suggested that semi-State bodies might be responsible, in the national interest. In my opinion, there is no reason to change the present structure. I would respectfully suggest that if, within the Department, the telephone service is looked on as an area of an entirely different character from the other areas of responsibility, and in isolation from other special areas of responsibility which may exist in the Department at present, this might possibly be adequate.

The Minister referred to the Confederation of Irish Industries and what they said in relation to the issue of regional development and why they believe the telephone service is relevant. They stated:

A regional development policy that aims at the dispersal of industry throughout the country is doomed to failure if communications facilities are not developed simultaneously.

This is absolutely vital. Roads, rail and sea are means of communication but the telephone is vital. It can be a major factor, if a successful and efficient service is provided, in bridging the gap between the east and west of this country and breaking down the barriers.

I should like to refer to telephone kiosks, especially those in my constituency. It is the policy of the Department to arrange that kiosks will be built outside post offices where a public telephone service exists. There is reluctance within the Department to build kiosks in other areas. One may travel many miles between houses in isolated areas, especially along the western seaboard from Donegal to west Cork. While the policy may seem rational there are anomalies. There are many areas where a telephone service should exist for the use of those living in an isolated village. The Minister should not close his eyes to these instances. There should not necessarily be a blanket policy for the nation where kiosks are concerned. In the more isolated areas a more open mind should exist which would examine each proposal on its merits. I wish the Minister well with his task.

(Dublin Central): I welcome this new injection of capital into telephones. We, on this side of the House, are pleased to see this. Deputy Staunton set the tone when he said that it was an indication of the health of the economy. This is true when the Minister can come to the House and present an enabling Bill for a substantial sum of money. It showed that the economy was handed over in a healthy state otherwise the Minister could not come here and present such an enabling Bill.

After 16 years of Fianna Fáil Government the country was in a very healthy state when the Coalition took office. As anyone who has used a telephone will know, we are badly in need of the extra capital to improve our telephone services. In Dublin there is appalling congestion and a waiting list of 34,000 people for new telephones. This capital should enable the programme to be speeded up considerably. It will help to ease the burden which we are experiencing at the moment.

I live on the south side of the city. Lines are crossed. A subscriber must wait for the dialling tone. This should and will be overcome. It is of vital importance to have proper communication, especially because of our entry into the Common Market and our regional policy. This new capital should be used to provide a proper telephone service in rural areas. Foreign industrialists consider various factors when they are contemplating setting up a business here. They examine the employment content, the availability of roads, the telephone services, and other matters. If we develop our telephone service properly this should be an encouragement to industrialists.

Many small seaside resorts can get an influx of ten times their population during the months of July and August. I know from experience that this happened in Ballybunion. It is important that tourists should be able to communicate by telephone with their homes and businesses, whether in Ireland, England or elsewhere. If we want to develop our tourist industry properly we must ensure that our seaside and tourist resorts are properly catered for with telephones.

I have always held that additional capital should be available for telephone services. The Department of Posts and Telegraphs were one of the Government Departments who, in my opinion, gave a reasonable return on capital. Some time ago I thought that we should float a loan to enable us to go ahead with our capital programme on telephone services. In his statement the Minister said:

The return on capital invested in recent years has been: 1968-69—8.3 per cent; 1969-70—8.9 per cent; 1970-71—7.7 per cent; 1971-72—6.5 per cent.

That was a reasonable return. I note that there was a decline in returns over the past few years. I had hoped that this would not continue. Does the Minister consider it desirable that the decline of investment should continue? The money we will borrow from the EEC or elsewhere will be very costly. The return in 1971-72 of 6.5 per cent will be far short of what we will be paying for money borrowed on the open market. The investment of £175 million is substantial. I am wondering where the Minister will find this amount of money which represents a capital investment in the region of £35 million a year. He has indicated that he will receive £5 million from the EEC which will, of course, be far short of what is required. Do we take it the balance will come out of the capital programme of each successive budget or will this be a yearly contribution from the EEC? If not, will this capital be found in the home market? I would hope it would not have an adverse effect on capital needed for other services and that schools, hospitals and such institutions would not suffer because of a commitment of £35 million a year for this capital investment. If a major part of it can come from EEC funds it is all right; otherwise, we might be robbing Peter to pay Paul. We must realise that only a certain amount of capital is available and if it is used on one project it will not be available for another. This must be considered in relation to this £175 million to be found over five years and also the amount of interest that must be paid on it.

In referring to the £50 million sanctioned in 1969 the Minister pointed out that we had a shortfall due to inflation. Anyone in business knows what inflation has done to our purchasing power. That £50 million from 1969 to date naturally had not the same purchasing power as was predicted in 1969. I can tell the Minister quite confidently that the predictions he has today concerning the purchasing power of £175 million over a five-year period will fall short of realisation when we reach that date. This is quite obvious when we have massive inflation. Purchasing power will be eroded through increases in wages and import costs in the case of goods from countries where inflation is as high as, if not higher than in our own case. The projections taken at this time are probably right, but considering the massive inflation which is continuing I think the Minister or whatever Minister is there in five years time will be including a paragraph in his speech very similar to what is there now because there is bound to be a shortfall. These are facts of life: we cannot stop inflation, which is one of the evils of our society and it is bound to remain with us.

Somebody said we should ensure that business men of all kinds, in any sector where there is employment involved, should get top priority. I know that everything possible is being done at the moment to expedite applications by business people and that is as it should be. I think it was a Deputy opposite who said a few minutes ago that it was equally important that the farmers should be included with business men. I can agree that a telephone is just as essential on a farm especially on occasions where a veterinary surgeon is needed urgently or something is required at short notice. Speaking only from a business point of view it is essential for business today to have a telephone and a good service. This is vitally important.

The telex service, which is developing, has been a wonderful boost to business particularly in the case of those doing business abroad. It is a type of development we must encourage in this country if we are to attract a proper regional policy and encourage foreign business men to come here. I hope we can even improve on the present rate of getting telephones into business establishments. The Minister said that we had one of the lowest rates of telephones per head of population in Europe, 12 per 100, I think. The next European country, the Minister said, was France with 19 telephones for every 100 people. Probably we have a long way to go. This is not the only Department in which we are the bottom of the league. I am sure our standards of living, housing problems and so on may not be far from being placed in the same low category. What is proposed is an improvement and I believe this capital will improve the situation. Rome was not built in a day and I do not believe we shall equal the rich countries in Europe that have been developing in the past 100 years because they have the wealth to do so. Only in recent years can we say that we have any share of capital wealth to promote these essential services.

I should like every other Department to take the same view and give the same encouragement. Somebody mentioned recently that it was a pity the Minister for Local Government could not get the same injection of capital for his housing programme. A business man to whom I was speaking the other night spoke of the enormous amount of capital, £175 million. In principle, he approved and said we needed to develop the telephone service but he thought the amount of money involved was enormous and he said it was a pity the Minister for Industry and Commerce could not get £20 million to build a smelter which might be a great help to us. I am not disapproving of the spending of this £175 million; I am just giving the opinion of this man who thought it should be backed up with other projects that are of vital importance. Personally, I believe we need the same kind of injection of capital in projects of a productive nature such as building a smelter, as this business man said, so that we will not have a situation in which we are exporting all the ore from this country and having products rationed back to us, as is the case today in regard to oil.

I hope that other Departments will take a lead from this and get the work done as soon as possible because it is obvious that any work done this year will be 10 per cent cheaper than the same work next year and this will apply year after year. I have never criticised our national loans and I thought we should obtain as much money as possible to build schools, churches, and so on as soon as possible, especially with the inflationary tendency we have. I thought that was a good investment. This too would be a good investment but, unfortunately, it is not backed up in the economic field with investment on the same lines. It is not backed up in housing or industry. This £175 million will have to be backed up with an increase in industry. We shall have to get revenue back. With the tendency being as shown in the Minister's speech, for the return on capital to be gradually reduced, this investment will have to be backed up by economic advances which will give a return on capital.

I welcome the Bill if it can ensure an improvement in the telephone system. We all know the frustration of trying to get telephone connections in this city. It is a heartbreak at times. The maintenance of telephones is a considerable item when one considers the amount of vandalism being caused to telephone kiosks every night. Those responsible should be ashamed of themselves. The tragedy is that people may want to use the phones at night to call the doctor or an ambulance but they find that three-quarters of the kiosks are wrecked. A course in civics might help to show those responsible for this vandalism the folly of their ways.

As a result of this capital injection there should be a considerable increase in employment and this is to be welcomed. Since I became a Member of this House I have heard of many projects but a considerable number of them did not materialise. It is easy to make projections but it is difficult to carry out the projects. The development of a telephone system is a long-term project and investment. It must be planned well in advance; the acquiring of sites, the building of communication centres and the laying of cables will take some time. It will be necessary to plan four or five years ahead. The plan in 1969 was for five years and it expired last March.

If Fianna Fáil were in office now they would be doing the same thing as the Minister. We had plans to bring in a new Bill in connection with the telephone service, perhaps even for a larger amount than this proposal. There is nothing novel about what the Minister proposes: he had to bring in this enabling Bill to make provision for future developments in the telephone service. Fianna Fáil in power would have had to do the same.

It is important for the Minister to let us know how it will be financed. I am open to correction but I think that in the last capital budget the sum involved was in the region of £108 million or £110 million. Will the Minister say he needs £35 million of that amount? It is obvious that the £7½ million from the EEC is infinitesimal having regard to the cost involved. The Minister has not stated if this will be a yearly loan. If not, it is obvious it must come from the national economy or we must float a loan abroad. I am sure the Minister must have considered all these matters and that he will tell us where he intends to get the capital. I hope it will not have an adverse effect on our present capital programme with regard to schools, housing and sanitary services.

I welcome the idea of automation with regard to the telephone service. The only efficient way to make a call is through an automatic exchange. If it is necessary to make a trunk call in Dublin at night there is a considerable delay in getting the operator. I am sure this is not the fault of the personnel concerned—probably they are understaffed and overworked. In fact, I should like to compliment them because I have always found them courteous. They work efficiently but I doubt if they have sufficient staff. There can be a considerable delay in getting a trunk call at 10 p.m. in Dublin.

Everyone here welcomes a capital investment that will improve our telephone system but I hope other services will not be adversely affected. I hope the Minister will find the money and that at the end of five years somebody will not write that we had not a good return for the £175 million. As Deputy Burke pointed out, if one takes an inflation rate of 9 or 10 per cent over five years one would have a realistic idea of what can be done, especially in the last three years. In the first or second year inflation may not take too much but in the subsequent years it will absorb a considerable amount.

Can the Minister tell us what amount will be spent on the importation of plant? This matter must be taken into consideration in our balance of payments. I hope we will be able to manufacture some of the plant and I should like the Minister to let us know what effect it will have on our balance of payments and what proportion of the money will have to be paid for plant. We should try to ensure that most of the money is spent here. I am a realist and I know that if the plant is not available here it must be imported. I should like the Minister to let us know what proportion will be spent on foreign plant.

I wish the Minister well. I hope that he finds the money he needs and that he will get the same return from it in four years time as at the moment.

The importance of the telephone system for town and country was never greater. When the Minister took office he was faced with a great backlog with regard to the provision of telephones. He will be responsible for answering for those who in the past have not done enough with regard to this matter. I know the pressures that have been on him since he took office and I can foresee these pressures remaining for a number of years.

It is vital for doctors, veterinary surgeons and others to have telephones. It is also essential for the farming community and the people in towns. I welcome the decision to have exchanges in my city at Mervue and Shantalla, two of the largest areas in the city. I hope that an attempt will be made to improve the facilities in these areas. It is important that they should have full facilities. The Minister cannot do much before cables are laid. People say: "The wires are passing my door. Why can I not get a phone?" It has been explained that the wires are already overloaded, but it is not easy to explain this to people who feel they should have a phone because the pole is outside the door.

I hope that much of this money can be spent in the country, especially in the west, where certain industries should be able to provide telephones and the equipment necessary. I doubt if laymen could tell the Minister what equipment is required. This is all very technical. I hope that some of the equipment can be acquired in the west of Ireland, if at all possible.

The amount of damage done to telephone kiosks is deplorable. Can anything be done to improve the situation? Could an alarm system be installed so as to catch the culprits? I doubt if the Minister could tell us his proposals in this regard because doing so would inform the culprits and make it easier for them to escape. Much damage has been done by young blackguards who have been drinking. When they have had a lot of drink they think nothing of pulling out a phone and smashing it. Some people are prepared to rob telephone coin boxes. Perhaps an alarm bell which would ring clearly could be installed on the top of each kiosk to warn the public that something is wrong. This might help to bring the culprits to justice.

I welcome the Minister's efforts to improve the telephone service. The distance between telephone boxes is measured by the telephone traffic in an area. Life and limb can come into this. Phone boxes should be more readily available. I compliment the Minister on his efforts since he took office. I sympathise with him in regard to the legacy he inherited. Like Mother Hubbard's cupboard, the cupboard in the Department was bare. That is why the Minister is trying to get finance. I hope he will be successful.

In welcoming any type of capital Bill, particularly one of this nature, I would like to say that the necessity for it arises from a number of factors. There has been an increase in the demand for telephones as a result of the developing prosperity of recent years when the previous Administration were in office. Other Deputies have spoken on this point. Demand exists because of the developing prosperity of our country.

It is heartening to see a further comprehensive programme planned by the Minister. Some doubts were expressed in relation to the Government's intentions when figures were made available in recent weeks. I do not agree with all the suggestions I have heard. I was at a meeting last night attended by many people concerned about the housing developments, the provision of homes and the interest rates of building societies. One person made the point that it appears the Government are now concerned with a phone emergency whereas before the election they were concerned with a housing emergency. People nowadays might get phones before they get homes, but in the past they got homes first and found it almost impossible to get phones. They hope that there will be no question of moneys being siphoned off from housing. Deputy Fitzpatrick (Dublin Central) also made this point.

A development of this nature requires a considerable amount of forward planning. The Minister should ensure that there will be a positive follow-through. The question of finance will have to be solved by the Government. Its provision is a major factor. With finance we can have positive action.

The Minister made a substantial number of points in his speech. He referred to the employment of personnel. The Minister may tell us in the course of his concluding speech what positive action will be taken. The Minister said:

Telephone development at a satisfactory rate is dependent not only on finance but on expansion of skilled manpower resources, acquisition of sites, provision of new buildings, time required to install equipment. There are practical limits to the speed with which progress can be made under these heads.

I quite agree with the Minister when he said that there are impediments to the development of a scheme. Has the Minister evolved any plan for training technicians and skilled personnel to cope with the situation which is likely to arise following the voting of finance in this House? Has the matter been taken up with AnCo? Have the Department of Posts and Telegraphs arranged a suitable training programme in order to ensure that there will be no lack of manpower and that there will be continuity in the development of the Minister's plan.

If the Department do not intend to undertake a training programme for a substantially increased number of technicians, there will certainly be a shortage of personnel and we will be justified in coming back to this House at a later stage to remind the Minister that this situation could have been avoided had the necessary steps been taken. This matter is as important as the acquisition of sites and the other factors the Minister mentioned. The phraseology in the paragraph raises some doubts and I hope the Minister will clarify the matter when he is replying.

I would like to pay tribute to the existing staff in the telephone exchanges for their courtesy. Many of them are overworked particularly during the evening and night. This is one of the difficulties than can be overcome right away by the addition of staff. Prolonged training is not required and it would certainly improve the position. I wonder has the Minister given consideration to the disruptions in the service that have taken place from time to time. There have been slow-downs and other kinds of industrial action which indicate problems within the service. I wonder has the Minister considered the introduction of a form of industrial democracy in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs whereby he would have the views of workers at all times, a system of industrial democracy suitable to the needs and requirements of that service. I read in a newspaper some time ago that Telefís Éireann or some other group were seeking a certain type of recognition, and I wonder if the Minister has taken any steps in that direction.

The disruption of the telephone service is a serious matter for doctors, veterinary surgeons, ambulances and other essential services. The production of the nation is slowed down if the services are disrupted for any period. It is during periods of industrial peace that efforts should be made to improve industrial relations, by introducing industrial democracy, by giving the worker a say in some of the decisions that are made from time to time, thus bringing into focus problems at an early stage and facilitating their solution.

The question of the density of telephones in EEC countries has been quoted by speakers on many occasions. When we take statistics such as those supplied in relation to phones, housing, television and other items it is often forgotten that the family size in this country is greater than that in many other countries, and, therefore, it is not valid to compare this country with other countries on the basis of so many per thousand or per hundred of the population. It is a false and misleading statistic when it is applied in that way. Statistical comparisons should be made on the basis of the adult population. I do not think the Minister intended to mislead us with the figures, but in relation to the telephone service, housing development and so on, we always seem to have the lowest figure in some people's estimation. Certain factors are not taken into consideration, for instance, that in the case of house building, while we may have built fewer houses we built bigger ones.

Closer liaison between the Department of Posts and Telegraphs and the local authorities is necessary and desirable. Proceeding through the country we find new roadways have been laid and shortly afterwards the Department of Posts and Telegraphs rip up the roadway; as soon as it is re-laid it is ripped up again by the ESB or some other service. Technical people have suggested from time to time that there should be a proper ductal system available in the development of new roads or new estates to provide for the services side by side. In housing estates when underground services are laid on there are occasions when the local authority proceeds without providing the necessary information to the Departments of Posts and Telegraphs. In the Tallaght area there has been considerable confusion and roads had to be ripped up and relaid. This is a waste of taxpayers' and ratepayers' money and it could be avoided.

Before people move into new housing estates on the perimeter of the city it is important to have telephone kiosks there. Very often such people are far removed from their friends and relatives and no telephones are installed for a considerable period. This happened in Tallaght. When a child becomes ill in such a place a considerable time elapses before the parents can locate the nearest telephone. The local authority and the Department of Posts and Telegraphs should have a temporary service laid on. Many people who moved into the Tallaght area found themselves alone with a sick child on their first or second night there after the move from the original home. I know that a serious situation arose in one case in that area because of the inability of a new tenant to find a telephone to call a doctor. The first person into a housing estate should have ready access to a telephone. When people have been there for a time they become accustomed to the area and accustomed to the layout and where the various services are.

Builders in Tallaght and elsewhere applied for telephones during the building of the houses. On one occasion the houses were completed and the builder was ready to move out of the site when the telephone was installed. This is very serious from the point of view of the purchaser. Efficiency is impaired because of the lack of this service. Houses may take longer to complete because of the communication problem and the purchaser may eventually have to pay more. I do not think the priority arrangements are adequate to deal with the situation, particularly in the growth centres. Large growth centres should get special consideration. Several thousand houses are planned for Blanchardstown. Developers have moved in there and many other developers will be moving in over the next few years.

In Tallaght they are getting over the hump at present but there was a great problem in the early stages and there still is for new builders. Builders have found it difficult to get a telephone transferred from one site to another. Where a builder had a contract in one area and was prepared to surrender his line there in order to get a line in another area he was told it was not possible and, as a result, he had to travel several miles to make a telephone call. Builders need to be in constant contact with suppliers, and this is a serious impediment to general development. I am not holding the Minister responsible for the inadequacies there are in growth centres at the moment, but we do not want a repetition of the problem in other growth centres.

There was a problem in Tallaght that there were industrialists who opened up their lines early in the morning and kept them open all day. This was an injustice to the people of the area. Lines became overloaded and it was difficult to get calls in or out. I do not fully understand the techniques, but this has been happening and subscribers in Tallaght were disturbed by the fact that certain people were able to manipulate the system in order to suit themselves. I am glad to learn from the Minister's speech that 20,000 lines are planned for Tallaght, of which 4,000 are due in June, 1974. It is desirable that growth centres should be serviced at an early date so that they do not have the same difficulties as were experienced in Tallaght where development was held up because builders were unable to obtain a telephone service.

Vandalism has been mentioned. We all deplore the fact that there has been so much vandalism, directed towards telephone kiosks, particularly in the Dublin area. Very often it is necessary to travel a considerable distance before finding a public telephone that is in working condition. We must make every effort to educate the people who indulge in this disgraceful conduct so that they might be made aware of the folly and the seriousness of their acts. In some cases the attraction for such people may be the money that is in the coinbox but they must be made aware of the importance of public telephones in the event of accidents and serious illnesses as well as in the event of fires.

A fire which occurred in a house in the Drimnagh area recently would almost certainly have resulted in the destruction of the house were it not for the willingness of a neighbour to allow his private telephone to be used to summon the fire brigade: the public telephones in the area were out of order. I do not know what might be the best way for the Minister to deal with the incidence of vandalism that we have been experiencing in this city for some time past. Not only are telephone kiosks wrecked but directories are mutilated. This is not a matter in respect of which the Minister has control but it is a cause of much concern to all of us.

I trust that there will be a breakthrough at an early stage in regard to the development of the service as outlined by the Minister and that there will be the necessary injection of capital to enable improvements to be carried out both on a short-term and a long-term basis.

Regarding the manufacture in this country of telephonic equipment every effort should be made to ensure that as much as possible of the equipment is manufactured here so that the maximum number of people possible can be employed in the industry. We are capable of producing a much greater quantity than is being produced now. This aspect incorporates the provision of training facilities for the personnel who would be involved. The training could be provided either by the Department or by AnCO. There is need for a comprehensive examination of all these aspects for the reasons I have mentioned and also so as to ensure that we get the best services and the best value possible for the large amount of money that will be required. I wish the Minister well in this regard and I trust that he will continue to pursue a very active role in relation to the immediate and future planning of the service.

I trust the Minister will indicate whether he is prepared to introduce into the Department a system related to workers' democracy. This is a matter that has been mentioned from time to time by various people. Such a system is necessary in order to give workers the opportunity of participating in decision making and in this way to eliminate the type of disruptions in the service that have been encountered in the past, disruptions that cause much inconvenience to the various sections of the community. It is my hope that a policy involving participation of workers in decision making will be implemented at the earliest moment possible.

First, I compliment the Minister not only on his performance in the area under discussion here this evening but on his performance in general to date. For a number of years the demand for telephones has far exceeded the supply and this has resulted in an unsatisfactory situation in so far as this service is concerned. However, the Minister's speech gives us reason to be hopeful for the future.

As a rural Deputy I would like to mention the farming community specifically. Many farmers are awaiting the installation of telephones. The facility is essential to today's farmers. For people living in isolation in the country the telephone is their only link with the fire brigade or the doctor. It is essential for any progressive farmer. I am sure the Minister will take care of all these outstanding demands in the very near future. Having regard to the value of stock, it is urgent to get the veterinary surgeon on the spot quickly. Very often it is difficult to locate those people and it would be impossible to do so without the telephone. With the present fuel shortage the Minister will be co-operating with the Minister for Transport and Power to cut out a lot of travelling.

I was glad to note that the Minister referred to employment. It worries me to see our young people looking for jobs. Many young people could be trained in telephone installation work. I am sure provision will be made in our vocational schools and in our technological schools to equip people to help the Minister to speed up the installation of telephones. The Minister made a very good point when he referred to the relationship between economic growth and communications. Although I have many problems with my own telephone, I am tolerant about getting engaged tones and finding phones out of order. They are part and parcel of telephone communications all over the world. We may be a bit worse here but I do not think we are all that bad.

I should like to compliment the Department's repair staff. They are very quick off the mark and they provide an excellent service. People should be more tolerant and they should obey the instructions given. If you get an engaged tone, you should be patient and not keep banging away at the telephone. You will not help yourself or anybody else by doing that. People need to be educated in the use of a telephone. Some people treat it like a wheelbarrow or as something to be kicked around. It is a very delicate instrument and it needs very delicate treatment. If the Minister took the time and the trouble to issue suitable brochures, this would help matters considerably.

I was interested in the Minister's remarks about telephone kiosks. They could go a long way towards solving the immediate problem. In villages where there is no post office vandalism is a very real worry. The telephone kiosks are rarely in working order because of vandalism. I do not think we should give up because of that. I should like to make a suggestion to the Minister. Perhaps we could copy the Automobile Association and erect bollard type telephones with a lock and key. This might mean that you would have to make your call out in the rain but the important thing is that the telephone would be safeguarded. The people in the locality could be issued with a key at a small annual fee perhaps. In small villages and rural areas this type of telephone would be very helpful. Several requests have been made to the Department for telephones in various areas and we got the reply that proper supervision could not be ensured. Not only would the type of telephone I have suggested work out cheaper but it would also solve local problems. People would be sure that the telephone would be there and in working order when they needed it. Possibly the occasional vandal would get hold of a key but it would help to eliminate the problem.

I wish the Minister well in his work and I hope he will be able to fulfil his obligations in this regard. The telephone system is very necessary for everybody but in particular it is necessary in rural areas. I should like to make a special plea for the farming community. They must get some priority. Private phones are very necessary but people living in towns usually have telephone kiosks available. It may be more expensive to instal telephones in remote rural areas but nowadays people are prepared to pay for the installation, as the Minister pointed out. If they are prepared to pay for it, they should get it.

I wish the Minister well in the big job he has undertaken. He will probably come up against the physical task of doing all these things in a short time. The problems may not be all financial. He should be helped in this field by our educators and people responsible for training young people to ensure that an adequate supply of skilled people is available to do the job. Much of it is manual work and should not need all that much training. The amount of skill involved in putting up poles is not very great. The Minister will be giving very desirable employment in this area.

I welcome the Capital Telephone Bill, 1973. It shows great signs of progress and prosperity in our country. That did not come about over-night. The Minister's predecessor and the Fianna Fáil Government set it on the road and it can be completed now. Lest the Minister might say I am a bit out of line let me say that I wish him well, and I mean that.

There are a few points I should like to draw to the Minister's attention. Often when you dial on the automatic system you can hear a conversation on the line. Is there any way of dealing with that problem? It is not right that one should hear other people's conversations on the telephone. If lines get crossed one has to put down the phone and make one's call all over again. Is there, I wonder, any method by which this could be corrected?

I should like to see all telephones changed to the automatic system as soon as possible. It is a nuisance having to go through a local post office which often entails waiting an hour or an hour and a half for one's connection.

Deputy Dowling spoke about the built-up areas and I agree with everything he said. In all these areas telephone kiosks should be provided to faciliate the people living in the areas.

Some time ago I asked that a telephone kiosk would be provided in the Corrib Park-Shantalla area. It has been promised this year. I hope it will be installed without delay.

Vandalism is rife where telephone kiosks are concerned. I am wondering if these kiosks could be constructed in such fashion as to render them invulnerable to attacks by vandals. When they are broken they have to be repaired. They are constructed originally by the taxpayer and, when they have to be repaired, the taxpayer has to pay all over again.

Telephone connections should be as direct as possible. I have from time to time asked questions here about the line between Leenane and Cornamona. In making a telephone call from Leenane to Cornamona one travels eastward into Ballinrobe, on to Claremorris and into Westport; if there were a direct line the milage would not be one-third of what it is at the moment. It would merely be a matter of linking up the line between Leenane and Cornamona, a distance of four miles.

Again, telephone kiosks should be placed outside post offices. The majority of post offices close at 5.30 p.m. or six o'clock and, if one wants to make a call after that time, one is compelled to disturb the occupants in order to do so.

With regard to a kiosk at Cashel in Connemara I was told there were not enough calls to justify a kiosk. How would the Minister like to live in an area in which the doctor was approximately 18 miles away from him, the veterinary surgeon 20 miles and the AI station 20 miles away? It is in this kind of situation that a telephone kiosk is invaluable. If there is a local publichouse or an hotel, one can make a telephone call up to 11 o'clock. After 11 o'clock there is just no place from which one can make a call and if someone gets ill at midnight or at one or two o'clock in the morning it means getting a car and driving for the doctor or cycling some miles to find a telephone kiosk. Even if a kiosk does not pay, it is an economic necessity and a social asset. The people in these areas pay taxes and they are entitled to certain amenities in return for those taxes. I do not expect the Minister to do these things immediately but I appeal to him to keep these things in mind for the not too distant future.

I should like to pay tribute to the personnel in post offices for their kindness and their courtesy. I am sure the Minister will agree that telephonists in particular have a tough job and I should like to pay a very special tribute here to the ladies on the switchboard in Leinster House.

With regard to telephone accounts, one often gets a telephone bill which is higher than one expected for the particular quarter. On checking back one could find that someone else made the call or that someone else in making a call gave the wrong number. I am aware of a number of cases where this has happened and I wonder is there any way the Minister, or the officials of his Department, can check such errors. It should not happen.

I anticipate that the Minister, in his reply, will suggest that any person who finds his telephone is being tampered with should have a coin box installed. I am inclined to give this advice to such people. It is very difficult to check back on calls made during a particular quarter irrespective of how accurate a record of the calls is kept.

Did the Deputy ever find that his bill was a little lower rather than higher?

How is one to check up when one suspects that a telephone bill is incorrect? The Minister, or the officials in his Department, have no way of checking this.

I should like to impress upon the Minister the importance of erecting telephone kiosks outside of post offices instead of inside. This should be done so that people, particularly those on urgent business, can make calls after office hours. In my view telephone kiosks should be provided in all built-up areas. They should be erected at places where the risk of vandalism is minimal. In conclusion I should like to ask the Minister if at all possible, to provide a telephone between Cornamona and Maam. The provision of a telephone in this district is of vital importance because at present the people of the area must travel to either of the villages I have mentioned. I wish the Minister well in his new office.

I should like to congratulate the Minister on introducing this Bill which proposes the expenditure of £175 million on improving the telephone service. One would imagine, listening to the previous speaker, that all the problems that exist at the present were of the making of the present Minister for Posts and Telegraphs. It should be remembered that Deputy Cruise-O'Brien has been Minister for approximately nine months only. While I do not wish to cast any reflection on the previous Government, or the previous Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, these problems have been in existence for many years. Surely Deputy Geoghegan, a junior Minister in the last Government, could have expressed his views on the problem with a view to getting his Government to introduce legislation similar to that which is before the House now.

In speaking about the telephone service in general all Deputies could mention parochial problems. I can cite many cases where I have made representations to the former Minister and to the present Minister on behalf of people anxious to have a telephone installed. On many occasions representations were made to me with regard to the need for telephone kiosks in my constituency. However, there would be little point in being so parochial now.

The present telephone system is completely inadequate and out of date. Whether one is on the dial system or must go through an exchange to get a number, the situation is the same. If one is not on the dial system one will reach the exchange at some stage, but on the dial system one finds it almost impossible to get through to a number and ends up contacting the exchange.

It has been stated that with this money it is proposed to turn more of the country on to the automatic telephone service. However, I hope it will be a very big improvement on the present automatic system. From my experience of the existing system it is completely out of date and I cannot understand why it was ever put into operation. Compared with automatic systems in Great Britain, the United States of America and elsewhere it is completely out of date.

The telephone service in one particular area in my constituency, the town of Tuam, is particularly bad. A private subscriber in that town complained to me that she spent an hour ringing the exchange in Galway before she received an answer. That happened during the summer of 1972. I am not saying that because we have had a change of Government, this would not have happened during the summer of 1973. However, it is not good enough. There seems to be a very long delay in the provision of this service. I can understand why. Individuals who are already part of the service cannot get a decent service. There is little sense in making the system worse than it is by adding further subscribers.

I know an individual who made application for a phone. Two years later it was installed. Six months before its installation another individual who lived about 100 yards further along the road made application for a telephone. Another set of wires would have been needed to instal the second telephone using the same poles. The Department refused to instal the second phone. This did not happen since the present Minister took office, but that is immaterial. If a person in a rural area makes application for a telephone it is only natural to anticipate that there will be further applications within a short time. When the original line is being erected there is little sense in putting up a line which will connect only one phone. That is what has been happening. The cost to the Department of providing another line in that district will be more than it should be because of their inefficiency. The Department should not put up two little copper wires and later put up two more and eventually have to scrap the lot and put up a cable.

I represent a rural area and my constituents are mainly from the farming community. A number of applications for telephones have been made for years. I am embarrassed when my constituents tell me they have tried to call me on the telephone and cannot get through. This is due to the system in operation at the moment. This area is badly in need of attention. I have no doubt that the £175 million to be spent on telephone services will alleviate this problem for many years to come.

I am aware of the problem of providing telephone kiosks in different areas. I am sure the Fianna Fáil backbenchers could not agree with Deputy Dowling when he said that there should be a telephone kiosk on each block. A block covers a very small area, maybe 100 or 200 yards. In rural areas distances between telephone kiosks can be two, three, four, five, six or eight miles. A telephone service should be provided to cover these areas. All citizens should be regarded as equals. Whether he lives in Connemara or a housing estate in Dublin a man needs a telephone. Provision was not made for this in the past. I hope the Minister will not forget these problems when he is spending the £175 million.

The costs of telephone services have risen. Up to this we have had a bad service and paid well for it. People are not satisfied with this. They want a better service and, I assume, are prepared to pay for it. The Minister should press ahead with this new scheme and fair play should be given to every county. In Galway we have a very large number of applicants for telephones. If the Minister could lend an ear to their needs I would not find a thing wrong with him.

I congratulate him on his appointment. He is an excellent Minister for Posts and Telegraphs. He has made great success of the post to date.

Like the other speakers I welcome the Telephone Capital Bill which we have before us. I am particularly glad that it is being welcomed by all parties. Everybody agrees that more and more money is urgently needed if we, as a nation, hope to keep abreast of the demands for telephone services. There is a great need to improve the existing service. It can be regarded as a sign of the times that the demand for telephones is exploding. This explosion is only the beginning, particularly as far as rural Ireland is concerned. The farming community are only now coming into their own. Many of them regard the telephone as an essential. If their demands are to be met, which of course, they must be, we must face the harsh realities of life as far as the economics of providing telephones are concerned. It is more expensive to provide a telephone service in rural areas than in urban areas.

Indeed an interesting figure comes to mind from past experience. Subject to correction, I think it costs on average in the region of £600 to £700 to provide one mile of poles in a rural area and that there are about 28 poles per mile in normal circumstances. I mention this because, with all that has been said tonight, the £175 million may not even be sufficient, even if the Minister is lucky enough to get it from his Government if they are there for the five years which this Bill covers.

I agree with many of the contributions to this debate in which it was said that the demand for telephone service in rural Ireland will snowball. I hope that the Minister and his officials will be able to provide this service particularly for rural applicants.

I note from the Minister's introductory speech that he is dragging his feet in regard to the provision of telephone kiosks in rural areas.

They got them in Monaghan in the last few weeks.

Much as I am tempted to have a political crack at the Minister I do not think I should, because, as Minister I always tried to keep political jabbing out of the telephone situation. That is only right because there is no room in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs for playing politics. With due respect to my colleague, I think we are all of the same mind in wanting to provide more telephones for the people who are asking for them and in desiring to improve the service. We would all like to have a service such that, no matter when or where you picked up a telephone, you would get through to your contact within seconds. I hope at some stage we shall have that but I suppose I am entitled to my doubts. Nevertheless, it is something we should aim at, and so I shall not refer to Deputy Fitzgerald's remark about the hasty siting of telephone kiosks in the Monaghan constituency in the three weeks prior to the by-election.

Seriously, something more should be done in regard to providing rural telephone kiosks. Up to 1969, it was not the policy to provide telephone kiosks in areas except where the telephone kiosks paid for themselves. There was a change of heart in 1969 and a small subsidy was made available for kiosks in out-of-the-way places. Subject to correction, in 1970 we had a doubling of the number of kiosks provided and in 1971-72 about 200 were provided. I should have liked the Minister to tell us that he would provide about 300 this year. In fairness to him he has asked for comments and I think practically all Deputies taking part in this debate on the three sides of the House will clearly indicate that particularly in rural Ireland there is need for more telephone kiosks. I do not accept what Deputy Donnellan said, that one would have to travel a distance of eight miles before one could get even a private telephone. This is not so and I do not think he meant it seriously. Certainly, we need many more public telephones for many reasons, social reasons mainly, in many parts of rural Ireland. I hope the Minister will again look at this problem and do something about it. He should know that what I am saying is true because of the large number of questions directed to him asking him to provide telephone facilities in rural areas.

I shall not follow the line of other speakers in regard to vandalism. Unfortunately, we have a loss every year due to vandalism, something we could do without. I hope that parents particularly will educate their children to respect the telephone and leave it in working order. At times we are inclined to overplay vandalism in connection with telephones. Many of us are inclined to be slightly hysterical about it. The cost of repairs to telephones as a result of vandalism is relatively small, I think. I am open to correction on this by the Minister when replying but it is not anything like as great as one might be led to believe by some members' contributions.

I agree with much of what the Minister said on the Bill in his statement but where he leaves the main purpose of the Bill and begins playing politics I must disagree with him. I shall come to that later. As regards provision of money for telephones, we all agree with him. It is no secret that all Ministers for Posts and Telegraphs have something in common, a common difficulty in getting the moneys they require for telephone capital. In the short term it is often a question of priorities.

This point was ably dealt with by our spokesman on Posts and Telegraphs. Personally, I admit I had certain difficulties in getting the Government to give me all these huge amounts of money I was seeking when I was Minister but I want to make clear that, when the Minister accused the Fianna Fáil Government in the period of 1970-71 of severe capital restriction, he was being unfair. I think this is wrong and that, more important than what I think, the Minister thinks it is wrong. He should know by now that it is wrong. I understand that Deputy Brugha, in speaking earlier, corrected misleading figures given by the Minister in this House. Deputy Brugha made the corrections and I hope the Minister will be man enough to look into these figures and, if Deputy Brugha was right, that the Minister will set the record straight.

It is only natural for the Minister to play politics but he should do his best to avoid the temptation. It is only natural that he will try to belittle the service. As I said earlier, we all agree the service is not as good as we would like it to be but it is not nearly as bad as some people want us to believe. Our telephone service is not adequate but in comparison with other countries we can be satisfied to some degree. Deputy Donnellan mentioned America. It is a known fact that that country has an excellent telephone service but if Deputy Donnellan took a trip to some countries in Europe—countries far wealthier than Ireland—and compared the service available there with the Irish telephone service he would probably realise he was unduly harsh in his criticism.

There are one or two questions I should like to ask the Minister in connection with his statement today. In his opening remarks he referred to the Telephone Capital Bill introduced in 1968 by the then Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, Mr. Erskine Childers. In a petty way the Minister tried to belittle the fact that in 1968 a sum of £50 million was mentioned; he said it was really worth only £37 million, allowing for inflation in the five-year period that was covered. I accept that as fair enough from any Minister provided he is man enough to tell us what he thinks the £175 million will be worth in 1978. With inflation in the region of 10 or 11 per cent, one could allow for a 10 per cent depreciation of money each year. I should like the Minister to work out that little sum. If we lose 10 per cent of £175 million in the first year that is £17 million. If he spends £25 million in the first year that leaves £150 million with £15 million gone in the next year. The Minister might do that little sum for us if he is able to and give us the answer.

In his statement the Minister said:

Capital expenditure in the current financial year is now estimated to reach £25 million as compared with £17 million last year.

I would refer the Minister to the sum of money mentioned in the capital budget for 1973—the telephone capital for 1973-74 is £19 million. Has the Minister done a trick-o'-the-loop and come up with an extra £6 million? If this is so, perhaps he would be kind enough to tell us where he got it and how he proposes to spend it. Perhaps it has something to do with the loan of £7½ million the Government got from the European Investment Bank? The Minister deals with this matter very briefly in his statement. He said:

A loan of £7.5 million will be obtained from the European Investment Bank this year subject to the passing of this Bill.

I should like the Minister to spell out clearly what conditions are attached to the granting of this loan by the European Investment Bank. Will the £7½ million be spent this year, together with the £19 million already written into the capital budget for 1973? If that is so, we would have a figure of £26½ million. There seems to be some contradiction here. Perhaps it is a typing error but I doubt this because it would have been discovered before now. I should like the Minister to deal with this point because there is some confusion here. I do not think anyone in the Labour Party can be very pleased about the loan from the European Investment Bank as that party did their best to keep us from being in a position to apply for it. It was only as a result of our successful entry into Europe that we were in a position to get this loan.

When the Minister is dealing with the conditions which I believe are attached to the loan, will he tell us if one condition is that for every £7½ million given to us by the European Investment Bank there is an obligation on us to put up an extra £30 million or £35 million? Is there some qualifying sum we must put up to get the loan from the European Investment Bank?

If I have any other criticism it is that this Bill has been awaited for several months. I cannot see that the Minister, as modest a man as he is, had any great difficulty in having it prepared because he knows the Bill was well and truly prepared before he took up office in mid-March. In his opening remarks the Minister said:

...after a comparatively short time in office, I had not sufficiently taken stock of the situation to be able to recommend to the Government on the scale of the effort that needed to be made, and the Government consequently had not taken any decision on a capital investment plan.

It is interesting to know that a sum of money which was provisionally agreed upon for telephone capital investment for this year by my colleagues and I when we were in Government until mid-March—£19 million—is going to be spent. There is the mysterious £25 million which we cannot trace anywhere.

We should not forget that this Bill is only an authorisation to spend up to £175 million. I would be much happier if the Minister had explained clearly to us how much he proposes to spend over each of the next five years. How much does he propose to spend next year, which is the first year of the five-year period, and how much in each succeeding year of the period? If the Minister is not in a position to explain all this, the commitment on his part might not be as strong as I would like it to be or as he would like it to be.

My final point concerns automation. Officials of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs are extremely anxious to have the telephone services completely automatic as soon as possible. About 84 per cent of the service is automatic at the moment. The remaining 16 per cent will probably be expensive to convert to an automatic programme. We should keep the problem of being 100 per cent automatic high up on our priority list. Throughout the country sub-postmasters with manual switchboards are having grave difficulty in providing staff to man these boards. There are many justifiable complaints from the Sub-Postmasters' Union and a few complaints from the public. It is difficult to expect these switchboards to be manned throughout the 24 hours to give a complete service. We should pay particular attention to that point in the early stages of our planning as to how the £175 million is to be spent over the next five years.

I wish the Minister well in his position. I hope he will be in a position to get this £175 million over the five-year period. His commitment would be more effective and stronger if he could tell us at this early stage how he proposes to spend that money.

I welcome this Bill because it shows vision on the part of the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs and the Government in seeking to streamline and modernise our telephone services which, as the Minister admitted, are lagging far behind those in any other EEC country at present. The Minister's vision in introducing this Bill is unique. Our telephone services have been dealt with in a haphazard way. There has been no proper planning for the services. Listening to rural Deputies one realises that we in the city forget the difficulties and inconveniences suffered by people in rural Ireland. It is enlightening to me to hear their problems. People in parts of rural Ireland are very isolated. In the city we take the telephone for granted and ignore the fact that the people in the rural areas are very dependent on it. They may live miles away from emergency services. We may have been too orientated towards the city and urban areas. We may have neglected rural Ireland. This could result in tragedy with people needing telephone services for emergency purposes. We must look on the telephone services as we do on the electricity supply. We should be prepared to subsidise the services for the rural areas.

There should be regional planning which would take rural areas into account. There should be deadlines and targets for the services to rural areas. There has been no proper planning in regard to the telephone services. They have been dealt with in a haphazard manner. I wonder why the Minister has chosen to forget or put aside his plans for the establishment of an independent corporation which would cover post office and telephone services, which would take over this work and which could be freed from the Civil Services or from interference and allowed to plan the entire postal and telephone services in the country.

In Great Britain there is proper planning in regard to the telephone services. I have mentioned this over and over again in the Dáil. The Minister should consider the need to establish an independent corporation which would deal with telephone and postal services. We would have a more efficient service if we were to do this. I need not dwell on the inadequacy of the services at the moment. Anyone trying to dial an outside line from this House will realise the frustration which exists. Before I came into this Chamber this evening I spent 30 minutes trying to get an outside line. I do not know whether this is unique to this House.

It is frustrating to try to carry on work and avail of the telephone service here. One can wait an hour to contact an operator. I have been told not to try to get the operator if I fail to get such operator at the first attempt. I was told: "Do not try again. Do not continue dialling. Just go to another telephone." The telephone service is antiquated and completely overworked. Businesses are constantly complaining that the telephone service is hampering them in their work, especially in this competitive age when we are all expected to increase productivity. The telephone service is making life virtually impossible for business houses in the cities. Daily you see advertisements in the paper from business firms apologising to their customers that their lines have been out of order for so long due to circumstances over which they have no control.

There has been need for a proper approach to the telephone service and the Minister's approach indicates real vision in looking at the overall problem and saying that we must invest and invest substantially in it, prepare a proper, overall telephone plan if we are to bring ourselves into this modern age and keep abreast of the other countries in Europe. Because of this, I would see the present Bill as serving a very useful purpose.

I wonder will this money be spent on providing a plan on the lines I have suggested, a regional plan to find out what the requirements in each area will be and to predict the number of telephones that will be required. Will there be a survey to determine the requirements of particular areas, or is it intended to continue the approach whereby you can have a line connected up to one person without taking into consideration that other residents in the area may require a line in a short time? This latter system is increasing costs and upsetting the whole plan for providing a satisfactory telephone service. Requirements could be estimated by inviting applications from people and we might then be in a better position to plan the telephone service in particular areas. The present approach is haphazard and costly.

The Minister has invited comments on the service, and Deputy Gerry Collins spoke about vandalism, saying that it is insignificant. I dare say that, overall it is an insignificant problem on not one of major proportions. However, in city areas it is a very serious problem. Perhaps rural Deputies do not appreciate this. I had the experience in the city of seeing a bus conductor attacked and, rushing to the phone to call the police, finding the phone box with no equipment whatever in it. This is not an isolated incident; it is quite common in certain areas that phones have been ripped out. Children should learn in schools to appreciate the importance of the phone and the purpose it serves. They should be told that the destruction of a phone may mean that a life may be lost, that a phone may be needed in an emergency. If we were to adopt this positive approach to it, we might discourage vandalism. Surely the Department should have some kind of notification or some means of knowing how phones are operating in public kiosks. It should be possible to have a mobile patrol that would call at regular intervals, especially in high-risk areas, to determine the condition of the phones there. This would act as a deterrent to vandalism.

In big residential estates in Dublin —and in talking about Dublin I do not mean to ignore the rural areas, but it is Dublin with which I am most familiar—there are some very responsible bodies or associations that are anxious to ensure that public phones are properly protected. In Ballymun and Inchicore for instance, there are responsible communities who have asked that public kiosks be available for the community. The Department may say the regulations do not provide for it. The regulations should be altered to provide that one person or group be responsible for a public phone. It is possible to have public telephones in private houses. In situations like this where a community council or association are anxious to help to ensure that the phone is available they should be given responsibility for this. I have had a number of requests from community associations for this. The Department have adopted a very rigid attitude and said: "No, we cannot do this". This is wrong, and if they were to change this attitude they would get co-operation and ensure that the public phone was available there as an essential service and would not be tampered with. There are old people for whom a phone must be available, and I would ask the Department to see that responsibility for such a phone be handed over to a community council, which I think would meet the need.

The telephone service has been in the political arena for too long. People have had the notion that if you wanted a telephone you went to your TD. I dare say it is difficult to change this system. I myself am inundated with requests for telephones. People seem to think that if the TD makes contact with the appropriate authority, the phone can be got. I would like to discourage this. That is why I would ask the Minister seriously to consider the establishment of an independent corporation to administer this and to see that phones are provided where there is a priority. This idea of political influence should be disposed of. It has plagued our society for too long. I know the Minister's thinking on this. I know he is anxious to eradicate it from our society. I believe that during his tenure of office this will disappear. We should all speak out on this so that we will rid the public of the idea that if you have political pull you can get anything. We should be trying to dispel this idea and trying to create a healthier society.

I congratulate the Minister on his vision in bringing this Bill before the House. For the first time we have a proper comprehensive plan. It would be a good thing if we could purchase or order, without necessarily purchasing, all the equipment needed for the country before the inflationary spiral takes over. In five years, at the rate we are going and if inflation gathers momentum at the rate it has done in the past year, we may find that the sum of £175 million is not adequate. I would ask the Minister to ask his Department to come forward with an effective plan of action, to find out exactly what will be needed so that this equipment can be ordered now.

This is an area in which the Department are not playing their part. Over a year ago I asked them about providing office phone extensions. They said they were not able to provide the equipment. Private companies can do it. The Department said they were thinking of ordering the equipment but they gave me the impression that they had not done so, that they did not know when they would do so, but that they might get around to doing it and that we might have this office equipment within a year or so. They said there was a long waiting list and they had to take their place in the queue. Things will get worse. Equipment will be more difficult to obtain. We should be planning now to order this equipment. We should not wait for the last year of our five-year programme. We should be doing it now. Only in this way will we get the full advantage of the £175 million which is provided for in this Bill.

I welcome the provision of this extra money for the telephone service. It is important for us to have a good telephone service, particularly in the west of Ireland, if we are to survive at all. We cannot claim to have that at present. I am sure every Deputy from the west who speaks on this Bill will have criticisms to make of the service available. We could speak for a long time on the many disadvantages the people of the west have to suffer because of the bad telephone service.

It is difficult to know where to lay the blame. I suppose the Department can be held responsible, to a certain extent, because of their lack of planning in the past, for the many inadequacies that exist. Every effort should be made at this time to streamline the telephone service. Proper planning should take place. When I see a telephone service being provided for an individual in a rural area, with perhaps two, three or four miles of line and poles being erected, I wonder why provision is not made for additions to that line. This is one of the things that should be done. In the case of a regional water supply scheme or anything else in a rural area there is always provision made for any extension that might be required at a later date. The same should apply in the case of a telephone. There is no reason why this cannot be done. It would save a lot of time and expense at a later date when other people in the area apply for telephones. If those things were properly planned in the first instance it should be possible to take extensions from the existing wire and so eliminate much waiting time.

It is very important, particularly in the western region where we are trying to develop industry, to have a good telephone service. The first thing any industrialist will look for is a good telephone service and if that does not exist in an area he will not place his industry there. We had instances in the west where the IDA officers had done their best to encourage an industrialist to establish an industry and when he saw the kind of telephone service that was available he would not do so. It is very important for such people to be able to make regular contact with their headquarters whether in France, Germany, Switzerland or even in America.

The telephone service should be drastically improved in the west. It is very disheartening to have to wait for an hour or an hour and a half to get a call to Dublin. Even to get a call to Galway from my area sometimes takes an hour. It would take less time to drive into Galway than to make a telephone call. I hope the money being provided today will eliminate some of the problems that exist.

Much has been said about the amount of damage to telephone kiosks as a result of vandalism. Instead of providing kiosks in rural areas, perhaps the Minister would consider the installation of telephones in private houses where householders would be prepared to make the telephone available to the general public. I am confident that there are many people in rural Ireland who would be willing to co-operate with the Minister in this regard. Even if the Department were to pay a certain amount to the householder for the facility, it would be more economical than having to repair telephone kiosks regularly, although the problem of vandalism in this regard is not nearly as prevalent in rural areas as it is in the cities. I trust that the Minister will consider this suggestion seriously. In some rural areas people must travel considerable distances to the nearest telephone and very often this happens to be in a private house so that a person in such circumstances is depending on the goodwill of his neighbour.

Many of the exchanges are overloaded and, consequently, cannot cater for the demands made on them. This is the cause of much frustration not only to the public but to the telephone operators.

A number of requests have been made to the Minister for the provision of a new post office in the growing town of Tuam. I add my voice to these requests and would draw the Minister's attention to the inadequacies of the existing premises. I have made representations to the Minister already in this regard and trust the Minister will see his way to facilitating the people of the town by providing new premises as soon as possible.

Is beag atá le rá agam agus ó tharla gur Teachta ón dtuaith mé bainfidh a mbeidh le rá agam leis an seirbhís ghutháin.

It might be said that up to a few years ago almost the only people who used telephones in rural areas in this country were doctors, gardaí, shopkeepers and the clergy. That situation has changed to the extent that a telephone is a facility desired by people involved in practically every sphere of our economy. As the Minister has mentioned, a telephone service is vital to industry. Without a proper communications network it is not possible to develop industry. As public representatives, we are aware that one of the first questions asked by potential industrialists is whether there is a satisfactory telephone service in the area that is being considered for the location of an industry. Farming, too, has become big business and this has resulted in an increasing number of farmers wishing to have their own telephones and, of course, a good telephone service is vital for the tourist industry also. The people involved in this industry are aware of how essential it is to have a telephone service. The same applies to those involved in the fishing industry because the lack of a telephone service would render it impossible for them to contact those interested in buying the catches.

The practice of the use of the telephone by emigrants to communicate with their people at home is becoming very prevalent but one often receives complaints from people living in, say, London or Birmingham who, having arranged to telephone a member of their family at a certain time, find that they get through to the local exchange at home but find it impossible to make contact.

Our affluent society has created a situation in which people apply for telephones for no other reason than that their neighbours have this facility. This and many other factors are increasing the problems of the Department.

In his speech the Minister invited suggestions as to means of improving the present system. I am not satisfied that patching up a telephone system which is already inadequate will provide the answer. He suggested that an independent board—equivalent to the ESB, BIM or some other semi-State board—might be considered for this type of development.

In my speech on the Estimate for the Department of Posts and Telegraphs I suggested that a board of this kind might be considered. If the present system were divorced from the Civil Service and a development board were set up which would approach this matter in the same way as the ESB approached rural electrification and build up a plan for advanced development, eventually we could have a proper telephone system. It is absolutely essential to set up a board or an independent body to take this work in hand. Many speakers have mentioned the fact that in some cases there is only one telephone at the end of a line provided for a person living three miles from a post office. I can envisage a canvass being carried out so that, instead of having one telephone on a line, we might have in the region of ten or 12 telephones. This would make the work much cheaper and it would benefit the whole area.

I am delighted to see that the Minister is continuing the programme of automation and converting many of our manual telephone services. This is very badly needed. It will ease the situation for sub-postmistresses and sub-postmasters in the small areas. To them the telephone is a terrible curse. Very often it takes them an hour to get a long distance call through. Perhaps having made contact they are cut off and they have to try to be reconnected. It is desperate that tourists and strangers to the country should have to put up with this service. We have managed to live with it. We have become accustomed to it and I suppose we are prepared to put up with it for the time being.

The provision of kiosks should not be approached at all times from the point of view of the economy. There are areas where they provide a social service. People in backward areas are entitled to this service. Many areas would be delighted to have kiosks. The Minister asked us to suggest criteria. My suggestion would be that one kiosk should be provided in each national school area for a start. Normally a national school would cover an area of three or four miles. The Minister should use something like that as a basis for the provision of telephone kiosks.

If we are to make any real progress we must have planned development instead of waiting for people to apply to the Department for a telephone. A development board should draw up a planned programme which could be implemented over a number of years. In this way we would eventually provide the service which we so badly need. I wish the Minister success in his programme. All the speakers from this side of the House have been very helpful to him. They made suggestions and they were not critical of the proposal in any way. I hope that the money which the Minister is seeking to commence this work will be made available to him.

As the Minister said in introducing this Bill, there would be no use in talking about a service if we had not got the money to back it up. He will find general agreement on that. He also indicated that this type of development goes back to 1924 when £500,000 was injected into the system. In 1968, £50 million was devoted to it. That was a projection over a number of years. It was a planning target over a period. We can now see the shortcomings of the system. This is no reflection on the personnel in the telephone service because, having an argument with a telephone and extending it to the operator, is a futile exercise. We all know that the personnel operating this system sometimes come in for a certain amount of unfair abuse. There is nothing as frustrating as being unable to get a telephone call and it is this frustration that leads to the abuse. In the case of a coin box telephone it often results in someone leaving the kiosk with a coin stuck in the box making it impossible for succeeding callers to use the telephone. Similar situations can arise in business and commerce, in the office and in the home.

The way in which telephone kiosks are treated is a reflection of us. The abuses to which the kiosks are subjected are incredible. The destruction of an amenity of this kind is unforgiveable. The initial cost is high but I imagine the cost of repair is even higher.

Fault has been found with our telephone system at all levels. Perhaps some of it was inspired criticism. Perhaps people expect too much. The fact remains that our communications system in this regard is not keeping pace with requirements. If we do not ensure a better communications system we shall fall behind not alone in our communications but in other directions as well.

Governments down the years did not have sufficient resources to provide the most efficient system and, as Deputy Gallagher said, this Bill designed to raise the necessary capital to ensure an efficient system will be welcomed throughout the country. It will certainly be welcomed by those engaged in industry and commerce, whether they be primary producers or industrialists selling the finished products abroad. For all of these a good communications system is essential.

Our joining the EEC is another reason why we should perfect our system because of our dependence on international trade. Ours is an open-ended economy and, because it is, a telephone call at the right time to the right place might mean good business for us and for the man placing the call. We know the kind of competition generated by these other countries and we know that that competition will accelerate in the context of the EEC. Even outside of the EEC an efficient telephone communications system is absolutely essential.

Again, from the point of view of regional policy and regionalisation, which was the expressed intention of the last Government and is the expressed intention of this Government, a good communications system on the home ground is of vital importance. If we intend to shift slabs of industry from the east coast to the west coast, as we must if we are to balance our economy in a rational way, then our lines of communication must be at all times efficient.

When it was announced that we were going to have automation, most of us thought that would be an end of our troubles and that we would have no more difficulties. However, automation did not solve our problems because the system became overloaded very quickly particularly at peak periods when a complete blockage often results. We know that the demand is high. We know a good deal is expected of the system. We know that extensions to the network over the years have not matched the volume of expanding business. That is allowing for the fact that in the last five or six years we had fairly high investment in telephonic communications in an effort to promote a better system. We are also aware that it takes time to keep new installations working properly. I assume that even some of the more recent improvements in the system have not, as yet, been seen working to capacity.

Those of us who try to keep in touch know that it is not a short term type of development but short-term planning due to lack of resources in the past that has led to the position we find ourselves in today with almost 35,000 seeking phones. The provision of £175 million as proposed in this Bill will enable planners in the network to look ahead not merely to the mid-seventies but to the eighties, and afterwards, and provide a superstructure that will at least be equal to the foreseeable demands. It is hoped that this will keep us reasonably in step with other countries in Europe who can raise this amount of money easier than us.

I have referred to the Minister's statement and to the breakdown of the application of the money I should like to deal with the Minister's references to the Public Service Review Group as to what direction management might take in the Department, whether or not it is best exercised under the control of a Minister or under a semi-State body. I am not able to go fully into that aspect of the matter but I submit that the Department of Posts and Telegraphs is a very old department, one with great experience and with experienced personnel, particularly in the telephonic communications service. A semi-State company might not be able to do very much for such a unit.

Having read the remarks of the Public Service Review Group I am still in a difficulty as to what this group have in mind for this particular unit. The group stated that they found it difficult to lay down guidelines but they did make certain recommendations. The section of the report to which I am about to refer is on page 373, paragraph 31. The report recognises that the Department is one of the oldest Government agencies and that there is little to differentiate between the combination of social and economic functions in this Department and the tasks in the different fields of, for instance, CIE and the ESB. The report goes on to state that the problem of balancing economic and social activities is similar and on that basis they recommend that the postal and telecommunication services fall into the class of executive units.

The report also states that this raises the question of whether they should be in one or two units. It further states that in terms of function and method of operation they are quite disparate. According to the review group the main argument for separating the telecommunications and postal services is finance. The report indicates that the telecommunications services are expanding and profitable while the postal services, at best, break even. According to this report the telephonic section needs a high level of maintenance and, accordingly, expertise. It states that the problems there are difficult and technical. The view of the group is that the requirements of the postal services are comparatively simple compared with the telephonic unit.

The group state that they considered and discussed the problem with the then Minister and, later, concluded that it was not feasible to separate the two services for a number of reasons. The group felt that the mixing of the two would change with technological innovations. Accordingly they say there should be a single body to decide the changes. It is desirable that the higher staff of this body should have experience over the whole range of services.

They also say that the physical features are largely tied together in the post office and would be difficult to disentangle. They go on to say that in any event the existence of the post office, as the local communications centre, offers the best opportunity for co-ordination of the services at local level. They further note that the separation of the expanding telecommunication service from the static postal service would tend to demoralise the latter which is no less important. They also note that the staff there have been traditionally under single management and would continue to regard themselves as members of a single service. I am summarising the report, which makes the point that those two services cannot be separated with any degree of confidence and they give their reasons for this partial recommendation.

I assume that the group has in mind the very best type of telecommunications. I also assume that they went fully into this question with the Minister and his advisers as to the feasibility of either separating or welding these units together. They have given their reasons, in the short recommendation, for coming down on the side of these two services being combined in one, on the grounds that they cannot very easily be separated. They have recommended certain alterations in the administration under the Minister to take charge of such an exercise and recommended a board. I do not know what type of board they visualised. Since the Minister mentioned this matter in connection with his Estimate, I quickly read through the report to see what type of board was recommended. I was disappointed because, beyond the fact that it was mentioned as being a very highly, technical, capital, intensive unit, there was not very much comment on it. To this extent, the lay man could be hampered and tied to the telephone kiosk.

We are grateful to the Minister for reminding us that this Public Service Review Group made recommendations in order to bring about a better system of communication. Whatever shortages or imperfections may be there already, one would hope that they would be eliminated without too drastic a change. I have experience of semi-State corporations and companies. There is a good deal of "up the organisation" embedded in them. I could make a short speech on "up the organisation" but I do not want to introduce it here. It is always better to keep in touch with the men at the bench and the people wearing the headphones rather than to concentrate on those at managerial level.

This Bill is a welcome measure. As time passes we hope that the injection of capital, on a scale which was never attempted before, will immeasurably improve our system of telecommunications and put us on a par with our counterparts in Europe. The country and the House wish this capital development success.

I have no intention of delaying the House. I represent a rural constituency, which in the main depends on farming, is part of a county in which the greatest number of applications have been received for the small farms scheme, whose rural population, as Deputy Gallagher said, treat farming as a business and who need all the modern methods of communication just as any other business would. It is also becoming industrialised. I welcome this Bill and would like to congratulate the Minister on bringing it before the House so quickly.

The Minister referred to the 1968 Bill in some detail and quite fairly indicated that the estimate made at that time was reasonable and that almost—not quite—all the items included in it were reached. It is an indication of the advance the country has made that telephone applications are now running at the rate of 34,000 annually. He also quite fairly set out that quite an amount of the work that is now being completed was planned by his predecessor. Deputy O'Connell spoke of inflation as did the Minister also when he gave an indication that the £50 million which had been provided turned out to be value only for about £37 million by the end of the five-year period.

This problem could well affect the Minister in 1978 and he could well find that the £175 million would have been spent but that the aims set out in this Bill would not have been achieved. This is a matter over which the Minister has no control but the Department by bulk ordering could help to alleviate it. I understand—and I am open to correction—that orders are sent by the Department on a three months or six months basis. Instances have been quoted to me of the Department asking suppliers for a quantity of material smaller than would be worth the time required by the supplier's to set up special machinery and coming back in three months and asking for roughly the same quantity again. If the Department's requirements were ordered yearly in advance there could be some saving. I am particularly glad to hear that the Minister hopes that most of the material necessary will be available in the country. My present information is that a considerable amount of it has to be imported.

The service generally is criticised most because at certain busy hours it is virtually impossible to get calls through. The Minister might suggest that a number of industries making regular daily calls made these calls at off-peak hours. I realise industry has special calls to make but in the west quite a number of industries make daily calls to head office which could be made outside the busy hours.

The Minister goes into some detail about his proposals for the next five years. It is commonly rumoured in Ballina that there will be major industrial expansion there in the next few years. I know that work is already in progress on an extension to the exchange in Ballina but I ask the Minister to have his Department—I think he has already done so—contact the IDA with a view to having essential improvements carried out as speedily as possible in the North Mayo area generally. Job targets there are quite substantial and telephone communication of the first order is a very high priority.

The Minister asked for proposals regarding kiosks in rural areas. Deputy Gallagher suggested that school areas be the standard but I suggest that the Minister seek the advice of various parish and community councils which are now in most rural areas. If he seeks that advice where he gets requests for a number of kiosks in any rural area the members of the parish council, who know their own area best, will give him a list of priorities. The whole matter of providing kiosks in isolated areas is naturally very costly but the Department must continue their policy in this connection. There are areas in my constituency that are ten miles from a telephone and there is one particular area which was in my constituency but is not now—thanks to the Minister for Local Government— where I would ask the Minister to consider installing a radio telephone. It is an area approximately eight miles away over a very bad road from the nearest sub-post office. Some of the houses are cut off by rivers. At a later stage I shall forward particulars of the area to the Minister.

Some time ago I attended a forum at which the two other Deputies who represent the constituency were present. One of the items discussed was the telephone service. The Minister might be interested to know that the general consensus was that a board, somewhat similar to the ESB or CIE, should be set up, but the meeting was almost unanimous in stating that the board should be fully under the responsibility of the Minister. As the Minister pointed out, if this happened many people would have to be consulted, not least the sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses who have spent a considerable amount of money on their premises.

In rural areas a matter that delays the installation of telephones is the question of wayleaves. The Department should take a greater interest in this question rather than leaving it to the county council. It often happens that because of the personalities involved or perhaps due to jealousy wayleaves are refused. I know of a case where a wayleave was granted but was later withdrawn; it does not do credit to a Member of this House that this happened.

On another point, it has been brought to my attention by a number of people that there is a shortage of customs declaration labels for outgoing parcels and there does not appear to be any in store.

I should like to wish the Minister well and I hope the stop-go policy of which he complained in his speech will not happen to him. When money becomes scarce, as inevitably it will, I hope he will be able to resist the pressures to have the Department of Posts and Telegraphs made the scapegoat. As he rightly pointed out, on the standard of our communications will depend our industrial expansion. I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the staffs of telephone exchanges. They have a difficult and often a thankless task to perform but I have always found them considerate and courteous.

I welcome this Bill which sets out to improve the telephone system. Each of us is well aware of the urgent need for this improvement and the necessity for growth of the telephone communications service. We can all comment on the needs and demands of people who are looking for telephones. It is a vital instrument of communication in all walks of life, in business generally— in small and large firms—in farming, and in social communication. Some time ago I asked the Minister to provide a kiosk in my constituency. He complimented the people of the area and said he would like to have them in more regular communication with the rest of the country because he had been impressed by their warm reception for him. I am sure this applies to many other areas also.

The amount of money involved is large but all of us are in favour of this programme. In view of the urgent necessity to improve the trunk lines, the inter-city and inter-town communications, what is the possibility of doing something that has been done in other countries—of private enterprise providing the telephones while the Department provide the cables to link them? In asking this question I am not merely trying to encourage private enterprise in itself. If the Department consider this proposal I would expect to see a royalty revenue, a contract agreement, revenue or money to the Department on each instrument installed. There is a possibility of a saving on the huge capital expenditure necessary to provide the exchanges, the link lines and the instruments. This may not be at all feasible or practicable but it is a suggestion that has occurred to me frequently.

I would urge the Minister to consider the matter of priority listing. He answered a question of mine some time ago in the House and he gave the priority listing of the people entitled to a telephone. While nobody could disagree with the listing as such, there are many applications that should be treated by the local telephone contracts office and examined by them. I refer in particular to the young man who wants to start a business. As I understand it, if his business is large enough to employ three or six people he qualifies for the priority listing. This is a case of the chicken and the egg, which comes first. Many of these young people who start a business are very dependent on having a telephone but because it is not installed they cannot expand their business quickly enough to enable them to employ somebody. If the telephone were available it might be possible for them to expand their business and give that extra employment. There are many such cases which should be considered by local telephone contracts offices. The Minister is well aware of people in this predicament. He should ask the local contracts offices to give the background of applications such as those I have mentioned.

Why has the return on capital dropped? What is the reason for it? It seems to have shown a downward trend since 1970. There may be obvious reasons for this. The figure for 1972-73 is given as 6 per cent; an earlier figure was given as 8.9 per cent.

Coming now to the building of new exchanges and extra lines, we know that there are about 86,000 lines being provided in the Dublin area. A large number of additional exchanges are also being provided. In Cork there are two 20,000 line exchanges. I would like the Minister to tell us how this compares with the provisions in Dublin. I hope we are not reaching a situation where Dublin is getting more than its share and Cork, which is the second city in the country, is being left behind. The Minister must be aware of the increased demand in the suburbs of Cork where there has been much building in places like Ballincollig and Carrigaline. The demand is ever on the increase, particularly in the new housing estates around Cork.

The Minister posed a question to Deputies. It is one which every Deputy has thought about from time to time. The Minister asked if the present organisation of the Post Office is best suited to its present needs. This question could be debated for hours at length without reaching a satisfactory solution. The Minister, having looked at the various reports, is probably in a better position to judge than anybody else. It would appear from the present and proposed growth that the suggestions made regarding the transfer of policy functions to a new Department of Transport and Communications could be worthy of consideration.

The Minister also mentioned that the programme will provide employment for thousands of extra skilled and semi-skilled men and for many engineering graduates. This is a very important aspect. In the programme now put before the House by the Minister we can look forward to greater employment for skilled and semi-skilled people and also to the employment of graduates. From a Government point of view this is good. This is a very important statement.

Telephone kiosks were mentioned. I am not happy with the present arrangement whereby the policy of the Department has been to provide a kiosk where there is a sub-post office. The location of sub-post offices often strikes one as strange in relation to the nearest village, school or little community. I do not agree that the present policy is the right one. Where a telephone is put into a kiosk outside a sub-post office it does not provide any real facility for the people of the area. Most people in that area will probably live in a village some distance away. They could use the facilities of a kiosk more. There are many such people in mid-Cork. An examination of the present policy is necessary.

In regard to telephones, the Minister referred to the density at present being the lowest of all the EEC countries. It is 12 per 100 as compared with 90 per 100 in France. When this programme is completed we will equal France.

France will have gone ahead too.

I accept that. It will take a lot of money to overtake the position in France. That is why I asked about the conservation of capital. There should not be a stop-go policy. Once the programme is started it should follow a planned course. Telephonic communication is speedy and convenient. We are all inclined to use the phone instead of writing letters. The present congestion on trunk-lines must be contributory to heart disease and blood pressure.

And bad language.

I agree. There is nothing more frustrating than to pick up a telephone in Cork and to have to dial Dublin six times before getting a reply. I am glad that the Minister says that he had not taken stock sufficiently of the telephone situation generally last May. This is understandable. At that stage the Minister, like everybody else, was aware of the inadequacies of the system and the necessity for a heavy capital injection and the improvement of the existing lines. The provision of extra lines, exchanges and new telephones was also necessary then. We will have to keep up the pressure on the Minister about the financial commitment made by him to ensure that it will not be let fall short, that the programme will be pushed ahead with the greatest possible speed, that telephones will be provided for the vast majority of people at the earliest possible date.

I mentioned the question of telephone kiosks in rural areas. I also have a complaint in regard to the lack of telephone kiosks in newly built-up areas. I can instance several areas where residents deserve a telephone kiosk. The normal answer to such a request is that it is not possible because a telephone kiosk located at Y, not far removed from X, is not revenue-earning. We must not lose sight of the social aspect of the telephone service. There is the social aspect of telephones in any new building estate, particularly when very few people will have a phone installed except by way of transfer or unless he is a doctor or some other such person on the priority list. On new estates where there are young families and where a doctor is often required late at night, the Department must honour the social commitment and provide kiosks in such areas. If an estate comprising 40, 50 or 100 houses cannot have telephones installed for one, two or three years, a telephone kiosk should be provided on the estate as a social need, although I am sure in its own time it would be revenue-earning. I accept that there is a problem in regard to the destruction of kiosks, vandalism, hooliganism and so on. I suppose as young fellows we had other ways of diverting our energies than by smashing the glass in telephone kiosks or the instruments therein.

Finally, let me express the hope that this programme will go ahead without the stop-go methods the Minister mentioned, that there will be a speedy solution to the problem of the clogging up of telephone applications. I hope the backlog of telephone applications will be brought up to within two or three months instead of one, two or three years. Judging by the Minister's statement I doubt if it will be possible in the foreseeable future to bring it as close as that, but I would pose the question again: can we save capital for the State by getting somebody else to share our capital involvement by providing some part of the telephone system? As I said earlier, I am not promoting private enterprise as such, but if it does provide some of the capital we want so much at the moment, then the matter should be examined. Perhaps the Minister has examined it and has not found it possible to adopt this course, but if extra capital could be provided in any way, I am sure the spare capital here could be diverted to satisfying the growing demands of telephone subscribers.

I should like, first, to thank the many Deputies who have contributed to what was a very full and reasonable discussion on this important measure. Deputy Brugha, as spokesman for his party, welcomed and supported the Bill, and I think it is quite clear that it has the support and good wishes of the entire House. This is, of course, of great value and very encouraging for my Department in the major works they now have to do. In that connection I should also like to acknowledge the many tributes that were paid by Deputies on both sides of the House to the personnel of my Department, and to say that I entirely concur with these.

There was only one element in the debate which I am constrained to regret, that is, the fact that the suggestion was made by several Deputies on the opposite benches that we might not be able to raise capital on this scale for the development, expansion and modernisation of our telephone system. First of all, I think it is wrong to doubt this, that there is no reason for such doubt. Deputies are well aware that the telephone system here is on a commercial basis, that it pays for itself, that people are only asking to be allowed to pay for telephones, and that there is a great unsatisfied demand for telephones. In these conditions the telephone system is an entirely suitable area for investment and should be attractive to investors. It is for the Minister for Finance, and not the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, to lay down the terms on which finance will, from time to time, be sought, but there is no reason to believe that it will not be forthcoming. It might have been more helpful if some of the Deputies opposite, instead of raising queries about that, had commended this project to investors for the future.

My Department will now be pressing ahead with implementing progress on the scale which this Telephone Bill implies. They will be going ahead with that with a great sense of urgency and, I believe, in the confidence that there will be no further stop-go element, that we are really going to make an all-out drive to improve, modernise and expand the telephone system, and I think that will be of some value. As I have said, the telephone service here as in other countries is essentially a profitable service and the doubts expressed about the ability of the Minister for Finance to raise the capital required can only reflect on the creditworthiness of this country I should like to say that I am quite sure they were not intended so to reflect; all that I would draw the attention of Deputies to is that they must have that effect to some extent.

We are all agreed that the telephone service should be improved and expanded. There is no doubt that the demand is there. There are considerable arrears and the telephone service would be earning more if the arrears were cleared. That is the importance of this. We have to make up our minds therefore, whether we are prepared to bear the cost of providing a good telephone service or not. The question has been asked: can we afford it? The real question is: can we afford not to invest in a good telephone service? Investment in a good telephone service requires investment of this order, not of any lesser order, and let there be no mistake about that.

If we looked for substantially less sums in this Telephone Capital Bill we would not be moving in the direction of providing a good telephone service, we would be engaged in stagnation. Can we afford that the telephone service should constitute a handicap to commercial and industrial progress as it does, to some extent, in many areas at present? It is clear the answer is we cannot. The question of raising the capital is primarily one for the Minister for Finance but, as I pointed out, the service will be providing some £40 million in depreciation from the loan, apart from profits. This money goes into the Exchequer as revenue. A further point is that the European Investment Bank has agreed to a loan of £7.5 million this year on the basis of regarding the telephone capital programme for 1973-74 as a project. There are good hopes of getting further EIB loans on the same basis, that is the project in itself is approved and in future years we will only have to say: "This is the sum we want", and it will be considered on the basis of an approved project. That is of some value.

Some Deputies made a point that the EIB loan is a benefit derived from EEC membership. They sought to suggest that it was inconsistent for me, as a Minister and as a member of a party which had opposed entry on the terms negotiated by the previous Government, to accept this or to say that it was a good thing. That is a fair enough polemical point of the kind we all make from time to time but I do not think there is much in it. The Labour Party, when in Opposition at that time, pointed out that entry to the EEC would be attended by certain drawbacks as well as the advantages which other people saw in it. The electorate decided the whole issue very definitively in May, 1972 and the Tánaiste, Deputy Corish, made it clear immediately on behalf of the Labour Party that the decision of the electorate was accepted by us without reservation. When in Government, therefore, it is quite natural and appropriate that we should try to derive all the advantages we can from EEC membership and try to limit any drawbacks there may be in it. There is no point in our looking backwards in this issue and there is not much point in others looking backwards for us.

Deputy Brugha and Deputy Collins referred to my statement that capital expenditure in the current financial year is estimated to reach £25 million as compared with a capital allocation of £19 million and inquired where the extra £6 million would come from. The answer is, of course, from the usual source, from the Central Fund. The extra money will be spent because more progress will be made on development works such as underground cabling, trunk and exchange works, than was expected last year when the £19 million estimate was made. In fact, my Department have been able to make more progress in this matter than was expected at that time.

The loan of £7.5 million made by the European Investment Bank to the Exchequer will be used to help finance the enlarged programme although it was applied for and approval for it obtained on the basis of a smaller programme. Incidentally, larger expenditure in the coming years implies, of course, that it would be possible for us to look for larger sums from the EIB. It is a condition of the loan that it should be spent on the telephone development programme and not for any other purpose.

Deputy Collins asked what the £175 million would be worth in 1978 money terms. This is very important and this is an element that was referred to by many Deputies. There seems to be a real misunderstanding here and I hope I can clear that up. I would refer Deputies and also the Press to my statement in which I indicated that the Minister for Finance had agreed to £175 million at 1973-74 price and wage levels. That is to say it is the scale of the effort that is now being determined. If this amount is eroded by rises in price and wage costs the Minister for Finance will make good the deficiency and has agreed in advance to do so. This is not less important than the actual figure. It is very important. Let me repeat that it is the intention to carry out a programme estimated to cost £175 million in 1973-74 real terms and if inflation so requires the effect would be that the next telephone Bill will be introduced earlier than would otherwise have been necessary.

The rate at which the £175 million will be spent will depend on how fast progress can be made in improving the service and clearing arrears. It is evident that if we spend £25 million in 1973-74 the programme will work out at an average of around £38 million approximately for each of the four successive years, still of course on the basis described.

There were questions which deserve an answer regarding the terms of the EIB loan. The loan of £7.5 million, that is for this year, was based on the capital estimate for 1973-74 which was £18.5 million at the time of application. It is the maximum obtainable under current EIB practice which limits loans to 40 per cent of the cost of the project subject to a maximum of £15 million. It is hoped to obtain further similar loans from the EIB in the years ahead based on the expected annual expenditure. The loan is for 20 years at an interest rate of 8½ per cent per annum.

Deputies made a number of suggestions and I should like to thank them for that because I looked for suggestions in my opening remarks and they were forthcoming to a considerable degree. Those suggestions will be examined very carefully in my Department. There were also a great number of detailed questions asked, more than I could hope to answer certainly this evening though if I am resuming my remarks it may be possible to answer quite a number of those questions. Deputy Burke made some points which require replies. He described the existing service as pathetic. I think that is a somewhat exaggerated description. There are areas of bad performance but it should be recognised, and it was recognised by many Deputies, that the Department, fighting against the results of past under-capitalisation, are trying to give the best results they possibly can. Of course, these discussions sometimes, though this did not get out of hand this evening, become a little artificial.

The point was made—I acknowledge its legitimacy—that all the major works now approaching completion in my Department were determined under the previous Administration, and, consequently, they deserve the credit for what they did in this area. But if they deserve the credit they have also the responsibility for the negative side. The Government that were in power for 16 years carry necessarily a greater burden of the responsibility in that area than the Government that have been in power only for part of this year. Of course, that is a consideration that will shift as time goes on but I would make the point to Deputy Burke that if the existing service is pathetic the previous Administration are responsible for that for the same reason as they are responsible for the major works now approaching completion.

Deputy Burke sought to speak about telex but that is an item that is not covered in this Bill. Deputy Burke is a promising young Deputy and, therefore, I do not wish to take too heavily anything he said but he made a point which must be dealt with because it was the sort of attitude that has damaged this country. I refer to the Deputy's remark that the Minister talks of providing an earth station connected with a sattelite and asked "What is the use of talking like that when I cannot even get a phone?" Deputy Burke either knows or ought to know that the provision of an earth station is simply keeping pace with technological change and modernisation. It is a way of providing in the future the most effective and cheapest international communication of benefit to the business life and to the development of this country. It is a step that will be of major importance. To dismiss this in an airy-fairy way is an appeal to the resentments of ignorance. It is what is known as Luddism—resistence to technological change by somewhat demagogic slogans. I think better of Deputy Burke than to imagine that he would indulge any further in that kind of argument.

I was asked when I expected to set up the Post Office users council. I expect to set it up early in 1974. There was some delay in this regard because I had to consult with a number of other Departments that were affected and such consultation, as Deputies opposite, having been in office, are well aware, takes a certain amount of time but that process has now been completed and I hope to see this council in being early next year. This should prove a highly beneficial and useful development that will keep my Department more effectively, more closely and more directly in touch with public demand. As I mentioned, one of the matters about which I should be consulting with the council is whether the Department of Posts and Telegraphs should come under a State sponsored body in the future. Some Deputies commented on that point. It seems to me that a consensus has not yet emerged in this area. Nobody came down very definitely on one side or the other. We will need to know what the council say.

The point was raised regarding expenditure in 1970-71. There was some slight confusion about this but I may have contributed to that confusion by my wording. In 1970-71 the allocation was £8.25 million. The Department had sought £8.80 million. In summer, 1970 it was apparent that the Estimate would be exceeded—this is the point—because of commitments on contract but it was made clear that the Department could not expect to get what they required and would have to continue within the £8.25 million allocation. I take it there was to be no question of a Supplementary Estimate. In consequence, it was necessary to cut the margin of expenditure within the Department's control, that is, overtime, recruitment, purchase of stores and employment of temporary casual staff. In the event the unavoidable expenditure was £9.5 million approximately. This amount was sanctioned late in the financial year. A similar amount, £9.5 million, was allocated for 1971-72 though the requirements were much greater then and the amount sought in the conditions obtaining was £10.73 million. In August 1971 the Government agreed to relax the restrictions and the eventual expenditure was £11.11 million. The actual expenditure for 1972-73 was £16.9 million.

Therefore, the Minister's reference to last June was not correct.

Not if it clashes with what I have just said. I have not had sufficient time to restudy the matter.

I assure the Minister that there is a clash between what he has said now and his earlier reference.

If so, I express regret for any error I may have made. One point of importance to Dublin Deputies and to Dubliners generally is the point raised by Deputy Briscoe on the question of which exchanges in the `01' area will initially have facilities for subscriber dialling to centres in the rest of Europe. These exchanges will be the busy ones serving the city centre area where the bulk of this traffic originates.

Again, in relation to Dublin, Deputy Burke asked for the dates by which certain exchanges will be provided in the Dublin area. Additional capacity for subscribers in Blanchardstown, Belcamp, Malahide, Shankill, Ballyboden, Clondalkin, Dunboyne, Lucan, Maynooth, Ashbourne and Ballyboughall will be provided progressively during the next 12 to 18 months. Further additional capacity for these places and for the other areas the Deputy mentioned will be catered for later in the programme.

The question of telephone service in new housing areas was raised by several Deputies. This is one which is causing me considerable concern both as Minister for Posts and Telegraphs and as representative in the Dáil of the constituency of Dublin North-East, an area which includes important housing estates, some of which are experiencing these difficulties. Considerable difficulty is experienced in meeting demands for telephones in new housing areas, especially in Dublin. This leads to delays in providing service not only for new applicants but also for removing subscribers, persons who had telephones at their former addresses and who would, therefore, be entitled to priority treatment. The main problem in the provision of telephones in new housing estates involves extensive local cabling schemes. Even if the Department had ample resources—of course, the resources will improve— it would be difficult to carry out such schemes in advance of the completion of the houses. Generally, site development must be well advanced and the position of footpaths defined clearly before telephone cabling can begin. Some suggestions were made by Deputies in relation to this matter and I would like to assure the House that all such suggestions or any suggestion that seems likely to benefit the public will be considered very carefully in my Department. The Department do not consider that they have nothing to learn in these matters and are generally anxious to study any ideas put forward which seem to be at all feasible.

Debate adjourned.
The Dáil adjourned at 10.30 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 5th December, 1973.