Private Members' Business (Resumed). - Unlicensed Broadcasting.

The following motion was moved by Deputy R. Bruton on Tuesday, 13 December 1988:
"In view of the disruption that will be caused to public viewing and listening choice by the termination of un-licenced radio, and unlicensed television deflector systems long before alternatives are available, that Dáil Éireann urges the Minister for Communications to introduce an amendment to the Wireless and Telegraphy Act, 1988 to permit him discretion in deciding dates after the 31st December, 1988, on which that Act would come into force in respect of unlicensed radio stations and of UHF deflector systems."
Debate resumed on amendment No. 2:
2. To delete all words after "Wireless and Telegraphy Act, 1988" and substitute the following:
"(1) to permit him to grant a provisional sound broadcasting licence to any person or body presently providing an unlicensed radio service and who made a submission to the Independent Radio and Television Commission in accordance with the requirements of the Radio and Television Act, 1988 prior to the 21st November last;
(2) to permit him to grant a provisional licence to unlicensed television UHF deflector systems presently transmitting TV signals from channels other than RTE.
Such provisional licences to be granted where it can be shown that no interference will be caused to signals from legal systems and where the operator complies with all other existing requirements of the Broadcasting Acts, such licences to remain in force until licences presently provided for in the Broadcasting and Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1988 and the Television and Radio Act, 1988, are issued by the Minister for Communications".
—[Deputy P. O'Malley.]

Deputy Pat O'Malley is in possession and he has 26 minutes left.

I propose that Private Members' Business should conclude at 8.30 p.m. this evening.

Acting Chairman

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I want to share my time with Deputies Keating and Cullen.

Acting Chairman

Is that agreed? Agreed.

When I was moving the Adjournment last night I said that when the Minister introduced the Sound Broadcasting Bill last December which, subsequently, became the Radio and Television Bill, he acknowledged that it was not realistic to expect that we could clear the air waves of illegal operators if we did not have an alternative legal structure in place. He regarded that as very important.

The kernel of this debate and the issues outlined in the motion before us have to do with that aspect of the legislation. Obviously, if we do not have an alternative system in place, it will be much more difficult to rid air waves of illegal operators. From what we know at the moment, it will be quite a long time before a legal system is in place to facilitate independent sound broadcasting and transmission of television signals other than RTE. If the Minister in introducing the legislation put that as the cornerstone of how he would get the illegal operators off the air waves, it is now fair to say to him that he must accept his own logic. If he recognises that there is a market for the services provided by illegal operators, he must also realise that an alternative system must be in place before there is any prospect of having the illegal operators put off the air.

The Minister will recall that we passed the Radio and Television Act, 1988, last June which provided the legal framework, particularly for radio stations and the proposed independent national television channel. The Minister will acknowledge that all parties in the House were constructive in their approach to that legislation. Amendments from all parties were accepted and we ended with good legislation. On that occasion also — I think it was 8 June — we passed the Broadcasting and Wireless Telegraphy Bill which mainly provided for increased penalties which would come into effect on 31 December next for those who continued to operate illegally in the radio or television sectors.

At the time the Minister set that date he assured the House that there would not be a gap between the coming on stream of the new legal services and the going off the air waves of the illegal services. By a gap, he gave us to understand that he meant a few weeks. He intended that the transition to the legal system would be speedy.

I should like initially to deal with radio. The Radio and Television Act provided for the establishment of an independent radio and television commission. Its primary function was to arrange for the provision of sound broadcasting services other than RTE and the third national television service. The commission had a heavy workload and the Minister must accept that, from the time of the passing of the legislation in June, it took almost four months to establish the commission. I draw his attention to the fact that on Report Stage, the Minister undertook to establish the commission very quickly so that they could get on with their work. Incidentally, in the original legislation, the Minister did not want such a commission to be set up, he wanted to rely on an advisory committee but we persuaded him that we should have an independent broadcasting commission. In any event, when they were appointed, they did not delay. They were appointed on 12 October, had their inaugural meeting on 17 October and, on the following day, they invited submissions from all those interested in providing the new services.

The Act provided for the commission to seek submissions from those who were interested in providing radio services and the new national independent television service. The commission got on with their work but the fact that they were established so late has led to a chain reaction in the sense that we now have a major difficulty with regard to bringing in the new licences for the legal regime. Yesterday the commission advertised applications for 25 new stations. They are just the first of the new stations; we have other tiers of sound broadcasting to be provided for. They are very important, they are local and community radio, neighbourhood radio and special interest radio and so on. Even though the Minister is trying to assure us that the first 25 stations will be up and running by late February or early March, we need to be convinced that that will happen. In any event, the other stations will not be established for a very long time.

It is not right that people who have demanded alternative choices in listening and viewing should be left without them for that length of time. Our amendment seeks to shorten the gap and in the radio scetor we propose to issue provisional licences, particularly to those who responded to the commission's advertisements for submissions to be made to them by parties who are interested in providing those services. They had to advise the commission of their interest by 25 November last and my amendment suggests that the Minister should amend the legislation to enable him to grant provisional licences to stations already operating and who made a submission to the commission prior to 21 November last. It is fair to say that anybody who made a submission to the commission is obviously intent on operating within the legal framework and within the new legislation. Not to have the air waves totally devoid of an alternative service, It is right that a provisional licensing system should be brought into play immediately to fill the gap created by the Minister's delay.

There is a major problem in relation to television, as I am sure the Minister knows. I heard one of the Minister's backbenchers, Deputy Morley, on RTE the other morning, or an account of what he said, which was that he would try to convince the Minister not to proceed with the threat to ensure that the UHF deflector operators would be off the air by 31 December. I hope Deputy Morley and others in his party have persuaded the Minister and that he has taken their advice.

The UHF rebeaming operators have been using this system to transmit television signals, other than RTE, to thousands of houses throughout the country, and they have been doing it very successfully over a number of years. If the Minister insists on closing down those operators on 31 December, there will be a vast section of the community throughout the country without BBC 1, BBC 2, ITV and Channel 4. We cannot allow that to happen. The Minister has proposed MMDS — the new legal system which will transmit those stations — but the obvious delay before that is brought on stream will cause a major problem.

The UHF deflector operators have been clamouring for years to be legalised. They are willing to pay their licence fees, to pay copywright fees, to be controlled and subjected to all the requirements of the Broadcasting Acts and to comply with them. The Minister and the Department of Communications have refused to license them mainly on the grounds, they say, that it is not in the best interests of the management of the frequency spectrum, and they claim that the UHF spectrum is reserved for State broadcasting services. Even though it is reserved for State broadcasting services, that spectrum is not fully utilised and there is spare capacity.

In using the UHF spectrum the illegal operators, as they are termed at the moment, are quite flexible in their approach and can adjust their frequencies to suit whatever requirements the Minister or the Department might make of them. They would be willing to encode their signals to ensure they would not interfere with cable television stations or with other legal systems. On many occasions they have indicated that they would willingly get off the air if and when space is at a premium and RTE, the State broadcasting service, need the available space in that spectrum. They are willing to do all those things. They are providing a very worthwhile service and we are proposing to terminate that service on 31 December without any readily available legal alternative to come on stream. What the Minister has proposed is the MMDS. The impetus for bringing in that system seems to have arisen as a result of his decision to bring in a third independent national television station, and that television station could not be transmitted throughout the country if we did not use the UHF spectrum.

As I said, the Minister is proposing to bring in the new terrestrial system, the multi-point microwave distribution system. The Minister and I have spoken on this issue on many occasions and I have been consistent in my request to him to legalise, to provisionally license, the UHF operators for the reasons I have already outlined, and I have also consistently mentioned the major reservations I have about the MMDS. I will mention a few of them.

One must query the technical suitability of this system. We know it is a line of sight system developed in Canada where the topography is very different from that in Ireland. They have wide open plains but Ireland has many hills and valleys and these are the areas which need this service because the cable system is not there at the moment. It is state of the art technology. It has never been used anywhere in the way it is intended to use it here, which is on the basis of a blanket coverage of the country. We are pioneers in this respect and we are not sure this is a technically a good system.

There are other major questions about the MMDS, not least of which is the health hazards one hears are associated with it. It is a microwave system and this has given rise to genuine fears among the public. The Minister has acknowledged on previous occasions that there could be a health hazard associated with this system.

When these operators are licensed they will have to apply for planning permission. I envisage that there will be major objections every time a planning application is made to erect one of these masts. We will have a repeat of what happened with the Tara mast in Meath some months ago.

Another factor to bear in mind is cost. It will cost a householder about £150 to provide an MMDS mast and about £100 annually, much more expensive than the present UHF system, and he is paying for the privilege of receiving what he already receives.

From the point of view of technological development, we are on course to be using a DBS system, that is, direct broadcasting by satellite, in the years immediately ahead. I cannot understand why the Minister insists on bringing in a new terrestrial system given the technological developments which are taking place and which would make MMDS obsolete. Satellite broadcasting is the way of the future and I need to be convinced that the MMDS is the right system for this country.

The purpose of our motion in the case of radio and the deflector operators is to discuss a way they can be provisionally licensed until such time as a legal regime comes into place. In the interests of broadcasting, the Minister cannot ignore the difficulties he is piling up for himself and for the viewing and listening public. I urge him to accept our amendment.

Acting Chairman

Deputy Keating has approximately nine minutes.

The very dogmatic approach of the Government in insisting that the stations at present broadcasting should cease broadcasting at the end of this month represents an extraordinary breach of faith in what this House and the public understood was to be the situation. That breach of faith is not supported by this party. The explicit understanding was that the cessation of broadcasting in a disorganised fashion, from a statutory point of view, would be followed immediately by the new legal stations. That is not happening.

I cannot comprehend the Government's obsession in insisting that stations which are providing an excellent social service, who are giving excellent employment and who in my personal view are giving a service far superior to what is likely to emerge from the collective desire of this House, cannot be facilitated until it is possible for them to go their way or to broadcast under licence. I have no doubt we will have stations that will give a service, but not necessarily a better service, and they will cost the State money.

The Government are responsible for a major breach of faith in that respect. I do not believe the Minister or the Government want to break their word but that is what they are doing. It will not bode well for trying to increase confidence in the system if we let this go unchallenged. We will not support that approach, although we share the desire to bring about more organisation in the broadcasting area, particularly from the point of view of technical interference.

I understand the commission are to make these decisions ultimately. I was somewhat taken aback to note that the Minister was able to say who would not get licences if they continued to broadcast allegedly illegally. I do not know if that is for the Minister or the commission to decide. I also believe it is right that I should state unequivocally my admiration and respect for the professionalism, entrepreneurial flair and enthusiasm of many people associated with the present stations — KLAS, TTTR, Sunshine and others who are giving an excellent service in the Dublin area and in many other areas around the country.

I want to hand over to my colleague who has a number of points to make. That is the essence of what I want to say. They are giving a fabulous service and it is some Christmas present for the workers in that service who want to do it legally and have not been faciliated by the omissions of successive administrations that they are apparently to be thrown on the unemployment scrap-heap coming up to Christmas week. That is incredible. I tell the Minister to go ahead and legalise in due course, but in the meantime do as he and as his predecessors have done up to now and allow an excellent service to continue for the short period intervening.

Acting Chairman

Deputy Martin Cullen, and he has six minutes.

I want to concentrate on the deflector rebeaming of TV signals. There seems to be some misunderstanding here that the people using this service are somehow in isolated areas, perhaps in the west. From the research I have done it seems only the centre of Dublin and the centre of Cork are unaffected because they are on the Cablelink system. Every other constituency has some form of rebeaming of TV signals, particularly those from the UK. Therefore, we are not talking about a small lobby group; we are talking about a national issue. It is a very good example of politicians creating a barrier between themselves and the public. If the Minister is going to persist in putting these people off the air before the new system comes into operation I assure him he is building a Berlin Wall around himself and digging a hole far deeper than the one dug by his colleague over the rod licence issue.

It is not the public's fault that people are utilising this system. Cablelink have seen it is not fit for them to go into some of the other areas because it is not financially viable to do so. Large communities and even satellite urban areas are affected in this area without the Cablelink system. Communities themselves got together to figure out a way of gaining for themselves an equal footing with other members of the community. That was not unwarranted or in some way outrageously illegal. They simply wanted the type of service all other citizens were entitled to. They have achieved a community based effort in all constituencies. They have pitched it at a cost that is accessible to unemployed people, OAPs and the whole gamut of people across the community. Let the Minister believe it or not, this is a very necessary service being provided to thousands of homes as we speak here this evening. I assure the Minister that if he is to persist in making these actions totally illegal from 1 January next the hue and cry will be enormous. Already some of the people operating the systems have turned off the rebeaming signal in the last few days and this has created unbelievable fury in various constituencies. Waterford is a typical example. The public are not going to accept this and I do believe that as politicians we have a mandate not to ignore what is quite clearly the wish of the majority.

The public are not saying to the Minister they do not want an improved system or they are somehow against the idea he and the Government have for improving the system, whatever that may be. They are saying clearly that until a system is in place and operating they will not put up with being treated as second class citizens by TV signals that are available in some urban areas being made totally unavailable to them. That is not on.

I appeal to the Minister tonight to look at this. He should now accept the situation with regard to the rebeaming of TV signals. There is a reality out there and many thousands of people are going to be affected. He has it within his power to accept the amendment put down in the name of Deputy O'Malley which will overcome this problem in the short term.

I want to add to what Deputy O'Malley said about the MMDS system which is probably another day's work for discussion, but we have consistently outlined grave reservations about this system and how it will operate. I am convinced it is the wrong system to introduce here——

Acting Chairman

The Deputy has one minute left.

——particularly in a country like ours which has an undulating terrain. How this MMDS system is going to operate without a multitude of rebeaming signals all over the place I do not know. It is unnecessary. We can see what is happening with the advances in satellite TV and direct broadcasting.

The Minister will be wise to look at this question again. As Deputy Keating said, we do not want to put people out of work. We want to keep those who are employed working. We do not want to send more people on to the unemployment register. This affects jobs in Waterford, Clare, Limerick and all over the country. I appeal to the Minister to give the people the comfort of the knowledge that they will not be affected come 1 January and will be allowed to continue receiving TV systems, and those rebroadcasting them will not be subject to prosecution in this area.

Let me say at the outset that I intend to give five minutes of my time to Deputy McCartan.

Acting Chairman

Is that agreed? Agreed.

This House unanimously passed the Broadcasting and Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1988 last June as part of a dual package of measures to bring order to radio broadcasting in this country. It comes as a great surprise to me, therefore, to see a motion before the House now seeking to amend that legislation. I have to say that it is one of the most blatant examples of political opportunism that I have come across in a long time. However, when I think about it perhaps it is not at all surprising. After all, when it appeared that there was going to be a serious attempt by the then Government in 1983 to tidy up the radio broadcasting situation and provide a legal regime for alternative radio services two things happened — they capitulated to what I might term the "rent a crowd" lobby to leave the illegal radio stations alone and then failed miserably to steer their own legislation to a successful conclusion. Their radio Bill never completed the Second Stage debate.

This Government were left to inherit a scandalous situation. The law, no matter how inadequate its provisions were to cope with the problem, was consciously not enforced against illegal radio broadcasters. Blatant breaches of the law of the land were not only tolerated but condoned, as were consequential breaches of our international treaty obligations. The Opposition, when in Government, became totally paralysed on this issue. The result has been a chaotic radio environment in this country which does nothing to enhance our image for law enforcement abroad.

In stark contrast with the total paralysis of the previous administration, this Government have shown a resolve and determination to deal effectively with the chaotic radio broadcasting situation in this country. Within 15 months we secured the enactment of perhaps the two most important and far-reaching pieces of legislation relating to radio and broadcasting policy in this country that will be considered by the Oireachtas for the remainder of this century — the Radio and Television Act, 1988 and the Broadcasting and Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1988. These two Acts run in parallel and are complementary to each other. One will not work without the other.

Let me remind the House of what the Radio and Television Act, 1988 is designed to achieve. It puts in place a practical and flexible regulatory framework, which will be light in touch, to enable the provision of legitimate alternative broadcasting services to those of RTE. The options provided for are: an independent national television service; an independent national radio service and independent local, neighbourhood and special interest stations.

At this point I would like to digress for a moment to express on my behalf and on behalf of the Government our gratitude and appreciation for the manner in which the new commission have set about their task and our admiration for the progress they have made to date.

In October they sought expressions of interest in the provision of the various categories of service I have referred to. In the case of the local tier the commission submitted their report to me on 9 December and I have accepted the findings of that report. Deputies will have seen yesterday's advertisement by the commission inviting applications for these contracts. The closing date for receipt of applications will be 20 January 1989 and I am optimistic that legal stations will start coming on stream by March next.

The closing date for receipt of applications for the national radio service is 16 December and I understand that the commission hope to decide on the contractor for this service during January 1989. The closing date for receipt of applications for the national television service is 16 January 1989.

The achievements of the Government and of the commission they have appointed stand in stark contrast with the failure of the Opposition when in Government.

It has been alleged in some quarters that it will be late 1989 before legal radio stations start coming on stream.

The facts are that the commission have advertised for applications for both the new national radio services and for the first round of local radio services. The closing date for receipt of applications for the national service is this coming Friday. The closing date for receipt of applications for local radio is 20 January 1989 and new stations should begin to come on stream by March.

The task of clearing the radio airwaves so that legal radio can flourish will begin when the Broadcasting and Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1988 comes into force on 31 December. This task may be enormous or relatively small depending on the attitude of illegal radio operators to the new law. While some operators have publicly stated their intention to respect the law after 31 December others have not. The most recent monitoring information available to me indicates that about 70 illegal stations are operating on a regular basis. This number of course fluctuates as existing stations cease or as new ones commence operations in contravention of the law. There must be a breathing space between the close-down of illegal radio stations and the commencement of the legal regime.

Section 6 of the Radio and Television Act, 1988 lays down the criteria to be taken into account by the Independent Radio and Television Commission in adjudicating on applications. One of the criteria to be taken into account by the commission in awarding contracts is the character of the applicant. Clearly the Commission would have to have serious doubts about the suitability of any applicant for a contract who, at the same time as his application is under consideration, treats the law of the land with contempt by continuing to broadcast illegally. In this regard I welcome the policy decision of the commission that any person who continues to broadcast or is associated with an illegal broadcast after 31 December will be automatically barred from consideration for any of the contracts being offered.

That is unconstitutional.

I have always of course shared the wish that the gap between the closedown of the illegal stations and the opening up of the legal stations should be as short as possible and I am satisfied that it will be so. But even if in some instances it may prove longer than anyone would wish, I am not prepared to sacrifice the credibility of the broadcasting framework we have put into place and in particular our determination to restore order to the radio airwaves.

Let me quote from the closing statement made on this matter when the Second Stage of the Radio and Television Bill was reached. I quote:

The Deputy asked for clarification as to how it was proposed to deal with the closing down of illegal stations and the phasing in of new stations. This, indeed, will be a thorny problem and while we would wish to avoid any hiatus between the two, we will nevertheless face up to it if it is the price to be paid to get legal stations on the air.

The Government are convinced that it would be wrong to show any weakness in our resolve to close down the pirate radio stations. It has been because of the weakness of the previous Government that the pirates have thrived as much as they have. Illegal radio operators read the signs correctly when they took the view that the previous Government lacked the political resolve to face up to them. Experience has shown that their view was the correct one.

We cannot weaken in our resolve to tackle this problem once and for all. What credibility would we have — and would the commission have — in dealing with the many legitimate bodies and groups who have, over the years, despite what must have been very strong temptation, refrained from getting involved in illegal radio broadcasting and who now propose to get involved in legitimate broadcasting? What sensible person would invest finance in legitimate radio broadcasting? What sensible person would that the pirates' reign is at an end and that he will be able to operate in a properly regulated environment?

The effect of Deputy Bruton's motion is to give succour to the radio pirates; to give in to the pressure they have been trying to generate, through their illegal use of the radio airwaves. In practice we are witnessing a repeat of the campaign orchestrated by the pirates in 1983, a campaign that was successful on that occasion. As it was on that occasion, it is easy to stir the emotions when you have such access to the medium. Does Deputy Bruton and his party, believe, if we gave in to the demand in his motion, that there would not be repeated demands of this nature, this time orchestrated by the unsuccessful applicants when the legitimate stations are ready to go on the air? We must face the harsh facts of life — those who fail to get legitimate franchises could be expected yet again to whip up another campaign and we would once again all be bombarded with special pleas from our local pirates as to why they should be allowed continue. The line has to be drawn and it is being drawn on 31 December. It is absolutely essential that we demonstrate our resolve once and for all to deal with the pirate radio stations. The Broadcasting and Wireless Telegraphy Act was passed unanimously by this House and it is our intention to carry out the will of the Oireachtas as stated in the Act.

Not on that understanding; the Minister sold us a pup.

Any failure on our part to do so would lead the Independent Radio and Television Commission to question the whole credibility of the new broadcasting framework. Their strength of feelings on the matter is such that they have, as I mentioned, decided that anyone who continues to broadcast illegally, or is associated with illegal broadcasting, after 31 December will be automatically debarred from consideration for any franchises being offered.

With regard to the enforcement of the provisions of the legislation against illegal radio operators my Department have made arrangements to monitor the airwaves nationwide after 31 December. On the basis of the results of the monitoring operation action will be taken against illegal stations found to be broadcasting, and against advertisers using these stations. A search and seize campaign will go into immediate effect. Concurrently the process of prosecuting anybody found to be aiding and abetting such stations or taking part in the operation of these stations will be put in train. In this connection special arrangements are being made to strengthen the resources available to my Department to tackle any problem that is found to exist. Deputies will have seen warning advertisements inserted by my Department in the national newspapers yesterday and it is no harm to state the categories of persons who will be liable for prosecution. They are:

A person who operates or assists in the operation of an illegal broadcasting station.

A person who owns, controls or makes available vehicles, premises or land used for illegal broadcasting.

A person who supplies, installs, repairs, maintains or keeps equipment which could be used for illegal broadcasting.

A person who advertises on or invites others to advertise on an illegal broadcasting station.

A supplier of programme material of any kind for illegal broadcasting.

A participant in any way in an illegal broadcast, for example as an announcer, presenter or contributor.

The penalties on conviction are severe: fines of up to £1,000 and/or three months imprisonment on summary conviction; fines of up to £20,000 and/or two years imprisonment on conviction on indictment and equipment will also be confiscated. In addition the provision of electricity and telecommunications services used for illegal broadcasting purposes may be prohibited. Anyone permitting the use of these services for those purposes may have these services prohibited also and will be liable on conviction to a maximum fine of £1,000.

The Fine Gael motion, and the amendments put down in the name of The Workers' Party and the Progressive Democrats — the great mould breakers who were never going to bow to any pressure group and whose credibility was going to be perfect——

That is irresponsible of the Minister. He should answer the points put to him.

The usual old bluster.

——refer to the situation of illegal television rebroadcasting, or deflector systems as they are generally known. The current illegal status of these systems is unchanged by the coming into force of the Broadcasting and Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1988. They are illegal now and they will be illegal after 31 December.

We are in the middle of a major television revolution where the meaning of choice as we have known it over the past 25 years — the reception of the four British terrestrial TV services — becomes less significant. While the illegal TV deflector systems have provided some semblance of choice, the service they provided was patchy and at times unreliable in coverage. The Government are determined that the people of rural Ireland, who cannot be serviced economically by cable systems, will have the same opportunities for programme choice and quality of service equal to the best cable systems in the country.

In furtherance of this policy to ensure equality of access to television programme choice throughout the country, as soon as we took office we commenced an immediate evaluation of the options available to provide greater choice. Here again, in contrast with the previous Government, having satisfied ourselves as to the suitability of the multi-channel microwave distribution system for the provision of up to 11 television channels we proceeded with all speed to invite applications for licences for this system to provide national coverage.

Here let me emphasise the word "national". Frequency planning and the invitation for applications for MMDS licences was done on the basis of achieving a network giving top quality service to all areas of the country. In the case of the RTE transmission network the main stations did not reach into every corner of the land and RTE have been installing low powered transposers to service pockets of unsatisfactory reception. Likewise frequencies will be available to MMDS licensees so that they can deal with any pockets of unsatisfactory reception in a similar manner.

The new national system will also, in conjunction with cable television systems, be the means of distributing the new independent television service to viewers. That was accepted by the House. A most enthusiastic response was received to the invitation to apply for MMDS franchises and I expect to announce the award of the first licences in a matter of weeks. My aim is to have licences issued to achieve national coverage in the shortest practicable time frame.

The Government's speedy action in this area clearly signals that we recognise the legitimacy of the demand that lies behind the spread of illegal rebroadcasting systems — the desire of people for greater choice. We are responding to that demand by the licensing of multi-channel microwave distribution systems.

I have stated many times in this House that it is not possible to license the existing rebroadcasting or deflector systems. I have explained the reasons why this is so and it is no harm to repeat them now. The UHF frequency band 450 MHz to 960 MHz, which is allocated under the International Radio Regulations to which Ireland is a party for broadcasting, was planned at a European Broadcasting Area Conference in Stockholm in 1961. Under this plan Ireland has frequency assignments at main transmitting sites to provide for four television channels. However, considerable replanning of the UHF band and international co-ordination of additional frequency assignments would be necessary before four networks capable of giving nationwide coverage would be available, and even then there is no assurance that such coordination would be successfully completed.

UHF broadcasting spectrum is currently being used for the RTE 1 and RTE 2 channels at a number of main and transposer stations around the country. RTE will have further requirements for UHF spectrum for the purpose of providing further fill-in transposers as part of their ongoing programme to improve reception of existing services in areas of poor reception.

The remainder of RTE's transmission network for RTE 1 and for RTE 2, comprising ten main stations and 46 transposer stations, operates in the VHF band. In the longer term, RTE's transmission network will have to be renewed. European trends indicate that all of the next generation of RTE transmitters will have to be accommodated in the UHF bands.

The continued reception of UK television services, which operate solely on the UHF band in this country requires that the channels used by these services which are receivable here cannot be interfered with.

The UHF band is the only spectrum available to accommodate any new broadcasting developments for the foreseeable future. Even if, not withstanding this fact, the spectrum was to be given over to deflector systems the range of services that could be distributed in no way compares with the capacity of MMDS and would not fit in with the Government's desire to maximise and equalise the potential for choice in television viewing on a nationwide basis without discrimination between urban and rural.

That is not true.

What the deflector operators have done is to appropriate any frequencies that suited them without any regard to the constraints we are under as a consequence of the international treaties and conventions to which we are a party. It is not, frankly, within our gift to legalise them even if we wished to do so.

That is not true.

MMDS will match the current cable systems in the provision of channel choice. It will provide the potential for the retransmission of up to 11 channels additional to the RTE television services. As the systems will use frequencies that are outside the tuning range of conventional TV sets an MMDS receiver antenna and a down converter will be required to pick up the MMDS signals from the central transmitter, and change them to frequencies suited to the TV sets. Both units will be supplied by the licensed MMDS operator and can be located, for example, with an existing RTE aerial. When these systems are in operation it is envisaged that the charges to subscribers will compare approximately with the more modern cable systems.

Concern has been expressed that the introduction of MMDS could pose a potential hazard to health. In devising the technical specification to be complied with by MMDS licensees, my Department have been very conscious of this concern and are satisfied that compliance with the specification will ensure that the general public will not run any risk of being exposed to radiation levels that expert opinion would consider harmful.

As MMDS technology uses carrier frequencies near 2.5 Ghz., the technical specification requires MMDS operators to comply with the guidelines approved in June 1987 by the International Non-Ionizing Radiation Committee of the IRPA — the International Radiation Protection Association — on the limits of exposure to radio frequency electromagnetic fields in the frequency range from 100 Khz to 300 Ghz. These guidelines lay down maximum exposure limits to protect people from the potentially harmful effects of exposure to radio frequency electromagnetic radiation. The RF radiation exposure limits are such that they ensure, from presently available knowledge, a safe, healthy working and living environment under all normal conditions. Due to the combination of tower height, antenna directivity and the relatively low powers being used, the radiation levels from transmitters will, for the general public, be well below the guideline limits.

They cannot be held up.

Furthermore, MMDS antenna systems — transmitters — will generally be sited on high ground in isolated areas. In addition, the site will be well protected to inhibit entry by the general public. A further safety factor will be the tower heights — 30 metres or almost 100 feet.

As I said initially, we recognise the legitimacy of the demand that lies behind the deflector systems and we are responding expeditiously to that demand. At the same time we are not unmindful of the service they have brought to many rural communities and of the loss that will be felt with their close-down pending the introduction of the alternative MMDS systems.

Hear, hear.

I am, therefore, favourably disposed to introducing an amending provision to the 1988 Act whereby the operation of the new offences and penalty provisions would be suspended for a limited period in relation to deflector systems. Such systems are at present illegal and will remain so. They will remain subject to the penalty provisions applying at present under the 1926 to 1972 Wireless Telegraphy Act.

As the MMDS network is established region by region the full rigours of the 1988 Act will be applied to the deflector operators in the regions concerned. That will be starting shortly. In particular, deflector operators interfering with licensed cable systems or any other licensed service will continue to be pursued vigorously under the 1926 to 1972 Acts. My Department are in consultation with the Attorney General's office with a view to having such amending legislation before the Dáil in the new session.

1989 will see a whole exciting new regime both on the radio and on the television fronts with new radio stations at national and local levels in place as well as a new television service and a first class retransmission system which will bring real and meaningful choice to urban and rural areas alike. Did I hear somebody from the Front Bench of the Progressive Democrats?

The Minister is the greatest political opportunist of them all.

I am confident that this regime will stand the test of time. I take pride in being the Minister responsible for bringing it about. I am confident that it will present major new opportunities in Irish broadcasting and that the Irish public — urban and rural — will be provided with a range of radio and television choice of the highest quality both in terms of transmission and of content.

I must therefore oppose this motion.

(Interruptions.)

The Deputy wants to keep the radio pirates and he is going to vote for them.

(Interruptions.)

That is what the Minister has done.

I would venture to say to Deputy Carey and to other Deputies that it is a pity that the lady who looks after the programme "Playback" is not here. You would hear yourselves as I hear you and you would not be impressed.

You are referring to all of us including the Minister.

I am referring to everybody in the House who has contributed to that noise for the last few minutes. I understand that Deputy McCartan has five minutes.

On behalf of the The Workers' Party I want to move the amendment in the name of The Workers' Party and to say that there are two separate and distinct issues.

On a technical point, you do not move a second amendment, you speak to it.

I wish to speak to The Workers' Party amendment and in doing so to say that we are addressing two separate issues. I regret that the movers of the main motion, Fine Gael, have allied and connected them together. It is equally regrettable to hear Members of the House praise people who over the last number of years have been in flagrant breach of the law. As legislators we put these laws in place. It is incredible to come back at a later stage and to listen to people applaud, for whatever reason, entrepreneurialism, ingenuity and whatever else, those people who flagrantly break the law on a wholesale basis and do so in most instances primarily in the pursuit of profit.

The Deputy had his own station.

It worked very well for him.

Deputy Carey, if you do not want to listen to the programme we will have to turn you off. There is only one way I can do that and I am not going to repeat it. Please listen to the Deputy who is contributing.

The position with regard to the 77 or so radio stations operating illegally in this country is that they must be closed down. The Minister is correct in seeking to introduce the legislation to do so and to achieve, as and from 1 January 1989, clarity and order within the broadcasting area. Having said that, there is clearly a different case to be made for those people who have sought or relied, unwittingly, on many of the operators operating television deflector systems either on a community or other basis. We had proposed in our amendment a suggestion that Cablelink would come in and work, with the political support of all in this House, to maintain the service to those rural and remote areas what will otherwise be disadvantaged.

It is heartening to hear that progress is being made at the speed which it is from the Minister's point of view but, nonetheless, it is inevitable that there will be considerable gaps in some areas, if not all, for those relying on the deflector systems between the close down in January and the setting up of a comprehensive MMDS system. For that reason we believe the Government should have envisaged this problem and acted in advance of the cut-off date. As that has not been done we respectfully suggest that the amendment in the name of The Workers' Party is a mechanism that might well be employed or considered to deal with the gap that will obviously arise.

As I said, it is regrettable that Fine Gael allied these two issues together. It is equally fair to say that there is a degree of cynicism in regard to this matter because the provisions under which the Minister will operate are those contained in the Broadcasting and Wireless Telegraphy Bill, 1987 which are exactly the same as those promoted in the Bill presented by the Coalition Government in 1985. The wording of the section dealing with the closure of illegal radio stations and illegal deflector systems are exactly the same. When those provisions came to be discussed in this House, no longer than June of this year, neither Fine Gael, the Progressive Democrats or anyone else expressing concern for those who are going to be adversely affected by the legislation put down one amendment. Those listening to this debate, who are being asked to believe that both Fine Gael and the Progressive Democrats are concerned, have to ask where were they when those provisions came to be debated. Only one or two interventions were made and if anyone wishes to read the debate on that Bill I refer them to volume 381, columns 1810 onwards, of the Official Report, where they will see that not one single amendment was presented or promoted by either of the two parties now expressing concern. Clearly this area of the law is in chaos and what we are being presented with is an opportunity to bring early in the New Year a degree of clarity into this area. It ill-behoves anyone to stand up in this House and suggest that something should be done for those who have so flagrantly and blatantly ignored the law.

Reference was made to the protection of jobs. I read a report in one of the newspapers today which stated that many of the artists used by many of these pirate stations have not been paid for the work they have done. These stations should be reminded that each of their workers has an entitlement to redundancy payments. When these stations close, as the Minister assures us they will, I would like the Minister and his coleague in the Department of Labour to ensure that all of these workers receive all of their statutory entitlements, such as redundancy payments and, in time, well paid jobs, fully protected, in the new stations which will be set up within a short time of the pirate stations being closed down. Given the demand for licences there is absolutely no doubt that within a short space of time of the pirate stations being closed down stations will be operating legally in good order and order is what is necessary when we come to deal with broadcasting.

I would like to thank the Minister for giving me the opportunity to comment on our amendment. We believe that this amendment should be put to a vote and I hope the House will support us in what we seek to achieve,via media, on behalf of the innocent parties involved. As I said, it is regrettable that we had to deal with these two issues in the one motion and we are in the position in which we find ourselves this evening.

With your permission, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I wish to share my time with Deputy Michael Higgins.

I am sure that I can anticipate the agreement of the House. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I would like to respond to the points made by the Minister and other speakers in this debate in regard to the failure of the previous Government who introduced similar legislation. Specifically I would like to refer to the role of the Labour Party in the introduction of that legislation. It has been acknowledged by speakers from all sides of the House that pirate stations have been in existence for the past ten years. If we were to go back ten years to 1977 we would find that a Fianna Fáil Government were in office.

That is true. Everyone can remember that period.

They failed to come to grips with that problem. The Government at that time had an opportunity to do something about this problem but they failed to take it. In 1979 the Labour Party adopted a position on this issue, encompassing both radio and television broadcasting. It formed part of a 14-point plan for Government agreed with our former partners in Government. The Labour Party felt that they owed it to their tradition and members that in or out of Government they would stick with that position but this we failed to do due to a lack of co-operation from the then Minister, Deputy Mitchell. I do not think the Labour Party can be faulted for remaining loyal to what they stand for. Deputies took it upon themselves last night to attack the Labour Party for their failure in this regard and this will influence any decision I might take in the future about entering into any agreement with any other party in this House.

We are mainly concerned with public broadcasting and nothing which I have heard here tonight allays my fears in any way. This motion deals specifically with the Broadcasting and Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1988 introduced to update the Wireless Telegraphy Acts of 1926 to 1972, and the Broadcasting Offences Act, 1968. We should reflect for a moment on the passage of that legislation through the House. On 25 November 1987 the Minister, Deputy Burke, moved that Second Stage be ordered for Tuesday, 1 December 1987, subject to agreement between the Whips. At that point I rose and offered the Taoiseach and the Minister the full co-operation of the Labour Party in allowing this legislation to go through without debate but that offer was not accepted. It is also worth noting, as other speakers have said, that at no time during the passage of that legislation through this House or the Seanad was a vote called for by any party or individual Deputy. The only amendments moved were amendments in the name of the Minister and those specifically dealt with the fines which would have to be paid by anyone who continued to broadcast illegally after 31 December 1988. All of those amendments went through without a division being called. However, to be fair to Deputy Richard Bruton he fired a warning shot on that occasion and said to the Minister that the deadline of 31 December would not be met but the Minister, I regret to say, would not accept this and I have no doubt as to the sincerity of Deputy Bruton in this regard.

On that occasion the Minister said that this deadline would help in concentrating our minds in having the legislation introduced within a short period. Obviously our powers of concentration were not very good as now, only 17 days from the end of December, all the Minister has to offer is far from satisfactory. The chaos on the airwaves is likely to continue for a considerable time. The Minister owes this House an explanation as to why he did not fulfil his promise given on 18 June last when he said he could give legitimate applicants an assurance that they would be operating legally and would not be in competition with illegals after 31 December 1988 and that this was giving the illegal stations enough time to get off the air. Is the Minister now prepared to stand over this assurance? Perhaps I have been a little unkind to the commission in that, although the Bill was enacted before the summer recess, the Minister did not take it upon himself to appoint the commission until a few weeks ago.

In relation to the commission, once again I must express my concern at the way in which the commission were appointed, not in respect of the ability of some of the appointees but in respect of some of the omissions — the absence of any broadcasting practitioner; the absence of anybody from RTE; the absence of any representative of the youth of the country who have very definite views on broadcasting and the absence of any official trade union representation, and I stress official trade union representation. Even at this stage I would ask the Minister to take the appropriate steps and fill the void left in his original appointments. He can do this either by appointing new members or replacing existing members.

The argument as to "when and why" has shifted somewhat to the type of system we are going to have, whether it should be a deflector system or a microwave system. The Minister has opted for the microwave system, which as he has acknowledged, is going to cost a considerable amount of money. A figure of £200 million has been mentioned and the cost of introducing the system into each household will cost about £300. Who is going to provide £200 million? These are figures which have been bandied around in recent times.

One thing which is certain is that RTE will not be able to provide this type of capital investment. This will exclude them from involvement in the system and it will give the stronger applicants an opportunity to monopolise the MMDS system. Many questions have to be answered in this regard. Deputy Pat O'Malley asked some very valid questions in his contribution tonight. He expressed reservations about the effect of this system on the health of people but I think there is another consideration — its effect on the environment. Pylons will be strung along the countryside and if this system goes to every part of the country some of the most scenic routes could be ruined by the imposition of these pylons on the landscape. That is not in the interests of tourism and will not add aesthetically to the appearance of our countryside.

My concern about the overall thrust of the Minister's broadcasting policy is what it will do to RTE. RTE have served us loyally during the years but because of the huge investment which is required they will not be able to compete with the other stations. They are now practically dependent on revenue from licence fees. Many stations which have money and which are able to invest money will take away from RTE their means of collecting revenue through advertising. Any increase in the licence fee is subject to approval by the Minister of the day and thereby the Minister of the day, and not necessarily Deputy Burke, can put undue pressure on RTE. I do not think this is a desirable development.

Last night the Minister and some of his colleagues in the back benches, such as Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, my fellow constituent, said they were very happy at what the Minister had done for Cork local radio. I want to say a few words about my local radio station. That radio station got a small extension but there has been a reduction in the number of staff in the station. I do not understand why the Minister cannot make this an open-ended broadcasting station and enable stations which are capable of fulfilling the role intended for them to provide a service for 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Cork local radio are providing a very good service at present and I am very happy that I was one of the deputation who went to the then Minister, Mr. Conor Cruise O'Brien, which led to the setting up of Cork local radio. It was a Labour Party Minister in a previous Coalition Government who set up Cork local radio, which I believe was the forerunner to this type of broadcasting. We never got sufficient credit for doing that and I have no hesitation in shouting as loudly as I possibly can in giving the credit for this to the Labour Party which they justly deserve.

With regard to the substantive motion before the House tonight I do not think I can recommend to my colleagues that they should suport it by virtue of the fact that several months ago we decided unanimously in this House that we would introduce this legislation without division and I do not think it would be right if I were now to change my mind in this regard. The Minister has offered consolation to some people and obviously Deputy P. J. Morley who has just left was very successful in his representations regarding the deflector system and I wish him well in that regard.

It is illegal and the Minister is turning a blind eye to that.

It is illegal and what do Deputy O'Malley's party want to do about that?

(Interruptions.)

They want to give recognition to the people who are now operating illegally.

The Minister is recognising illegal operators and he has conceded that he is going to allow them to operate.

They want to license all the pirate radio operators in the country.

The Minister wants to allow the illegal system to continue in operation.

The Labour Party cannot, if nothing else, be accused of being inconsistent in this area. We have maintained a steady course throughout the broadcasting debate. Granted we did not achieve what we set out to achieve but I have no doubt that the Labour Party will be proved right regarding the future of broadcasting. We are participating in the demise of RTE which I think is a regrettable and retrograde step. I now want to hand over to my colleague, Deputy Michael D. Higgins.

I want to make a few points concerning the decisions which the House has to make this evening. While the debate will not facilitate a general discussion on the philosophy which has influenced the Minister's recent broadcasting legislation it has in a way to be put within that context. As Deputy O'Sullivan has said, what we are talking about is resolving some of the practical difficulties which have arisen in relation to the implementation of legislation which has been passed by this House. I listened with great care to what Deputy Pat O'Malley said and while I agree with him in a number of important respects, which I will make clear in a moment, I think that the offering of even temporary cover to practically every illegal operator in the country would create an impossible situation later on in that it could be argued, in the event of a refusal of a licence to a station, that they had been recognised for the brief period but had not been recognised in the long term.

A sort of trial marriage.

The Progressive Democrats are a trial party.

I am very disappointed at the attitude taken in this House towards the debate on broadcasting policy. I have listened with care on every occasion when these issues had been discussed in the House and I have noticed that there is never a reference made by members of the major parties to the Broadcasting Review Report of 1974. This Broadcasting Review Committee include such people as Mr. Justice Murnaghan, Dr. T. K. Whitaker, Tomás Rosingrave, Mr. Brian McMahon and a number of others. At paragraph 343 on page 20 of their report they said: "The service should be a balanced service of information, enlightenment and entertainment for people of different ages, interests and tastes covering the whole range of programming in fair proportion". The Labour Party's response to the report in 1974 was to state a coherent policy which stressed the advantage of the accountability that public service broadcasting offered. We were also in favour — and this is reflected in our statement in 1978 at the beginning of the debate on the future of broadcasting — of a wide range of choice, a wide range of technological development and the recognition of new and merging tastes. However, we raised the question: can a marketplace theory of broadcasting provide any mechanism of accountability such as to make it attractive to erode entirely the accountability being provided by public service broadcasting?

It was this kind of careful thinking in relation to the future structure of broadcasting that led us to seek and receive an assurance in theProgramme for Government of the last Coalition that there would be an orderly development of community radio with RTE participation. It is not the fault of the Labour Party that this was never turned into reality. We are attacked again and again because we would not live with the gross distortion of that clear commitment. In the course of the argument which followed an easy sleight of hand was indulged in with regard to what was meant by community radio. We specified what we meant by community radio and we separated it again in the most recent legislation. I drew attention to it on 10 February 1988 in the Dáil. We drew a distinction between local community radio and commercial radio. Part of the blackmail was that we should accept commercial radio where it would be profitable and then a great deal of concessions would be made in relation to community radio where clearly commercial radio would not be profitable.

Several issues are posed. I attended a conference four weeks ago in Athens on the future of broadcasting by satellite. Some of the most responsible norms in international broadcasting are being frittered away. The ascendancy of commercial criteria within the future of satellite broadcasting has put into clear danger the European Broadcasting Union. Representatives of he EBU have openly said they may not be able to sustain in a commercial environment the reciprocity agreements which they have entered into between countries. The EBU and their counterparts in eastern Europe may be put out of business because of the new commercial stength. We have seen in Britain the acceptance of market criteria purely. Here I am afraid we will have the acceptance of a market theory of broadcasting.

That must be put within the general context of the structure of communications within Ireland. In the print media here we are living with a degree of quasi-monopoly which would not be tolerated in many democratic countries. Single individuals and companies control up to 34 per cent of the printed media in any one week. We do not want that tendency in radio. The whole thrust of the Labour Party philosophy has been internationally to respect cultural pluralism and nationally to respect diversity and to honour and recognise the contribution made by public service broadcasting.

I will finish by putting a few questions which the Minister should address, particularly in relation to the infatuation with the MMDS system. The system when tested in the United States covered just 70 per cent of some of the areas where it was installed. There are not any published costings in relation to the implementation of the system. There is some published work in relation to radiation levels. The Minister has given an assurance on this tonight, but public lack of acceptance could lead in the establishment of the system to planning objections which could cause a very long delay. The environmental impact has already been stressed by Deputy O'Sullivan. Another question is whether this in the end might be an investment in an obsolete technology. The whole thrust and impact of satellite has been to offer through a two-way system of cable the best advantages of developed technology. Why take money from the public purse and spend it in a way that despoils the environment, with unknown risks and in a quite uncertain way and then say that down the road when we have the satellite impact harnassed through technology we will have a two-tier level of usage of the technology of the future? These are very real questions and there is no point in ignoring them. It is a case, I am afraid, of a certain infatuation with the capacity of an unknown product. That product, where it has been tested, has clearly left 30 per cent of its area unserved.

I thank Deputy O'Sullivan for sharing his time and I hope there will be another opportunity to debate the references which have been made in this House to the third channel. If the third channel is a commercial channel within which commercial criteria predominate we can say goodbye to any concept of people having the right to tell their own story. In the end what we have witnessed in the dominance of the market theory of broadcasting is the corruption and abuse of the concept of freedom. What people are speaking about on the Right is the freedom of those with money to abuse the fundamental freedoms of those without money to tell their own story. That was the old defence of public service broadcasting and the argument has not been answered. It has been defeated by the many supporters of the Right, the market and the money in this House.

With your permission I wish to share my time with my colleague, Deputy Richard Bruton.

We will seek the agreement of the House. Agreed.

I compliment Deputy Bruton since it was his motion which proved to be the catalyst for this debate. It succeeded in gaining a partial concession by way of ministerial capitulation in this area which I hope will be responsible for leaving people in rural Ireland with the six-channel service they have enjoyed for the past few years, thanks to the technical ingenuity of people branded as illegals.

Deputy Bruton's motion set out to do two things which were vastly different. It dealt with two totally different areas of broadcasting, telegraphy or television. Whether we like it or not, the illegal broadcasting stations, as they have been branded, have mushroomed throughout Ireland in response to community needs. They have found a way into the hearts of people, particularly in rural Ireland. They have identified with particular wants and have become so ingrained into the life of rural Ireland that their withdrawal would have led to a considerable feeling of loss and denial. We accept that it is time to legalise them. They have become very profitable commercial operations and they are considerable employers. We lauded the Minister's attempts in the Bill to legalise them. It was long overdue and welcomed by all. However, we do not accept that there is a need for a time lapse and that it is absolutely imperative to clear the airwaves. The problem is exacerbated because we find it extremely difficult, despite the Minister's assurance tonight and the commitment given on radio last Sunday, to see how the deadline of next March can be met. We welcome the Minister's attempts but we do not accept that it is feasible or administratively possible.

We should like to see a synchronisation between the blacking out of the illegal stations and the coming on stream of the licensed operators. On the day the commission announce the new licenses, the full vigour of the law should be brought to bear against those who stay on the air without licences. They should be ruthlessly dealt with and the penalties should be invoked to the full. These private profit-making enterprises should be left on the air until such time as the replacement operations can take over. The Minister would have our full support in that.

I as a rural Deputy resent the patronising attitude of the prime example of a Pale politician, Deputy Liam Lawlor. He first of all derided this side of the House for allegedly supporting illegals. He then lectured us on the obligations we had to support the Minister in his acts. Thirdly, he derided the quality of the service being provided by those who operate the deflector system in rural Ireland. There is nothing wrong with the quality of the deflector system in rural Ireland. The people who operate this system have managed to identify a signal in the sky and have redeflected and amplified it to give a top quality service to people in 120,000 homes throughout rural Ireland who otherwise would not have had the privilege of this type of service for the past number of years. I venture to suggest to the Minister that irrespective of what licences are given to MMDS operators it is not technically feasible or economically viable that an alternative replacement system will be put in place to replace the system that the homes in rural Ireland enjoy tonight.

I want again to compliment Deputy Bruton. Were it not for this eleventh hour intervention we would not have this grudging concession and capitulation on the part of the Minister tonight. What the Minister has done is given a nod that he is prepared to allow,pro tem, the existing deflector system to remain. We are not legalising them, as Deputy O'Malley has said. What we are doing is making less illegal an illegal system that is in existence at present. I do not believe, irrespective of what the Minister says, it is beyond the administrative or legal capacity of the draftsmen in the Department of Communications to come up with a system that will temporarily or permanently legalise those systems once and for all. As far as I am concerned, go deo go breá if we are waiting for MMDS. With all its faults, failings and technical difficulties, we will never have such a system in rural Ireland.

The Minister knows that too.

The arrogance of this Minister at the opening of his speech in accusing this side of the House of political opportunism takes the biscuit for brass neck. He obviously had not read the end of his speech when he made that comment. Deputies will recall that this Minister came into the House in November 1987 with sham legislation. It was only due to the tolerance of Deputies on this side of the House that it was not blasted out of the water on the first day. The Minister finally agreed to sensible legislation, substantially taking on board amendments from this side of the House. That legislation is much the same as that which was moved here in 1985, which the Minister's party opposed. It will make people laugh to hear why they opposed it — because the Government intended to appoint the commission. Is that a monument to his party's lack of political opportunism in this area? The reality is that the Minister is asking us to share his optimism that some of the stations will be on air in March. Where is the policy paper on MMDS that he promised in May? Where is his optimism realised in that regard? What of his promise to have stations broadcasting by 1 January, which he stated in the Seanad in reply to this debate? Where was his optimism there? The Minister is consistently offering more froth than porter when he is speaking to this House.

The reality is that we are not going to achieve a March deadline. All the Minister is seeking to do by setting the March deadline is put the commission under pressure to rush decisions that are of enormous long-term importance to the community. He forgets the solemn requirements that we set for the commission and the stations when we passed that legislation. The commission have to choose candidates, bearing in mind very complex criteria which we debated here at length, concerning their expertise, programme quality, ownership, the extent of news coverage that they would supply, and so on. The commission are obliged to draw up codes of practice governing fair news coverage, advertising, party political broadcasts, fees, royalties and so on. These are all duties of the commission. The Minister's recent disgraceful outburst against RTE's news coverage underlines the importance that there should be proper guidelines for news coverage on these new stations that are to come on air. That is a duty we gave to the commission, one that must be observed and exercised, and that cannot be done within the March deadline.

We must also bear in mind that these stations are required to have planning permission. As the Minister well knows, that will take a minimum of two months. The stations also have to get individually made equipment to fit the frequencies that they will be allocated. The only way the stations can be on air in March is by licensing the existing pirate stations, without any detailed scrutiny of applications that we in this House require should be done by the commission. That is the reason we cannot accept that the Minister will achieve the March deadline. There will be far too long a delay between the closure of the existing stations and the opening of the alternatives.

I welcome the Minister's change of heart on the MMDS system. In all his lecturing about consistency and observation of the law he seems to have forgotten that his party spent five years of Government observing the lawlessness in this area. He is now quite happy, by a nod and a wink, to change the date for the new penalties but he is not going to proceed with the law in regard to the deflectors. Where is his consistency in that?

The change that Fine Gael are proposing tonight will no way undermine the credibility of what the Government are seeking to do and what this House agreed should be done in the area of broadcasting. The Minister changed the date for the closure of pirate broadcasting stations and deflector systems from March 1988 to December 1988. He is now changing the date for another group. The credibility of this legislation will depend on the public's respect for the reasonableness of the approach he is taking. If we take off the air stations that have been providing a service for many years, many of them providing services that people find very valuable and that attract a high level of listenership, with no prospect of early alternatives — that is the reality, whatever the Minister says about it — we will only undermine public respect for the law which will govern what should be a sensible, valuable, independent radio sector.

All we are getting from the Minister is an attempt to rush his fences and to pretend that he did not squander time. Four months were squandered after the passage of this legislation when he did not appoint the commission. He is now putting the commission under extreme pressure to do valuable and important work in assessing who should be the long-term broadcasters and what guidelines they should operate under. He thinks that can be done in a few months. He is forgetting about the requirements of planning permission.

This is not respect for the law. What we need is a sensible transition from the old to the new system. The Minister recognises the desirability of having a short time gap between the old and the new systems. He has already changed the date in respect of pirate stations. All we are asking tonight is for him to do the sensible thing and allow a proper, phased transition from the old system to the new. We have consistently supported and helped the Minister and succeeded in getting decent legislation through the House instead of what he initially proposed. The Minister should accept the motion that is before him and the intention behind it, to provide credibility for this legislation that will see us into the next century.

The question is: "That amendment No. 2 in the name of Deputy P. O'Malley be made".

Amendment put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 14; Níl, 123.

  • Clohessy, Peadar.
  • Colley, Anne.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Gibbons, Martin Patrick.
  • Harney, Mary.
  • Keating, Michael.
  • Kennedy, Geraldine.
  • McCoy, John S.
  • McDowell, Michael.
  • Molloy, Robert.
  • O'Malley, Desmond J.
  • O'Malley, Pat.
  • Quill, Máirín.
  • Wyse, Pearse.

Níl

  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Andrews, David.
  • Aylward, Liam.
  • Barrett, Michael.
  • Barrett, Seán.
  • Barry, Peter.
  • Begley, Michael.
  • Bell, Michael.
  • Birmingham, George.
  • Blaney, Neil Terence.
  • Boland, John.
  • Boylan, Andrew.
  • Brady, Gerard.
  • Brady, Vincent.
  • Brennan, Matthew.
  • Brennan, Séamus.
  • Browne, John.
  • Bruton, John.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Ray.
  • Byrne, Hugh.
  • Calleary, Seán.
  • Carey, Donal.
  • Collins, Gerard.
  • Conaghan, Hugh.
  • Connaughton, Paul.
  • Connolly, Ger.
  • Cooney, Patrick Mark.
  • Cosgrave, Michael Joe.
  • Coughlan, Mary T.
  • Cowen, Brian.
  • Creed, Donal.
  • Crotty, Kieran.
  • Davern, Noel.
  • Deasy, Austin.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Dempsey, Noel.
  • Dennehy, John.
  • Desmond, Barry.
  • de Valera, Síle.
  • Doherty, Seán.
  • Doyle, Avril.
  • Dukes, Alan.
  • Durkan, Bernard.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Enright, Thomas.
  • Fahey, Frank.
  • Fahey, Jackie.
  • Farrelly, John V.
  • FitzGerald, Garret.
  • O'Keeffe, Ned.
  • O'Leary, John.
  • O'Rourke, Mary.
  • O'Sullivan, Toddy.
  • Pattison, Séamus.
  • Power, Paddy.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Reynolds, Albert.
  • Roche, Dick.
  • Sheehan, P.J.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Fitzgerald, Liam.
  • Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
  • Flaherty, Mary.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Flood, Chris.
  • Flynn, Pádraig.
  • Foley, Denis.
  • Gallagher, Denis.
  • Gallagher, Pat the Cope.
  • Geoghegan-Quinn, Máire.
  • Gregory, Tony.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Harte, Paddy.
  • Haughey, Charles J.
  • Hegarty, Paddy.
  • Higgins, Jim.
  • Higgins, Micheal D.
  • Hilliard, Colm Michael.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Hyland, Liam.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Kavanagh, Liam.
  • Kemmy, Jim.
  • Kenny, Enda.
  • Kirk, Séamus.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Lawlor, Liam.
  • Leonard, Jimmy.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • Lynch, Michael.
  • Lyons, Denis.
  • McCreevy, Charlie.
  • McGahon, Brendan.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • Mooney, Mary.
  • Morley, P.J.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Naughten, Liam.
  • Nealon, Ted.
  • Nolan, M.J.
  • Noonan, Michael
  • (Limerick East).
  • Noonan, Michael J.
  • (Limerick West).
  • O'Brien, Fergus.
  • O'Dea, William Gerard.
  • O'Donoghue, John.
  • O'Keeffe, Batt.
  • O'Keeffe, Jim.
  • Spring, Dick.
  • Stafford, John.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Tunney, Jim.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Walsh, Joe.
  • Walsh, Seán.
  • Woods, Michael.
  • Wright, G.V.
  • Yates, Ivan.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Kennedy and Colley; Níl, Deputies V. Brady and D. Ahern.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "caused to" and substitute the following:

"persons who subscribed to unlicensed television deflectors systems in good faith, without knowing in many cases that the operator was not licensed, if these systems are closed down in the new year, that Dáil Éireann therefore calls on the Government to request Cablelink to take over operation of these systems as a matter of urgency to ensure continuity of service; that Dáil Éireann further notes with concern the position of employees of unlicensed radio stations, who stand to lose their jobs following the closure of these stations, and calls on the Government and the Broadcasting Commission to take all possible steps to ensure that licensed local broadcasting stations are operational as soon as possible so that there will be alternative employment opportunities for people in this position."

Amendment put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 16; Níl, 109.

  • Bell, Michael.
  • Blaney, Neil Terence.
  • De Rossa, Proinsias.
  • Desmond, Barry.
  • Gregory, Tony.
  • Higgins, Michael D.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kavanagh, Liam.
  • Kemmy, Jim.
  • McCartan, Pat.
  • O'Sullivan, Toddy.
  • Pattision, Séamus.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Sherlock, Joe.
  • Spring, Dick.
  • Stagg, Emmet.

Níl

  • Abbott, Henry.
  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Andrews, David.
  • Aylward, Liam.
  • Barrett, Michael.
  • Barrett, Seán.
  • Barry, Peter.
  • Begley, Michael.
  • Birmingham, George.
  • Boland, John.
  • Boylan, Andrew.
  • Brady, Gerard.
  • Brady, Vincent.
  • Brennan, Matthew.
  • Brennan, Séamus.
  • Browne, John.
  • Bruton, John.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Ray.
  • Doyle, Avril.
  • Dukes, Alan.
  • Durkan, Bernard.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Enright, Thomas.
  • Fahey, Frank.
  • Fahey, Jackie.
  • Farrelly, John V.
  • FitzGerald, Garret.
  • Fitzgerald, Liam.
  • Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
  • Flaherty, Mary.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Flood, Chris.
  • Flynn, Pádraig.
  • Foley, Denis.
  • Gallagher, Denis.
  • Gallagher, Pat the Cope.
  • Geoghegan-Quinn, Máire.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Harte, Paddy.
  • Hegarty, Paddy.
  • Higgins, Jim.
  • Hilliard, Colm Michael.
  • Hyland, Liam.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Kenny, Enda.
  • Kirk, Séamus.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Lawlor, Liam.
  • Leonard, Jimmy.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • Lynch, Michael.
  • Byrne, Hugh.
  • Calleary, Seán.
  • Carey, Donal.
  • Collins, Gerard.
  • Conaghan, Hugh.
  • Connaughton, Paul.
  • Connolly, Ger.
  • Cooney, Patrick Mark.
  • Cosgrave, Michael Joe.
  • Coughlan, Mary T.
  • Cowen, Brian.
  • Creed, Donal.
  • Crotty, Kieran.
  • Davern, Noel.
  • Deasy, Austin.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Dempsey, Noel.
  • Dennehy, John.
  • de Valera, Síle.
  • Doherty, Seán.
  • Lyons, Denis.
  • McCreevy, Charlie.
  • McGahon, Brendan.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • Mooney, Mary.
  • Morley, P.J.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Naughten, Liam.
  • Nealon, Ted.
  • Nolan, M.J.
  • Noonan, Michael. (Limerick East).
  • Noonan, Michael J. (Limerick West).
  • O'Brien, Fergus.
  • O'Dea, William Gerard.
  • O'Donoghue, John.
  • O'Keeffe, Batt.
  • O'Keeffe, Jim.
  • O'Leary, John.
  • O'Rourke, Mary.
  • Power, Paddy.
  • Reynolds, Albert.
  • Roche, Dick.
  • Sheehan, P.J.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Stafford, John.
  • Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Tunney, Jim.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Walsh, Joe.
  • Walsh, Seán.
  • Woods, Michael.
  • Wright, G.V.
  • Yates, Ivan.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Sherlock and McCartan; Níl, Deputies V. Brady and D. Ahern.
Amendment declared lost.

I am now putting the question: "That the motion in the name of Deputy Richard Bruton be agreed to."

Question put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 55; Níl, 70.

  • Barrett, Seán.
  • Barry, Peter.
  • Begley, Michael.
  • Bell, Michael.
  • Birmingham, George.
  • Blaney, Neil Terence.
  • Boland, John.
  • Boylan, Andrew.
  • Bruton, John.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Carey, Donal.
  • Clohessy, Peadar.
  • Colley, Anne.
  • Connaughton, Paul.
  • Cooney, Patrick Mark.
  • Cosgrave, Michael Joe.
  • Creed, Donal.
  • Hegarty, Paddy.
  • Higgins, Jim.
  • Kennedy, Geraldine.
  • Kenny, Enda.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • McCoy, John S.
  • McDowell, Michael.
  • McGahon, Brendan.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • Molloy, Robert.
  • Naughten, Liam.
  • Crotty, Kieran.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Deasy, Austin.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Donnellan, John.
  • Doyle, Avril.
  • Dukes, Alan.
  • Durkan, Bernard.
  • Enright, Thomas.
  • Farrelly, John V.
  • FitzGerald, Garret.
  • Flaherty, Mary.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Gibbons, Martin Patrick.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Harney, Mary.
  • Harte, Paddy.
  • Nealon, Ted.
  • Noonan, Michael. (Limerick East).
  • O'Brien, Fergus.
  • O'Keeffe, Jim.
  • O'Malley, Desmond J.
  • O'Malley, Pat.
  • Quill, Máirín.
  • Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.
  • Wyse, Pearse.
  • Yates, Ivan.

Níl

  • Abbott, Henry.
  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Andrews, David.
  • Aylward, Liam.
  • Barrett, Michael.
  • Brady, Gerard.
  • Brady, Vincent.
  • Brennan, Matthew.
  • Brennan, Séamus.
  • Browne, John.
  • Burke, Ray.
  • Byrne, Hugh.
  • Calleary, Seán.
  • Collins, Gerard.
  • Conaghan, Hugh.
  • Connolly, Ger.
  • Coughlan, Mary T.
  • Cowen, Brian.
  • Davern, Noel.
  • Dempsey, Noel.
  • Dennehy, John.
  • de Valera, Síle.
  • Doherty, Seán.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Fahey, Frank.
  • Fahey, Jackie.
  • Fitzgerald, Liam.
  • Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
  • Flood, Chris.
  • Flynn, Pádraig.
  • Foley, Denis.
  • Gallagher, Denis.
  • Gallagher, Pat the Cope.
  • Geoghegan-Quinn, Máire.
  • Hilliard, Colm Michael.
  • Hyland, Liam.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Kirk, Séamus.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Lawlor, Liam.
  • Leonard, Jimmy.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Lynch, Michael.
  • Lyons, Denis.
  • McCreevy, Charlie.
  • Mooney, Mary.
  • Morley, P.J.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Nolan, M.J.
  • Noonan, Michael J. (Limerick West).
  • O'Dea, William Gerard.
  • O'Donoghue, John.
  • O'Keeffe, Batt.
  • O'Keeffe, Ned.
  • O'Leary, John.
  • O'Rourke, Mary.
  • Power, Paddy.
  • Reynolds, Albert.
  • Roche, Dick.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Stafford, John.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Tunney, Jim.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Walsh, Joe.
  • Walsh, Seán.
  • Woods, Michael.
  • Wright, G.V.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies J. Higgins and Boylan; Níl, Deputies V. Brady and D. Ahern.
Question declared lost.