I thank Senator O'Reilly for so graciously yielding because we are both on exactly the same wavelength on this issue, so to speak. I am happy to know that had I not been present, the Senator would have been able to move this amendment for me.
Our amendment is similar to Senator O'Toole's amendment, with some additional elements such as the maintenance of the proper equipment and taking on board the fact the Government may be persuaded by argument on all sides of the House to use the maximum transmission power. This is important.
Like many of my colleagues, I have had extensive briefing from a variety of groups on this issue. I wish to put on record the view of a senior engineer with an interest in the area of broadcasting engineering techniques. He states:
What does concern me is the capability of the Government in times of crisis to reach the entire nation in a broadcast. I do not believe that there is national coverage with FM transmitters. Sky's own figures will show that they do not have national coverage and experiments have shown that coverage from the long wave transmitter is not adequate at present. Listening to it with a battery powered radio will verify this. If we were to experience an event similar to the blackouts in north-eastern US or Italy [we remember the electricity blackouts there] in the autumn of 2003, the Government would potentially be without an effective means of communicating with the population.
That happened in the life of the publication of the recent booklet about how to cope with emergencies. The situation at present contradicts this because RTE is operating the long wave transmitter on less than full power. Long wave has been downgraded. It is not being managed or maintained to cover needs in case of emergency. We know the Tullamore transmitter has been closed and, as we have learned, the FM service does not provide seamless coverage.
I recently travelled by train to Limerick and found that on certain parts of the journey there was no signal, although one can get the commercial stations, including those from Dublin. I was able to listen to Newstalk 106 but I could not get RTE Radio 1. Members should try it on the Enterprise to Northern Ireland. Half of the time, the signal is lost. Why is this? Why do we not care about these people?
Senator O'Toole referred to emigrant populations in London whose service is interfered with by Radio Algeria. In Australia where there was a similar problem, they permitted the radio stations to double the strength of their transmissions. While they double it, we are halving it, although we face the same situation. It is idiotic.
There is also the question of weather forecast broadcasts to the fishing fleet at sea. The current level of power is not adequate to reach our fishing fleet in all emergency situations. Our brave fishermen, God knows, have been hammered, clobbered and sold out by successive administrations and are now getting whacked by the European Union, but we are not even providing proper cover for emergency services. This is all in the context of a decision for some reason, presumably economic, to downgrade the power output to approximately half strength. This unquestionably must reduce service.
Let us consider the question of preparing for a nuclear emergency and major emergencies. We know that people will be taking shelter, perhaps in a building that has poor reception. Most modern buildings are insulated due to environmental considerations, heat loss and all the rest, and foil insulation in particular will effectively block out a large part of the signal. The booklet tells people to use battery powered radios, presumably because of possible failures in commercial power output. If one is using a battery powered radio, one is using a weakened receiver and receiving a weakened signal. How can that possibly be satisfactory?
The long wave transmitter is not managed and maintained. In the days of the commercial radio station, Atlantic 252, to which Senator O'Toole referred, it used its full allocation of power. This transmitter, which is now used to broadcast the national station, is being downgraded to half power. Reducing power reduces the service and it is not in keeping with the needs of an emergency or our emigrants.
Turning to a technical area, electromagnetic pollution has increased in recent years and according to the predicted levels contained in the ITU-R p.372 figures — this is a technical matter which I do not fully understand — these high levels of magnetic pollution have been in existence for 30 years. This is the reason Australia has permitted its stations to double their power output.
A long wave transmitter needs four times the power of its medium wave counterpart to provide a protected service but RTE has made the questionable decision to reduce the power of RTE Radio 1 on long wave 252 KHz. BBC Radio 4 Droitwich, which is only 100 km away, requires a booster from London on medium wave. That offers some idea of the matter. Since the medium wave closure, London, the south east and near Europe suffer interference at night time from a station transmitting a signal which is 30 to 40 times the strength of long wave 252 KHz. At night, medium wave travels further and overleaps long wave into Europe, which is how Radio Luxembourg was once received in Ireland.
This policy is contrary to the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement, which pledged to serve the entire island. The Broadcasting (Amendment) Act 2007, to which I contributed, makes provision for Irish communities overseas. Radio services were introduced into that Act by an amendment I made. The original measures in the Act pertained to television services but radio broadcasts were left out until I proposed their inclusion. I have, therefore, a particular interest in this area.
Broadcasting to our own people in emergency situations is a serious matter. I was recently on a television programme with Brian Keenan, who was held hostage in Beirut. He kept himself going partly because he was able to hear RTE broadcasts. The question also arises of our fishing fleet.
The Minister has a menu of amendments from which to chose, including Senator O'Toole's, although he might concede that the amendments proposed by Senator O'Reilly and myself go further in terms of securing the methods and technical aspects of transmission. I urge the Minister to use this legislation to close the gap created by the discontinuation of medium wave and to ensure a proper service is guaranteed throughout the island, to emigrants and, if I can make my own little case, to my house in the mountains of Cyprus. I would dearly love to receive RTE once more.
In regard to the emergency booklet, it was slightly farcical in the first place and was wonderfully mocked in a musical performance on RTE. The intention behind it was serious but one has to question its application in a situation where people who take the Government's advice to listen on battery powered radio would probably hear nothing. Perhaps, if they are lucky, their final moments would be comforted by a broadcast from Radio Algérie.