We had almost completed this amendment when the House adjourned for lunch. I am glad to hear the welcome from all sides for the amendment.
Postal and Telecommunications Services Bill, 1982: Committee Stage (Resumed).
I understand that acceptance of this amendment involves the deletion in toto of section 4 and substitutes for that section a complete new section. I was just asking the Minister about the consequences of that to amendments that are mentioned further down the list when the time was up at 1.30 p.m.
This amendment will be passed only provided subsequent amendments are passed and we will be coming to them in due course.
I move amendment No. 13:
In page 11, lines 1 and 2, to delete subsection (1), and substitute the following:—
(1) Summary proceedings for an offence under section 35 * may be brought and prosecuted by the postal company or the telecommunications company, as the case may require.
(2) Summary proceedings for an offence under section 60 or 81 * may be brought and prosecuted by the postal company.
(3) Summary proceedings for an offence under section 83, 94 (1)*, 94 (3)* or 95** may be brought and prosecuted by the telecommunications company.
This was discussed with amendment No. 11.
I move amendment No. 19:
In page 11, lines 19 to 21, to delete subsection (4) and substitute the following:—
"(4) Summary proceedings may be brought and prosecuted by the Minister for an offence under section 6 of the Telegraph Act, 1869, or under section 35*, 60, 81*, 83, or 94* of this Act.". .bqe
Amendment No. 19 was discussed with amendment No. 11.
Amendment No. 22 in the name of the Minister was discussed with previous amendments.
I move amendment No. 22:
In page 12, subsection (1), line 8, to delete ", 1963 and 1977".
I move amendment No. 23:
In page 12, subsection (1), line 13, to delete "The Post Company" and substitute "The Post Office".
Subsection (1) (a) of section 10 specifies the name of the State-sponsored postal company as "An Post" or, in the English language "The Post Company". The purpose of this amendment is to change the company's English name to "The Post Office". This change was requested by the interim post board for marketing reasons.
I have no objection if the interim post board felt it would be more advantageous from a commercial or an international point of view. If the company is regarded as "The Post Office" it links it back to the GPO in Dublin.
Is the Minister satisfied that this new company will return to profit without continuing to increase charges above the rate of inflation? Will the Minister confirm that the profit of An Bord Telecom under the proposed capital structure is not dependent on achieving widescale redundancies of the order of 3,000 telephone operators? This is extremely important.
We are on section 10.
I do not understand what that has to do with what Deputy O'Sullivan is talking about.
Are we not on amendment No. 23 of section 10?
Is that amendment agreed?
I move amendment No. 24:
In page 12, subsection (3) (a) (i), line 22, to delete "assets to be assigned" and substitute "property to be transferred".
This is a drafting amendment so that we will have conformity of wording in the Bill.
What is the distinction between "assets" and "property"?
There is no distinction. This amendment is just to achieve consistency of wording.
In relation to the transfer of property or assets, how far advanced is the Minister in dividing the assets between An Bord Poist and An Bord Telecom? When I was in the Department they were measuring the General Post Office in O'Connell Street so as to allocate areas to the different companies. Will the Minister say if our State has title to the General Post Office? There was a ground rents situation in the Post Office and I would like the Minister to ensure that the property is freehold on transfer to An Bord Poist and An Bord Telecom. It disturbs many people that although we have had our freedom since 1922, still the title to the GPO has not yet been finalised. During my period many efforts were made and I had looked forward to finalising the title to the GPO in 1982, which was the anniversary of the birth of Eamon de Valera. Unfortunately this was not finalised and I would like the Minister to tell me if we as a State own the ground rent of the GPO or is it still owned by some British landlord?
The Deputy is right that Eamon de Valera should be commemorated but he was one of the few people who did not claim to be in the GPO at that time. It might be particularly inappropriate since he was elsewhere in Dublin. The matter of title is still with the Attorney General but effectively the State has the title.
Effectively but not in reality.
It is not quite signed, sealed and delivered yet. Regarding the designation of staff, this is more or less finished.
The question of title to the GPO is relevant. Will the Minister ensure that the GPO is the headquarters for An Bord Poist? Before the vesting date the Department should ensure that the ground rents are purchased. It is unfortunate that since 1922 we have not acquired title to the most historic building in Ireland. We should also ensure the continuity of use of this building by making it the headquarters for the new board.
We share the sentiments expressed by the Deputy. The GPO will remain in the ownership of the State after vesting date but will be leased to the post office as their headquarters.
I presume that part of the building will still be retained by the Minister and his Department.
The handover will be considered after the passage of this legislation.
Can the Minister give any indication of the value of the property being transferred to these companies and can he say whether the property is freehold? Has there been a full valuation of the properties or assets to be assigned to these companies?
The Valuation Office has carried out a full valuation. The figure for An Bord Telecom is rather high because of the sophisticated and exensive equipment and it amounts to £1,500 million. Buildings and assets to the value of £30 million will be transferred to the postal board.
Is that the figure for all the property around the country?
Is it not worth more than that?
This is the figure given by the Valuation Office, excluding the GPO.
Will it be the responsibility of the new companies to pay rates on all properties?
There is no exemption for the boards?
That will be a certain burden on the companies. I presume there will be service charges as well.
They will pay rates.
Amendments Nos. 25 and 39 are related and may be taken together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 25:
In page 12, subsection (3) (b), lines 33 to 44, to delete subparagraph (i) and substitute the following:—
"(i) the value of the property to be transferred to the company on the vesting day under sections 37 and 38, less the amount by which sums issued by the Minister for Finance under the Telecommunications Capital Acts, 1924 to 1981, which have not been repaid before that day exceed the sum of £355,000,000 plus the amount of the outstanding liability of the Minister to Irish Telecommunications Investments Limited immediately before the vesting day, and".
This amendment has two purposes. It deletes all references to loans et cetera involving Irish Telecommunications Investments Limited which were included in reserve, that is, in case any loans arose. These are not appropriate now since no such loans have arisen and none are envisaged. Secondly, it corrects the reference to £355 million of the unpaid advances under the Telecommunications Capital Acts, 1924 to 1981, which are to be converted into shares of An Bord Telecom Éireann, and provides for an additional amount of those advances to be converted into shares of BTE corresponding to the liability of the telecommunications service for unpaid leasing charges of that amount which BTE will be required to discharge to Irish Telecommunications Investments Limited under section 39 of the Bill. The balance of the unpaid advances under those Acts will be a liability of An Bord Telecom Éireann to discharge under the new section 95 being inserted in the Bill by amendment No. 116. A similar amendment is being made to section 18 (2).
Will the board be any worse off under this amendment than they would have been under the original provision?
They will be considerably better off.
Will the Minister expatiate?
The provision was that there would be £355 million in shares. This figure was arrived at during the drafting of the Bill and it equalled about 50 per cent of the borrowing at that stage on the telecommunications side. On the basis of a debt-equity ratio of 50:50 it would be £355 million. It was always envisaged that the ratio would become a little out of kilter in the early years while there would be huge investment but would fall back to that level. We are taking account of the passage of time and making provision for extra equity which will probably be of the order of £80 million.
I am glad of the clarification because the Minister has mentioned the matter which was the nub of the problem when I became Minister. The Department of Finance and the Department of Posts and Telegraphs were putting a Bill together. In August 1981 the Department of Finance backed off and left it to the Department of Posts and Telegraphs who worked on it for a long time. The winter passed and the Department of Finance did not want to know about it. Deputy Cooney was the then Minister for Posts and Telegraphs. The Taoiseach was approached and he forced the Department of Finance to meet the Minister. In early January 1982 Deputy Bruton, then Minister for Finance, had prepared his budget and would not yield on this Bill. The financial arrangements, with a 50-50 debt equity ratio, were worked out by me as Minister. I got it under way to Second Stage. I am glad to hear that the Minister has backed up the work that was done and that he has succeeded in making an impact on the Department of Finance and that he has got a few quid extra to help the future debt equity balance.
The Deputy will know how difficult that is.
The Irish Telecommunications Investment Company have played a very important role in the development of the system in this country. I compliment the former Minister, Deputy Reynolds, for his initiative in setting up that company. Has the Minister available the details of the amount of money raised from private enterprise in relation to funding for the accelerated telecommunications programme? Without the capital raised by the company I do not believe the developments that have taken place would have occurred. Many people wonder, and I agree with them, whether the amount of capital organised in that way has been enough. However, without the funds made available through the Irish Telecommunications Investment Company we would not have reached the level we have achieved.
The figure would be about £400 million. That is the gross figure raised from all financial sources and it includes money from the EIB which could not be described as private enterprise.
What comes from the EIB, I understand, goes into the Department of Finance and then goes to the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. There is a little fiddle there because the Department of Finance are making a profit on it. They are getting it for less than they are charging the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. I see the Minister nods resignedly and that may indicate I am on the right lines. When the new board has been set up there should be some clarification about the role of the EIB vis-à-vis the new board. It would be a great advantage to the board if it could borrow at the lower rate of interest from the EIB and then the ogre in the Department of Finance will not be taking some of the advantage from the development for which the money will be made available.
The EIB lends only to states. If there is a benefit to the Exchequer I am sure nobody will complain. The ITI get the money at commercial rates.
As the position now is the Department of Posts and Telegraphs are a State Department. They are a Department in their own right and should be in a position to borrow. The Minister said that the EIB lends only to Departments who would be in a position to borrow direct and consequently get the benefit, and the new board should get that benefit instead of having to go to the Department of Finance.
CIE and others get loans from the EIB through the Department of Finance. It is the practice in relation to what are called sovereign borrowers.
Deputy Wilson tried to make the point that the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, or the Department of Transport in relation to CIE, borrow throught the Department of Finance who charge the full rate to each Department though they are getting a reduced rate from the EIB, whether it is by way of EMS subsidies which we got when we entered the European Monetary System or through the application of the Ortoli Facility, or in some other way. The Department who are borrowing are not getting the benefit. Here we have a Department who will be expected to operate on commercial lines, particularly when we go into the semi-State area. What will be the position then in relation to borrowing? Will the board be able to borrow directly and if so can they take advantage of the various subsidies that are available from time to time? What is the position in relation to EMS subsidies, for instance in relation to the digital contracts? Does that carry on after vesting or will the thing rest with the Department of Finance?
I understand that the EMS subsidies in all cases go to the Exchequer. Any Minister apart from the Minister for Finance decries the fact that the Department of Finance do not give him enough money.
The fault is in ourselves.
What will be the position when the new boards have been set up? Will they be in a position to borrow direct?
The boards can go where they like to borrow but if they borrow from the Department of Finance they will not have to go elsewhere. Any borrowing from the EIB must be through the Department of Finance who deal only with Government Departments.
I would hope that the organisation of finance will be on a more satisfactory basis because without the availability of capital this company will not succeed in the next few years. Much capital will be needed to complete the development programme and I hope the residual Department of Posts and Telegraphs will be able to assist in the raising of loans at the lowest possible rate, particularly in the first years of development. They should be allowed to borrow directly from the EIB at preferential rates of interest.
Do the ITI intend to provide much more of the finance?
We hope they will provide all of the finance.
While debating a Bill recently the question was asked what would happen to the ITI when the boards have been set up — will they exist as independent companies or will they be absorbed by the board?
It will be a matter for themselves. Deputy Reynolds will be familiar with the background. ITI have the statutory right to borrow but An Bord Telecom will be a statutory company.
In relation to accounts due to the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, will the boards take over cash flow et cetera, on the day of vesting or have any arrangements been arrived at?
The position on vesting day will be transferred but there will be some adjustments in regard to working capital arrangements.
Will the Minister designate the banking organisations with which the financial arrangements will be made, whether it be the Bank of Ireland, Allied Irish Banks, the Central Bank or other banks? Which bank will be given this important work? At present Post Office savings accounts are dealt with through the Central Bank. Who will be responsible for the day-to-day financial arrangements — the payment of staff, working capital and so on — of these companies? I am making this point at this stage because of an arrangement which the Minister stated he has not entered into yet. The Minister said he was in consultation with Bank of Ireland Finance and that is all right, but in a recent article he denied that he made final arrangements with this banking organisation.
That is right.
I do not want to interrupt the Deputy but Amendment No. 25 deals with the transfer of property and the Deputy has gone beyond that.
This amendment deals with finance, capital tax, working capital and so on.
This amendment deals with the transfer of property and the money of that company.
When it comes to money, liabilities and arrangements entered into by these companies, these matters should be discussed in this House. Therefore I am making the point at this stage so that we will know exactly where we stand. I want to know what arrangements are being made for the day-to-day management of these companies.
Banking arrangements will be a matter for the companies themselves. We will not be deciding where they bank. Any borrowing has to be approved and guaranteed by the Minister for Finance, as happens now with state companies. The companies make their own banking arrangements.
The points made by Deputy Leyden would be more appropriate on other sections.
I am not hopeful that what I have to say will have much effect on the Minister or his Department, but I dislike very much the nomenclature which appears to have been agreed for these two companies, quite apart from the principle of setting them up.
I have often complained in this House about the habit of cogging things from the British and I would not wish to weaken anything I said in that regard, but it is just as foolish to fall over backwards to get away from a pattern which has been familiar for a very long time and which is not a recent British invention. The Post Office was set up in England in the time of Cromwell and there has been an Irish Post Office under that name since not long after — I think in the reign of Queen Anne. Unless there was some very good reason to change that common expression, which is in use in everybody's mouth between the shoneens at one end of the political spectrum and the Napper Tandys on the other, without any of them feeling they are demeaning the country they both stem from by using it, I cannot quite see why it should have been necessary to call An Post, the Post Company in the English language.
It has been changed.
I am sorry for wasting the time of the House and delighted to see my point was anticipated. Would it be too much to hope that a similar happy anticipation has occurred in the case of the second authority mentioned. Bord Telecom Éireann? I cannot help feeling that some of my friends in the House were letting me ramble on to see to what length I would go to before they told me the point I was making had been conceded an hour ago.
We were waiting for one of the Kelly nuggets.
I told my colleagues not to interrupt the Deputy.
It is proposed to call the second board Bord Telecom Éireann, or in the English language, The Irish Telecommunications Board. I do not want to be pedantic about this, nor do I want to be a stick-in-the-mud, but it seems that what is happening here is that we are getting the worst of all worlds so far as nomenclature is concerned.
When I went to school, and when Deputy Wilson and most other Deputies went to school, there was a word for television which was formed from the perfectly sensible Irish word "cian", which had the same force as the Greek element "tele" meaning distance and it was used for "television" and a couple of other words. There was also a word for "communication" which is not to be found in caint na ndaoine, but which is definitely there because the word for "communications media" which I see being used in print and scripts is "meán cumarsáide." If we are going to have an appalling difficult word like "telecommunications" in English, I cannot see why we should not use an Irish compound "cian cumarsáide" or something of that kind. Instead, we are having Bord Telecom Éireann and it would be impossible to persuade me that that inelegant, semi-literate, cheapjack reach-me-down abbreviation was not cogged straight from the British who, for reasons of their own — with which I do not quarrel because they are a different people — have chosen to call their corresponding authority, from which naturally we are copying ours, British Telecom. Naturally we have to dress it up in a little green jacket, with silver buttons, a dudean in his mouth and a caubean on his head and call it Bord Telecom Éireann. Where is the reason for that? Surely the Minister should apologise to the House — and so should Deputies Wilson and Reynolds who are grinning — at the idea that what is good enough for the British with this broken off, sawn off word "telecommunications" can be transmuted into the Irish language in the very same form.
I do not want to waste the time of the House on a small thing, but small things are only a symbol of bigger things. I would be sorry if I let this pass without comment. I do not suppose it will affect the Minister, but I object very much to Bord Telecom Éireann, to the idea that it is necessary, and to its name.
I take the point made by Deputy Kelly but it is too late to think of changing it because a great deal of work has already been done on the logos——
Exactly. The graphic artist gets in immediately to design the stainless steel facia board and annual report. The work comes next. The industrial relations and finance products always wait but the graphic artists have to have a go at the logos first.
I take it I am not going to persuade Deputy Kelly——
Deputy Faulkner also wanted to use the word "cumarsáide".
Would the Minister consider the possibility of strengthening this section? He has very good advice available to him, and the Labour Party are very anxious to have this section strengthened further, but I wonder will this give adequate protection? If there could be a follow-up to that to ensure that any changes in the memorandum of association of each company shall be in such a form consistent with this Act as may be approved by the Minister with the consent of the Minister for Finance, so that any changes in this Act should be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas, it would give the workers a sense of protection. We want to ensure that the 30,000 people who are transferring to both companies will totally agree with the philosophy behind the Bill and we want to give them the maximum security of tenure. This would strengthen this section by ensuring that any changes in the memorandum would be brought before the Oireachtas. I would like the advice of the Minister's advisers in relation to this. I have met numerous members of the staff both individually and collectively through their unions since I became spokesman on Posts and Telegraphs. I have endeavoured to table necessary amendments to this Bill and I have welcomed the Minister's amendments but I would like a further strengthening of section 11. I would like the Oireachtas to have the opportunity to debate any changes that were to be made and I would like to assure the 30,000 people employed by both companies that we in this House are anxious to ensure that their security of tenure is copperfastened.
I have already indicated that when we come to section 17 I will be contemplating an amendment on Report Stage and I will certainly take into account what Deputy Leyden has said. Deputy O'Sullivan had already asked me if we could strengthen section 17 which deals with changes.
Under section 11 will the Minister consider on Report Stage introducing an amendment? I would ask the Minister to consider this in the interests of the staff if it is consistent with the legal requirements. I know that any changes would not be brought about by the Minister against the wishes of the staff but I would ask him to indicate to the staff quite clearly that we are ensuring their security of tenure. They are concerned about this section. They feel that corporation status gives them more security. They feel the memorandum of association could be changed without recourse to the Dáil. I am asking the Minister to include at the end of section 11 that any changes proposed must be brought before the Oireachtas in the form of an amendment or at least laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas and require the statutory 21 days to allow for any debate in relation to that. That would allay many of the fears of the 30,000 people employed by both companies.
I will consider that.
The need at this point is for the Minister to indicate what kind of an amendment he proposes to introduce in order to allay the fears of those who see dangers in the fact that the Minister is the only one, as the Bill stands, who can agree or disagree changes in the Articles of Association and the Memorandum.
I am committed to looking at it. An amendment has been suggested to me along the lines of prior information to the trade unions and staff organisations and I am looking at that. It will be something along those lines.
I should like to have recorded the wording that I would like to see in there.
The Deputy can table an amendment for Report Stage.
I would prefer the Minister to look into it. The wording I would like would be:
The Memorandum of Association of each company shall be in such form consistent with this Act as may be approved by the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs with the consent of the Minister for Finance and all or any changes proposed must be brought before the Oireachtas in the form of an amendment to this Act.
That would be the ultimate I would require but less than that would be that it would be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas.
The first part would present enormous difficulties. It would take away all the advantages of the flexibility of the company format and I do not think Deputy Leyden can be really serious about that proposal. The second one is certainly something I will consider.
Amendments Nos. 26, 27 and 27a may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 26:
In page 13, subsection (1), between lines 13 and 14, to insert the following paragraph:—
"(a) to provide a national postal service within the State and between the State and places outside the State,". .bqe
Section 12 specifies the principal objects of the proposed State-sponsored postal company An Post. These are to meet the industrial, commercial and social needs of the State for efficient postal services, to provide a money transmission service, counter services for its own business and Government et cetera business and consultancy, advisory, training and contract services in Ireland and abroad. The purpose of the amendment is to specify an additional object for the company, namely the provision of a national postal service. This will become the first in the list of the company's objectives. A corresponding amendment is proposed to section 16 (2) of the Bill which gives statutory justification for the national postal monopoly being granted to the company under that section.
Is the Minister saying that if we did not have "a national postal service within the State and between the State and places outside" we could not send letters out of the country, that they would be wandering around the shores and could not get out?
No, it is just making it absolutely clear what the first objective of the company is. It would seem to be assumed and unwritten and I think it is right that it should be clarified.
I do not see that amendments Nos. 26 and 27 are exclusive of each other. Amendment No. 27 would be a development of the Minister's amendment. I have already indicated that our purpose in proposing any amendments to this Bill was to ensure that there was a comprehensive and efficient postal service provided to the highest possible standards and also that the job security of the Post Office employees was protected. The existing paragraph (a) does not adequately express the type of service which is needed. The words "reasonably practicable" are included in paragraph (a). It refers to such services as the company considers to be reasonably practicable. In my view that terminology leaves large loopholes in the type of services which could be provided by the company.
It leaves a loophole to the extent that it may be considered reasonably practicable for them to give away some of the services or to consider that some services they could provide could more reasonably and practicably be provided by a private company. For that reason we are seeking to have that paragraph deleted and the alternative words inserted "a comprehensive and efficient postal service of the highest attainable standard to satisfy as far as possible the industrial, commercial and social needs of the State". This would be a far more appropriate paragraph. I do not see that it is in any way exclusive or contradictory to the Minister's amendment No. 26.
I will be moving our amendment No. 27 (a):
to provide a comprehensive and efficient postal service of the highest attainable standards to satisfy as far as possible the domestic, industrial, commercial and social needs of the State.
The Minister should consider changing the wording to accommodate our wording, or the wording of Deputy De Rossa. The service provided by the Department at the moment does not need an explanation or any definition. We have have a postal service and a parcel service. I am anxious to define exactly what we are proposing to do with the postal services of the company. I am anxious to maintain the delivery of letters to each home. We will debate that later. The Minister should consider the definition we are putting forward and perhaps bring in an amendment on Report Stage. I want to define as clearly as possible the operations of the Department in relation to An Bord Poist so that we will know exactly what their mandate is, to provide an efficient postal service of the highest attainable standards to satisfy as far as possible the domestic, industrial, commercial and social needs of the State. That is a very acceptable amendment and the Minister should seriously consider accepting it.
This is a very long Bill. We prepared it when we were in Government. Deputy Wilson launched it last year. If we were in Government today, we would consider all reasonable amendments. Our approach to this Bill is consistent with our approach when we were in Government. If we were trying to take political advantage of the Labour Party we could set out to oppose many sections in the Bill. That is not the Fianna Fáil approach. We stand for continuity. We could put down amendments to embarrass the Government. We are not doing that. We feel strongly about this Bill. It is our Bill. We are thankful to the Minister for bringing it back. We accept responsibility for it. Any amendment we are putting forward is intended to tighten it up and strengthen it. We could put Deputy O'Sullivan and the Tánaiste in a most embarrassing position. The Labour Party are under immense pressure from The Workers' Party. They are taking political advantage of the Labour Party.
Is that in this amendment?
It is very important to define the services being provided. I want to make clear the motivation behind our amendment. We are doing exactly what we would be doing if we occupied those benches. Deputy Kelly may say naturally he would expect consistency from Fianna Fáil.
It would be no bother to Fianna Fáil to oppose proposals they introduced two years ago. What did they do about the school bus service economies?
We never accepted the cuts proposed by the Minister for Education.
Fianna Fáil had worse cuts in mind.
We had not got worse cuts in mind.
You never know what anybody has in mind until it is on the record. We have heard enough of that nonsense. They are now trying to make out that they know what is in another person's mind.
Deputy Leyden on the amendments.
This Bill goes back to 1979, the time of the unfortunate strike. Deputy Faulkner was Minister and he put the emphasis on the accelerated programme for investment. This was continued on by Deputy Reynolds. Then unfortunately we had a Coalition Government and the Department were ignored totally. This Bill was ignored. Deputy Wilson has outlined why the Bill was ignored from 1981 until February 1982. I am very proud to have served with Deputy Wilson as Minister of State. As Minister, Deputy Wilson ensured that the Bill was taken up again and brought before the House last May, June and July for the Second Stage debate. If we had been in office last November this Bill would have been finalised.
For a short-term political advantage we could disown the Bill. We could say we do not want incorporated status or limited company status because representations were made to us in a particular way. We want to be consistent. We feel deeply about the Bill. The former Ministers discussed our approach to it. We are proud to be consistent in supporting the Bill. Deputy Kelly may say we should take political advantage. We might be able to bring down the Government on this Bill if we really wanted to. As a member of the Post Office Workers' Union Deputy O'Sullivan must find it very hard to discover that The Workers' Party are advocating the very amendments he supported last year. The Tánaiste must find it very difficult to support this Bill.
The Government may find it very hard to go back on an agreement made last year in Limerick. I am surprised that Deputy De Rossa should be upset about changes in the agreement or the deal made in the Savoy Cinema in Limerick or wherever it was. I think it was the Savoy in Limerick. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle was there. He knows. Was it the Savoy Cinema?
Yes, it was. I would prefer the Deputy to talk about the amendment.
I know it is uncomfortable for you.
No, it is not uncomfortable, but the Savoy Cinema is not in amendment No. 26.
I have your record too, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I will repeat all you said if you want me to.
Deputy Leyden to continue.
Deputy De Rossa was surprised that there was a change in the agreement or the deal worked out last year. That deal was made after the election. It was not put before the Irish people. It has been broken continually since. It was intended only to appease the representatives and the delegates who went to the Savoy in Limerick. It is nonsense and I would not even bother reading it because it has no relevance to the running of the country. All the Deputies in the Labour Party would sell their souls for a Mercedes car.
The Deputy is wasting a great deal of time.
I am not. This is very important. We are defining our philosophy in relation to the functions of this particular company and that is why we have tabled this very comprehensive amendment, an amendment the Minister should adopt. It goes as far as it possibly can to encompass all the services provided at the moment. It is not unfair to remind the House and the Deputies on the Government side in particular that last July the Fine Gael Party abstained when this Bill was going through. Fianna Fáil voted for it but it was opposed by all the Members of the Labour Party. Now, 11 months later, we have the greatest U-turn in Irish politics. The gymnasts in the Labour Party are prepared to turn head over heels in support of this Bill. I welcome their support because it is a good Bill. It is our Bill. They are now supporting the right wing Fine Gael Government. The day will come when they will rue the day they sold their socialist souls for Mercedes cars.
For the third and last time I would strongly appeal to the Deputy to stay with the amendments.
I know Deputy John Kelly agrees with me. He talked about the back streets and the hacked out document.
We have not matched Knock Airport yet.
The sports stadium has not arisen yet. There was an agreement between both parties last November or December in the Savoy Cinema in Limerick wherein it was agreed that a corporation status would be established. That has been gone back on now. The reason I have not changed is because I believe we had a good Bill and we were consistent in our approach and I am trying to straighten out the limited liability company. Going back to the agreement, the statement made by Deputy Kelly is very relevant and it should be stitched into the record. I refer to the deals made between the Labour Party and the Fine Gael Party last winter.
Deputy, I have heard that for the fourth time.
The Chair is tired of it.
I would like the Deputy to concentrate on the amendment. His comments have no relevance whatever and he is simply wasting time. The amendment is relevant but the Deputy persists in travelling all over the place.
Albeit in a BMW.
I know the Leas-Cheann Comhairle is above politics though he does vote and, when it comes to this particular section, I know in your heart you will vote against it but on your feet you will vote for it.
I appreciate the Deputy's concern.
It is regrettable but that is the situation. It is something which makes the electorate very sceptical about agreements. All agreements should be voted on.
Like the Deputy's manifesto.
We stuck to it line by line and section by section.
The Deputy's party abolished ground rents six years ago.
I would ask the Minister to accept our amendment. Will he consider it?
I would like to express my thanks for the concern expressed by Deputy Wilson and Deputy Leyden for myself and my party. At times I am a little dismayed at what goes on inside here. He talked about the Savoy Cinema. Believe it or not, if we put a little sawdust on the floor we would have a full grown circus. Deputy Leyden is the jester, not the party spokesman. Perhaps Deputy Leyden is a little unique in the Fianna Fáil Party because he can go back to 1977, four years ago. That is quite a time span.
I thank the Deputy. That is why he is a millionaire and I am not. I should like now to quote from Deputy Wilson's reply to the Second Stage debate here: "As an earnest of my intention to do everything possible to protect the legitimate interests of the staff and meet them to the maximum extent practicable I have decided to introduce a number of amendments on the Committee Stage of the Bill, in the case of some sections which have caused some staff organisations concern, the sections concerned being Nos. 16, 42, 43, 64, 73 and 105." What is equally significant——
The Fourth Schedule.
It is here in the record. These are the only sections the then Minister, Deputy Wilson, indicated he was prepared to amend. Deputy Leyden purposely tried to mislead the House here today on that. It is on the record. It is rather significant that in sections 70, 85 and 105, which cater for the social needs, the Fianna Fáil Party have not tabled any amendments.
We are still on section 12. The Deputy is going backwards and forwards.
I beg your pardon. I am prepared to meet my colleagues in the Post Office Workers' Union. My record on this Bill is clear. I am prepared to stand up and explain to them and I am not in the least ashamed of my record.
I want to speak briefly on all three amendments because they are all germane to the point I want to make. The purpose of all three amendments is to pin on to the new board the responsibility for providing something; whatever words one might find to describe it, it would be a decent postal service. We can dress that up whatever way we like. I cannot understand how it came about that Deputy Mac Giolla and Deputy De Rossa on the one hand and Deputy Leyden on the other have put down identical amendments. I cannot believe they collaborate about such matters. However it does not matter. Those two amendments, and that of the Minister, broadly aim at fixing and identifying that duty.
I do not want to anticipate too much, because we still have a long way to go in regard to this Bill, but it is very important before we pass from these amendments to recall that they have to be read against the background of the position in which the Post Office are going to be put by section 60 which will confirm the monopoly of the Post Office in regard to postal services. It is important to look at the import of section 60 when we consider these amendments. I am quite happy with the amendments put down by Deputy De Rossa, Deputy Mac Giolla and the Minister. I see nothing wrong with any of them, but the point is that this is what the public expect from the Post Office. I know that has not been stated, so far, in legislation, but this is what the public expect. It is only if the public get the kind of standard that the Minister, Deputy Mac Giolla, Deputy De Rossa and Deputy Leyden want, that they ought to be asked to tolerate a monopoly. It is terribly important to say that here at a relatively early stage in the debate.
You are not going to debate section 60 at present?
No, I just want to put down a marker because when I come to section 60 I hope you will not tell me that I am out of order in referring back to section 12.
No, I will not do that.
Nobody would mind a monopoly in the sale of hairpins but when it is a monopoly in a service which is statutorily bound to provide the things which Deputy Leyden, Deputy De Rossa, Deputy Mac Giolla and the Minister want to see, then a very serious dimension enters monopoly, because unless that system works the public are not getting something to which they are entitled. Not only that, and I am not apologising for mentioning it, but business is being unjustly kept out of an area in which it could operate and not just make money — contemptible though it is to mention money these days, obsequious though the apologists must be for talking about making a profit — it is being kept away not only from money and profit but from providing employment. For the benefit of Deputies who are geographically and politically to my left, I emphasise that it is only if that service will provide the decent standards which everybody here wants to see that I would defend their monopoly. Wherever the fault lies, whether ministerial mismanagement or bad relations in the Department, bad liaison, bad staff relations, bad industrial relations or bloody-mindedness among the unions, when the net result is that the public are not getting a postal service, then the constitutional and legal basis for a monopoly must disappear.
In a State like ours it is not possible for postal workers to behave as they did in 1979 and threaten people who are trying to carry on courier services. You cannot with one breath destroy a postal service, whatever your grievances or excuses — and I am not referring only to unions; I am speaking of the entire service from the Minister down — and with the next breath prevent others from filling the gap. That cannot be done legally. I have no doubt that couriers are creaming off the profitable routes. They are there because people can no longer trust the post to do what it once did. When I entered Leinster House 14 years ago I used to get the Seanad Order Paper and, subsequently, the Dáil Order Paper at 7.30 a.m. by post. That does not happen now. It no longer comes by post. You have to collect it here in the morning because the post can no longer be relied on to make an overnight delivery. These are the conditions in which courier services rise and flourish.
I note that the Post Office were talking recently about starting a courier service of their own. Existing law is defective in this regard, and I do not think it can be relied upon, but the Post Office are talking about using this law to have the existing courier services banned, and I think the law is being invoked for this purpose at present. If the Post Office would provide the common or garden ordinary overnight or half day post which once upon a time they did in Dublin and Cork there would be no need for a courier service and it is only because they cannot or will not do it any longer that people have to resort to couriers. I have no axe to grind for couriers. I do not own shares in any courier company. I do not know anyone in a courier company at any level of employment. But the public are caught in the middle and unless they get from the monopoly we are going to create, and to which the standards envisaged by these amendments are going to attach, unless they get those standards, then the legal basis in a free country for a monopoly disappears and I do not care who shouts or pickets to the contrary. A Minister or post office workers have no business insisting on a monopoly unless they are providing a service of the standard which every Deputy here wants to see.
I support Deputy Leyden's amendment because it is very suitable for this section. It relates to the principal objectives of the postal company. Perhaps the Minister might concern himself with the words "postal company" now having changed the name to "Post Office".
It is nonsense for Deputy O'Sullivan to suggest that because Deputy Wilson as Minister mentioned certain amendments he was prepared to bring before the House that meant no other amendments would have been brought in by him if he had continued as Minister. Anybody who has served as Minister knows that much consideration is given to a Bill between Second Stage and Committee Stage. While certain amendments might come to mind when the Minister is replying to Second Stage, nevertheless it is not unusual for a number of other amendments to be brought before the House on Committee Stage.
The purpose of An Post being set up on a statutory basis is to give the best possible service. If I was not convinced that such a service could be improved under the new system I would never have proposed that the change be made, nor would I have established the interim boards. Despite the criticism levied by Deputy Kelly and while much more could be done to improve the postal service, the Department of Posts and Telegraphs and their staff have given a reasonably good service considering the problems with which they are faced. One must remember that there are regulations governing the Department of Posts and Telegraphs and also civil service regulations generally which did not help in operating their business. The staff in Posts and Telegraphs could give a very much better service, given the opportunity. The public have the impression that the civil service rules and regulations specifically relate to the Department of Posts and Telegraphs only. These regulations have inhibited the work of the Post Office and their removal would lead to a much better service.
Our amendment No. 27 was published before the supplementary list of amendments including Deputy Leyden's, No. 27a. Secondly, Deputy Kelly wanted to know where this amendment came from. Obviously, we do not consult with Fianna Fáil as to what amendment we should put down.
The Deputy could do worse.
I doubt that.
The Deputy will mellow.
The amendment came from a list of amendments produced by the Post Office Workers' Union. The wording we have is word for word the post office union wording. Fianna Fáil have put down a substitute. They have made minor changes, but still changes. That explains where the amendment came from. We are pleased to have the opportunity of putting down this amendment and had we not been here, we very much doubt if Fianna Fáil would have considered putting it down.
That is not very fair.
It is true.
Before The Workers' Party came we carried on and we will carry on after that party have gone.
Deputy Leyden should leave him alone, because he is getting at Deputy O'Sullivan.
The Fianna Fáil Party had the opportunity to introduce that amendment into the Bill and they did not. I shall read the grounds which the union put forward in support of the amendment:
It should be the objective of the Corporation and the Government to provide the best possible postal service throughout the State. As framed, the section——
This is the section which was produced by Fianna Fáil and subsequently brought in by the Coalition Government.
——considerably endangers the fundamental concept of the postal service guaranteeing a universal service of the same quality to each and every citizen at a standard national charge.
That is why we introduced the amendment to the Bill. We accept that position and agree with it. I did not at any time attempt to embarrass Deputy O'Sullivan in the House. I introduced the question of the Joint Programme for Government simply to clarify a misunderstanding which he obviously had in relation to our party opposing the amendment to the Bill. He did not realise that the Coalition Government had introduced the same Bill as Fianna Fáil.
Deputy Kelly says that the monopoly can be justified only if the criteria laid down in the amendment are complied with. I agree to the extent that a posts and telecommunications service must be comprehensive and efficient. That has been the approach of my party from the beginning. For that reason we have supported the establishment of two State companies. They will be far more effective and efficient in that form. The danger in the Bill as presented here is that there are openings in it to enable private enterprise companies to come in, at the behest of whichever Minister is in office at the time and take the services which are profitable, leaving the State companies with the unprofitable services.
I have no hang-ups whatsoever about the word "profits". It is a question of the use of profits. For any enterprise to succeed, whether private or State, there must be the creation of a surplus of wealth for re-investment and development. In private companies, most of the profit made is used for private purposes, buying yachts or homes in Tenerife and so on.
Private companies must re-invest the same as public ones.
They have to re-invest, but the bulk of private profit is not so used. The state of private industry here at present indicates that private profit is not being used for re-investment. The companies are depending entirely on State hand-outs to try to maintain jobs and to develop.
That is not stopping them from going to the wall one after the other.
With regard to the pirate courier services being provided the trade union movement in the Post Office have been pressing for years for the Post Office to provide courier services. It is not that the workers in the Post Office have been reluctant to become involved in this area. They saw the dangers to their jobs in the mushrooming of illegal courier services. These courier services employ young children who go around on bicycles which they themselves must own and service and are paid buttons. We must ensure that the courier services provided give the people working in them a decent standard of living. The trade union movement, above all else, should not be blamed that the Post Office are not providing these courier services.
I appeal to the Minister to accept amendment No. 27. If he does that, he will be also accepting amendment No. 27 (a).
Deputy Kelly's contribution about the springing up of courier organisations right across the country attributed this mainly to the failure of the Post Office to provide the service and also to the industrial situation in the Post Office. The Post Office is unique in that it had the most stable work force of any section, private or public. They did not have a strike from 1922 until 1979. They showed amazing endurance of intolerable conditions for a long time.
It is most unfair to attribute the lateness of the delivery to the postman who actually delivers it. Everybody knows that each urban area in the city is expanding. From time to time people who have enjoyed a postal delivery at 7 o'clock in the morning, through re-routing, may find themselves at the end of the delivery and may not receive their post until 12 o'clock mid-day. There is a very simple explanation and I have no doubt that that is what happened in Deputy Kelly's case.
That would not explain a delivery taking four days to cross the city.
There have been breakdowns, it is true. At an earlier stage yesterday we discussed penalties. Not too long ago in Dublin, items given to a courier service for transmission were found in a derelict building. If a Post Office official were guilty of such an action he would be dismissed and brought before the courts. At present there is a case before the courts involving the question of whether the courier services are in breach of the monopoly. This House bestowed on the Post Office a monopoly and the couriers would seem to be in breach of that. In comparing the conditions of employment and the services provided by the Post Office and by the courier services one is not comparing like with like. Deputy Kelly is being most unfair to the Post Office people who have served this country loyally down through the years.
I hope, like everybody else, for a more efficient service. There is a need for restructuring. It is not the work force in the Post Office who are responsible for the present situation. There the buck stops. People have been charged with that responsibility by this House. It was up to them down through the years to do something about the situation. They did nothing and the public are paying now.
I do not want to leave Deputy O'Sullivan under a misapprehension. I would not mind parting from him on bad terms if I thought he was wrong, but would be sorry to have him feel that I was being unfair when he misunderstands me. I can quite see that a sudden increase in the work of a postal district will cause disruption and somebody may be at the receiving end of it. I hope that he does not think me so small-minded as to waste the time of this House complaining that my Order Paper does not arrive at 7.30 in the morning. I gave a simple example, which could be multiplied one hundred thousandfold, of the kind of way in which the postal service has deteriorated. It is nowhere in the same realm of horror as the telephone service. The telephone service is in the Hammer Films category compared with the postal service. I do not wish to exaggerate what is wrong with the postal service, but since 1979 it has never got back to the standard it formerly used to attain and to which I am very glad to acknowledge it attained.
One need not go back to the days before the first world war about which one's grandmother would tell one. In relatively recent times, one could reliably post a letter at any provincial town, or even village, at lunch time and it would be delivered by the first post in Dublin on the following day. Those times have passed. There may be good reasons for that but to Deputy O'Sullivan and also to Deputy De Rossa who obviously is attached to the idea of a postal service which delivers for a standard modest fee to the door of everybody's house, even to houses that may be situated at the top of boreens on some remote mountains, I say that we have an amazing service. It is a great luxury even in a leafy suburb such as the one I live in to have one's mail delivered to the door by a man who must be paid well enough to maintain a wife and family. He delivers that mail even if it consists only of a couple of awful circulars. I seldom get what I regard as a real letter these days but it is not for the postman to make such distinctions. I am not sure that we should be even attempting to afford this de luxe service. I am interested to hear Deputy De Rossa talk about this without even questioning whether we can afford it. It is a service that cannot be automated beyond a certain point so we must have a responsible and educated man to perform this menial service for everyone in a collection of perhaps 300 houses.
I am not trying in any sense to belittle our postal service. I would agree that a charge of 26 pence per letter is a burden from the commercial point of view in that this charge is higher than that levied on some of our competitors but measured against the service one receives, the 26 pence charge is fairly cheap. I may be saying something else about that in a different context but many parts of our commercial and industrial world and of our private and domestic world also need a faster service than we provide. The postal service has deteriorated. People would have been happy if it had been maintained at the 1950, 1960 or 1970 standard. The courier services with their little boys and roomfuls of abandoned letters would never have been heard of if the standards that were taken for granted 12 or 13 years ago had been maintained.
I suspect that what we are at today is putting a political buffer between whatever Minister happens to be in office and the public in the form of a natty little board who can be blamed for everything when the service deteriorates still further and who will have little chance of solving the industrial problems which neither the Minister nor his predecessors succeeded in solving. That concerns me. We are setting up a whole structure of expensive quarters, wall-to-wall carpeting and so on but we will get a service which will not be any better than we are getting now and which will leave open the same opportunities economically so far as the couriers are concerned. Instead of improving, the service will probably become much worse. If that happens and particularly if it ever grinds to a halt, that monopoly in a country like ours which is governed by a Constitution which contains articles such as 43 and 45 which attribute a certain status to property and enterprise and give the State rather a back seat in these contexts, can no longer be justified. I say that with whatever little expertise I may be credited with. It will not be possible nor reasonable to ask the public to accept a monopoly which is not delivering a service as was the case for five months in 1979, when something half-way on the way to lawlessness was involved and when other people in the humble pursuit of profit tried to provide an alternative service. I support the monopoly situation provided it delivers in the terms sought by these Deputies in their amendment.
It is very easy to come here and blame everyone for the problems of the Post Office but these problems did not begin this year, last year, nor the year before. This Bill would have been totally unnecessary had the people who were in power 15 years ago considered what the service demanded and considered the changes that needed to be made in order to develop the service. Anybody wishing to criticise the various services should make himself familiar first with the conditions in which the people involved must work. I cannot remember the years specifically but it was about 15 years ago that the whole matter should have been dealt with.
The Deputy is referring to the wrong year.
I am not talking about party politics. If Deputy Kelly took the time to go down to Sherrif Street and acquaint himself with the conditions under which the personnel there have to work, he would realise how bad the situation is. I recall going there and finding a window that had been broken for five months and which was not fixed because of the system whereby the Department had to wait for the Board of Works to do the work.
I agree with what the Deputy says.
Is that the sort of slave labour that Deputy Kelly would expect from people in the public service? I will not have anyone criticised when I know the conditions in which they must work and when the people who make the laws have failed to provide proper conditions. I am not pointing the finger in any direction but I am merely referring to the situation as I found it in 1980 after a prolonged strike. I would not condone much of what happened during the strike. Conditions were created then for a courier service to pick up some of the business. Let us consider the sort of charges that these people impose. They charge £1.50 for delivering a letter from one side of the city to the other. If the Post Office were to increase their charge to that extent, we would have Deputies making a lot of noise and asking what had gone wrong.
I hope the Minister will give us statistics relating to the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. We are aware of the hundreds of thousands of items that are handled every day by the Department but we always hear about the one or two letters that did not arrive. We never hear about the 700,000 that are delivered on time every day. We must compare like with like and have regard to the entire situation instead of picking out some small item or writing a little letter to the evening papers about a letter posted in Dublin and which did not arrive in another part of the city for two days. There is no business operation in this country, courier or otherwise, that is providing the sort of service that used to be part and parcel of the Post Office. However, society is changing and we must pay for the services we receive. If we are not prepared to create the right conditions for people to work in, we are failing in our duty.
It was precisely for that reason that my predecessor, Deputy Faulkner, made this move. Somebody had to grasp the nettle and attempt to sort it out before it disintegrated. As a result of the review group's report decisions were taken. It is sad that it took so many years before this Bill was brought before us to set up these boards. These boards have not been set up to shield politicians from legitimate criticisms. Had the postal service been reorganised and had public service reform taken place 15 years ago as it did in other countries, there would have been no need for this Bill today. We should now get on with the job and it will not be easy. We will have to get rid of some of the antiquated regulations in the Department.
On my first week on the job I went into the Fairview sorting office at 11.45 one night where young fellows were finishing their work and I asked them what I could do for them as a Minister. A young man told me that I should take a look at the rule book. I asked him for one and he said he had sold it to a museum for £1,000. That rule book is 100 years out of date and it does not set down conditions under which one could work today. The Department of Posts and Telegraphs were expected to operate those regulations. It is no wonder that there was a clash between the workers and the management. Those regulations barred them from getting into a commercial area, to charge for the services. We all want the service. We should not dwell on small criticisms without looking at the overall operation of the system. The conditions under which postal and telecommunications workers have worked need to be changed and we should have a proper management structure. Within that Department there are the finest workmen available and I know what they are prepared to do when properly motivated and given leadership. For us to come in here and criticise them will not help. We should get on with the Bill, get the boards set up and get the management structures that will give us the service we want.
I am grateful to Deputy Reynolds for his contribution and I agree with him. Constructive critisism is very necessary but there has been unfair criticism. Recently Gay Byrne conducted a survey on one of his programmes in relation to the postal service. To their surprise out of 140 letters 96 per cent arrived on the first day.
An official of the Department monitors that and he was putting it at over 90 per cent.
I was delighted with the result of the survey and I wrote both to Gay Byrne and to the Department thanking them and urging the Department to do better if they could. I agree with Deputy Kelly in that the guarantee of the future of the Post Office is its efficiency. The vast majority of people in the Post Office accept that. There have been improvements and hopefully there will be more improvements. The amendment proposed by Fianna Fáil is not greatly different from what we have put down in the original section (a). We have added to the subsection:
(a) to provide a national postal service within the State and between the State and places outside the State,
The Bill then goes on to say:
(a) to meet the industrial, commercial and social needs of the State for efficient postal services and, so far as the company considers reasonably practicable, to satisfy all reasonable demands for such services throughout the State,
We have covered everything intended by the Opposition amendment so I would ask Deputies not to press it.
Is it agreed that amendment No. 26 be made?
No, it is not agreed. I am pressing amendment No. 27 (a).
They are not mutually exclusive.
I will not press my amendment if the Minister will agree to go back to the drawing board to draw up a more comprehensive amendment. I received quite a lot of representations from the Post Office Workers' Union, as did other Fianna Fáil Deputies, in relation to this section and others. I have been influenced by those representations and I accept their recommendations. I compliment the union on their constructive approach to the Bill and on the amendments they suggested. Their assessment of this section is right and I only added one word to it to make it stronger. I would ask the Minister to consider amending the Bill with our amendment.
On a point of information, if amendment No. 26 is taken, will amendments Nos. 27 and 27 (a) still be taken?
- Barnes, Monica.
- Barrett, Seán.
- Barry, Myra.
- Barry, Peter.
- Begley, Michael.
- Bell, Michael.
- Boland, John.
- Bruton, Richard.
- Burke, Liam.
- Carey, Donal.
- Cluskey, Frank.
- Collins, Edward.
- Conlon, John F.
- Connaughton, Paul.
- Coogan, Fintan.
- Cooney, Patrick Mark.
- Cosgrave, Liam T.
- Coveney, Hugh.
- Creed, Donal.
- Crotty, Kieran.
- Crowley, Frank.
- D'Arcy, Michael.
- Deasy, Martin Austin.
- De Rossa, Proinsias.
- Desmond, Barry.
- Desmond, Eileen.
- Donnellan, John.
- Dowling, Dick.
- Doyle, Avril.
- Doyle, Joe.
- Dukes, Alan.
- Durkan, Bernard J.
- Enright, Thomas W.
- Sheehan, Patrick Joseph.
- Skelly, Liam.
- Taylor, Mervyn.
- Taylor-Quinn, Madeline.
- Farrelly, John V.
- Fennell, Nuala.
- Flaherty, Mary.
- Glenn, Alice.
- Griffin, Brendan.
- Harte, Patrick D.
- Hussey, Gemma.
- Kavanagh, Liam.
- Keating, Michael.
- Kenny, Enda.
- L'Estrange, Gerry.
- McCartin, Joe.
- McGahon, Brendan.
- McGinley, Dinny.
- Mac Giolla, Tomás.
- McLoughlin, Frank.
- Mitchell, Gay.
- Mitchell, Jim.
- Molony, David.
- Moynihan, Michael.
- Naughten, Liam.
- Nealon, Ted.
- Noonan, Michael, (Limerick East).
- O'Brien, Fergus.
- O'Brien, Willie.
- O'Keeffe, Jim.
- O'Leary, Michael.
- O'Sullivan, Toddy.
- O'Toole, Paddy.
- Owen, Nora.
- Prendergast, Frank.
- Quinn, Ruairí.
- Ryan, John.
- Shatter, Alan.
- Timmins, Godfrey.
- Treacy, Seán.
- Yates, Ivan.
- Ahern, Bertie.
- Ahern, Michael.
- Andrews, David.
- Aylward, Liam.
- Barrett, Michael.
- Barrett, Sylvester.
- Brady, Gerard.
- Brady, Vincent.
- Brennan, Mattie.
- Brennan, Paudge.
- Brennan, Séamus.
- Browne, John.
- Burke, Raphael P.
- Byrne, Hugh.
- Byrne, Seán.
- Calleary, Seán.
- Colley, George.
- Collins, Gerard.
- Conaghan, Hugh.
- Connolly, Ger.
- Coughlan, Cathal Seán.
- Cowen, Bernard.
- Daly, Brendan.
- Doherty, Seán.
- Fahey, Francis.
- Fahey, Jackie.
- Faulkner, Pádraig.
- Fitzgerald, Gene.
- Fitzsimons, Jim.
- Flynn, Pádraig.
- Foley, Denis.
- Gallagher, Denis.
- Gallagher, Pat Cope.
- Geoghegan-Quinn, Máire.
- Harney, Mary.
- Haughey, Charles J.
- Hilliard, Colm.
- Hyland, Liam.
- Kirk, Séamus.
- Kitt, Michael.
- Lemass, Eileen.
- Leonard, Jimmy.
- Leyden, Terry.
- Lyons, Denis.
- McCarthy, Seán.
- McEllistrim, Tom.
- MacSharry, Ray.
- Molloy, Robert.
- Morley, P.J.
- Nolan, M.J.
- Noonan, Michael J. (Limerick West)
- O'Leary, John.
- O'Malley, Desmond J.
- Ormonde, Donal.
- O'Rourke, Mary.
- Power, Paddy.
- Reynolds, Albert.
- Treacy, Noel.
- Tunney, Jim.
- Wallace, Dan.
- Walsh, Seán.
- Wilson, John P.
- Wyse, Pearse.
Amendments Nos. 27 and 27a cannot be moved.
Before the division on amendment No. 26 I asked about these amendments and I was told they could be moved.
The acceptance of amendment No. 26 excludes Nos. 27 and 27a which are in conflict.
In deference to Deputy De Rossa, I was told the direct opposite.
The Chair must proceed in accordance with Standing Orders.
The amendment we have voted on was to insert a paragraph before paragraphs (a), (b) and (c). I consider that Deputy Leyden erred in asking for a vote on amendment No. 26. Amendments Nos. 27 and 27a propose to delete paragraph (a) and substitute a paragraph therefore. These two amendments are entirely different from amendment No. 26 because that amendment proposed to insert a paragraph before paragraph (a).
That is not my understanding and it is not the advice I have got. I am ruling in accordance with what I said earlier, that acceptance of amendment No. 26 means that the following two amendments cannot be moved. Of course, they can be raised on Report Stage.
They can be raised on the section.
The Minister may accept them.
I will take into account what the Deputies have said and I will consider the matter before Report Stage.
I trust the Minister will take those two amendments into consideration.
I will consider them.
Amendments Nos. 28 and 29 are alternatives to No. 27b and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 27b:
In page 13, subsection (1), lines 21 to 23, to delete paragraph (c) and substitute the following:
"(c) to provide counter services for the company's own and Government business and for others as the company thinks fit provided they are compatible with these and other principal objects set out in this subsection,".
The reason for this amendment is to try to give as much freedom as possible to sub-post offices and post offices to generate as much business as possible and so to expand the service. I would hope the amendment would bring flexibility to the company to operate for and on behalf of individuals and organisations so that more business would be generated in the Post Office services. There are over 2,000 sub-offices located in villages throughout the State as well as the main post offices. The company, in consultation with the unions involved, should be given as much flexibility as possible. My amendment reads:
To provide counter services for the company's own and Government business and for other as the company thinks fit provided they are compatible with these and other principal objects set out in this subsection.
This is a reasonable amendment and will allow the company to generate extra business. There are plenty of opportunities for these sub-offices in relation to the payment of accounts of other semi-state organisations. For instance, the ESB could easily reach an arrangement with the Post Office to collect ESB accounts. That worthwhile extension would provide extra employment. We must generate additional work for all the sub-offices and main offices because over the last few years there has been a removal of some business from those offices, particularly insurance stamps.
To provide extra work and to develop the company further, greater flexibility should be given. For instance, they could co-operate with Bord Fáilte by providing information, arranging bookings for tourists and so on. That could be an efficient part of the service provided by the Post Office, and the postmasters would be more than delighted to co-operate in any way that would generate extra business.
We should have adopted the Giro system some years ago because it would have generated an amazing amount of extra work for the Post Office. The company should not be inhibited from making arrangements with other organisations — semi-State or private companies — to provide new services. It would be very useful if a person could obtain his car tax or a driving licence in the post office. Many people would find this very convenient. Therefore, I ask the Minister to accept my amendment.
These three amendments are almost the same and there is broad agreement on them. My amendment is to delete ", subject to the consent of the Minister" and substitute ", provided that they are compatible with those services and with the other principal objects set out in this subsection,". These three amendments are effectively the same.
I am glad the Minister accepted this principle of removing inflexibility and day-to-day ministerial control. If we are taking this out of the hands of the civil service we must give the day-to-day control into the hands of the company. I am very glad the Minister accepted that.
I support the general thrust of the amendment. If the board are going to push for an expansion of work and services in this area there is no doubt in my mind that they will come up against vested interests. Removing the Minister's consent from this section will ease the burden on the Minister in the future because he cannot be got at. I know from discussions with the board that they have ambitions for development, particularly to use the very small and inexpensive computers available in sub-post office for a whole range of services, some of which have already been mentioned by Deputy Layden; and there are others, such as the payment of social welfare benefits, the withdrawal of money on demand from savings accounts and so on. When that stage of development is reached it will be well if as few shackles as possible are on the board and if access to the Minister to inhibit development is denied. That is why I am in full support of the thrust of the suggested amendment.
I welcome this development because if there is to be expansion in the Post Office it will have to be at the counter. Deputy Wilson mentioned that there could be opposition from vested interest and that the Minister could be subject to pressure, but the Post Office is unique in this respect. They do not have the overheads of many other institutions, financial institutions in particular. The Post Office can provide a service in the smallest village, and this resource will provide very necessary revenue for the new companies. The scope is limitless. The Post Office could act as an agent for other State agencies, Government Departments, the ESB, CIE and so on. These amendments will go a long way to ensuring that this will happen and I welcome them.
More money will have to be spent on security when that development takes place.
This is a great opening for expansion in the Post Office. What Deputy O'Sullivan said is correct. I am grateful to him for his help in drafting my amendment.
If Deputy O'Sullivan had not been prepared to assist the Minister, I would have been. I will not press my amendment because the Minister's is along the same lines.
I move amendment No. 28:
In page 13, subsection (1) (c), lines 22 and 23, to delete ", subject to the consent of the Minister," and substitute ", provided that they are compatible with those services and with the other principal objects set out in this subsection,".
I move amendment No. 29a:
In page 13, before section 13, to insert the following new section:—
"13. — The postal company shall not have the power to close a sub post office without first giving public notice two months in advance by means of public advertisement in local newspapers in circulation in the area involved and public notices in the sub post office involved and head post office.".
The reason I am proposing this amendment is that I want to ensure as far as possible security of tenure for the over 2,000 sub-offices spread throughout the State. I want to ensure that no action is taken to close one of those offices. Postmasters in sub-offices are providing a very good service throughout the country and in many areas they are practically subsidising the State. They provide tremendous assistance for old people applying for and collecting their pensions. They are the pillars of society. I would not want to see a situation where a sub-office could be closed by any board. I would be anxious that before any such decision was taken people would have an opportunity to place objections and that those objections would be sustained and that the Minister would then be involved.
I would like the Minister to give an assurance to the House now that he does not envisage any such closures. I am opposed to any office being closed. In my constituency the service provided by the sub-offices is second to none. I had the honour as Minister of State to visit sub-offices, particularly in my constituency, and I admired the high standards and efficiency of all the offices I visited. They provide a fine service and give much-needed employment in rural areas. They employ one or two assistants and where there is a manual telephone exchange perhaps two, three or more staff are employed. Before any move would be made to close an office due notice should be given to the public. There should be provision made for objections to be lodged well in advance and the Minister at that stage should be given the opportunity to intervene. There is no better safeguard than for the local Member of the Oireachtas or county councillor to have the opportunity to lobby and to ensure that the office would not be closed without full consideration. Postmasters have been providing a service over the years at a very nominal rate. Many of them are practically subsidising the State.
There is no doubt about that.
One must bear in mind that they provide a building, heat and light, they pay rates on that section of the building and they are not eligible for social welfare payments from the State. Many of them work to a great age and they cannot get a pension from the State while they are operating the sub-post offices. A total number of 132 sub-offices have an income of £1,762 per annum. That is around £35 a week. Many people on social welfare would be receiving more than that. There are 2,068 people involved altogether and of those 219 earn between £1,762 and £2,000 per annum. At between £2,000 and £3,000 per annum there are 487 postmasters and postmistresses. That would be about £60 per week. Therefore, under the figure of £60 a week there are 800 people. I know the Minister and the officials will recognise the tremendous service rendered to the State since 1922 by the sub-post office system. It is a courteous and efficient system. They help to complete forms for old age pensioners and so on and they do not receive the return which they should receive. I know that at present there is a case before arbitration to increase the remuneration of postmasters. I want to ensure that there will be no question of an office closing without a full examination and allowing the public representatives to lobby the board and the chief executive and anybody else in this area.
In the Minister's own constituency I had the pleasure of working in the by-election last year in the Ballyfermot area and I had the honour of opening a sub-office in Ballyfermot. Many people do not realise that many of the major offices are so-called sub-offices. Many of those offices carry out more work for the Department than many of the main offices. When I was in the Department there were additional payments of children's allowances and they were efficiently given out by the offices. I hope the Minister will consider the inclusion of this amendment in the Bill.
I should like to support Deputy Leyden on this amendment. I did not support an earlier amendment of his because I thought that there was a conflict between the terms of employment of a member of the staff and the sub-postmaster who has a contractual arrangement and I felt you could not cover both in the one amendment. However, I believe there is an opportunity here to give recognition to the people who have carried out this service down through the years. As it is tabled it will probably present problems because on occasions it may be necessary to close a post office at very short notice due to some irregularity. I agree in principle with what Deputy Leyden is trying to ensure. Where everything has been properly done and work carried out according to regulations I do not think an office should be closed on short notice. If we are really serious about the expansion of the service a lot will depend on the type of service which will be provided at this level. For that reason in support of Deputy Leyden I ask the Minister to consider bringing in an amendment on Report Stage.
In support of the amendment tabled by Deputy Leyden I should like to say that there has been a problem. The system of payments may have changed but, at one stage, the postmasters in these offices were paid by the number of transactions done. When there was a change from the purchase of stamps to the collection of PRSI by the Revenue Commissioners, some of these officers lost remuneration on that account. This should be taken into consideration. A very heavy volume of work in the small telegraph offices falls upon the personnel, very often a family. Many of these post offices are waiting for the automation of the telephones in the area, and they are worked to distraction as of now while waiting for the day when automation comes. They have to provide a service on Sunday mornings and Sunday evenings, bank holiday mornings and bank holiday evenings, as well as the service throughout the week.
This amendment being in consideration of them and the work they do should be supported. I mentioned en passant already that when all this development takes place due precautions will have to be taken. A considerable sum of money will have to be spent by the new board on security in order to aid them. There is one point I should like to make apropos this and the precautions proposed in the amendment. In some areas as towns develop a large percentage of the population is placed in new housing estates. Very often that takes business away from a sub-post office in a more ancient part of the town. Deputy Leyden's amendment would enable consideration to be given for the actual location of the office to be transferred from the old part of the town, where it had been in the middle of a largish population, and placed in the new housing scheme area. In my constituency, as the House knows, we have very many little hills. It is drumlin territory. This is often mentioned in agricultural debates and at Question Time when agriculture is under discussion. It imposes fairly severe hardship on people who live alone when they get old if they have to climb many hills to get to the post office for their pensions. Deputy Leyden's amendment will actually give due notice so that concerned citizens — and I am talking particularly about old citizens — will have an opportunity to make their own views known, if the post office location is to be changed, where it should be sited.
I like the principle behind this amendment and I am prepared to accept the principle. I have a couple of worries about it. For instance, a very valid point was made by Deputy O'Sullivan. At the moment there have to be speedy close downs because of irregularities. That has been mentioned. The second point is that I would not want this to be seen as enabling closures of post offices or almost encouraging them. There is a danger that it could be so construed by some. The third point is that, as areas are developing, it may be that the centre of gravity of the population changes and the post office should be moved. If the Post Office is to be successful it should have the flexibility to move taking into account human considerations. I would not want to hamstring it too much. I accept the principle of the amendment and I will come back with an amendment on Report Stage.
I thank the Minister. In putting down the amendment I was conscious of the point made by the Minister that it could be drawing attention to the problem. I tried to foresee the difficulties which may arise in the future. I did not want to encourage the company to consider that course of action. I am a realist. I know the situation which will arise in the company and the pressures which will arise in relation to the subvention for so-called economic services. The Minister may be given certain options in relation to the subvention he may have to make to the postal board.
I am aware of the emergency closure of offices which we had to do many times in my term of office. I do not want a temporary closure to come within the ambit of the amendment. It should be exempt from that provision. A permanent closure is different. The company should not have power to permanently close a sub-office without first giving public notice. That would cover the point made by the Minister and would give great hope to the sub-postmasters and the unions representing them who made submissions to me. Before that from my own personal experience and my involvement with the sub-postmasters over the years I had already prepared an amendment.
I appreciate the viewpoint expressed by the Minister. This is the right spirit. This is what legislation should be about. If an Opposition Deputy puts forward an idea to the Minister on Committee Stage and if it is acceptable, the Minister should consider it and accept it. I thank the Minister for his approach to this amendment.
This section imposes an obligation on the Post Office to ensure that charges for services are kept at the minimum rates consistent with meeting approved financial targets. One of the objectives of the new board, as expressed by the board already having studied the matter, is that they should be able to go to business people and make deals with business concerns — in other words, make a price with business concerns. If my memory serves me correctly 90 per cent of the traffic is commercial. Ordinary social writing to Aunt Maria takes up only about 10 per cent of the postal traffic. Under this section I would hope there would be no inhibition stopping the board from going to large business concerns and making a deal.
I have been examining the wording of the section. There is a reference in section 13 (1) (a) providing that charges for services are kept at the minimum rates consistent with meeting approved financial targets. That is a laudable objective. I presume it does not mean the minimum rates must be uniform rates. I presume the company will not be inhibited from doing deals provided they are profitable and designed to get the business of industrial and other concerns.
One of the major difficulties and one of the reasons for the formation of the company is the fact that very competent and highly-skilled staff have very few opportunities of discussing arrangements with people like, for instance, Time magazine. That concern would have been prepared to enter into arrangements here but the Department were inhibited in entering into any arrangement. “Time” is a magazine which circulates widely throughout Europe and there they are given preferential rates because of the very high volume of work generated.
When Deputy Wilson was Minister he and I introduced a special air mail service to the United States. That was a great advance and the people in the Department deserve to be congratulated because it worked efficiently and effectively and brought in extra revenue.
In relation to charges generally, our charges are excessive. They are necessary to cover the cost of wages, maintenance and overheads. At the same time the cost of the stamp at 26p is definitely prohibitive. The 22p stamp is also prohibitive. The Department have, of course, to pay their way. The board will face great difficulty in regard to postal charges and there will certainly have to be a delay before any other increase is provided. After every increase there is a drop in the volume of mail with a consequential drop in revenue. There was a very large drop after the last major increase. The cost of the stamp is very high compared with the UK and this has encouraged people to post their letters in Northern Ireland. This is actually illegal and it is wrong for companies to use this particular outlet which results in mail which should be posted here but is actually posted in Northern Ireland having subsequently to be delivered by our employees in Posts and Telegraphs. The company will have to consider the situation very carefully. I have had conversations with the man who will be appointed chief executive and I know he has some very good ideas for making arrangements with major companies in regard to postal charges at a preferential rate. I believe that is the only way in which the company can become viable.
According to the section the company must conduct affairs so as to ensure that charges for services are kept at the mimimum rates consistent with meeting approved financial targets and the revenues are not less than sufficient to meet all charges properly chargeable to revenue account — including depreciation of assets and proper allocation to general reserve — taking one year with another, generating a reasonable proportion of capital needs and remunerating capital and repaying borrowings. That is a very big undertaking and everybody will agree that this is one of the major difficulties facing the board. If charges are increased for the purpose of complying with all these provisos the law of diminishing returns will enter in and the volume of mail will drop. In the United States the cost of first-class mail is roughly 20 cents. There they have reached such an advanced state they can actually allow for a three year interim before there is another increase. Businesses are assured that postal costs will not increase and that means businesses are in a position to negotiate special terms. Businesses know exactly where they stand and the company has an incentive to provide an economic postal service.
In our Department of Posts and Telegraphs officials are restricted. I believe they have been unfairly blamed for the high postal charges because legislation prohibited them making arrangements which would redound to the advantage of the Department. Parcel post is another area where difficulty arises. Here the Department are in competition with CIE and with the courier services. I hold no brief for the courier services. The Department provide a service door to door throughout the entire country and I approve of that. That is why I resent the courier service because they operate in large areas of population such as Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick, Sligo, Waterford, Wexford and so on. I have heard that they utilise elderly people who have free transport to bring mail to various locations. This is undermining the operations of the Department. I object to the courier service in Dublin coming here to this House and to the GPO delivering mail. That is neither right nor proper. The Department are not in a position to provide a guaranteed delivery service of a courier type.
It would be very easy for the Department to provide an express service at special rates in the city to compete with the courier service and I have no doubt that the company, when formed, will investigate the possibilities of competing directly with courier services. I would encourage that and I know the chief executive and the board members are very conscious of this. The courier services who are creaming off the lucrative city market will now have decent competition from the Department. Up to now the Minister was restricted in allowing the development of a courier service. Under this Bill that will be remedied because we have the facilities, personnel and a guaranteed delivery system: anybody can entrust mail to the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. As Deputy Kelly said, there may be slight delays but 95 per cent of letters are delivered within a day. Furthermore, you would never have a situation where letters were left in a derelict building with those responsible for them absconding leaving the mail to be delivered by the sound workers in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs who delivered it at a very nominal rate.
This section will impose certain constraints on the company but the type of management and personnel in An Bord Poist should be able to bring about major changes. The Department had the will, personnel, brains and intelligence but they were restricted by legislation from developing. I am sure all the personnel who are being transferred to the new company will have a great opportunity and incentive to compete with the couriers and provide an efficient, effective service. There should be no increases for some years because of inflation because at present there is not much incentive for businesses to use the postal service.
I support the points so well made by Deputy Wilson and Deputy Leyden about the need for flexibility in the rates of charges and methods of operation of An Bord Poist. I particularly draw the Minister's attention to the difficulties of the printing industry where the Post Office are restricted to specific charges for everyone and cannot make an arrangement or deal with that industry. As a result they have lost a considerable amount of trade in the past year, some of which was quite lucrative and very important for the workers in the printing industry here. One firm had a contract in California which had previously been supplied by a firm in New York. The printing company here were able to do it more efficiently until postal charges got too high. If this section is used in the manner which has been suggested, giving flexibility in relation to charges and special rates and taking into consideration the volume of work and trade that goes through the Post Office, they could make a special deal for charges to a particular company. The Minister should look at the printing industry because arrangements can be made whereby the revenue of the Post Office would be increased and the printing industry would be helped enormously, both in the export trade and in employment.
I fully endorse the remarks in relation to courier services. There is a great need to give maximum flexibility and authority to use the best possible methods in every area, to be competitive and to do the job without any restrictions. That is very important and I hope the Bill will operate in the area of rates of charges also.
The conflict between the couriers and the Post Office has been well discussed and the reasons given for and against them. However, the Bill has not clarified the position regarding transmission of electronic mail and the teleprinter service. Traditionally, these have gone to the Post Office and should remain with them. There is a very minute but important definition absent from the Bill: what constitutes a letter? It may seem unimportant but there will be legal arguments about what a letter is. Is it something up to a certain weight? A figure of 500 grammes has been suggested and discussed at departmental level, but this will have to be clarified before the Bill is passed.
If these matters are not resolved we will have conflict from the very start between the two bodies and this House should be very clear as to who has responsibility.
I agree with most of what has been said. We are placing on An Bord Poist the responsibility of providing an efficient service and they must be given an opportunity of doing this in the best possible way. Flexibility is a must if they are to succeed in their objective of providing a top-class service.
As Deputy Leyden said, the Department have shown the direction in one area of their operations but the possibilities which are now available to this company are exceptional and the board should be given every possible freedom to develop these services. The survey which was carried out over a number of years in relation to the postal service recommended a considerable number of new operations which the Post Office could take under their aegis and, if they are given the flexibility, there is no doubt that they will be a success.
I agree with what Deputy Leyden said. I insisted that there should be no postal charge increases this year, which is the first time for years that this has happened. I hope that a policy of price stability in the postal and telecommunications areas will be possible. It is in that way that one increases volume of business. Volume and new business are the answer to the Post Office problem. When one compares the volume per capita— items of post per head of population carried through the year — our volume per capita is less than half that of the UK and one-third that of places like Sweden. Price is very important and, as Deputy Leyden said, this is a very price sensitive commodity. When the price goes up there is an immediate drop-off and it takes quite a while to recover. I am glad to be able to say that our policy this year is working: volume is up and revenue is keeping pace with the projection. There is still, however, much room for improvement.
If a postman has to make his way to a house to deliver one letter the revenue on that is 26p and I do not know what the average cost is. If he delivers ten letters the revenue is £2.60, so volume is extremely important. If we keep the price down we can get the volume up. That is essential in order to pay future pay increases.
An Bord Poist have many new ideas. This year we will introduce new areas, guaranteed delivery services, express services in Dublin and Cork, Faxpost.
Later this year we will have bulk unaddressed mail. People call it junk post, but I do not like that title. It is mass delivery of unaddressed mail. All these are very important and necessary areas and if the price is right there is a market. I am glad that I was able to defend my decision of not allowing any price increase this year. In the past few years we have had an increase and in some years two increases.
Three in 1981.
Deputies have referred to the freedom which the post company should have regarding charges. They have that freedom which is dealt with in section 67. They have flexibility and can vary different charges and rates up or down and quite rightly so. I commend the section to the House.
I move amendment No. 30:
In page 14, subsection (1), between lines 4 and 5, to insert the following:—
"(a) to provide a national telecommunications service within the State and between the State and places outside the State,".
This is a parallel provision in respect of An Bord Telecom to the one provided for An Bord Poist.
Before the Minister continues, have we agreement that amendments Nos. 30, 31, 31a and 31b may be taken together? If amendment No. 30 is accepted, then the others cannot be moved, but they can all be discussed.
I want clarification on one point. The Minister is bringing in an extra provision in (a). 14 (a) would be his amendment and then (a) would become (b). Is that correct?
Yes, that is right. They are not mutually exclusive. We had this difficulty elsewhere. We can discuss them together but vote on them separately. In relation to amendments Nos. 31 and 31a there is not a great deal of difference. Deputy Mac Giolla is proposing to insert:
To provide a comprehensive and efficient telecommunications service of the highest attainable standard to satisfy as far as possible the industrial, commercial and social needs of the State,".
What we would have under (b) is:
to provide a telecommunications service to meet the industrial, commercial and social needs of the State for efficient telecommunications services and, so far as the company considers reasonably practicable, to satisfy all reasonable demands for such services throughout the State,
These are much the same thing. I prefer the one which has been drafted with the care and attention of the parliamentary draftsman. I think Deputy Leyden's amendment is the same.
I would put in the word "domestic".
I submit that both those amendments are proposed as substitutes for the present (a), which will become (b) if my amendment is accepted. I suggest that 14 (a), as it now stands before my amendment is moved, meets the point the Deputies are making.
Could we have clarification on that? If the Minister's amendment is accepted, how would 14 (1) (a) read?
It would read:
to provide a national telecommunications service within the State and between the State and places outside the State,
And would it go on from there? Is everything else in (a) as it stands replaced by the Minister's suggested (a)?
No. It is to insert a new paragraph.
The Minister did not say that (a) should become (b).
Once one has an insertion, the rest moves down. When we get to Report Stage, it will be published in that way.
Usually it says that (a) changes to (b) and (b) to (c).
We had a similar discussion in connection with An Bord Poist and there was a misunderstanding at that stage. Is the Minister's proposal to put in an insertion and that the remainder as in the Bill would still remain in the Minister's version?
Amendment No. 31 is an amendment to the remaining portion which would be in the Bill. As regards amendment 30, it is absolutely essential that such a paragraph be in the Bill.
The principal objects of the telecommunications company shall be stated in its memorandum of association to be:
to provide a national telecommunications service within the State and between the State and places outside the State.
I do not think there should be any problem about accepting that. It should not rule out any amendments on the remaining sections, which were (a) and (b) but in the new version will be (b) and (c). Amendment No. 31 is exactly the same as the one we had down in regard to An Bord Poist, so the arguments for it are exactly the same. There is no point in going over those arguments again. The point was made about "reasonably practicable and satisfy all reasonable demands". We were dissatisfied with that and felt the version we put down was more solid and definite. In regard to An Bord Poist the Minister agreed that he would have a look at it on Report Stage. I hope he will do the same in regard to An Bord Telecom because precisely the same argument applies.
The wording of the amendment is slightly misleading. I know the word "insert" is used but it changes the following section to (b) and (c). We could argue that the Minister's section may not be comprehensive enough to eliminate the need for an insertion. My amendment would meet the Minister's amendment (a) and also incorporate the new (b). The amendment I put forward the last time was comprehensive enough to incorporate the Minister's first principle as far as the postal service is required "to provide a national postal service within the State and between the State and places outside the State". My amendment adequately catered for the Minister's amendment and the amendment I put in at that time. The same applies to this section. I have no objection to the Minister's amendment, which is a general insertion of a new section in the Bill and gives a definition of the overall service which the telecommunications service will provide while retaining (a) and (b). Perhaps there was some misunderstanding between us on the last occasion when there was a possibility that (a) would be eliminated and replaced by the Minister's new (a) but I now accept the fact that the Minister's new insertion will be 14 (a) and the following 14 (b) will be retained and 14 (b) will become 14 (c).
I include the word "domestic". One could argue that the word "social" would fit the Bill, but I suggested "domestic". That is the only difference between the two amendments. Amendment No. 31 (a) is the same as amendment No. 31 (b) except for the word "domestic".
I should like Deputy Leyden to clarify part of his amendment. The Minister's amendment states: "... within the State and between the State and places outside the State". That is a more acceptable form of words. I am open to correction on this, but if we accept Deputy Leyden's version we will restrict the activities of the telecommunications board to within the State. We would open the door to privatisation for areas outside the State. Reference was made earlier to international communications and the IBM company were mentioned. This is an area where such a company could legitimately become involved unless we accept the Minister's amendment. The Deputy's amendment would restrict the activity of the board somewhat.
I accept that the Minister's amendment clarifies the overall telecommunications side. The way it is put in is slightly misleading and could give rise to an error in the approach to the section. I am glad the Minister has confirmed that he will continue to include the other sections in that section. I used the word "domestic" so that it would provide a domestic service, that is, a home to home as opposed to a business service.
The service has given rise to considerable complaint. Accounts give rise to grave disquiet among subscribers. As a subscriber I have queried my account many times. There is little one can do to question the automatic telephone service. This is an area where there is great dissatisfaction. It is not only the difficulty one has in getting phone calls but the difficulty with the account. I have come across some extraordinary cases.
There is public dissatisfaction with the service. In many areas there is genuinely a bad service. In manual exchange areas there is an unacceptable situation. This Minister and former Ministers were dissatisfied with the service and that is why we had an accelerated investment programme. That programme will end in 1984. The service is not up to the standard we had planned and hoped for from 1980 onwards. With all the investment in communications equipment we still do not have a satisfactory telephone service. An Bord Telecom will be given responsibility to ensure that the service is brought up to the highest possible standard.
In relation to telephone accounts, as the Minister is aware an organisation was set up to protect consumers. Many people joined that organisation. The Minister of State mentioned recently that there were about 200 disputed accounts. I would give the number as approximately 20,000 disputed accounts. The Minister may be able to elaborate on that. I have come across enormously complicated problems in this area and I am sure the Minister will tell us that he has received numerous representations from frustrated subscribers.