Private Members' Business. - Independent Local Broadcasting Authority Bill, 1983: Second Stage (Resumed).

The following motion was issued by Deputy Leyden on Wednesday, 8 June 1983:
That the Bill be now read a Second Time.
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:—
"Dáil Éireann declines to give a second reading to the Bill:
(a) because the Bill as presented is concerned only with the establishment of local broadcasting stations on commercial principles and does not make adequate provision for community oriented services, and
(b) because it is the Government's intention to proceed at an early date with legislation for the orderly development of local community radio services."
—(Minister of State at the Department of Posts and Telegraphs).

Deputy Liam Fitzgerald is in possession and he has ten minutes.

Maidir leis an mBille seo ní mhian liom ach cúpla pointe sa bhréis a chur in iúl don Aire Stáit. Is mór díomá atá orm nach bhfuil sé i láthair anseo anocht. B'fhéidir go bhfuil faitíos air go rabhamar ar an dtaobh seo den Teach ag iarraidh an scéal ceart a chur in iúl dó an tseachtain seo chaite. Ach ar aon nós, ba mhian liom a chur in iúl dó pointí a léiríonn go deimhin nach dtuigeann an Rialtas, nach dtuigeann an tAire Stáit, fiú amháin, na thimpeallachtaí a bhaineann le craolacháin áitiúil neamhspleách agus nach bhfuil go leor suime ina measc iarracht práinneach a dhéanamh iad a thuiscint. Ach ba mhian liom i dtosach báire dealáil arís ar feadh nóiméad leis an gcaoi ina raibh an Rialtas ag iarraidh cic sa tóin, mar a déarfá, a thabhairt do na craolacháin áitiúla le déanaí. Chuirim fáilte leis an Aire atá tar éis teacht isteach agus beimid ag súil le freagraí nach raibh le fáil ón Aire Stáit nuair a labhair sé i gcoinne na Bille seo seachtain ó shin.

I welcome the presence of the Minister for this debate and I look forward to getting information from him which was not forthcoming from his Minister of State last week when we addressed questions about this Bill to him.

My final note last week was to try to tease out the implications of recent Government action, abortive and shortlived though it may have been, to shut down the pirate radio stations. I suggest that that attempt must be viewed more closely in the context of the statement by the Minister of State here last week. The main thrust of his criticism, as addressed to the Bill, related to a facility for commercial interest or involvement. I have read over his statement and analysed it and I am convinced that it was motivated solely on the basis of exposing the Bill as a bad piece of legislation not to be promoted in the House because of what he interpreted to be a slant towards commercial interests.

I hope to illustrate that that is not the case. The degree to which it facilitates an opportunity for commercial interests to apply for or participate in a national network of local radio stations is an element to be commended in the interests of efficiency and the public purse. The Government are currently preoccupied about the latter. People must be asking why the Minister has such an obvious fixation with the commercial venture. It raises a number of questions not least of which relates to the Minister of State's understanding or, perhaps, more correctly, his deliberate misunderstanding of the implications of launching this nationwide network of local radio stations.

In defence of the action taken by his Department against the pirates the Minister of State cited a number of cases of interference with emergency services, security services and radio and television services throughout the country. I would be one of the first to agree with him that if such interference exists action should be taken to eliminate it. The freedom and rights of our people should be preserved and due concern must be shown by the State for the lives of any individual, or group of individuals, that are put at risk. I do not believe any Member on this side of the House would condone interference where it clearly interferes with the public welfare, if it occurred in this instance.

I should like to draw the attention of the Minister of State to an alleged interference by Sunshine Radio with TV reception which prompted a remarkably swift response from RTE in blotting out such interference. About six weeks ago seven householders in the Donaghies area, Dublin 13, which is in my constituency reported to RTE an interference with the TV signal being supplied by RTE Relays. RTE is reported to have stated that this was being caused by Sunshine Radio. One day later I was approached by those householders and asked to make representations on their behalf. I did not have an opportunity to do so because within hours those people contacted me again to inform me that the RTE services division had assured them that they had blotted out such interference and all was well. I did not have an opportunity to pick up a phone to make a complaint before I received the good news which I welcomed. I was delighted to hear that RTE Relays moved so swiftly.

The point I am anxious to make is that if the RTE services division were capable of moving with such promptness and efficiency — I commend them for that — irrespective of the source of the interference it proves that the facility is available to clear the airwaves. I am reliably informed by experts who have long experience in radio transmission that such technology and expertise is readily available and is inexpensive. As recently as last Saturday I was informed that there are small and inexpensive pieces of equipment that can be used to ensure that the airwaves are clear. They are referred to as measures to ensure purity of the airwaves. I am not au fait with the technical parlance that goes with this but I am assured by those who have been working on this over the years that the equipment is readily available. I am suggesting to the Minister that if his actions were motivated in the main in the interests of safety and welfare of the public the departmental technical expertise could just as easily be directed and channelled in that direction.

I must commend RTE Relays because they give the best service to the public in this city and throughout the country. Any friends and relations I have spoken to who are fortunate to avail of the services of RTE Relays hold the same view and that is more than can be said for a lot of other relay services. The Minister of State seemed to have a fixation about the commercial aspect. I cannot see why he should be preoccupied with the element of commercial involvement. RTE have some of the finest presenters and broadcasters in the world and their long experience and training has proved invaluable in projecting a good image for the country internationally. Indeed, it has proved invaluable in maintaining a high standard of broadcasting, something I have appreciated down the years. The people I spoke to since last Wednesday were not apprehensive about the commercial involvement or healthy competition that may arise under the proper legislation. In that regard the Minister's attitude is rather strange.

A more important aspect is that if there is a total lack of commercial involvement or if there is a facility provided whereby any commercial interest, no matter how large or small, is ineligible to apply then I suggest to the Minister that he will be depending entirely on the energies and resources of communities. In such instances I suggest that it would be almost inevitable, arising out of the drain that has been imposed on them in recent times, that the Minister will end up with a series of white elephants being propped up by the State.

In view of the concern this Government have been expressing for non-commercially viable enterprises — in many cases industrial structures — and in view of the rapidity with which they saw fit to allow them to fade into oblivion, it strikes me as very strange in this instance that the Minister should rely for the main thrust of his criticism on the commercial aspect.

In any community project, no matter how small, that a local authority or Government provide, there is always a very definite line of thinking adopted by them to ensure that there is a bit of commercial enterprise about the community. That must be seen to be there before sanction is given for grants or for the allocation of any money. To say it is wrong to have a commercial element is short-sighted. I am sorry the Minister of State has not seen fit — and I hope the Minister in his contribution will see fit — to tell the House the implications of the Bill he intends to bring forward.

I want to express my apologies for being a little late this evening. I was interested to hear Deputy Fitzgerald's contribution for which I must congratulate him, and I will deal with some of the points he raised.

When presented with a Bill of this sort it is reasonable to ask whether the Bill is intended as a positive and creative measure for the future or as a reaction to some existing circumstances. There is clearly a public interest in, and wish for, local or community broadcasting, and that wish has been evident for many years. There is also an evident demand for a choice of radio services. The presentation of this Bill raises a number of questions about the manner in which these demands should be met.

The Minister of State, Deputy Nealon, has already made clear why the Government are opposing this Bill. It is, quite simply, an unsatisfactory basis for the development of local radio services. It is brought forward here at this stage only as an act of political opportunism on the part of the opposition.

The whole thrust of this Bill is such that commercial interests would inevitably get an upper hand in the development of local radio services, and there would be little scope for the provision of such services either by non-commercial interests or in areas where the economic viability of services might be in any way marginal or doubtful.

This point was referred to by Deputy L. Fitzgerald. I agree that there has to be room for commercial interest in this area, but surely he will not argue, and Deputy Leyden will not continue to argue, that we should ignore the less densely populated and more remote areas because by their nature those areas will be neglected by commercial interests. It is a very fair and valid point to consider how these areas could be catered for in the context of a Bill providing for the setting-up of local radio.

There would have to be serious doubt as to whether under the provisions of this Bill local radio services could be provided in the foreseeable future anywhere outside of Dublin, Cork, Limerick and possibly Waterford and Galway. These main centres of population are the only ones likely to be able to support local radio services which would have to be economically viable under the provisions of this Bill. Local radio services restricted in this way would not be a reasonable answer to the demands which are evident for such services throughout the country.

We intend to proceed quickly with the Government's legislation to enable legal local radio services to be set up on an acceptable basis for communities throughout the country. The Government's Bill will not have the defects of the Bill now before us and will allow the flexibility necessary for the development of services which will meet a very wide range of community needs and interests.

It is worth repeating that the reason I requested a Minister of State with special responsibility for broadcasting be appointed was to quickly bring forward proper proposals in this regard. We all remember the infamous attack on that appointment by the Opposition.

The Government have now made major policy decisions which will require changes in the approach which was set out in this Bill drafted three years ago. While the Government do envisage a new Authority it is now envisaged that that Authority will not provide and operate the broadcasting transmitters. There will be room for minority RTE involvement in local radio and I will be consulting the RTE Authority shortly as to the form which this involvement might take. The structure now proposed is intended to be more flexible and less costly to the State than that set out in the 1981 Bill, which is what is basically before us tonight. The Government's particular concern is that the local radio services which will be established under their proposals will be community based and will be available throughout the country as quickly as possible.

The drafting of this Bill will now proceed as a matter of urgency and we look forward to the co-operation of the Opposition in processing it quickly through the Oireachtas. I would be hopeful that the Bill can be submitted for consideration to a joint committee on legislation for which the Government have already made separate proposals. This committee could receive submissions from the many interested persons and bodies who, I am sure, have much to offer on legislation of this type. I am looking forward therefore also to the co-operation of the Opposition on this committee.

As further evidence of the Government's determination to provide for the orderly development of community radio services at the earliest possible date and pending the enactment of the necessary legislation, I will be setting up in the immediate future a Local Broadcasting Committee. This committee will consider submissions from various interested parties especially youth organisations on their concepts of local radio services and will make such plans of an administrative and technical nature as are feasible. I see these steps as facilitating the speediest possible introduction of legal local radio after the enactment of legislation. I intend that this committee will do all the preliminary work so that the authority ultimately charged with the establishment and regulation of local radio services will be able to reach early decisions on the development of those services.

The committee will also take any practical steps which can be taken to facilitate the orderly development of services within the new legislative framework as soon as that is available. This will involve essential preliminary arrangements of an administrative and technical nature. By undertaking these steps immediately much time will be saved later when the legislation is enacted.

The contributions of the Opposition so far to the debate on their own Bill have been remarkable. They have laid great stress on the obvious demand for local radio services, a demand which first manifested itself over six years ago. In the intervening years what did the Opposition do to meet this demand? In one word — nothing. In fact, by their masterly inactivity and tacit encouragement they allowed the situation to get virtually out of control. Now, very suddenly, Deputy Leyden says:

Deputy Haughey requested me to give priority to independent local broadcasting. Because of the urgency of the matter, we devoted our back-up committee meetings to preparing legislation... We worked on the legislation at every meeting for the last few months of the Committee.

The result of all this effort is the Independent Local Radio Authority Bill, 1981, with minor changes which, as has been stated earlier, was drafted and ready as far back as June 1980 — three years ago. I have a list of the minor differences.

In the Minister's handwriting?

If it was in my handwriting I would say so.

The Opposition's contributions have also been remarkable for a much more serious and dangerous reason than the feigned urgency. Nowhere in these contributions can I find any concern for the protection of the legitimate users of the radio spectrum. In fact, the Opposition merely engaged in a piece of deplorable flag waving when they suggested that I was acting under instructions from London. They talk about a serious infringement of our democracy, our own freedom of movement and freedom of action. They conveniently choose to ignore the much more serious cases of interference to Irish safety of life services.

If, in the course of the interference to ambulance services last April a serious emergency arose involving loss of life and damage to property, or if the interference at Dublin Airport had given rise to a serious accident, I am certain Deputy Leyden would be the first Deputy on his feet in this House demanding a public inquiry into my Department's control and management of the radio frequency spectrum. He might have greater cause to call for my resignation than he had of late.

I will refer later to further instances of serious interference that have arisen caused by illegal broadcasting stations but, at this stage, may I take it that, if I did not take appropriate action and a serious emergency arose as a result, Deputy Leyden would persist in his call that illegal stations should be allowed to continue in operation and that no action should be taken before the end of the year? Unfortunately, I cannot be assured that an emergency will not arise before the end of the year.

I was disappointed for a number of reasons with the Opposition's contribution introducing the Bill. The first reason is one which relates to something I have already mentioned — it confirmed for me my suspicion that the introduction of this Bill at this time was purely an act of political opportunism. The second aspect which disappointed me was the failure to discuss in any way the philosophy behind the development of local radio services as envisaged in the Bill. A further notable omission was any consideration of the effects of the Bill on the existing national broadcasting services provided by RTE, including Radio na Gaeltachta.

Any Bill which sets the framework for local broadcasting services, as this Bill is intended to do, has to be considered from many angles. It is not sufficient merely to take off a shelf a Bill which was prepared three or four years ago. What is the philosophy that guided the drafting of that Bill in the first place? What social and cultural factors were considered in deciding on the framework which is set out to establish? What sort of mould did it seek to create for local broadcasting services? These are all basic questions which should be dealt with on the introduction of a Bill such as this.

Simplistic notions of competition being good for its own sake can be avoided. There are circumstances in which competition has bad rather than good effects. Where the pattern of demand is geographically uneven, as it would be for radio services, free and uncontrolled competition can simply lead to services being provided by a number of competing bodies where demand is heavy, when none at all is provided in other areas. This factor is particularly important outside the main centres of population. The quality and variety of programmes can suffer through uncontrolled competition which, in the case of radio, could lead to a number of stations catering for the most popular taste but not providing a balanced public service of news, features, drama, Irish cultural programmes, and programming of special interest.

I find the failure to refer at all to the place of RTE in these developments inexplicable. Are RTE to be totally excluded, their obvious expertise and their resources not to be made available to the community? Clearly RTE have a role to play in the development of local radio, and the Government recognise this. As I said earlier, I will be in touch with the Authority shortly.

It is also reasonable to ask what effects the promoters of this Bill expect it to have. How extensively do they believe local broadcasting services can be provided under it? What will be the consequences of requiring the Authority to be satisfied that the establishment of each local broadcasting service would be in accordance with good economic principles? Would it not restrict local broadcasting services to the main cities only? Why is there no provision in the Bill to facilitate local broadcasting services in areas of marginal economic viability? The Opposition have not addressed these questions in putting forward the Bill.

In my view, local radio services should be genuinely local in character. They should reflect local life, achievements, and aspirations. This suggests that they should be organised and run on a local community basis with as widespread community involvement as is possible. Commercial considerations should not be allowed to dominate or unduly influence the developments of services.

In the course of his contribution on Wednesday last to this debate, Deputy Leyden said that his Bill would give an opportunity for existing broadcasters to apply for licences in the proper manner. He said there would be a right to provide transmitters, to license transmitters or to approve of existing transmitters which would comply with international standards and that this would ensure that existing stations would be enabled to apply for approval of their facilities. I am afraid this shows not only that Deputy Leyden did not consider this Bill in Committee for several months as he said, but that he did not even read his own Bill.

Section 17 of his Bill provides that the Authority will provide local broadcasting services and will have power to establish, maintain and operate broadcasting stations. The programmes broadcast by the Authority shall be provided by programme contractors who have the right and duty to provide programmes to be broadcast by the Authority. That is what Deputy Leyden's Bill says. In his own speech on his own Bill, he showed clearly that he did not read his own Bill. Under this section of Deputy Leyden's Bill only the Authority may be licensed to operate broadcasting transmitters. No other transmitters can be licensed under the Bill. Perhaps when Deputy Leyden is replying to this debate he would like to explain this product of months of consideration. Will he admit that there were no such months of consideration? Will he admit that this is blatant evidence of political opportunism? There is no provision for the Authority to issue licences.

There is.

There is no provision for the Authority to issue licences.

The Minister should read it again.

Only the Minister can issue such licences. Maybe when Deputy Leyden gets a chance to read the Bill, perhaps for the first time, he might like to explain the contradictions in his opening speech. This highlights the stark opportunism of the Bill. Not only did Deputy Leyden not study the Bill, it appears that he hardly read it. As further evidence of this, Deputy Leyden also said that his Bill would not be costly to implement. Why then is he providing for Exchequer advances of up to £10 million under section 27 of the Bill and for borrowing by the Authority under two further sections, sections 31 and 32? Is this the product of months of careful consideration? Enough of Deputy Leyden for now.

What about the Minister's Bill?

My Bill will be introduced after careful consideration, which it is getting at the moment.

The way the Minister is going he may not be there to introduce it.

It will be produced when we are ready.

And if the Minister is there.

We will have my good friend, the Minister of State, Deputy Nealon, to introduce it so the Deputy need not worry.

The Deputy can be assured that the Minister will be there to introduce it.

Some of the media have been making great play about my actions in this case. There have been references to my not having consulted the Government and to my having scored an "own goal". All of this is, of course, not correct. Maybe Deputy Leyden might want to reflect on this also. The fact is that 30 times since 1977, similar action to this has been taken and for very good reasons. From 1977 to date, apart from an eight months interlude Fianna Fáil were in power so the great bulk of them took place in their time. The same action was taken 30 times by the Fianna Fáil Government, yet Deputy Leyden and Deputy Gene Fitzgerald attacked what we did when we are only following well set precedent in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs.

What about the action taken by the Minister?

The action taken by their administration 30 times was well justified. Some of my predecessors on the Opposition benches have done this and they did not consult the Government. The Minister's job is to uphold the law and, in this case, consultation with the Government is not necessary. It is an unfortunate fact that because Ministers did not uphold the law enough we are in the present mess.

Is upholding the law dependent on illegal stations?

Roscommon does not have a station and if Deputy Leyden's Bill was passed it still would not have one. The pirate stations have on this occasion, of course, made the most of their discomfort. They have created a great hullabaloo and fair play to them for that. I must say, however, that I have a certain contempt for the hysteria which has been whipped up on this occasion. I am sure that a comparable hysteria would have arisen in the event of some major emergency arising in circumstances where essential radio frequencies were interfered with.

The reasons for the action recently taken by my Department have already been adequately explained. The seizure of equipment was done on foot of court warrants issued under the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1926. The stations in question were operating in breach of that Act and were causing serious harmful interference to licensed and authorised services in this country and overseas. It is precisely because unregulated use of the radio spectrum can cause serious problems of this sort that the legislation to regulate its use exists.

Deputy Leyden in the course of his contribution to this debate, suggested that illegal stations should be allowed to continue until the end of the year; indeed he said that he would support that policy. The Deputy referred, in support of this line, to a recent statement of mine in which I spoke of phasing out the illegal stations at the same time as the introduction of the new licensed stations. I should not like Deputy Leyden or anyone else to be under any misapprehension on this matter.

Illegal broadcasting stations have no immunity whatsoever from any legal action which my Department may take against them. It will inevitably take some time for all the illegal stations to close down. A phased close down would have some benefits and it would be unrealistic to think in terms of an immediate cessation of activities of all the illegal stations, but I wish one point to be clear beyond any shadow of doubt. Illegal stations are always at risk of action against them. Those who operate illegal stations should be under no illusions as regards that. No Minister could offer an immunity from prosecution particularly in circumstances where the illegal stations have caused serious interference to important radio services.

Deputy Leyden suggested that recently reported remarks of mine suggested that I was having second thoughts on the action taken by my Department. That is not the case. The action was taken because of the accumulation of serious problems which the illegal stations were causing. I referred quite clearly to those problems in the interview to which the Deputy referred. I also made quite clear that any further interference would cause similar action to be taken against other illegal stations. I wish there to be no doubt about my intentions in that regard.

It is particularly important that there should be no misunderstanding regarding the status of illegal radio stations in view of the terms of the High Court judgment last week in the case brought by two illegal radio stations. The High Court considered that it was not surprising that the owners of these stations should assume that they had an immunity from the law or that the law would not be enforced against them without reasonable warning.

In view of this, it is important to be clear, as the High Court was, on the effect of the law. The judgments said that the law was not affected by lack of use and it could not be waived or abandoned even by express decision or agreement. In view of this, illegal stations should be quite clear as to where they stand. They are liable to have action taken against them at any time.

I regret to say that even since my Department's actions in recent weeks there have been further serious reports of interference. An illegal radio station in Cork has been causing persistent interference to an important shipping frequency which is used exclusively by Irish vessels. This interference has made the frequency unusable for a lengthy period of time with serious safety implications. The same station has caused similar interference to a frequency used by the Defence Forces for mobile security duties.

Another illegal station in Louth has caused persistent interference to Garda radio communications and has failed to comply with the request by the Garda to resolve the problem. Another station has been causing interference to mobile radio communications including those of the fire services in the midlands. My Department will be pursuing these serious interference problems and will take whatever action is necessary to resolve them.

Any other problems of this nature caused by illegal broadcasting stations will be dealt with in the same way. It has to be understood that illegal stations are likely to cause interference problems of this type almost of their nature because they do not submit themselves to regulation of any type. Illegal stations appropriate any frequencies which suit themselves and then broadcast at whatever power they themselves decide. It has been repeatedly found that such stations take grossly inadequate steps to safeguard against interference at other frequencies by unwanted signals of various types. All licensed transmitting services are required to exercise proper care and take reasonable precautions against causing interference of this type. Unlicensed services of their nature failed to do so.

I might add that the High Court, in giving judgment last week in the case brought by two illegal radio stations, stated that interference by unlicensed stations to licensed and authorised services was a reality and not a mere technical possibility.

The action that was taken by officials of my Department in recent weeks was unpopular in some quarters, but it had to be taken. I am glad to note that the necessity for the action has been recognised. An Irish Press editorial on Thursday, 19 May 1983 said:

The closing of the illegal broadcasting station, Radio Nova, by officials of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, will not bring tears to the eye of anyone who believes that the airways should be subject to traffic laws as binding as those that apply to the road. It has been firmly and repeatedly established that illegal broadcasting has caused disruption of public service communications channels, some of them vital to the welfare of the sick...

The same editorial went on to say:

The Opposition spokesman on broadcasting, Mr. Terry Leyden, sounded off on RTE yesterday about the lack of Government action on this matter, and about the participation of members of the Government, at election time, in illegal broadcasts. Mr. Leyden's stand on this matter is somewhat smug and provocative. Several Governments have turned a blind eye on the pirates, and several political parties including Mr. Leyden's own, have used illegal radio when it suited them at election time. In this, all Governments have been equally guilty in allowing the pirates to take root and to grow.

The case for commercial broadcasting may be sustainable, but only within the law of the land, and the law has been flouted for so long now that it requires quite courageous Government action to clean up the mess.

I cannot quibble with anything in that editorial comment. There is now an urgent need for order to be restored to the radio spectrum which is a very valuable natural resource.

In the course of his contribution Deputy Leyden referred to a formal complaint from Britain about the activities of Radio Nova. The Deputy used this as an opportunity to indulge in some unnecessary flag-waving. I am sure the Deputy is aware, as a former Minister of State in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, of the International Telecommunications Convention which governs the use of radio services internationally.

His colleague, Deputy Wilson, will in any event be able to explain the position to him as he did to this House on 11 May 1982. On that date Deputy Wilson, who was then Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, said at Volume 334, col. 906-907 of the Official Report:

I should like to take this opportunity to comment on and indeed to deplore the general trend towards lawlessness in relation to wireless telegraphy matters in recent years. This is reflected particularly in the proliferation of illegal radio stations throughout the country...

The operators of all these systems appropriate any frequencies and operate at any powers that suit themselves, in total disregard for national and international law and of other users of the frequency spectrum...

Ireland is bound by the International Telecommunications Convention with lays down that all stations must be established and operated in such a manner as not to cause harmful interference to the radio services of other countries which are members of the International Telecommunications Union.

Where such interference occurs there are set procedures for bringing it to notice and every country has undertaken to deal with the cause of complaint. Ireland would be entitled to inform the British authorities if unauthorised services in Britain were causing interference to RTE services in this country. Similarly Britain can refer to problems caused by illegal stations in this country and did so in this case. The complaint was made in the normal course of contacts between the radio regulatory administrations, which is my Department in this country and the Home Office in the United Kingdom.

The Government are determined to move to the achievement of an orderly system of local radio services quickly.

On a point of order, I wonder would the Government be prepared to waive some time to this side of the House as the Minister has run over his time considerably.

He is a minute over his time.

I am on the last paragraph. The speed at which the Government's proposals have been developed is a credit to the work of Deputy Ted Nealon who was appointed a Minister of State in my Department only three months ago. That appointment was at my specific request, to give all aspects of broadcasting the priority they had not got in recent years and which they sorely needed. I am confident that, under the guidance of the Minister of State, the legislation will proceed quickly and I will be asking the Opposition for their co-operation in that. I am convinced that this is the proper way in which to approach this task. I hope that the Opposition will now withdraw their draft.

Provided the Government bring in the right Bill.

(Dublin North-West): I welcome the opportunity of making a contribution to this debate. We are grateful to the Minister and his Minister of State for coming in here this evening. I must thank my colleague, Deputy Leyden, for the very prompt action he has taken in bringing this Bill before the House. That being said, I am very disappointed at the reaction of the Minister and the Government. I am sorely disappointed at the response of the Minister and Minister of State. It appears in the speeches they made they used most of their time criticising Fianna Fáil and, in particular, Deputy Leyden. I am sure nobody would agree that those pirate radio stations were interfering with the airways at Dublin Airport, with those of the Garda patrol cars, ambulances or the fire brigade. We must remember the amount of employment they provided. Both Ministers have been very critical of these pirate radio stations. If it is now decided that it was an offence to use pirate radio stations, there is no doubt but that the people on the opposite side of the House were the biggest offenders. Indeed, the Minister himself, his brother and many other Fine Gael Deputies used those pirate radio stations. If it was all right to do so then why should it be wrong now? That is my argument. I attended a meeting last evening in my constituency at which this matter was raised. People there told me that Radio 2 was interfering with telephones in the area, even with microphones in the church. If we are concerned about interference what are we or RTE doing about it? Apparently it has been reported to them but it appears that nothing has been done.

I believe the decision the Government have taken was utterly wrong because it gives RTE the monopoly in broadcasting and we have seen the results of that in other semi-State bodies. One only has to look at CIE with their monopoly in public transport and see the situation obtaining in relation to that. CIE themselves can decide where they will or will not go. I should have thought we would have learned our lesson from them and not give a monopoly to another semi-State body.

I and a number of my colleagues received an invitation to visit the RTE studios in Donnybrook when we were fortunate to be accompanied by our spokesman, Deputy Leyden. We were impressed by their expertise and technology on that occasion. Indeed I doubt that any other broadcasting station has any better expertise or technology. In passing I might say that we were very grateful to the people in RTE who showed us such courtesy and hospitality. I have no doubt whatever that if the Government agreed to this Fianna Fáil Bill, which would enable pirate ratio stations to compete with RTE, that RTE, with their expertise and technology, would have no difficulty in competing. I believe all RTE is short of is the will.

Not alone do these pirate radio stations give entertainment, especially to young people, but they do and have promoted many Irish artistes. Immediately one thinks of Foster and Allen who were very rarely heard on RTE but were given plently of time on these pirate radio stations. Many artistes, people like Val Doonican, have had to emigrate. He was not successful here but has been in England. Since the Government have taken this decision with regard to pirate radio stations I have had many young people and their parents in my constituency inform me how they had entertained them. They have drawn my attention to what might be called the social service they provided, helping many people to find employment and alleviate many other problems. I could not imagine RTE providing the same service.

Why do pirate radio stations have such a wide audience? It is because they provide the entertainment that people want, not only the young people who enjoy pop music but others who like other forms of music. I understand RTE have been approached on a number of occasions by Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann to have more Irish traditional music on radio and television but they have been up against a stone wall. According to RTE, people who listen to this kind of music will have to get up at 6.30 a.m. on Saturday mornings when one hour of traditional music is provided. RTE appear to be anti-Irish. For the past ten years RTE have put out a programme on Sunday mornings called "Sunday Miscellany". To my mind that is the most diabolical programme. I do not know the extent of its listening audience but on a number of occasions I have been in hotels on a Sunday morning and I have heard people wonder why this programme has been left on the air for so long. Despite this Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann got no satisfaction in their request for more time on the air.

There is a pirate station called Treble TR which provides a 24-hour listening service. It provides a wide range of music, including Irish traditional music. This Bill before the House will allow RTE and the pirate radio stations to compete and give the best entertainment available to which the people are entitled. It will give a chance to many young people to use their skill and technology. They have provided a very good service under extremely unsatisfactory conditions. The Bill offers a challenge to RTE to provide a broad selection of music and song. It will allow for competition which is the life of trade. I do not agree with the Minister's remarks that competition can be dangerous. It is the life of trade. CIE have a monopoly in transport. Broadcasting has been dead because of the lack of competition. If pirate radios were given a chance to operate side by side with RTE, the public would have the benefit of that competition.

Recently I was listening to a programme on RTE and I was appalled by the remarks of Donncha Ó Dulaing when he said he would spit on pirate radio stations. Is that the kind of attitude we can expect from people in RTE? When one spits on pirate radio stations one is spitting on the people who listen to them. That seems to be the attitude of many in RTE and of the Government towards young people. The Government have come to the aid of RTE in the position they have taken with regard to pirate radio stations. It appears RTE are not prepared to take up the challenge. Last week in his speech the Minister did not indicate he would give pirate radios the opportunity to compete. Fianna Fáil have taken the lead by introducing this Bill but the Government are not prepared to accept it.

The Bill before the House provides for the licensing of all pirate radio stations. It makes it possible to have legal independent radio stations under an authority that would be under the jurisdiction of the Minister. Many young people are disappointed at the attitude of the Government and they are disappointed at the attitude of many Deputies on the Government side who used pirate radio stations frequently in the past. It appears those Deputies only use the stations when it suits them. Participating in the shows on pirate stations helped to elect many Deputies to this House. Some weeks ago thousands of young people showed their concern about pirate radio stations outside the gates of this House. They showed their attitude to the actions of the Government. Pulling the plug on pirate radio stations came as a great shock to them because it took from them the music and the entertainment they enjoyed. Many of these well-educated young people cannot find employment and their only consolation was to listen to pirate radio stations. It helped to ease the depression many of them were experiencing because of their failure to find employment.

The attitude of the Government has annoyed young people but the action of Fianna Fáil in introducing this Bill was a consolation to them. However, their hopes were dashed because of the attitude of the Government towards our Bill. The Minister referred to delay by Fianna Fáil in bringing the Bill before the House but that can be explained quite easily. In the past three years we have had a number of elections. The Minister is aware of the excellent legislative record of many of the Deputies on this side of the House when they were in Government. If he is half as successful as was Deputy Reynolds he will be very lucky. The work of Deputy Reynolds in the Department to which he was assigned and the work of Deputy Wilson and Deputy Leyden has been excellent. The Minister will have to do a lot to come anywhere near the record of Deputies on this side of the House.

I call on Deputies who used the facilities of pirate radio stations to support this Bill. The young people are looking to them for that support. Their voices were loud and clear outside this House a few weeks ago. The new generation of radio listeners will not take what is offered to them. They know what they want. They say RTE does not cater for them but that the pirate radio stations do cater for them. There is an obligation on all Members to listen to these young people. Fianna Fáil by the introduction of this Bill have shown they are aware of their needs. This Bill was prepared because of the action of the Government in pulling the plug on radio stations. If Fianna Fáil had remained in Government we would have implemented our policy. We would not have pulled the plug on the pirate radio stations but we would have given them an opportunity to operate legally.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to put on record my views on this topic. The reason we are discussing this issue was because the Government felt obliged to take action on the increasing problems caused by the multiplicity of illegally operating radio stations of one type or another in our cities, particularly Dublin. I do not have to reiterate here the problems caused by the serious interference with emergency services and air traffic control by these local radio stations operating illegally and in breach of the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1926. However, I will be honest and say that I was almost shocked, certainly I was upset, at the idea that we had to go in and close them down. My first question to my colleagues, my peers in Government was, "Why did we do it before we had legislation ready? Why could we not move with legislation in one hand and something to replace the vacuum that would be created?" I recognise the need for these services and the pleasure they provide for many, not just the young but older people also.

Having listened to my colleagues, particularly the Minister and the Minister of State who are involved in this, I understand now why this Government had to move. Like many people, I did not realise the avalanche of complaints coming in from the various authorities and services involved, health services, fire brigades, airport authorities and airport controllers. If we had had one serious accident, one major catastrophe because of interference on the frequencies, the doors of this House would have been hammered down by the public as they nearly hammered them down complaining about our action. If we explain why we had to do what we did, if we spell out to the public why it had to be done before our legislation was ready, reasonable people will accept what we say. I am delighted that this Government will not dally too long before they bring in their own legislation to fill this vacuum, this need for people to have this broadcasting.

With some amusement I listened to the rantings of the Opposition on this topic. God knows, they had long enough to sort the matter out themselves and straighten out the legal mess and the problems in this area. I hardly need to repeat what has been said here several times, that their Bill was sitting around on the Order Paper for a long time and little they did about it. This Bill before us is an example of political opportunism, of this famed concern for the public, for law and order, this concern to regularise a matter that they were happy to live with for many years. Even with a 20-seat majority they chose to do nothing about this problem. They chose to ignore the dozens of representations they received when in Government of interference from the emergency service, air traffic control etc. Thank God there has not been a disaster. It is time we all woke up and took these representations seriously.

That is why this Government had to act when they did and that is why we had to move before our legislation was ready. We took over just before Christmas last year and within six short months we have shown our concern and commitment to this case by getting legislation under way by providing, as the Minister said, this local broadcasting committee so that he could receive submissions from interested parties young and old, those in the business and those interested in the business, so that he could get his thoughts together and frame the legislation to suit everybody and to be the most satisfactory outcome of this problem in the end.

Fine Gael have long shown their commitment as have indeed all the Government parties here. In the seventies Fine Gael brought out a policy on local broadcasting. It has been in print for many years. There is no need to question this Government's commitment to resolving the problem on hand. I refer the Opposition, particularly Deputy Leyden, to what has been included in our policy over the years. I ask him to accept it as our good faith, the good faith of this Government, in resolving in an orderly fashion, not being politically opportune, an issue which is of immediate interest to thousands of the electorate. As has been pointed out, it is essential that we regularise the use of the radio spectrum. It is a limited national resource of tremendous value to various services.

One of the biggest failings, as I see it, in the Bill before us is that television broadcasting is not considered in it. As far as I can make out they have excluded that. When we are ready we intend to proceed with legislation along the lines of the Broadcasting and Wireless Telegraphy Bill produced in 1979 as well as providing for the orderly development of community radio services. By that time the Government will have considered the various submissions that will have come before the local broadcasting committee and will have put their heads together, put to use the best wisdom available here, and will come before the House and I hope that we will get unanimous agreement in the House on what I am very confident will be an extremely good, worthwhile Bill.

I was disappointed initially that we had to act so promptly in the manner of closing down so many of the radio stations, particularly here in Dublin, over the last few months. I also understand why we had to do so. We all realise why these stations are so necessary and what a service they perform in a community. It is not just the commercial ones that I am interested in, it is particularly those functioning in areas which commercially alone possibly would not be viable. In my area, and indeed in many other rural areas, during the bad snow of February 12 months ago, local radio, even though not properly licensed, performed an immeasurable function in helping to coordinate the snow clearance services. When telephone lines and various other forms of communication could no longer operate because of the disaster on hand, people could listen in and find out what was happening and when help would be on hand in their area.

Another example of what a service local radio can provide in sparsely populated rural Ireland is shown in a wonderful personal commitment from some local radio stations to their listeners who cannot because of illness, age or whatsoever, get to their local church services. I know that RTE radio broadcast religious services, but I have in mind a station that during the Masses mentions the various people who are listening in and who cannot be in the church for one reason or another. Those people feel personally involved in the community on Sunday. We all know how important it is, particularly for the elderly, to feel that they are in touch with their various religious services on Sundays. The benefit of this personal religious service is immeasurable and for obvious reasons a national radio network cannot undertake it.

Many other aspects of why we all recognise the tremendous need for these broadcasting services do not need underlining by me. I ask the Opposition to consider again this Bill we have before us tonight and its dreadful inadequacies and to ask themselves whether it is worth rushing a Bill such as this through the House. Their intentions may have been good, although I am inclined to think that it is political opportunism and I agree with my colleagues who have said so. I ask them to reconsider the Bill, to withdraw it and wait until the Government put forward their properly considered legislation which we all want regardless of whichever side of the House we are on. We all want some sort of regulation, some proper control, in an area of tremendous interest to us. This Bill before us does not go far enough nor is it adequate in many points. There is no point in trying to push this through the House and trying to divide the House on a topic on which basically we are all in agreement. We should be able to get an agreement. We should wait for the Government's Bill to come before us and support it unanimously and so tell and show those thousands of youngsters and not so young people who were outside the gates of Leinster House not so long ago that they have our support and that we understand why they felt a need to demonstrate. I hope they understand now why the Government had to act as they did, why we had to be responsible and why, after so many years of inactivity and lethargy on the part of the Fianna Fáil Party when they were in Government with a majority of 20, the matter was let slip until it came to a crisis point and all the services we depend on for life were threatened. I ask for the support of the Opposition in withdrawing this Bill and waiting for the better considered and better thought out Government Bill which should be introduced very shortly.

The new local radio authority which will be set up by the Government will provide a much more comprehensive range of services and conditions. They will consider submissions on the basis of various criteria from all interested parties who may be seeking a licence to operate such a broadcasting service. They will not just look after those who may be commercially viable; they will consider the greater good of the whole country, much of which is sparsely populated. If we were to use commercial viability as a criterion for any service, much of rural Ireland would be without many services. We berate CIE when they consider cutting rural rail and bus links and say they cannot be measured commercially, that they must be social services.

Fianna Fáil cannot ask this House to support a Bill which is only considering the commercial viability of such a vital service. We must wait for this properly considered Government Bill which will be introduced shortly. We must not be fooled by the nonsense talked by Deputy Leyden that their Bill will pass through both Houses, that various authorities will be set up and goodness knows what else done before the end of June. That illconsidered statement shows the lack of judgment there is in the formulation of the Bill before us. I request him to withdraw it and to wait for the Government Bill. We will have what the Opposition wants, and an awful lot more, when it comes to solving this problem.

It is regrettable that many of the contributions from the Government benches have been an orchestrated attack on contributions from this side of the House. I do not see that as being the role of the Government. One would have imagined that a more positive approach would have been made on behalf of the Government and that is what the general public would have expected. I am sure the Minister would agree with me.

He would agree, Deputy.

I should prefer the Minister to answer for himself.

I did not hear what Deputy Brady said.

I said that the general public expect the Government to adopt a constructive role rather than to engage in an orchestrated attack on contributions made by this side of the House.

Certainly, when we introduce our own Bill.

Up to now there has been a constant barrage of abuse made on the contributions from this side of the House.

That is because the Bill is so inadequate.

I am glad I have commanded the Minister's attention.

I am sorry I did not hear you earlier.

The term "pirate radio" goes back to the days the Minister remembers, to Radio Caroline and stations like that which operated with considerable effect in the dim distant fifties. Pirate stations have been leaders in the field of popular radio and anyone who does not recognise that fact is burying his head in the sand. These stations have a huge audience who listen day-in day-out and they are leading the field. Our Bill has been called opportunistic. What is wrong with that? It is better to be an effective leader and to involve the spirit of private enterprise and also the profit motive. The Minister spearheaded some excellent publications in relation to the rapidly occuring recent elections. He had the good sense to have them published by private enterprise to make sure they were successful and full marks to him for that ——

I have another one coming out in a week's time.

The Minister was not prepared to leave the effort to the Government Publications Office to sell all those books. He got into the commercial field every time. That is a healthy exercise and there is nothing wrong with it. There seems to be a prevailing attitude that the Government would be better to inaugurate a Radio No Hope because no consideration is shown to people who have initiative and enterprise. We all know that RTE are doing a first-class job. Radio 2 came on the air as a result of pressure and loss of listeners as a direct result of alternative first-class entertainment being provided. Anyone in RTE will openly admit that. There is nothing wrong with that as competition improves standards, protects jobs and gives greater opportunities to those who work in RTE.

I would welcome a second television station because there would be interaction between a new station and RTE. There would not be an introverted attitude all the time and a second channel would help those working in RTE. We must consider our radio audience and our television viewers. It might surprise the Minister to know that many thousands watch Breakfast TV and are being subjected to commercial pressures from overseas. Why should we not have our own commercial pressures which would be excellent for boosting trade and industry and would give more life to the community? We must not stifle initiative. This was evident when we discussed the Finance Bill which clamped down on private initiative.

Some of the quality of Radio Nova has been superb and has improved RTE also, but their leaders, unfortunately, were unlicensed. I do not know if the Minister ever listens to Radio Nova or other stations like it, but I do and I enjoy them very much. They are superb stations and give very good entertainment. So does Radio 2 because it has improved as a direct result of pirate stations.

Recently, the Taoiseach opened the Sandymount Community Week and the community radio people were given a stay of execution for that week and provided a very excellent service during that time. There is no doubt that a national service and also a highly competitive commercial network can run hand in hand. The Minister has been an excellent contributor to RTE television and radio and he would agree that the present situation in Britain of open competition between the national radio and television service on the one hand and the commercial ITN network on the other gives a very good mix. That is the way we should be moving, towards a much healthier situation.

Some Member mentioned, facetiously in a sense, that no tears were shed when Radio Nova was closed down. That statement is not true; it is out of touch with reality. Many thousands of listeners in Dublin and, indeed, over the country — because these stations are received way beyond the province of Leinster — were very disappointed at the closure and were left stranded with a feeling of hopelessness. It may be a communications problem and it may be difficult to put the case across that firm action of that sort has to be taken. I am not condoning any illegality and no Member could point a finger at me in that respect. There is no point whatsoever in contributors looking back at past inaction. We are living in the eighties and in a very short space of time it will be possible to receive many multiple international television channels and radio stations. I contend that also is a good and very healthy thing. One must think of the ultimate effects of being able to openly broadcast into countries where freedom of speech is restricted. That will come only through private initiative and from the ideal which has always been part of our national tradition — an openness and frankness. To confine and restrict would be very detrimental. The framework of our Bill gives the opportunity to have commercialisation along with the national network.

Another important point with which the Minister may agree is that radio has again become popular. It has returned as a fashionable means of communication, whereas five or six years ago the reverse was the case, television programmes flooded into every homestead and people watched them moronically, night after night. Radio as a means of communication was then very greatly neglected. Present day radio programmes offer great choice and very good quality and should be encouraged rather than suppressed. Apart from its entertainment value, as an education tool radio has immense ramifications. Radio has again become popular because of the inroads made by very active and high quality reception from pirate stations.

It is inarguable that many services which some of our pirate stations have produced have been tremendous for society. However, that cannot be used as an argument for keeping them open. The argument for keeping them open is that their quality is good and that they should be given a chance to develop, while at the same time increasing employment, in a legal framework. If the Minister accepts our Bill it will enable a situation to evolve in which, in tandem, one could keep these stations on the airways and yet introduce legislation and then allow them to apply for licences. Nobody wants to see the law broken and the Minister obviously is a man for law and order. I raised an issue a couple of weeks ago in this House about the law being broken every other day of the week by illegal picketing outside the gates of Leinster House and Deputies being prevented from coming in. The law is also being broken by people not wearing seat belts in their cars. The law is being broken continuously. However, at the moment Ireland has a huge, young population and that voice should be heard, otherwise we will be sowing the seeds of frustration because it is not spelt out or clearly defined why these young people are being deprived of services which they enjoy.

To get back to my opening comments about the reality of the prevailing situation, from a practical point of view if the Minister tomorrow morning were to call to homes in Dublin, to factories — the few that we now have left — or to hairdressers, he would find that the station being listened to, whether we like it or not, is the pirate station. That does not mean that RTE Radio 2 is not a good station. I have listened very carefully to it and my children, from whom one can get a very good assessment of the listening choice of young people, agree with me that it is a good station, directly in competition with the pirate stations or the other way round, whichever one likes. The Minister will have to take an open decision tonight in the realisation of the prevailing situation. The voice of the huge young population cannot be muzzled in the manner intended. That would be like swimming against the tide. This little island is crying out for private enterprise to be given a chance and the Minister has that opportunity tonight. Tomorrow it will be the plea of the builders and last week it was somebody else. The Minister would be giving an opportunity for employment. There are many people employed in the radio stations. I appeal to the Minister to let that happen before the position is forced upon him.

Will the Deputy move the Adjournment of the debate?

May I conclude? Perhaps someone else would like to take the floor.

No, we have come to the end of Private Members' Time.

How much time have I left?

The Deputy started at 8.13 p.m. so he has 13 minutes remaining.

Debate adjourned.