Postal and Telecommunications Services Bill, 1982: Report Stage.

Amendments Nos. 1, 2, 4 and 5 may be taken together, by agreement.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 13, line 45, to delete "and social" and substitute ", social and domestic".

Section 12 deals with principal objects of An Post. I undertook in response to points made by Deputies O'Sullivan, Leyden and De Rossa on Committee Stage to consider amending this section on Report Stage. If the amendments are agreed the second principal object of An Post will be as follows:

To meet the industrial, commercial, social and domestic needs of the State for comprehensive and efficient postal services and, so far as the company considers reasonably practicable, to satisfy all reasonable demands for such services throughout the State,

As far as I was concerned the section as originally drafted was quite satisfactory both as to coverage and precision but at the same time I see no objection to making the amendments proposed in view of the fact that Deputies see merit in them. I, therefore, commend them to the House.

I welcome the Minister's amendment which satisfies the amendment I put down on Committee Stage. It will improve the Bill. The words to be included are "social and domestic" and "comprehensive and efficient". These words will be accepted by the boards and workers involved because they will go a long way towards ensuring that the section is more comprehensive than it was. I welcome the Minister's acceptance of the views expressed on Committee Stage last week.

I ask the Minister to give consideration to the word "domestic" and its implications for the Bill. It could prove to be restrictive and pave the way for privatisation of the external business these companies would generate. On Committee Stage Deputy Leyden put forward an amendment which I opposed. It would have greatly curtailed the activities of both companies. "Domestic" could be interpreted as being domestic in the national sense, within the confines of the country or State. There is a movement afoot across Europe for multinational companies to take over international communications. There is a possibility that if we restrict the activities of these companies to within the State we will do a disservice to them and affect their viability.

It has other implications from the point of view of national security. I ask the Minister, if at all possible, to indicate that he will delete the word "domestic". If it were "household" that would be all right but "domestic" could lead to privatisation of international communications. International communications will be a very lucrative area and essential to the viability of both companies.

I welcome the move by the Minister to accept the amendments which I and other Deputies proposed. I am not too clear about Deputy O'Sullivan's worries. Section 12 (a) states:

To provide a national postal service within the State and between the State and places outside the State,

I do not see that the word "domestic" would necessarily restrict companies to operate within the State. Subsection (a) explains clearly that they would be allowed to operate nationally as well as internationally.

I can see the point Deputy O'Sullivan is making. In using the word "domestic" the intention was that services would be made to every household. I infer from his contribution that Deputy O'Sullivan is worried that the term "domestic" might be interpreted as internal. That would be a wrong interpretation. The fears about that are reduced if one looks at section 12 (1) (a) which states:

to provide a national postal service within the State and between the State and places outside the State.

I could either withdraw amendment No. 1 or let it stand and consider the matter further in the other House. Perhaps I could have the guidance of the Chair.

I do not think it is a matter for the Chair.

If I withdraw amendment No. 1 will the other amendments necessarily fall?

Not necessarily. They are being discussed together but will be voted upon separately.

On a point of order, I suggest that there is repetition in amendment No. 4. I would be quite happy with the words "social and household" because the word "domestic" could be misinterpreted.

If the House is agreeable, I will withdraw amendments Nos. 1 and 4 and consider the matter further before the Bill goes to the other House.

I wonder about Deputy O'Sullivan's point of view. The word "domestic" means that we will supply a telephone and postal service for domestic as well as commercial use. The word "domestic" is being used to cover social and domestic purposes. I would define "domestic" as meaning that the service would be provided for household or private use. No restriction is imposed by leaving the word "domestic". It safeguards the rights of householders to service by both companies. When the Seanad discusses this Bill this House may be in recess and if the Bill is amended there those amendments must be approved in this House. This could entail a delay of several months.

Is the proposal to withdraw the amendment agreed?

It is rather unusual.

The Deputy will agree that I have been listening to points from all sides and trying to improve the Bill in a constructive manner.

At the end of the debate, will the Minister bring in another amendment?

I would not have time to consider it. I will try in the Seanad to substitute a word or wording which means what the Deputy intends.

That will hold up the Bill.

I would not want to do that and I would hope to bring it back here before the recess.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 13, line 46, before "efficient" to insert "comprehensive and".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 14, line 42, to delete "to provide a telecommunications service".

This is drafting amendment. The words "to provide a telecommunications service" are repeated and this amendment is intended merely to delete that repetition.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 4 not moved.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 14, line 43, before "efficient" to insert "comprehensive and".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 16, between lines 3 and 4, to insert the following subsection:—

"(3) The articles of association of the postal company shall provide that the company shall, in consultation and agreement with recognised unions and associations, set up machinery for the purposes of negotiations concerning the remuneration and other contractual conditions of postmasters.".

This is to meet a suggestion made by Deputy Leyden. Section 16 deals with the articles of association of each company. In the course of the Committee Stage debate Deputies Leyden and O'Sullivan argued that there should be a provision in the Bill for the setting up of agreed negotiating machinery for postmasters corresponding to the provision in section 16 (2) (e) in respect of negotiating machinery for staff. I pointed out that postmasters are contractors, not employees, and that their present contractual conditions would be carried forward to An Post in accordance with section 41 of the Bill. Nevertheless on reconsideration I see a case for the argument made by the Deputies. This amendment, therefore, provides that the postal company shall set up a negotiating machinery for postmasters in consultation and agreement with the organisation representing them. The term "recognised unions and associations" used in the draft amendment is defined in section 2 (1) on page nine.

I welcome this amendment and the very conciliatory approach to this Bill this morning. This amendment will protect the interests of over 2,000 postmasters in sub-post offices. It is important to define that machinery will be set up to enable negotiations on the contractual conditions of postmasters.

The sub-postmasters are the most vital cog in the wheel of the Department and have been since the foundation of the State. The remuneration of postmasters is well below national standards and many postmasters are receiving incomes of less than £40 per week, which is below the unemployment assistance level in many instances. There is a need for negotiating machinery to rearrange the contractual conditions of postmasters. In the new company there will be great opportunities for postmasters to play an even more important role in the services being provided. I welcome the insertion of the provision. Though the Minister may give a certain amount of credit to Deputy O'Sullivan, I do not think it is justified because he did not express great concern for the postmasters.

I supported the Deputy.

Yes, but the Deputy did not advocate the matter as strongly as I, because of my links with a rural constituency. The key personalities in any parish are the postmaster, the schoolteacher and the parish priest or curate, and the postmaster has played a very important role for many years. My suggestion was that postmasters be given the recognition due to their work and to the excellent service they have provided. I am sure the Minister and the Minister of State, who attended the annual conference, will agree. I suggest that my amendment will give postmasters new recognition and provide for them a better deal than they have been getting. I hope the Minister will expedite the machinery dealing with their pay and conditions.

I do not want to take away from Deputy Leyden's work on this amendment. I can see his anxiety to push his image up a little higher every day. I support this amendment, as I said earlier.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 16, line 9, after "Public Service." to insert the following:—

"Any proposed alteration shall be notified by the company to recognised trade unions and staff associations and recognised unions and associations.".

This amendment deals with section 17 which provides that any alteration in the memorandum or articles of association of either company will require prior approval of the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, given with the consent of the Minister for Finance and, when appropriate, the Minister for the Public Service.

Deputy O'Sullivan argued strongly on Committee Stage that the representative staff organisations recognised by the companies should be advised of proposed alterations in the memoranda or articles of association of the companies because of the possible implications for them of any such proposed alterations. I see no objection to providing accordingly, and I therefore commend the amendment. Section 2 (1) of the Bill defines "recognised trade unions and staff associations" and "recognised unions and associations". The first term covers organisations representing staff and the second organisations representing postmasters.

This is a very appropriate amendment, which we accept. On Committee Stage we discussed the difficulties involved and this will give further assurances to employees that in the event of any change in future in relation to memoranda or articles of association, prior approval of the Minister will be required, with the consent of the Minister for Finance. This is a very worthwhile amendment and I fully support it.

I compliment the Minister for accepting my suggestions in relation to this section. It is important for the people working in the Post Office and it provides a useful guideline for people employed in the private sector who may not know very much about how their companies are going. I would hope this will presage legislation to provide similar assurances for the private sector which would give employees access to the articles of association and memoranda, and indeed the books, of companies by which they are employed. This would allay fears and avoid the pitfalls of the recent past which left workers in a difficult position leading up to liquidations.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 8:

In page 17, line 2, to delete "20, 21" and substitute "19, 20".

This is purely a drafting amendment to correct an error in a cross-reference to a section inserted during Committee Stage. Section 21 is a standard provision restricting the issues of shares, other than those specifically provided for in the Bill, except as authorised by the Minister with the consent of the Minister for Finance. The new section 19 was inserted in the Bill on Committee Stage to require each company to issue one share to the Minister for Finance, and an amendment to section 21 arose in consequence. Section 21 as initiated contained a reference to the original section 19, which became section 20, but an error in effecting the amendment resulted in the cross-reference becoming 20 and 21, rather than 19 and 20.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 9:

In page 23, between lines 39 and 40, to insert the following:—

"37.—(1) A person shall not disclose confidential information obtained by him while performing duties as a director or member of staff of, or an adviser or consultant to, the postal company or the telecommunications company or as a postmaster unless he is duly authorised to do so.

(2) A person who contravenes subsection (1) shall be guilty of an offence.

(3) In this section—

‘confidential' means that which is expressed to be confidential either as regards particular information or as regards information of a particular class or description;

‘duly authorised' means authorised by the company or by some person authorised in that behalf by the company.".

The purpose of this amendment, which deals with the new section 37, is to protect the postal and telecommunications services against the unauthorised disclosure of sensitive information about the development, maintenance or security of their nationwide networks. Similar statutory protection was given by the Gas Act, 1976, to Bord Gáis Eireann.

Subsection (1) prohibits the disclosure of confidential information obtained by any person while performing duties for the companies which is not authorised by the companies or by their authorised nominees, as provided in subsection (3). Subsection (2) makes it an offence for any person to contravene subsection (1). Sections 4 and 5 of the Bill, which provide for penalties and proceedings, will apply to such offences.

The amendment replaces an amendment which I withdrew on Committee Stage on the basis of representations by Deputies, particularly Deputies Leyden and Mac Giolla, that the new section as then drafted was framed in too broad a fashion. The section as now drafted meets points made in Committee by specifying that the information to which prohibition applies is to be "confidential information" and by restricting the application of the section to the categories set out in subsection (1). The subsection in the earlier draft relating to persons outside the company has been dropped.

I do not want to be repetitive but I expressed genuine fears about the implications of this section and I am delighted that the Minister, on reflection, has reconsidered the matter. The amendment is acceptable. Confidential information should be retained strictly within the companies. The withdrawn ministerial amendment would have presented difficulties in regard to the supplying of information to Members of the Oireachtas, to the media and others concerned, because they would not be able to discuss any matter in relation to the new organisations. This amendment presents a far more liberal approach than the original draft. In the future the directors of the companies and others in senior positions will have access to extermely confidential information in relation to contractual arrangements and vital information which should be confidential at all times. The disclosure of information of a non-confidential nature makes it more acceptable to the staff and to the public generally. I welcome the amendment.

I welcome the Minister's acceptance of the argument which Deputy Mac Giolla pressed very strongly on Committee Stage. I want to ask the Minister about the definition of "confidential" in his own amendment. The amendment says "confidential" means that which is expressed to be confidential. In what way is "confidential" to be expressed? Who is to express it? Is it the company who express an item to be confidential, or a customer of a company? In what way is it to be interpreted?

I want to ask a question which arises on this section. The amendment states "unless he is duly authorised to do so", that is, to disclose information. What does "duly authorised to do so" mean? If a committee of the House were inquiring into the telecommunications company, would the company be in a position to supply members of the committee with information? I had reservations about a similar Bill from the Department of Health in the past. I am anxious to ensure that this does not seal off the board from accountability and answerability to the Oireachtas, or to a committee of the Oireachtas.

Two points have been raised. Deputy De Rossa asked about the definition of "confidential" and who decides it. The company will decide. The case was made here last week on Committee Stage that the word "confidential" should be inserted, and that the restriction should apply only to confidential information. The question was raised as to who would say what was confidential. There is an assumption that, if the company or any duly authorised officer does not declare or mark information confidential, it is not confidential.

On Deputy Mitchell's point, there is a definition in the amendment. It says "duly authorised" means authorised by the company or by some person authorised in that behalf by the company. The intention of the amendment is to protect the company against the release of commercially sensitive information. In no way would it restrict the rights of the Minister, or of this House, or a committee of this House.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 11 is cognate to amendment No. 10 and they may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 10:

In page 27, line 2, after "vesting day" to insert "in accordance with the terms of this Act".

Amendment No. 11 reads:

In page 27, line 8, after "vesting day" to insert "in accordance with the terms of this Act".

Section 44 (1), inserted on Committee Stage, explicitly requires each of the proposed companies, An Post and Bord Telecom Éireann, to accept into their employment all persons who, immediately before the vesting day, were members of the staff of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs and who are designated by the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs for employment by that company. I undertook on Committee Stage to review this section as a whole and to make any amendments which could be seen to strengthen the guarantees for staff contained in the section.

The purpose of these amendments is to make it even more abundantly clear that all the guarantees being provided by the Bill for transferred staff will apply to them from the moment they enter into the employment of the company concerned. It could be argued that the amendments are not strictly necessary, but I accept that in these matters one cannot be too reassuring and therefore I consider it worthwhile to recommend the amendments.

When we come to the next amendment it will also deal with this section. Outside the Dáil today there was a demonstration by some employees of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs about this section. I fully understand their concern. At the behest of the unions and under pressure from Deputy O'Sullivan I introduced a strengthening amendment on Committee Stage. I am now introducing further slight amendments, again under pressure from Deputy O'Sullivan, to try to improve the reassurance to workers about their security of tenure. This is very important.

I could not go as far as Deputy O'Sullivan and the unions suggested because of a basic and fundamental problem. The whole idea of this Bill is to take the postal business and the telecommunications business out of a Civil Service environment and put them into a commercial environment. On the other hand, the demand is to retain Civil Service status for the employees of the companies. They are mutually incompatible objectives. We have tried to reconcile them as best we can.

Late last night I was approached again by Deputy O'Sullivan with another form of wording. I promised him to consider that wording before I go to the Seanad. As I said last week, I cannot give any commitment but I will consider the new form of wording put to me late last night by Deputy O'Sullivan to see if I can accept it, or if it would help us to give the necessary reassurance. I believe that what we have already proposed gives full assurance about security of tenure. I want to make that absolutely clear.

While I understand the concern expressed, it is unfounded. As a sign of our goodwill we are going even further and trying to improve the wording as best we can. There is reassurance about security of tenure. My predecessors and I and the Opposition spokesmen have given this reassurance and it is on the record of the House. Nobody will be compulsorily retired or made redundant. That reassurance has been given consistently. I want to say that again loudly and clearly, particularly in view of the fact that there has been a short work stoppage by certain employees of the Department to make their feelings clear outside of the House.

As I said last week, the legal assurances are there but the best assurance is good service. Stoppages do not help. Good efficient, uninterrupted service is even better than any legal assurance.

The work stoppage today is a result of the failure to honour commitments given by the Minister's party and Deputy O'Sullivan's party. Those commitments were given prior to a general election in 1981 and may have resulted in additional voting power for both Government parties, bringing about a defeat for the Fianna Fáil Government and the election of a Coalition Government in 1981 and also in February 1982. Both parties have misled workers of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs and that has caused the work stoppage today. Responsibility for that stoppage clearly lies with the Minister and the Labour Party because the Minister said on Committee Stage that he could not honour a commitment which was given by his party through Mr. Peter Prendergast, now Government Press Secretary, in his capacity as General Secretary of the Fine Gael Party. This is the kernel of the debate in relation to both services.

The background was outlined last week by the Minister and myself. My colleague, Deputy Wilson, clearly stated on Second Stage in 1982 that he would bring forward amendments to strengthen the position of the 30,000 employees of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs on being transferred to both semi-State organisations. Deputy Wilson, who was Minister at that time, could not repeat the categorical assurance given by the Fine Gael and Labour Parties in June 1981 when they stated quite clearly that such moves——

So far, it has been quite in order for the Deputy to refer to these matters but an in-depth Second Reading speech would not be in order and we should try to stick to the amendment.

I am making the point that the Minister is putting forward amendments and has made the extraordinary comment that he is having consultations with Deputy O'Sullivan. It is insulting to this House to be negotiating in private when we are on Report Stage. The activities and actions of both the Minister and Deputy O'Sullivan are a slight on the Members of this House——

Last week Deputy Leyden was accusing Deputy O'Sullivan of not doing anything.

At the eleventh hour, when the workers are on the streets, Deputy O'Sullivan suddenly realises that he has broken a commitment given by his party in June 1981.

Deputy O'Sullivan has harrassed me for the last six months.

If that is so, it is strange he only remembered his commitment when the workers took to the streets. This is the central theme of the debate and that is why secret negotiations are now taking place between Deputy O'Sullivan and the Minister. The Minister's disclosure that he could not honour the commitment given by his party prior to the 1981 election is amazing and did not get the media attention it deserved. The statement by the Minister has undermined other commitments which he has given to the staff, and the Post Office Workers' Union have taken legal advice in relation to the Bill. They were advised that any undertakings given by the Minister are not legally binding. The uncertainty in relation to this section has resulted in the work stoppage today. The staff are frustrated. The Minister has given an assurance about redundancies but he knows quite well that the position of telephonists is very serious because they will be given an option in many instances to transfer to other post offices and exchanges. However, those transfers will not be acceptable to many of the staff at present working in different locations. For some that will be a notice of redundancy. That is why the Minister's undertaking is giving great concern to the telephonists who have been lobbying Deputies for quite some time, especially in the last few days. I appreciate and understand their concern and their demonstration has forced the Minister to have further secret negotiations with the Labour Party in relation to an amendment.

That is not true.

The Minister stated he was considering further amendments. The only amendment which will be acceptable to workers is one in line with their own amendment which will clearly establish they will not lose civil service status. That is the kernel of this debate, because you cannot have civil service status in a semi-State organisation. I see Deputy O'Sullivan sighing. He is in a very difficult position, but he gave undertakings which he cannot honour and that is the problem.

I have given the Deputy a considerable amount of latitude but he must stick to the amendment.

I fully accept that all staff will be transferred and I do not want to raise any further difficulties for the Minister. I know he has been under immense pressure, through his own making, in the last week——

And also some of the Deputy's making.

When it comes to making appointments within the Department for the period up to vesting date, I must draw the Minister's attention to certain irregularities in relation to appointments in his Department at present. These irregularities are causing great concern among the many applicants for jobs in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. I am looking forward to the semi-State organisations getting under way because I believe there will then be fair play in the appointment of staff in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. I want to point a finger at the Minister in relation to his activities over the last few months.

The Deputy is straying from the amendment.

The Chair is keeping a keen ear out in relation to the development of this point by Deputy Leyden.

If Deputy Leyden strays further, perhaps he could let us have a list of the appointments his Government made for the last decade.

Is Deputy Shatter protecting the Minister?

I do not need protection.

Will the Deputy tell us about appointments in Dublin 5?

I will if the Deputy wishes to hear them. The Minister made a very misleading remark in The Irish Press of 10 June 1983 when he stated quite clearly that he denied favouritism in Department jobs. I have information at my disposal which clearly indicates that the Minister directly interfered with the appointment of cleaners in his Department.

I hope the Chair is also keeping a keen ear to what Deputy Leyden is saying.

The debate on Report Stage is rather confined. So far is it removed from the Second Stage debate that only sections to which amendments have been put down are referred to. Each section is not even gone through item by item. The debate is confined to amendments and must be related to them.

The Minister has amendments down and I am quite entitled to outline what is occurring at present and to refer to the staff who will be moved from the Department to both semi-State companies. Over the last few months the Post Office Workers' Union have expressed grave concern about the procedure adopted in the Department in the recent past. I allege that the Minister has involved himself in influencing appointments in his Department. For the cleaners' vacancies the candidates were not taken in order of merit.

I do not think that arises on amendment No. 10.

I can argue clearly——

I am not looking for an argument. I am giving you an idea of what you should be doing and that is not argumentative.

I am asking the Minister will the personnel transferred from the Department of Posts and Telegraphs include personnel appointed by him up to vesting date, which I regard as being irregular. That is relevant to this Bill and if the Minister is not taking into account the establishment branch of his Department, if he is riding roughshod over them——

I would appeal to the Deputy——

Is it a sensitive point?

It is not a sensitive point with me but I would much prefer if you would conduct your contributions in an orderly fashion. I do not think "roughshod" is a word you should use.

Shall we say "abusing the position of the establishment"?

It is not relevant anyway.

It is very relevant.

There is one Chairman in the House. You are the spokesman for the Opposition party and I am endeavouring to carry out the duties of the Chair. I would be grateful for your co-operation in the matter. We have a long day ahead of us. Perhaps you would try to contribute on the basis I have suggested.

This is an important matter. The major union in the Post Office, the Post Office Workers' Union, has concerned itself with and explained at conference the situation in the establishment branch at the moment and the position regarding recruitment in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. I think it is worthy of consideration. I have endeavoured in every possible way to raise this matter over the last few weeks and I have been refused every possible avenue.

Perhaps the Deputy would table a question and then I could answer it.

That would suit the Minister.

It certainly would and it would not suit Deputy Leyden.

It would come up in 1984 with the way questions are going at the moment.

Ask for a written reply and it will be answered next week.

The Minister would have plenty of opportunity to fabricate a reply which he gave——

The Deputy was in the Department for nine months.

I am sure the Minister has searched the files very thoroughly for my period of office.

I would ask the Deputy to contribute on amendment No. 10. I am trying to help the Deputy.

I will come to the highlight of my point.

I would like to hear it.

The highlight of my point is that in the order of merit recommended by the establishment branch, No. 99 was appointed a cleaner and No. 1 was rejected by the Minister.

I do not think, Deputy, you are conducting your spokesmanship in the manner in which you should be doing it. I have asked you not to refer to that matter. I appreciate that the union concerned is interested in all the affairs of their members but I do not think the Deputy is conducting the discussion in a proper fashion. I only came in five minutes ago and I have been arguing with you for five minutes. I am trying to direct you and guide you to the best of my ability.

It is unfortunate you have to adopt that attitude.

It is not fortunate or unfortunate. I am in the Chair and I am anxious to get on with the business.


A very appropriate intervention.

Not a very appropriate remark from you, Deputy.

The whole position regarding recruitment at the moment under this Department is absolutely scandalous. Something will have to be done about it. There will have to be an inquiry into the situation in the Department up to vesting date. The Taoiseach or somebody else should intervene at this stage to bring fair play back to the situation and allow the establishment branch to carry out their work.

In regard to the transfer of staff and security of tenure we now have the unusual situation that the Minister will have further discussions with Deputy O'Sullivan, ignoring this House at Report Stage. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle should reprimand the Minister for bringing forward this proposal. The Minister should introduce an amendment before 5 o'clock this evening to make this a comprehensive Bill. If he brings forward an amendment in line with the Post Office Workers' Union proposal I will support it.

This amendment is probably the key part of the Bill. It is unfortunate that Deputy Leyden spent so long talking about everything and anything but the fact that the Post Office Workers' Union seek security of tenure similar to the security which they enjoy at present. When all the arguments between Deputy Leyden and the Minister are stripped away the fact is that Deputy Leyden has not produced any amendment to provide security of tenure for the post office workers. The Minister, in saying that he cannot accept the position of the Post Office Workers' Union and provide them with the security of tenure, says the main reason is that they are attempting to move them from the civil service to a commercial environment. I do not accept that the retention of security of tenure would lessen the degree to which the companies could act in the commercial environment. I appreciate that the Minister brought in an amendment at Committee Stage. He has brought in a further amendment today which is stronger than the previous one but still does not provide the security of tenure for these workers to which I believe they are entitled precisely because they entered the civil service. The civil service freely accepted them; they accepted the terms under which they were employed. It is unreasonable to expect employees in that situation to give up that security and those terms of employment at this point. I am a little concerned that the Minister has said he is considering a further amendment. I would have thought that by this time the Minister would have accepted the case made by me on Committee Stage that is, that the workers are entitled to this security and would have accepted the amendment we put down since it was the one that they were seeking to have accepted. The Post Office Workers' Union have had legal advice on the Minister's Committee Stage amendment and that advice indicates that security of tenure would not be protected by way of that amendment. My information this morning is that while the present amendment is stronger, it does not provide the security of tenure to which the workers are entitled. For that reason I am urging the Minister to bring forward an alternative amendment today, an amendment similar to the amendment we put forward on Committee Stage. The key to the whole Post Office Bill is that the employees going into these companies must be confident that their needs are being met. Otherwise, the operation will not be as successful as it might otherwise be. In other words, we are laying the foundation for serious problems if the companies begin with 28,000 employees who are aggrieved and who are under the impression that in some way they are being deprived of their rights.

Deputy De Rossa's approach is extremely responsible but Deputy Leyden thinks that there is something underhand going on between the Minister and myself. I assure the Deputy that what I am endeavouring to do even at this late stage is to have brought forward a form of words that would have the effect of allaying the fears expressed here during the course of the debate. I was with the Minister up to 11 p.m. last night in an effort to reach agreement on this. We did not succeed at that stage but I will read the form of words that I put to the Minister and which he is now considering. I am not in any way involved in any underhand dealing nor in trying to usurp the role of this House. It is regrettable that Deputy Leyden should attempt to indulge in character assassination in speaking of this provision. It is not my intention to follow him down that road. He said that it is difficult for me to be here. It is difficult to have to listen to the Deputy whose contribution amounted to nothing apart from a shower of abuse. However, I expect that that is the result of sending in a boy to do a man's job. His approach is a far cry from the approach of Deputy Reynolds when he was Minister for Posts and Telegraphs. I am not trying to embarrass either Deputy but I am merely trying to make a distinction between the approach of each of them on this matter.

Deputy Leyden is concerned primarily with scoring little points. He is not concerned in the least about the welfare of the staff concerned. I share the concern expressed by Deputy De Rossa but there are difficulties. Deputy Leyden says that we cannot extend civil service status to people in the private sector, while at the same time he is telling the Government that they must provide that status for the workers involved. Four successive Ministers have said that there is a need to assure the workers that their conditions of employment will be no less fair than the conditions enjoyed by civil servants. The words we are endeavouring to have the Minister accept and which we hope will be acceptable to the House and to the workers involved refer to subsection (4). They are:

"the conditions in regard to tenure of office in relation to a member of the staff so transferred shall not, while he is in the service of either company, be less favourable to him than those prevailing in the civil service. Any alteration in the conditions with regard to tenure of office of the staff so transferred shall not be less favourable having regard to the prevailing conditions in the civil service at the time of such alteration save in accordance with the collective agreement negotiated with recognised trade unions and the staff associations concerned."

This is what Deputy Leyden is referring to when he talks of underhand dealing. I see this amendment as one that will bridge the gap existing between this House and the people outside. I am hoping that the Minister will accept this suggestion which, though not tabled formally, has been presented to him for his consideration. Such wording would go a long way towards allaying the fears expressed by Deputy De Rossa and expressed rather spuriously by Deputy Leyden on behalf of the 28,000 people, who are deeply concerned about their future.

Every Member of the House should be concerned about allaying the fears of the very large work force who will be going into these two semi-State bodies. It is only right that every effort be made by the House to go as far as possible towards allaying those fears. During my term in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs I noted that the problems of fear and suspicion were deep rooted there. If we start off on the wrong foot with the new operation we will be only giving rise to such fears and suspicions, to a them-and-us attitude, to the attitude that somebody is trying to pull the wool over somebody's eyes.

During the short time I was here to listen to Deputy Leyden, I took it that what he was endeavouring to get at was the problem of commitments given during general election campaigns but which could not be delivered. He referred to the commitment given on behalf of Fine Gael and signed by Mr. Peter Prendergast who is not a member of this House. It is easy for someone like that to write a letter merely to overcome a problem at the time of an election. Mr. Prendergast said that the change would not involve loss of civil service status. It is understandable that members of the Post Office Workers' Union would remind the Government of that assurance. All they are saying is, "that is what you promised; deliver on it".

The problem arises as to the legal framework of the drafting of such an amendment. To judge from today's demonstrations, the staff are not satisfied with the wording and continue to have those in-built fears. To say the least it is extraordinary that there is another possible wording being talked about at this stage but which is not before the House despite the fact that it was known to all that we were to finish the Bill today. Is this uncertainty to continue beyond today? It is a most unsatisfactory way of doing business. By and large I accept what Deputy O'Sullivan says about his trying to solve a difficult situation but we are at the eleventh hour.

Only last week I was at the opening of a post office in Mullingar where I met a member of the executive of the Post Office Workers' Union. A short time earlier he had had a meeting with the Minister of State who was performing the official opening ceremony. This member's words to me were that he had got an assurance that on that day both the Minister and Deputy O'Sullivan were meeting and that new wording would be included in the Bill which would be to the satisfaction of everyone concerned. It was a problem that everybody would like to see solved so that we could get back to the job of getting the services right and getting into the new operations as soon as possible.

That has not happened. Apparently, whatever wording was agreed is not now acceptable. I understand from the Post Office Workers' Union that they have legal advice in relation to this matter. Is it a clash of interests or a clash between the advice the Minister is getting from his draftsmen and the legal advice available to the Post Office Workers' Union? I am not in a position to adjudicate that but everybody in the House knows exactly what we are trying to achieve and surely it is not a physical impossibility to get acceptable wording? There is enough expertise and draftsmanship in the Department and available to the Minister to secure the correct formula.

We appreciate that when one transfers from the civil service into a semi-State organisation the staff remains the same but what is important to staff is that their positions are not worsened. The problem is how to protect against that, in legislative terms. It is extraordinary that at the last miniute we are still talking about wording, which Deputy O'Sullivan read to the House. I do not know whether he believes that wording is acceptable or not. This is a terrible state of affairs. This Bill has been around for a couple of years and nobody was aware that this would be a problem at this stage. Everybody has had full notice for a long time and yet we have not got the wording that would solve the problem. It augurs badly for the way the matter is being handled. We see the fruits of it, with a demonstration outside the House today.

Hopefully this problem will not continue into the setting up of the boards. If we do not get it right the first day, the old problems that have beset the Department of Post and Telegraphs for a very long time will continue. I would appeal to the Minister to get the wording right. If we do have to come back to discuss an amendment from the Seanad in order to get the wording right let us do that and have the job done properly. If the problem is not solved and if there remains the taint of suspicion and mistrust within the realms of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, we will not see the development of the services that we all desire.

I just want to make my position clear on this. Because I am willing to listen and to take points and suggestions made by Deputies, for which I have been commended throughout the Committee Stage and on earlier amendments, I am now being accused of weakness, vacillation and not handling the Bill well.

We did not say that.

I have tried to indicate that I am open to all suggestions as to how to improve the Bill. I have withdrawn amendments; I have accepted amendments; and I have accepted purported amendments in order to get the Bill right. I have already said—Deputy Reynolds was not here this morning——

I heard the Minister on the monitor.

——that I believe the section gives all the assurance and security necessary but I also understand that there is sometimes a perception by people not based on facts and if I can alter the perception of people by improving the wording or considering other wording, of course I will do so. The Bill must go through all Stages in each House and will not be enacted until passed by both Houses and I will continue throughout the process to be open to suggestions to improve the Bill. But, I want to make it absolutely clear that I believe the section as passed in Committee and especially as proposed to be amended by amendments 10, 11 and 12 today will give all the security of tenure that is necessary, all the security of tenure that is there at the moment, without giving the civil service status which Deputy Leyden quite rightly said is inconsistent and incompatible with semi-State bodies. That is the crunch. We cannot have semi-State companies and civil servants running them.

That is why I have not been able to accept the Post Office Workers' Union's amendments that have been proposed to me by Deputy O'Sullivan and the Workers' Party amendments. It is because those two things are incompatible and to accept the amendments would defeat the whole purpose of the exercise which is, as I said, to get these two businesses, which have potentially a very bright future, into a commercial environment and out of a civil service environment because that is the way that people who have considered this matter carefully see as providing the best future for the services. When I say the best future for the services I mean the best future for the customer, for the employees and for the State. That is what it is all about. I therefore strongly commend the amendments to the House.

You created the suspicion by that letter.

I did not write it.

I know the Minister did not write it. It was written by a guy writing on behalf of your Taoiseach and the party.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 11:

In page 27 line 2, after "vesting day" to insert "in accordance with the terms of this Act".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 12:

In page 27, to delete lines 28 to 36 and substitute the following:—

"(4) The conditions in regard to tenure of office which are granted by either company in relation to a member of the staff so transferred shall not, while he is in the service of the company, be less favourable to him than those prevailing for the time being in the civil service. If a dispute arises between either company and any such member as to conditions prevailing in the civil service, the matter shall be determined by the Minister for the Public Service after consultation with the Minister.".

I am sure Deputies can see the difference between what I am proposing in the amendment and what was agreed on Committee Stage. We are deleting the words "taken as a whole". We are saying, "shall not be less favourable". We are also deleting the last clause of the first paragraph: "not being conditions imposed by or under Statute". We are deleting two sub-clauses which seemed to make the security conditional. I think that strengthens the Bill.

There is a very unreal situation in this debate because we have an amendment from the Minister by which he is endeavouring to assure the staff and the Post Office Workers' Union, in particular, of his good intent in relation to the guaranteeing of tenure of office of all staff transferred to both organisations. I refute the comments made by Deputy O'Sullivan. I certainly am anxious to get the best possible wording in the Bill. If the Minister wants to bring the Bill to the Seanad with new amendments and then bring it back to the House, that is a matter for him; he is the Minister. I thought the Minister was anxious to have the debate on the Bill concluded tonight and to bring the Bill before the Seanad as amended and to have no further amendments. What he has now stated puts the Bill back into the melting pot as far as this House is concerned and the Dáil will then have to review this section when it comes back to the House again.

If it comes back, I said I would consider it. I am not committed.

Deputy O'Sullivan has indicated that he has an amendment which he is in favour of. I wonder what will Deputy O'Sullivan do in relation to the section if it goes to a vote because he is in a most unusual position in relation to the section. I do not want to cause him any more embarrassment than he is in at the moment.

It all comes back, as Deputy Reynolds has said, to commitments given in a general election situation for party political reasons. The Government reaped the benefit of those commitments. We possibly suffered a certain electoral loss. At that time Deputy Reynolds was the Minister. I do not see any letter from my party in relation to this issue. We were honest and truthful in relation to the position and gave clear statements of our intent. Deputy Reynolds, as Minister at the time, clearly stated the position of the Government at that stage. Both Opposition parties gave commitments which they are endeavouring, in fairness to honour. The Minister last week, on 16 June at column 1955 of the Official Report stated in relation to a point I made about those particular commitments:

A commitment was given by a general secretary in a letter; that is clear from what he said. But I have to take into account whether that should be a binding commitment and in the process destroy the very re-organisation, as I see it, or whether we should break that commitment such as it is and do what we believe to be the right thing, the right thing for the public, for the employees and in order to ensure the brightest possible future for the postal and telecommunications services. I believe we have done the right thing.

The right thing by breaking the commitment? I appreciate the situation of the staff. They have no doubts about our position with regard to them and we have not changed our position for political advantage. Deputy O'Sullivan should accept that. He may criticise my position and my Party but he cannot criticise our stand on this particular issue. We did not table an amendment in direct contradiction of the commitment given in 1981 by Deputy Reynolds or Deputy Wilson when they were Ministers for Posts and Telegraphs. We have been consistent right through and we want to ensure now the maximum guarantee of security of tenure will be given. We will honour that commitment in or out of Government. The same cannot be said for the parties now constituting the Government. Last week the Minister said there was nothing in the Bill which would prohibit staff sitting for confined examinations within the Civil Service. The Minister should clearly identify that by writing it into the Bill.

On a point of order, is it in order for another speaker to come in when the Minister has concluded on the section?

The Minister referred to amendment No. 12 and he will speak again and conclude on that amendment.

Will it be possible for me to speak again?

A Member may speak only once on each amendment.

Deputy Leyden was quoting from documents. It is rather ironic because both Deputy Leyden and the Minister at the time could not acknowledge that document since it did not emanate from a recognised tribunal.

Would Deputy O'Sullivan please allow Deputy Leyden to continue.

Deputy O'Sullivan put a question to me about a letter my party sent to some gentleman who is-involved in the situation and Deputy Wilson, who was Minister at the time, stated quite clearly that he had already met a deputation and had assured the deputation their views would receive careful consideration. On 7 July he announced his intention of introducing a number of amendments designed to make it clear beyond any shadow of doubt that nothing would be done to worsen the conditions enjoyed by the staff on the transfer. He said consultations were in progress and there was a special working party association. He clearly stated our position and we have never deviated from that position.

The staff were misled by both the Labour and Fine Gael Parties for political reasons. I want to make that clear. It may embarrass the Minister and Deputy O'Sullivan. Deputy Reynolds as Minister for Posts and Telegraphs formulated the Bill and he foresaw the difficulties which have arisen now. The Minister says there is nothing in the Bill to prohibit staff applying for jobs within the Civil Service. I believe there would be great difficulty in staff sitting for confined examinations though that would be a good gesture to the staff if the commitment was clearly stated in the Bill. Transfers to other Departments could give rise to difficulties because staff might not be in a position to transfer. Indeed, should they successfully transfer to other Departments, they might very well lose the facilities they enjoy at the moment.

We do not have a majority in this House and all we can do is comment in a constructive way in an effort to encourage the Minister and the Labour Party to introduce constructive amendments designed to strengthen the position of the staff. Any amendment we might table would no doubt be voted against.

Deputy Leyden in his closing remarks seemed to be trying to usurp the role of this House. He referred to what is now subsection (2) of section 44 referring to pay and conditions. The Minister has given a specific commitment on pay and conditions and what we are arguing about is tenure of office under subsection (4). Let us be clear the particular group of people were not recognised by the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. Deputy Leyden said staff were assured there would be security of tenure of office. That was never put in print and the means of communication within the Department is through writing as the Deputy well knows. Deputy Leyden is misleading the House. He referred to subsection (2) of section 44.

Sections 42 and 43.

Again we are discussing, as we did under amendments Nos. 10 and 11, the security of tenure of the postal workers. The Fianna Fáil spokesman has claimed that their party have been consistent all along, but only this morning he indicated his inconsistency in that he concluded his remarks in relation to amendment Nos. 10 and 11 by saying in effect that if the Minister brought in an amendment which would satisfy the Post Office Workers' Union or in line with the amendment proposed by the POWU they would accept it, yet he said that it was impossible to give civil service status to postal workers under the new company. That seems an inconsistent position. The proposal of the postal workers is that their jobs would be as secure under the new companies as they are under civil service conditions now and would be in the future. The Minister has repeated a number of times that it is inconsistent to provide this security of tenure in semi-State or private companies or in any other way because this is exclusive to the civil service. I cannot see how providing security of tenure of employment to employees is inconsistent with commercial companies. The reverse of that is to argue that the threat of unemployment is an incentive to the employees to act responsibly. Inherent in what the Minister is saying is that the threat that they can be disemployed or put out of work is an incentive to them not to do certain things. That is contrary to everything that I believe in, and, I am sure, to everything that the Minister and Deputy O'Sullivan believe in.

I am not a lawyer and I do not know whether legal difficulties exist in accepting word for word the amendment which we proposed on Committee Stage, but I cannot see that it is beyond the capacity of the Department to come up with wording which will provide the security to tenure which the employees are entitled to as a right. They are at present employed by the civil service. This Bill proposes to take them out of the civil service and put them into a semi-State company and to change their conditions of employment. They are not being asked if they want to do that. This House is passing a Bill so that they will be forced to do that.

Again I appeal to the Minister not to wait until it goes to the Seanad to consider whether he will bring in a further amendment but to accept the case being made for the security of tenure of these postal workers and bring in the amendment today so that this House can discuss it and agree to it if it is adequate for the situation.

I will not delay on this. Deputy De Rossa is burying his head in the sand in not accepting what the Minister is saying, that it is incompatible to restore civil service status for someone working in a semi-State company. There is no point in Deputy De Rossa fooling himself and playing his little game with the Labour Party. He must face up to the problem. You cannot give civil service status to somebody working in a semi-State organisation, and the Deputy knows that as well as I do. He is not fooling me or anybody else when he is playing to the gallery. The strange thing is that he is pressing an amendment for the POWU while the Minister has indicated clearly time and time again what the position is. I am no more a lawyer than Deputy De Rossa is, but we want a wording that will allay the fears and suspicions of the POWU. Other unions are involved in this transfer into other companies. What are they saying? What are the telecommunications union saying? I do not hear anybody making a case for them that they have the same fears and suspicions, that they are afraid for the future, for their status. There is a question of suspicion of breach of faith somewhere along the line which must be overcome in relation to the POWU. We all know the problems. We in Opposition are not in a position to change wordings or otherwise. The Minister has all the expertise available to him. He knows the problem. I am telling him to fix it up as best he can. There is no point in listening to nonsense from somebody trying to fool us saying, "Give them civil service status" when he knows quite well that we cannot give it to them.

I appreciate the problems successive Ministers have had in trying to resolve the difficulties, particularly those of the staff in the postal and telecommunications service. I understand their concern about the need for job security and to ensure that their situation does not change. It seems that the Minister in the various amendments that have been made to this Bill has gone along the line of providing all reasonable assurances possible in this area. There is a common element in this amendment and the one preceding it and the point was well made by the Minister in introducing these amendments when he said in effect that the best guarantee of job security is to provide an efficient service. We are talking about formal amendments to the Bill, and that is not extraneous from it. At the end of the day security of tenure and, indeed, the desirability of establishing An Bord Post and Bord Telecom Éireann will be judged by the standard of service provided by both of those boards.

We are dealing in a legislative exercise. I praise the Minister for what Deputy Leyden and Deputy Reynolds have implicitly criticised him, that is for being willing to talk to Deputies about possible amendments to the Bill to improve legislation. On the other hand, at earlier stages Deputy Leyden has praised the Minister for being flexible. As a backbench Deputy I make the point that we are going through a legislative process. Either we adopt the view that whenever a ministerial Bill is published it goes through this House willy-nilly regardless of what is in it or we generally engage in a legislative process. The Opposition cannot have it both ways. You cannot table amendments and then criticise Ministers for accepting them or table your own amendments and get them accepted and then criticise Ministers for agreeing to amendments proposed or discussed with the Minister by Members on this side of the House. The same applies to the Seanad. I do not know if the Minister is going to introduce any amendments in the Seanad. I am not privy to any information in this area any more than any other Deputy is, but that is a relevant function of the legislative process. It is quite outrageous that a Minister should be criticised for being willing to listen to what Members of this House say in the interest of improving legislation brought before this House.

Except that you would expect it to be done within two years.

You sure would. You were there six months.

The Opposition were in Government from February 1982 to November 1982 and what did they do? What happened to this Bill during that time?

I did not use cheap political gimmicks during the campaign.


Deputy Reynolds, please.

Deputy Reynolds is upset because he is no longer in office. We commiserate with him. It must be deeply distressing for him to be on the Opposition benches.

It is distressing to hear that sort of nonsense going on every day. The Government have the Bill for two years and they cannot make up their minds about the amendments to make to it.

We should not have any interruptions.

It is by the standard of service provided that these boards will be judged. Honestly, I do not feel that the industrial action taken today by employees of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs has in any way enhanced their case or has in any way assured the general public—we have been talking a lot about the unions and the need to protect employees, which I accept—about the prospect of an efficient telecommunications and postal service. The general public are looking to the House to provide efficient services and they need to be assured that it is in the public interest that job security, such as the Minister is providing, be given to the employees of An Bord Telecom and An Post. They will only be assured if they know that there is an efficient service. The industrial action taken today and the type of demonstration that took place outside the House have done little to convince me as a Member that the type of monopoly situation with the very real protection in employment that is given by the Bill, is in the general public interest as opposed to being in the interest solely of those who are employees of the Department who will become employees of An Post and An Bord Telecom.

I appreciate the worries expressed by those people but we have another duty and it is to ensure that we have an efficient service. I hope the type of action we saw today will not take place when the boards are established. Deputies are fully aware of the worries of all employees in the Department in relation to the Bill. We have received masses of literature, regular representations and postal bags full of letters from constitutents—they were stereotyped letters—outlining their worries and anxieties. The worry and anxiety of many people outside the House is that this monopoly position with the type of job security provided in it does not guarantee a proper and efficient service. The challenge facing the employees of An Bord Telecom and An Post when they are established will be to show to the public that they can provide that service.

I should like to thank Deputies for their contributions on this amendment. It is understandable that there will be some point scoring from time to time in the political arena. It is clear that the view of all Members is that security of tenure should be provided and that is what we are seeking to do. No other group of workers have anything like the guarantees spelled out in this section when amended. No guarantees are given to any other employees in other semi-State companies. People should stop to reflect for a while about this and forget about the banter. They should read what the section will state:

44.—(1) (a) The postal company shall accept into its employment on the vesting day in accordance with the terms of this Act every person who immediately before the vesting day is a member of the staff of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs and is designated by the Minister for employment by that company

(b) The telecommunications company shall accept into its employment on the vesting day in accordance with the terms of this Act every person who immediately before the vesting day is a member of that staff and is designated by the Minister for employment by that company.

(2) Save in accordance with a collective agreement negotiated with any recognised trade union or staff association concerned, a member of the staff of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs who is transferred on the vesting day to either company shall not, while in the service of the company, receive a lesser scale of pay or be brought to less beneficial conditions of service then the scale of pay to which he was entitled and conditions of service to which he was subject immediately before the vesting day.

(3) Until such time as the scales of pay and conditions of service of staff so transferred are varied by the company, following consultation with recognised trade unions and staff associations, the scales of pay to which they were entitled and the conditions of service, restrictions, requirements and obligations to which they were subject before their transfer shall continue to apply to them and may be exercised or imposed by the board or the Chief Executive, as the case may be, of the relevant company while they are in its service.

(4) The conditions in regard to tenure of office which are granted by either company in relation to a member of the staff so transferred shall not, while he is in the service of the company, be less favourable to him than those prevaling for the time being in the civil service. If a dispute arises between either company and any such member as to conditions prevailing in the civil service, the matter shall be determined by the Minister for the Public Service after consultation with the Minister.

(5) In relation to staff transferred to either company, previous service in the civil service shall be reckonable for the purposes of, but subject to any other exceptions or exclusions in, the Holidays (Employees) Act, 1973, the Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment Act, 1973, and the Unfair Dismissals Act, 1977.

Any reasonable person not involved in this will say that we really went to town to give them security of tenure, we have really wrapped it up and gone over board but, despite our efforts, there are people who are worried and concerned. An excellent job has been done in giving the employees security of tenure. We have gone very far in giving that assurance. No other group of workers enjoy that and it is important that it is emphasised and communicated to the workers concerned to allay whatever unjustifiable fears they may have.

Deputy De Rossa misrepresented my position. I understood he said that this was not giving employees security of tenure and inherent in what I had said was the fact that people could be dismissed. That is not the case. The section I have read out gives security of tenure. It does not give civil service status and it cannot but that is the only thing.

Amendment agreed to.

An Lean-Cheann Comhairle

Amendments Nos. 13 and 14 in the names of Deputies Mac Giolla and De Rossa are related and I presume the House will discuss them jointly.

I move amendment No. 13:

In page 28, line 5, after "day" to insert "or would have been so entitled at the time of making any such amendments if they had remained as civil servants in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs".

The amendment seeks to ensure that amendments to the schemes which may be introduced from time to time will be at least in line with the superannuation schemes and benefits employees would be entitled to had they remained in the civil service. The Bill, without these amendments, ensures that the schemes would be equal to those in existence on vesting day but there is no guarantee that the benefits will at least keep in line with improvements that may occur in the civil service after vesting day. We want to ensure that benefits under superannuation schemes are in line with improvements that may occur from time to time in the civil service schemes.

I cannot accept the amendment. It is unnecessary because pension schemes throughout the public sector, including the civil service, are on standard lines approved by the Minister for the Public Service. These matters are usually discussed during negotiations.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 14:

In page 28, to delete lines 12 to 15, and substitute the following:—

"(6) A scheme submitted by a company under this section shall only be approved by the Minister with the concurrence of the Minister for Finance and the Minister for the Public Service if they are satisfied that it contains provisions relating to its financing which will ensure that the entitlements guaranteed in subsection (4) of this section are secured.".

Question "That the words proposed to be deleted stand" put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 15 and 17 are related. So, by agreement, both amendments will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 15:

In page 30, between lines 6 and 7, to insert the following:—

"(3) (a) The Minister, after consultation with the Minister for Trade, Commerce and Tourism, the company concerned and any other Minister who appears to the Minister to be concerned, may confer on a Users' Council such additional functions in relation to protecting the interests of users of the services referred to in subsection (1) as the Minister thinks proper and specifies in the order. Any such order may provide for the performance of the additional functions subject to conditions specified in the order and may contain such incidental and supplementary provisions as the Minister thinks necessary or expedient for giving full effect to the order.

(b) The Minister, after consultation as aforesaid and with the Users' Council concerned, may by order amend or revoke an order under this subsection.

(c) When an order under this subsection is proposed to be made by the Minister, a draft of the order shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas and, if a resolution disapproving of the draft is passed by either such House within the next subsequent twenty-one days on which it has sat after the draft is laid before it, the order shall not be made.".

Section 48 lists the functions of the Users' Councils. These are, briefly, to consider any complaint or representations from users of the postal and telecommunications services; to consider any matter related to such services which the councils consider warrant consideration, and to advise the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs or the companies when requested.

On reviewing the section I felt that an enabling power to extend the functions of the Users' Council would be useful in preserving flexibility for the future, particularly to enable developments in consumer protection generally to be applied. I know that the Minister for Trade, Commerce and Tourism and the Director of Consumer Affairs would be of a similar view. The purpose of this amendment, therefore, is to enable the Minister, by order, to confer additional functions on the Users' Councils in relation to protecting the interests of users of those services. There are precedents for provisions on these lines, for example, section 7 of the Broadcasting Authority (Amendment) Act, 1976.

In relation to amendment No. 17, section 47 (7) requires each company to advise its Users' Council of major plans and major projected developments affecting their monoply services and to furnish information necessary to enable the Users' Council to fulfill its functions. Those obligations are being fully maintained.

The purpose of this amendment is to make explicit the particular obligation of the companies to furnish to the Users' Councils such information as is necessary to enable the councils to respond expeditiously to any complaints or representations about the companies' monopoly services. This has necessitated a change in the layout of the original subsection. Let me say that I have no doubt that the two companies will be more than anxious of their own volition to respond with the utmost attention to representations from their Users' Council. It was represented to me, however, that a statutory provision would be a useful headline.

This section which deals with Users Councils is certainly needed in relation to the setting up of both organisations. As outlined on Committee Stage last week, there is great disquiet among consumers, particularly telephone consumers, in relation to the service and in relation to accounts at the moment. Last week I outlined the difficulties and gave details of particular problems which I have encountered. Since then I am still pursuing those particular cases. I am not getting the satisfaction which I expected from the Department. A Users' Council may provide a useful service in relation to the consumer but I do not know if it has the strength to really represent consumers' rights particularly in relation to telephone accounts. I believe if the Users' Council take up a particular case there should be at least a freeze in relation to disconnecting a telephone at that stage.

The majority of consumers are relatively satisfied with the service and the majority of them receive their accounts correctly. However, there are approximately 20,000 accounts which are the subject of dispute at the moment. Numerous cases have been sent to me recently in relation to telephone accounts which seem to me to be very genuine. I have tried to pursue some of them in a very detailed way. Serious questions need to be asked about the whole position of the accounts. The manner in which those matters are dealt with in the Department leaves a lot to be desired. In some instances, where I have had queries, it has taken as long as six months to get a satisfactory reply. It is a good question whether the Users' Council will satisfy consumers' needs. Only time will show if they can play this particular role satisfactorily and if they have statutory rights to intervene in a particular dispute.

I believe, in the intervening period and up to vesting date, the Minister should certainly give consideration to the whole accounts position. I appeal to him to expedite the provision of the meters which were promised some time ago. Meters should be provided without entailing a large cost for the consumers. The meter provided should be accepted as evidence that the consumer used the actual number of units. I was giving very careful consideration to this matter when I was in the Department. The Minister should launch a pilot scheme, particularly in areas where the facilities are available, where there is a digital exchange and where a consumer can be given full information regarding telephone calls which he or she makes. That would mean a detailed list of calls made, the destination of the calls and their cost. The unit system is quite difficult to understand. It has given rise to many complaints to the Department. Will the Minister, in the intervening period up to vesting date, give very careful consideration to carrying out improvements?

I am also in favour of the two-monthly accounts instead of the quarterly accounts because it would bring more details to consumers' minds in relation to the calls they made at a particular time. The rental in the quarterly account is very high; the cost of calls is very high and the details provided are not adequate. The only details which can be provided are through the manual exchanges or if a call is made through the telephone operator. When an automatic telephone is provided there is no control whatsoever and no way for the consumer to check the position. The provision of a Users' Council in this section is very welcome but I believe the council may not provide the service for the consumer which I would like to see being provided. As the Minister is aware an organisation has been set up and I appeal to him to, at least, meet that organisation to discuss the problems which have been brought to their attention and which I believe are justified.

I would like to welcome the amendments which the Minister is making to this section. The consumers' council as originally provided for in the Bill could best be described as a toothless tiger. It seemed to give some degree of assistance to the user but in relation to the telephone service, which I am particularly concerned about, it had very little real power. It is important that these councils, particularly in the context of the telephone service, are seen to play a proper role. While the council may play an important role in the general area of policy development that role is likely to seem very remote in relation to the everyday concerns of consumers who have a specific complaint or some other dissatisfaction with the service being provided.

Consumers are likely to judge An Bord Telecom and An Post as well as the competence and usefulness of Users' Councils by their practical experience of the councils and their perceptions of the degree to which they can expect to get a service from the Users' Councils when they have a disagreement with one of these boards. As Deputies we know there are major problems in the area of telephones, the tapping of telephones, getting telephones repaired, disputes about accounts and so on. Therefore it is necessary that there be a formal procedure by which these problems can be dealt with.

Amendment No. 15 would empower the Minister to confer specific powers on the Users' Council other than those provided for and spelled out in section 48 (1), paragraphs (a) to (d). While those paragraphs give the Users' Council an advisory role — they can consider complaints and can issue reports — they are extremely woolly and give no guarantee of consumer protection at all. The amendment the Minister is introducing will enable him to confer more specific powers on the Users' Council. It is a desirable way of dealing with the matter. It means that the Minister, in the light of experience of the way the boards are operating, can tailor the Users' Council to meet the needs of consumers in the context of dealing with particular problems. I would suggest to the Minister, in the context of this section, that the Users' Council be given certain specific duties. A particular duty that would be of use would be that of the Users' Council to promote, by way of negotiation with the relevant companies, a code of practice in relation to standards of service, in particular the standard of the telephone service, and for procedures dealing with complaints and inquires. There is need to establish specific procedures of which the general public will be aware. There is a need to ensure that these procedures are seen to be operating properly. There should be a duty on the Users' Council to publicise the nature of such code of practice if and when it has been agreed with the two boards.

In this context I am not suggesting that whenever somebody has a problem with An Bord Telecom or An Post they should immediately go to the Users' Council. Obviously, the majority of difficulties and problems should be dealt with directly between the user of the service and the boards. But the Users' Council must be seen to have a role where difficulties have arisen. In that context such a code of practice would be beneficial. I would hope that the Users' Council, in consultation with the boards would be able to establish some sort of arbitration system. Therefore, when disputes arise such as exist at present, when people are disputing the accuracy of accounts they are receiving or when other problems of a different nature arise with the telephone service and it is not possible for the consumer boards to reach agreement on how the problem should be solved, the Users' Council should have a role in providing a simplified arbitration service, not something that involves massive public expenditure but some relatively simple procedure.

At present the method used to do so is the tabling of parliamentary questions. We will no longer be in a position to do that. Indeed, it should not be necessary for somebody using the telephone service who is experiencing difficulty with it to have Deputies tabling parliamentary questions in order to have their problems resolved. There should be a simple arbitration procedure to sort out these problems. The Users' Council would provide a unique forum for that purpose and would provide the means whereby an arbitration system could be established in conjunction with the boards in resolving those problems. I would hope that that would be something that would be considered at a very early stage to ensure that people using the services are properly and fully protected.

The function of the Users' Council should be to encourage the boards to develop the most efficient service possible, as I know would be their wish. They should also encourage the development of the best possible code of practice. The Users' Council should monitor that code. Everybody living in the State should know, if they have a difficulty, how it can be dealt with. In view of the fact that amendment No. 15 gives the Minister a degree of flexibility to confer additional powers on the Users' Council, in accordance with the consultations provided for in the section, I welcome that section. Indeed, it is a welcome innovation in this Bill.

I appreciate the comments of Deputy Leyden and indeed of all Deputies in the House who had experienced problems with the telephone service — and we all know what are those problems — but I am glad we have now reached the stage in this discussion when we can get down to dealing specifically, in a legislative way, with the consumer aspects of this Bill. It is noteworthy that Members opposite have not tabled any amendments. I do not want to try to score cheap party political points either but there has been a lot of point-scoring attempted on the Minister in the context of trying to resolve the problems of job security for employees. I am somewhat cynical of the crocodile tears shed by Deputy Leyden for the position of consumers when the only amendments tabled relating to the area of consumer protection are those by the Minister himself.

They were discussed on Committee Stage.

I welcome amendment No. 17. I was very concerned with the original section that this amendment now alters. As I said earlier, I felt that the original section, taken in conjunction with section 48 (1) and in conjunction also with section 48 (7), in the context of the functions of the Users' Council, did not give the consumer any real protection or guarantee that the Users' Council would perform any useful service, or give any guarantee that An Bord Telecom would necessarily deal expeditiously with problems raised by consumers through the Users' Council. In particular the new subsections proposed will provide a guarantee that if one experiences problems in the usage of the telephone service and if one goes through the Users' Council, the board must respond expeditiously to complaints and representations. That is a welcome innovation and I am delighted the Minister sought to introduce it.

We are all aware of the type of telephone problems and queries people raise. As an illustration of how odd the performance of the present Department of Posts and Telegraphs can be, one does not have to look any further than Question No. 529 I have on today's Order Paper which details — obviously it is not relevant to go into it in this debate ——

If it is not relevant, for goodness sake would the Deputy refrain from doing so? The Chair would remind the House that there have been 30 amendments only dealt with in about two hours.

I appreciate that. I might explain the extraordinary events that took place in one house in my constituency after a gentleman had signed a telephone contract which resulted at the end of the day in his having a telephone installed in his house which is battery operated and which has these things inserted into it apparently every two days, when an official of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs arrives at this man's house to instal a battery.

I deprecate exhibits.

If that is an example of technological advancement in the telephone service as we enter the last quarter of the twentieth century, it really is an eye opener. The point I am making, is that the type of difficulties that require parliamentary questions, such as No. 529 to which I have referred already, which up to now Deputies have had to table regularly in this House should be resolved differently. Those difficulties should now be promptly dealt with, when this Act comes into being, through the Users' Council. The boards will have a statutory duty by virtue of the Minister's amendment to respond expeditiously to queries from the Users' Council to resolve these problems. I would urge the Minister, as soon as is possible after this Act becomes law, to formally establish the Users' Council so that they will be in being from a very early date on a statutory basis. I would equally urge the Minister to require the Users' Council and An Bord Telecom to work out a proper code of practice. The new functions to be given to the Users' Councils will provide greater consumer protection for people who depend on the telephone service than they have enjoyed up to now.

I welcome the Minister's amendments but I should not like a situation to develop where there was a buffer between the consumer and the companies involved. There is a danger that we could set up a bureaucracy that would be a kind of half-way house where people could lodge complaints, with lobbying on both sides. There is now a greater awareness regarding the entitlement of consumers. It is ironic that the area about which there is the greatest criticism is where massive amounts have been spent, namely, telecommunications centres and specifically with regard to billing. Deputy Leyden spoke about the difficulties encountered by some of his constituents with regard to billing, but that is common throughout the country.

I welcome the section, but I hope there will not be any infringement on the rights of the individual. If problems arise an individual should have the right to go to the council. Deputy Shatter saw the role of the User's Council as being advisory in nature. Many of the problems have arisen because of the fact that the billing mechanism is centralised in Dublin. At a later stage I should like to see this problem tackled and some moves towards decentralisation. There is a need for people in the provinces to have access to various Government Departments which is not possible now. I hope that people in the provinces will have the right of access which is denied to them at the moment.

I am glad to note the general acceptability of the amendments. No doubt the Minister will review quickly the experience of the councils to see what new functions would be useful. I should like to emphasise again that the boards can be expected to pay particular attention to the complaints of consumers and to representations made to them.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 16:

In page 30, to delete lines 19 and 20.

I welcome the amendments proposed by the Minister in this area. I understand this will be the only Users' Council in relation to companies of this nature and it may be something that could be introduced in relation to other companies also. Subsection (6) (b) states that the Minister may recover from the appropriate company the costs incurred by its council. In previous subsections the Minister has accepted responsibility for the appointing of the council, the number of whose members can be as low as ten or as high as 20. The councils can spend money and, quite rightly, the members are to be reimbursed for their time. It is unreasonable that the companies should be asked to pay for the service. It is a function for the protection of the public and for that reason the Minister should accept responsibility for the costs incurred by the councils.

I note that the word "may" is inserted. The Minister may not insist that the costs to the councils should be reimbursed by the companies. The only advantage with regard to some portion of reimbursement would be that the companies would be more responsive to the council because the more complaints that were made the greater would be the cost to the company concerned. There are fewer complaints regarding the general postal service than in relation to the telecommunications service and telephones in particular. Whichever company has the greater number of complaints the greater will be the cost. Deputy O'Sullivan made a relevant point regarding the decentralisation of the accounts section in Dublin. There is a case to be made for decentralisation. The difficulty at the moment is that the consumer has no direct contact with the person dealing with his complaint other than by telephone or unless he goes to the expense of coming to Dublin to deal with the matter. The Minister should consider the decentralisation of the Department to a region in the country.

I have sympathy with the amendment proposed by Deputy de Rossa and I ask the Minister to give some consideration to it. There is the possibility that undue pressure could be applied regarding expenses which would put the Users' Councils at a disadvantage and reduce their effectiveness.

This was put to me before by Deputy O'Sullivan and I considered it. I could not accept the amendment. At the moment there is a Users' Council whose expenses are paid for out of revenue from telecommunications and postal charges. We are merely translating that into the semi-State situation so that the cost of the council will fall on the service and not on the Exchequer. Everyone knows the parlous state of the country's finances and I do not think that any amount, even a relatively small figure, should be put on the Exchequer. It should be borne by the service. It is a consumer service and the cost to the consumer will be negligible in providing a very good service.

I can see the Minister would be reluctant to accept the costs of the two councils for the two boards. The companies should not be expected to pay for their own watchdog. There would be a feeling that the paymaster was being paid by the watchers. There is also the feeling that you cannot be too hard on a person who is paying your expenses or reimbursing you for the time spent looking after their affairs.

The Minister said that up to now the cost of the Users' Council was met from revenue from the services. That is fair enough because it was within the civil service and it was merely a matter of allocating the money under one subhead rather than another within the Department. I do not consider that an adequate reply and therefore I press the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendment No. 17 was discussed with amendment No. 15.

I move amendment No. 17:

In page 30, to delete lines 21 to 24, and substitute the following:

"(7) Each company shall—

(a) advise its Users' Council of major plans and major projected developments in relation to any service referred to in subsection (1) (a), and

(b) furnish to its Users' Council such information as may be necessary to enable it to fulfil its functions (including, in particular, information necessary to enable the Council to respond expeditiously to complaints or representations made to it in accordance with subsection (1) (a)".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 18:

In page 34, to delete lines 48 to 52, and substitute the following:

"62.—(1) The company shall, subject to the provisions of this section, have the exclusive privilege:

(a) in respect of the conveyance of postal packets within, to and from the State and the performance of the services of receiving, collecting, dispatching and delivering postal packets, and

(b) in respect of providing a public message transmission service based on facsimile reproduction and any other means of text based electronic and computer mail of whatsoever kind.".

This amendment may be even more important than our previous amendment because it seeks to extend the exclusive privilege to cover electronic mail. The section as it stands reads:

(1) The company shall, subject to the provisions of this section, have the exclusive privilege in respect of the conveyance of postal packets within, to and from the State and the offering and performance of the services of receiving, collecting, despatching and delivering postal packets

Our amendment seeks to add a further subsection which would read:

(b) in respect of providing a public message transmission service based on facsimile reproduction and any other means of text based electronic and computer mail of whatsoever kind.

Everyone knows the field of information is being developed electronically and that the future lies in electronic mail. I am anxious to ensure that the exclusive privilege which we seek to give the company in relation to postal packets would also apply to electronic mail. As the section stands, this is not included and for that reason I ask the Minister to accept the amendment.

This is an interesting amendment. When I was in the Department we were dealing with a proposal that this service would be operated jointly by the telecommunication and postal sides. It was proposed that the Faxpost system be introduced on an experimental basis. If this system has not been introduced, it soon will be introduced in Dublin and Cork. There must be a telecommunications side to the Faxpost, otherwise that system cannot operate. Therefore this amendment could not properly be included and I could not give it a great deal of support.

I believe the system must be operated within the post office service and it should be available at post offices, and major post offices particularly, but the telecommunications service must be used to convey the transmission of documents over the wires from one office to another. In the United States this service is operated by the post office in co-operation with the telecommunications services. The post office pays the telecommunications service a fee and the two systems are completely independent, but the post office operates the service.

I would support the proposal where the post office would operate the service because the postal service would be used to bring the reproduced message to the addressee. This service will operate from post office to post office but in co-operation with telecommunications and An Bord Telecom. I urge the Minister to introduce this service as quickly as possible and in as many areas as possible. I know from experience that there is great potential for such a service. A document can be sent from New York or Washington to Dublin and have it reproduced here for a reasonable fee. When I was in the Department the costings had been worked out. If the service is not already in operation I beleive it will be operating in the near future.

As I pointed out on Second and Committee Stages, one of the weaknesses in the Bill is that it did not clearly indicate which section would deal with electronic mail, specifically the Faxpost. There is a need to clarify this point in the Bill and to ensure that the traditional role of the post office and the service provided by An Bord Telecom will not overlap. I can see an area of conflict within these two companies which we are in the process of creating. This would not be desirable because it would reflect on this House, and not to our credit. There is a need to ensure that this new system of communication will be retained by the State and until this is written into this Bill in unambiguous terms, the likelihood of conflict between the two companies will prevail. I ask the Minister to clarify this position because I do not believe this amendment will cover all these eventualities.

This amendment seeks to delete the present subsection (1) and insert a new subsection. The wording of paragraph (a) is precisely the same as was passed in Committee, except the word "offering" is omitted — I do not know if there is any significance in that. In effect, we are talking about a new subparagraph (b) which reads:

(b) in respect of providing a public message transmission service based on facsimile reproduction and any other means of text based electronic and computer mail of whatsoever kind.

I cannot accept that. As Deputy Leyden said, we have two services which are really a joint service. If we were to accept Deputy De Rossa's amendment the telecommunications monopoly would be infringed.

Facsimile and electronic mail transmission could involve the exclusive privilege of both companies. It will be for the two companies to consider the position in relation to these services in the light of their own respective exclusive privilege.

One could perhaps envisage a joint arrangement in certain cases. Other countries have joint arrangements in some cases and separate arrangements in others. Because it relates to the postal and telecommunications sides, this will have to be done by agreement between the two companies. We cannot provide for it in the Bill.

Deputy De Rossa to conclude.

I do not know if there is any significance in the fact that the word "offering" was dropped. It is more than likely simply a mistake. In relation to paragraph (b), the important point which needs to be stressed is that, so far as I am aware, this area of electronic mail is not covered anywhere in the Bill as it stands. The right to provide an electronic mail service is not given as an exclusive privilege to either company. We put down this amendment to ensure that this developing service, which will provide for considerable expansion in the company which runs it, would be run by An Post exclusively. In a sense, that the Minister feels unable to accept the amendment because it might cut across An Bord Telecom, highlights one of the weaknesses of having two separate companies dealing with this whole area of postal and telecommunications services. That is a battle which was fought and lost at an earlier stage. It is important that there be specific mention of electronic mail and provision of an exclusive privilege to either one or other of the companies.

Has amendment No. 18 been withdrawn?

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendment No. 19 in the names of Deputies Mac Giolla and De Rossa. Amendments Nos. 26, 34, 39 and 40 are related. Amendments Nos. 19, 26, 34, 39 and 40 are to be taken together, by agreement.

On a point of order, would the Chair be able to enlighten me as to what happened to the amendments tabled by Deputy Kelly which were included on the third list of amendments? Are they before the House or have they been withdrawn? If they have been withdrawn, why were they so withdrawn by Deputy Kelly? They were submitted here on 21 June and listed on the third list of amendments, but are not listed on the green sheet which we have obtained. Has pressure been exerted on Deputy Kelly to toe the party line in relation to these amendments? What is the reason behind this and why is Deputy Kelly not here to explain the background to the insertion of these amendments and whether he has withdrawn them?

Deputy Kelly withdrew the amendments and sin sin.


I will not allow any discussion on that matter. Deputy Kelly was in order in withdrawing the amendments. They are gone. Tá siad imithe.

May we draw our own conclusions?

I am not responsible for the drawing of conlcusions.

On a point of order, is it possible for Deputy Kelly to enlighten the House as to his mind or thoughts at the time when he tabled these amendments?

If Deputy Leyden wishes to find out the thoughts or mind of Deputy Kelly, might I respectfully suggest that he have a chat with him some time?

I move amendment No. 19:

In page 35, to delete lines 13 to 15.

We have come to a section which is similar to that on security of tenure and the question of pay, conditions and so forth is a key element of the Bill. The section as it stands seems to leave the door wide open for the establishment of private courier services. We put down a series of amendments seeking to delete the right of the Minister or the company to issue licences for the provision of services, which is the exclusive privilege, under the section, of the postal and telecommunications companies. It is important to maintain the integrity of the Bill. The assurances which have been given and the amendments which have been accepted previously by the Minister are to the effect that these companies would provide a national, comprehensive and fitting service and that there would be no question whatsoever of the Minister or the company having the right to issue licences to firms or private companies for the carrying out of functions of either of the two boards. For that reason, I ask the Minister to accept amendment No. 19.

I cannot accept this amendment. We dealt with the subject of licensing on Committee Stage. This amendment is unacceptable as it rules out any licensing by An Post or by the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs of any services within the exclusive privilege of An Post.

The licensing powers are enabling only and are designed to give flexibility, should the public interest require it. They were recommended by the Posts and Telegraphs Review Group in 1979. I would draw the attention of the House to sections 72 (4) and 110 (1) as amended on Committee Stage. These ensure that the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs of the day would, in the final analysis, grant a licence under either section only if he is satisfied that it is in the public interest to do so and that it is compatible with the justification given in section 62 (2) for the exclusive privilege being given to An Post.

If a licence were ever to be granted, it would be done by order which would be tabled before both Houses of the Oireachtas and could be subject to rejection by either House within 21 sitting days.

Again, I do not wish to delay the House in the matter. However, this is an important section. The whole question of the right to issue licences strikes at the sections previously agreed to and the amendments brought in by the Minister. We will have, if we allow the section to stand, a situation in which the Minister can come under political pressure to grant licences. It is not unknown that services previously provided by State companies have been hived off to private enterprise. In all cases where this is likely to occur the services are profitable. This could be a key element in the viability of the State companies that will be established under this Bill.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 21, 22, 35, 36 and 37 are related. These amendments as well as amendment No. 20 may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 20:

In page 36, lines 14 and 15, to delete "loss, damage or injury suffered by any person" and substitute "loss or damage suffered by a person in the use of a postal service".

Section 63 gives An Post immunity from liability for any loss, damage, etc., arising in the operation of the postal service. This does not establish a new principle. Such immunity applies to the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs at present. Deputies Kelly and Shatter have questioned the justification for giving the company such immunity from liability. I am satisfied that the company's efforts to develop the services, especially in the crucial early years, would be severely handicapped if immunity from liability was withdrawn.

However, on further consideration of the Deputies' criticisms I felt that some modifications to the immunity were justified and these amendments provide accordingly. Similar amendments are proposed to section 87 which is the corresponding provision for Bord Telecom Eireann. The first and third amendment narrow the limitation of liability to "loss or damage" and so exclude "injury" from the limitation of liability provided in the original section. Therefore, the right of any person to redress in cases of injury will not be limited under the section as now proposed to be amended. The company's immunity from liability is being further limited by the first amendment to cover only immunity from liability for loss or damage suffered by a person in the use of a postal or telecommunications services, rather than without qualification as in the original section.

The second amendment removes the original immunity from liability for "neglect". This is in response to the criticism that that word in the section could be misconstrued as condoning or at worst encouraging negligence on the part of the company. This was not intended.

This is a significant amendment. It was put to me that the section as passed on Committee Stage gave absolute immunity from prosecution to the postal service. It could be said that a person knocked down by a Post Office van could not sue if the words had stood. That was not intended. It has also been put to me that by including the word "neglect" we were giving a wide immunity to the service. It was argued that it could be so wide as to be unconstitutional. The judgment in the Byrne case was cited in support of that argument. I consulted the Attorney General who consulted with his staff. The view was that there could be some merit in the arguments put forward and that these amendments should be tabled.

I am glad the Minister took account of the comments made on Committee Stage. The amendments put forward are suitable. If the word "neglect" had been allowed to stand in the Bill it would have allowed for wilful neglect on the part of the company. It would have given complete immunity to both companies. Due care and consideration must be exercised by companies at all times to ensure that there is no neglect in providing the service involved.

I welcome the amendment to delete this word because of the repercussions it could have for both services. I find the telephone and postal services provide an excellent service. I have had very little reason to complain about negligence on the part of those involved in the postal service. I take this opportunity of giving credit to the postal and telecommunication workers involved for ensuring there was no negligence on their part in carrying out their duties. They are providing an excellent service. I hope that with the new boards being set up the service will improve.

I welcome the Minister's amendment and thank him for listening to representations which were made. These are very important amendments. The importance of them in the context of consumer protection should not be lost sight of. They provide greater protection for the consumer than was originally provided. A blanket immunity was conferred in the Bill which had no real rational basis.

I understand the reasons for the immunity which remains. It is important that these amendments are accepted. The blanket nature of immunities could have endangered the constitutionality of a portion of the Bill and might have deprived citizens of basic legal rights they have at present. By amending the sections in the way the Minister proposes we would revert to a legal system which exists in certain areas where if one is run over by a lorry driven by an employee of the Department or if one fell down a hole in the road for which proper protection had not been provided one could sue. The way the section was phrased would have deprived a person of the right to seek damages no matter how serious the injuries they sustained as a result. The Minister's amendments have redressed that position. I understand we are dealing with amendment No. 38 as well.

No, we are dealing with amendments Nos. 20, 21, 22, 35, 36 and 37.

I see. I welcome the amendment. It provides additional protection for everyone and will ensure a better service to the consumer. It means that if, due to neglect, damages of a serious nature are suffered there is not a blanket immunity conferred on An Post or on An Bord Telecom.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 21:

In page 36, line 16, to delete ", neglect".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 22:

In page 36, lines 21 and 22, to delete "loss, damage or injury" and substitute "loss or damage".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 23:

In page 36, line 45, to delete "may" and substitute "shall as soon as possible after the vesting day".

This amendment relates to the question of the provision of a banking service. The section as worded means that the Minister "may" provide that it be set in motion. We proceeded to ensure that the Minister "shall as soon as possible after the vesting day" ensure that this service is provided. The Post Office Savings Bank has been allowed to deteriorate for a number of years and has been prevented from expanding into other areas. It has seen a lot of its business taken over by the Trustee Savings Banks, for instance, and has not been generally allowed to provide the service a State Bank could provide far more effectively and efficiently than the private set-up we have at present.

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