Postal and Telecommunications Services Bill, 1982: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time".

Last evening I endeavoured to pinpoint areas of weakness in the Bill that I considered warranted the Minister's intervention prior to continuing the debate on Committee Stage. Among them were important matters, essentially the lack of final consultation with the staff on various aspects of the Bill in the area of future promotional needs, staff structure and other important labour matters which if left unresolved could lead to industrial unrest in this very large section of the public sector. In addition I emphasised the indifferent attitude of various Governments over many years towards various sectors such as the Post Office, with lack of policies and, most essentially, lack of finance to ensure that modern services could be provided for all the people of this country. I accept that improvements are needed in this service but they should not be made at the expense of the workers involved or at the expense of services for the people in rural Ireland.

There are a couple of other items I would like to raise before I conclude my contribution. One relevant and important aspect is the decision to divide under two managements the workings of this Department. Since the foundation of the State, despite the lack of finance and the indifference of various Governments, the executive of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs and its staff have, to the best of their ability, given the best service available under one management. In this Bill it is envisaged that there will be a division of responsibility in the two sectors of the Department. I believe that is a serious reflection on the abililty and expertise of the existing structures within that Department. What is needed is not a diversification of responsibilities in two directions but a substantial capital investment to improve the present structures rather than duplicating administration.

I have experience of duplication of services in relation to the Health Act of 1970. Up to then local authorities were responsible for the administration of the health services in their areas. Under the new Health Act we introduced health boards, which instead of bringing the services nearer to the people have created a wider gap between the services and the people for whom they were intended. In other words, rather that having an improvement, we had a disimprovement, and it was the people who suffered. This meant there was an additional burden on the ratepayers and the taxpayers with an overloading of administrative costs and duplication. Before, the county manager was the ultimate executive responsible for the health services, the supervision of health costs and services in his area, but that responsibility is being moved further from the people and they are suffering. I am very concerned about this proposed development because with a duplication of administration there will be an overloading of costs and senior staff without the required improvement in services. Having learned from experience of the health boards, I believe this would be a retrograde step.

At present we have a responsible body which has done a very good job down the years, but we now deem it necessary to divide responsibility into two sections rather than allowing the existing body to continue the work they have been doing, but giving a better service as a result of the additional cash injection I commend.

In recent years amalgamation has been the yardstick of success in private industry. Can anyone explain why two such well known men can come before the people and vindicate the policy of splitting responsibility while, in their private concerns, their main emphasis was on integration rather than diversification? Where the structures have survived under one Department and with such expertise as is being brought in from the private sector neither the Minister nor the business supremos who are being brought in to supervise these developments can convince me they will be successful in a situation which is the reverse of their policies in their private industries. This matter is causing the workers grave concern.

Are we very interested in making a success of these new enterprises? I can appreciate that the services will be very successful in the heavily populated areas, but in the less densely populated areas the profitability aspect will be greatly eroded. Because of this I believe the people in rural Ireland have grave cause for concern. If this legislation is passed future elected representatives who are supposed to ensure taxpayers' money is spent properly and that the best services possible are provided for the money spent, will no longer have the right to question the activities and performance of these boards. This will deprive the democratically elected representatives of the right to tell the people of the inadequacies and failures of the boards.

The Minister will not have any power or responsibility for these bodies. The person responsible will be the chairman of the particular semi-State body. This is causing grave concern to the workers, the general public and the elected representatives. We are enacting legislation and, I hope, providing adequate financial resources to ensure the new bodies will work well in the years ahead but we will not have any responsibility for those bodies.

This Bill could be described as discriminatory and anti-social because there will be specialised services for the heavily populated areas but people living in less densely populated areas will not be provided for. These boards are being set up and their main motivation will be profit. It could happen that in three or four years time many rural areas will be very fortunate if they have a postal delivery once in three weeks. I do not believe any Government or Deputy is prepared to accept a situation where there is a class distinction in a postal or telecommunications service which gives a better service to a person living in a city with a population of one million than to a person living in a less densely populated area.

I believe the present system with one Department controlling the postal and telecommunications service is adequate to meet the needs of the people in the years ahead, provided sufficient capital is provided to develop and modernise the service. Rather than having two boards we should have one body responsible for the development of the services. There are nearly 30,000 people involved in providing these services and they should know in which direction the Department are going. They also have the right to promotion within the Department and to other Departments, but these matters are not being clarified by the Minister.

Last night I appealed to the Minister to resolve these matters first with the unions and with everyone concerned. When people are happy with the development and when an effort is made to ensure industrial peace in this sector, I believe it is only then we can proceed with any developments. Without industrial peace and without a unified approach by all concerned, as well as a major input by the workers, the Bill will fail. If the goodwill of the workers is not obtained, our ideas, promises and intentions will not be fulfilled despite any efforts the Minister may make. As a member of a party which opposed this Bill vigorously on Second Stage, I ask the Minister to consider what I said about finalising consultations with the trade unions and thus give the Bill every prospect of success.

Every Member of this House who has had the experience of difficulties in his own constituency, particularly with regard to the telephone service and the worsening state of the postal service, will agree there is need for change and reform in these areas. I hope the changes that have been proposed by the Minister this morning will bring us forward and not backwards and will not leave the public in an even worse situation, if that is possible.

I accept there is need for change in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, but that change must come about after due consideration by elected Members of this House and after due consultation with all concerned. It is important that whatever change is made there should be some provision regarding accountability to the elected Members who are providing the funds and facilities for the boards.

At the moment the problem is that nobody knows what is happening in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. It is doubtful whether that Department, with 30,000 employees, are really accountable to the House and the Minister. I do not think the Minister knows fully what is going on in the Department or that this House fully appreciates what is happening because of the quagmire of bureaucracy the Department are in at the moment. There is no doubt that reform is needed in some way. I ask the Minister to ensure that in the proposals finally agreed there must be accountability if these bodies are to continue as public bodies and to be funded with public moneys.

It is important that the right steps be taken now. The people involved live in our constituencies and they have to be considered, but we must also take the right measures because of good industrial democracy and practice. It is essential that proper consultation take place with the people concerned but that has not happened to date. There is much worry and unnecessary concern at the moment in the trade unions and among members because of security of jobs. These people are worried about their livelihood. We must ensure that measures are not railroaded through the House and that the people involved are consulted fully. We are living in an era of industrial democracy. The 30,000 people in the Department and their families will have to be considered. The workers must be consulted and must be given an opportunity to have an input in the changes that are due to take place. It is difficult to imagine how bad our telephone service is, but even more alarming is the postal service. For many years that service has been accurate and reliable, but it has started to decline. While it is still a good service it is not as sharp as it has been in the past. Many letters are delivered in a tattered and torn state and there is considerable delay in deliveries. There are cases where letters are delivered months after posting and this has happened even to letters addressed to the Minister. The postal service has become less efficient perhaps because of bad industrial relations or bad management. I do not know the reason but I am sure we have started on a bad path. It has not gone so far that we cannot pull the service back to the excellent one it was in the not too distant past.

The telephone service is another kettle of fish. Some major action must be taken in this area. There is a great demand and a total readiness to pay for the service and in any other sector someone would be making a fortune in meeting this need. I have been criticised by the press and by the Minister for putting down questions in this House about the telephone service. The Minister has said it is not important and that we should not take up parliamentary time in dealing with the matter. I make no apologies for putting down those questions. When my constituents apply for a service they cannot get a reply from the Department. If they wrote to any private body at least they would get the courtesy of a reply and they would be told the position but that is not the case with the Department. People are ignored or are fobbed off with a standard reply, sometimes months after they have paid their deposit. The whole question of the funding of the Department needs to be examined. The Minister has a petition signed by nearly 1,000 people in my constituency looking for telephones and this can be repeated throughout the country. Millions of pounds are waiting to be picked up from people who want a telephone service but there is nothing from the Department except promises. People are told an exchange cannot be built this year and that a mobile exchange will be provided or they are fobbed off with promises of a connection in six months' time. However, the promises are never met. The Department offer all kinds of excuses, including the excuse that their time is taken up replying to letters from public representatives. That is nonsense. There are 30,000 people in the Department and I do not know why they cannot provide a service without all this moaning and groaning by the Minister.

I hope the situation will change. If a person applies for a service, particularly to a board who have the exclusive right to supply it, that public body must have total responsibility in providing that service. Otherwise we should get into a position of competition with private enterprise. If we are not prepared to do that we should give the new boards the power to give our people the service they are entitled to and prepared to pay for. In many cases seriously ill people who have sent in detailed medical evidence in support of their application for a telephone have not been able to get one. In one case the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs said that because of the urgency of the situation he would provide the service by last September, but the young girl who was seriously ill then has since died. The telephone was never provided. This is another element of accountability. The information given to the House is only as good as the word of the Minister and I suppose his word is only as good as the information he has been given. We have accepted low standards here and it is time we put everybody on notice that all people have entitlements, unions, workers, the public and public representatives. There are certain standards beyond which the House will not tolerate.

I should now like to deal with those who under legislation introduced by the Minister for Social Welfare, and passed here, are entitled to free telephone rental. That legislation is not worth a curse to those people. We can pass legislation to the effect that we will give free telephone rentals to elderly people who are living alone, a wonderful idea, and it does not cost the State anything. Why? Because the Department of Posts and Telegraphs will not supply the service. That is outrageous. We have passed legislation giving that service to elderly people but the Department are not providing it. It is against that background that people are talking about the private enterprise approach. We must be honest with workers and others that the level of performance in the Department is not satisfactory. I accept that none of us is hperfect and we all want to see proper consultation before any changes take place.

Representations were made to me in recent days that in a sizeable area of the Liberties there is not one telephone kiosk in working order but yet in areas where people do not want telephone boxes and want them removed they cannot get that work done. There is no response from this publicly funded body to the public needs, wishes or desires. I do not think that sort of situation should be allowed to continue. As long as the proper channels are gone through, jobs are protected and people have the proper opportunities and entitlements, I do not give two damns who runs the telephone service. It is time people got the service they are paying for. It would be preferable to see that done by the Department or a State body which would come about after proper consultation. But we have to set our objectives to meet public demand and not be foisting on the public something they do not want or need. The public certainly do not need broken telephone boxes.

In introducing the legislation I wonder if the Minister has given any consideration to new forms of communication. We have had a proliferation in the city of CBs and pirate radio stations. There are other forms of communication and if we cannot supply people with telephones have we looked at the possibility of using those methods? Will the new board be going after a communications system which is out-moded? Should we not be saying to ourselves: we are starting from scratch and the situation is so bad that our long term objective should be what we will need in ten or 20 years' time? We should ask ourselves if in the future we will need telegraph poles, cable and other systems that do not work any time it rains heavily? We have a golden opportunity now to look at the bad communications system we have and plan the major changes we should make to make the system so modern that we will at least be on a par with other countries, if not ahead of them. I have not heard much ministerial or departmental innovative thinking in this area and that is regrettable. The Minister for Posts and Telegraphs is a bit of a laugh and people ask why we should have such an appointment. We have a Minister for Posts and Telegraphs and he is in charge of a very important Department but he has never taken his responsibility seriously and that is witnessed by the fact that he is also Minister for Transport. If a Minister for Posts and Telegraphs were to take his responsibilities seriously, there is enormous scope for reform.

To some extent the existing method of charging for telephone services may be contrary to consumer legislation. It is not uncommon for people to get enormous telephone bills covering periods when they were on holidays or when they could not have made any calls. There is no meter system in the home of the user and consumers depend on the good faith and goodwill of the Department to charge them properly. If one gets a bill that is inordinately high it is very difficult to query it with success. It is my view that if that was challenged the whole question of charges would be found to be contrary to consumer legislation. In many cases people are being asked to pay telephone bills and the figure may only be a shot in the dark because of the disastrous system that operates. That system does not allow consumers to meter the number of calls they make.

I appeal to the Minister to consult with the people concerned and to go through the proper channels of consultation. Having done that, and on the basis of what is believed to be right and wrong and having taken into consideration the views of the people concerned, he should put the legislation before the House. I do not believe proper consultations have taken place. That would seem to be the case when one considers the number of contacts that have been made with public representatives. Before pressing the legislation any further the Minister should consult with those who are worried about their position.

Mr. Treacy

At the outset I should like to make it clear that the opposition by the Labour Party to the Bill is not based on the grounds that we are opposed to progress in this area or on the grounds that we do not want to see a vast improvement in the postal and telecommunications services. We are not Luddites seeking to put the clock back. We realise that there are serious defects primarily in the telephone service which has been and remains a great joke in European circles by reason of the antiquity of the system. We want progress because we realise the intrinsic worth of a good telephone system, not merely for the sake of the people who require the service but for positive economic reasons, the fact that people are loathe to come here and set up enterprises and continue in business because of the lack of a proper telephone system. We have to have regard to the far-reaching implications of this Bill, which rings the death-knell for the Department of Posts and Telegraphs as we knew it since the inception of the State.

The Department of Posts and Telegraphs, comprising some 30,000 people, is about to be abolished under this Bill and substituted by two companies, An Post and Bord Telecom Éireann. Inherent in this proposal, therefore, are the far-ranging repercussions on people at large who have come to recognise the special services we have provided and who expect these services to be continued and improved upon. Most of all, the repercussions will surely be traumatic for the 30,000 employees of the Department, indoor and outdoor staff, night and day telephonists and the engineering section. One can well understand the feelings of anxiety amongst those people and the sense of fear about the radical change involved for them and for the status and security which they enjoyed as civil servants in this Department for so long.

That is why we in the Labour Party admonish the Minister not to move with indecent haste with the implementation of this Bill. He should consult extensively until a consensus is reached between the Department and the unions involved so that the genuine fears of the 30,000 people involved may be allayed. They are concerned about the loss of their status as civil servants and about the inroads which will be made on them by the provisions of this Bill which threaten their jobs and confer on the Minister and the new boards powers to grant licences to private persons to carry out the work heretofore done by employees of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, postmen, postwomen, counter staff, telephonists, artisans, tradesmen and labourers employed in the engineering section of the Department.

The civil service has stood the test of time and is recognised for its fairness and impartiality. It has always been something of an achievement for a young man or woman to become a civil servant. There is a great aura of security attached to it in respect of one's working conditions and especially in sickness and old age when it comes to retirement. These fundamental privileges are undermined in this radical change in the status of civil servants to that of employees of An Post or Bord Telecom Éireann. They have good cause to be concerned when one peruses carefully the various sections of the Bill.

The Bill provides for the transfer of the control and management of postal and telecommunication services from the Minister and the Government to these new State-sponsored companies. It involves the transfer of almost all the staff of this vast Department of State, comprising about 30,000 people, representing nearly half of the civil service. It is a radical, far-reaching proposal and, if not done with caution and with the utmost consultation, can rebound upon us and create chaos. It is not good enough to say that there have been consultations with the unions concerned. It is acknowledged that there have been consultations but it is also true to say that there has been no worthwhile agreement, and no agreement at all, in respect of one of the largest unions involved. Some of these unions are diametrically opposed to these radical changes and unless changes are made in this Bill we are likely to have conflict. We in the Labour Party seek to avoid this.

Already, it has been intimated to me that some personnel in the Minister's Department will not accept this change and are prepared to opt out rather than work under these proposed boards. Many of them will opt for early retirement. I ask the Minister seriously to consider inserting in this Bill a clause to cover early retirement where this is desired. There is no specific mention of this important facility in this voluminous Bill. At a time of high unemployment it seems necessary and desirable that there should be such a provision in this Bill for those who wish to opt for early retirement. I appeal to the Minister to include a section to cover such people and to make it attractive for them to retire thereby creating more employment opportunities for the many thousands of boys and girls seeking jobs at present with no prospect of securing them. With this movement of some 30,000 people there is an opportunity of finding ways and means to facilitate those who want to retire or who are dissatisfied with the new arrangement. I ask the Minister to make this as attractive as possible in terms of pension entitlement and so on. This will create new opportunities for students who see nothing before them but disillusionment despite their high educational attainments and their leaving certificates. In this situation it behoves us in this House to try to create new employment opportunities from a reshuffle of this magnitude.

On the other hand, as one peruses the various sections of the Bill one tends to come to the conclusion that the whole operation — the Minister shedding his responsibilities and abolishing his Department in setting up these two new State companies — is for the purpose of achieving efficiency, one would hope, but economy also. We know what economy means in this situation — the loss of more jobs. It means that the work which many thousands of people performed in the past is now coming seriously into question in this Bill and all kinds of inroads are being made upon it. Private enterprise is being invited to participate to an extent yet unknown in the future operation of the postal and telecommunication services. The Minister has power to grant licences. Clearly, there is here the possibility of political pressure being exerted to grant more and more licences thereby eroding the prospects of security for existing employees of the Department as we know it.

I do not propose to go through the various sections of the Bill as we shall have an opportunity of dealing with them in greater detail on the Committee Stage but there are a few comments I want to make on certain sections.

The counter-service section of the Department is widely availed of by almost all our people and is of tremendous value to recipients of various social welfare pensions, old age pensions, widow's pensions, children's allowances, invalidity pensions and so on. I hope that service will continue and expand. I have often thought and said in my past speeches in this House on the Department that where application forms are available for various social welfare benefits it would be a great facility if people were assisted in completing application forms at the counter especially the aged, the invalided and the handicapped so that instead of merely passing a form over the counter there could be consultation and assistance which indeed would take some of the workload off public representatives. I appeal to the Minister not to restrict the facilities being provided at present in post offices, but there seems to be restriction where it states that it is intended to provide counter services for the company's own and Government business, subject to the consent of the Minister.

It is suggested that we should have a banking system in the post offices and I welcome that but in looking at the section providing for such a facility I see that it is purely a matter of "may"— the board "may" or the Minister "may". I should prefer to have the word "may" deleted and the word "shall" inserted instead. Would the Minister say if there is a serious intention on his part to provide such banking facilities? Is this a serious section and is it seriously intended to implement the section and if so, when? There are many other facilities which the counter section of the Post Office could provide and are providing in other countries which I think should also be seriously considered here.

The funding for the establishment of these two boards is considered to be totally inadequate and not sufficient to allow for any appreciable progress to be made in the provision of the numbers of telephones that are required so urgently. Neither will the amounts concerned be sufficient to provide for other areas of activity. Increasing quantities of equipment are required. It is appalling to hear of the inordinate delays in the provision of telephone service because of lack of stocks, because of lack of trifling pieces of cable. The amount of red tape involved in securing such small items is mind boggling. Therefore, we should be greatly enhancing the moneys in this area. A sum of £500 million for the financing of capital works should be increased substantially in the three-year period in question if we are to make the great breakthrough that we all desire in the field of telecommunications. Many of the buildings are run down and there is a need for more new buildings. The analysis we have made of the moneys being made available indicate that they are inadequate and that is why we are calling for a fresh look at the situation in so far as funding is concerned. We observe that there is a big disparity between the capital sums available to the postal company and to the telecommunications company. While the postal company are to receive some £8,500,000, the telecommunications company are to receive an amount not exceeding £130 million. We should like some explanation as to this variation. Is one service to be accelerated out of all proportion to the other? Is one service to be allowed run down? We must have a fair proportion in respect of the operation of both boards.

I have been asked to bring to the notice of the Minister the fundamental issue of worker participation in these boards. The people concerned will be known as employee directors but it appears that they will not be appointed until 12 months after the vesting. That appears to be an extraordinary decision because while the most important decisions regarding the future of the boards are being taken the workers will not have an input. In other words they will have no say in the formulation of the companies. Consequently, I strongly urge the Minister to bring forward the date of election of the directors and in particular the employee directors. It is considered appropriate also that the Minister should not have the power to either hire or fire the directors involved.

On a point of information, it is not in the Bill, that there must be a delay of 12 months before the appointment of the worker directors.

Mr. Treacy

May we take it, then, that these elections will take place soon after the passage of the Bill?

The possibility is there for the elections to take place within a week of the passage of the Bill, that is, if the arrangements can be made within that time.

Mr. Treacy

I am grateful for that clarification and I take it, therefore, that there will be no question of a 12-month delay after the vesting and that the elections will take place as soon as possible after the legislation has been enacted.

It must be understood that these worker directors will be elected by the rank and file of their respective trade unions, that they will have a clear mandate to speak on behalf of their fellow trade unionists. If any Minister should have the temerity to dismiss one of these worker directors at any time, there would be bound to be serious repercussions since these people will not be acting as individuals but as spokesmen for large numbers of workers in the companies. Consequently their views will have to be listened to with respect and will have to be acted on where appropriate.

I mentioned earlier the concern of the employees in relation to the loss of status, in relation to changing from being a civil servant to being an employee of one or other of these boards. Naturally, these people are concerned about pension rights, gratuities, allowances and so on. I appeal to the Minister to ensure that there is the maximum consultation and agreement between the unions on all these matters so that in so far as possible the fears that have been expressed will be allayed. There must be an input from the unions into such questions as the formulation of superannuation schemes. The conditions applying to the workers in the new boards must not be less in any sense than those under which they are working in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. Due regard must be had to the promotional opportunities that would have been open to these people had the change-over not been made. Every employee of the post office and engineering sides of the Department knows what the procedures are in respect of promotion, salary scales, pension rights and so on but all of that procedure will have disappeared on the enactment of this Bill. This, perhaps, is their greatest fear. Unless we renegotiate and reconsider that, all the security will be damaged and the inherent fear of the employees concerning their future prospects will be intensified. Added to that are the inroads that can be made in respect of the security of their employment by reason of the granting of licences and the prospects of their jobs being taken over by others. It is a new situation altogether and must be treated with the utmost care.

There must be no attempt at indecent haste in rushing this Bill through the House lest it boomerang against all of us. The Minister knows already that the section which enables the company and himself to grant licences will doubtless mean an extension of the courier service. My colleagues on these Labour benches have adverted to the real danger that if the courier service is to be acted upon and operated on a wide basis it can be done successfully only in the main cities and urban areas. Here, therefore, we will have the creaming off of the service, and a genuine fear exists of a worsening of the postal service in rural Ireland especially in isolated areas. Indeed, the primary purpose of the establishment of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs was to provide a postal service for all the people irrespective of where they lived, and it is deeply disturbing and astonishing for us in this House to observe a stipulation in this Bill that a cardinal, fundamental function of a postal service, delivery to the door, the house or the office, is no longer guaranteed in this Bill. Section 62 stipulates in regard to An Post:

The company shall not be required to deliver a postal packet to the addressee's residence or office, provided the company makes acceptable alternative arrangements to make it available to the addressee.

It is there:

The company shall not be required to deliver a postal package to the addressee's residence or office,...

This is undermining the whole concept of the postal service since the days of Charles Bianconi. Here is the great let-out. What is to be the alternative? What are the acceptable alternative arrangements that the Minister or new boards have in mind? The people are entitled to be told what the alternatives are. The people must recognise in this Bill that the fact that their friends and relations pay the appropriate poundage on a letter of importance addressed to them does not mean now that the letter must be delivered by the new company. The company are not required to deliver that postal packet. They will find someone else perhaps to deliver it. How will it be delivered, when and by whom? The whole concept of the postal service is destroyed in this Bill and it is open to abuse and exploitation of every kind. God help the people in rural Ireland if this Bill is passed unaltered. What chance have they of getting their post delivered in the mountainous regions, in the distant towns, or indeed in the high-rise flats? Wherever delivery is inconvenient, here is a let-out. Whenever it becomes uneconomic to deliver a letter or postal packet, here is a let-out. As I have quoted already:

The company shall not be required to deliver...

This is the most damnable aspect of this Bill. We have always been led to believe and understand that once we appended the appropriate poundage to a letter by way of a stamp that was a guarantee that that letter would be delivered to the addressee. That guarantee is gone. This is the negation of what a postal service stands for. We need some reassurance in this area. Licensing, courier services and so on, perhaps are new ideas that we must get used to, but our people are not yet ready for a worsening of the service to which they have been accustomed. We, as rural Deputies in this House, have a right to insist that the service they have been used to shall continue and will not worsen.

Does the Minister contemplate that the issue of television licences and the follow-up in respect of non-payment of licences is to be taken away from the Post Office employees at local level who have been carrying out that work in recent years? There is concern about the withdrawal of this work from the people who have been carrying it out and the possibility of it being operated from a central base perhaps here in Dublin. If there is a serious intention to centralise the operation of the issue and collection of licence moneys here in Dublin that seems to us to be most unwise and uneconomic and much of the value of the licence fee will have been eroded in the cost involved in collection from such a centralised base. Perhaps the Minister will allay the fears of a section of people, small though it be, in this regard.

I have observed that the boards shall have exclusive privilege in the telecommunications area generally. Here I want to make a comment about the desire of many people for multi-channel television. People in rural Ireland are no longer prepared to be treated as second class citizens in the matter of television viewing. They feel, rightly, that they are entitled to the same service as is enjoyed by people in this city and so many other cities and large sections of the community who have access to a variety of television channels. I urge the Minister to recognise the democratic right of these people and their overall desire for this facility and not do anything to stultify them in their genuine desire for cable television where such is available. People in Clonmel have for years agitated——

It is coming up.

Mr. Treacy

Lovely, Minister. I have been at the forefront of that. I remember the first occasion on which I put down a question calling for an extension of multi-channel television and there were frowns all around. It has now become common place. We have been seeking the facility in Clonmel of cable TV for years. The corporation, of which I am senior alderman, were unanimous in their desire for this. The public at large were clamouring for it. I and the Minister know that it has now reached a final stage. A competition was held to find the successful person to implement this great facility. I am grateful for the Minister's nod to me that it is progressing satisfactorily, but I wonder if the outcome of the competition is known yet, who the successful person is and when the work will commence. There is much anxiety among the people to see the work commence and any information the Minister has on the matter would be much appreciated.

I thank the Minister's predecessors for assisting fully in the provision of cable television for Clonmel. I am also aware that my neighbours in Cashel town have had meetings demanding such a facility. I urge the Minister and his Department to lend their fullest support to the people of Cashel to enable them to achieve their desire to have cable television. I understand a suitable signal has been found and that it is a feasible proposition. It is dangerous for a public representative to be selective in mentioning areas of this kind. I have always taken the view that the people are entitled to this service and I shall continue my agitation for any of my constituents in South Tipperary and West Waterford who require this facility and shall make apologies to no one. We are no lesser personalities than the citizens of Dublin, Cork, Galway or elsewhere. We are paying the same licence and are entitled to the same facilities.

I make a special plea for telephonists in the changes which will take place with the establishment of these boards. The Minister will be aware that there is great concern in my constituency in respect of the telephonist staff at Clonmel, Tipperary town and other centres about possible redundancy. I would be grateful to the Minister if he would have regard to the fears of telephonists and do all he can to allay their fear. In my opening remarks I said that we are not against change, but change involving a radical measure of this kind should be of a very gradual nature. There must be no indecent haste. With the advent of the automatic telephone system it is understood that the exchanges at Clonmel and Tipperary Town may become redundant with the consequent loss of many jobs. The number of telephonists in Clonmel and Tipperary Town are such that we regard it as an important industry. It is an important social and economic adjunct to our towns and its removal will have an adverse effect on the business community of the towns in question. Everything should be done to provide alternative employment for these people. While we welcome the introduction of automatic telephone services, the genuine anxiety of the men and women involved should be given consideration.

We in the Labour Party are opposing this measure for the reasons we have outlined. We shall be putting down suitable amendments on Committee Stage. If the Minister thinks this Bill will pass in its present form, he has another think coming to him. This Bill may never see the light of day and I trust it shall never emanate from either House of the Oireachtas in its present form.

I, too, have reservations about the proposal before us, but overriding those concerns we should make it clear that there is need for updating and improving the postal and telecommunications services. It is quite clear that for many years there has been a degeneration of the standard of service, both in the quality of service, its responsiveness to the public and its degree of relative waste of public finances. Therefore, this measure affords us an opportunity to face the issues. No one will claim that this is the total answer. I presume the Minister does not either. However, there are many commendable aspects to it. I would not like to discourage any Government or Minister from tackling this huge monolith or any of the other huge corporations we have at present by unduly pessimistic forecasts about the expected failure rate or otherwise of the proposal. The concept of breaking up a corporation of the magnitude of 25,000 or 30,000 people is a good one. It is perfectly clear — and the literature is very extensive on it — that the larger the corporation the less likely it is to be efficient, satisfying to the workers and to the public it is expected to serve. I am a believer that in this, as in many other instances, small is beautiful and that we should do all posssible to increase efficency and improve the working conditions of people by ensuring that there is a satisfactory size to the operation involved.

Before going on to deal with that I should like to make this observation. The real reason this Bill is being introduced is the increasing failure of Governments to be able to bring our present postal and telecommunications services to a standard satisfactory to us all. This inability to act, this kind of mesmerism which has faced us all with the burgeoning growth of the public service — in many respects it is very satisfactory but in many others it is appallingly bad — may cause us to take action such as this for the wrong reasons. I would argue very strongly that the standards we expect are comparable with those in other semi-State bodies or even in areas of the private sector. There should be no inherent reason why the staff in the public service should not be able to reach such standards if given the leadership. The real reason they have not is because the public service for years has had no goal or target. No member of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, no member active in the postal and telecommunications services has any idea whatever of where they are going, what is their work and what is expected of them. They operate within no framework, no parameter of the public service, no goal, no target, no objective of any kind. Nobody can work in that environment.

The overriding rule in the public service is to act in accordance with precedent, on the basis that safety comes first. No initiative is encouraged or rewarded. Too often lack of initiative goes unsanctioned and unreproved. A much more imaginative, flexible, innovative approach to the public service, acting in accordance with a clear comprehensive policy for that area of the public service, devised and laid down by a wise and courageous Government, would mean that we do not have to go into this kind of escape hatch for areas of the public service such as this. Why is it that it is now expected by the public at large, and widely perceived, that if it is anything to do with Government, local authorities or the Office of Public Works it is automatically lazy, less productive than the private sector, wasteful and inefficient? The reason is that it is probably all of those things in part or in whole and that we have allowed that to happen. I want to make it quite clear that I not at all blaming the workers involved. None of the workers involved has the slightest idea of what standards are expected of him or her. Nobody has given them any indication of their target personally, or as a Department, or as a section of a Department.

Therefore, this approach to the postal and telecommunications services may well work, but not unless there is a comprehensive, national communications development policy, one which embraces all of those areas of communications now and for the foreseeable future. That is a very exciting area of technological innovation, one which we have not even begun to face up to in this House or in the country yet — except of course for some enterprising people in the private area who have some idea of what is going on in fields further afield than this and who have readily embraced new technology, using it wisely and sensibly, though there are dangers in that also, as was hinted at yesterday by my colleague, Deputy J. Mitchell.

The challenges of the future may well be met by something like this Bill. I should like the Minister to say whether or not this is something that was conceived as a genuine mechanism for tackling the challenges of the future in this area or as some kind of a device for evading responsibility arising out of the disastrous strike which occurred in this area some years ago — that this is in a sense a way of saying: "Lord, if it be Thy will, let this chalice pass from me"? That is not the kind of approach we should take to what is a most essential and economic need and what is also, as it happens, a financially very viable area.

If the service is given, the public are willing to pay. At present they are expected to pay and the service is not being provided. This basic idea — and I shall not dwell any longer on it — that State bodies by definition are now accepted to be wasteful, less conscious of standards is something we will have to face up to. The growth of the public service, operating outside the framework of any national policy of goals, targets or objectives, short, medium or long term, constitutes an enormous threat — in my view, one of the very major threats facing the future of this country. It will simply be impossible to carry this burgeoning, wasteful system. Not only that, but the workers within that service are being under-used and their resources left untapped.

I happen to believe fervently that there are very many fine public servants involved in the public service who, if given the chance, have something very fine indeed to contribute and that they should not be used as the but of public ridicule or abuse. At the same time they should be able to face up to honest criticism when given. However, the basic failure is not one of public servants but of Governments, Governments who have consistently failed to say to the public service what they expect from them. Nobody can operate in that environment.

The postal and telecommunications area is obviously in need of modernisation and updating. It is quite extraordinary that in an age of micro-technology, of instant communication, in some cases crossing continents, it now takes four and five times longer to have delivered a simple letter than it took some years ago and that, relatively speaking, we are paying a lot more for it. I have been struck very often by pleas from people in the commercial area — whether in business in this country, whether in importing, setting up new businesses, tourism — for telephone services. I shall not go into constituency details but all of us have mounds of correspondence from people who are endeavouring to provide jobs. Basically they say: look, we cannot get a telephone, we cannot get a telex and, according to the Department, we shall not have it for the next two years. I appreciate also that there is no point in expecting this Minister to wave a magic wand, that the kind of capital and infrastructural investment necessary to bring about that kind of service virtually on tap is something that must be planned. In all honesty I do not see in this Bill any great concern about that kind of fundamental investment; it is a restructuring arrangement for the administration of the existing network. That troubles me a little. I would like to see much more commitment to a fundamental appreciation that a quantum leap forward is necessary if we are to have services, as we need them, for jobs, tourism, indeed for the ordinary citizen.

One thing also is clear and it is this: if this proposal is to succeed — and I think in itself it can succeed — it can do so only with goodwill and co-operation all round. There is evidence to show that up to now there has not been the concern with meeting the reasonable requests of staff at this stage in the manner which will guarantee that success. I am not one of those who subscribes to the view that consultation is a process whereby discussions continue until one comes around to the other chap's point of view. At the same time there is at present fairly scant respect shown to the 25,000 to 30,000 workers involved. Their unions have expressed dissatisfaction. Of course unions do that regularly, in some cases without it necessarily being warranted. In this case, however, it is warranted. The Minister will have a major hurdle to overcome if the inexorable slide towards industrial confrontation continues. It is in his hands to defuse that, if it is not already too late. That has to be done.

Indeed in that respect, just to give the House a specific idea of what I am talking about, I should like to give an indication of how this potentially disastrous industrial relations problem has developed. Apparently, despite requests from the unions, I am told that the only figures which were ever published or made available to the workers in the telephone operator grades by the management were buried in a small section of the National Board for Science and Technology's publication in July 1981 on micro-electronics and the implications for Ireland. This showed that the present five-year telephone development plan is expected to reduce the jobs for telephone operators from 5,600 to approximately 1,000.

I do not believe we should artificially sustain areas of the public service or the private sector merely to take the gloss off the unfortunate unemployment figures or somehow to impede progress. If change is necessary and if that means redundancies the Government and all of us have a duty to face up to and say: "That is the way it has to be". If we did not pursue that logic we would presumably be putting children up chimneys to keep them clean. However, it does not mean that we should ignore or neglect the needs of people who are liable to be made redundant in this way or ignore their request for information at this stage in the belief that the less we tell them the better. I have been getting requests from people in this areas for assurances and information.

The loss of about 4,500 jobs is three times the number lost in Ferenka about which there was a national debate. That loss does not cover other grades apart from the actual operators and their supervisors. At a lecture in TCD on Digitalisation of the Telecommunication Network in December 1981 Mr. A. J. Mullen the director of Development, Planning and Personnel confirmed that there was no prospect of absorbing this huge number of telephone operators whose jobs were to go. The growth in lines and subscribers will not offset cutbacks in operators needed. In fact, the improvement in the quality of the automatic service will speed up these cuts. All manual exchanges are eventually to be closed, the old style coin boxes are to be converted to direct dial and the failure of the ISD and STD leading to calls through operators will, hopefully, shortly be eliminated by the drop in network failure. With the target rate of 3 per cent failure per 100 direct dial calls being reached, as we are told, by the middle of next year, the calls which still need an operator should be put through much more quickly obviously, since the operator would have access also to a much improved fully automatic network. It is reasonable to expect that, if we are to ensure that technology applies to this area, there will be job losses. I do not believe that in itself is a disaster provided we deal properly and honestly with the consequences and tell people now rather than have this thing develop secretly and in stealth behind the backs of the people involved.

The number of operators expected to be needed at the end of the present five-year plan will be about 1,500, which is a huge decrease. Mr. Smurfit, the chairman of one of the boards involved, in a letter to the staff involved said at one stage: "I will shortly be sending you more detailed information explaining the potential opportunities for all levels of staff which the new service will offer." That letter has never reached the staff. Mr. Tom Byrne, the proposed chief executive of Bord Telecom was quoted in the official Posts and Telegraphs staff magazine Pagust as saying:

We would like to create a situation where each member of the staff felt fully informed about the board's activities and plans.

Later in the same communication he stated:

The staff have nothing to fear from change.

Mr. Smurfit in his publication to the Post Office staff "The Way Forward in our Telecommunications Services and Your Role in their Future" said:

New skills will be called upon, new jobs created, there will be changing programmes from which you can benefit. There is a great future in communications; these are exciting times for us all.

That is the right heady inspirational note. Unfortunately, however, these indications of goodwill, co-operation and honest dealing with workers have not yet been matched by action.

When Deputy Reynolds was Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, in his note to staff in the Green Paper on Re-organisation of the Postal and Telecommunications services he said:

The Government believe that the change to State-sponsored status will be in the best interests of the staff.

I share this view. That was never spelt out. If the best interests of staff are to be fully met some ground has got to be made up because there is a credibility gap at the present time. I am deeply troubled that an essential courageous attempt to face up to the huge problem involved in the postal and telecommunications services area could very well be left aside or obstructed indefinitely by virtue of possible avoidable delays which will occur inevitably if this issue at the industrial relations level is not dealt with honestly and openly.

I am a firm believer that it is much better to deal honestly and openly with industrial relations problems at their root rather than hoping that the problem will go away if we ignore it or that the weight of numbers in here or the weight of public opinion, as it could in this case, will steamroll people into eventual submission. That rarely works. Even if it did, as a device it is dishonest and dishonourable because it does not deal with people in the manner to which they are entitled.

Mr. Tom Byrne, the proposed chief executive of Bord Telecom in his second annual report said:

Clarification was frequently sought on the options to staff with regard to future areas of employment. Chapter 10 addressed this question and to my mind answered it fully.

However, Chapter 10 of the White Paper, "Implications for the Staff of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs" said:

Many unions and associations made submissions expressing concern about their prospects, loss of status etc.

It went on to say in paragraph 10 (2):

This White Paper does not purport to contain answers to these questions.

One can only conclude that Mr. Byrne or chapter 10 of this report is wrong. Regarding details on options to remain civil servants, return to that status or on permanency of employment, it merely says that all will be the subject of consultation with staff unions and associations. The present Minister, in a message on the publication of the Bill, told the staff:

You and your staff associations will be kept fully advised of further developments.

The staff involved note that this admits a duty to tell each of the staff. Unfortunately, it seems to come from the same management which intend to make a lot of people redundant without informing them that they will do so. There is at this stage very substantial distrust.

That little resume has surely enough straws in the wind, to put it mildly, to give an indication of a very dangerous pattern of probable behaviour, whereby a number of people charged with public responsibility, consistently attempt to reassure staff, apparently facing redundancy, while at the same time withholding the information and not honouring their intended action and genuine consultation. The result of that process is inevitable. Apart from the great distrust which exists, which I deeply regret, of the Minister and Bord Telecom, there will be serious industrial relations troubles unless an immediate change about comes in this particular area of dealing with the staff and their unions.

A more recent example of it occurred in The Irish Times of 29 May last when the staff discovered for the first time plans for the number of jobs for their operator grades, which was presented as an unpublished report, while apparently a spokesman for the Department was quoted as being unaware of any forward projections with figures for the number of operator positions outlined. There is reason to believe that a lot of ground has to be made up in this area. I appeal to the Minister, if he genuinely wants progress in this area, to come clean with the trade unions and the workers so that we can avert the inevitable industrial trouble which may very well put into the shade the strike which caused such hardship some years ago.

There is an obligation on all of us to try to improve our systems, be they of communications or otherwise, and, in that context, I believe there is a role not just for Governments and for vested interests but for the trade unions. I appeal to the trade unions to take an enlightened approach to this and, while solidly defending the rights of their workers, which I believe the Government have not up to date, honoured in the manner I would like to see, there is an obligation on them and an opportunity for them to say "This is an area in which we would like to make some positive contribution. We believe that good postal and telecommunications, and a proper network of telephones, telex, data systems, microtechnology, computers and so forth are all in the interests of the workers of this country, and we would like to make the following contribution —" and they can suggest improvements. It is not adequate for a trade union or a Member of the Opposition simply to stand apart from the situation and criticise the proposed development in a negative and destructive manner. Our obligation and that of the trade union supersede that. This is a role which probably has not yet been fully met by the unions involved. I would like them to be concerned with the issues at the heart of the improvements here and which surely point the way forward to a better and happier industrial development and job situation for people, perhaps not in the telecommunications area alone, but in other areas where economic progress has been inhibited by a very poor standard of service in this respect. That challenge is also with the unions.

We must be very careful indeed when these boards get off the ground that the criteria by which they operate are not merely or exclusively those of the commercial market place. Wherever a State service can be made viable or can offer a service which makes money, it should do so. I do not believe that the State should be the lame duck in this respect and need only be involved with what I may call the social area which nobody else will touch. It has every right to compete, to make money and be viable. It operates by virtue of public funds. As far as I am concerned, that is the same input and investment as the private individual makes to a company. There is no reason for the State to hang back in this respect. There are many areas in the telecommunications sphere which would be very remunerative financially and supportive of other areas which must exist by virtue of social need and which may not be financially attractive. In some cases, these areas may lose large amounts of money, but they must be sustained.

We must resist every attempt to remove services from or diminish them to people in our community, who are weaker, geographically at a disadvantage, or disadvantaged in one way or another and who, if such service were operated purely on criteria of the commercial sphere would not get a service at all. That caveat must be entered into when we move towards a more modern, more efficient it is hoped, and more viable telecommunications area. I would like the Minister to deal with this matter, if possible. It is right that the public should be involved in this Bill. The more public information there is, and the more explanation to the public in simple terms of what is happening, the better.

I mentioned earlier that we are in the age of microtechnology which has its dangers and difficulties. I have long felt that there is need for legislation protecting the availability of data on the private citizen and long been aware of the possibility and the practice of abuse in relation to phone tapping, invasion of privacy and lack of data protection. I was pleased when my colleague raised this issued yesterday about a specific case. However, it would be wrong to construe this was the only issue involved. The issue is much broader than that and involves a growing concern by members of the public that their privacy is being invaded regularly, that the right to privacy is not respected, that the telephone system can be used to abuse that right.

Obviously, the growth and development of microtechnology, which I welcome as a fine development, is something which must be guarded against possible abuses. Other countries have moved in that respect, but here at present we do not meet with the minimum standards required by the European Court of Human Rights as laid down by them in a judgment of 1973 in a case dealing with a German citizen. They clearly said then that the criteria operating in Germany in 1973 were the minimum to accord with the standards of the European Court of Human Rights. Here there are no criteria whatever.

I have explained in former Dáil Questions and in correspondence with successive Ministers the manner in which such abuses are perpetrated with great ease and facility of access by anyone involved, or with access and a little technological knowledge. That is an area with which these boards must be concerned. I note, in passing, that they are, naturally enough, to be given access to all the personal files of the personnel involved, that the Minister intends transferring to the proposed State company the existing files which would obviously deal with problems of staff over the years in a variety of respects, dealing with sick leave, late attendances, records of discipline and so on. However, the issue is bigger than that. It is about the right to privacy of the ordinary citizen. At present, it is true to say that many telephone calls begin with a statement from one person to another saying "Do not talk about it on the phone, I do not trust the telephones". That is a very bad situation.

In Britain, there is a very extensive network of eavesdropping equipment which has been well documented by the media there. Here, too, there is an extensive network which has not been well documented. In normal circumstances, in the United States and most European countries under the Freedom of Information Act it would be possible to get access. Here there is no such Act and there is a paranoia about secrecy, about very trite, minute details going back decades. This binds us all to ignorance.

I tried recently to get some very simple military historical data for a constituent who was interested for a thesis. It was impossible to obtain, even though the data went back 45 years. That is a shame. The right to privacy has been referred to widely in the literature dealing with this area and I will just quote from an article in The Economist of April 2 1977 entitled “The American Press and the Law.”

In 1890 Louis Brandice and Samuel Warren, disturbed by the flood of gossip and prurience in the American press, wrote an article for the Howard Law Review urging the creation of a legal right of privacy. The article had a remarkable impact. Over the years all States have established, by either judicial decision or statute, a right to sue for evasion of privacy. New technological methods of snooping have made privacy an even more cherished value. Brandice was on the Supreme Court in 1928 when it decided that police wire-tapping was not a search subject to constitutional restrictions. In the great dissent he recalled a phrase from his 1890 article "The right to be left alone, the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men."

That happened in the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century. Europe caught up rapidly with that. Britain and Ireland are at the bottom of the league and Britain is ahead of us in that respect. In the democratic world, we have the worst record in relation to legislation on the right of access by the citizen to information and protection of the right to privacy. Neither of these is protected by law. As far as I can judge, phonetapping is not an offence or a crime. Eavesdropping on a phone is not outlawed. In those circumstances, it is quite clear there will be and has been abuse. It is technically possible and many people accept that it occurs. I am not suggesting that there is an extensive network like the Tinkerbell network in Britain. I do not know if there is. I do know that repeated attempts to get information from successive Ministers in this House have failed. The answers have been couched in a manner which is certainly not calculated to reassure those of us concerned with this issue.

I do not believe that in a country like this rights can be eliminated overnight. They are probably nibbled at, diminished monthly by gradual inroads not clearly noticeable to people concerned about these issues. When we are speaking about the postal and telecommunications area we must appreciate that it is an area in which new technology is at its most effective. For example, most people are not aware that mail may now be read or scanned by fibre optic technology without the post being opened. Most people are not aware that it is easy to eavesdrop on telephones and that there is no protection for people in that respect, no right of inquiry or of appeal if comments arising from such eavesdropping are put on public record. People are not even aware of the existence of public records because they are not entitled to see them.

Therefore, we should have specific legislation to deal with the matters I will now refer to. There should be a law to deal with people's right to know: surely, the right to know the truth is a cornerstone of democracy which should be enshrined in the Statute Book. It is not there at present. Reports about citizens are garnered and developed and embelished over the years. Citizens are unaware that such files exist.

There is the right to privacy. The first major exemption from free disclosure of information is that of privacy. Personal information should not be divulged freely or disseminated if it would constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy, and a person should have the right to pursue that issue. There is the right to inspect. This will be very important in the context of this Bill because the unions will want, and they have my support in this, the right to inspect records which might be defamatory of their members about alleged performances. If a person is a malingerer, if he is unable to work in accordance with the standards on which he was employed, it should be noted and dealt with, but that man or woman should know what is being said about him or her by others. Such a person should have access consistent with his right to ensure that the record is accurate. That right is not available at present.

There should be the right to correct: an individual should have the right to correct information about himself if the information is demonstrably incorrect. Such a right does not now exist. At present, in this Department, personnel files are subject to footnotes about staff, added to and commented on by senior staff, going up the line to the Minister's desk, without any right of inspection, correction or comment by the workers, who in many cases are innocent parties in regard to comments which might very well harm them.

People should have the right to enjoy a situation in which only valid information may be disseminated and used by the administration. Here we are dealing with a vast technological area, and the unions make the point that if we are to have a change to these new arrangements it should be a change that will give a fresh start, fresh confidence and fresh trust from the point of view of employer-employee relations. Also there should be rapid action available in the courts to enforce these rights if people are reluctant to grant them.

This debate affords us the opportunity to make these observations about the extremely unsatisfactory position obtaining here. We do not honour even the minimum requirements of the European Court of Human Rights or the recent OECD guidelines on privacy, which are fairly minimal but which are at least a charter for action by Governments in civilised countries. None of those is observed and Deputies on the far side have not been expressing concern about this. On any occasion when this has been pointed out by this side it has been pooh-poohed and we have been discouraged from pursuing it. The Minister has ample opportunity through this Bill to ensure that we can take the step forward that is now necessary to protect the right to privacy of the public in regard to the extremely leaky telephone system that is operated: in some parts of the country it is almost impossible to get anything but a crossed line, if it posible to get service at all.

This opportunity should be taken to restructure the Department not merely in regard to the postal and telecommunications area. There should be a comprehensive communications plan, prepared with an open mind so that there would be an ability to deal with the exciting technological developments which augur very well for people who endure sheer drudgery, which passes for work but is more likely to be toil. We are on the edge of a great new frontier in this respect. Heavy jobs which can be eased by advanced technology will be diminished if not eliminated altogether. I welcome that, per se, but at the same time I appreciate the enormous social challenge involved in absorbing the vast amount of time that will become available to workers. There is a need to retrain workers, to look at job sharing implications and other matters that arise. The more efficient the postal and telecommunications services become the more likely it is that a substantial wastage of workers will arise. I hope the Minister will deal openly and honestly with it. That has not been done to date.

At the end, I will deal with a few points of a minor nature. For instance, people are continuously confronted with problems in relation to their telephone bills. I am not satisfied that people have an opportunity to check their bills. There is no court of appeal: if one writes back to say he does not agree with the bill, the response invariably is, "We have checked it out. I am sorry you owe the money and you will be cut off if the bill is not paid". I have known of cases, and I am sure the Minister will agree, in which individuals have been wronged in that way. I know two elderly people who are billed for a trunk call which they maintain they never made. They were billed for £6 or £7 for it but after representations the Department graciously agreed to let the thing slide. However these people were warned they would be cut off. I assume this occurs regularly.

Therefore, a metering facility should be provided for those who need it, as they have in regard to ESB, gas and other services. Such meters exist but on recent inquiry I found that apparently they are never in stock or are so far behind in stock that their existence is a myth for ordinary people. There does not seem to be any concern in the Department to get telephone meters for people who want them. This is particularly of concern to elderly people or to anyone who, like most of us has to live on a fixed income. I appeal to the Minister openly and honestly to deal with the accountability of the Posts and Telegraphs engineering department in regard to faults. It is almost impossible for a Deputy, not to mind a member of the public, to get a straight answer as to what technically has happened in relation to a fault that has developed. There appears to be a conspiracy of silence; there seems to be a view in certain sections of the Department that the public either are beneath such technical knowledge or are not entitled to it. I should like the Minister to tell us whether technical information is available concerning faults and if not what he will do to make it available.

I ask the Minister to look at the extremely unsightly impact of telegraph poles and wires on the landscape. There may be an easy answer to this. If such communications infrastructures, as it were, could be buried in the ground or borne on existing lamp standards or other standards, this could diminish the number of extremely unsightly perspectives in many parts of the country. I know places in which an appalling motley of poles and standards have to be maintained. Not only are they environmentally unaesthetic but they are costing a fortune.

On Committee Stage I will be referring to sections 39 and 42 in particular which deal with employment and labour questions. Labour is now my brief. I want to give the Minister notice of the difficulty I see. I am sure the unions have made it clear to him. I appeal to him to deal with it now rather than letting it fester and develop to a stage where we cannot enact this legislation because of intransigence on either side. The problem can be defused if people act responsibly now.

It would be wrong for speaker after speaker to appear to castigate areas of the public service without paying tribute to them as well. I was treated with great courtesy by many people in the Department. People went to great lengths above and beyond the call of duty to deal sympathetically with queries and complaints. I should like to to pay tribute to them. The same goes for the engineering section of the Department. On occasions they have had to brave extraordinary conditions and elements. They would probably welcome anything which would make their job more efficient, rewarding and satisfactory. The whole question of job satisfaction arises in Government services.

I want to ask the Minister a question which just came into my head. It will eliminate the need for me to put down a question which will probably not be reached. Recently, unfortunately, the Minister of State has fallen into the very irritating habit of replying to representations about likely telephone installations in a very bland and general way. I raised this matter with his office on three occasions so I am not jumping the gun. I have put down Dáil questions which I will now withdraw because I hope the Minister will answer me when he is replying.

I should like him to try to see the enormous volume of correspondence which I presume he gets from members of the public and from Deputies not as an irritant but as an indication of the need for proper information systems in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs and, indeed, in other Government Departments. Would that we did not have to write these infernal letters. They are no more pleasure to write than to receive. If we had rapid access to information and good standards of reply there would not be a problem.

Perhaps the new boards will deal with that. Mr. Quinn and Mr. Smurfit are outstanding examples of how to achieve commercial and entrepreneurial success. They have given fine employment. We owe them a debt of gratitude for taking on this very thankless job. I hope it will not become a two-headed monster. I am sure they have given amply of their time to try to devise a modern and progressive postal and telecommunications service which will meet the challenge of the next two or three decades. If this is done it will be a cornerstone in tackling our economic problems. I have seen new industrial clusters in remote parts of the country without a telephone line available to them. That is a contradication in terms and shows we are not getting our priorities right.

I wish the Bill success. The principle of the Bill is good. The breaking up of big corporations is a good thing and should be followed up. The Bill is not likely to succeed unless there is a radical review of the way in which the industrial relations aspect has been handled to date. The Minister will give that priority if he believes we should proceed in this way.

I tried to listen as carefully as I could to the contributions to this debate. To me it has been a far-reaching, rewarding and unexpectedly revealing exercise. I hope the Minister and the Minister of State have listened carefully to the debate. The Minister walked a minefield as Minister for Education. He showed himself to be a shrewd, skilful and adroit performer, and a good tightrope walker as Minister for Education. Clearly he will need all his talents and skills to steer this Bill through the House in its present form.

The Minister may not heed my advice to him on this Bill, but it would be a foolish Minister who would ignore the feelings of workers and trade unionists in his Department. We live in a changing world and, therefore, public institutions and structures in our society must keep pace with those changes. Change does not always come easily or painlessly to us. I marvel at how some changes have been achieved in other countries relatively easily and smoothly. I refer to some of the Scandinavian countries and countries on the Continent where technological changes have come about relatively painlessly and smoothly compared with the difficulties we have in our own society, and the dislocation when change is attempted.

Having been involved in trade union negotiations for 22 years I have some understanding of and sympathy for the Minister in his role in this area. Perhaps because of our history and the legacy of insecurity and unemployment here, change is difficult for us to achieve. When it comes in our society, it often comes in a sluggish and begrudging manner. I concede that there is a great need for change in many aspects of our society today. In the words of the cliche, there is a need to bell a number of cats. There is a marked reluctance to carry out the work of belling those cats. For better or for worse, the Minister has been charged with piloting this Bill through the House and belling the cats.

All Members of the House will agree that if we are to compete in the world we need an efficient and modern telecommunications system. All Members will agree that there are many flaws and inefficiencies in our present system. Surveys, studies and investigations have been carried out in the Minister's Department in the past, some by foreign firms such as firms from Sweden and other countries. While it is very difficult to classify all these surveys under a few headings, it is true to say that these studies generally have found that our workers in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs are as good as workers in other countries. What was found lacking was leadership and good management at the top, and the finances and equipment necessary to carry out the work involved in telecommunications.

We can learn much from other countries if we look at how they coped with the problems. When Conor Cruise-O'Brien was Minister for Posts and Telegraphs he identified the lack of finance correctly as the major factor responsible for hindering the development of an efficient telecommunications system. Conor Cruise-O'Brien also favoured the introduction of BBC television throughout the country. I supported him in that decision. There was a campaign carried out against the introduction of multi-channel television. Unfortunately that campaign was successful. I opposed that campaign as being selective and restrictive. It is in the interest of democracy that multi-channel television should be widely available throughout the whole country. Let us hope the commitment given by the present Minister, Deputy Wilson, will be carried out as quickly as possible.

When Deputy Albert Reynolds was Minister for Posts and Telegraphs he appeared to concentrate on the need for more telephones but unfortunately when he eventually went on to greener pastures our telephone system was left very much as he found it with delays and constant frustrations all round. We heard a great deal in the House yesterday about our telephone system and especially about vandalism to telephones throughout the country. This vandalism is being carried out to a frightening degree. But it is unfair to place the blame and the cost entirely on the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. Vandalism is a sympton of our society as a whole. It is difficult to tackle but we should enlist the aid of our schools, of television and radio to reduce the waste that vandalism is causing in our society. There must be positive emphasis on this work as a means of saving money and creating a better and more civilised society.

We heard in the House yesterday about telephone tapping in Leinster House. Disclosures were made by Deputy Mitchell. Who authorised this telephone tapping? Who monitored the telephone conversations that were tapped? What has happened to the tapes of these conversations? There must be full investigation of this matter and the report of this investigation must be made available as soon as possible to all Members of this House. Big Brother is obviously alive and well and living and listening in this House. Surveillance is not too far away from intimidation and blackmail. The number of telephones tapped should be made available to all Deputies in this House. No telephone should be tapped unless for the greatest and gravest security reasons. Telephone tapping is an erosion of democracy in our society and any extension of such must be opposed strenuously by all who love and believe in liberty and democracy.

We also heard a lot about the implications of the Minister's Bill. It was said that profitable work would be hived off to private interests. I agree with this. A good deal of work is being contracted out to private interests and not only in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. I wonder if the Minister has quantified the amount of money involved here. Has the Minister investigated how this work could be carried out by his own Department? I am satisfied that there is a considerable amount of waste here. Many of the workers and trade unions in the Minister's Department are worried about this Bill. They are worried about the security of their employment, their pension rights and conditions of employment. Indeed they are worried about the very employment itself. In the face of automation, in the face of high technology, Posts and Telegraphs workers have reason to be worried about their future.

There have been consultations between the Minister and the workers but these consultations have not been adequate. That is the important point to stress. We have heard that consultations have gone on but we have not been told about the content of those consultations. If consultations are to be meaningful there must be give and take and cut and thrust. That has not happened. These consultations have not been conclusive and they have not been finalised in the interests of the workers and to their satisfaction and also to the satisfaction of their unions. We pay lip service to the concept of industrial democracy at national and at local level. But let us do something about that concept even now during the course of this Bill. We are dealing with the human factor; we are dealing with the worries, fears and lives of workers in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. It should not be impossible for us to reconcile the interests of the workers with the need for a good, efficient telecommunications service.

Above all, the Minister must endeavour to identify national priorities at a time of financial recession. The Department should husband their resources in the very best interests of our people. It is important that the Minister should have central planning in his Department to carry out the priorities, to use the resources available to him in the best and most efficient manner. That is the greatest priority right now. As it is the Minister is on a collision course. This debate has done much to identify problems and objectives in the Minister's Department and I am sure the workers and their unions will have learned a great deal from this debate. The Minister is something of a student of languages and he will probably be familiar with the Irish quotation "mol an óige and tiocfaidh sí", "praise youth and it will respond".

In this context the Minister must endeavour to win the support and confidence of the workers because to go against them at this juncture would be a foolish and unwise move. I am not here to tell the Minister how to do his job but I hope we have all benefited from this debate, including the Minister. Surely it is not too late for all parties to bury their differences and come together in a civilised way in the interests of telecommunications, in the interests of our people, in the interests of the whole future and survival of our society. This joint approach is the best and only way forward for us all and for the Minister. I counsel the Minister to take this approach rather than continue on this collision course.

I cautiously welcome the Bill. The telecommunications section of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs needs to be re-examined, redesigned and restructured to meet modern needs. I accept at this stage that the semi-State concept has gained so much momentum throughout the structures of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs that there is no way it can be stopped at this time. Therefore we have to accept it. My personal experience is that very few people in the Department are enthusiastic about it. There is a need for something to be done but I am not too sure if the present concept of a semi-State idea is the one that will eventually come through.

My greatest fear at the moment is the lack of enthusiasm on the part of the workers. In the recent past the unions have not been happy about the way the Bill was introduced. They have accused the Minister of undue and indecent haste. The Bill will have to be delayed until such time as there is full and complete consultations and discussion with all the unions concerned. Staff relations in the Department are so diabolically bad that one of the great fears I had as Minister of State was of trying to do anything without consulting all the different unions concerned. I recognise the interests of the union leaders in protecting the rights of their members. It is their job to exercise their rights and fight on behalf of their members. Nevertheless, it was difficult for anyone in the Minister's office to do anything without continually looking over his shoulder.

One must ask who is responsible for this? Is it the civil servants who operate the Department? Is it the unions who run the services or is it the ministerial or governmental interests? I do not know, but I am alarmed by the number of statements made by unions since the introduction of this Bill. I will give a few headlines from the papers: "Benefits Lost Worry Postal Workers", "Union Threat to Postal Bill", "Strike Threat by Post Office Union over Parity", "Union Oppose P+T Breakoff", "Civil Servants Demand Guarantees on Transfer", "Not Enough Information on Communications Plan", "Post Office Workers' Bill Fear", "Post Office Workers will Fight to Keep Status". "Workers Bitter About Department's Planned Split" and so on. There is ample evidence that the unions will not co-operate with the present approach to the Bill. Therefore we must move forward cautiously and steadily.

I want to put on record that from my experience in the short time I was in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, having broken through the veil between the workers and management and having got through to the workers, I found them reasonable in their approach if one listened to their point of view. Unless we have the goodwill of the unions and all the workers in that Department, we will not resolve the problems in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. It will be an idle and futile exercise to transfer the functions and authority from the present structure to the semi-State bodies.

Successive speakers so far — the absence of Government speakers, with the exception of the Minister, has been very noticeable — did not show any great enthusiasm for this Bill. Deputy Faulkner, a former Minister, and Deputy Fitzpatrick (Dublin South-Central) a former Minister of State spoke about this. Deputy Faulkner while welcoming the Bill, praised the officials of the Department and said the fact that it was proposed to go semi-State was no reflection on them. There is no reflection on those officials. Rather the senior civil servants should be applauded for the service they have given the State, but Deputy Faulkner was blind to the responsibility he and others had as Minister for Posts and Telegraphs.

Since the foundation of the State the structure of that Department has been carried over from the British system. The senior civil servants served the Minister and the Government and they did it loyally, irrespective of which Government were in power. I give credit to Deputy Fitzpatrick for identifying the fact that the Department of Posts and Telegraphs were starved of financial support and Government attention. Over the years they should have been given the same attention as other services in the public sector, but sadly, they were neglected.

Deputy Kelly said yesterday that we were going semi-State because Britain did. The Minister will argue that we must go semi-State but I am not sure. I believe there could have been a loosening up in that Department if there was a willingness on the part of the Minister to do so and if there had been agreement with the unions to rationalise. The objects and target of the new semi-State bodies could be achieved by the Department's officials.

There is an acceptance on the part of the people who will come under the umbrella of telecommunications — engineers, linesmen, and telephone operators — to go semi-State because for the first time the engineering section will be given money to do their job. They will now have job satisfaction, doing what their bosses told the Government was required to give industry an opportunity to compete with the outside world because without proper telecommunications we cannot have a successful industrial programme.

Deputy Kelly said we were going semi-State because the British did so but the Department say other countries are doing the same, but we are not identical to other countries. We are more closely associated with the system operating in Britain. Therefore, the blueprints used by other countries would not necessarily meet the criteria laid down for this country. Apart from the engineering section no one in the Department is enthusiastic about going semi-State, and there is a dampening of that enthusiasm on the part of the postal workers.

It is obvious that the telecom side will be a thriving industry. There is a lot of money in telephones, telex and modern telecommunications. We are living in what can be called a world of fantasy so far as telecommunications are concerned. No one knows from day to day how fast this service is developing. This is an exciting time to be working on the telecommunications side and the workers are more than happy at the decentralisation which will give local managers more authority to deal with their everyday work.

The workers will tell you that all these improvements can be carried out without going semi-State. I believe there is a certain amount of jealousy because the people in control of the semi-State body will be getting all the credit for the work they are doing at present. Apart from the guarded welcome by the telecommunications section, there is no enthusiasm for this change. Therefore we must proceed with extreme caution.

This Bill is well documented and is making a very good approach to finding a solution to our problems, but without the goodwill of the staff and the unions we will not resolve anything. For example, there has been a great deal of discussion about the delay in delivering letters. We might talk about satellite communications and modern telecommunications, making instant contact with any part of the world, but that will not deliver a letter any faster. The people of County Donegal who post a letter on Monday evening which is not delivered until Wednesday or Thursday will not be impressed if we go semi-State unless the service is improved. It does not matter if we push our responsibilities on to a semi-State body if we do not solve our basic difficulties, the service will not be up to the standard required by the people who pay dearly for it.

For example, when telecommunications are being dealt with by a semi-State body, will the telephone faults in Dublin city be remedied? One of the scandals of today is that people are waiting for weeks to have their telephones repaired. Does anyone think that moving from the Department of Posts and Telegraphs to a semi-State board will change that if we do not have the goodwill of the men who do the work? Will there be a change so far as the thousands waiting for telephones are concerned? I cannot see that happening.

I welcome the Bill with guarded caution. I am not quite sure if I am in favour of semi-State involvement because there is so much aggravation at the moment from the unions unless they get what they want. Their conference has instructed the incoming national executive to enter into negotiations with the official side to secure the best possible package for their members and they have listed the following items. The first item is security of tenure; second, safeguards to pay, conditions and superannuation; third, options on early retirement; fourth, the working arrangements; fifth, career and promotional expectations.

We will have to consider the last item very carefully. It will not affect engineers because they have their careers and get promotion, but it will affect members of other unions. I will give an example. Let us take the situation where two boys are recruited through the Civil Service Commission to join the civil service. Both are interviewed on the same day and are taken into the civil service. Through no choice on his part one boy is told he will work for the Department of Posts and Telegraphs and the other is sent to the Department of Finance. One of those boys will not have to worry because he will be in the Department of Finance; but the other boy, who may have been much brighter and who may have been first on the list, is pushed into a semi-State body. He may well consider he has been discriminated against, but I will say more about that later.

The unions also want a transitional period of ten years for promotional progression to general services for staff employed prior to vesting day and they say this should work in both directions. The unions have given good arguments why these points, which they have circulated to me and other Members, should be considered. If I were one of them I would have the same human fears as they have. They state that, while the Minister and the Department have been in discussion with them about their future, there has been no consultation. There is a major difference between having discussions with someone and having consultation with them. I recommend to the Minister that we move forward with caution.

Many speakers in the debate have been citing the semi-State position as that of CIE and the ESB, but I wonder if that is accurate. As I understand it, there could be an alternative. There must be a more flexible form of administration to ensure that senior management will be in a better position to react more quickly to the needs of people. Therefore, the present structures must be changed. As I see it, we have stage one, namely, a Government Department; then we have State corporations such as CIE and the ESB; then we have semi-State bodies.

Semi-State bodies as envisaged in this Bill are a slightly different matter. It is further away from a Government Department than CIE or the ESB. There has been much aggravation on the part of the unions but it is not simply because they are against the concept of semi-State involvement. Most people in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, whether on the postal or the telecommunication side, want to serve the public. Many of them will talk in glowing terms of the kind of relationship that existed in the Department when they were recruited. They had pride in their work and they showed loyalty and honour to their duties. That was probably more prominent in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs than in any other Department. Most of them will admit that since the long drawn-out strike this sense of loyalty has been sadly lacking. Until we get back to that point again, this aggravation which is beginning to show its head again will not go away. There was one proposal that, as an interim measure, we could look at an executive structure somewhere between the concept of semi-State and the present position that could obtain the same objective but which would not be as great a threat to the workers as the present proposal seems to be. Perhaps we may have to retreat to that position.

Our party will not oppose the Bill on Second Stage. However, on Committee Stage we will put down a number of amendments and on that Stage we must deal with all points in detail. I ask the Minister not only to give full attention to the unions concerned but also to take the Opposition parties into his confidence.

It might not be a bad thing for democracy if, instead of meeting each other head on with horns locked on Committee Stage, we could have informal discussions with each other, because at the end of the day we are all working in the interests of the general public. We are also in the public service and we must recognise that we serve the public. The vested interests of any political party must be set aside because there are so many livelihoods involved. No one has ever told me exactly how many people work in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. The figure varies from 28,000 to 32,000, so I will take a mean average of 30,000. In addition, they have wives and families affected by this. We must be very careful when dealing with people's livelihoods. Some people will be made redundant. The whole concept of rationalisation is that we are overmanned and that people must be laid off. If they are to be laid off it should be done with dignity and they should not be thrown on the scrap heap because they are no longer wanted.

Deputy Cooney or I would be willing to meet the Minister, his Minister of State and other Department officials and talk at great length about our attitudes to this Bill. I have already given an undertaking to all the unions concerned that I will make myself freely available over the summer months to discuss in detail any reasonable proposal put forward by them. It is of paramount importance that the goodwill of everyone working in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs is obtained, because if one union cries halt it does not matter how long we debate the matter here or whether the vesting day will be 1 October, 1 January or 1 April — it is only of paper value if we do not get the goodwill of the workers.

We know that the industrial relations which have existed in the last four or five years in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs have been so appalling that it has left us without a telephone or postal service for months. In those days the workers in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs were blamed for those disputes. I was one of the people who blamed them — my gut reaction was that they were at fault. Having spent seven months in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, I wonder whether my criticism of the stand taken by the Post Office unions was fair, because I came across disputes in the Department which no one wanted to solve. The officials dealing with them considered that they were right and that they could speak with expertise about how the job should be done. There is no point in a boss telling workers how a job should be done if the workers consider there is a better way of doing it. Very often people who work on the ground and who do not have the same qualifications or broad vocabulary to express themselves nevertheless have the experience of getting the job done. For example, at present there is a dispute in the Sheriff Street sorting office which has gone on for the past four years because the Department proposed to mechanise the sorting of parcels in that office. The workers opposed the installation of machinery. There was stalemate until I became involved in the arguments about who was right and wrong. I discovered when I met the workers that they were not the bad boys I had understood them to be. I told them so, because I had held them in such contempt privately. I had thought they were acting in a dog in the manger fashion. However, when you examine the various proposals to overcome disputes the people who do the job must have some reason for criticising the Department, otherwise they would not be in dispute. They would not be leaders of trade unions if they did not express reasonably the views of the members whom they represent. I admit some are rough diamonds, but not all, and even the rough diamonds have a human side to their personalities.

There is a premises in Preston Street, about 150 yards away from Sheriff Street, which is idle and which could have been used. The workers were prepared to do this and vacate Sheriff Street for a period to allow the Department to install machinery so that parcel post could be sorted mechanically. This was not acceptable to some officials in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. On inspection of the Preston Street premises I found there was more room there than was actually needed. When we talk about the goodwill of workers and despise union leaders for obstructing the running of a Department of State, we should ask ourselves if we are blaming the right people. I am not putting all the blame on the side of the Department officials; I am merely saying that all of the wrongs which were laid at the doors of the unions does not reflect the true position. Unless we achieve a situation by the passing of this Bill which will have the agreement of everyone — van drivers, whose vehicles are an absolute disgrace, postmen, sorters, telephonists and people who man post offices — it does not really matter whether we go semi-State or remain a Government Department because it will not achieve the objective of providing a better telephone and postal service. It will not meet the many modern threats on the postal sides. Unless leadership is given and there is goodwill all round and co-operation from everyone concerned, this debate is futile, irrelevant and unimportant.

That is why I am speaking directly to the Minister. He will have the full co-operation of the Fine Gael Party in either discussing it privately or in Dáil Éireann. I suggest we should have private consultations with the Minister because we are all in this together. If there had not been a general election earlier in the year our roles would be reversed. Perhaps we would have avoided the mistakes which the Minister appears to have made. I am not saying he did this deliberately, but if you take one wrong step you are in trouble with the unions.

Debate adjourned.
Business suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.