Local Radio Bill, 1985: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time". I have great pleasure in formally introducing this Bill to Members of this House. Its purpose is to provide a framework for the development of local and community radio services in this country. It is, I know, a long awaited Bill but I make no apology for this because it represents a major development in the evolution of broadcasting services in this country and it is esential that the correct decisions should be taken. For the first time we are establishing a statutory base for independent radio services — independent in that the public are being given an opportunity to organise themselves to provide the kind of services they see as best meeting the needs and wishes of their own areas and local communities.

The Bill is unique too, in that it is the first piece of legislation to which the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Legislation had an opportunity to make a contribution. This proved to be a most useful experience. The committee received some 60 submissions from groups or organisations and heard oral submissions from nine of these. The committee also put forward their views on how they saw local radio services being developed in this country.

There has indeed been extraordinary interest in this proposed legislation. I myself have also received many submissions from various groups and met many delegations who were anxious to make known their views on this subject. It will be obvious, therefore, that a considerable amount of thought and effort has had to go into the preparation of this Bill. We have endeavoured to capture the best of the many ideas that have been put forward to us. In legislation of this kind, where there can be so many genuinely held diverse views, it is clearly not possible to met everybody's point of view. But I hope that the proposals will be accepted generally as a sound framework within which local radio can develop to its full potential to the benefit of the community generally.

Before going on to deal with the principles and intentions behind the Bill think it would be useful to reflect briefly on the development of broadcasting services in this country. We will see that what is being proposed now is part of an evolutionary process, and one indeed which is by no means unique to this country, being mirrored in many other European countries.

Up to 1960 the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1926 provided the legislative basis for broadcasting services. That Act was extraordinary in its foresight and has a continuing major relevance to all facets of radio communications services today. I will have a greater opportunity to develop this point when I am dealing with the Broadcasting and Wireless Telegraphy Bill, 1985 shortly.

Part 11 of the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1926 vested responsibility for the control and operation of broadcasting services in the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs and in the early days of broadcasting the national radio service was provided by a division of the former Department of Posts and Telegraphs. Over the years, however, it became clear that a Civil Service form of organisation with its inherent detailed controls and somewhat conservative approach was not the best form of organisation for a creative medium whose primary purpose was to inform, entertain and enlighten. A reorganisation of the service designed to correct that took place in 1953, when an advisory body — known as Comhairle Radio Éireann — were established to assist the Minister in running the broadcasting service. In practice the operation of the service was left very much to the Comhairle and Radio Éireann was, broadly speaking, free to manage their own affairs and, subject to general controls, to spend as they saw fit the moneys allocated for broadcasting services. This was the first step in the evolutionary process of moving the broadcasting services away from the direct apparatus of the State and giving them greater opportunity to realise their own potential and to become more responsive to the needs of the people.

The impetus for further change in the structure of Irish broadcasting came primarily from technological advancement which brought a new medium in its wake. By the 1950s television services had been established in most countries in Europe and those that did not have it were preparing to embark on the establishment of such a service. Even in Ireland about 40,000 homes were receiving British television signals at the time. At this time too, more thought was being given to the role of the broadcasting media in terms of their significance for and influence on character and attitude formation, culture and aspirations and to their rolevis-à-vis political institutions. Were the broadcasting media to be for the people or to be perhaps an arm of the Government of the day? Could structures be created which would have sufficient independence to provide public service broadcasting — in the sense that one would have an organ of the State which would be able to respond to and cater for the needs and views of both majority and minority interests — or should the service be given into private ownership? These were the kind of issues which had to be addressed in the context of deciding how the new medium of television should be introduced just as they were in the 1920s when the introduction of sound broadcasting was being considered. The debate on this will be a never-ending one and that, in my view, is as it should be.

In the event, the decision in the 1960s was that the public service concept of broadcasting should be adhered to and the Government of the day decided that the two broadcasting services — sound and television — should be under the control of a single statutory authority. To translate that decision into legal reality the Broadcasting Authority Act, 1960, was enacted. This Act provided for the establishment of the RTE Authority and set out the functions and duties of the Authority in relation to broadcasting services. It still remains the main statutory basis for Irish broadcasting. It too was a milestone in the evolutionary development of Irish broadcasting institutions and services in that it formalised the separation of the service from the direct apparatus of State that had been evolving since 1953.

An important amendment to the 1960 Act was enacted by the Oireachtas in 1976. The Broadcasting Authority (Amendment) Act, 1976, clarified and expanded the duties of the RTE Authority in fulfilling their task of providing a national broadcasting service in the light of developments, experience and new insights since the Authority were established. It also provided greater autonomy and freedom for the broadcasting services within clearly defined statutory restraints and obligations. The 1976 Act was also important in that it established an independent mechanism for dealing with complaints about the services through the establishment of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission. The commission, as will be seen later, will have a role to play in relation to the new services to be established under this Bill.

We are, with this Bill, at a cross-roads in the development of broadcasting services in that for the first time effectively since the broadcasting services were established, provision is being made for national competition and choice of services for the listening public. It is right therefore that I should say a few words about RTE which has been the custodian of the national broadcasting monopoly over the years. There is no doubt that RTE has served this country well, and that it will continue to do so. We can all have our criticisms of the State broadcasting service from time to time but I, and I am sure all Members of this House, will readily acknowledge that RTE have over the years succeeded in providing from limited resources high quality sound and television broadcasting services well up to world standards. Proof of this is that it has been able to hold a high audience share in the face of competition from UK services which are available in many parts of this country and which are generally recognised as being among the best in the world. The fact that RTE have been able to do so with their much smaller resources, against such competition, is a pointer to the fact that they have nothing to fear from the local radio services which this legislation proposes to develop, or indeed in relation to the various other electronic media services — such as specialised cable TV services or international satellite broadcasting — which are only a short way downstream. It is, of course, the position that RTE have had to compete for some years on unequal terms with the many illegal radio stations that, regrettably, have continued to operate and I am sure that in some respects at least RTE will welcome genuine competition on more equal terms than they have had to face in recent years.

RTE's primary role in the future is I believe both clear and unambiguous. They will remain the country's national primary broadcasting service fulfilling its public service broadcasting role. To that extent RTE's main perspectives and those of the proposed new services will be essentially different.

I will return at a later stage to the issue of RTE's role in relation to the proposed new local radio services when we come to deal with the principles behind the sections of the Bill dealing with this question. For the present however, I wish to put on the record of the House my tribute to and appreciation of the services RTE have rendered to this country over the years and continue to render. Furthermore I wish to state that there is great credit due to the various RTE Authorities who have served down through the years, and to all those who have been involved in providing the services.

Returning to my theme of the evolutionary development of broadcasting structures and services, I believe that the next impetus for change finds its origins in what I might call the cultural revolution of the mid and late 1960s and early 1970s. This was an era of economic boom, of liberalising values and, for the younger generation of the time at least, a time to question if not reject "establishment" conventional wisdoms. In the broadcasting context one small but significant manifestation of this revolution was the off-shore pirate radio stations of which Radio Caroline was probably the most famous. There is no doubt that in many countries these stations shook the broadcasting establishment who had, undoubtedly, become somewhat cocooned and lethargic in their response to public needs.

For the younger generation of listeners at the time, the swashbuckling image of the pirate stations had an immediate attraction but the more significant and lasting effect they had was the awakening of the realisation that broadcasting services did not, after all, have to be provided by State organisations as had been almost universally the case in Europe. There was also the fact that these stations catered for a huge listening demand which evidently was not being catered for by the "establishment" broadcasting organisations at the time. What has emerged from this experience and all that has ensued since is a consciousness that broadcasting services do not have to be run by experts backed by large organisations and substantial resources and that the public have the potential to provide broadcasting services of an appropriate scale and nature to meet local needs. It is this consciousness, this demand, which is in some cases latent and in many others overt, that this Bill now seeks to address.

Before I go on to deal with how the Bill addresses these issues I think it is appropriate that I should explain why it is necessary to have legislation governing broadcast services at all — in other words, why not let everyone who wishes to set up radio broadcasting services do so? The reasons are fundamentally twofold although they are also inter-linked. The main constraint on a total liberalisation of the airwaves is a technical one. Broadcasting services operate on radio frequencies which are allocated from the radio frequency spectrum. The frequency spectrum is a finite natural resource which is utilised in all countries for a multitude of services — maritime, aeronautical, business, security and emergency services, telephone links, satellite communication to mention but a few, as well, of course, as broadcast services. Because of the demands for spectrum space and the fact that radio transmissions are no respecters of national boundaries, the use of the frequency spectrum has to be controlled and regulated internationally if radio interference is to be avoided and the spectrum is to be utilised and managed in an efficient manner.

The International Telecommunications Union in Geneva, which is a specialised agency of the United Nations and of which Ireland is a member, is the international regulatory body for the radio frequency spectrum. The allocation of radio frequencies for broadcasting and other purposes, as well as various other paramenters such as power limitations, etc., on the use of these, are decided at planning conferences held at various intervals, and Ireland along with all other member countries negotiates its quota of frequencies. There must, therefore, be national control over the use of the available frequencies if we are to meet our international obligations as well as a fair method of allocating those limited frequencies among the many services needing them, and this is one of the purposes of the legislation.

There are, of course, other reasons why some degree of control has to be exercised over broadcasting services. The State must protect its own authority and integrity by, for instance, preventing those who would seek to undermine that authority from being given control of or access to such services; it also has an obligation to provide protection in fundamental matters of moral taste and decency. For these and other reasons which we will come across as we go through the Bill a degree of regulation is needed, and this is achieved in the first instance through the legislative framework we establish.

The purpose of this Bill is to provide for the establishment of the Local Radio Commission — An Coimisiún um Raidió Aitiúil (CORA for short) — which will select and enter into contracts with interested parties for the provision of local and community sound broadcasting services and which will regulate those services in accordance with the provisions of the legislation and the terms of licences governing technical matters which will be issued by the Minister for Communications.

The main thrust of the legislation is to establish a two-tier structure of radio services comprising local and community services. The former I envisage as fully professionally run services operating on a sound commercial basis and serving relatively large catchment areas such as a major city, a county or groupings of counties. These stations will be required to meet a range of public service broadcasting requirements in their programming, that is, to offer a broad range of news, entertainment, information and education and to be responsive to the varied interests of the populations they serve.

I would doubt if there will be very many of these stations because this country simply does not have the population to support an extensive network of such stations. I am reluctant to make forecasts in this unknown area so far as this country is concerned, but if we refer to the experience in the UK the general rule of thumb there is that a local radio station requires a listenership population of close to half a million persons to be reasonably sure of viability. On this basis and allowing for differences in the way we are proposing to organise our local radio services I would be surprised if there will ever be more than a dozen or so local stations at most.

I must stress, however, that this is merely my own estimate and that I do not intend it to be taken as a guideline. It is the task of the commission to determine how many stations can be supported and I do not wish to circumscribe them in determining this. My concern at this point is essentially to give the House a flavour of how I think these services will develop, and the opinion I have given is purely for this purpose — and no other.

Because there will obviously be a limit to the number of local stations, the Bill proposes that the selection of broadcasting contractors for the franchises will be on a public tendering basis. As we will see when going through its provisions, the Bill sets down a range of basic criteria which the commission must have regard to in assessing tenders. It will, of course, be open to the commission to add to those criteria.

Each community radio service is intended to serve a very local identifiable community and the fundamental characteristic of these services is that they must be owned and controlled by representative community groups or persons. They will in general have a relatively small range of coverage dictated by the low power of their transmitters. Where there is a demand for such a service — and I would expect that demand would be manifested either through applications made to the commission or by initiatives taken by the commission themselves — the commission will be required to hold such consultations or public meeting as they consider necessary for the purpose of ascertaining the extent of the interest in the community in having such a service and of considering what proposals the community has for providing the services.

This element of the Bill has tremendous potential. What we wish to do is to ensure that local communities can themselves get involved in providing the kind of service best suited to their own needs. We are providing them with the opportunity to talk to and entertain each other and to air issues and concerns of interest to them and their community, thereby fostering a true identification with, and sense of, their community. This concept of local communities becoming involved in the provision of these services is a very real example of the educational potential — in its broadest sense — of the broadcasting media.

However, I should sound a note of caution here. I believe that the development of these services will be an evolutionary process — the number of communities who will be capable of organising a radio service may be limited at this time and there may well be disappointments and failures. We as legislators or as Government cannot create these services. Our role is to create the framework and environment in which the development of these services can take place. It is up to the public to take advantage of this framework, to get organised and to pool resources and expertise so as to get these services off the ground. Furthermore, I think communities wishing to become involved in these services should tailor their proposals to their own particular potential. It may be preferable, for instance, in some cases to set up stations which will provide only a few hours of quality or relevant programming a day rather than to go for something more ambitious and end up with totally bland and inconsequential programming.

I would like to go on now to deal in more detail with the various provisions in the Bill. The first 15 sections deal with bringing the legislation into force and with the establishment of the commission. The provisions are quite straightforward and are, essentially, common to most forms of State-sponsored bodies.

Section 1 contains interpretations which, I hope, are self-explanatory. Section 2 enables the Minister to appoint by order an establishment day for the purposes of the Act and it can be taken that I will make the necessary order as soon as the Bill is enacted.

Section 3 provides for the establishment of the Local Radio Commission and the most significant provision in this section is the power it gives to the Minister to designate where the headquarters of the commission will be. I have already announced that I propose to specify Cork as the place where the commission's headquarters will be located. My reason for doing so is that it has frequently been represented that our present broadcasting services are too Dublin oriented and I believe there is an undoubted element of truth in this. A decision to locate the commission in Cork is an important step in the establishment of the principle that local radio will not be dominated by a Dublin perspective; local radio services will look to Cork rather than Dublin for guidance and direction although I would expect, of course, that the commission will reflect all shades of opinion in the country.

Section 4 deals with the appointment and number of members of the commission and lays down certain criteria in relation to the type of person to be appointed. The provisions of this section are basically similar to those relating to the appointment of the RTE Authority under the Broadcasting Authority Acts, 1960 to 1979. They provide for the appointment by the Government of a minimum of nine and a maximum of 12 members. With any lesser number there could be problems in having a good balance of members while anything larger would, I think, tend to render the commission somewhat unwieldy. The maximum term of office will be five years although the section gives the Government the option of appointing members for shorter periods. It is appropriate also that it should be possible to re-appoint members after an initial term of office if only to ensure some continuity between commissions and this is provided for in section 3 (3). Subsection (5) lists the criteria which appointees should meet. I believe there is considerable merit in having persons appointed who have a proven track record in the realms of experience listed and in addition it is designed to ensure so far as possible that the scope for controversy in relation to who is appointed is reduced to a minimum.

In connection with this provision the House will be aware that I have already, with the approval of the Government, appointed an interim Local Radio Commission under the chairmanship of Dr. Colm Ó hEocha, President of Galway University, and lately the very distinguished chairman of the New Ireland Forum. I think the quality and calibre of the persons who have been appointed to the commission speak for themselves and from the contact I have had with them I believe they will bring an excellent blend of experience, common sense and insight to bear on the undoubtedly difficult task they have been given. The decision to appoint this interim commission in advance of the legislation was taken because it was recognised that there was much useful groundwork to be done if we are to get legal local and community radio services off the ground as speedily as possible. I have already told the members of the interim commission that it is my intention to invite them to accept appointment as members of the statutory commission once this Bill is, with the co-operation of this House, enacted and I will be proposing accordingly to the Government in due course.

I would at this point like to place formally on the record of the House on my own behalf and on behalf of the Government our sincere gratitude to the members of the interim commission for agreeing to give their services. There are many pressures and demands on the members of the interim commission in their main areas of occupation and the fact that they are prepared to make some of their valuable time available for the work of the commission is an excellent example of rendering a public service. Membership of bodies such as this is, generally, a thankless task and members do not always get the recognition they deserve from the community at large for the service they render.

The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Legislation expressed some views on the manner of the appointment of the commission including a suggestion that there should be a provision excluding any member of the RTE Authority or of RTE's staff from sitting on the commission so that the independence of the new commission from RTE would be made clear. I did not consider it necessary to make such a provision in the Bill although I accept the underlying reasons for the suggestion and it would not be my intention to appoint RTE Authority or RTE staff members to the new commission. However, I believe in a matter such as this, the legislation should not be unduly restrictive and that we should not limit future Governments' freedom of action unnecessarily.

Section 5 again is a standard provision dealing with the appointment and resignation of the chairman of the commission, while section 6 deals with the appointment of a deputy-chairman. This latter provision is in some respects an unusual but, by and large, desirable one. It arises primarily from my own experience as a Minister responsible for probably more State-sponsored bodies than any other Ministry. I have from time to time found that the ability of State-sponsored bodies to react quickly to some situations can be hampered because of the unavailability of the chairman. What we are doing here is endeavouring to minimise the possibility of these kinds of situations arising.

Section 7 provides for the removal of a member or members of the commission subject to resolutions accordingly being passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas. This corresponds precisely with the situation which applies to the RTE Authority since the enactment of the Broadcasting Authority (Amendment) Act, 1976. The requirement that Oireachtas approval be obtained for the removal of members is a democratic safeguard against arbitrary dismissal which is particularly appropriate in the broadcasting area having regard to the circumstances in which the Government of the day might regard it as necessary to terminate a member's appointment.

Section 8 deals with the remuneration and terms of office of the members of the commission and is broadly similar to that contained in the Broadcasting Authority Act and in other Acts relating to State bodies. The Government will fix the remuneration and terms of office of the members while the commission will, subject to the approval of the Minister given with the consent of the Minister of the Public Service, fix the payments of members' expenses.

Section 9 is a standard clause in all similar legislation providing for disclosure by members of statutory bodies of any interest they might have in proposed contracts. Where a member discloses such an interest he is prohibited from taking part in deliberations or decisions relating to that contract.

Section 10 is again a standard clause providing for a seal for the commission which will have judicial recognition.

Section 11 deals with procedural matters relating to the commission's meetings and provides for such matters as the chairing of meetings, voting procedures and the size of the quorum needed.

Section 12 specifies that the commission may appoint a chief executive and staff, subject to approval by the Minister. I think an important point to be made here is that we do not want the commission to develop into a major bureaucracy and we expect, therefore, that they will have a relatively small staff. The commission's role, apart from the selection of broadcasting contractors, will be essentially an overseeing one and they will have no need of major structures or significant staff numbers to discharge their role. I do not wish to put a precise figure on the number of staff envisaged — this is something that will have to be worked out with the commission — but at this stage I see it as being a mere handful.

Section 13 is a standard provision for State-sponsored bodies and relates to the conditions of service and terms of remuneration etc. of the chief executive and servants of the commission. The position in relation to the chief executive is similar to that which applies to RTE's director general — his appointment and removal from office are matters for the commission subject to the approval of the Minister, while the terms and conditions of employment including the remuneration and allowances of the commission's staff is subject to the approval of the Minister given with the consent of the Minister for the Public Service. In addition, provision is made requiring the commission to comply with any directives issued by the Minister with the consent of the Minister for the Public Service in relation to the pay and allowances for staff on the same lines as in recent legislation relating to statutory bodies such as an Bord Gáis and Údarás na Gaeltachta.

Section 14 is also a standard provision providing that members of the commission shall cease to be members in the event of their being nominated for election or being elected to the Dáil, Seanad or European Parliament and likewise, members of the staff of the commission shall stand seconded from their positions in similar circumstances. This is a long-standing convention in relation to State boards and stems essentially from the possibilities of conflicts of interest that could be involved for persons who might be legislators as well as members or servants of the commission. Finally, section 15 provides that the commission shall establish a superannuation scheme for their whole time staff.

In sections 16 to 21 we reach the real heart and substance of this legislation in terms of what it is trying to achieve. These sections deal with the general powers and functions of the commission, including the two tier structure of services to be provided, theirmodus operandi for selecting programme contractors, the role of RTE and the general duty of the commission in relation to programming.

Subsection (1) of section 16 mandates the commission to arrange for the provision of local and community radio services as a public service of entertainment, information and education. This provision introduces the concept of the two-tier structure of radio services. I should, perhaps, for a moment here advert back to section 1 where we give definitions of local and community broadcasting services. This was in fact an extremely difficult area to deal with because while we were not anxious to make it as clear as possible in the legislation what precisely we mean by these two types of services, we found that in endeavouring to spell out more elaborate definitions there was a very real danger of creating an undue inflexibility and rigidity. One approach, for instance, might have been to define these services by reference to factors such as geographic or population limits or by transmitter powers. However, none of these approaches was satisfactory because different areas have different characteristics. For example, a community radio service in a built-up suburban area might only need a relatively small transmission distance and yet serve many thousands of listeners while a similar service in a rural area would need wider coverage in distance terms and still be serving only a fraction of the population compared to the suburban station. For these reasons the services are defined primarily by reference to the provisions in the Bill which govern them — provisions such as the methods of selection of contractors, the kind of service they are expected to provide and who may own and control them.

The public service broadcasting precepts which we specify in section 16 (1) — that is, that the stations should provide a service of entertainment, information and education — make it clear to the commission the kind of service we as legislators wish to encourage and promote. It is vital that we should not squander the opportunities presented by local and community radio — as could happen, for instance, if it was to provide only for "wall to wall" pop music which is so typical of many of the illegal stations currently in operation. In saying that I wish to emphasise that it is not my intention to adopt a patronising attitude either to contemporary music or the musical tastes of the young and, dare I say it, not so young listeners.

It is important that there should be an opportunity to cater for all tastes and ages within the radio framework proposed. I believe local and community radio will be a vital forum for the expression of the concerns and interests of the population it serves and is much too valuable a resource to be used solely to meet the demands of any one segment of the population. The commission will arrange for the provision of radio services by entering into contracts with persons who will be known as broadcasting contractors and who will actually provide the services.

A further significant provision in this section is that the broadcasting contractors will provide, operate and maintain their own transmitters but I would emphasise that they will do so in accordance with licences governing technical matters issued by the Minister to the commission, the benefits of which licence will be conveyed to the broadcasting contractors through their contracts. This provision requiring broadcasting contractors to provide their own transmitters represents a fundamental difference between the approach of this Government towards the provision of local radio services and that of the Opposition who had proposed that the authority, or the commission as they now are, should provide the transmitters.

This difference of approach is not based on philosophic considerations but on practical considerations. Indeed, as we will see later arising from a subsequent provision which will require the broadcasting contractors to hold their transmitters on trust for the commission, combined with the obligations which will be on contractors under the terms of the licences issued to them to operate such transmitters, the end result from the point of view of control over the use and disposal of the transmitters will not be significantly different from that envisaged by the Opposition.

The Government had several reasons for rejecting the concept of the commission being responsible for the provision of the transmitters. In the first instance there is the economic reason. Why should the State, particularly in current economic circumstances, when there are so many compelling demands on the Government for capital for a wide range of projects, take on a responsibility for providing the necessary resources — which could be as much as £4 million to £5 million — to provide transmitters when it is clear that the resources are available otherwise to provide these facilities?

Secondly it would change the nature of the commission — they would have to be a much larger organisation than we envisage with a substantial engineering resource capable of providing and maintaining the transmitter network. This would, in turn, affect the financial base of the commission and make it a much more expensive operation. Since the commission will be required to pay their own way through the contractual payments they will levy from contractors there would be a considerably greater diversion of resources from the contractors towards the commission. We also consider that if the commission were to be responsible for providing the transmitters, the development of local and community radio services would be much slower than we would wish. The financial and manpower limitations on the commission would inevitably be such that the provision of transmitters would only be undertaken on a phased basis over a number of years. Thus many areas, which themselves could probably provide their own transmitters, would have to wait until the commission got around to them.

Finally, as the experience of the IBA in the UK suggests, the tendency for the commission would be to provide transmitters of a perhaps unnecessarily high quality and, therefore, more costly than need be. The costs would have to be recovered through substantial rental payments to the commission which, in turn, would act as a disincentive to the development of the services. It was for all these reasons that the Government decided that the overall public interest lay in the broadcasting contractors providing and maintaining the transmitters, effectively in trust for the Local Radio Commission.

There were some conflicting views on this issue when it was considered by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Legislation. I think those who advocated the provision of the transmitters by the commission saw this as giving a greater degree of control to the commission over the operation of services. I find the argument that the commission would have greater control through ownership of the transmitters rather weak because for such control to be effective in practical terms would require a presence by the commission's staff at the transmitters. This would be totally impractical.

In any event, the commission's position in relation to the transmitters will essentially be the same under the trusteeship arrangement we propose in this Bill — and which I will deal with later — as it would be if they actually owned them and leased them out to broadcasting contractors. In fact, the main instrument of control over the stations rests in the contractual arrangement between the commission and the programme contractors and, as we will see later, in the rollover provision relating to the continuation of these contracts.

Section 16 also deals with the question of licences for transmitting apparatus under the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1926. The 1926 Act is the basic national instrument for the management of the radio frequency spectrum which is achieved through the licensing provisions of that Act — it provides that a person requires a licence from the Minister for Communications covering possession and use of all forms of wireless telegraphy apparatus. Thus, when the commission propose to enter into a contract with a broadcasting contractor for the provision of a radio service, the Minister for Communications will issue a licence to the commission prescribing such technical matters as the frequency and transmitter powers which may be used, thereby ensuring that these aspects conform to assignments which have been agreed internationally for this country. Subsection (4) of section 16 confers the benefits of this licence on the broadcasting contractor through his contract with the commission and provides also that his obligations under the Wireless Telegraphy Act are fulfilled.

There is just one other subsection of section 16 to which I wish to advert, that is, subsection (10). We will, of course, be dealing in greater detail with all the subsections on Committee Stage. Subsection (10) enables the commission to make such temporary arrangements as they see fit to ensure continuity of service in the event of a broadcasting contractor ceasing to provide service and where there is a prospect of another contractor taking over the service. These temporary arrangements could include the commission either directly or indirectly running the service. It needs to be emphasised however that the commission are not broadcasters and in so far as they might have to engage in such an arrangement as I have indicated, it would have to be for a very short period of time only.

Section 17 deals with the selection of broadcasting contractors for the local tier of service. As I mentioned already, because of the limited number of such stations likely to be viable, a public tendering process is being provided for, and the basic criteria which the commission should take into account in the selection of contractors are outlined. These criteria include such matters as the range and quality of programmes which the proposer is offering to provide, the extent to which programmes in the Irish language and relating to Irish culture are to be provided, the general expertise and resources available to the proposer, and the general economic or commercial viability of the proposals.

The commission would also look to see to what extent an applicant would be prepared to provide service in what might be looked upon as an unattractive as well as an attractive area from the purely commercial point of view. We also have an important provision here which in effect asks the commission to consider carefully in relation to any applicant whether, if granted the franchise, they might be giving that applicant undue or even monopoly control over the communications media in any area. We have in mind here the possible involvement of newspaper publishers, whether national or local, in broadcasting contracts. It is not our intention to rule out such interests from running local radio services.

Indeed, in many respects we would welcome their involvement, particularly in the case of local newspaper publishers because we recognise, in the first instance, that they already have an infrastructure and resource which could make a very real input to local radio in terms of their knowledge of a particular area and in terms of being able to articulate the views and concerns of a particular area. Also we recognise that local radio could result in some diversion of advertising revenue from newspapers and we are anxious not to undermine the viability of these newspapers which provide a most important service to the people whom they serve.

We are simply asking the commission to ask themselves the question when faced with an application or applications which includes some newspaper publishing involvement, either as a major or minor participant, whether the public interest is served in terms of the dissemination of news, information and opinion by accepting an applicant which includes a substantial element of newspaper publishing interests. It is, however, up to the commission to make their own balanced judgement on this issue in the light of the applications before them. This section also enables RTE in their own right or in conjunction with others to tender for any local radio franchise which the commission may offer. I will deal in greater detail with RTE's role when I come to section 19.

Section 18 deals with the community tier of services. Their fundamental characteristic is that they must be owned and controlled by groups or persons who are representative of the community concerned. Because of this feature it is considered that it is not necessary to have a public tendering process — any community will generally have only one station and those who run it must be able to demonstrate to the commission that they are representative of the community. Provision is made, therefore, that before deciding to give a franchise for a community service, the commission shall hold consultations or public meetings to ascertain the level of interest in the community in having a service, their proposals for the service and to see that those who will run it are representative of the community.

We want, too, to encourage the idea that communities would organise themselves into co-operative societies for the purpose of running these services as we think this form of organisation is particularly suited to the concept of community broadcasting. We also want the commission to take the initiative in encouraging these services and for this purpose we would see them providing a basic information and advisory service to communities as to how to go about organising community radio services.

Some communities or groups might wish to provide a limited community radio service in association with some particular event or festival — along the lines, for instance, of the kind of service which has been provided for some time by RTE's experimental mobile community radio service. For that kind of service the provisions of this section of the Bill would be quite unnecessary and this is allowed for in subsection (4) of section 18.

Sections 19 and 20 deal with the role of RTE in relation to local radio services. There has been quite an amount of discussion, and perhaps even controversy, about the precise role to be given to RTE in this area. As is to be expected, there are widely divergent views on the matter and this was reflected in the Oireachtas Joint Committee discussions on the proposals for the legislation. Those views range from giving RTE total responsibility for the development of local radio services to their total exclusion from involvement. The former I have to say was a minority view within the Oireachtas committee. Most members felt, and it is a view I strongly share, that the public want a choice of listening or, at least, to have the possibility of choice explored. They recognised too that there is a body of people here with the expertise, talent and resources to offer that alternative and that with technical developments, the resources needed now to operate local services are greatly reduced. On the other hand, the contribution which RTE have made to the country through their broadcasting services, plus the expertise, talent and resources they have must be given due recognition and we must arrange to allow these to be placed at the disposal of the people, where they represent the best prospect in any individual areas.

It has to be borne in mind too, that the new services will be dependent on advertising for their viability and that this could have some repercussions on RTE's advertising markets. I do not think that those repercussions will be significant because to a large extent I expect that local radio will spawn a new layer of essentially local type advertising which does not have a need for the national coverage available from RTE as well as taking up the advertising revenue of the pirate stations. We have, therefore, adopted a twofold approach to RTE's involvement in local radio. Firstly, we are putting RTE in precisely the same situation as anyone else who wishes to seek a local radio franchise, in other words they may tender like anyone else for any local radio franchise which the commission offer. At the same time, however, we want to ensure that there is no diversion of RTE's resources from their mainstream activities which are fundamentally the provision of our national broadcasting services. Furthermore, fundamental to our approach to local radio is that there are to be no State funds used for the provision of these services and we think it would be inappropriate that revenue paid to RTE in respect of licence fees for the national services should be used to fund, directly or indirectly, the establishment or operation of local radio services.

Section 19 therefore provides that where the commission decide to award RTE a franchise for a local radio service RTE will be required to set up a subsidiary company to provide the service and that subsidiary company may not be funded from revenues accruing or made available to RTE under the Broadcasting Authority Acts.

The second area of RTE involvement in local radio is provided for in section 20. This section relates to a situation in which the commission have decided not to offer a contract for a local radio service to RTE either because RTE did not tender, or because it felt that is would be preferable from the point of view of diversity, the service to be offered, the persons involved in tendering and the nature of the proposals generally, to offer the contract to another party. In this situation if the commission feel that there is a good case for involving RTE in such a broadcasting contract, whether already entered into or about to be entered into, they may invite RTE to participate in the contract and may enter into discussions with RTE about the nature, extent and terms of its possible participation, and if agreement is reached, RTE is given the power to accept the offer and participate in the contract.

Obviously, the commission in such circumstances will have to consult also with the existing or proposed broadcasting contractor to ensure that he would be happy about RTE participation. However, the critical element here is that it is the commission's judgment which determines whether RTE should be invited to participate. This is as it should be because it is the commission who are being charged with the responsibility of developing local radio services in this country and it must be in a position to have control of that development and who is involved in it. We had in fact considered making it mandatory on the commission to offer RTE a fixed level of participation in every local radio contract but such a concept created major difficulties in terms of practical workability of the Bill, in terms of seriously circumscribing the mandate of the commission and in terms of forcing applicants for franchises who might prefer to proceed independently, to go to bed unwillingly with RTE. We decided therefore that such an approach was untenable and opted instead for the much more sensible and practical provision now before you.

We are not providing for involvement by RTE in any community radio franchises which the commission offer. To do so would run counter to the principle that the community services must be owned and controlled by representative community groups. This does not preclude any groups involved in these services from making private arrangements with RTE for facilities, services or advice if both parties so wish. Furthermore, it does not prejudice in any way RTE's right to continue to offer and provide its existing mobile community radio service for special events and so on.

Section 21 deals with the general duties of the commission in relation to programme services provided by programme contractors and here again a distinction is drawn between what is expected from the local and community radio services respectively.

It will be the responsibility of the commission to ensure that local stations meet the fairly wide range of public service broadcasting precepts which are set out in this section of the Bill. On the other hand, the requirements laid down for the community stations are of a more limited nature, aimed essentially at ensuring that these stations are of very real relevance to the community. The objective is to give these stations as much flexibility as possible in accordance with the principle that each community can best identify and meet its own needs. In discharging its duties in this area the commission may require local stations to submit their programme schedules in advance to the commission as well as to keep recordings of its programmes. The community stations are however being exempted from these requirements because it was concluded that they would be unduly onerous on them. On the other hand, if experience indicates that the commission cannot adequately exercise their overseeing role in this area, then there is a provision enabling the Minister to make an order applying the requirements in question to the community stations.

Section 22 deals with requirements of impartiality and objectivity and associated matters which we are imposing on local and community stations. These requirements are broadly similar to those which apply to RTE. I think Deputies will agree that, given the likelihood that there will be only a very small number of stations in any area plus the very forceful influence that broadcasting services above all other forms of media can have, it is most important that these stations should be fully impartial and objective in their treatment of news and current affairs. We also have certain other safeguards in this section, such as the requirement that stations may not broadcast matter likely to promote or incite to crime, that the privacy of the individual is respected as well as arrangements for ensuring fairness in relation to party political broadcasts. An important provision here is that a person who controls or exercises editorial control over a newspaper may not have editorial control over the news or current affairs programming of a radio station. This provision is aimed at prohibiting monopoly control over the dissemination of news and information in any area. I think this is an entirely reasonable and modest provision which will ensure as far as possible a balance and diversity of perspectives on local current affairs without precluding the involvement of local newspaper interest in local radio.

Advertising will be the bread and butter of radio stations, particularly the local tier. Section 23 gives the commission certain basic controls over the advertising carried by radio stations, controls which are essentially similar to those vested in the Minister for Communications in relation to RTE such as the maximum amount of advertising that may be carried. It will be noted that we have a particular provision here enabling the commission to direct broadcasting contractors to carry a reasonable amount of local advertising. What we are endeavouring to do here is ensure on the one hand that these stations are not dominated by what might be termed national advertising and on the other that the stations are opened up to local advertisers for whom the national broadcasting services may not be suitable.

Section 24 is an enabling provision to allow the commission to exercise some control over programme prizes offered by radio services. It is aimed essentially at ensuring that companies and so on which give away prizes do not come to exercise an undue influence over broadcasting contractors and to ensure also that radio stations do not develop into a type of auction market for listeners by means of the prizes they may offer.

Section 25 enables the commission to appoint advisers — for example, to carry out special tasks or studies in relation to its functions — as well as advisory committees, including advisory committees representative of a community served by a broadcasting station. This latter was a suggestion made by the Oireachtas Joint Committee and we see it as being a way in which the commission could be assisted in ensuring that the radio service established in any area is providing a service of relevance and interest to that community. We do not however wish to force such committees on the commission. We are leaving it in the hands of the commission to decide in the light of experience whether such committees would be of real value to them in exercising their overseeing role.

Section 26 enables the Minister by statutory regulations to extend the ambit of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission to consider complaints relating to the services provided by local and community stations. This too was a suggestion put forward by the Oireachtas Joint Committee. It is not however a provision I intend to activate immediately. We must remember that it is the Local Radio Commission which has the primary obligation to oversee the operation of local and community radio services, including the programme content. It will therefore be the main forum of appeal and complaint about the programmes provided by these services. If in the light of experience this does not prove satisfactory then I will be disposed to exercise the power conveyed on me through this provision.

Sections 27 to 34 are broadly speaking provisions which are common to most State-sponsored bodies and they deal mainly with matters relating to the finances of the Local Radio Commission.

Section 27 sets out the commission's financial mandate which is that it should be self-sufficient. The main source of revenue for the commission will be the payments it receives from programme contractors for their franchises. Section 28 enables the Minister for Finance to make repayable advances to the commission up to a limit of £1 million for capital purposes. The commission is unlikely to be involved directly in capital works, and in any event, in view of the commission's requirement to be financially self-sufficient, such advances would be made only as a last resort.

Sections 29 and 30 enable the commission, with appropriate consents, to borrow moneys for temporary — that is essentially overdraft-purposes or for an approved programme of capital works. Since the commission is primarily a regulatory body we would not, as I said earlier, see it in general undertaking major capital works.

Section 31 is a rather complex but in fact standard provision enabling the Minister for Finance to guarantee borrowings by the commission up to a maximum limit at any one time of £5 million. Section 32 enables the commission to invest any of their funds while section 33 requires the commission to keep full and proper accounts of all their finances which will be subject to audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General. The audited accounts will be submitted to the Minister who will have them laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. Likewise section 34 requires the commission to prepare and submit each year to the Minister a report on their activities in the preceding year and this report too will be put before both Houses of the Oireachtas.

Section 35 will, I daresay, prove to be a sensitive provision. It is similar to the section 31 provision in the Broadcasting Authority Acts under which, in this case, the Minister may issue a direction to the commission to ensure that a particular matter or matter of a particular class which would be likely to promote or incite to crime or would undermine the authority of the State shall not be broadcast from local or community radio services.

I appreciate that there are differing views about the need for or value of the so-called section 31 directives — it is something indeed about which I have some reservations myself although on balance I have to date felt it necessary to issue them. However, this is not the question at issue here; whatever views exist on either side of the House about these directives, I think there should be unanimity that we must at least include this enabling provision in the Bill so that the Government are in a position to safeguard the authority and integrity of the State where they consider it to be threatened.

Sections 36 and 37 deal with the form of contract which the commission may enter into with broadcasting contractors including the duration of and review procedure for contracts, as well as certain provisions which should be included in contracts. A rolling form of contract is provided for — that is a contract may not exceed a period of four years — but the contractor's performance will be reviewed regularly and if all is satisfactory the contract may be rolled over up to a maximum of seven years. After that the franchise must be thrown open again. This section also precludes the commission from entering into contracts with political groups and also provides that the shareholding in any contract or the articles of association of a broadcasting company may not be altered without the commission's consent. These are I think reasonable safeguards.

With regard to the provisions in section 37 which are to be included in contracts I think that most of them are fairly selfevident. For example, contracts must contain undertakings by contractors in relation to the kind of service they are to provide, payments to be made to the commission in respect of contracts, information to be given by the contractor to the commission to enable them to carry out their functions, and provision for the secondment of staff or resignation of directors of a broadcasting contractor in the event of their being nominated or elected to the Seanad, Dáil or European Assembly.

There are, however, two unique provisions here which I wish to explain. The first of these is in subsection (2) of section 37 under which the broadcasting contractor is required to make a declaration that he holds his radio transmitter on trust for the commission for the period commencing on the date of his contract and ending either on completion of his contract or, should he cease providing service before his contract expires, for a period of six months thereafter. This provision has two benefits. In the first instance it confers the equitable or beneficial ownership — in effect the legal ownership — of the transmitter on the commission for the period in question. This to all intents and purposes puts the commission in the same situation for the periods in question as if it had actually provided the transmitters and leased them to contractors.

The provision dealing with the continuance of that trusteeship arrangement for a period of six months where a contractor ceases to broadcast before the expiry of his contract has to be read in conjunction with the next section — section 38. This latter section excludes the transmitter from the provisions of bankruptcy and insolvency law thereby ensuring that for a period of six months after a broadcaster ceases broadcasting as a consequence of financial problems or bankruptcy, the transmitter cannot be seized or disposed of. In that regard, my aim is to ensure as far as possible that there will be continuity of service in that unfortunate eventuality; in other words, the commission will be able to make alternative temporary arrangements to continue service using the transmitter of the bankrupt or insolvent contractor pending a more permanent arrangement.

Another important provision here is that when a broadcasting contractor has his or her contract terminated or fails to have the contract renewed he or she will be required to dispose of the broadcasting equipment to such persons as the commission may nominate — which in normal course will probably be the new contractor if the latter wants it — on such terms as may be agreed or settled by arbitration.

Section 39 is an enabling provision whereby if it appears that broadcasting contractors are making unduly high profits it will be possible for the Minister to issue a direction requiring contractors, through the commission, to make special payments to the Exchequer. The mechanism proposed is that the direction will issue to the commission for payment of the specified sums and the commission in turn will levy the payments from the broadcasting contractors.

I am satisfied that the principle implied in this provision is wholly justified. The position is that broadcasting contractors will be in a privileged position in that they are being given access to a scarce national resource — the frequency spectrum — which belongs to the people as a whole. It is only right that if large profits were to accrue in any individual case the nation as a whole should benefit through these special levies. It is important to stress that this is an enabling provision only and there are no grounds for believing that these stations will prove a bonanza for the broadcasting contractors or State revenues. I personally do not subscribe to the view that local radio is a licence to print money, particularly where it is based on public service broadcasting principles. Indeed experience in the United Kingdom would suggest that apart from the stations in the major centres of population and in the middle range — and the biggest stations here would not match those —the others are just about surviving. I would be surprised if the experience here were greatly different.

Section 40 of the Bill conveys certain important powers on the commission to enable them to facilitate the establishment and continuation of broadcasting services. Although in general the commission are mandated not to allow any person or consortium to have control over an undue number of radio services, they may in certain circumstances allow the same contractor to operate different services. This might arise, for instance, where a broadcasting contractor, in addition to being given a franchise for a densely populated area, might also undertake to provide service in a more sparsely populated area. Likewise, where a broadcasting contractor ceases to provide service a neighbouring contractor may be permitted to take over and run the service until a new contractor is found, thereby ensuring continuity of service.

Provision is also included to enable the sharing of facilities or programmes between contractors. Finally, the commission are enabled to make grants to broadcasting contractors for specified purposes. The presumption here of course is that the commission would only make such grants available after they had fully met their own financial obligations.

Section 41 is in some respects a corollary to section 35 under which the Minister can issue directions to the commission relating to the broadcasting of a particular matter or matter of a particular class. The commission, in turn in section 41, are given power to issue directions about broadcast matter to broadcasting contractors. This power is of a general nature, that is, it is not solely confined to issuing directions on matters relating to incitement to crime or the subversion of the authority of the State but can include directions relating to any broadcast matter to ensure compliance by contractors with the provisions of the Act.

Section 42 imposes an obligation on broadcasting contractors to ensure that any broadcasting installations under their control are fully secure and not open to improper use. I do not need to stress the undesirable consequences that could follow from ready unauthorised access to broadcasting facilities. Section 43 is an amendment to the definition of the word "broadcast" in the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1926, while sections 44 and 45 are standard provisions relating to expenses incurred by the Minister in relation to the administration of the Act and the Short Title respectively.

Those then are the provisions of the Bill I am putting before this House for its consideration and deliberation. I believe they constitute a realistic and practicable framework for the establishment and operation of new broadcasting structures in this country. I do not, however, claim to have a monopoly on wisdom because, despite all the thought that has gone into the Bill, I am quite sure there is room for further improvements and ideas. It is in this sense that I am bringing the Bill before the House — to stimulate further informed debate on the issues involved and to hear ideas.

I always make the point when I bring proposed legislation before this House that I am quite open to further changes in that legislation and that applies in this instance if it is going to enhance the prospects of getting legal local radio services off the ground in a practical and realistic manner. Influencing and improving the provisions of draft legislation is after all the real function of this House and of the Seanad and of the various stages in the legislative process.

It is not therefore my intention, or the intention of the Government, to bulldoze this legislation through the House before the recess, despite the external pressures that are on us to restore order to the airwaves, because we recognise, as did our friends inThe Irish Times— if that is a fair description — in their leader last Saturday, that there are issues of major public importance relating to communications media generally and their future raised in this Bill.

My approach to this legislation has not been hidebound by ideological or political considerations. I am simply concerned to provide a practical and workable framework within which new broadcasting services will flourish and prosper in a manner that will best serve the public interest and demand, and under which the maximum social value will be derived. It is my earnest hope that Deputies' deliberations on this Bill will be guided by the same motivations. If they are, they will find me ready and willing to accommodate changes which will meet their wishes and opinions. In putting forward their views, I would urge them, with respect, to think through their practical consequences for those who will have to, or would wish to, work within the legislative framework they propose.

It is important that legislation of this nature should be flexible and that the Local Radio Commission, in particular, should be allowed a reasonable degree of discretion in the formulation of their broadcasting policy for the services we have in mind. We must, in other words, avoid the temptation to legislate for every conceivable aspect of the services. Our task is to set down the broad parameters within which we, as the public's representatives, wish CORA to work, to give them guidelines as to the flavour and thrust of the services we want to see them provide.

I look forward, therefore, to a fruitful and stimulating debate on the Bill. I emphasise again that I am not dogmatic in my approach to it and that I am open to new ideas and improvements.

Let me say before I conclude that in all the preparations for this Bill I have had to resist the most enormous pressures to impose particular tastes or formulations on the listening audience. I believe that the success of local radio depends largely on what the listeners want. We should resist the temptation to impose a middle class, middle brow, middle aged local radio service on the listening audience. Many of our listeners are young people. There are different categories of listeners. Therefore, we ought to have a flexible approach to providing this radio service. In the end, it is not the House but the listeners who will decide the success of local radio. I commend this Bill to the House.

I note the addition to the Minister's speech and wonder if it was drafted this morning in the light of the statement by Senator Michael D. Higgins on the "Morning Ireland" programme of his strong reservations in relation to the Bill and that the Labour Party would more than likely vote against the legislation as now put before this House. I feel that the Minister drafted those two last pages, in a sense, to give some hope to the Labour Party that they will not be placed in the unfortunate situation — fortunate for some — that they will have to go into the lobbies and vote against the legislation when it comes to a vote.

On behalf of Fianna Fáil, I wish to welcome the belated publication of this Local Radio Bill, 1985, which we have demanded over the past two years and which has been delayed because of lack of agreement in the Cabinet between Fine Gael and the Labour Ministers, which is becoming more evident as time goes by. Because of the many unacceptable features in this Bill, we shall be voting against it at the end of Second Stage——

That is a big surprise.

——and proposing many amendments on Committee Stage — if that stage is ever reached which, I now feel is quite unlikely.

This Bill should be retitled the regional and community radio Bill, as it comes down in favour of the large regional stations based on a minimum population of between 200,000 and 500,000 people. As all transmitters must be provided by the successful contractor, instead of by the commission or leased to the contractor, as a possible option contained in our Bill published in 1983, this gives the edge to the large commercial organisations and not community groups to establish a local radio service.

This Bill is a charade. For the first time in this House we have proposed legislation without any financial provision, as confirmed in the reply by the Minister for Communications to my question of 2 July 1985. I asked that Minister the estimated cost of the establishment of a local, independent radio service and the amount included his departmental Estimate for this development. The answer which the Minister gave me on that date was as follows:

The cost of local radio would be determined by the number of stations established, which will be a matter for the Local Radio Commission. The cost of the stations established will be borne by the broadcasting contractors. Consequently, the question of including a provision in my Department's Estimate does not arise.

That is unique in the history of this House — there is no financial provision whatsoever for the Local Radio Bill, 1985. It is now very clear that the Minister and the Government propose to exercise control over the appointment of the nine to 12 person commission under section 4 of the Bill, without any regard to the nominees of interest groups representative of broadcasting, trade union interests, regional representation or youth organisations. The Minister and the Government reserve the power, not only to appoint the commission but the chairman and deputy chairman and must approve the chief executive nominated by the commission. From experience, we know that this will be a national handlers' approved commission, hand picked to guarantee that only applicants acceptable to the Government will be accepted.

On a point of order——

We have now had the recent example of the Minister——

On a point of order, the commission are in existence and the names of the people are known. The Deputy is attacking people outside the House. Professor O hEocha of the National University of Galway is chairman of the commission and this is a disgraceful attack on him.

There is no provision in the Bill for the appointment of the interim commission. It is not stated within the Bill that the interim commission——

The commission are already in existence and will be——

The commission will be appointed by the Minister and if he felt it worth while to support the appointment of Dr. O hEocha as chairman of the new commission, he should have stated in the Bill that he would appoint the interim commission.

I have stated in my speech——

The Minister has stated it in his speech, but not put it in the Bill. As far as I am concerned, what is important here is the Bill, not the Minister's speech, or any speech that he makes inside or outside this House.

That is disgraceful.

As far as I am concerned, the Minister's record is despicable in relation to the appointment of the Director-General of RTE. He cannot at any stage come into this House and make comments about our attitude to his appointment.

Deputy, on the Bill, please.

The Minister knows that he rejected the appointment to the RTE Authority of Mr. Sorohan as Director-General.

The Deputy knows what that is all about and his role in it.

We know exactly what it is all about. We have had a recent example of the Minister not approving the nominee of the RTE Authority for the position of Director-General because he was not acceptable to the Government. The Minister can state it in the Bill if he is prepared to appoint the interim commission as the future commission, as was contained in the Postal and Telecommunications Services Bill provided by our party in relation to the interim boards there. Under section 12 (2) the Minister reserves power to approve all officers of the proposed commission, without any regard to the Civil Service Commission or any form of control. When the Minister of State, Deputy Nealon, was appointed to the office of the Taoiseach and the Department of Communications I alleged he would become Minister for propaganda. Section 16(7)(d) confirms the extent of Government interference in the proposed local and community radio stations. I quote the subsection:

subject to the consent of the Minister, to arrange for the provision of service with or without charge for and on behalf of any Minister of the Government by broadcasting contractors.

I demand that the Minister clarifies the extent of these proposed powers which are unlimited and which will be used by the Government for party political purposes. There is no provision in the Bill for successful applicants to be resident within the State. This is a major flaw and we propose to submit a suitable amendment if that should prove necessary. I refer to the fact that this Bill may not be passed on Second Stage.

It is clear that the Minister for Communications is retaining excessive control of the allocation of services. Section 16 (3) gives the Minister final control on the allocation of a licence to a successful applicant either for a local or community radio service. This will give ultimate control at the end of the day, irrespective of the so-called independence of the commission, to the Minister to refuse to provide a licence to a successful or proposed contractor. The Minister is retaining that ultimate control and this is against the best interests of local and community radio. The Minister should read his own Bill and clarify the issues I am raising.

There is no reference in the Bill to the number of frequencies available for allocation and whether local stations as well as community stations will be on both medium wave and VHF. This is basic information that should be made available to the Dáil.

I seek clarification from the Minister in relation to section 17 (2) (f), (g) and (h) as it should not be a matter for successful local radio contractors to control community broadcasting in the region in which they operate. It should be prohibited that one person or group should be allowed to control more than one local or community radio service. I request the Minister to make provision for development of Radio na Gaeltachta which will face major competition under this Bill. I support the provision to allow RTE to apply for local radio service but no provision has been made in this Bill to provide funds or guarantees from the RTE Authority to allow for such application. RTE should have the right to apply in the same way as anyone else for a franchise in a particular location. However, the Bill prohibits the RTE Authority from guaranteeing loans or providing funds to apply for a franchise. As a semi-State organisation the RTE Authority cannot apply for a franchise in a particular area under this legislation. It is a sop to the inept Labour Party that this provision has been made and I hope they will see through this charade.

I request the Minister to review the Bill. It is inadequate. One part of his speech clearly defines his overall philosophy. The Minister said:

We have in mind here the possible involvement of newspaper publishers, whether national or local in broadcasting contracts. It is not our intention to rule out such interests from running local radio services.

We all know the direction in which the Minister is looking in relation to control by a national newspaper organisation who also have major local interests. I am very concerned that there is no provision in the Bill to ensure a residential qualification for any suitable applicant.

As the Fianna Fáil Party spokesman on Communications I and my party were looking forward to having local radio. We need local radio, but, alas, through this Government's inactivity we have all waited far too long. Had the long wait all of us have endured ended in a Bill that would give us the type of local radio we wanted, it would not have been so disturbing. What is before the House today? What was the great wait for? We have waited and we have debated the matter. We have had submissions and more intermissions, but we hoped it would be worth it at the end. We hoped that eventually the Government would surprise us, that they would take decisive action and give us local radio. They tell us the delay was in deciding whether we should have community or regional local radio. They could not decide on the extent of the involvement of RTE.

I remind the Minister that he took office in December 1982, over two and a half years ago. He has the services of a Minister of State who has vast experience in broadcasting but at the end of the day the Bill produced in this House has been totally inadequate. The Bill is as indecisive as the Government and the Minister who introduced it. Why is it entitled the Local Radio Bill? Clearly he should have called it the community and regional local radio Bill. After all the waiting and debating we do not know what kind of local radio we will get. We still do not know what the Minister considers is a community or a region. The Bill should have specified exactly what a regional or community station means.

We were told the delay was due to the Government's unwillingness to decide RTE's involvement in local radio. Again, we waited but now we see that the Bill does not set out the position of RTE. We do not know if RTE can develop their own local radio service. What is to become of Cork local radio? What is the position of Radio na Gaeltachta?

The Government and this Minister have shirked their responsibility, namely, the responsibility to decide, and to govern. The position of RTE is now no clearer as a result of this Bill: in fact, it is even more confused. Instead of deciding RTE'S position as regards local radio, the Minister says they can apply for a local radio licence if they set up a separate company to do so. From that it seems that RTE will now be involved in local radio, but that is not the case because in this Bill it is stated that RTE cannot effectively raise the finance required to get a licence. Therefore, RTE will not be involved in local radio.

Perhaps RTE will be involved in local radio but only if they set up an independent company. It appears they cannot finance that directly or indirectly. Will Cork local radio have to be separated from RTE to become an independent limited company? Can RTE finance the local radio service when this Bill becomes law? It is not very clear what will happen to RTE should this Bill become law. However, one thing is clear. After years of waiting we have a Bill that contradicts itself.

Section 17 states that one of the prime conditions for getting a licence or franchise to set up a local radio is the extent to which the proposals accord with good economic principles. Section 19 states that RTE will have to set up a separate company if they want to get a local radio licence. However, it also states:

No part of any funds accruing, or made available, to Radio Telefís Eireann under and by virtue of the Broadcasting Authority Acts, 1960 to 1979, may be transferred, or made available to the company...

It seems that RTE will have to raise or borrow the money by some other means but that is not so because the Bill states that RTE shall not have power to guarantee the repayment of any loan made or to be made to the company.

When RTE apply for a licence through some mysterious company they are forced to set up, they cannot invest in it or guarantee any moneys to it according to this Bill. Could a company set up in this extraordinary manner without funds or an ability for RTE to provide funds for it, be described as the foundation of a company in accordance with good economic principles? It is a farce. One section of the Bill states they can apply if they follow the guidelines, but another section states that if they follow the guidelines they are disqualified.

Is Radio na Gaeltachta an Irish language national radio service or is it a local service for the Gaeltacht areas? While RTE claim they have a national VHF/FM network, to the people of Ireland's Gaeltachtaí it is very much their own local radio. There is no doubt it is a highly successful example of real local radio at work. We are very proud of our commitment to Radio na Gaeltachta. Fianna Fáil established it some years ago. According to the Bill if it becomes law, it seems that if Radio na Gaeltachta is to continue as a local radio service to the Gaeltachtaí, RTE will have to set up a separate company to operate it. The Minister should state if the existing operations of RTE are exempt from the provisions of the Bill. This is very important. The Bill will lay down requirements for the setting up of local radio, and the position of existing establishments of RTE, particularly in Cork and Radio na Gaeltachta, should be clarified by the Minister. If RTE do that, which they will have to do, if they wish to remain within the law, by the same law they will not be able to fund it in any way from the parent company.

How will the present Radio na Gaeltachta survive serving sparsely populated areas with no potential advertising revenue available? Can the Minister state the position of Radio na Gaeltachta? I will be blunt. Can the Minister make any sense of this Bill? Does he intend that Radio na Gaeltachta will be sold off? Will it continue as part of RTE? Does it mean it is now no longer an Irish local radio service? Will it now just be a national network? Will commercial interests take responsibility for Radio na Gaeltachta? All these questions are unanswerable in the light of the Bill.

I mentioned Cork local radio. Will Union Quay now have to become a separate company? In Cork, RTE have enjoyed a success with this local venture. Does it now have to close down for good, or reopen under a new company, or what? There is no doubt in the Minister's mind that Cork local radio is a local radio. We all know that. This Bill will control all local radio in Ireland. When it becomes law, automatically Cork local radio becomes illegal under the provisions of the Bill unless RTE are allowed to obtain a franchise for an independent Cork local radio. It will be illegal because under the law RTE cannot directly run a local radio station. They must run it through a separate company.

For years we have had irregularities in broadcasting. This gave rise to the problem with pirates. Now we are setting about rectifying this and setting up local radio. The Minister's job was simple. It was to draw up legislation to close the loopholes in our broadcasting laws and decide once and for all the type of local radio we need. We waited but what happened? The Minister failed in his task. He closed the loophole with one Bill and opened it with another. This Bill creates problems for Cork local radio and the Minister should clarify the position. The Minister has denied that there was an application from the Cork area for an extension of their broadcasting hours. Cork radio has been a great success and has provided a great service for the Cork and Munster region. Will Cork local radio be reconstituted and become an independent Cork local radio under the control of RTE? There is no provision in the Bill to provide finance for Cork local radio to enable it to apply for a franchise.

We have waited too long for this Bill. So long has been our wait that it is to the Minister's shame that we now have licensed local television operating in the Dublin area. In his own constituency the Minister has given a licence to Ballyfermot community to operate their own local television.

It is very good too.

It has been very successful for the Minister.

And Deputy Lenihan as well.

It is quite obvious the Minister uses it to the best possible advantage. He has appeared more times on Ballyfermot's local television than any other politician in the constituency. Some people are christening it the Mitchell mighty movie show. We are concerned about the extension of advertising rights which is creating problems for the local newspapers in the constituency. The Minister has been so slow in delivering local radio that technology has passed him by. We are now in an age where local television is a reality but we do not yet have local radio. How could the Minister license local television when he could not give us local radio? Some are quick to point out that the local television service is in the Minister's own constituency but we have local television operating in other areas also.

Let us have local radio as well, and in this century. Today we are not one step nearer to local radio. This Bill does nothing and will do nothing. Who will support it? Can the Labour Party, The Workers' Party or the Minister's party support it? I doubt it. That is why we have waited for so long. I understand that Second Stage will not be passed before the recess. The difficulties which arose between the Coalition parties have been responsible for the new hitch in relation to this legislation. In this session the Minister will not have the embarrassment of this being the first Bill to be defeated in the reign of the present Government. That day will come later in the autumn. Come it will, because the Bill will be rejected by the House. It is totally inadequate and does not take into account the needs of the people.

Our waiting has been as a result of public infighting in the Fine Gael Party. Deputy Nealon promised us local radio. We were to have at least 30 stations around the country and to have local radios in a year. That was over 18 months ago. He apologised for the delay saying the Government had bided their time because they believed that local radio was so important that they had to get it right. Will this Bill get anything right? What happened to the 30 community stations we were promised? The year 1983 came and went as did 1984 and as 1985 will. We are still waiting. What happened to Deputy Nealon's community radio plans? It is clear that Fine Gael's commercial allies pressurised the Minister for Communications into rebuking the Minister of State and saying we would not have 30 community stations but seven commercial regional stations.

As the party infighting continued the Minister, Deputy Mitchell, could not deliver on his promises either. To buy time it now seems evident that the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Legislation were used as a delaying tactic. It is obvious from the Bill that it did not take into account the many submissions made to the committee. It should also be noted that the committee were not allowed to make recommendations as to the type of legislation which would be required. The many points made by various people to that committee were made in vain.

There was and still is disagreement in the Coalition. While Fine Gael were at odds internally they agreed to oppose Labour on every issue regarding local radio. Labour want all local radio to be State controlled, in essence to be run by RTE but Fine Gael, loyal to their commercial allies, stood firm. Fine Gael happily went back on their agreed programme for Government with their Coalition partner. Once again the weak Labour Party had to cower away from the Cabinet table and now some Labour members are saying they will not vote for the Bill.

It has been a waste, waiting for nothing. The Bill does not even have the support of the Government parties who proposed it. There are many other reasons why the Bill should not be supported. The Minister should receive at least the support of the Government. He may have Cabinet support for the Bill, but obviously he does not have the support of both parties. Surely in order to make the Bill a success the Government should have been in a position to steer the Bill through the House.

This Bill sets out to set up a commission which will be charged with the responsibility of overseeing local radio in this State. This is an important job caring for such an important national resource. Yet the Government reserve the right to appoint the chairman and all members of the commission. Should such an important post be allowed to become a mere promotion perk for the Government parties? It disappoints me that the NUJ, Equity, the Musicians' Union, The Performing Right Society, Conradh na Gaeilge and a host of other organisations should not have been afforded the means by which they could have selected or elected members to this commission. I recall the legislation relating to An Bord Pleanála when the Tánaiste set out requirements regarding the appointment of people to that board. He said then that that would be the future formula for State organisations. It is clear now what the Minister in this case has in mind in relation to the appointment of the commission in the long term.

In section 12 the Minister has reserved the role right for himself to appoint the chief executive and all other officers. In the light of recent experiences is this not a major mistake, one we will have cause to regret? This is a sinister inclusion in this Bill.

"Sinister" is a word the best describes this Bill, but most sinister is section 16, subsection (7). I appeal again to the Minister to clarify this section in relation to his right to allow any Minister of the Government access to the airways at any time.

Is the Deputy opposing that section?

I will seek to have it amended on Committee Stage.

The Deputy may be interested in being reminded that the section is word for word from a section in the Bill he introduced as Minister of State.

I did not introduce any Bill as Minister of State.

The Deputy introduced it subsequently by way of a Private Member's Bill.

The Minister voted against that Bill. Is he saying that he is taking our Bill as the basis for this Bill?

We did not exclude consideration of the Fianna Fáil Bill.

The Minister is alleging now that he has taken some of our Bill for inclusion in this Bill. In the light of the Minister we have in charge of Communications, I would regard some of the wording in subsection (7) of section 16 as being particuarly sinister. We never abused the airways when we were in Government and that can be proved.

The Frank Hall programme was closed down as soon as Deputy Judas McSleeveen appeared on it.

It is unfortunate that the Frank Hall show has not been reconstituted because there are very good examples in this Government of the Minister for hardship. If there should be a return of the Frank Hall show, there would be plenty of subjects for it in this Cabinet, far more even than were there in the Cosgrave administration when that show operated so effectively.

Fianna Fáil are very thin skinned. They cannot take a joke.

What is local radio if it is not radio serving a locality? It can best do that only if it is based in and solely concerned with that locality. It should ideally be controlled and owned in whole or part by people living in that locality. But there are surprising oversights in this Bill. It is not stated anywhere that the contractor has to be resident in Ireland. Surely we would like the proposed contractor or contractors to be living in the area where they hold a licence to operate a local radio but according to this Bill they do not even have to live in the country. What reason does the Minister have for allowing this oversight in the legislation?

Another major oversight is that the Government and their agent, the commission, will not retain ultimate control of the transmitters operating within the State. What is there to stop contractors who will be operating their own transmitters and thus in full control from signal boosting, spilling over and encroaching on another operator's area? Let us say we have four stations in the Dublin area for example, north, south, east and west. What will stop one or all from boosting their signals? If there is a station based in Drogheda what will stop it from boosting its signal to try to get into the Dublin area? We are back in the same sorry state of irregularities which this Bill should be setting out to avoid.

The Minister is not retaining any control over the transfers and the future security elements of them. He is handing the power entirely in this regard to the commission and to contractors.

I got the impression a short while ago that the Deputy was saying I would have total control.

It would be part of the Minister's philosophy to exert the maximum control. This Bill will achieve nothing because it states nothing but deals only in dangerous generalities with no specifics. What we needed were specifics. What about the Irish language, our first language? The Irish language is hardly mentioned in this Bill which merely states that the broadcasting contractor must contribute to the enrichment of Irish culture and the use of the Irish language. Does it state how much use there should be of the Irish language or does is specify what is meant exactly by using the Irish language? Does it mean that if a radio station uses one word of Irish in a week or a month it is complying with the law? Could the Minister not specify what enhancing Irish culture means? If a station plays American popular music all week and then reads a short excerpt from Seán O'Casey is it therefore enhancing Irish culture? Would the Minister put a percentage on what use of the Irish language there will be on these local radio stations? Will he tell us what percentage will contribute to the enhancement of Irish culture? What percentage of Irish recorded and-or produced music will be included in the stations playlistings? Out of one hour's needle time, what percentage will be Irish?

It is clear that just mentioning the Irish language is not good enough. We require and need specifics. But what about those important concerns that are not even mentioned in this Bill? I have for sometime now discussed with my party colleagues that if local radio is really to survive it must not only be entertaining but informative also. It must be able to hold its audience and be able to inform. Most of that information will come in the form of a local radio station's news bulletins. But many local stories are national stories. A disaster or other major story in one part of the country is news for local radio stations in other parts of the country also. Consideration should be given to the establishment of an independent news and sports division. Will there be mass duplication of news gathering and where would a small station get the resources to fund a news wire service? This is one of the great unanswered questions in relation to this Bill. Should the Minister not have provided for a news agency service to cover all local radio news? Should there not have been provision in the Bill for a national network of news exchange between the local stations? It would be a very worthwhile exercise to have a national news and sports division which would provide, under licence, information to all the local stations. But the Minister failed to address himself to this important issue. There are no guidelines in the Bill about how local radio should approach the important task of news gathering. How it is envisaged that a local station will operatevis-à-vis the local newspaper? These and many other questions remain unanswered.

After such a long wait, we are greatly disappointed. The Bill is indecisive from beginning to end. It is sinister. It was meant to be a Bill to introduce a radio service for local people, but the Government regard local radio as something to be used by the Government. Whether they intend using local stations for Ministers to impart propaganda or by way of a promotion perk for a faceless party handler, this is not the local radio we had in mind. The Bill leaves two major questions unanswered: what type of local radio are we to have, community or commercial, and what exactly will be RTE's role?

Committed as Fianna Fáil are to the concept of local radio, there are too many grey areas in this Bill. We will be voting against it on the basis of its many inadequacies.

The Bill does not propose to develop community radio in any active sense. Instead it will let it wither and die on the vine. There is no commitment here to helping the growth of stations which would allow a wide range of people access to the means of communication. The Bill is vague and leaves it up to communities themselves to come up with their own finance, transmitters and structures. In an ideal world this might be all right but, in practice, people need encouragement and support.

A greater commitment might have been expected from a Government in which Labour claim to be a partner.

The Bill extends the abuse of political patronage which the Minister not so long ago claimed he was against. We all noted how insincere that claim was when the Minister refused to ratify the appointment of a Director General in RTE just because he personally did not support or want the candidate selected by the independent RTE Authority. He now proposes to continue the RTE type of system by his method of appointing members to the Local Radio Commission. One must pose the question: why not a genuinely independent radio authority for independent radio?

The Bill is confused in every sense. There is no clear definition of what is meant by the term "local' or "community". There is no clear reason even for drawing such a distinction. The Bill is unduly restrictive. For example, has the Minister even considered catering for communities of interest as well as geographic communities? Communities of interest are a successful formula in the United States, the home of local radio. One might ask: what kind of communities of interest have we in mind? There could be a station dedicated totally to the Irish language and culture, one dedicated to classical music, one to rock music, one to country and western and so on. But the Minister has not considered these possibilities in the preparation of this Bill.

The Bill is vague on the question of advertising. For example, it is said that the commission may direct that certain classes of advertising shall not be broadcast. That is contained in section 23. Does this mean that community stations may be unable to support themselves by recourse to every available form of legal advertising, that some of these types will be ruled out? The Bill is very restrictive and does not lay down criteria for an independent local radio service.

The Bill offers no guarantees that community stations will be allowed broadcast on medium wave as well as VHF or FM. Will the Minister relegate community stations to VHF only — thus making a mockery of the Labour Party's policy on local radio? I would say that a good percentage of people have facilities for receiving on medium wave only. The Minister and his Minister of State should clarify the position as early as possible.

The Bill gives no real recognition to the role of RTE in developing legal community broadcasting. It gives RTE no guaranteed stake at all in local radio. This is one of the ways in which this Bill seems to constitute even more a slap in the face for the Parliamentary Labour Party and the draft which they rejected a couple of months ago. The reason for the refusal to allow RTE, in practice, to apply for a station is one I have questioned already. The position of RTE should be clarified as early as possible. RTE should not be discouraged from providing regional news broadcasts for its existing national radio services on Radios 1 and 2. RTE should develop that area of broadcasting so welcome among rural communities.

The Bill discourages investment in local radio by giving the Minister power to cream off what are described as excessive profits. This is a highly unusual form of taxation, in fact, a blank cheque. The notion of excessive profits is never clearly defined in the Bill. The relevant section will easily scare off any sympathetic business person who would like to be involved in a reasonable way in local radio. The Minister should lay down clear guidelines in relation to normal taxation which will be applied to local radio. With the level of taxation obtaining here I fail to envisage a situation in which excessive profits could be made allowing for that massive imposition of taxation.

The Bill abandons one of the few principles to which the Minister appeared to be committed in the original proposals and in those rejected already by the Parliamentary Labour Party. In this Bill there is no bar in relation to the involvement of some of our national newspapers who have control of so many local newspapers at present.

Last, but by no means least, the Bill makes no provision for training, a vital aspect of any local or community radio service which purports to serve the public. It is essential that people be afforded every opportunity to learn the basics of production so that they can respond effectively to the medium and understand its function. Use should be made of facilities at the various VECs and at the NIHE in Dublin, thereby ensuring that audiences are simply not passive receivers of programming. The absence of any effective provision for training in this Bill underlines an approach to local radio which is about maximising profits and minimising people.

I believe the commission should be given responsibility for the training of personnel in local radio. I appreciate that AnCO have responded through the provision of some courses. However, there should be further investigation of this whole area by the commission. We want to see trained, young people whether on the technical or broadcasting side. Without qualified personnel local and community radio will prove to be a failure at the end of the day. The public require good quality, professional broadcasting. They are used to the best quality broadcasting on RTE radio and television and will not accept second best in local or community radio. Therefore it is vital, where local or community stations are being established, that professional and trained personnel be available to undertake this demanding role. The commission should give special consideration to this aspect. Having listened to some existing stations I would contend they leave much to be desired as far as professionalism is concerned. With the high standards obtaining on our national medium I believe the public will not want to have a second rate local or community service but rather a first class one.

After so long I regret that we are placed in the position in this House in which the Government, Minister and Minister of State have produced this Bill leaving so many questions unanswered. In regard to the circumstances surrounding its introduction and provisions I might remind the Minister of State of statements he made in this House on Wednesday 8 June 1983 contained in the Official Report, Volume 343, in relation to our Private Members' Bill and the Minister's statements on 14 June 1983, Volume 343, when he made his views on our Bill quite clear. Anybody who has an opportunity of reading the statements they made then will see that they bear no relationship whatsoever to the Bill he has now produced. In those circumstances I am requesting the Minister and the Government to withdraw this Bill, to have it redrafted, bringing it back to this House in the autumn in a form acceptable to the vast majority of Members. If they do so, then we shall have a Bill which will prove to be of greater success. However, this Bill and the organisations to be set up under its provisions will not be successful because they do not relate to the realities of Irish life at present. The Minister has an opportunity now to reassess the situation in the light of the views expressed in this House today. I suggest that this Bill be scrapped as quickly as possible.

The Minister, Deputy Nealon.

While I recognise that it is normal to give precedence to a Minister, surely not in succession? We have already had one Fine Gael Minister. There is a point of view to be expressed from these benches — at least for my part — that I think I should have a right to express at this point. I would ask the Minister of State to yield and allow me that opportunity.

On a point of order — if we are to have any consideration of this matter — may I draw the attention of the House to the fact that a number of Deputies have been here since this debate began? I understand you have a list of speakers, Sir, which I know does not bind you. But, if there is to be any deviation from allowing the Minister of State to speak, I would formally ask that the list before you, which corresponds to the people who have been here since the beginning of this debate, would be adhered to. That would mean that either Deputy Durkan or myself should come before those who now seek to claim precedence over the Minister of State because we too have a valid point of view we want to express at the earliest opportunity.

I fully accept that every Deputy has a valid viewpoint. I am suggesting that the Chair use his discretion to ensure that there is balance between different political points of view.

I accept the Deputy's point. In normal circumstances the junior Minister offered before you came into the House, and that is why I called on him. It is a matter for the Minister, Deputy Nealon. After that it will be back to the Opposition and then back to the other side.

I regret that I have arrangements which would make it extraordinarily difficult for me, unless I can contribute now. My contribution is not as long as the Minister's and it will not take undue time.

Deputy Leyden was at his most critical, at his incisive best when he dealt with the provisions in this Bill on ministerial broadcasts. Deputy Leyden was expansive about all the difficulties and all the abuses there might be under this section but he omitted that essentially this section was the same as the section in his own Bill which he introduced in 1983 with a great flourish and a great urgency and an indication of the manner in which he might have it on the Statute Books within a few months. This is also essentially the same as the provisions in the existing Broadcasting Act. I mention that, not with a view to being contentious but with a view to underlining an example of the political points that Deputy Leyden is making while he and his listeners know there is nothing to them. This should not be a contentious debate but a constructive one which, in the spirit in which the Minister introduced it, would lead to an improvement in the Bill. Indeed there were some good ideas from Deputy Leyden when he dealt with stations which would reflect a community of interests rather than a geographic community.

I would like to support all that the Minister for Communications has said in favour of this Bill. It has been a long time in gestation — too long many may say — but the time has now come to restore order to the airwaves and bring a reasonable degree of regulation to broadcasting. As the public debate on this issue has shown, there is room for many differing views about how best we should organise local and community radio services. I expect that that diversity of opinion will be reflected in this House also. It would be surprising if it was not. I must emphasise that what we have here are not tablets of stone, something that cannot be rewritten. We are presenting what we believe to be a workable practical legislative framework for the provision of radio services. I am quite sure however that there is room for improvement in the proposals we have put forward and we welcome, and will endeavour to incorporate as best we can, any good ideas that are put forward. The Minister says that and in the general run of legislation that should be the approach. I have seen very few Bills passing through this House, in my long career reporting on these events as well as taking part in them that could not have been improved or were not improved by the contributions and ideas of the Members.

The Minister's objective is to provide legal local radio services on as wide a basis as possible nationally, and to displace the many illegal stations with all the problems they cause, as soon as this can be done. To achieve this objective the legislative framework should reflect a balance between the number of different and sometimes conflicting requirements. In the first instance it must be as broad and flexible as possible so as to ensure that services of an acceptable standard can be established in the maximum numbers of areas. That is ranging from the large urban centres to small towns and rural communities. It must take account of the many diverse views and opinions expressed by various segments of the public from time to time. It must have regard to the views expressed to, and by the members of, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Legislation which was a very constructive committee which led to many substantial changes in the subsequent draft.

At the end of the day the legislation must strike the right balance between all these considerations so as to ensure that it provides a practical and operable framework within which local radio services of an acceptable standard can develop and flourish. As has already been stated, the purpose of this Bill is to establish on a statutory basis the Local Radio Commission which is being charged with the responsibility of developing local radio services in accordance with the provisions in the Bill. The commission will be the basic regulatory instrument of the new broadcasting services and it is important that it should be of the highest calibre. The Government and the Minister were anxious that, if possible, the selection process should be removed from the political arena and be seen to be so removed. They gave consideration therefore to various alternative ways in which the members of the commission might be selected to achieve this. Selection on the same basis as the Planning Appeals Board members was one of the options considered but was discarded as an option on the basis that, unlike the Planning Appeals Board, the appointments are part-time only, and would not on this account and, because of the range of qualities needed, lend themselves to the same type of selection process.

Other alternatives such as asking representative organisations to make nominations were also considered at length but none of these was free from objections. In those circumstances the Government decided on an established selection process in selecting board members. Those appointed will be selected on the basis of their suitability for the work and not by reference to their political affiliations. It will be evident from those appointed to the interim Commission that the Government have already done this and that we are fortunate to have a highly competent commission to get local and community radio off the ground.

A two-tier structure of service is proposed comprising local radio stations and community radio stations. The local radio stations we envisage will be broadly along the lines foreseen by the members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Legislation when they discussed the matter. They will be fully professionally run services with a programming mandate to provide a broad range of news, entertainment, information and education. Such services cannot be run on a shoestring as is frequently the case with illegal stations. They will have to pay the "going" wage rates, they will have to pay all copyright dues and taxes.

The provision of any reasonable news service at local level will inevitably be expensive. In my analysis of it I would regard the provision of an adequate news service which would be essential to any good station as being the most costly item of all. There will therefore be fairly substantial investment costs involved in setting up these stations which will require equally substantial revenues to sustain. This in turn will require access to fairly sizeable audiences. As the Minister mentioned in his speech, experience in the UK suggests that audience levels of between a quarter and half a million population are needed for local stations there to be viable. Some Deputies will have seen a recent television programme detailing the financial problems that are rising as far as the local stations in the UK are concerned. On this basis, and allowing for differences in the way we are organising our services, we would share the view expressed by a number of the speakers in the Oireachtas Joint Committee that there are unlikely to be more than a dozen or so such local radio stations — although I must emphasise that this is, at the end of the day, a matter for the commission to determine.

What then will be the role of the community stations? It is our view that there is a vacuum to be filled below the national and local broadcasting structure providing a radio communications medium in which the community itself can become involved and which will deal with community interests and issues. These will be stations through which very local identifiable communities will seek to serve their own needs and which will be owned and controlled by a person or group of persons who can be shown, to the commission's satisfaction, to be representative of the community. The stations will be encouraged to organise themselves on the co-operative model, to have a substantial voluntary input and to represent a wide range of interests in the community. In effect, these stations are intended to operate on a fairly simple basis and offer a forum in which the members of a community can talk to each other, discuss and deal with issues which affect them and generally foster the community spirit. I am not saying that that is all that will be in the community stations in their ordinary programme activities but this will obviously be essential element which will give them their character and which will be the basis of their success. We would expect that each would tailor the service they propose to provide to the effort and resources they are prepared to put into the service. They are not intended to be replicas of their local stations or indeed many of the current illegal stations where there is inevitably a large element of "needle-time" in the programming. These stations will have a very limited coverage dictated by the powers of their transmitters. Many of them may seek to broadcast only for a few hours a day or indeed even for a few hours a week. I can envisage great flexibility in this area and different approaches throughout the country. We have in the Bill a flexibile format which will allow these community stations with their individual characteristics to flourish. The major question then about the community stations is whether they are a practical proposition and how many of them there will be.

I make no bones about the fact that we cannot answer these questions precisely at this point nor, I would maintain, is it our job to do so. The position is that we perceive that there is a demand for this kind of service and it is our task as legislators to respond to that demand where we see it as being in the public interest, and provide the framework within which that demand can be met. I believe the Bill does this. It is up to the public to take advantage of that framework. On the question of practicality, we all know from our experience that there are many well organised communities around the country providing many elaborate facilities which require as much as if not more effort and resources than would a community radio service. We have two examples in the country where modest community television programming — which is much more expensive to provide than radio programming because of the visual aspect and the costly aspect of this —is being relayed on cable service and is doing very well, despite any reservations Deputy Leyden may have about it.

At the same time I would say that there should be no illusions about the prospects of community stations springing up around the country on a widespread basis in the short term. It will, I expect, be an evolutionary process and there will be disappointments and failures. In the medium to long term those who persist in their efforts and succeed will have a most valuable medium of communication available to their community and one which has great potential to foster a strong community spirit and indeed enhance the lifestyle of the people in the community.

The question of ownership and control of the new services has been and no doubt will continue to be hotly debated. In deciding on a framework for the development of local and community radio services the Government had a number of options open to them, ranging from entrusting the task entirely to RTE to a totally unregulated — except for the radio frequency aspect — private enterprise system. We did not consider that the case for giving local and community radio services entirely to RTE was particularly compelling either on grounds of principle or practicality. In the first instance it has seemed to us that the demand which has manifested itself since the onset of the pirate radio stations has been a demand for choice and for services and perspectives which would be different from what I might describe as the RTE culture. I do not mean this in any disparaging sense. I worked there for ten years or so, and the last thing I would intend is any disparaging remark about RTE. However, because I have worked there perhaps I have a better concept of it than others have, and it is merely a reflection of the fact that any large public organisation like RTE inevitably develop an attitude and perspectives of their own. No matter what efforts they might make at decentralising and making local services more responsive to local communities, local stations under RTE would I believe still tend to be strongly influenced by that culture. Furthermore the power base of the stations, under the RTE Authority, would still tend to be centrally —that is Dublin—based. That is one of the great difficulties that arise as regards media generally, not because of the fault of the media themselves but because of the population disposal in this country. A vast amount of it is on one area and, naturally, the national media are centralised in Dublin. Because many things happen in Dublin and because of the ease with which news material is collected in Dublin, the media generally, including RTE, have been trying over the years to be far too capital orientated, something of which I suppose I was part, and it is very hard to combat. We are not saying that the culture which will be manifested by the local services proposed under this legislation will necessarily be better than RTE's; but the point is that it will, I expect, be different. That is what I have found with the many groups I have met. What they are looking for is a choice, something different from what is available at the moment. In providing that, as we do in the Bill, we are reflecting a very widespread public demand for a choice or something that is different. It is real diversity combined with a local identification with one's local station that we hope to encourage and it is an element which we felt could not be fully realised if we went in the direction of giving total control to RTE. I believe this point was at least implicity recognised in the very constructive deliberations of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Legislation. The majority were clearly in favour of having services independent of RTE although there were different views as to the possible extent of RTE involvement.

The second point in favour of the approach we adopted is the fact that there are quite obviously many people ready and willing to get involved. We want to give these people the opportunity to use their enterprise, expertise, and resources to provide the services. Nowadays, I believe in regard to the new radio services, people do not want to have everything provided by the State; they want opportunities to get involved themselves. We would be cutting off such an opportunity if we were to go the road of giving RTE a total monopoly in the development of local radio services.

There are other more practical reasons for the line we have taken. I make no bones about the fact that the Government have been keen to ensure that scarce public funds would not have to be used to develop these services. In looking over the range of areas which any Government need to address these days, there is no doubt that local broadcasting services, however desirable, would have to be categorised as being in the luxury class compared with what needs to be done in, say, the areas of education, social policy, industrial and infrastructural development, security — the kind of things all of us will be hearing about when we meet our constituents over the weekend.

Thus the Government have been keen to ensure that the minimum possible diversion of public resources would be necessary to get these services off the ground. Public funds would have been necessary either directly — if, for instance, we had followed the approach suggested by the Opposition whereby the State would provide the transmitter network — or indirectly, if we had left the development of the services to RTE. In this latter regard any proposals put forward by RTE for the development of local or community radio services would have impacted upon the public capital programme as well as on television licence fees. Furthermore, while RTE have recently been broadcasting their own advertisements to the effect that their services do not cost the taxpayer a penny, the subtle difference between having to pay a tax and a licence fee is probably academic so far as the public are concerned.

The other point that needs to be made here is that the development of local and community radio services is undoubtedly a form of risk venture. It is not a licence to print money. It is my view that RTE, particularly in their current difficult financial circumstances, should not expose themselves to the inherent risks that the monopoly development of the local service would involve for them.

Another question which has been raised is the extent to which commercial interests are to be involved in the local radio services proposed. Our approach on this issue is purely pragmatic and practical. To set up any local radio station which is to provide a comprehensive range of programming will take a sizeable investment — perhaps as much as, if not more than, £250,000 if one is to go by the experience in the UK. We have done some examinations of the costings there. It will, in addition, have substantial running costs including the costs of permanent staff.

That kind of investment capital and the skills and expertise needed to successfully run a fully professional radio station are not readily available within local communities. The framework we are providing for local radio must be sufficiently attractive to attract venture capital and those who put up the capital are entitled to a reasonable return on their investment. If we do not allow this, then the reality is that we will not have legal local radio services. Furthermore, it has to be borne in mind that whatever organisations are granted a contractors' franchise, they will be subject to the various other provisions in the legislation which require them to meet a range of public service broadcasting precepts in their programming. The only alternative is for the State, either directly or indirectly, to provide the services and I have already explained our reasons for not following that course.

We quite recognise that safeguards are needed where commercial interests are involved. Local radio stations will be in the privileged position of being given access to frequency spectrum space which is a valuable national asset and it would be inappropriate that the full benefits of that privilege should go to limited private interests in the form of excessive profits. There is an obvious difficulty in defining in legislation such as this what constitutes excessive profits. So the Bill makes an enabling provision where the Minister, in consultation with the commission, can decide what constitutes excessive profits from a public resource while, at the same time, not discouraging potentially suitable broadcasting contractors from taking the risks and investing the capital involved in establishing a broadcasting service.

I have to say, however, that the general view is that there will be no cash bonanza in local radio. An examination of what is happening in the UK seems to confirm this. As the Minister indicated, the experience in the UK would suggest that, despite the bigger audiences that would be expected by most broadcasting contractors there, a number of local broadcasters have gone into liquidation in recent times. We do not think, therefore, that there is any licence to print money in store for broadcasters here. Indeed if there were, one might ask why RTE are not making substantial profits.

As I said at the outset, we think the formula we are presenting in this Bill provides a practical and fair framework for the development of legal local and community radio services. We are, however, open to further ideas and views which will enhance the prospects of a vibrant and valuable new structure of broadcasting services being able to prosper. The publication of the Bill at this time is intended to facilitate comment and debate on the issues arising; it also greatly assists the existing interim Local Radio Commission who have had to operate so far on the basis of a general outline of the proposed legislation. In this regard the Minister indicated to the commission that he would welcome their views on the legislation and, given the thought they have already put into this area, I expect they will have a valuable contribution to make.

We will, as I have stressed, be happy to take on board any amendments which will improve this Bill. I would urge, however, that the practical consequences and implications of any suggestions put forward be fully thought through. Our aim is to improve and enhance the prospects of legal broadcasting services getting off the ground and not to get it bogged down in a morass of legal requirements and conditions.

Some clarification is needed on the radio frequency spectrum. This is a finite natural resource used for a multitude of radio communications purposes including broadcasting. Furthermore, radio transmissions are no respecters of national boundaries. Consequently there has to be international as well as national regulation of the frequency spectrum and the international element is regulated by the International Telecommunications Union in Geneva. The planning of the spectrum for broadcasting as well as other purposes takes place under the ITU auspices which from time to time convenes regional or world administrative radio conferences for the purpose. A major replanning of the VHF spectrum took place in Geneva last November-December at which Ireland participated. It was a most successful conference from our point of view and we succeeded in gaining sufficient assignments to meet foreseeable needs in the VHF band.

The position in regard to medium wave frequencies is less satisfactory. The use of the medium wave band is governed by the Final Acts of the Geneva LF/MF Conference 1975. Because of the international demand for medium wave frequencies and the fact that MF transmissions travel much further than VHF transmissions, there are less assignments available all round. There is, in fact, only a very limited number of MF frequencies available to this country for the foreseeable future to meet both RTE's needs as well as the needs of services set up under this Bill.

Even if we maximise the re-use of the medium wave assignments throughout the country, there is no way we can duplicate every VHF frequency we have with an MF frequency. Our priority must be, we believe, to meet the needs of RTE and the local radio tier in the first instance. MF transmissions will be critical to the local radio tier because of their commercial imperative. They will be less necessary or, indeed, less suitable for the community tier. While, therefore, we will do the best we can in regard to the allocation of MF frequencies for those who can make a special case for them, it is simply a physical impossibility to guarantee that all community stations which potentially may come on the air can have an MF frequency.

Deputy Leyden talked about the finance available to the commission. The main source of revenue for the commission will be payments they receive from broadcasting contractors in respect of the franchise. The commission will have to gauge those payments to ensure that they meet their financial mandate, which is to break even. We anticipate that the commission will be a small, compact body with a staff of no more than nine or ten. I believe it is possible for the commission to carry out their task competently and efficiently with the minimum of staffing. None of us wishes to see another large, bureaucratic semi-State body. The commission's running costs will not be high. We expect they will be of the order of £440,000 in the first year, which takes account of a lump sum of £135,000 for the fitting out of office space. In the second year it will drop to £375,000 and should stabilise thereafter with no greater increase than the inflation rate.

The start-up costs of the commission will not be high and I am satisfied that they will see the need to keep running costs to the minimum. It will in the first instance be up to the commission as to which is the most favourable option for them to take. Deputy Leyden commented that there is no provision in the Department's Estimates in respect of any payments to the commission. The simple answer to this is that there has been no need to make any such provision as it is obvious that it will be autumn at the earliest before the commission are established so the costs they will incur this year will be minimal. There is also no need to make provision in the Department's Estimates in respect of capital advances of this nature. It will form part of the public capital programme and any amount likely to be needed this year will be minimal and met from savings in other areas.

The costs of the interim commission, which are also minimal, will be met from savings in other subheads in the Vote for the Department of Communications. In preparation of this Bill we naturally looked at the experience elsewhere, in the United Kingdom and in a detailed way at some continental countries, particularly Sweden and Switzerland. We also examined the situation as it evolved in the United States and Canada where it has been a private enterprise development. While there was much of interest to us in all the systems which we looked at in operation in the various countries, we did not find any system which would match the particular needs of this country, taking into account the history of radio, our population and the manner in which it is dispersed. There was no blueprint which we could translate to this country and I am sure Deputy Kelly will be very pleased to know that there was no Bill which we could adopt from any other country. What we have is very much our own and an effort to meet our needs. This in turn means that we are proposing a kind of service — a more accurate way of describing it would be a combination of services — of an untried nature.

Naturally there is an element of risk involved and there will be considerable risks for all the contractors. Indeed, one has only to read the debates of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Legislation to see the various estimates of possible sources of income given by the experts in this area and the divergence manifested there to realise the risk element involved. I am confident, however, that we have done a reasonable job in a very complicated and difficult area which will lead to an exciting new dimension to our broadcasting services.

As I mentioned earlier, I met many groups interested in new radio services, especially in the community aspect. I found generally that these groups were made up of very dedicated people who see in the radio services a new dimension to the work they are already doing in the community field and it is something in which they see great potential for the betterment of the community which they serve. In the various discussions I had with them and the submissions which they made to me, they showed extraordinary ingenuity in their plans and programmes for the stations. From talking to these people and from reading their submissions, I have great confidence in the future of the new services and I am anxious to see them firmly established. This is particularly so in regard to community radio which some people might think is the most difficult aspect of the services to firmly establish.

It is important to realise that this new dimension of local radio is at an evolutionary stage. Changes and improvements in technology are also changing the potential of radio day by day almost. They are also changing people's attitudes and this is all happening at an exceedingly rapid rate. Deputy Leyden mentioned the possibility of radio that would deal with different interests, classical and traditional music and so on. These become far more feasible as technology develops. Recently a man came to my house in Sligo to talk about the radio Bill and from his coat pocket he produced something not very much larger than a fountain pen which, he assured me, was a transmitter which could be heard over a range of three or four miles.

A very desirable development is now taking place in England, where groups of hospitals in a particular area are entertained through a voluntary hospital radio service. What we put on the ground now will not be there for all time but we are seeking a flexible framework in which all these things I mentioned can develop. We are seeing major changes but they are only the beginning of a new era. Those of us who are old enough to appreciate what was happening when television was introduced in the sixties realise what a great occasion that was. For years we had been watching snowstorms, which we were assured was the BBC, and at last we could see people clearly on the screen. It was a watershed. However, most people watching thought that in addition to bringing in television and heralding a new era, it marked the end of radio as a significant service. Nobody then in their wildest dreams could have predicted that we would be here today heralding a new era in radio.

It should have happened ten years ago.

The Deputy's party were in power since then and they had the opportunity to take the initiative at that stage which they abysmally failed to do. For some reason which I never discovered, the pirate radios flourished, doing enormous damage and causing great difficulties in drafting this Bill.

This is a new dawn for radio broadcasting in an area in which it cannot be challenged. It does things in a unique way and it will remain independent of advances in technology. We would welcome any ideas to improve the Bill as it lends itself to improvements through discussion. This Bill is a much better Bill than that envisaged before referral to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Legislation.

It has been greatly improved through the deliberations and recommendations of the Joint Committee and, indeed, through the many discussions which the Minister and I had with Deputy O'Sullivan who has taken a great interest in its provisions. Everybody wants to see chaos of the airwaves brought to an end and to see a full legal service on the air. Obviously, the sooner this can be done the better for all. The Broadcasting and Wireless Telegraphy Bill will be a powerful instrument as far as dealing with the pirates is concerned and that will be introduced shortly. The Bill before the House will provide the structure for the legal services. Inevitably, there will be teething problems; but I am confident that we have the structure, with whatever improvements that may arise from discussions and the passage of the Bill through the Oireachtas, for a viable, vibrant local and community radio which in some future years even Deputy Leyden will be very proud of.

I cannot understand the long delay in introducing this, and the related Bill introduced in the Seanad, because, apart from the considerable amount of padding, both Bills in many respects are the same as those introduced and circulated by Fianna Fáil in 1979 and 1981 and the 1983 Bill — the Broadcasting and Wireless Telegraphy Bill, 1979, the Independent Local Radio Authority Bill, 1981, and the Independent Local Broadcasting Bill, 1983. In this Bill the numbers of sections have been switched around to give the appearance of a considerable difference. The name of the Authority has been changed to that of a commission and that could hardly be regarded as being of earth-shattering proportions. Commonsense dictates that the Bill introduced in 1985 should take note of the technological changes that took place since 1979 and that the level of fines imposed for breaches of the law would be increased.

However, there are areas in which we differ. In so far as I am concerned, there is one fundamental difference — the almost total lack of State financial involvement in the project. This lack of State financial involvement underwrites commercialism in local radio and pushes the community radio, which should have been our major objective, into a tiny back seat. That is not to say that I am opposed to commercial radio, but we recognised the need to contain commercialism in local radio. For that reason we were willing to make finance available to ensure that the community aspect of local radio got a fair chance.

Fianna Fáil regard the community involvement as of special importance and I am convinced that real community involvement would have been possible under the terms of the Fianna Fáil Bills which were published. I will deal with that matter later. If I am to believe what I hear on radio and read in the newspapers, the Labour Party are opposed to the Bill. I assume they are opposed to it on much the same grounds as I am, that they feel that because there is an almost total lack of State financial involvement in the project the prospects for real community radio are very meagre indeed.

The Labour Party cannot evade their responsibilities simply by making loud protest noises. It is clear that the basic reason why the new broadcasting service will be in private hands is because of the paucity of State money being made available. The Labour Party have four Ministers in the Government. They made a decision not to provide anything worthwhile in public money terms. The Fianna Fáil attitude was, and continues to be, quite different. We believe in community radio and we were prepared to ensure its well-being by making the necessary finance available.

The problem of the pirate radio has been with us for quite some time and the need for its replacement by a legal local radio system is apparent and urgent. I should like to make another point in respect of the involvement of public money. The Minister of State in the course of his speech said:

In looking over the range of areas which any Government needs to address these days, there is no doubt that local broadcasting services, however desirable, would have to be categorised as being in the luxury class compared with what needs to be done in, say, the areas of education...

The Minister of State missed the whole point because what we are doing is preparing to provide a new and very important service. It is vital that this new service should get off the ground in a proper manner. If the thrust of the local radio legislation is in the wrong direction then we would have considerable difficulty in the future of getting it back on the tracks.

The Minister of State also suggested that Fianna Fáil had been inactive and indifferent to the twofold problems of providing for legitimate local radio services and the suppression of illegal broadcasting stations. That is not so. Indeed, the position is quite the reverse. Fianna Fáil policy has been consistent in respect of these matters, our aim being to put an end to illegal broadcasting because the promoters of illegal pirate stations were breaking the law and also because of the danger to safety resulting from the illegal use of the airwaves. On the other hand, we wanted to provide a legal local broadcasting system which is desired and demanded by the public.

To this end Fianna Fáil introduced and circulated the Broadcasting and Wireless Telegraphy Bill in 1979, which is similar to the Bill to be introduced in the Seanad by the Government. Fianna Fáil also introduced and circulated the Independent Local Radio Bill in 1981. The first Bill was to suppress the pirate radio stations and the second to set up the independent local radio authority. I accept that the question can be posed as to why the new legislation was necessary and, secondly, why we did not proceed with the 1979 Bill after it had been circulated.

When I was Minister for Posts and Telegraphs raids were carried out on pirate stations. Some stations were shut down and equipment seized. The Department found itself beset by all kinds of legal entanglements as a result. It was clear that effective action could not be taken as the law stood. One case that comes to mind relates to a judgement which cleared the defendants on the basis that, as the actual transmitter was not present when the raid took place, it was held that the remaining equipment could be used for purposes other than illegal broadcasting. The case was dismissed. In another case the Department seized equipment but later had to hand it back because of a technicality. In the latter case the public could not understand why the equipment had to be returned and there was much adverse comment in respect of that incident. It was because of a wide variety of matters resulting in decisions by the courts, the reasons for which the public could not appreciate, that there was a danger in the public mind that the law was being brought into disrepute. It became clear that new legislation was needed to deal with the matter and so the Broadcasting and Wireless Telegraphy Bill, 1979 was prepared and circulated to Deputies by me.

Due to the activities of pirate radio stations a very clear and insistent demand has grown up throughout the country for local radio services. The public had become accustomed not only to the kind of music emanating from these stations but also to local news items, gossip and other types of programme with a local bias. I concluded at that time that to go ahead with the Broadcasting and Wireless Telegraphy Bill, 1979 without providing also for the setting up of the local radio authority would be a negative approach. I felt the provision of a Bill to suppress pirate radio would not of itself achieve the objective the Government had set themselves. I decided to propose to the Government that before proceeding with the 1979 Bill we should prepare another Bill, the purpose of which would be to set up a local radio authority whose function would be to operate broadcasting transmitters for independent local radio services under licence issued by the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs and which could enter into contracts with interested parties for the provision of programmes to be broadcast on the authority's transmitters.

I proposed that when the Bill was prepared it should be circulated so that when we took action to terminate the activities of pirate stations we could at the same time, provide a legal alternative to the pirate system and by so doing make available to the public a service which they had shown they desired. The Government agreed to that procedure and I set about preparing the second Bill which was later circulated by my successor. The groundwork for those two Bills was prepared by a Fianna Fáil Government and the new Bill in the Seanad is a replica of the 1979 Bill. Most of the features in the Local Radio Bill, 1985 are similar to those in the Fianna Fáil Bills of 1981 and 1983 with the basic difference that we were prepared to involve the State financially in the project. I am convinced this was the proper approach, otherwise community radio would have grave difficulty in getting off the ground.

In his speech on the Fianna Fáil Independent Local Broadcasting Authority Bill, 1983, the Minister of State, Deputy Nealon, making a case against the Bill, stated that one of his objections to that Bill was that it concentrated too much on the commercial aspect as opposed to community involvement. If I remember rightly, he said our Bill was designed for commercial local radio only and that no attempt was made to ensure that the service was spread throughout the country and that the conditions specified in our Bill would confine local radio services to the larger cities. That is a very interesting interpretation of our proposed legislation by the Minister who has helped to bring in a Bill which I believe will produce a much more commercialised type of local radio than could have been possible under the Fianna Fáil legislation.

If one were to take into account the proviso in section 18 (2) of our Bills that the local broadcasting services provided must be responsive to the various interests and concerns of the whole community served by each station and that this must involve considerable community participation, and if one notes the proviso in section 22 of those Bills, where it is proposed to hold such consultations or public meetings as are deemed necessary for the purpose of establishing whether there is a genuine demand for an independent local broadcasting service in the area, section 22 clearly leaves it open to community groups to apply for licences to operate local broadcasting stations. The purpose of section 22 (1) is to give the community groups as well as others the right to make applications and the authority were being placed in the position in which they could decide on whatever group they felt would be best in the circumstances. In our Bills, it was stipulated that the authority must approach such matters in a practical manner and must have regard to the adequacy of the resources available to each proposer. This is a practical matter and it is almost word for word what is in the Bill before the House. My main objection to the Bill before the House is the lack of financial involvement by the State.

I find the Minister of State's reference to our Bill being designed for commercial radio only, contending that his Bill is community centred, particularly extraordinary when I take note of the fact that in section 27 of the Fianna Fáil 1983 Bill the Minister for Finance may make advances to the authority for capital purposes, including working capital, out of the Central Fund up to the level of £10 million, while in this Bill the Minister proposes to make advances for capital purposes of only £1 million. It should be very clear that far more money will be needed from private investment by those awarded contracts, to set up local radio stations under the Bill than would have been the case under the Fianna Fáil Bill. This, of necessity, will mean that under this Bill the local radio system will be far more commercially orientated than it would have been under the Fianna Fáil Bill. In my view, the Minister's statements on community involvement are just so many pious platitudes. The fact is there would be much less State financial involvement in the system he proposes than would be the case under a Fianna Fáil Bill. This means that only those with large sums of money to invest will be in a position to apply for contracts. The outcome of the suggestion that such people will act in a philanthropic manner towards people living in sparsely populated areas will be awaited with interest.

When I queried the Minister of State at a meeting of the all-party committee on legislation on the level of State financial involvement for capital purposes by the authority permissable under his Bill compared with the Fianna Fáil Bill, he told me the reduction was possible because while Fianna Fáil had proposed that the transmitter should be the property of the authority, the present Government had decided that the contractors should purchase their own transmitters. I am strongly of the opinion that this is a retrograde step. It is vitally important that the transmitter should be under the direct control of the commission, especially in these times of stress and danger. It is not enough that the Minister has the power to licence contractors — that was a provision in our Bill also — but if the transmitters are owned by the commission, they can immediately ensure that objectionable material is not broadcast. This is more important today than every before.

Having listened to the Minister, Deputy Mitchell, I have a very strong feeling that he doth protest too much. He read approximately two pages giving reasons why the commission should not own the transmitters. I believe he did that because in his heart of hearts he believes the commission should own the transmitters. When this matter was being studied by me and the Government of the time, it was examined very carefully. While I accept that Governments are anxious to provide services without having to meet exceptional expense, we consider that a saving in this area would be very wrong. The Minister should remember that if the commission do not own the transmitter there will be very considerable difficulty in quickly stopping the broadcast of material which would be unacceptable. Quite possibly the Minister would have to take the matter through the courts, with perhaps weeks and months passing before he would be able to prevent that type of material from being broadcast.

Might I further point out that there are transmitters and transmitters? It is possible to buy transmitters of poor quality cheaply. Would such transmitters provide continuous service without breaks? The fact that transmitters must be provided by the contractors will make it even more difficult for small communities to set up and operate local radio stations. The reality of the situation is that throughout this Bill the Minister is saying to the commission that no money will be available from the State in respect of the setting up of that commission and that the contractors will have to supply their own transmitters and other needs, so that the money must come from borrowing or other private sources. He also specifically tells the commission that they must satisfy themselves of the adequacy of the expertise, experience and financial resources available to each proposer, as it would be a relatively costly exercise to set up a radio station. That means, in effect, that a large injection of private capital would be imperative. This means commercial radio.

There is little point in attempting to camouflage the position by pretending that the Bill will provide community radio in the purest sense. The reality is £1 million in the case of the present Bill versus £10 million in the case of the Fianna Fáil 1983 Bill. It is clear that if the community groups throughout the country are hopeful of establishing local radio stations with help from the Coalition Government, they are in for a disappointment, indeed. The Minister probably realises that the situation is unlikely to catch up on him personally, because he knows that not only will he be long gone out of office but quite possibly many other Ministers of Communications will have passed on to other areas of activity before the sparsely populated areas will have local radio to cater for their people under the terms of this Bill.

Originally, if I remember rightly, the Minister of State stated that he hoped to have 25 to 30 radio stations operating under the terms of this Bill and put forward a complex physical and financial arrangement to achieve it. Considerable private financial investment was necessary and one must assume that investors will expect a higher return on their money than investors do normally in industrial enterprises because of the four to seven year limitation in respect of contracts. I am aware that such contracts may be renewed, but investors are likely to take into account that they might not be renewed. I am aware that pirate radio stations have been described as a licence to print money. This may be an accurate description of the position in the past and perhaps even now. It should be remembered, however, that this business was a particularly lucrative one because of the many charges which, to put it mildly, pirate stations managed to avoid paying and perhaps also because of the standards of programmes broadcast in many instances. The position will no longer obtain when local radio stations are operating legally.

It would be helpful if the Minister would give a clear indication of the financial obligations in costings which the contractors must bear. Will there be a licence fee to be paid to the Authority? What will the licence cost? Will there be a secondary rental? What of the Exchequer levy, corporation tax, VAT, musical rights, and so on? What do the capital costs add up to and could he let us have an estimate of running costs, including taxation?

I did a survey in Britain and Northern Ireland. There are about 40 independent local radio stations — that is, commercial stations — and about 30 BBC local radio stations there. The populations for which these stations cater vary from 12 million to 200,000 people. The smallest area catered for at the time of the survey was a station named Northside Sound based in Derry city. One must assume that the Independent Broadcasting Authority in Britain and Northern Ireland, taking all their various taxes into account, must regard such population figures as being necessary for the efficient and economic operation of the stations and to ensure that the programmes provided are of top quality. Perhaps the Minister would let the House know exactly how he proposes to have stations serving a population of less than 25,000 providing the diversity of programmes which will be necessary? On the question of programmes, let me add that the provision of proper programmes will also add to the cost and that the diet provided by pirate stations up to now will not suffice.

The word "local" here in Ireland relates to a much smaller area than would be termed local in a country with a population similar to Britain. We tend to accept that the level of population to each radio station could be lower here. We have pirate radio stations in Drogheda and Dundalk. Under the new system we must ensure that we continue to have a service through legal local radio stations in both Drogheda and Dundalk. The point I am making is that the taxation and other financial outgoings in Ireland need to be much lower than in Britain if legalised local radio is to continue to operate in the areas where pirate radio at present operate.

Taking the various points that I have made into consideration, it is obvious that the commercial aspect of this Bill will be much more in evidence than in the Fianna Fáil Bill. This contradicts the case made by the Minister for the rejection of the Fianna Fáil Bill in claiming that that Bill concentrated to too great an extent on the commercial rather than the community aspect. The fact of the matter is that it concentrated a lot more on the community aspect and we were willing to help out through financing.

Before awarding contracts it is proposed that the commission will convene public meetings throughout the country to ascertain the views of the people on how and where local radio stations should operate. How does the Minister propose that the views of people in lightly populated areas would be got, where he visualises radio stations operating for populations of less than 25,000? How will the Authority decide on who should get the contracts? Will it be the highest bidder or will it relate to programme content, or to expertise in the field, or whatever? The Minister of State referred in his original speech to experience and I should like to know what he means by this. Like Deputy Leyden, I am wondering whether it is intended to confine applications for contracts to Irish citizens.

If RTE take up the share of participation offered to them under this Bill, what rights and responsibilities will this confer on RTE? I might point out that at one of the larger local radio stations in Britain at which I discussed the operation of the station — a station catering for about two million people — I found that more than 50 per cent of their revenue came from advertisements relating to products selling on a national basis and less than 50 per cent from local advertisers. If that were to pertain here, how does the Minister think it would affect RTE? Of course, it may not apply to the same extent here as there is no national commercial radio network as such in Britain.

I ask the Minister to let the House know if the licence fees charged by the commission to contractors will vary with the size of population in catchment areas. Also, how does he propose to transfer finance from larger radio stations to smaller stations? Will it be made known to would-be contractors for the larger stations what will be the costs involved? Is it visualised that the larger radio stations will provide the smaller stations with the results of their research, with programmes, and so on? Will local investors get preference, especially those involved in the affairs of the community already served by local radio? Will there be provision for the employment of musicians, and so on?

The Minister might have been better advised if he had named the Bill the Independent Local Broadcasting Authority Bill, the title given to the Fianna Fáil Bill, rather than calling it the Local Radio Bill. Broadcasting will include television services in addition to possible new developments in the future. The Minister said he would deal with local television areas when the need arose. However, when I was in Rome a few years ago on official business I found that illegal television broadcasting stations were all over the place and that the position had been reached where it was well nigh impossible to contain the problem. It is well to remember that the local radio problem came to the fore very rapidly here and that a problem regarding television could arise equally rapidly.

Section 21 of the Bill deals with the general duty of the commission to ensure as far as possible that the local broadcasting service provided will maintain a high standard in all respects. This is a matter of fundamental importance. While it would be wrong of the commission to impose their own preference in musical entertainment on local broadcasting stations, they must ensure that low-quality programmes are not pumped out, hour after hour and day after day. However much pirate radio producers may protest, for example, that they continually play certain types of music because that is what is demanded of them by the public, the reality is that by broadcasting regularly low-quality music they are brainwashing the younger generation in particular. They are creating a demand and ultimately this results in young people being incapable of appreciating any other kind of music or any other form of entertainment. As I said, I am not suggesting that the commission should impose their own brand on the stations, but they should ensure that the programmes are of a reasonable quality.

The Bill states that the commission must have regard for Irish culture and traditions. I should like to see something more specific in the Bill. I am a great believer in the value to the nation of our cultural heritage. Therefore, I am concerned not simply with preserving our culture but with its development. We have a distinctive culture which makes us a distinctive people and the Irish language is central to that. It dates back for thousands of years. Through most of those years our forefathers expressed their thoughts, hopes and ambitions through the medium of the Irish language and its impact on our development as a people and our individual development has been exceptional. Therefore, we must concern ourselves in the proposed new broadcasting system with our language, as well as with our music, songs and dances. They are all part of our being and their loss would create a great cultural void that could never be filled.

We cannot accept the argument nor the excuse that when Irish language programmes are broadcast audiences are lost. I am convinced the key lies in the quality of the programmes. I remember in the early days of the BBC they broadcast programmes in the Welsh language and, even though I did not understand Welsh, the programmes were so well produced that I took a great interest in them. Well thought out, carefully produced programmes in the Irish language will succeed. There is an obligation on the Government to give the necessary financial and other assistance to local broadcasting in respect of language and cultural programmes if the sections in the Bill dealing with our culture are to mean anything. If we are given good entertaining programmes with Irish cultural involvement, as well as programmes in the Irish language, I am convinced the public will respond favourably.

The Bill states that the commission will ensure that local sound broadcasting services will have regard to Irish cultural traditions, particularly the Irish language. I should like to ensure that we mean what we say. I hope the Minister will have another look at the matter to see if the provision can be put in the Bill in a more positive way.

The objective in setting up a local radio commission is to meet a demand for local radio with community involvement, with emphasis on community interests, the supplying of local news items and the production of a variety of programmes suited to the tastes of the local community. Local radio stations should be of the community and for the community. As I said on a number of occasions, I fear that the lack of financial input of any consequence by the Government in this project will do much to reduce community involvement and that to all intents and purposes we will have a purely commercial venture. If such a situation were to result from the Bill it would be a disaster.

I am somewhat perturbed about what appears to be a change of emphasis regarding the appointment of the chief executive officer. In our Bill we made the point that the CEO would be appointed by the authority, in this case the commission, and it was only in another section that we referred to the Minister. However, in this Bill where reference is made to the appointment of the CEO, it is immediately followed by the words "with the approval of the Minister". I would not be concerned about it if it were not for the problems which arose recently in relation to the appointment of a Director General for RTE. In the unlikely event of the commission or the authority appointing a totally unsuitable person the Minister can decide not to give his approval but it would appear that that has changed because of the debate in this House and because the approval of the Minister now means that if he does not happen to like a person, his political or other stance, he will refuse to appoint him irrespective of his competence. I did not intervene during that recent controversy on the appointment of the new Director General but if I had I would have pointed out that when I was Minister for Posts and Telegraphs I accepted the nominee of a Coalition-appointed RTE Authority. The present Minister refused to accept the nominee of a Fianna Fáil-appointed authority. When a board is appointed it should have the right to appoint a chief executive officer without interference from the Minister except in respect of the point I have already made.

It is necessary to ensure that no vested interest is granted a controlling interest in local radio stations. Nevertheless we must ensure that competition is fair. Local newspapers have suffered considerably over the years in relation to advertising. It would be a retrograde step if RTE or other forms of the media had control over local radio. We must not be unconcerned about the problems facing the legitimate media at present and care must be taken to see that competition is fair.

There is an opportunity for closer co-operation between local newspapers and local radio in that the network for news collection already developed by the newspapers could be effectively used to provide news items for local radio. This could be satisfactory if agreement could be reached on the level of investment permitted for local newspapers in local radio.

The fundamental objection I have to the Bill is that there is not sufficient State financial involvement. As a result of that and as a result of the cost of setting up the various stations it will be necessary to go to private sources, either individuals or the banks. While I am not opposed to commercial radio it is necessary that it should be contained. The only way to contain it is to ensure that sufficient money is provided by the State. During the course of his speech the Minister said that he did not visualise the commission being involved in capital projects. I would draw his attention to the fact that the money concerned in the Bill includes working capital. If we are not prepared to make more money available we will underwrite the commercialisation of local radio and that would not be to the benefit of the development of local radio in the future.

I do not intend to deal with the technical aspects of the Bill but more with the political aspects and implications. It is no secret that the Bill has been the subject of considerable discussion and deliberation within the Labour Party at all levels. Most if not all of the discussion and the conclusions at the end of that discussion are a matter of public record in so far as our attitude towards this subject was discussed at two Labour Party conferences, one no later than last May when the unanimous decision by the parliamentary party meeting was endorsed by conference six or seven weeks ago.

It is not a breach of confidentiality in so far as the full proceedings were reported in the press. We in the parliamentary Labour Party published a press statement in connection with our meeting on 4 April setting out in considerable detail — six pages — our view on the use of our airwaves. It is also no secret that there has been considerable detailed discussion between the Minister for Communications, his Minister of State and representatives of the parliamentary Labour Party led by Deputy O'Sullivan who has shown a special interest in this matter and is parliamentary party spokesman on the matter.

I said in the past that Fine Gael showed a certain insensitivity towards the Labour Party on certain matters. As I have said behind closed doors negotiations have been going on for some considerable time but when this Bill was published by the Minister on behalf of the Government the closed doors were over and so apparently were the negotiations. What was insensitivity turned at that point to a clear statement by the Fine Gael element of this Coalition that they were not prepared to behave with honour or integrity towards the Labour Party. Not only was this question covered in two conferences of the Labour Party and at numerous meetings of the parliamentary Labour Party but is included in the Joint Programme for Government. The publication of the Bill in its present form shows total contempt not just, I want to make it clear, for the Members of the Oireachtas but more importantly for the dedicated rank and file of the Labour Party.

Anyone who wishes may speak for himself but I will not remain silent. We have a choice here. Everything must be brought into the open now. We have gone beyond the closed doors stage with the publication of this Bill. Any of us could make a choice, perhaps some have made that choice, to allow the debate to continue without indicating his intentions in regard to the Bill and thereby leaving the field open to the Fine Gael element in Government to make their point of view known, to reassure their supporters that they would pursue their privatisation ideas, full steam ahead. We could hope to avoid this, to remain quiet, to go away on our summer holidays and once more remain behind closed doors, but I am speaking for the rank and file people in my constituency who tramp the streets of this city during election after election, who spend endless nights and hours serving the Labour Party without any chance or hope of monetary or any other kind of material reward. They support Labour to this extent because they are pursuing a political philosophy which, though not very popular in this country, is believed in passionately by them and by me. There will be no more closed doors on this issue so far as I am concerned, irrespective of the consequences.

It may be said that I am saying all this because of some ideological hang-up and that, therefore, I should be ignored. The tone in which the expression, "ideological hang-up" is used insinuates that one is some sort of freak. Yes, I have a political ideology. I have always had that ideology. Because of it, I joined Labour when I was 16 and I have developed and matured in that philosophy in the meantime. I am very proud of this, but let us look a little further at political ideologies. This term is regarded often automatically to mean that one is left wing but there is also a right wing political ideology and that is the ideology that is very active in Fine Gael at Government level, though in fairness not on the part of all the members, but it is alive and healthy and embodied in this Bill as well as in other steps the Government have taken. But I do not expect Fine Gael to apologise for that. Good luck to them. They are entitled to hold those views and to put them into operation if they can. I am a democrat. I believe in parliamentary democracy. I agree that Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil have the right to pursue their ideologies but they must not seek my support for what they are doing. If Fine Gael were in Government in their own right, if the people had authorised them to enact those right wing philosophies, they would be free to do so. I might not like what they were doing but I would defend their right to do it. I say to the Government that there will be no more right wing stuff with my vote.

We are talking here about radio but what else is in the pipeline? We are not talking about nationalising something but this Government, in which Labour are participating, and who are depending on the votes of the likes of me, are talking about denationalising, about privatising something which since its inception has been in the public domain. We are not wrangling as to whether it should be in the public or in the private sector but the Bill proposes to take radio out of the public sector. How much more contemptuous could Fine Gael be in regard to Labour to put forward such a proposal?

I am expected to walk into the lobby and vote against everything I have believed in passionately since I was a teenager, or do the Government really expect me to vote for this measure? In the corridors as well as at meetings the point has been put to me that people do not understand what this is all about, that they will not understand the argument I am trying to make. I am told that the teenagers want "heavy metal", or whatever it is teenagers want. This is not an election issue, or at least I hope it is not an election issue, but so far as I am concerned that is a matter for Fine Gael. My mind has been made up in regard to the Bill. Fine Gael can make up their minds as to whether collectively and individually they wish to make the legislation an election issue. That decision does not rest with me. It rests in other places.

Let us consider some of what has happened in the country in recent years. Today the issue is radio and one must ask whether there will be an attempt to privatise transport. Are there more privatisation prospects in that area as there are in the areas of oil, gas and other natural resources? Satellites are on the way. They are very lucrative and offer tremendous possibilities and potential. I resigned from the Cabinet because of the Dublin Gas question and I have not for one moment regretted that decision. Dublin Gas are a private company owned by a few but well known people. They can be compared with the diplomatic cocktail set. Their attitude is that when one finds something one must grab it quickly. I include Dublin Gas among the few dozen get rich quick merchants. These few dozen people are into everything they can get anything out of but they have little if any regard for the interests of the Irish people.

This Government gave £126 million plus of taxpayers money to Dublin Gas, a company that could be bought on the Stock Exchange — and some Fine Gael Ministers must know enough about the Stock Exchange — for £1,500,000. The AIB-ICI situation has not been finalised yet but if this had been a case of a State or semi-state company we would have heard all about how inefficient they were, that it was a bottomless pit, that they were all a crowd of layabouts who were contributing nothing, that we needed the entrepreneurship, we needed to get up and go and have the spirit of the private sector. Then we saw the gross incompetence of AIB, the situation they got themselves into. This Government came up with another solution, that they would give them — the most successful financial institution in this State, the most profitable — £120 million of taxpayers' money. There is a marked contrast between these types of actions and the attitude to the public sector. Quite frankly I am getting a little tired of liberal talk and Tory action, and it is going on at a great pace.

I listened here this morning to the Minister for Communications and to the Opposition spokesman, Deputy Leyden. As I listened I asked myself: what is the real difference between the two of them on this issue? I will not go into the point that Deputy Kelly rightly identified in my view. But, on this issue, the only conclusion I could come to was that Fianna Fáil were terrified that the Fine Gael fellows would get their hands on the loot before Fianna Fáil fellows could come in and give it to theirs. That was the difference. Which speculator would get it? Would it be a Fine Gael man or a Fianna Fáil man? There is no ideological, no basic or fundamental difference, no question of a serious discussion, private versus State.

I shall not continue much longer because from the way debate has gone on this morning, it would appear that for a Labour man to get in at all was an achievement. I am hopeful that, in keeping my remarks brief and very much to the point, perhaps another Labour man will have an opportunity of making a contribution, of letting his views be known. I want to be sure that mine are known. I would say this: it would have been very easy to have sat back, allowed this nice discussion to go ahead without hitting any of these very rough, sensitive points. But, when that Bill was produced, in the face of all the evidence, all the representations, all of the discussions and against the background of its being one of the items in the Joint Programme for Government, when the Minister for Communications and the Government decided to insult the Labour Party, to treat them with total contempt, as far as I am concerned, the time had definitely come to cry halt.

I do not have to declare myself now. Probably the Second Stage will be talked out today. But I am declaring myself: I do not care when those bells ring, be it this afternoon, tomorrow, next week or next year, I will vote against this Bill. I shall also give very serious consideration to what way I vote on what is coming up that bears the stamp of the right wing element of Fine Gael — and they are not all right wing. But, as far as this Bill is concerned, make no mistake about it, I do not want to run around being ambiguous. I will not abstain on it, I will not look for a pair on it. I will vote against this Bill because it is contrary not only to repeated Labour Party policy but to everything I have ever believed in politically. It is contrary to the Joint Programme for Government and I would feel it dishonourable to do less than vote against it.

Would you allow me make a brief point of order, Sir? Deputy Cluskey, in the last few minutes, adverted to the Chair's discretion in calling speakers. I should like to make it clear — before the debate goes any further — that the Government Whip, and that is the Whip for both parties in Government, maintains a list. Both Deputy Keating's name and my name were on that list but we were both very glad to yield to Deputy Cluskey even though his name was not on the list.

First of all, that is not a point of order. Second, the list was here but, in this debate, I endeavoured to have a balanced discussion ——

Of course, Sir.

We had a senior Minister and a junior Minister from the major party in Government.

Of course, Sir, everybody here would support you in that. I only want to contradict the impression that Deputy Cluskey inadvertently created that there has been any effort to keep anyone out. No one knew until he stood up here this morning that he wished to speak and, when he did wish to speak, the Deputies on this side were willing, glad and happy to yield to him.

It is a sorry sight to have legislation brought before this House with the Government, in bringing it forward, totally divided within themselves. The public at large have been waiting anxiously and impatiently for the past one and a half years for legislation to be brought before this House to regulate the airwaves. We would all agree that the state of lawlessness and disorder that has existed on our airwaves for some time now did need to be regulated urgently. More importantly, however, the services and facilities were needed to be provided by way of local radio, to provide for and cater to the wide range of legitimate needs, tastes and desires of the public at large and particularly our young population.

It has become abundantly clear over the past few years that the phenomenally increasing listenership to local radio, ableit an illegal form of radio, has constituted a cry out to this House for an adequate response to local needs, tastes and aspirations by way of a comprehensive network of local community radio. All the verbiage that has been churned out from the far side of the House over the past couple of years has done absolutely nothing but deepen the cynicism, disillusionment and bitterness of all those who saw the need for, required the services of, and felt competent to operate a local radio service.

I might make a few brief observations by way of preliminary comment on the Bill before us. When the Minister of State spoke in this House on our Bill — which had been introduced by our spokesman, Deputy Leyden — on 8 June 1983, volume 343, column 988 he had this to say:

This is the first example of legislation before the House which might be described reasonably as legislation by tippex.

I might remind the Minister of State and the Minister that the Bill they introduced here today bears all the hallmarks of a significant, if not major, tippex operation. A number of its sections are broadly similar to those contained in our Bill except that there have been some alterations in words used. They have taken some of the elements of our 1983 Bill but some of their alterations are most unsatisfactory and will render this Bill unworkable.

In the course of our debate in this House on 8, 14 and 15 June 1983 all sides acknowledged that a Bill was urgently required to deal with the chaos and the irregularities obtaining in our airwaves. When we challenged the Government to accept our Bill they refused to do so, and in his refusal to do so we were assured by the Minister of State, and subsequently by the Minister, that such a Bill had been prepared and was merely seeking Government sanction. I can quote from the Minister of State, Deputy Nealon, on 8 June, 1983 in volume 343, column 981 of the Official Report:

May I say, this Government recognise fully the urgency of introducing legislation to regulate the use of local radio and to bring order into what is, essentially, a near chaotic situation.

Further down the Minister said:

Since being given this special responsibility, about three months ago, already I have examined the various approaches to local broadcasting and proposals are already before the Government for consideration. Naturally, I am not in a position to announce at this stage the details of that legislation — indeed it would be quite wrong of me to do so until Government consideration has been completed.

Anybody listening to the Minister that night would have been convinced that legislation was imminent in the Dáil in relation to local radio and that it was only a matter of weeks or months before the Minister would bring the Bill forward. The Minister then said in column 985 of the same volume:

There will be no delay in finalising that legislation and in introducing it to the Oireachtas.

We have had to wait a full two years for the Government to deliberate on the legislation which had been formulated. During that time we have listened to statement and counter-statement from the Minister of State and the Minister in relation to the number of stations, structures and so on. This has been very disconcerting to the public at large and for all those eager and willing to avail of a legalised form of local radio. During the course of that debate I said I believed that the Government did not have an intention to bring forward a Bill in the immediate future, and events have proved me correct.

There was no agreement among the parties to Government as to the form of legislation required. To this very day there is very definite disagreement between the two parties. If we look at the Minister's speech of 14 June 1983 on the same Bill, at column 1428, volume 343, he said:

We intend to proceed quickly with the Government's legislation to enable legal local radio services to be set up on an acceptable basis for communities throughout the country.

The words chosen then, when a comprehensive, expansive, flexible Bill was introduced were intended to convey the impression that legislation was ready and the public at large thought that the Government had the real answer to their problems and that it would be available shortly. We now have a Bill which will go some way towards answering some of the problems. It is not the final answer required.

There are a number of fundamental weaknesses in it. If the Minister is serious in his attempt to regulate the airwaves a more comprehensive and caring response should have been forthcoming. There is no doubt that over the past couple of years illegal pirate radios have served the need of many of our local communities and the tastes of our young population. We should ensure that this legislation enables structures to be created to capture the imagination of our young people and to harness the imagination, intellect and goodwill in urban and rural areas so that by tapping all of these resources greater lines of communication on a localised basis will be created. It is the duty of the State to understand and appreciate the tastes and needs of our young and rapidly growing population and to cater for them in a positive, constructive and enlightened way. Our Bill in 1983 had expansive terms of reference, it offered flexibility to the authority that was proposed in the text of the Bill and it was futuristic and modern in approach.

There are a number of elements in this Bill which deserve our support but there are a number of very serious fundamental shortcomings which make it impossible for us to totally support the Bill. This House readily acknowledges the tremendous service given by Radio Éireann. They have provided a forum for enlightened discussion, sport of all kinds and for the promotion of culture. They served us through good times and bad and did their job very well under the Act under which they were established. Many excellent performers, entertainers, journalists and writers had their apprenticeship stamped firmly by RTE and they have given, and in many cases continue to give, an excellent return to the country for the training they obtained at that station.

RTE's radio service is excellent in the context of a national radio broadcasting station and their future endeavours will excell their past efforts. Because of the rapidly growing needs of local communities and the widening tastes among our young population, it is not possible for a national broadcasting station to cater adequately within their terms of reference for these needs. It has become imperative that a more localised form of radio station be launched to give local communities greater opportunity for self-assertion, identification and cohesion and to enable greater co-operation within their ranks. While I do not subscribe to the view that one householder type of community is more deserving than another in relation to the need for local radio, I would point out that our expanding urban communities because of their very nature leave many families isolated and out of touch with their surroundings. There is a crisis of identity because of the impersonalised nature of these communities. It is urgent to create a structure that will give new communities like this an opportunity to tap into the best resources available by way of communication. This will help them to achieve greater identification; it will give them a means of self-assertion and greater control over their own affairs. Local radio is a suitable mechanism to perform these functions and it needs the support and encouragement of this House to get under way.

Some sections in the Bill are causing great concern and render our support impossible. It appears from the Bill that the establishment of the commission and the issue of licences is a two-tier structure. One is a type of commercial radio station and the other a community station. We have heard many comments from the Minister of State and the Minister about the number of local radio stations to be established. We were told by the Minister of State that we were to have 30 or more. That is contradicted by the Minister——

That is not right.

——who said that we would have seven or eight, or perhaps fewer.

That was a misrepresentation.

At one point the Minister of State informed the public that there would be 30 stations and the Minister contradicted that and said that there would be a small number of stations.

What the Minister of State said was that the frequency system then existing could cater for 30 stations. He did not say there would be 30 stations.

The impression given to the public was that the Minister of State was indicating that there was potential for 30 stations and that he was recognising it. In so doing he was giving the public the impression that there would be 30 stations.

What the Minister of State said is on the record.

That was the public impression.

The Deputy is misrepresenting the facts.

That was the public impression. The Minister very quickly had to move in to alter that impression. The speed with which the Minister moved in suggests that the Minister too was aware that that was the impression given to the public.

The impression, but not the facts.

It would appear from the Bill that the number of commercial radio stations likely to be established in this case would be anything between six and 12. Perhaps the Minister in his speech, which I have not had the opportunity to read, was specific on that. Whilst it might not be commercially viable to sustain anything like 30 as mentioned some time ago, nevertheless 12 will not be adequate to do the kind of job that the Minister and Minister of State pointed out was so desirable in the 1983 debate, that is to cater adequately for all communities, urban and rural, which his Bill sets as its objective. Whilst it might be possible to fill some of the gaps with community stations or stations even more localised still and without the commercial element, there is a likelihood of serious gaps. I would like the Minister to look again at this aspect. I was going to suggest that he look at it on Committee Stage, but that would be a little premature now in view of what I have heard here today. Therefore, perhaps during the summer recess there will be ample opportunity for the Minister to look at that aspect of it and perhaps tease out the danger that I see in it, that it will not cater adequately for certain small communities because of the number that seems to be tied into it.

The Minister has perhaps gone part of the way to allay the fears and concern that inevitably will arise around the country in relation to this, but he should go the whole way as quickly as possible, and the recess will give him ample opportunity to do that. Many small, isolated rural communities will feel that their case may not be heard properly. On the other hand, if average coverage is not given to the large urban communities like Dublin there will be further attempts to contravene the legislation. That is the difficulty. I know that a separate Bill is coming in and that there are fairly hefty prohibitions on any future contraventions of the law in this regard, nevertheless, it is far more important to have an adequate number of stations so that all these can be catered for rather than a plethora of prohibitive measures which usually form nothing but a crutch against inadequacy.

In section 3 the Minister refers to the establishment of a local radio commission. In our Bill of 1983 we had the establishment of a local radio authority. I am worried about this aspect because there is a maximum provision of about £1 million in the Bill in relation to the establishment of the commission, as the Minister refers to them. The 1983 Bill had a provision for about £10 million. On reading through the Bill and trying to decipher what exactly the Minister has in mind, we find that it tends to smack of jobs for the boys; at least that is the message coming across to me. Maybe I am wrong and I do not know what previous speakers have said in relation to this, but there is that awful danger in relation to the manner in which control has been given to the commission on the one hand and also the manner in which the Minister keeps control unto himself. There will be public concern about this, and I tell the Minister that he will have a task in hand right throughout the recess to take on that concern, that fear, that the public will have. The criteria that the Minister is going to use in relation to the establishment of the membership of this commission, the qualifications that will be required of the people involved, the extent to which they have business interests, should be spelt out very clearly before their appointment, if it comes to that stage. I suggest that the best way to approach this to allay public concern and fear would be to have all this spelled out during the summer recess so that all sides of the House will have an opportunity to look at it and identify the individuals the Minister proposes as people suitable to serve on such an important commission. If the Minister does that and allows time before this debate continues, we will all be able to decide if the kind of Bill we have before us deserves more support than we on this side of the House can give it mow. I will be waiting and listening and watching to know if the Minister is prepared to come forward and tease out that aspect and allay the concern and suspicion that will be there in the public.

In relation to objectivity it is very important to show that any Bill does not give undue emphasis to any interest group. In this regard I am interested in sections 19 and 20 in relation to RTE. These sections define the manner in which contracts can be entered into and their conditions. It is very important that there should not be a facility for large interest groups to block together to create a monopoly of the airwaves on local radio as the likely effect of this would be to put undue emphasis in favour of the interests involved to the detriment of local needs and local expression. I ask the Minister to look at that to see if that danger is still there — because I believe it is — and to ensure that that likelihood is taken care of adequately by the provisions. Nothing could be more detrimental to the future development of local radio and to the needs which it is desired to serve than to have the creation of a conflict between the local needs of a community on the one hand and the national objectives of a large organisation on the other. At the same time all organisations, including RTE, should be able to play a constructive and real role. I have no doubt that the expertise available from RTE as well as from elsewhere has the potential for enhancing development and progress. Therefore, if the terms of the Bill are adequate this expertise can be deployed efficiently, quickly and smoothly to facilitate the speedy launch of the service.

As I mention RTE as a semi-State organisation with a national context on the one hand, I would like to refer to the national daily newspapers in a related area. Objectivity and impartiality in relation to news and current affairs broadcasts are absolutely essential to ensure that public goodwill is harnessed and maintained at all times. Therefore, the codes of practice which the commission will be receiving in relation to news and current affairs and with which contractors must comply need to be carefully scrutinised and reviewed on an on-going basis. Likewise, section 22 (7) in relation to "a code of practice about broadcasting or to political party broadcasts" will reflect very much on the commission. This again is an area which will cause concern and will, I hope, prompt the Minister into the kind of action that I recommended to him earlier. Due cognisance should be taken of the need to ensure that the code of practice is seen to be practicable and that there is clear adherence to it on an on-going basis.

This consideration makes section 22 (5) all the more important, particularly in view of the obvious slant of editorial control which certain newspapers seem to give. If there is any involvement at the top, at commission level, particularly by people like that, then it will not win public goodwill or support. It will not launch in the way the Minister wants it to launch. Very serious care, thought and consideration is to be given to this. I am repeating myself and I do not apologise for it when I say there is ample opportunity during the summer recess to tease out this aspect and allay the fears that have grown. It is essential that section 22 (5) be adhered to.

Section 26 (1) states:

The Minister may by regulations direct that complaints made by members of the public regarding any broadcasting service provided by a broadcasting contractor under this Act be investigated by the Broadcasting Complaints Commission established by section 18A (inserted by the Broadcasting Authority (Amendment) Act, 1976) of the Broadcasting Authority Act, 1960.

Members of the public have not always been satisfied that their grievances have received a fair and thorough hearing from the commission, particularly in relation to allegations of invasion of privacy, misrepresentation or alleged deliberate bias in favour of one party as against another. The Minister is aware that such situations arise from time to time. There is a weakness there which needs to be tightened up.

Section 17 refers to the criteria to be used by the commissioners in responding to applications for broadcasting contracts. The guidelines issued for the commission are rather vague and should be more specific. Section 17 (2) (b) refers to the extent to which programmes in the Irish language and relating to Irish culture are to be provided. I hope we would all agree that a substantial proportion of time on these local radio stations should be given to the promotion of the Irish language and of all aspects of Irish culture. The reference here is far too vague. It should specify a percentage of programme time during any week which should be devoted to these very important areas. Other media which have been tied to a specific percentage of programme time have been alleged not always to be living up to the regulations but a quantifiable amount of time is a good yardstick by which those who feel aggrieved can make a case. The Minister should consider having that in the Bill. There are people who will be aggrieved anyway, no matter how unjustified they are, but it is easier to deal with such people by pointing to a quantifiable regulation against which their case does not stand up.

The commission are encouraged to consider the extent to which programmes in the Irish language or relating to Irish culture are to be provided. However, if the membership of the commission comprised a majority who were not well disposed to the Irish language and had a greater leaning to a culture which might not be too easily identified with this country, they might allow a situation where local radio would not take any cognisance of it at all. It would be very hard to tie down a local radio station under the section as it is worded. The Bill does not serve the interests of the promotion and development of the Irish language and culture to an adequate degree. I would suggest that the Minister consider amending the subsection to make it more specific so that it can from the outset command more goodwill, co-operation and assistance from all groups concerned. All these groups will be studying this Bill throughout the summer and concern will arise that there does not seem to be enough support and specific commitment to the all round interests involved. It is important that all these groups be encouraged to play a full role at local level from the outset.

Section 17 (2) (d) refers to the extent to which the proposals accord with good economic principles. I am amused to find that the wording is almost identical to that used in section 17 of the 1983 Act, which stated that the establishment of a local broadcasting service in such area would be in accordance with good economic principles. That subsection of the 1983 Bill was the main target of attack by Deputies Mitchell and Nealon when in Opposition. Now they have chosen to use almost identical wording. Some of the basic principles on which this Bill is founded would seem to be very much in accord with those of its 1983 predecessor, although we have fundamental disagreements with a number of sections in this Bill. The Opposition stated in 1983 that the condition of sound economic principles meant that commercial interests would inevitably get the upper hand in the development of local radio services. It seems rather odd that they should now use the same subsection. I fail to see why they have not the same degree of concern today in relation to it. Perhaps they have seen the light and realise this was one subsection of our Bill which was relevant since it put a strong onus on the community to prove their worth from the start.

One of the shortcomings of this Bill is perhaps best identified by the article in yesterday's edition ofThe Irish Times to which I have already referred. When a Bill is brought before the House it is assumed that it has received Government sanction, but this is patently not the case in regard to this Bill. There has been open disagreement in relation to it. That cannot help public confidence in the Government and their credibility. It cannot do anything to harness goodwill and support for the Bill. While we all accept the urgency to legislate in this area, nevertheless I would ask the Minister to think it out again during the Recess in view of the very serious disagreement within the Government.

Anothe area that concerns me is the absence of a college of appeal. I can envisage many people applying for a contract to the commission. Many organisations will feel they have a very good case since they have the experience, expertise and necessary financial base. Only a few will obtain a contract, unless there are sub-contracts. A number of people will be aggrieved because they will regard refusal as a mark against their integrity and honesty. There is a need for an appeal procedure to which they can resort, but no such facility is provided for in the Bill. In the interests of equity and fair play there should be such a facility. The commission will not be able to do that objectively because they will not go back on their decisions.

Nobody on this side of the House condones pirate radio stations. Having established that firmly, nevertheless a great pool of expertise and technical knowhow has been built up through the pirate system. There may be problems in relation to ex-pirates when it comes to submitting applications to the committee and while we do not absolve them from their past sins — unless they clearly show that they deserve absolution — their past sins should not reflect too strongly on them if they show that they can provide a good service without the profit motive dominating to the detriment of the public. They should be given a fair hearing.

Among many Deputies and the public there is concern in relation to the composition of the commission and I appeal to the Minister to enlighten us in that regard during the summer so that fears may be allayed.

I welcome the introduction of the Bill, because for many years there has been a need for regularisation of legislation in relation to broadcasting, particularly with the advent of the numerous pirate stations.

Over the past 20 years or so there has been ample evidence to suggest that there was a growing need for the introduction of controlling legislation to govern the whole area of broadcasting. The national broadcasting organisation has always provided a very good service. We should pay tribute to them for giving such sterling and impartial service over the years, which is something that should not be taken for granted. However, trends and tastes have changed with the passage of time and, aided by new technology, we have seen the growth of quite a number of pirate radio stations. They are creating problems and one must examine the reasons for their growth. Even if there were three or four national broadcasting stations, we would still have had the growth of pirate stations, mainly because they cater to a greater extent for local needs and provide something different.

Under existing legislation there is no control over pirate stations and that has given them a certain attractiveness from the point of view of the public and of advertising in that they have an unfair advantage over RTE. They are based at local level, tuned in to the needs of the local community and, therefore, more relevant to the local community than the nationally based broadcasting service. Given those circumstances, the pirate stations prospered and grew.

Over the last few years also there have been allegations regarding interference with the signals of various emergency services which has caused controversy. Obviously, something had to be done and indeed it should have been done a considerable time ago. In relation to that, I take issue with the Opposition who, according to themselves, have been clamouring for the introduction of controlling legislation and have been impatient with the Government for not introducing this Bill a couple of years ago. This issue has been before the legislators for at least ten years. If legislation is being introduced belatedly, it is better than none; and at least some attempt is being made to control the situation.

I have often listened to pirate radio stations. The quality of the material produced in many cases is very good and the standard is high. Because of the growth in modern technology, various advances make it possible for a small group or groups of people in any area to set up an illegal broadcasting service without supervision, and to appeal for advertising, which means they are competing unfairly with the national broadcasting service. That development is most undesirable and it behoves us all as legislators to examine our consciences and to introduce the kind of controls which are desirable in any ordered society.

About 50 years ago the major influence governing people's lives was the national, weekly or provincial newspapers. Next to that were the daily newspapers. But times have changed and, although those media are still there, radio and television are also great influences. While they provide healthy competition and opposition to each other, which is desirable and helpful, it must be remembered that through radio or television the agency or agencies having control of such media have access to a much broader and passive public than the newspapers. The reason is that a housewife going about her daily chores or a sales representative travelling around the country can automatically tune in to a local or the national station. Their lifestyles can often be influenced by this new medium which has taken over in modern society. There is no doubt that through the airwaves there is a new influence to which we should have serious regard.

One reason for the growth in the pirate radio stations was the fact that legislators did not move in time to recognise the huge audience that existed for local radio. RTE have done a reasonably good job, through the presentation of local programmes and the introduction of mobile radio units, in making radio more relevant to local communities. In spite of the fact that the national broadcasting service gives good coverage to provincial events the new force moved quicker than the legislators or RTE. As a result it was found necessary to establish RTE Radio 2. That was a useful and helpful development. Notwithstanding that move, however, there is a need for a more localised radio service. From that, one can assume that in the future we will have a proliferation of local radio stations competing with each other for audiences and advertising, possibly to the detriment of local newspapers. The threat to local newspapers is not as great as it might have appeared at first. Undoubtedly, there will be competition for advertising revenue but those anxious to advertise on local radio, pirate or otherwise, seem to want to use a type of advertisement that is not catered for by newspapers, whether local or national. In most cases the advertisements are directed at a different type of audience.

I have deliberately tried to examine the background to the need for the legislation as a preliminary to dealing with the provisions of the Bill and trying to quantify the effect it will have on broadcasting here. Obviously, there is a need for the Bill. The next matter to be considered is whether there should be lesser or greater national control, whether local stations should have a certain amount of autonomy, whether there should be State control or whether they should be given a certain amount of latitude through the aegis of free enterprise.

Frankly, I do not have an ideological hang-up about that and I do not think any Member should. This whole area will be determined by the demands of people. As a result of technological advances they will be able to make a choice whether we like it or not. Even if we proposed legislation to introduce absolute State control there would still be an avenue open for pirate stations to continue operating. People may say that if the law was enforced that would not be the case, but we have had this problem on our hands for several years and we have not been able to control it. Technological advances will make it more difficult to control the airwaves. One way to get around that is to give a reasonable degree of autonomy to local radio, maintaining at all times a type of central authority to regulate what is broadcast.

Radio Caroline was one of the first pirate radio stations. I believe the reasons it became so popular was because it was different, it broke with tradition, was non-conformist and specifically appealed to young people. In fact, that radio station catered almost exclusively for young people. In the future a lot will depend on whether local stations can appeal to young people in the same way. From what we know of pirate stations one can assume that they will be successful. We must respond to the needs of young people. If we do not we will end up with people accusing us of being neglectful and shirking our responsibilities as legislators.

I should like to deal with the impact of local radio on local newspapers and the possibility of a drop in advertising for them. Provincial newspapers have been established for many years. They service the rural community well and provide a very high level of news of local import. This has generated a great deal of healthy advertising. They have done a good job of bringing the community under one readership, thereby providing the community with an excellent service. In some cases there could be a threat from local radio, but a lot will depend on whether it might be advisable to allow certain provincial newspapers, or any newspaper, to have an interest in these stations. I see no reason why this should not be considered and approved because it is the same type of business. It is a different means of communicating or getting the message across to the public, but by and large the same market is there and the same type of information is available. A certain amount of friction could arise unless some provision is made to allow newspapers to become involved and to give the local radio stations the benefit of their expertise. As the Minister said there might be a certain amount of reluctance if that were to happen because it is feared that a monopoly might be created and the purpose of introducing a Bill of this kind would then become null and void.

I mentioned earlier the need to regularise the airwaves for safety purposes. This should not be overlooked. With the development of the number of stations that have come on the air in the last number of years, there has been a growing need to control the airwaves. It must be remembered that when radio became established in this country we did not have the same degree of radio-controlled emergency services. There has been a dramatic increase in such services over the past five or six years. Most ambulance, transport and air services are competing for space on the airwaves and it is desirable that new legislation be introduced to bring in some kind of control. There is always the possibility that a disaster could happen and if we do not have a proper harmonisation of channels a serious catastrophe could be caused by the non-introduction of this type of legislation.

Ten or 15 years ago there was no conflict in that area for the simple reason that the pace of life was much slower and the telephone system was adequate to meet all emergency services. Times change and needs change and because of that we have a multiplicity of services competing for space on the airwaves. Consequently, it is necessary and desirable that legislation should be introduced.

The Minister referred to the possibility of siting the commission's headquarters in Cork. This is a good move because it gives a certain amount of realism to decentralisation and shows that the Minister is prepared to put that into effect. It is important to site the commission in Cork for a number of reasons. First, it is an indication of the Minister's interest in decentralisation and, second, if the concept of local radio is to mean what it suggests, it would follow that the headquarters of the commission could and should be outside the greater Dublin area.

Section 7 relates to the control by the licensing authority. Under this section there is power to remove members of the commission, the same way as happens in RTE. It is important that somebody somewhere should have ultimate control over all the services to be provided over the airwaves. The commission or the Government should ensure that at all times the best interests of the country are being satisfied. If they are not, then the Government must have the right to say that they wish to withdraw the franchise or to indicate their displeasure at what is happening. I am not very enthusiastic about that type of section but I recognise that, if the State has responsibility, it must have control. Hence there is a need for that area of control. The whole question is going to be put to the test in the issue of broadcasting licences. One reason for the growth of pirate stations over the past number of years is the lack of ability in any quarter to be able to bring them to heel or get some indication from them as to whether they propose to have similar standards to those already set by the national broadcasting services.

I hope that the system envisaged under this legislation will be a little more effective than that which controls the issue of a franchise in relation to piped television. There seem to be continuous problems for citizens who have paid for this service and who appear to be continually at loggerheads with the authorities and the people who provide the service because of various malfunctions of the franchise or failure to honour parts of the franchise. That is an area which needs to be very carefully looked at.

There are quite a number of illegal stations operating at the moment and they are giving, one could say, a fairly high degree of service. They are probably competing quite well with the existing national broadcasting service. I hope, when the time comes, that these stations will be given a reasonable chance of getting licences. They have existed for a number of years with an obvious listenership and have attempted to provide a service, albeit an illegal one. It would be very unfair, both to them and their listening public, if as a result of this legislation they were to find themselves in a position in which they could not operate. That is quite important for the simple reason that if the legislation does not cater for the needs of listening public who have had access to those stations for a number of years, then that legislation will be irrelevant. The need for introducing the Bill in the first place will be questionable. We must cater for that market in such a way that those in the pirate radio stations who have given a good service over the years will be seen by their listening public as being catered for and will have a chance to compete, as they must, with others in the acquisition of licences.

To get back to the question of control by RTE, within the Bill there is provision for RTE to become involved in local or community radio. It is my view that that is a good thing. What we must recognise is whether one or other mix, local or national control, will meet with the requirements of the listening public. After all, they are the people who will determine what they are going to listen to. If they cannot get what they want through a national broadcasting service or a local broadcasting service, they will provide their own service in their own way in competition with both and in opposition to both. If one has regard to what has happened in the past, they will do so quite successfully.

The proposal is that revenue will accrue to local radio through advertising. There will be a certain amount of fairly direct competition with the national broadcasting network, RTE 1 and 2. If it were visual impact about which we were talking, the impact would be fairly marked and dramatic, but I do not think it would be so great on the airwaves. We will find that RTE, given their present structure and the possibility of their becoming involved, under the terms of this Bill, in the provision of or buying into local radio to the extent provide, would be in a position to safeguard their interests, and rightly so. They will also be in a position to provide a community with the kind of competition that they have had to face for a number of years and have not been able to compete with by virtue of their centralisation. At the same time, they will be able to compete at local level for the advertising revenue which will provide the life-blood of the local radio system. That is an important element and probably does not go as far as some would wish.

However, I have to hark back to the fact that at present we have the two types of radio, legal and illegal — the national service provided by RTE and the illegal network of services. While I would not accept that any great damage has been done to RTE from an advertising point of view, nonetheless, they are in a position where under existing legislation they cannot compete with their opposition in the field. That is a big disadvantage. It is a little like politics and politics is all about competition. Competition is good for the life of trade. The old shopkeepers used to say, and it still rings true, that it could sharpen them all up, improve them and keep them on their toes. I see no reason why the same cannot be true of a broadcasting service. Competition does no harm at all.

RTE have responded very well over the last number of years to the threat, or impending threat, of illegal radio stations. They have responded to the needs of a listening public and responded well. In so doing, they have provided that public with an alternative to what was coming from the illegal stations. I mention this merely with regard to the impact on advertising revenue. I am not saying — and do not wish to say at any time — that the service provided by those illegal stations was always bad. There are some stations who provide a poor service, one that is not up to the required standards, but others have become very professional and good. Because of the availability of advanced technology they have cornered their share of the market in their localities and obviously they present a new kind of threat to the national broadcasting service.

The question again arises as to whether we should have greater or less control through the national broadcasting authority or whether we should have greater or less State ownership. My only comment is that it depends on what happens. If a venture is successful everyone wants to own it. If it is commercially viable everyone wants to become involved, but it is a different story if it is a loss-maker. I do not know if it would be a good idea to have a nationally owned newspaper, as happens in some countries. I accept that there are pros and cons but one must remember that in today's world if there is a profit in an enterprise that is controlled nationally the nation will benefit. However, if there is a loss the nation has to carry the cost. That has happened in respect of many agencies not only in this country but throughout the world. It is just a cold, hard fact of commercial reality.

I do not have any particular ideological hang-up about the matter. It should be examined coolly and calmly. As legislators we should recognise the need, first of all, to provide a service such as that envisage under the terms of the Bill. To do otherwise would be to abdicate our responsibilities and to ignore what has gone on for a number of years. We then have to decide if it is a good thing to have such a service under the guidance and control of the State or whether it should be under the free enterprise system. In any event, a service of this kind comes under the control of the State by virtue of the issuing of licences and the control exerted by the commission. I do not see any great clash, schism or conflict of interest in that connection. I do not see why we should not have a healthy alternative to the present system.

I understand fully Deputy Cluskey's reasons for speaking as he did. He said it might be RTE today and perhaps the transport authority tomorrow. Again, I have always advocated a national transport service, although it is not relevant on this Bill to speak on that matter now. I have always been in favour of a healthy national transport service under the aegis of the State. However, in the past number of years we have seen the growth of another service where the national transport authority were not able for one reason or another to compete. There is a somewhat similar situation in the broadcasting arena.

Rather than oppose completely what seems to be coming from the grassroots or from the commercial arena — I refer to the development of community, local or, as at present, the pirate radio system — or rather than allowing it to take over completely, we should try to have some control over the situation. We should ensure that RTE become involved in certain circumstances if they see fit and in a way sufficient to exercise control when they see fit. I am not suggesting that RTE should become involved in the non-profit making elements, that where private enterprise did not see fit to invest the national broadcasting service should be expected to carry the burden. I hope there will be no progression in that direction. However, the opportunity should be there for RTE to compete with other agencies for a franchise or a licence from the commission. Then we could provide the best possible service for the people who, in the final analysis, will determine what they will support. That will be determined on the basis of what is offered to them and what the advertising people regard as necessary to further their ends, namely, to further the sale of the product they wish to advertise. They will look at the listenership. They will consider if their product requires national or local coverage and they will also take into account the costs involved.

From what I hear there is little difference in the costs of advertising on the illegal broadcasting stations and on those established by RTE. That is an indication that the national broadcasting service is more than capable of competing on a national level at least with anything any opposition has to offer. Where the difference arises is in the other material available on the airwaves on local and community radio. I am referring to the programmes provided, whether they appeal to the younger or to an older age group and if they are likely to provide a market for those who advertise on them. I have made this point before because the revenue accruing from advertising will play a major role in what is likely to develop in the local radio system.

The reason for the introduction of this legislation is that local communities could broadcast programmes of local importance and interest. Local people could participate in the provision of such services which would obviously be supported by their contemporaries. The growth of community projects of one kind or another has become very evident in recent years and it is remarkable that this should have happened in a time of recession. From adversity comes strength and communities have learned that in times of difficulty self help is vital. They have come together and are involved in providing a variety of services. It is natural to assume that they will come together in providing a radio service to the people and will do so in such a way as to meet the requirements of the community. The service would need to be relevant to the community otherwise it will not have the support of advertising revenue necessary to fund the operation. They would not be able to exist because they would not be commercially viable.

On a point of order has there been agreement on the order of speakers? When will someone from this side of the House get an opportunity to speak? We have had only one speaker so far today.

This is a Second Stage debate which will continue next week, I presume. I do not have full information on that. As regards the order of speakers, if a speaker from the Opposition benches offers after Deputy Durkan he would be entitled to speak. Deputy Durkan is in possession at present. It is a Second Stage debate and I have no control over the time.

I am sorry for going on for so long but I was the first speaker listed this morning and I submitted my name at least two weeks ago.

And I was the second.

I have given way to a few speakers already.

Mostly from the Deputy's own party.

I gave way to at least two speakers on this side of the House.

Is this debate to conclude at 4 p.m.?

The House will adjourn at 4 p.m.

And resume next autumn.

It will resume on Tuesday at 2.30 p.m.

The calls and cries that we heard from the opposite side of the House for a long time now for the introduction of this Bill leave me very sceptical when I see the almost empty Opposition benches. There seems to be very little interest——

Stay on the right wavelength now.

Do not be over-enthusiastic in that arena. The Deputy might get an answer in that constituency as well. Community involvement would be effective and successful. The community or local radio must be tuned in to the requirements of the local people. It must be viable and, as a result, be capable of providing a service. The listening public will determine what is or what is not successful as they have done over the last 50 years. In the last five or ten years there has been a switch from the national broadcasting service. We live in a time of change and we must be aware of the requirements of the listening public. If the laws had been enforced over the years we would not have seen the development of illegal pirate radios. However, the reality is that these are supported by the public and the advertisers. Advertisers know that they get good value for their money by advertising on these pirate stations. The one thing I am afraid of, and which I sincerely hope does not happen, is that there will be a continuation of this after the introduction of the Bill. There is a grave danger of that. One way that danger could be increased is if there was too much control from central authority. I know we must have some degree of control but it is important to recognise the way in which developments have taken place over the last ten years. If we are to do anything worthwhile to improve the situation it must be done in such a way as to provide people with the service they want while at the same time achieving the correct balance by way of national control and ensuring that the Exchequer is not expected to carry the liability in cases where it might not be viable for others in the private enterprise arena to take responsibility for providing a service.

Section 35 of this Bill is similar to section 31 of the Broadcasting Act and I wish to deal briefly with that rather thorny issue. All of us, for one reason or another have had to examine the effectiveness of section 31. Representations have been made to us in that regard. The provisions of that section would probably be more contentious in the context of this Bill because local radio will be based in local areas and controlled by the local community. Consequently, there will be that many more reasons for raising the question of the effectiveness, the validity or the morality of the inclusion of the kind of provision contained in the existing section 31.

I recognise fully the responsibility of the State to ensure that organisations who might not be well disposed towards the State do not have control over the broadcasting arena. The importance of the impact of radio as a medium has been referred to often but we should consider again at this stage the question of section 35 of this Bill and of section 31 of the Broadcasting Act. We should ask ourselves whether refusing to allow people whose views are very different from those of most of us time to express those views on a national medium is good or bad for the institutions of the State. This whole matter should be examined very carefully and in the absence of any emotion. The provision has mixed blessings. If someone in that kind of situation is deprived of the avenue of expressing his opinion on the broadcasting network, the difficulty is that the public may have a different perception of the views of those people as expressed elsewhere. The general public will not then have the same chance of assessing whether those views are valid and whether those people represent a genuine lobby. This whole question will become more important in the context of local radio than has been the case in relation to national radio.

I hold no brief on one side or the other but I ask myself often whether it is productive to have on the Statute Book a section such as section 31 of the Broadcasting Act. I accept fully that we could not allow a situation develop in which in the event of a subversive group attempting to take control of a station or of stations, there would be no control by the State. I am talking about the kind of situation that we never expect to arise but might such a prospect not become greater by virtue of refusing to allow these people to express their views in such a way as to allow the public generally to make up their minds about the validity of their claims? That is an issue that must be faced to a much greater extent in the context of this Bill. It is a question on which I have mixed views. On Committee Stage the Minister might reconsider the section in the interest of determining whether it would serve the purpose for which it is intended.

I have referred to the possibility of the involvement of local or provincial newspapers in local radio. I could foresee the development of a concept in relation to the local radio issue, particularly in the provinces, of an accounting type situation whereby people would be encouraged to gravitate towards a central governing force in any community. Obviously, in rural areas the county area as such has always had a certain influence on people. It has had a major influence on what politicians say and do and very often on what they think. Perhaps it would not be a bad idea to provide in the legislation for the setting up of stations in which local authorities would have their input and in that way be helped to generate much needed revenue, an issue that has been a bone of contention with them for a considerable time. I am not suggesting that local authorities should be expected or asked to take on responsibility which might become onerous and financially debilitating but in this case they might be able to generate some revenue by participating in the service. That is another area which might be investigated further.

My last point relates to the generation of advertising by the whole local radio system. As I said earlier one could expect a certain amount of competition in this regardvis-à-vis the national broadcasting services. There will be competition also in this regard with both the national and local newspapers.

Debate adjourned.
The Dáil adjourned at 4 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 9 July 1985.