Broadcasting Bill 2008: Report Stage.

For the information of Senators, there are two errors in section 148 of the Bill, as amended on Committee Stage. In page 144, line 7, the word "or" should read "and" and, in line 8, the word "and" should read "or". These errors occurred when the Bill was being reprinted and will be corrected in the next print of the Bill. I remind Senators that a Senator may speak only once on a Report Stage amendment, except the proposer of an amendment, who may reply to the discussion on the amendment. On Report Stage, each amendment must be seconded.

Amendments Nos. 1, 2 and 103 are related. Amendment No. 3 is an alternative to amendment No. 2 and amendment No. 104 is an alternative to amendment No. 103. They may all be discussed together by agreement.

Government amendment No. 1:
In page 14, line 44, to delete "his spouse" and substitute "his or her spouse".

Amendments Nos. 2 and 103 are intended to address the drafting issues raised by Senators in amendments Nos. 3 and 104. Amendment No. 1 is intended to remedy a minor associated error in section 2. The provisions are largely technical and I welcome the opportunity to introduce them on Report Stage.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 2:
In page 14, line 46, to delete "the Oireachtas has" and substitute "those Houses have".
Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 3 to 5, inclusive, not moved.

Amendments Nos. 6 and 64 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

Government amendment No. 6:
In page 19, line 15, to delete "music and culture," and substitute "music, sport or culture,".

Sections 9 and 82 define the experience or capacity required of persons considered for appointment to the boards of the broadcasting authority of Ireland, RTE and TG4. Having considered the issues raised on Committee Stage by Senator Doherty, I have proposed in amendments Nos. 6 and 64 a modification of the criteria in sections 9 and 82 to encompass experience of, or capacity in, sports matters. Such experience would be of definite benefit to the boards of the broadcasting authority of Ireland, RTE and TG4.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 7 to 13, inclusive, 15, 16, 25 and 65 to 74, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

Amendment No. 7 not moved.
Government amendment No. 8:
In page 20, line 16, before "terms" to insert "expertise or experience,".
Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 not moved.
Government amendment No. 11:
In page 23, line 26, after "becoming" to insert "or ceases to be".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 12:
In page 23, line 29, after "becoming" to insert "or ceases to be".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 13:
In page 23, line 32, after "becoming" to insert "or ceases to be".
Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 14, 18, 24, 29, 39, 40, 43, 46, 61, 75, 76, 80, 81, 85, 86, 96, 97, 105 and 106 are related. Amendment No. 83 is related and alternative to amendment No. 81. Therefore, they may all be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed?

I accept that the amendments are all related but Senators may speak only once on them on Report Stage. There are too many here for that provision to be desirable and I therefore suggest that we divide them into two groups. Amendments Nos. 14,18, 24, 29, 39, 40, 43, 46, 61, 75 and 76 should be discussed together as part of one group and the remainder should be discussed together as part of a second. This would allow some form of debate to take place.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 14:

In page 23, line 43, to delete "website" and substitute "bilingual website in Irish and English".

Amendment No. 76 is acceptable to me and I will, therefore, withdraw amendment No. 75.

I also wish to thank the officials and I recognise some advances have been made in these areas, which I both welcome and appreciate. An rud a bhí ag teastáil uaim ó thosach ná go mbeadh seans ag daoine a gcuid oibre a dhéanamh trí Ghaeilge, déileáil nó teagmháil a dhéanamh le RTE trí Ghaeilge agus taitneamh a bhaint as cláracha, srl., trí Ghaeilge. Níl mé chun an speech chéanna a dhéanamh is a rinne mé ar Chéim an Choiste. Ba mhaith liom a rá go bhfuil sé seo go han-tábhachtach. I greatly welcome the Minister's amendment No. 76 that deals with an issue of great importance to me. I refer to the amendment that provides go bhfuil sé dírithe ar na Gaeltachtaí agus na Gaeltacht communities. Cé nach iad na focail chéanna a bhí agam, is an téama céanna atá i gceist. Tá sé dírithe sa treo céanna. Tá mé thar a bheith sásta leis an méid sin. Ta sé an-thábhachtach do mhuintir na Gaeltachta. They appreciate such recognition, which costs nothing. This is an important issue and I welcome it.

Is the Senator discussing amendment No. 75?

I refer to amendments Nos. 75 and 76.

Is the amendment in the Senator's name?

No, I intend to withdraw amendment No. 75 and welcome amendment No. 76.

The Government amendment No. 76 replaces one of my previous amendments. While I do not intend to speak on each grouped amendment as Members continue to consider the Bill, ba mhaith liom cúpla focal a rá i mBéarla mar gheall ar cúpla ceann acu. Amendment No. 14 is important and the Minister should make a gesture in this regard. All I seek is that RTE's website should be bilingual, which simply means it would include two languages. It does not mean that every single word contained therein must be translated into Irish. I ndáiríre, bíonn deacrachtaí ag muintir na Gaeltachta faoi láthair nuair atá siad ag déanamh a gcuid oibre. Má tá múinteoir scoile i gceartlár na Gaeltachta ag iarraidh ar a rang féachaint ar website RTE chun teacht ar any piece of information, ba mhaith an rud é go mbeadh an Ghaeilge ann chomh maith. An deacracht atá ann i gconaí ó thaobh múineadh na Gaeilge sna Gaeltachtaí, ó thaobh maireachtáil trí Ghaeilge sna Gaeltachtaí agus ó thaobh lárnacht na Gaeltachtaí gan Ghaeilge a bheith acu, is that every time one must do something, one must find it in English.

Of all Members, I take a highly practical view on Irish language policy and in general, I receive the blunt end of things from Irish language groups, who consider me to be namhaid éigin den teanga or, as has been stated publically to me many times, treasonous towards the language. Stories are carried regularly in Irish language newspapers that I am no friend to the language. I take a practical view and the Minister should do likewise. It is not unreasonable for people in Gaeltacht areas to request that the RTE website should carry a significant amount of Irish. I would like to hear an argument against this proposal that reflects the views the Minister holds towards Gaeilge and the Gaeltacht. Cén fáth nach bhfuil Gaeilge ar fáil dóibh? Níl mé ag rá go gcaithfidh gach focal ar an website sin a bheith i nGaeilge. Ní hé sin atá i gceist agam. Cén fáth nach mbeadh rudaí i nGaeilge ann? Cén fáth nach bhfuil duine ann chun a dhéanamh cinnte de go bhfuil rudaí curtha ar fáil i nGaeilge? When using Google and having entered a website in French that I do not understand, I simply can choose the translation option and change it over. I do not understand the reason one cannot ensure such a facility is used to its greatest extent because entire sections of the Bill constitute a recognition go bhfuil muintir Gaeltachtaí na tíre seo mar shaoránaigh na tíre seo. Tá ceart ar leith acu. Tá freagracht orainn an Ghaeilge a chur a fáil dóibh agus a gcultúr féin a chur ar fáil dóibh. Caithfimid a bheith cinnte go bhfuil go leor sa reachtaíocht seo do mhuintir na Gaeltachta agus do Ghaeilgeoirí. However, I refer to muintir na Gaeltachta in particular.

Members have a job to do in this regard and I do not seek the expenditure of significant sums of money. I visited a Gaeltacht school last Monday morning and spoke to people there. Déantar gach cuid oibre as Gaeilge sa scoil sin. All the speeches were made trí Ghaeilge. There was an offical opening of the school. Bhí gach rud déanta trí Ghaeilge. However, the school continues to struggle to teach the Irish language because half of the children attending it have satellite television at home, as they should. They have access to BBC, ITV and the other channels. This is as it should be and I am not one of those zealots who believes such programmes should not be allowed into the Gaeltacht. People there should enjoy a full quality of life. However, there can be problems muna bhfuil seans acu an Ghaeilge a bheith acu. TG4 was a great gift to them. I sat on this seat in the Chamber approximately 15 years ago making the case for an Irish language television station and it was ridiculed by many people who stated it could never be viable, there was no case for it, etc. It has been a massive success. At that time, support for the idea of investing £5 million into the establishment of what was being loosely called Teilifís na Gaeltachta, came from me and a young Senator called Éamon Ó Cuív. Subsequently, this evolved into what nowadays is called TG4.

There is creativity in the Gaeltacht. The attitude on the east coast, when discussing or considering the Gaeltachtaí, is almost patronising. People almost look down on them. However, people there are as bright as anywhere else in Ireland. Moreover, they offer a new perspective on matters because they bring a bilingual or bipolar culture. Tá siad ag féachaint ar ghnéithe eile de rudaí. Tá treoir agus díriú eile acu. Tá sé mar an gcéanna leis an díriú a bheith acu ar an mBéarla. They have both an English and an Irish approach to matters. They possess an Irish language culture based in the Gaeltacht and can bring it to bear on what they do. It is highly disappointing for such people and for me that simple proposals on issues such as making an Irish language website available to them are refused. These are not difficult matters.

In addition, some of my other amendments were tabled to recognise the responsibility for the Irish language. The organisation is not simply there to facilitate, as its purpose also is to stimulate and promote. As such matters are not easily measurable or quantifiable, why do they pose difficulties to the Minister? I refer to amendment No. 18, in which I suggest that instead of facilitating Gaelic culture, the phrase "stimulate and promote" should be used. Does the Minister object to this? He made an impassioned contribution in the House on Committee Stage about the proposed film channel, which impressed all Members.

I thought of him at the weekend when looking at the clár or timetable for the Hay-on-Wye festival, which finished two weeks ago, one section of which was devoted to the showing of community film. It was along the lines mentioned by the Minister. The festival, which is based in Wales, ensured that without being overwhelmed, space was given for the development of Welsh culture. Consequently, the festival was not simply facilitating Welsh culture; it was promoting and stimulating it. Cén fáth nach bhfuil an rud céanna ar fáil againn anseo? Cén fáth nach bhfuilimid sásta tacú le sin? Cén fáth a bhfuil deacracht ag an Aire sa mhéid seo? Cén fáth nach bhfuil sé sásta tacaíocht leis an méid atá á mholadh agam i leasú Uimh. 18?

In deference to the House, as I have raised many of these issues on Committee Stage, I will not go through them again. It would be unfair to subject Members to my views in this regard again. I recognise and welcome the small amount of progress that has been made, particularly in respect of the concession made in amendment No. 76, which in many ways was one of the most important issues to me. I refer to recognising the Gaeltacht areas and the people of the Gaeltachtaí. However, the other amendments to which I refer are not major issues. It would not be difficult to state the station would in some way promote and stimulate Irish language and culture. Ní cheart go mbeadh deacracht ag an Aire sa mhéid seo. Ba chóir dúinn é a chur chun cinn. Tá freagracht orainn an rud seo a chur chun cinn. Ba mhaith an rud é dá mbeadh tuiscint ag muintir na Gaeltachta, agus ag Gaeilgeoirí eile na tíre, go bhfuilimid ann dóibh chomh maith. That is without listening to every off-the-wall suggestion to translate every word we speak into the Irish language. We are not going down that road because we can do something simple.

Later on today we will be dealing with the Legal Practitioners (Irish Language) Bill 2007. There was always an optional Irish language course to be pursued by people who were studying to be barristers. It worked very well, and even people with no Gaeilge learned words like "dúnmharú", which was welcome. At some stage someone decided that it would be used differently, and the exam was made almost impossible to pass. The State is now enacting a Bill stating that it is no longer a requirement to pass the Irish exam, just an option. When things are pushed too far, the State is forced to concede. I am not asking that anything be done that will cause a major administrative problem, but it does require political will. The cost base is tiny, but the strategic importance to people who are promoting the policy of the Irish language is very important.

Officials from different Departments normally talk to each other. What did officials from the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs think of my amendments? Did they offer any view to the Minister present? Surely it is in line with stated Government policy. Níl aon rud á mholadh agamsa anseo nach bhfuil ráite ag an Taoiseach mar gheall ar an nGaeilge ó thoghadh sa jab nua é. He has made it clear he is supportive of the Irish language. I am trying to sidestep people who would push Irish down our throats and believe in compulsion. I am trying to give the stage to people who are reasonable and to recognise that people in the Gaeltacht feel isolated, cut off, and do not feel represented and reflected in much of what we do. There is a good reason for these policies, because it can be so expensive to implement them. Ach sa chás seo, sa mhéid atá á rá agam, níl sé ró-dhaor na rudaí atá ann a chur ar fáil. An rud atá ag teastáil anseo ná go mbeadh toil ag an Aire é sin a dhéanamh, agus níl níos mó ná sin ag teastáil. It would make a great difference to Gaeltacht people, Gaeilgeoirí, Irish teachers agus a lán daoine eile. Ba chóir go mbeadh sé sin ar fáil dóibh.

D'fhéadfainn bheith ag caint ar seo ar feadh an lae. Tá a lán ráite agam, b'fheidir an iomarca. Fáiltím roimh an dul chun cinn beag ach tábhachtach atá déanta againn i leasú Uimh. 76 ach is mór an trua nach bfhuil an tAire in ann nó sásta aon dul chun cinn a dhéanamh leis na leasaithe eile. I did not go through them all. It is the same issue with all of them, that is, to try to make something happen.

Ba bhreá liom cur leis an méid atá ráite ag an Seanadóir Ó Tuathail. Tá sé ráite agam cheana féin, agus ní rachaidh mé thar fóir leis inniu, go bhfuil sé an-tábhachtach go mbeadh an Ghaeilge so-fheicthe sa chultúr. Sin an bun-phrionsabal. Is deas an rud go bhfuil airgead á chaitheamh——

Is the Senator seconding the amendment?

Yes. Tá mé ag cur leis. I am seconding what Senator O'Toole said and his amendment. It is very important that we promote the visibility of the Irish language, which is the key issue in our culture. It is a great thing that documents are required to be translated into Irish. If they are to be available in English, they should be available in Irish. Many people complain about the expense of doing so, but the fact is very few people read State documents in English in the first place. The really important thing in advancing Irish is to ensure it has high visibility in the culture. That applies to bilingual forms available to the public and so on, but it is classically important that it be visible in areas that pertain to modern culture.

A public body with a website primarily in English and with very little Irish language content, such as the RTE website, sends out all the wrong messages about our shared aspiration to promote a use of Irish that fits in with our contemporary experience. There may be different arguments from officialdom about the expense involved, but unless we are serious about maintaining the visibility and the usability of Irish language in our modern experience, then we are not serious in our aspirations to promote it. Is ar an mbunús sin atá mé ag cur leis an méid atá ráite ag an Seanadóir Ó Tuathail agus tréaslaím leis as na moltaí seo a dhéanamh inniu.

Cosúil leis na Seanadóirí eile, táim buíoch don Aire cé go bhfuil leasú Uimh. 76 ar an gclár. Is dócha go bhfuil sé an-oiriúnach go mbeadh ceangail le muintir na Gaeltachta sa Bhille seo. Nílim chun dul siar ar gach aon rud a dúirt an Seanadóir Ó Tuathail ar leasuithe Uimh. 14 agus 18 seachas le rá go n-aontaíom le morán atá ráite aige. Is dócha go bhfuil sé oiriúnach go mbeadh website Raidió na Gaeltachta agus TG4 as Gaeilge agus as Béarla. Tá dualgas orainn go léir agus ar RTE an teanga a chur chun cinn agus mar sin, aontaím le leasú Uimh. 18. Más féidir leis an Aire glacadh leis na leasaithe sin, cuirfidh mise fáilte le sin. Cuirfidh sé feabhas ar an mBille agus dul chun cinn leis an dteanga, rud atá tábhachtach.

I am sympathetic to the points that were raised by Senator O'Toole and he has acknowledged my amendment No. 76 as including representation from the Gaeltacht in the bodies we are creating. RTE's website does include Irish language material, especially in its Irish language output. The Bill also allows the use of public money on the website for the first time. I would like to see the use of Irish developed on the website, recognising that it is a central part of the communications infrastructure for the public sector broadcaster.

Amendment No. 14 is related to the website of the new authority. The Official Languages Act 2003 allows the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to require a range of bodies, including the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland, to set out a scheme on how it deals with the public through Irish. There is a mechanism that makes sure we are involved in promoting the use of Irish in our everyday communications.

I would be happy to consider amendment No. 18 and see whether we can introduce a similar amendment when the Bill goes to the Dáil. It would reflect the desire to stimulate and promote the language rather than just to facilitate its use. While I cannot accept either of the amendments as drafted, there is merit in what is being proposed. I will reflect on what we have heard on the issue with a view to amending the Bill further in the Dáil. I hope that is satisfactory to Senator O'Toole.

I welcome the Minister's response. I intended to call a vote on one of the amendments because I wanted to make a point about them. I appreciate that the Minister is prepared to consider what I am talking about, particularly as regards amendment No. 18, to consider "stimulate and promote" in respect of the Irish language. I take his point, incidentally, about amendment No. 14, which is concerned with the authority, etc. I used it in order to get the matter stated. It was the most convenient place to do it, so that was the practical reason I put it there.

An rud is tábhachtaí domsa ná go mbeadh Gaelainn ar fáil agus go mbeadh sé de chúram ar an RTE Authority chun Ghaelainn a chur chun cinn agus cultúr na Gaelainne chomh maith. Tá sé sin thar a bheith tábhachtach domsa. Mar gheall ar sin, an rud a dúirt an tAire ansan, go mbeadh sé sásta féachaint ar amendment No. 18, where the word "facilitate" would be substituted by "stimulate and promote". I welcome that initiative. If he can find better words and there is some reluctance to use those particular words, I shall be happy to defer.

The issue for me is that if people are speaking, learning and teaching the language, there should be facilities available, not just for teaching and education at school level, but to enable them to do other things, without difficulty. If, as the Minister says, he is prepared to consider a change in the Bill to facilitate "stimulate and promote", I accept his good offices in that regard and very much welcome this. In the context of what he has already said about recognising the needs of Gaeltacht people, reflecting their needs and providing for a Gaeltacht view to be brought forward, I recognise that this is progress, however small. Others may not be happy with it — and neither am I — but I recognise where we are going. On that basis I shall not press amendment No. 14 and I thank the Minister for the openness of his response.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 15 and 16 not moved.

Amendment No. 17, in the names of Senators John Paul Phelan and Paul Bradford, is related to amendment No. 41 and they may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 17:

In page 32, line 29, after "disabilities" to insert "requiring the use of sign language and subtitles".

The Minister was present for most of Second Stage and possibly heard my comments on the issue of subtitling in particular. Perhaps I sound like a long playing record on the issue of subtitling, but in dealing with this broadcasting Bill we must have high standards and set the bar as high as possible in this regard. The subtitling of programmes heralded a major step forward for people hard of hearing across the country and indeed opened up the world of television for many. It has to be recognised by the Minister and his officials, however, that the quantity and quality of subtitling, particularly on live programming such as news and current affairs broadcasting is not nearly as efficient as it should be. I said on Second Stage that if one wants to realise how poor the service is, one can just turn down the volume on the 6 o'clock or 9 o'clock news bulletins, switch on the subtitles and try to follow the programme. It will be very difficult to do so in the sense that the presenter will be five or ten seconds, in some cases, ahead of the subtitling. Unfortunately, tens of thousands of people across the country must endure that level of service, and it is not good enough. When we have an opportunity to legislate in respect of broadcasting services for the disabled, we should apply maximum pressure to ensure the best possible subtitling standards.

From observing how the service works on other channels, whether the BBC, ITV or the Sky channels, I note that the situation on those is not much better to any extent. Again, I believe it is a question of the amount of resources that broadcasting companies are willing to invest in this regard. At a time when technology has made enormous advances and we are about to send men and women to Mars, it should not be impossible to have a top-class subtitling service for all those who need it. I appreciate where the Minister is coming from and his earlier comments on the matter. However, since we have the opportunity to make clear our demand that both the quantity and quality of subtitling should be much better than it is at present, I hope he will respond in a reasonable manner to the amendment. It is a reasonable request, not for any minority group, but rather for a growing sector of society — mainly, though not entirely elderly people — to which we have a responsibility to provide these services.

I second Senator Bradford's amendment. I did not contribute on Committee Stage. Senator O'Reilly is unavoidably absent today, so I am replacing him, but I agree with the sentiment expressed by Senator Bradford with regard to subtitling. I take a slightly different view, however, as regards what is available in Ireland compared to what is on offer from across the water. The slight amount of television that any politician gets to view might comprise an hour, perhaps, after coming home from some meeting or other. However, I sometimes watch the BBC 3 or BBC 4 channels. The standard of subtitling on their current affairs and documentary programmes is far superior to what is available in this country.

On Committee Stage the Minister said that he hoped he could examine this issue for Report Stage and that it might be possible to insert a provision requiring the broadcasting authority to report on subtitling. This amendment is about trying to formalise the position of subtitling. This is an appropriate time to raise the issue. I hope the Minister can take it on board because the current situation, particularly with regard to live sporting events, but also current affairs, as Senator Bradford has mentioned, is very unsatisfactory. A significant improvement is required as a great many people have viewing difficulties. We have come a long way, and there has been significant improvement. A number of programmes are available now with subtitles.

However, some channels, particular the independent television stations in this country, have very poor subtitling standards and this is an apt provision to insert into the Bill to improve on those.

We had an interesting discussion on Committee Stage. When Senator O'Reilly raised amendment No. 17 on Committee Stage, proposing a change to the objectives, I expressed the view that this had already been sufficiently dealt with elsewhere. I do not want to accept this amendment, but I said then that we would look at how the Bill might be amended so that the issue of the quality of subtitling would be taken into account in the biennial reviews of the broadcasting access rules. It is in that regard that we are proposing amendment No. 41, which sets out that "the Authority shall consider the quality of services provided by broadcasters in endeavouring to comply with a broadcasting rule". I hope that delivers what we have been talking about. The Broadcasting Commission of Ireland would say that there is already consideration of the quality of subtitling in the assessment it does. However, it is appropriate for us to set out that quality requirement in legislation, and that is the intent of amendment No. 41, arising from Committee Stage.

I have listened with interest to the Minister. I concede amendment No. 41 will oblige the authority to consider the quality of services, such as subtitling, provided by broadcasters and report on them. However, where is our imprint in the sense of imposing on the authority an obligation to mark and ensure progress? It is okay for the authority to consider the quality of services and inform the Oireachtas of them. However, is the Minister satisfied there is enough of an obligation on the authority to ensure services will be maximised and improved?

Senator John Paul Phelan referred to several of the independent television channels. TV3 does not have any subtitling for its productions except for imported programmes such as "Coronation Street". Amendment No. 17 seeks to strengthen the obligation of broadcasters to maximise subtitling from a quality and quantity perspective. I appreciate the Minister's amendment No. 41 but it only obliges the authority to report on progress in this respect. I want a stronger demand to ensure progress. I do not believe sufficient steps have been taken in this regard.

Quality, especially in communications, is a subjective area. Amendment No. 41 gives clear direction to the broadcasting authority to consider the quality assurance two-year review. This would be taken up by the authority and it would present its analysis. Legislation does not need to be prescriptive to the nth degree. A clear direction to consider the quality issues will lead to a report from the authority on the improvement or lack of performance in quality issues. There is sufficient direction in amendment No. 41 to give the authority direction in this regard, as suggested by Members on the Opposition side of the House on Committee Stage.

The Bill also requires the authority to establish access rules. The requirement of a consultation on quality would have to be taken into account with these rules. It would also be included in any public consultation which the authority would be required to take out in regard to the rules in section 44. Broadcasters must comply with these rules. Inserting the requirement that the quality of services be considered by the authority will trigger different responses which will be included in the consideration of the success, or otherwise, of those rules.

Amendment put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 19; Níl, 22.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Prendergast, Phil.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Regan, Eugene.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Ryan, Brendan.

Níl

  • Butler, Larry.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carty, John.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • de Búrca, Déirdre.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • McDonald, Lisa.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Brien, Francis.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Phelan, Kieran.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Bradford and Maurice Cummins; Níl, Senators Déirdre de Búrca and Diarmuid Wilson.
Amendment declared lost.
Amendments Nos. 18 and 19 not moved.

Amendment No. 20 is in the names of Senators Mullen and Donohoe. Amendments Nos. 22, 30, 59, 62, 77 to 79, inclusive, 81 and 107 are related. Amendment No. 21 is an alternative to amendment No. 20 and amendment No. 23 is an alternative to amendment No. 22. I hope Senators are keeping up.

Will the Chair repeat the alternatives?

The Senator is testing me. Amendment No. 21 is an alternative to amendment No. 20 and amendment No. 23 is an alternative to amendment No. 22. Therefore, all these amendments may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 20:

In page 33, to delete lines 5 to 17 and substitute the following:

"(a) prepare a strategy for the provision of broadcasting services in the State additional to those provided by RTE, TG4, the Houses of the Oireachtas Channel, the Irish Film Channel, and the Heritage Channel,

(b) prepare a strategy statement under section 29(1),

(c) direct the Contract Awards Committee to make arrangements, in accordance with this Act, to invite, consider and recommend to the Authority, and the Authority shall follow such recommendation, proposals for the provision of broadcasting services additional to any broadcasting services provided by RTE, TG4, the Houses of the Oireachtas Channel, the Irish Film Channel and the Heritage Channel under this Act.”.

Amendment No. 20 is related to amendments Nos. 22, 62 and 107. All these amendments relate to my proposal to include a heritage channel in the Bill as it provides for two new channels, an Irish film channel and a Houses of the Oireachtas channel, within the broadcasting services to be made available in the new digital service.

Amendments Nos. 30, 59 and 82, relate to the issue of service provision targeted at the needs, interests and tastes of older people. The fact that this group of amendments includes amendments relating to the needs, tastes and issues relating to older people, should not be taken as meaning that the heritage channel aims exclusively to cater for the interests and tastes of older people. I must confess that part of the inspiration for this proposal has been my observations when visiting places such as nursing homes, which have an overall national population of 25,000, many of whom rely on television as a source of company. We might not be happy with the fact that in some places, television may be among the few outlets for people but the fact remains that in general, as people get older, television can be an increasingly important support in their lives.

The proposal to establish a television broadcasting service to be known as the Heritage Channel, is an attempt to redress the current situation where a certain kind of quality television programming that could be regarded as family-friendly viewing or programming that could be watched by any person of any age or background at any hour of the day, is not available on RTE. I have had the experience of being in nursing homes and seeing people being forced to watch "The Bill" or even "Judge Judy", in the late afternoon. This is fine if that is their choice. However, the number of older people in society is increasing and there should be a greater range of choice available to reflect the life experiences of older viewers in particular.

When I proposed this amendment on Committee Stage, I was gratified by the support on all sides of the House and outside in the media and generally. The heritage channel would address the interests, not just of older people but of sectors of the community such as the Irish abroad or tourists visiting the country. It would draw on much of our archival footage and the wonderful documentaries made over the years. However, it would not just be about the past but would also draw on our tremendous cultural and entertainment heritage such as traditional music. I welcome the Minister's proposal for an Irish film channel as this will be attractive to a certain audience. Like Lyric FM and the Houses of the Oireachtas channel, those channels would address the interests of niche groups but they are no less welcome for that. The heritage channel would be of more popular appeal because it would appeal to older people if it focused on their interests and tastes and if it included not only archival programmes but also programmes made for the channel. It could also appeal to people visiting the country and people of all ages would be attracted by programming which would draw on our considerable television archive of documentary and entertainment programmes.

Certain programmes available currently are very good and popular, such as "Reeling in the Years". I do not deny that RTE currently caters to some extent for people who are interested in this type of programming but the problem is they are only hitting it in spots. Why have channels dealing with Irish film and the Houses of the Oireachtas and not something that could appeal to a much wider section of society? Some of these people may be less politically influential but they are certainly large in number.

I would worry that in the broadcasting of programmes and in the decisions made about programme content, there might be excessive attention paid to the economic bottom line, that the classes of people with high spend potential might be more likely to see their tastes reflected in broadcasting output than those who are less lucrative from an advertiser's point of view. It is entirely appropriate that legislators should seek to put the "public" back into public service broadcasting by ensuring there would be at least one channel with programming that anybody could watch at any hour of the day. This is the impetus behind the heritage channel and this is provided for in amendment No. 107. The other amendments are procedural amendments.

I ask the Minister to give favourable consideration to the amendment. This is not solely about the issues, needs and tastes of older persons, many of whom will be quite happy to watch "Judge Judy" and "The Bill", but we wish to guarantee a certain level of high quality programming that is appealing and accessible to a range of people, regardless of their stage of life, independence or vulnerability.

The thrust of the other amendments Nos. 30, 59 and 82, relate to the need to provide for a certain minimum content of programming aimed at people over 65 years. Amendment No. 30 proposes that in the case of sound broadcasting, a minimum of not less than 10% of the broadcasting time should be devoted to the broadcasting of programmes for people over 65 years. Amendment No. 59 is related to the same issue and provides that in considering the suitability of any applicant for the award of a broadcasting contract to provide a broadcasting service in respect of an area in which more than 10% of the population is over 65, the contract awards committee should have particular regard to the needs of this population in respect of programming content. Amendment No. 82 proposes an amendment to section 101 to provide for the inclusion of a clause (b) to provide that the nature and number of hours of television programming aimed at people over 65 years to be broadcast by the corporation, be taken into account in that section.

The question of these amendments relating to programming directed at older people is related to the issue of the heritage channel but the channel goes beyond that issue. I am pleased the Minister has chosen to be specific in this legislation and he has not just left matters to broadcasting codes but rather he has been very specific in section 96, which deals with the audience council.

There is specific mention made of children, their interests, needs and tastes and a provision for consultation on these matters. I am pleased the Minister takes a personal interest in the advertising of junk food and he has rightly brought that issue onto the agenda with this Bill. Once there are specific proposals about these matters, if one is not specific about other equally important matters, by implication they are deemed to be less important. We should not leave it to the discretion of RTE, in the case of the heritage channel, to make that decision as to whether that would be suitable programming. Our job is to legislate and to have regard to the interests of the entire community, not just those who are economically powerful. We must listen carefully to what are their needs and try to specify them in this legislation. On that basis I ask the Minister for a favourable response. Míle buíochas.

I second the amendment.

I do not wish to challenge the ruling of the Acting Chairman but I do not believe amendment No. 21 is necessarily an alternative to amendment No. 20. If amendment No. 20 is put to the House and lost, there is no reason amendment No. 21 cannot be put to the House and either won or lost. Amendment No. 21 only becomes a substitute for amendment No. 20 if the vote, which one chooses to put, is "That the words proposed to be deleted stand." That is what I am querying, however. That does not need to be the vote. We are proposing amendment No. 20, which can be put forward in its own right. If it is defeated it then allows me to put forward amendment No. 21.

That is agreed.

Is that not correct?

In the event of amendment No. 20 being defeated, amendment No. 21 can be taken.

That is not correct. In the event of amendment No. 20 being defeated, all that will happen is that we will have decided not to delete lines five to 17. Amendment No. 21 seeks to change one of those lines, line 14.

The question to be put is, "That the words——

——proposed to be deleted stand."

That is what I am querying, however, because I do not accept that. I simply want the amendment to be put. The amendment is being proposed by Senator Mullen and seconded by me. That is the vote we would like to have taken. Why is it that we are not allowed to do so?

I am advised that we can take amendment No. 20 on its own and let it stand, and then take amendment No. 21 separately, if that is preferred.

That is what I thought, yes.

The question that will be put, however, is, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand." Shall we debate amendment No. 21 when we get to it and dispense with amendment No. 20?

Yes. If amendment No. 20 is defeated, can one still put amendment No. 21?

The Senator can do so.

I wanted to be clear about that. I never liked that tricky vote which states "That the words proposed to be deleted stand."

Just a moment.

Senator O'Toole obviously expects more success for his amendment than for mine.

As it happens, I am not even going to propose amendment No. 21, but I would like to get a ruling on it.

In the event of a division being called on amendment No. 20, the question to be determined by the House is that all the words from section 26(a) to (c) stand. Therefore that renders amendment No. 21 redundant.

That is correct but when I second amendment No. 20 why can the vote not be on that amendment? Why is the vote on the wording "That the words proposed to be deleted stand."?

It is because this is the question that is always put.

I am well aware of that.

That is the why.

I am sorry to stick the Acting Chairman with this, but I am just making the point. I will revert to this matter later.

I propose that we take amendment No. 20 alone and deal with amendment No. 21 on its own.

On a point of order, we have grouped the amendments. We have agreed that they be grouped and they remain so.

That is not the issue.

It is perfectly clear to me. If amendment No. 20 is passed by the House then amendment No. 21 is redundant.

If amendment No. 20 is defeated by the House then amendment No. 21 can be put to a vote, if the Senator decides to do that.

That is logical.

That is not the ruling of the Chair, however. The ruling of the Chair is that if the words proposed to be deleted stand, that is the decision of the House and therefore my amendment No. 21 cannot be put. I understand the logic of that but I was asking about the vote itself. We will move on.

The Minister is riveted.

I am not going to propose amendment No. 21 anyway on the basis of what I said to the Minister earlier.

The point is noted.

It is an issue of which I will never let go when it affects me.

I am grateful for the Senator's latitude.

The Senator has an interest in theology.

Procedure is important.

I am happy to second amendment No. 20 tabled by Senator Mullen. In doing so, I wish to address some of the other issues. I will begin with a story. On Sunday night, in my home town of Dingle, I was out with one of the youngest people I know. We had a few pints, went for a meal and had great fun. He is 93 years of age and I do not think he would have liked Senator Mullen's speech inferring that something happens when one reaches the age of 65. I completely accept Senator Mullen's good offices on the age issue but it is very close to being ageist. I see where he is coming from and appreciate what he is trying to do. He is right that there should be something which reflects the views of every group in the population. I entered public life back in the 1970s and one of the first major rows I had was in 1981 when a Minister decided that four-year-old children could not go to school. I did not like that much and still do not like age divisions on anything.

I take all the argumentation that Senator Mullen has made in favour of reflecting elderly people in programming. I completely agree with that but I have a real difficulty with the age limit of 65. I am approaching that age rapidly myself, so perhaps I have a personal interest. We are all approaching it at the same rate, but some of us will arrive at it more quickly. I was trying to think what I would do if I was given the brief to implement the amendment as a broadcaster. I do not know. Senator Mullen mentioned certain programmes, such as "Reeling in the Years", and I could mention "Laochra Gael" and "GAA Gold" on TG4, which are retrospective. Young people are as interested in those programmes as older people, however.

Exactly, including the word "heritage".

I have no problem with the heritage channel.

That is a different section.

I completely agree with the heritage issue. I am referring purely to the requirement to find programming to deal with people over 65 years of age. The heritage one is very clear and I fully support it. I would be interested to hear the Minister's comments on it. The earlier point on amendment No. 20 is important and I completely agree with the points made by Senator Mullen on that and other issues.

I missed some of the debate on Committee Stage but I am intrigued. As a person who is interested in language, I am happy to see amendments which replace the word "people" with "persons". I am sure the Minister will explain the reasons for that change in amendments Nos. 77 and 79, which substitute the term "young persons" for "young people". I am sure there is a good reason for that. I love it when we examine such changes because accuracy in languages is very important in order to live life together. It is for the same reason that I have some difficulty with the ageist view of the other amendment. The Minister is rapidly looking for his brief on this question and has clearly not given it much thought in the meantime.

His persons have got it ready for him.

I look forward to learning why young people have become young persons. Pope John Paul II came from Rome in 1979 but he did not say "Young persons of Ireland, I love you"; he said "Young people of Ireland, I love you". Was he wrong?

I will be brief because it has been a long discussion so far. I concur with Senator O'Toole's support of Senator Mullen's amendment, particularly concerning the heritage channel, which is a very good idea. I watched most of the debate on Committee Stage and I find myself in complete accord with Senator Mullen's proposal. He proposed that we could perhaps watch Galway winning an All Ireland hurling match, which could be dusted off in the archives. More seriously, there is great merit in the proposal for a heritage channel. Like Senator O'Toole, I hope the Minister can take the idea on board. There is a whole market for such programming. Previous speakers have mentioned that RTE and other broadcasters touch on spots on heritage issues.

The Houses of the Oireachtas channel is a very good idea which I welcome wholeheartedly, together with the film channel. If we are developing niche channels, however, I agree with Senator Mullen that a heritage channel would have a much broader potential audience. Contrary to Senator Mullen, I do not see any particular problem. I never get to see programmes like "The Bill" or "Judge Judy". Perhaps we could have done with Judge Judy earlier to adjudicate on the procedural issue.

We did so well.

I am not casting aspersions. There is much greater potential in the area of a heritage channel. Many people right across the board, not just people over the age of 65 or 93, would be interested in archive footage as well as new programming specifically designed for such a new channel.

On Second Stage I supported the idea of the heritage channel. It would be a good idea for our culture, music, national games and history. As has been stated already, "Reeling in the Years" appeals to all generations.

Senator Mullen's point is important as well. There are people who in the main are probably retired who will look at television during the daytime when much of the canned stuff shown is rubbish. It is merely filler, simply because the viewing population is down. People are entitled to better than that.

I am also reminded that since we had the debate in the House, a few people, including a person who interviewed me on radio, made the point that they would really like to see a heritage channel. The interviewer thought it would be a brilliant idea. I do not think he was even following our debate as his was something of an off-the-cuff comment. It would be fertile ground for the independent television producers to get to grips with and perhaps RTE would be in a position to commission good programmes in that regard.

It is a good development in this area that we are moving towards having channels such as a Houses of the Oireachtas channel. I would urge the Minister to see how this can be done, even on a phased basis. The transmission time could be limited to an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon, but at least there would be an initial step made in that direction so that one of the initiatives that would have been taken through this good Bill would be the potential for a heritage channel as we move forward.

I, too, support the amendments in a general fashion. In particular, the issue of the heritage channel has been discussed previously on Second and Committee Stages. It would allow an opportunity for production and for film-makers to respond to an obviously growing market.

Frequently, we debate the promotion of the Irish language and the way it is taught at school level. We remark often that while the language, as a subject, does not appear to be as strong as it should be, all the aspects surrounding it such as culture, heritage and history are going from strength to strength. There is considerable, ongoing and increased public interest in Irish heritage and culture. I am one of those who feel that if there was a subject of Irish heritage or Irish culture on the curriculum, it would be a great success. However, that is a matter for another debate on another day.

The concept of a heritage channel would allow much fresh thinking to come to the fore. Often we hear of the need to respond to the marketplace. Broadcasting should not always be about the marketplace, but in my view there is a market for this type of channel. The Minister spoke eloquently previously about his thoughts as to how the film channel could be developed, and I hope he would be prepared to give the same sort of thinking and space to the possibility of a heritage channel because there is a need for it.

On the question of broadcasting provisions and programming for people over 65, I was impressed with the initial contribution of Senator Mullen but, in the typical political view of matters on the one hand and on the other hand, I was also impressed with Senator O'Toole.

Senator Bradford sounds like Senator Cassidy.

I am sounding like our dear Leader. I know where Senator O'Toole is coming from. I recall raising the concept of older people and people over 65 with the Minister for Social and Family Affairs five or six years ago. I must take full credit for this as my only political achievement over 20 years, having the term old age pension taken out of the directory of social welfare and replaced by State pension.

While this question of what is old and defining people beyond a certain age as being old is difficult, we know deep down that there is a market for programmes for people of maturing years. Whether it is "Reeling in the Years", programmes on the GAA of old or whatever, there is great interest in such programming. In the course of any politician's day in the constituency, one visits the houses of elderly people late in the evening and often they remark that there is nothing on television. It would be helpful if we could gear a degree of programming to that market. I appreciate that this market is difficult to pin down and to define. We know what we want to do but the journey is probably unmapped. Perhaps it is a principle to which we must aspire rather than a prescription. It is an amendment worthy of reflection.

We also discussed subtitling. Senior citizens, mature people or retired people have a little time on their hands and television can be a useful form of entertainment and window to the world for them. We should try to respond to the needs of such people, especially elderly people living alone, and fill some of the gaps that may exist in their lives by having programming which would appeal to them. There are so many channels available, even on the domestic market, with the independent channel, the RTE channels, TG4, and now perhaps a film channel and the heritage channel. There should be space on the broadcasting spectrum for designing a degree of scheduling to facilitate these undefinable people. I hope the Minister will at least take the spirit of the amendment on board and respond to it in the most practical and positive way possible.

To respond to Senator Bradford, I do take the spirit of it in the sense that we need public sector broadcasting to present programming to the various publics, and to ensure that it is not always on the basis of commercial return and it looks after specific audiences. I also have the sense that programming which dips into the our heritage, especially archive programming, would make very interesting viewing, not just for the elderly but also for younger people who are often at home during the summer holidays or at other times. It is not being prescriptive in terms of the age catered for by such heritage programming.

If I outline the evolving framework as I see it and where any such programming or channel, as one might call it would fit in, it would explain why I would not at the same time accept the amendments. We are developing a new digital television platform. Within it, the structures which we are following involve a MUX, to use the technical term. The MUX is a platform for public free-to-air programming. Separately, we will have three platforms, probably working on a co-ordinated basis, which will be commercial programming or certainly provided by an operator or combination of operators who will have a VICS, a variety of pay-per-view and free-to-air programming.

The first public free-to-air platform will include stations such as RTE 1, RTE 2, TV3, TG4 and also two new channels that are prescribed in the legislation, an Oireachtas channel and a film channel, but it does not end there. There is the space within that digital platform for an estimated further two platforms, depending on the technology of the transmission equipment. Within that, there is real scope, for RTE in particular, to see what additional channels it might provide.

There is a fundamental difference between our film channel and the Oireachtas channel and any such additional services. First, the archive in the case of the film channel is held by the Irish Film Institute. It is far more appropriate that it is not an RTE managed service and that it is separately managed by an agency such as the film institute which has access to the resources, has or could develop the facilities, and which is the instigator of the concept. I am legislating to allow the film institute to introduce such a channel.

Likewise, the Oireachtas channel will be different from the type of channel RTE might decide to evolve using archive material. The broadcasting material available for it is available here. The channel would be fundamentally directed and developed under the guise and aegis of the Commission of the Houses of the Oireachtas rather than any broadcaster. It recognises that it is for that reason we are legislating for the Oireachtas and the film channels.

Development within the wider range of channels available, either on a commercial or a free-to-air basis, is for public or commercial broadcasters to decide. It is not appropriate for us to legislate for the detail of such additional channels which may be provided within this new digital area. RTE already seems very active in terms of providing programming which reflects the interests and needs of various demographics. I understand 62% of the over-five demographic watch public service broadcasting channels during peak hours. It is not that it is not providing a service for those people.

I hope the Senator will at least be pleased to note the proposed amendment No. 79 which gives the audience council the power to survey elderly people from time to time to ascertain their views and interests as regards public service broadcasting. We are not ignoring that audience but are specifically allowing for the audience council to do what is most appropriate, namely, to survey to find out what people want.

On Senator Joe O'Toole's question on some of the textual changes, we are of the view that our amendment is better English than the previous one. That alone is the reason for the change in the wording. However, we are open to anyone else's interpretation of the language. On amendments Nos. 21 and 23, which propose to mention the word "Irish" specifically in regard to additional broadcasting services, I do not regard this as necessary as the current provision does not distinguish between languages and is all-encompassing.

I appreciate the debate we have had. Other than amendments Nos. 77 to 79, inclusive, which I propose, I cannot accept the Senators' amendments.

I thank the Minister for his response. I have great respect for him but I do not believe the arguments he has made in which he seeks to distinguish between the case for an Irish film channel and a Houses of the Oireachtas channel and a proposal, such as mine, for a heritage channel holds up. If I understand the Minister correctly, he seems to be saying that because the Irish Film Institute is somehow external to RTE and has an archive of its own and because the Houses of the Oireachtas is not located in Montrose and, therefore, is somehow in a different location, it is commendable or acceptable to require in legislation that those channels be provided and facilitated but because a heritage channel could be provided by RTE from its own resources or from drawing on resources from independent producers, that is somehow different. I do not understand that argument.

Has the Minister not already conceded the principle that legislators should be allowed to be specific? For example, the advertising of junk food is not left to the codes the same way as other issues are left to them. The Minister has been specific on that issue in legislation. He has conceded the point that legislators can be specific. What kind of philosophy of legislation do we have if we decide that bodies such as RTE have to be left to themselves to decide and that for legislators to intervene and be specific is somehow inappropriate? We are the elected representatives of the people. We are entitled to identify lacunae where they exist and to be specific and to say to RTE that it has not done something, that it might or might not do it in the future, that it might or might not be in hock to advertising interests and that it might or might not have a director general or staff who are very conscious of the needs of an ageing sector of society but that we will take the chance that it will do the right thing some time in the future. Is that not a very demeaning attitude to take to our Legislature? Why can we not be specific and prescribe that something should happen if we all agree it is a good idea?

I know the Minister is sincere in making the distinction that the Irish Film Institute has an external archive. I will go back to my original point. Logic should prevail here. The provision of an Irish film channel will appeal to a certain number of people. It will not particularly appeal to people who do not have a huge appetite for films or to those who do not have a long concentration span. I would watch it some of the time but there will be many people who will benefit from the provision of a day long service or, as Senator Paul Bradford said, a service for part of the day, which provides viewing that is inclusive rather than niche. Will the Minister reconsider even at this stage? This Bill will not pass through the Dáil before the summer recess.

I wish to address what Senator O'Toole said. I would be the last person who would want to promote anything construed as ageist. His example of his 93 year old friend is very well taken. What that example illustrates is that we should not presume that everybody's experience of life is the same. Some people will be very active into advanced years and they are the people who will be able to press the button and choose "Judge Judy" if they want to do so.

Apologies. Glaofaimid "daoine uaisle" orthu. Is léir go bhfuil daoine ag staideanna difriúla ag aoiseanna difriúla. The only reason I chose the age of 65 was that it is the normal retirement age. Senator Paul Bradford very generously acknowledged the general truth we all know that as people grow older, their tastes change and that as they move towards retirement, they have different uses for their time and for many of them, television will be part of that. The more active people are, perhaps the less part television will play.

I do not find the distinction persuasive. I do not believe anyone would disagree that the heritage channel would reach a wider section of the population, which would appreciate what it would provide, than the Houses of the Oireachtas channel or the Irish film channel, welcome as they are. It is our right and duty to legislate for specifics and not to leave them to other bodies which are beyond our direct control to make the decisions we know need to be made. Will the Minister reconsider this over the summer break?

The Minister does not have the chance to come in again on Report Stage. Is the Senator pressing the amendment?

Regrettably, in light of the Minister's response, I will press the amendment.

Question put: "That the words proposed to be deleted stand."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 23; Níl, 17.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Butler, Larry.
  • Carty, John.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • de Búrca, Déirdre.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • McDonald, Lisa.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Brien, Francis.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Phelan, Kieran.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • O’Toole, Joe.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Prendergast, Phil.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Regan, Eugene.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Déirdre de Búrca and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Rónán Mullen and Joe O’Toole.
Question declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.
Amendments Nos. 21 to 24, inclusive, not moved.

Amendment No. 25 has been already discussed with amendment No. 7.

That group of amendments were not moved. I have discussed the matter with the Clerk who has told me I may move my amendment at this stage.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 25:

In page 38, between lines 27 and 28, to insert the following:

"(2) The levy referred to insubsection 15 shall be capped at a maximum annual figure to be determined by the Minister, following consultation with both the Authority and the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. Such levy will be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas for confirmation.”.

This amendment seeks to impose a check in the system of how the levy will be used by the new broadcasting authority; that the Minister, in consultation with the relevant Oireachtas committee and the authority, be permitted to cap the levy at a maximum amount and that their discussions and deliberations and the levy be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas for confirmation.

The issue was discussed on Committee Stage. The amendment seeks to impose a check and a balance to ensure that the levy, which is set at a relatively low level, does not increase dramatically into the future. The purpose of the amendment is to ensure there is discussion and scrutiny of any proposed increase in the levy. Perhaps the Minister will clarify the issue.

I second the amendment.

The amendment relates to the levy imposed on broadcasters by the BAI to meet its expenses. As I indicated on Committee Stage, I believe the levy is justified and appropriate. Also, the BAI should not seek, through a levy on broadcasters, to obtain funds greater than those it requires.

As I outlined on Committee Stage, the legislation places sufficient strictures on the BAI in this regard. In the case of regulators, for most sectors funded by a levy, it is not standard practise for the Minister to have powers to cap that levy. I do not propose to accept the amendment. However, I believe that accountability in regard to levies is important and I will ask my officials to consider this matter further before the Bill is enacted.

I thank the Minister for his response.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 26 and 102 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 26:

In page 38, between lines 42 and 43, to insert the following:

"(e) TG4 shall be exempt from this levy.”.

I am impressed by the attention to language and the decision to replace "people" with "persons". I believe the Department should write to the Pope and tell him he got he wrong in 1979 and should have said "Young persons of Ireland. . . ."

It would have difficulty communicating with that Pope.

Does the Department have a view on the Christian teaching that there are three persons in the one God or should we be saying that there are "three people in the one God"?

Senator O'Toole is being facetious today.

No, I am not. Attention to detail is important. I appreciate what is being done here.

TG4 is a minority station dealing with a minority group. It is ludicrous to require it to pay such a levy. It does not make sense that it could be subject to a levy. I accept that under the section as drafted, a levy could be imposed from which TG4 could be exempted. I would like it to be explicitly provided that it would not have to cope with such a levy. TG4 is struggling and is producing programmes on a shoestring. Many of us in this House have dealt with TG4 over the years and there is no fat in the station's programme production. It does a fabulous job against all the odds. It is unfair that they might be subject to the levy. It would be easy for the Minister to accept this amendment and say that TG4 should be excluded. I will not go on at length. I know the Minister supports the station and such support is universal around the House. I ask him therefore to give it some clarity and space, and a bit of rope to ensure it will not be held subject to a levy at any time in the future. This should not be left to the discretion of a broadcasting authority or any other group but should be simply by decision of the Oireachtas.

I second the amendment.

We must go back to the fundamentals of the Bill. One of the basic principles was that we wanted to have a level playing pitch between public sector broadcasters and commercial, independent and community broadcasters. In those circumstances it would be inappropriate, where a levy is to be applied, to fund the regulation of that level playing field in order that it would apply to one broadcaster and not to another. It is much fairer, more equitable and justifiable for it to be applied across the board. In that context, the levy can be kept at a low level in order that it does not hamper excessively any one broadcaster. I cannot accept the amendment because it goes against the fundamental principle of the Bill.

I acknowledge the Senator's instinct in terms of wishing to preserve or strengthen TG4 in whatever provisions we set out in the Bill. That is something with which I agree and I was pleased to see in last year's budget, in difficult economic times, that my Department was able to achieve a significant increase in funding for TG4, above the overall level of increased funding across other Departments. The process of TG4 funding has been determined over a number of years. I do not believe it is appropriate, nor that it would be easier, for us to change direction in terms of the structure and funding characteristics of the station at this time. We need time to give it solid back up to allow it expand its audience and to recognise that it has a commercial revenue stream and not completely dependent on funding from the Exchequer. In this fast-changing broadcasting market, however, as we move towards digital television, we need a period of stability and sound resources for TG4. That can be provided under current provisions and this Bill does not seek to change again the direction for the broadcaster.

I understand what the Minister is saying but I do not agree, for two reasons. First, even though TG4 is a State-owned broadcaster, a large percentage of its programming is made by independent producers and companies, many of them in Gaeltacht areas and surviving on a shoestring. More importantly, the station is a fragile flower and needs the support of the State and our support as it continues. I regret the Minister will not accept the amendment. I will not, however, press it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos 27, 28 and 84 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

Government amendment No. 27:
In page 41, line 14, to delete "as soon as practicable" and substitute the following:
"as soon as may be but not later than 6 months after the end of the financial year to which they relate".

As I mentioned on Committee Stage, I appreciate Senator Quinn's concerns and I understand the thinking behind amendment No. 28. I agree that best practice dictates that annual reports and accounts should be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas without delay upon completion of the audit. I do not accept, however, that the timeframe proposed in this amendment would necessarily achieve such an end result. The proposed date, 30 April, might not allow sufficient time after the end of the financial year for the authority to have prepared its accounts and for the Comptroller and Auditor General to have completed its audit. As such, I do not propose to accept amendment No. 28 as tabled.

I propose, however, to accept amendments Nos. 27 and 84 which will amend sections 37(4) and 109(4) to specify that the accounts and the report of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, BAI, RTE and TG4 must be presented to the Minister as soon as may be but not later than six months after the end of the financial year to which they relate. The purpose of this amendment is to assure that the Oireachtas will see the accounts concerned within a reasonable timeframe which was a fundamental concern articulated by the Senator during Committee Stage.

I thank the Minister for accepting the principle of the point I made which was, as he recognised, about good practice. It is good business practice and I love to see that practice initiated into all legislation in order that State companies have the same practice that is commonplace elsewhere. I accept the textual change to read "six months". I put down "four months" in the hope of being able to achieve it because we would like to see that improvement over the years but I accept entirely what the Minister said. He has taken the concept towards which I aimed.

I would love to see this period shortened as time goes on and to set a marker that whenever a Bill is drafted for a new State institution that this period would become progressively earlier. The large banks publish their accounts within days of the end of the year and some of the largest multinational companies publish theirs on a quarterly basis. It is possible to achieve better than we have done in the past and this is a considerable improvement.

As an example of what I have in mind, which I touched on briefly on Committee Stage, when I was chairman of An Post, we did our best to hand the accounts to the Minister in question and to the Comptroller and Auditor General within three months. Sometimes the Minister was tempted to sit on them for some time, although obviously that was not the present Minister. My aim in asking for four months was to achieve that timeframe. I am happy the Minister has taken on board the point and I believe we will benefit as a nation by having better standards in State companies.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 28 to 32 inclusive, not moved.

Amendments Nos. 33 and 35 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 33:

In page 44, between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following:

"(7) A broadcaster shall not broadcast an advertisement, promoting alcoholic beverages, which is aimed at minors. A broadcaster shall not broadcast an advertisement promoting alcoholic beverages before 9pm. Any advertisements for alcoholic beverages shall not encourage immoderate consumption of such products. A broadcaster will ensure prior to transmission that any such advertisements conform with appropriate broadcasting codes.".

The issue here concerns broadcasting and the advertising of alcohol which is of real concern. I oppose censorship whenever I see it. I have found myself in a situation here, however, where I can see the other side of this matter. Sporting organisations deal with this matter on a regular basis. I declare an interest here as I am involved in the management committee and am a director of the GAA. It is fair to say that my colleagues at senior level in the GAA feel that broadcasting of drink advertising should not be allowed and should not be associated with sporting activities. As long as it is permitted, however, people cannot walk away from it because if they do they are turning away from necessary sponsorship money. This is a classic example of an issue on which the Oireachtas must regulate. It is similar to the introduction of employment equality in 1977. The playing pitch must be levelled and the only way to do that is to take on board these matters. Other European countries have done this.

What I propose here is a regulation banning such advertising before 9.00 p.m. Surely it is not unreasonable to ask that there would be no broadcast promotion of alcoholic beverages before that time. Amendment No. 35, in the name of Senator Norris and myself, goes a little beyond that and attaches a fine. I cannot add to the debate because we have all discussed it over the years. However, the manner in which society controls and presents alcohol consumption must be considered. Having reached a certain level of maturity, it would be appropriate for us to ban the advertising of alcohol before 9 p.m., or ban it altogether.

I second the amendment.

I agree wholeheartedly with Senator O'Toole. There have been several discussions in the House on alcohol-related issues. As a nation, we have an issue with alcohol and cannot afford to ignore it in any relevant legislation that passes through the House. I am involved with sports organisations, particularly the GAA, and know valuable revenue is collected through the advertising of alcohol. It is ironic that a child cannot be in a public house after 9 p.m. but can watch advertisements showing people enjoying alcohol on television before that time. Amendment No. 33 is therefore a reasonable suggestion.

I concur with the sentiments of amendment No. 35. We need to set a standard and did so by banning tobacco advertising in Ireland some years ago. Tobacco advertising is not permitted in most countries, certainly in the European Union and even further afield. We need to take the bull by the horns regarding alcohol advertising. As a nation with issues regarding alcohol, we could take a step in the right direction by adopting much tougher guidelines and legislation on alcohol advertising.

I support the concept behind the two amendments. I recognise there is a problem with instituting a ban on advertising in one country that does not apply in the rest of the world. If Sky, UTV and other channels were allowed to advertise alcohol, the advertising revenue from companies that would otherwise advertise in the Irish media would be lost. The revenue would go abroad and, therefore, any step taken must be on an international basis.

It was interesting to note what Senator Phelan said about tobacco advertising. I was in Germany last week and was rather surprised to see advertisements for tobacco, including cigarettes. I had not seen any in recent times and consequently I realise the ban is not EU-wide.

I would love the Government to take a step — I am not sure what it is — to discourage the promotion and advertising of alcohol. We cannot do it in Ireland alone because steps must be taken on a broader scale. I proposed two years ago and again last year that there be a levy of 100% on all advertising of alcohol such that the proceeds of each advertisement would be devoted to enthusiastic anti-alcohol advertising. This would contrast with the half-hearted effort of the drinks companies.

This is not a matter for today. While the two amendments are aiming in the right direction, it is not possible to achieve what they seek at this stage because the issue needs to be handled at a European level.

I agree with Senator Quinn on this issue. Banning advertising of alcohol on RTE and other Irish television stations will not make a blind bit of difference if there are to be advertisements on Channel 4, ITV and other stations. The approach should be negotiated on a European basis in line with the approach to tobacco advertising in many countries. If an agreement is not negotiated with the United Kingdom, ITV and the other channels will simply take the advertising money from RTE, thus placing it at a disadvantage.

This is not a cut and dried issue and requires considerable thought. The aim of the amendments is desirable but I wonder whether they would achieve their intended goal.

I appreciate the variety of comments on this crucial issue. There is clear recognition across all parties that there is public interest in our reducing our consumption of alcohol; it is as simple as that. This can be achieved in part through a reduction in availability and advertising and through greater education on more responsible consumption of alcohol.

The issue is cross-departmental and is being treated as such by the Government in that the Ministers for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Health and Children, Education and Science and others have a clear role in formulating co-ordinated Government policy across a range of different areas. Members will be aware that the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Wallace, is due to launch new codes on alcohol marketing, communications and sponsorship at the beginning of July 2008. Such codes must be adhered to and this is the approach the Government has taken in this area. Existing and future codes are planned to dovetail with the analysis and strategy of the Department of Health and Children, which has a central role in determining our response in this area.

A significant element of the new codes will be the placing of an upper limit of 25% on the volume of all alcohol advertising. Thus, alcohol advertising will be limited to no more than 25% of space or time on any occasion across all Irish media, including television, radio, cinema, outdoor advertising and print.

While I understand the intent of the amendments, my line is to follow the co-ordinated Government strategy and to dovetail this with the recommendations of the alcohol advisory group established by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in January 2008. The resulting legislation, the Intoxicating Liquor Bill, was introduced yesterday.

There is a co-ordinated approach and the codes we are establishing will follow the line taken by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Department of Health and Children. This is the appropriate approach because those Departments, particularly the latter, have expertise regarding the health implications. The codes also provide strong direction to the effect that alcohol advertising should not be carried out during any programme that would have a large audience of children. If there are any weaknesses in this regard, we will support the further strengthening of the codes.

I understand the satellite broadcasters broadcasting into Ireland and inserting advertising have agreed voluntarily to follow the codes applied here. Senator Quinn is absolutely correct that we do not have statutory control over them. We have tested this in the European Union and have failed to achieve agreement thereon. I met my UK counterpart and stated we want to work with the United Kingdom. There is provision in the new EU regulations to allow us to work with the United Kingdom to ensure that codes on alcohol advertising are adhered to across national boundaries. Work is being done in that regard.

There will be further tightening of alcohol advertising and general marketing guidelines in the areas of sponsorship, print media and elsewhere in recognition of the fact that our alcohol consumption has serious consequences. This is a subject for consideration by the Government rather than by my Department alone.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 34, 36 and 38 are related and may be discussed together, by agreement.

Amendments Nos. 34 to 40, inclusive, not moved.
Government amendment No. 41:
In page 47, between lines 20 and 21, to insert the following:
"(7) In carrying out a review undersubsection (6) the Authority shall consider the quality of services provided by broadcasters in endeavouring to comply with a broadcasting rule made under subsection (1)(c).”.
Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 42, 44, 45, 47, 49, 51 and 52 are related. Amendments Nos. 48, 50 and 53 are alternatives to amendments Nos. 47, 49 and 52, respectively. Therefore, amendments Nos. 42, 44, 45 and 47 to 53, inclusive, may be discussed together by agreement.

Amendments Nos. 42 to 44, inclusive, not moved.
Government amendment No. 45:
In page 49, line 1, after "complainants," to insert "including an electronic-mail address,".

These are a series of what one might call procedural or textual amendments, each of which is designed to improve the process, rather than to alter fundamentally the policy objectives. I hope they can be agreed to.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 46 not moved.
Government amendment No. 47:
In page 53, line 3, to delete "10" and substitute "21".

The purpose of this amendment is to lengthen the time in respect of the right of reply. Hopefully, by increasing the period from ten to 21 days, which will give greater freedom to those making such a request, it will be sufficient to deal with the concerns raised in the House on this issue while, at the same time, ensuring the process moves sufficiently quickly to ensure the value is not diminished. This is a procedural, rather than a policy change to give greater time to people to apply the right of reply provisions.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 48 not moved.
Government amendment No. 49:
In page 54, line 21, to delete "10" and substitute "21".

This is a similar amendment that tries to give a slightly longer time for people to apply the provisions.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 50 not moved.
Government amendment No. 51:
In page 55, line 17, before "reply" to insert "right of".

This is procedural in nature.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 52:
In page 55, to delete lines 18 to 21.

I considered the points put forward on Committee Stage in respect of amendment No. 53 and on reflection, I am of the opinion that the text of section 49(21)(l) and section 49(21)(m) essentially are intended to achieve the same purpose. As such, I propose, under amendments Nos. 51 and 52, to delete section 49(21)(m) entirely. As a consequence, I do not propose to accept amendment No. 53.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 53 not moved.

Amendments Nos. 54 to 57, inclusive, 87, 98 and 109 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

Government amendment No. 54:
In page 58, lines 12 and 13, to delete all words from and including "on" in line 12 down to and including "section 50(7),” in line 13.

I wish to discuss these amendments as a group rather than individually. They are largely textual in nature and do not change the policy direction in any particular area.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 55:
In page 63, line 10, to delete "a broadcaster" and substitute "the broadcaster".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 56:
In page 63, line 11, to delete "€250,000" and substitute "the amount".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 57:
In page 63, line 11, after "notification" to insert "given to the broadcaster".
Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 58 requires recommittal as it does not arise from Committee proceedings.

I propose the Bill be recommitted in respect of amendments Nos. 58 and 111 to 120, inclusive.

To clarify, is this because the matter was not raised on Committee Stage?

Yes. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Bill recommitted in respect of amendment No. 58.
Government amendment No. 58:
In page 69, lines 14 and 15, to delete all words from and including "3(3)(a)(ii)“ in line 14 down to and including “ section 179)” in line 15 and substitute “3(3)(inserted by section 179(2))”.
Amendment agreed to.
Bill reported with amendment.
Amendment No. 59 not moved.

Amendments Nos. 60 and 108 are related, and may be discussed together by agreement. Senators John Paul Phelan and Bradford also have tabled amendment No. 60.

I note we tabled the same amendment as the Government. I wish to move both amendments.

Government amendment No. 60:
In page 74, line 29, to delete "5" and substitute "7".

The two amendments under discussion are clearly related because they pertain to the granting of licences. I am glad the Government tabled the same wording in respect of amendment No. 60 as did Senator Bradford and I, namely, that on the renewal of a local licence, the term of which has elapsed, if no one is competing for it there should be an automatic re-granting for seven, as opposed to five years, as originally proposed in the Bill.

Amendment No. 108 refers to digital technology in radio broadcasting. While the Minister's Department and the Government are anxious to move towards a digital radio network, this will involve considerable expense for all broadcasters. However, many local community stations in particular are not in a position to carry that expense. If they make a substantial investment in digital equipment, the Bill proposes that they would be entitled to an automatic four year extension to their licences. Amendment No. 108 seeks to change that to seven years, in line with what has been agreed on uncontested local area licences in amendment No. 60. I hope the Minister can accept it.

If we are serious about promoting digital radio across the country, we need to provide incentives for local stations. Many of them do not make much money and operate on a shoestring budget. Applying for radio licences is a time-consuming and costly job. In my own area, the local station has to go through a process of application about two years before the licence is due for renewal. If it invested substantially in digital technology at great expense, it would be appropriate to give it a suitable extension to its licence period. I think four years is too brief, as once the station has started that period, it is already looking for a further renewal. Given the level of investment involved, seven years is more commensurate. I understand that it costs about €250,000 to get a local radio station digitally equipped. The digital network is not in operation.

A number of stores around the country sell digital radios. During the week, I walked into a high street store in Kilkenny that sells digital radios, but it had sold only a couple because there is little point in buying such radios if most of the nation's radio stations are not available on the digital network. If we want to ensure local radio stations embrace digital technology, we need to provide an incentive for them to do so. A suitable incentive would be an increased extension to their licence period. I hope the Minister can accommodate that in amendment No. 108.

I thank the Minister for taking on board the increase to seven years. All sides feel that was warranted and a step in the right direction. Another step in the right direction would be for the Minister to reconsider the concept of a heritage channel. Senator Phelan made the point that the move to digital broadcasting is exceptionally important. We need to ensure the structures exist in a way that incentivises that move. The points being made today should be examined prior to the Bill going before the Dáil. If the move in that direction does not occur, it will inhibit what we are trying to achieve.

I appreciate the comments and the like-minds on the continuation of a licence for seven years in the case of uncontested applications. With regard to amendment No. 108, section 134 provides that the BCI may extend by four years the terms of an FM sound broadcasting contractor, provided the sound broadcasting contractor concerned is willing to provide its sound broadcasting services on a digital sound broadcasting multiplex. DAB radio is up and running in north-east Dublin, Cork and Limerick, is managed by RTE and has about ten channels. The BCI can licence commercial DAB and plans to begin that in the autumn. We are, therefore, developing our digital radio service.

Senators have argued that the extension period of four years is insufficient to encourage stations to simulcast on the radio, but I am not completely convinced by that argument. While there would be costs for broadcasters that chose to take on that simulcast in digital format, there also would be benefits and opportunities associated in a digital environment.

I will keep the issue under review as the Bill progresses, but I do not propose at this stage to accept Senator Phelan's amendment.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment Nos. 61 to 63, inclusive, not moved.
Government amendment No. 64:
In page 86, line 38, to delete "music and culture," and substitute the following:
"music, sport or culture,".
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 65 not moved.
Government amendment No. 66:
In page 89, line 30, before "terms" to insert "expertise or experience,".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 67:
In page 92, line 16, after "becoming" to insert "or ceases to be".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 68:
In page 92, line 18, to delete "Subject to the requirements ofsections 83 and 89, a” and substitute “A”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 69:
In page 92, line 20, after "or" to insert "has".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 70:
In page 92, line 21, after "becoming" to insert "or ceases to be".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 71:
In page 92, line 23, after "becoming" to insert "or ceases to be".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 72:
In page 92, line 25, after "becoming" to insert "or ceases to be".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 73:
In page 92, line 27, after "becoming" to insert "or ceases to be".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 74:
In page 92, line 29, after "becoming" to insert "or ceases to be".
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 75 not moved.
Government amendment No. 76:
In page 98, line 46, after "of" where it secondly occurs to insert "Gaeltacht communities and".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 77:
In page 99, line 28, to delete "people" and substitute "persons".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 78:
In page 99, line 29, to delete "people" and substitute "persons".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 79:
In page 99, between lines 30 and 31, to insert the following:
"(13) An audience council may require its corporation to conduct, or arrange to be conducted, as far as is reasonably practicable, a survey of elderly persons, for the purpose of ascertaining the views and interests of elderly persons in respect of public service broadcasting by the corporation.".
Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 80, 81, 85, 86, 96, 97, 105 and 106 are related, while amendment No. 83 is an alternative to amendment No. 81. These amendments may all be discussed together.

Government amendment No. 80:
In page 101, line 19, after "programming" to insert the following:
", including children's television programming in the Irish language,".

I recognise what the Minister has done with amendments Nos. 80, 81 and 106, which include provisions for Irish language programming for children, for Irish language programming, and for Irish cinema, respectively. I deeply appreciate the efforts he and his officials have made with these amendments. My amendments contained a number of proposals, but the Minister has met many of them and he has been generous enough to do that.

Amendment No. 85 deals with the requirement of a teletext service in the Irish language, and I would like the Minister to give further consideration to it as the Bill goes through the House.

Having said that, tá mé thar a bheith sásta go bhfuil gach iarracht déanta ag an Aire sa chás seo. Tá mé an-sásta go bhfuil dul chun cinn an-tábhachtach déanta ar son Ghaeilgeoirí agus muintir na Gaeltachta, chomh maith le gach éinne eile anseo a thugann tacaíocht don teanga.

Debate adjourned.