I move amendment No. 27:
In page 40, line 23, to delete "may by order empower" and substitute "shall give exclusive power to".
The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that An Post will be responsible for the collection of television licence fees. Up to now licence fees for television sets have been collected by the Department of Posts and Telegraphs by their staff throughout the country and for some time RTE have been pressing for the power to carry out this collection work. I would object to RTE being given this responsibility because I believe it would mean setting up another organisation to collect the licence fees. At the moment the situation is not satisfactory with regard to the amount of outstanding licence fees but I believe responsibility lies with the Department because the allocation of staff for the purpose of collecting licence fees has been totally inadequate. We have had highly publicised campaigns for short periods. It is obvious to people who do not pay their licence fees that each campaign will only last a certain time and in that period there is the possibility that they can evade paying the fee. An Post should have responsibility in this matter and that was the reason my amendment asks for the insertion of the word "shall". There should not be any doubt or ambiguity about the position. However, it has created a considerable amount of concern among the staff.
At the moment there is a proposal to centralise the collection service in the main head office of the Department linking it by computer to the regional computer centres. The proposal of the chief executive of the interim board, Mr. Tom Garvey, should be followed. That was to have mini-computers located in nearly all the offices of the Department throughout the country and particularly in the main offices in the regional areas, for instance, in the main post offices operated by staff in the Post Office Workers' Union. If necessary, the offices could be linked to the main computer.
At the moment the service is underutilised and under-financed. There is not enough incentive given to the staff to operate it. There are perhaps 200,000 unlicensed television sets: the Minister may comment on the numbers involved. The people who have not paid their television licence fees are depriving RTE of much needed finance. If everyone paid his fair share the licence fee would be less than it is and RTE would be able to finance their operations more successfully.
The reason RTE are pressing to take control of this area is that they are not satisfied with the situation at the moment. They consider they would do a much better job. That may be so, but they would only do a better job at a higher cost. The position could be greatly improved. Even before the new board take over there should be consultation with RTE with regard to co-operation. RTE are in a position to provide the necessary advertising campaign — they do this very effectively — to encourage people to pay their licence fees. If RTE were given this responsibility they would have to have more staff and they would deprive the Post Office of much needed work, particularly in rural areas.
It is my view that the work should be retained by An Post, that the collection system should be improved and, in the interim, the Minister should have another look at this matter. I know he has taken a certain interest in it and that he is not satisfied with the numbers who have been evading paying their licence fees. The Minister should give an assurance to the staff that he has no intention of allocating this work to any other State or semi-State organisation. To date the work of the Department has been as satisfactory as it could be having regard to the finance available to them. I have had discussions with staff in many areas in relation to this matter. If they were given more time, if the campaign lasted for a longer period and if one or two officials were appointed on a full-time basis to oversee the work, we would have a far better success rate. Without the finance coming to them, RTE are not in a position to finance their operations and, in turn, the public are losing out by not getting the service to which they are entitled.