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SELECT COMMITTEE ON COMMUNICATIONS, NATURAL RESOURCES AND AGRICULTURE (Select Sub-Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine) debate -
Tuesday, 5 Jul 2011

Communications Regulation (Postal Services) Bill 2010: Committee Stage

As we have a quorum, the committee will now commence in public session. The purpose of the meeting is to consider the Communications Regulation (Postal Services) Bill 2010. I welcome the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, and his officials. As this is a new committee, it is our first time dealing with Committee Stage amendments, but we will try to expedite matters as far as possible. For the information of the Minister, the committee has agreed to suspend at 4.30 p.m. and decide at that time whether we want to reconvene at 6 p.m. or 6.30 p.m., for example, or in the morning. We can see how far we have got at that stage.

I ask all members and all those in the Public Gallery to ensure their mobile phones are switched off. It has been made clear to us that if there is any interference there will be no media coverage of the proceedings.

The grouping of amendments has been circulated along with correspondence on the Bill. We have agreed a timetable. I ask the Minister to proceed. Amendments Nos. 1, 4, 66, 68, 74 and 100 are related and may be discussed together.

NEW SECTION

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 8, before section 1, to insert the following new section:

1.---(1) This Act may be cited as the Communications Regulation (Postal Services) Act 2011.

(2) The Communications Regulation Acts 2002 to 2010 and this Act (other than sections 57 to 60) may be cited together as the Communications Regulation Acts 2002 to 2011 and shall be read together as one.”.

I congratulate Deputy Doyle on his election as Chairman of this committee. As he said, this is the first Bill to be taken by the new committee. I wish all its members well and look forward to their co-operation in dealing with this Bill as quickly as is consistent with proper scrutiny.

These amendments are proposed to take account of the fact that the original commencement date for this Bill was 1 January 2011 - that is, the date for full market opening as prescribed by the third EU postal services directive - which has now passed. It is now proposed that all provisions of the Bill, with the exception of section 43, whose commencement is dependent on the enactment of the customs Bill and will be made by ministerial order, will come into force immediately on the date the Bill is enacted. Consequently, the specifying of a commencement date is no longer required, and the definition of "commencement date" in section 6 is to be deleted. All references to the commencement date in various sections throughout the Bill are being deleted and replaced with the more general term "on the passing of the Act". In addition, an amendment is required to update the collective citation provided for in relation to the Communications Regulation Acts.

Are there any comments from the Opposition?

Amendment agreed to.
Section 1 deleted.
Section 2 agreed to.
SECTION 3

Amendments Nos. 2, 47, 48, 97, 98 and 101 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 8, lines 18 and 19, to delete "Minister for Finance" and substitute "Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform".

These are purely technical amendments that reflect the establishment of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the transfer of certain functions from the Minister for Finance to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. The amendments also reflect the name changes of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 3, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 4 and 5 agreed to.
SECTION 6

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 8, subsection (1), line 34, to delete "the postal network" and substitute "a postal service provider".

This amendment relates to the definition of the term "access point". As drafted, the term "access point", the point at which a user can deposit a packet for onwards transmission, is limited to the network of the universal postal service provider only. This amendment permits the use of the term in connection with outlet points provided by all postal service providers. It will not change any of the Bill's policy provisions but seeks simply to remove any possibility of ambiguity around the application of provisions to postal service providers other than the designated universal postal service provider.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 9, subsection (1), to delete lines 6 to 11.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 5 and 10 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 9, subsection (1), to delete lines 15 to 18 and substitute the following:

" "Directive" means Directive 97/67/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 December 1997 on common rules for the development of the internal market of Community postal services and the improvement of quality of service, as amended;".

Amendment No. 5 is a technical drafting amendment which simply replaces the reference to the "third directive", with a reference to the "first directive as amended" in the definition of "directive". The amendment does not change any of the Bill's policy provisions.

Amendment No. 10 extends this provision to include words or expressions used in the third postal services directive.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 6 and 60 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 9, subsection (1), between lines 22 and 23, to insert the following:

" "inward mail centre" is the last centralised automated processing location prior to transmission to the distribution centre;".

As Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, I have responsibility for the postal sector as a whole. I do not believe legislation that restricts any legitimate commercial activity would best serve the needs of postal users or the economy.

A key aim in liberalising any market is the promotion of effective competition and the encouragement of innovation with a view to improving choice and ensuring access to high quality, competitively priced and innovative products. The principle of using network access to assist with the development of competition is not unique to the postal sector. It is also part of the regulatory frameworks for energy and telecommunications, for example.

Section 28 provides that postal service providers have the right to negotiate access to An Post's network on a commercial basis and sets out a role for ComReg only where agreement cannot be reached. I believe this is the right approach. It is not possible to predict future work arrangements and business models of postal service providers, including An Post. Any legislative restriction on access could potentially be detrimental to all players, including An Post.

Having considered the concerns expressed around this issue and the arguments put forward, it may be possible to give some reassurance. I will explore with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel the possibility of drafting an amendment that will add to the list of issues in section 28(8) that ComReg must consider in settling any disputes around access. ComReg must take into account issues such as the reasonableness of the terms and conditions, the interests of users, the feasibility of granting the access sought and the cost avoided by An Post in granting access. An amendment could be drafted that would also require ComReg to consider the capital investment made by a universal postal service provider to provide the universal service. I will come back to this issue on Report Stage.

I welcome the Minister's comments. This is a small postal market. The directive was written with the substantial European mainland postal markets in mind rather than those of an offshore island off another offshore island off Europe. Despite all the assurances the Minister can give, the concerns surround the cherry-picking of services and lack of capital investment due to fragmentation, as happened in telecommunications service provision which left some parts of the country with no mobile telephone service and others with up to four providers.

I advise Deputy Ferris to re-table the amendment on Report Stage until we see the Minister's amendment. I am glad the Minister recognises the concerns that this legislation could lead to the diminution of services in geographically marginal areas and a lack of investment. It must also be remembered that the volume of mail is in decline. Bringing competition into a reducing market, therefore, will frighten any further investment. An Post has made significant investment in its sorting system and it is important we protect that on behalf of the State.

I thank the Minister for his welcome response. I will keep the amendment for Report Stage or until the Minister provides his amendment.

I acknowledge the investment made by An Post in its system. We want to see best use for that. It has been a contracting market for a variety of reasons, mainly due to the recession and electronic substitution. I agree it is uncertain territory. I do not want to get the Deputies' hopes up that I can frame an amendment that captures the commitments I made. I accept Deputy Ferris has raised a real issue which I am trying to address. I hope I can come back with such an amendment on Report Stage.

I welcome the Minister's comments. This is a sensitive and important issue for rural communities and I hope some accommodation can be reached on it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 10, subsection (1), line 17, to delete "audit" and substitute "auditor".

This is a technical drafting amendment proposed by the Parliamentary Counsel that simply replaces the word "audit" with "auditor" in line 17 so that "statutory auditor" is defined rather than "statutory audit" which is not a term used in the Bill.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 8, 9, 15, 28 to 39, inclusive, 75 and 76 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 8:

In page 10, subsection (1), lines 28 and 29, to delete all words from and including "any" in line 28 down to and including "section 17" in line 29 and substitute "An Post".

This amendment is self-explanatory. It defines the universal postal service provider as An Post. An Post is designated as the universal postal service provider for a period of seven years under section 17. Amendment No. 8 seeks to remove from the Bill the phrase "any postal service provide for the time being designated under section 17” and to replace it with “An Post”. The latter has been the universal provider of postal service and I would like this to continue to be the case.

I regret that I cannot accept the proposed amendments. The effect of these amendments would be to provide that only An Post would be designated as a universal service provider. One suggests that it be so designated for a period of 20 years, while others recommend that there would be no possibility for the regulator not to designate a provider if it found that the market was adequately meeting the needs of postal users.

It is clear that a reliance on legal protections that shield An Post from competition will not ensure that it is in a position to face the challenges to which we have just referred. Liberalisation and competition will pose challenges for An Post but there are far greater and more immediate threats to the company and its business model. The ongoing effects of the recession and the impact of electronic substitution are both having a far greater bearing on An Post's letter post market than will any market entry on the part of traditional postal competitors. However, safeguarding the universal postal service is fundamental to the regulatory framework for the postal sector and the Government has fully considered the provisions of the Bill that allow for the designation of a postal service provider in order to ensure that users enjoy a universal postal service as set out in section 16.

I propose to replace section 17 with four new sections which give effect to the Government's decision regarding certain commitments in the programme for Government, namely, extending the initial period of designation of An Post from seven to 12 years and providing a role for the Minister in certain designation decisions by ComReg. These sections will provide that after the expiry of the first seven years of An Post's designation, ComReg will review the position and decide whether the designation of An Post should continue for the remainder of the 12-year period, whether other postal operators should be designated or whether no designation will be required in order to fulfil the universal service obligation.

Members should note that the Bill safeguards and enshrines the universal service - an obligation under Article 3 of the directive - and that this cannot be removed or scrapped by ComReg. In fact, the latter will now be charged with ensuring the availability of the universal service. Providing for the designation of a postal service provider in the context of this Bill refers to the placing of the State's obligation or parts thereof on An Post or other postal service providers.

The section, as redrafted, also provides that ComReg must seek the consent of the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if, following its seven-year review, it wishes to make a decision to the effect that An Post should not be designated for the remainder of the 12-year period. Guiding the Minister in granting his consent will be whether he is satisfied that the proposal from ComReg will ensure the universal service. If the Minister refuses to grant his consent, then the status quo will prevail and An Post’s designation will continue for the remainder of the 12-year period.

The new section 18 provides for further reviews of the designation of universal service providers, whether An Post or others. It also provides that where a decision that no designation should be made is taken, the commission shall conduct, at appropriate intervals, reviews to assess whether designations are required.

The new section 19 provides that ComReg's reviews must be conducted in accordance with procedures it draws up. In addition, it must assess the extent to which the market is providing postal services which meet the reasonable needs of consumers.

The new section 20 provides that ComReg must publish its decisions to designate a universal postal service provider, either An Post or another, and that it must also notice the Minister and the European Commission. It must also do the same where no designations are made.

We are dealing with a huge number of amendments which relate to many important issues. The impact of amendment No. 8 would be to have a sole universal service provider in perpetuity. I would, in principle, agree with that. I have no doubt that the Minister will indicate that this would be far too restrictive and would not be in compliance with the European directive.

Amendment No. 28 deals with the commitment in the programme for Government for a 20-year designation of a universal postal service provider. However, the promised period is being reduced from 20 to 12 years. In addition, it is not really a 12-year period but is, rather, a seven-year period. In other words, it could be seven years but it might be 12. Seven years from now, however, we all might have lost our seats. The Minister will then be in a position to state that he did not believe it would work out that way.

I do not know why the Minister, who is a man of his word, did not adhere to his original promise of a 20-year period. I have tabled an amendment to the effect that An Post should be designated as the universal postal service provider for a period of 20 years. I will be interested in hearing why it is no longer possible to designate a 20-year period. When in opposition, those now in government claimed that it would be possible to designate such a period.

Why did the Minister not just designate a clear 12-year period? Amendment 28 states that "Subject to subsection (2), An Post is designated as the universal postal service provider for a period of 12 years beginning on the passing of this Act. That is great. However, subsection (2) states that after the expiration of seven years after the passing of the Act, and following a review under section 19 by the commission of the designation of An Post under subsection (1), the commission may decide to not continue the designation for the entire 12 years. Either it is seven years or it is 12 years. I accept that I will be informed that this or that protection exists. However, the best protection that could be provided is through the putting in place of a full 12-year period. It would be even better if the Minister had adhered to the original proposal and made provision for a 20-year period.

A number of the other amendments in this group relate to the designation and also to what will happen if no designation is needed. That is very dangerous territory. I am of the opinion that there will always be a need for a universal service designation. The fact that it might not be required relates to the possibility that someone will decide in the future that there will not be a need to provide people not only on the island of Ireland, but also on the territorial islands off its coasts, with a universal service each day.

This leads to another deletion I would like. A reference in the Bill relates to providing identical services to postal services, under comparable conditions. If one lives on an offshore island, one is not in a comparable condition and I always have a concern about what happens when these niggling phrases come back to bite us.

The Bill provides that one should notify the Minister and the European Community in writing of the identity of any universal service provider to be so designated. My amendments proposed removing all possibility of not having a universal service provider. I also proposed there should not be more than one universal service provider. If we split the universal service and suggest that Dublin should have one universal service provider and the rest of the country should have another, we know what will happen. The Dublin universal service provider will have the economic part of the service while the rural universal service provider will find that it is cost constrained and will inevitably come back to the Department saying it cannot provide the service. The Department will say it has no money and will go to the people making money on the private side and point out the provision in the Bill for taking money from them. Then, as happened with the VHI, this will result in a number of court cases. Why would people get into the profitable side of a business if they will end up having to hand over their profits to the less profitable business in the bad area? Something must always give in that regard. I do not see the Department with responsibility for public expenditure queuing up now or in the future to give a heap of cash to An Post as the universal provider in the rural area. As a result, the next thing will be to introduce an amendment that will provide that as it is no longer economical to have the universal service to all the houses in the country at the same time at a universal maximum tariff, that service is over and people will now have to accept that their post will only be delivered two or three days a week or that it will be left in post boxes at the end of the lane or some of the other changes that will inevitably happen.

I would be the first to recognise that when we were in Government in the past, we fell for some of the assurances we were given by all and sundry in the public service and everywhere else that things would work out and would not happen as some of us feared they would. I always remember, for example, the famous golden share in the sugar company. However, ask any beet farmers in Ireland how much the golden share was worth at the end in stopping the closure of the sugar beet industry and they will say there was grand talk when the Bill was going through the Oireachtas - I was in the Seanad that day - but it did not work out. Once the flood gates are opened, the problems just increase. Whatever changes are to be made, I urge the Minister to insert what protections he can, perhaps through accepting some of the deletions I have proposed in my amendments. He should try to ensure there is only one universal service provider and that, as a minimum, the period in question is for 20 years as promised. I would prefer if the Minister would accept the amendment put forward by Deputy Ferris, but I accept it may not be legally possible. Why has it not proved possible to provide that the period is for 20 years? I also urge that the amendments I put forward to protect customers from the little cuts here and there in the concept of universal service provision five days a week to every household in the country are accepted.

It is essential to have a universal service in perpetuity to protect the service, the work resulting from that service and its contribution to the more marginalised areas of this country. Much of what Deputy Ó Cuív has said is evidence of the concerns of people, particularly in rural Ireland, and I concur with him. Ideally, I would like to see the universal service continue in perpetuity under An Post. That organisation has done fantastic work for the country and the An Post service is also hugely significant for people living in rural and isolated areas. It has been like a social service as well as a public service and this element should not be lost but should be taken on board.

Despite all the Minister's good intentions, I do not believe he can guarantee the service for 12 years. I believe that provision can be unravelled. I remain to be convinced that there is a legal difficulty with regard to the 20-year provision or to having a universal service in perpetuity or that this could be challenged. If that is the case, the Minister should provide for the longest timeframe possible.

I would like to declare, as I did on Second Stage in the Dáil, that I am a contracted employee with An Post and operate a post office. This group of amendments deals with a critical issue. I recall that at one stage An Post had a monopoly in almost every area of the postal service, including parcels. However, over time different decisions have been taken, the company has been subdivided and, regrettably, it has lost the lion's share of the parcel service. This was a critical issue in rural areas. It could be argued that it would have been difficult then to provide that An Post or the company providing a parcel service to rural areas should become the universal service provider, as neither was in a position to do it. However, things changed rapidly within a couple of years. While An Post could have been named as the universal service provider, it could not do the job. People may remember, particularly anybody who was looking for a parcel from the courier service just established, the situation at the time and the difficulties An Post was in then. It was a terrible situation and if, for example, people were expecting a parcel from an international destination, they did not know who would deliver it or when or whether it would be delivered. The problem was that An Post had the responsibility to provide the universal service, but it could not provide it because it did not have the lion's share of the parcel market. It did not even have a decent fraction of the market. An Post is still trying to build up that market again.

Things change rapidly in the market. It would, therefore, be onerous to make provision to provide a universal service in perpetuity and to place that onus on a company which is trying to run itself profitably in a business-like manner while fulfilling a universal service obligation. As a rural Deputy who works for An Post, I share the concerns expressed by Deputies Ó Cuív and Ferris with regard to cherry-picking and so on, which is a bigger issue. What we are dealing with here concerns items of less than 50g and the liberalisation or opening up of that market. All the other postal services are already open. I agree with the Minister that the provision of seven and 12 years is a reasonable timescale.

Many of these issues are basic issues, such as the timing of the universal service, whether there should be one or more universal service providers and whether there no designation whatsoever be provided for in the Bill. Yesterday, I was in a place which depends hugely on the public service to deliver parcels and people were saying that the liberalisation of the market means that people cannot be sure of receiving their parcels in a secure fashion in places like Ros a' Mhíl, which is a busy destination. They say the main couriers sub-contract the work and one cannot be sure one's goods will arrive in good order. As so many are running around in circles after each other, it is not economic for anybody to provide a half decent service. That is having a detrimental economic effect on businesses in those areas that depend on parcel delivery to survive. This gets to the nub of the issue.

Does the Minister wish to respond?

Yes. As Deputy Ó Cuív has said, this is the substance of the Bill. The amendments raise fundamental issues about the future of the postal service and the shape of the industry in the future. The important point to make is that the universal service obligation is strengthened by what we are doing here, because the Bill safeguards and enshrines a universal service as it is required to do, and as an obligation under Article 3 of the directive. In other words, a piece of mail will be delivered every working day in every part of the country. That universal service obligation is strengthened as a result of what we are doing now.

Deputy Ó Cuív is not correct when he states that 12 years is not 12 years. I agree with him that 12 years is not 20 years, but I do not agree that 12 years is seven years. Amendment No. 28, at subsection (1) states: "Subject to subsection (2), An Post is designated as the universal postal service provider for a period of 12 years beginning on the passing of this Act.”

Deputy Harrington is correct, I do not believe anybody can say what the position will be in 20 years' time. ComReg is fully entitled to designate for 20 years, if that is the view of ComReg at the end of the 12 years. Section 18 makes that plain. If ComReg decides at the end of seven years that it ought to be continued for 12 years that is a reasonable compromise, and is a lifetime in the context of where we are in this sector. If ComReg decides otherwise, the Minister intervenes and for the first time in legislation, the Minister is given the right to intervene and make such a decision.

That provides a considerable protection from the point of view of the arguments being advanced here, which is that this matter is not left purely to technical and professional bureaucratic competence, that there ought to be a political court of appeal in terms of acknowledging that the circumstances in different parts of the country may be different and that there are overriding social and other objectives to be met. In that case the Minister intervenes and makes the decision.

One of Deputy Ó Cuív's amendments also proposes to delete section 17(5), which requires that where more than one postal service provider is designated as a universal postal service provider, there is no duplication of obligation. That, however, is a requirement of the directive. I refer committee members to recital 25 of the third directive, which is relevant in this regard. My own amendments Nos. 9, 15, 75 and 76 propose to update cross-references arising as a consequence of the insertion of the new sections, to which I spoke earlier.

It is important to acknowledge that this is a considerable strengthening of the Bill. The Bill, as introduced, had a seven years requirement. It now has a requirement of 12 years and it also has provision for a role for the Minister in terms of political oversight. That is also very important.

Deputies are motivated by the difficulties they see coming down the road in regard to the traditional service provided by An Post as we have all known and loved it. That appears to be what the amendments are designed to address. Unfortunately like the little Dutch boy with the finger in the dyke, there are some things one would find very difficult to stop even if one wanted to. There has been a dramatic fall in postal traffic. Were it not for Members of this House at Christmas time, especially Deputies such as Deputy McGrath who sends a Christmas card to everybody in his constituency, the situation would be even more serious.

The post office will send them.

I am afraid it is true that there is a decline in the volumes. In addition, there is the onset of new technologies where a whole segment of the population who would not know how to write a letter communicate electronically. All of that is posing a major challenge for the traditional An Post business model. An Post has made progress in diversifying the service it provides, creating new products and attracting footfall in terms of its arrangements with some of the banks. It has a unique retail infrastructure, with 1,343 outlets throughout the country and this places it in a unique position to provide services that the traditional banks will no longer provide.

An Post is attempting to do many things. The current management and leadership is attempting to deal with these issues as best they can. They are under fierce pressure because of falling volumes of post. The last budget capped the social welfare-social protection provision at seven figures. Every way one looks at it, they are being squeezed. There is an unavoidability and inexorability about some of the impact of changing habits, advancing technology and so on.

To talk of a designation 20 years into the future is not feasible because I do not believe anybody can project that far ahead. What I am trying to do in the Bill is to leave the opportunity open after seven years to assess the position and to designate for 12 years, if that is necessary. That is open to the Minister of the day, whoever he or she may be but if one goes on to look at section 18, it is open to ComReg to designate for a longer period, if that is the assessment at that time.

All things considered, this is a reasonable compromise. It provides a period of adjustment of at least 12 rather than seven years, which was the position heretofore. In addition it provides for ministerial oversight. That is important. As a result, the changes we are making considerably strengthen the protection of the universal service obligation. I agree that this is a major part of the substance of the Bill but it is a better Bill as a result of these amendments.

The Minister has confirmed my concerns in so far as it could be determined by a Minister after seven years, whether the designation is extended to 12 years. Given the history of some Ministers, very small unrepresentative parties with a right-wing agenda could effectively allow a service to be taken away. That is my concern. While there may be confidence at present, particularly given the Labour Party's relationship with trade union workers and trade union activists throughout the country who may have a social conscience, in seven years time a different Minister may have no concept of the importance of a service for areas outside the more economically viable areas and all this could be lost. The only guarantee we have is that An Post is designated as the universal postal service provider for a period of seven years but nothing after that. It then depends on ComReg or the Minister of the day. To say that we have a guarantee for 12 years is dressing it up.

I am still curious about the 20 years. This is the same Bill; the same Deputy, now Minister, said it should be 20 years. I have been given no explanation as to where he met his Damascus. Suddenly 20 years became 12 and then seven. Where a section is inserted that states, subject to subsection (2), An Post is designated as the universal postal service provider for a period of 12 years, one's first reaction is to look at subsection (2). However, subsection (2) provides that it is not 12 years but seven, if the Minister and ComReg so decide. We want to add another layer to this, that is, the deletion, in amendment No. 28, of section 17(2) to provide that those who will decide whether the period should be shorter than 12 years would be Oireachtas Éireann and not the Minister or ComReg, otherwise this is just window-dressing of the section and absolutely meaningless. The Minister mentioned that one of my amendments proposed the deletion of "no duplication of services". That amendment was consequential on what I said that there would be only one universal service provider. By definition, if there is only one universal service provider, the issue of duplication of services by universal service providers does not arise. That was a consequential amendment I had to table because I maintain that this Bill should not provide for a situation of no universal service provider, or no designation, which it does. That is wrong. When it gets that far it will cut the service and say, it is good enough for them.

I do not believe it is good to have more than one universal service provider because they will not be working on level playing pitches. I was intrigued by the Minister's reference to the guy who handled the dyke in Holland. My memory of the story was that, in fact, he saved the whole of Holland by having a hand in the dyke; he kept the water out. The whole purpose of this is to stop the water coming in.

Let us take a simple analogy. Suppose one owned two shops, one in a large town and one in a small town, and there was cross-subsidisation between them and a good service was provided but the provider was under pressure. I cannot understand how it is more viable to continue with the service if one forces each town to have two shops and then you split the small town from the big town because the two shops being forced into the small town will certainly not survive. Whereas I concur with what Deputy Harrington said about what happened to the parcel service, I would not concur with him that liberalisation was not a cause of a huge part of the problem and that we would now have a better parcel service in many parts of the country if we had kept the universal service provision and had tried to limit the competition on the market. What happened with competition in the market in all of these services is that everyone want to provide the competition in the centre but they are not willing to do what the Bill provides for, that is, to provide the cash to cross-subsidise the service on the margin. It never happens. It is always provided for but it never happens in cash.

Will the Minister consider coming back on Report Stage with an amendment to delete the "no designation" provision and have only one universal service provider - one must allow competition but all of those must be commercial - and will he consider providing for 20 years universal designation in the Act? Those are the three major changes I need. There are other issues about comparable services. We are losing some of the small print in section 18(1) (b ) which reads “to provide identical services to postal service users under comparable conditions”. I ask the Minister to delete the obnoxious phrase “under comparable conditions”. What are comparable conditions? There is nothing comparable at the end of the day because no two places in the country are the same. Therefore that is an out that allows anybody out of the gig.

The first point I wish to respond to is the distinction drawn between Oireachtas Éireann and the Minister. In our system Oireachtas Éireann elects a Government and the Minister makes the decision. If one was to go to Oireachtas Éireann rather than the Minister, the Minister and the Government of the day would be expected to have a majority in Oireachtas Éireann. I accept Deputy Ferris' point of view that one could find a very ideological Minister who would be determined to ignore the compelling social and other arguments in different parts of the country but I find it difficult to envisage a situation where any Government would decide to ignore the compelling reasons for the maintenance of the universal social obligation. The Government that would acquiesce in that would be very unusual. The Minister now has oversight, previously it was with ComReg. If there is any dispute about maintaining the 12 years then it falls back to the Minister whose consent is required. I cannot see a Minister easily being authorised to conform to agree with ComReg. Deputy Ó Cuív remains confused about the 20 years and so forth. In the interests of accuracy and fairness, I doubt that he will be able to produce any statement by this Deputy proposing 20 years. This Bill was being progressed by the previous Government so I looked at what came from Deputy Ó Cuív in his capacity as Minister to see if he recommended that it would be 20 years but I cannot find any evidence of it. I cannot even find evidence of him wanting to increase it to 12 years, so I would have expected to have his support for the extension from seven to 12 years, unless he is suggesting that he had a different view in Government from what he holds now. However, I do not believe he is that type of Deputy. He holds consistent views on matters such as this.

After 12 years, section 18 provides for an extension of designation for a further period if ComReg is of that view. I believe it is a safeguard in our democratic system that the Minister makes the call. The universal service provision is being protected here, and that is the critical matter for me. I am happy that we have struck a reasonable compromise on this. Twenty years is unconscionably long in the context of our current position. Also, we have had to ensure that the Bill passed muster in terms of what was envisaged in the directive, and I believe we have achieved that.

I support the Minister on the seven year intervention phase. Given that post offices, particularly in rural areas, are such an emotive issue, I cannot imagine a situation where the Minister would not be influenced by strong pressure on that issue. There would be such pressure after seven years in spite of all the changes that are coming down the line in terms of An Post retaining the universal service provision.

I take the point Deputy Ó Cuív made about the parcels. I was not referring to the chaos in the parcel post because there was the issue of the universal service provision. It must be 20 years ago that I was appointed a postmaster and the post office is very different from what it was. My point was that a fundamental shift in the market took place within a couple of years. It turned into a chaotic situation very quickly. It did not matter whether it was the parcel, letter or publicity post section, anything could have happened. A corporate decision was taken which many would say was not a good decision. If one had a situation like that within 20 years, and it could happen within five, providing for the universal service obligation within one company and spreading it out over that length of time in a volatile market just seems a bit excessive. Things change very quickly. We have seen new companies advertising very seriously for letter post in urban areas. That might have a profound effect on An Post's ability to deliver service. If we provide that An Post must be the holder of the universal service obligation for 20 years, at two decades that is a long time.

My understanding is that An Post and the unions would welcome ministerial oversight on this. I support the Minister on this matter. There is the idea that in future years a right-wing Minister would make a decision but there would be far greater opportunity for the regulator, ComReg, to make a decision. It is important to have political oversight so I welcome that.

I believe we are all agreed on this but we are not agreed on the method. Given a choice of seven years with the final say resting with the Minister rather than seven years with the final say resting with ComReg, of course I am with the Minister. However, the choice is 12 years, with no ifs, buts or maybes. Members are saying that the Minister will not do it but why is it in the Bill if he will not do it? It makes a nonsense of the provision to have a section saying it is 12 years, but it can be seven years if the Minister agrees. The Minister will never agree because we have all agreed that no Minister would ever agree to this. Why include it if that is the case and when we all know it is not true?

I believe what happened is that the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, got advice that he might be sailing too close to the wind in respect of the directive and that there might be some whinges from complaining private operators. Will the Minister clarify if that is the case? Is that why he cannot move to the simple term of 12 years and leave it at that? The debate taking place here is unreal. We are saying it is 12, but it is also seven and that if it is seven, there is a Minister to protect us and no Minister will ever use the seven so it is back to 12. That is irrational unless the truth behind this is that the Minister cannot use simply 12 or 20 because the interpretation from the Attorney General of the directive is that it would be unsafe. If that is a fact, will the Minister be up-front and tell us so? There is no other logic for this convoluted process.

Second, with regard to the parcel analogy, what started the chaos in parcel delivery was liberalisation. I will put my cards on the table. I do not like this European directive and I do not like the god that Europe has made of competition. If there is any way of legally stymieing it or making it as hard as possible for the cherry-pickers to get in, I will support it as long as we can do it within the directive. I would go within one millimetre of the directive to try to stymie the competition for the simple reason that competition in a limited island market merely cherry-picks the core and leaves a depleted system anywhere that is not near the core. That is what always happens. We saw it in the liberalisation of the telecommunications market.

Philosophically, I am probably at odds with the Minister. In providing for a minimum of 12 years, although I would prefer to provide for 20, and providing that there can only be one universal service provider and that we cannot have a situation with no designations, we would make it as tight as might be possible under the directive. Will the Minister clarify whether the directive is the real problem in providing for a simple 12 or 20 years?

There is no mystery about it. I regard what is in the Bill as the facility for 12 years, not seven. I have explained that and I do not believe another Government would be likely to take a different view if there were impulses in parts of the country to the contrary.

The architecture is questioned by Deputy Ó Cuív. It is not the first time we have constructed legislation in which the straightforward and simple gave way to a more complex architecture. The architecture seeks to encompass a number of matters. The Deputy is correct that we must ensure it passes muster with the directive. However, it is also true that the market is changing fundamentally. There has been an 18% drop in volume over the last three years. This Bill is designed to stay the course for some time and has been constructed to keep options open in that regard. Whatever about Deputy Ó Cuív arguing that it ought to be for a longer period of 20 years, I cannot understand the argument of trying to convert the existing facility for 12 years into seven years.

Twelve years but no quibbles. The Minister should listen at least.

The Minister should have respect. I said 12 years. I never proposed seven years. I said 12 years with no get of jail card for anybody, including the Minister. That is what I said. The Minister should quote me correctly.

What we are building into this Bill for the first time is political oversight by the Minister. I think Deputy O'Mahony is correct. I think that if it were left to ComReg there is a chance that one might get a different decision. In that event, the Minister has the final consent. It is protection against that happening.

The market is changing fundamentally and we must face up to that. I would have thought frankly that the committee would welcome the fact there is that guarantee underwritten by the political system. In the event of ComReg deciding that seven years is adequate, the facility is there for the Minister to extend it. I would have thought that is a big plus. None of us knows what the situation will be like in seven years time. It may well be that there is a majority of this committee in agreement with whatever ComReg decides at the time. As I have pointed out, if ComReg is of the view after 12 years that there are compelling reasons to extend it, ComReg is free to make that decision then.

We have given this amendment the airing it needed. Is the amendment being pressed?

As fewer than nine members are present, under Standing Orders we are obliged to wait eight minutes or until full membership is present before proceeding to take the division.

Amendment put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 3; Níl, 7.

  • Ferris, Martin.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon

Níl

  • Deering, Pat.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Harrington, Noel.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • O’Mahony, John.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 9:

In page 10, subsection (1), line 29, to delete "section 17” and substitute “section 17 or 18”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 10:

In page 10, lines 30 to 32, to delete subsection (2) and substitute the following:

"(2) A word or expression used in this Part and in the Directive or, as the case may be, in Directive 2008/6/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 February 2008, has, unless the contrary intention appears, the same meaning in this Part as in the Directive or, as the case may be, in Directive 2008/6/EC.".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 11:

In page 10, subsection (3)(a), lines 36 and 37, to delete all words from and including “or” in line 36 down to and including “of,” in line 37.

The amendment relates to the definition of "in the course of transmission by post" and it seeks to clarify that a postal packet ceases to be in the course of transmission by post once it has been delivered to the addressee. The amendment also reflects more clearly the meaning of the original definition set out in the Post Office Act 1908.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 6, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 7

Amendments Nos. 13 and 14 are related to amendment No. 12 and all three may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 12:

In page 11, subsection (1)(d), line 22, after “notices” to insert “or notifications”.

These are technical amendments.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 13:

In page 11, subsection (1), lines 25 to 41, to delete paragraph (e) and substitute the following:

"(e) where there is a facility for receiving a copy of the notice or notification by electronic mail or a facsimile of the notice or notification by electronic means at the address at which the person ordinarily resides or carries on business, by sending a copy of the notice or notification by electronic mail or a facsimile of the notice or notification by such means to that address, provided that the notice is also served or given in any of the other ways referred to in this subsection other than this paragraph.”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 14:

In page 12, subsection (3)(b), line 4, to delete “section 17(6)(b)” and substitute “section 20(1)(b) or (2)(b)”.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 7, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 8 to 10, inclusive, agreed to.
SECTION 11

I move amendment No. 15:

In page 14, to delete lines 21 to 25 and substitute the following:

"(b) making a designation under section 17 or 18 of the Communications Regulation (Postal Services) Act 2011;

(c) conducting a review for any of the purposes of the said section 17 or 18;”.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 69, 70, 80, 83, 88 to 90, inclusive, and 92 are related to amendment No. 16 and all may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 16:

In page 15, lines 22 and 23, to delete "to a fine not exceeding €5,000" and substitute "to a class A fine".

These amendments are designed to reflect Part 2 of the Fines Act 2010, which came into being last January. That Act provides for a classification system for summary offences and the amendments seek to reflect this new system. In other words, instead of a fine not exceeding €5,000, it will be deemed to come under class A. Class B is a fine of €4,000 or less while class C is a fine of €2,500 or less and so on. The amendments seek to bring the legislation into kilter with the Fines Act 2010.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 11, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 12 and 13 agreed to.
SECTION 14

Amendment No. 18 is related to amendment No. 17 and they may be discussed together. If the question on amendment No. 17 is agreed, amendment No. 18 cannot be moved.

I move amendment No. 17:

In page 16, lines 15 and 16, to delete "authority for the purposes of the Directive" and substitute the following:

"authority. The Minister shall reserve the right to veto decisions of the Commission where it is deemed to be in the national interest".

The amendment attempts to strengthen what is proposed by retaining the Minister's right to veto decisions by the commission when it is in the national interest. It is only fair that the Minister, who represents the Government and the people, should have that right to protect the citizens.

The reason I cannot accept these amendments is that under section 11 of the Communications Regulation Act 2002, ComReg is statutorily independent in the exercise of its functions. A regulator, independent of postal service providers, is an explicit requirement of Article 22 of the directive and, where member states retain ownership or control of postal service providers, effective structural separation of regulatory functions from activities associated with ownership or control is also required.

I understand that an issue aired in the debate in the Seanad, as it was in the Dáil, concerned a perception that there was a lack of accountability by ComReg to the Houses of the Oireachtas. I assure the committee that the 2002 Act, which established ComReg as an independent statutory body to regulate and take key decisions in regard to both the electronic communications and postal sectors, also provides in section 34 that ComReg is accountable to the Oireachtas regarding the performance of its functions. In addition, where it is necessary from a strategic perspective, the 2002 Act allows the Minister to issue policy directions to the regulator.

The amendments would create uncertainty around ComReg's operations and potentially compromise its independence. Also, ComReg's statutory functions and objectives, as amended by sections 9 and 10, respectively, of this Bill require it to "ensure the provision of a universal service that meets the reasonable needs of postal service users". Thus, any decision taken by ComReg must take account of the reasonable needs and interests of users of the universal postal service. In addition, ComReg decisions on postal services will be appealable to the High Court under this legislation. The committee will have noticed that the proposed Government amendment to section 17 provides that ComReg's decisions relating to the designation of a universal service provider will now be subject to the Minister's consent.

I agree with the Minister that the amendment as tabled does not work but I understand Deputy Ferris's position. Going through the Bill I tried to look at where fundamental decisions would be made by ComReg. As the Minister indicated in the debate over seven or 12 years, at least there is the saving clause of "the Minister's consent". I would prefer if it were simply "12". I recognise that at least the Minister has provided some political accountability on fundamental decisions. What worries many people is the inclusion of definitions such as "reasonable" in the view of ComReg. We discussed that many times in Government.

When an independent agency makes a so-called reasonable decision, sometimes it is driven by narrow money interests of a section rather than taking the good of the wider community into account. All hell breaks loose then and questions are asked about who allowed a wide-ranging socio-political decision to be taken that might have an economic benefit for a narrow sector but is not in the interests of the wider community. One is then told that agency X is independent. The question people on the ground always ask is why the Minister did not stop them, only to be told that the law does not provide for the Minister to interfere even though the decision will have a devastating effect on the socio-economic make-up of communities.

In the spirit of what Deputy Ferris and I have proposed and given that he has more resources than the Opposition, will the Minister examine the Bill between now and Report Stage to ensure that all fundamental decisions that might have wider implications than postal communications are subject to ministerial approval. This would be desirable in view of the inclusion of clauses referring to "reasonableness" and a possible narrow interpretation rather than a broader Government focus?

It is a bit unfair to paint ComReg as a monstrous ideological creation that is oblivious to real factors in the country or that it would be minded to disregard the national interest. ComReg would be minded to approach issues in a more broad-minded way than purely on technical or ideological considerations.

I draw Deputy Ó Cuív's attention to the fact that ComReg is accountable to Oireachtas Éireann. There is no reason the committee ought not to take steps to ensure that the measure is implemented. Colleagues who hold strong views should take steps to ensure the accountability has tangible meaning.

The Minister has the authority under the legislation to issue policy directives to the regulator. It is difficult to envisage the kind of Minister who would wait until Armageddon came down the road before he or she would stir himself or herself to give policy directions if the circumstances envisaged by Deputy Ó Cuív were likely to happen. I ask him to acknowledge that the Minister's hands are tied in terms of the amendments in so far as ComReg is statutorily independent. That is the whole point and purpose of regulation. Some of the discussion we have had to date seems to suggest that there might be one or two colleagues on the other side of the House who do not accept the directive in the first place or do not accept competition or that this country should be subjected to it. It might be all right for marketplaces in big countries but not for this country.

Deputy Ó Cuív is apparently assenting to that interpretation of what he said. That is an interesting debate for us to have, but at the moment I am stuck with compliance under the directive, which I must tailor as best I can to the Irish situation. The power exists for the Minister to issue political direction. It is not the only area or utility that is regulated in this country where the Minister has that power and where one could foresee the need for the Minister to exercise it. The situation is not quite as baleful as the Opposition sees it.

I am intrigued by the Minister today. I have no doubt that when he was in opposition he called many times on Ministers to do all sorts of things and in the event of the Minister saying he or she did not have the legal power I have no doubt-----

Not to too much effect.

Exactly. In the event of a Minister saying he or she did not have the legal power, Deputy Rabbitte, would have said that he or she should have, and what kind of laws are we passing that do not provide such power to protect the fundamental interests of wider society.

I do not cast aspersions on anyone working in any agency but if the agency is governed by narrowly focused legislation a person's job in the agency could have a narrow focus. Often such an agency would say that the legislation only allows, for example, postal interests to be taken into account, not wider issues that affect the day-to-day life of ordinary people.

The idea of a collective Cabinet is that the 15 views try to find a balance between all the specialist views. Those of us who live in rural areas are used to trying to balance the right to get on with one's life and with the environment. One has environmental regulations on the one hand and rural development policies on the other hand and one tries to balance one with the other. We are all used to that juggling act. The job of an agency is to take a very narrow view of its remit. I have no doubt the Minister has expounded the exact view I make on many occasions. It will be interesting to read what the programme for Government has to say on postal services. We will come to that later.

I agree with Deputy Ó Cuív. That is the way it was and now it has changed to the opposite position. It is a lesson for all of us who were on the other side previously. It is a pity because An Post or ComReg can take the narrowest interpretation and do what they wish.

If I had known that I had such support in high places in the then Government when I was in opposition I would have sought to utilise it.

The Minister should have.

I should have. I did not realise there were so many snaking regarders keeping silent.

If the Minister had checked my record he would have known exactly what I intended.

I accept that the Deputies are articulating a real concern but this is making a mountain out of a molehill in respect of this amendment because of the power that rests with the Minister. ComReg is not an alien creature visiting from another planet which may do what it chooses. It is accountable to Dáil Éireann. The Minister has the reserve powers to which I referred. I find it difficult to envisage a Minister who would not use those powers if the circumstances posited by the Deputies were to happen.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 18 not moved.
Section 14 agreed to.
NEW SECTION

Amendments Nos. 19 and 20 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 19:

In page 16, before section 15, to insert the following new section:

"15.—In regulating the postal market the Commission must take into due account the unique value that the postal service has in Ireland, with its substantial rural population, and that particular care must be taken to ensure the interests of a competitive market will not take precedence over, or put at risk, the vital public service which is part of the fabric of our communities and which provides a sense of national cohesion."

Does the Deputy want to say anything on it?

I tabled this amendment for a good reason and I would like to hear the Minister's views on it.

I agree with the sentiments expressed in Deputy McGrath's amendments. Of course I recognise the important role of the postal service in this country and I would, if I were free to do so within the terms of the directive, accept the spirit of the amendments. However, the continuing provision and maintenance of the universal postal service is already, as I have said, a explicit requirement of Article 3 of the directive. The essential element of the universal postal service is the collection and delivery of mail to every home and premises in every corner of the State on every working day. This key principle is enshrined in the Bill, which designates An Post as the universal postal service provider. Designating An Post in this way offers certainty to postal service users that the universal service obligation will be met throughout the country with no urban-rural divide. In addition, ComReg, as the postal services regulator, is charged with ensuring the provision of a universal postal service that meets the reasonable needs of users. It is one of its stated objectives.

Section 10 of the Bill amends the objectives set out for ComReg in the exercise of its function. Section 10 of the 2002 Act under which ComReg was established will now require ComReg to promote the development of the sector, promote the interests of the users and, subject to these two objectives, facilitate the development of competition and innovation in the market. Before Deputy Ó Cuív intervenes I will point out that these are not equal objectives. I believe this hierarchy of objectives adequately addresses the concerns the Deputy might be trying to address in his amendment.

I understand the Minister's honest views, but things can fall between the cracks. ComReg might not be all that accountable to the House. We have had its representatives before the committee in the past and there has been a lot of buck-passing.

Is the Deputy pressing the amendment?

Amendment put and declared lost.
Amendment No. 20 not moved.
Section 15 agreed to.
SECTION 16

I move amendment No. 21:

In page 17, lines 23 to 33, to delete subsection (3).

This is a simple amendment. I am in favour of leaving the prescribed weight at 20 kg. I cannot understand why there is a provision for it to be changed to 10 kg. This is consistent with my view that we should try to protect what we have as best we can in a small and declining market.

Section 16(3) relates to ComReg's power to review the weight limits for the clearance, sorting, transport and distribution of postal packets that a designated universal postal service provider must provide. The directive sets out the parameters within which the maximum can be set - a range between 10 kg and 20 kg. The Bill sets the maximum at 20 kg, which is the requirement set out in the current postal regulations, and allows rather than requires ComReg to reduce this to 10 kg by order. ComReg, in considering any change to the weight limits allowed, must take into account the reasonable needs of users and also must hold a public consultation in advance of making any change. Deputy Ó Cuív's proposed amendment would remove a certain flexibility from the regulation of the market which is required to meet the evolving needs of users. For those reasons, I regret that I cannot accept the amendment.

The Minister might explain what possible evolving good could arise from reducing the maximum requirement from 20 kg to 10 kg. How could that make things better? If he can persuade me it would make things better, I will withdraw my amendment. I cannot see how reducing the limit could make things better, but maybe I am reading it wrong.

The range being set is between 10 kg and 20 kg. This does not mean that 20 kg is a ceiling or a limit.

That is what the directive says.

The section that Deputy Ó Cuív wants to excise is section 16(3), paragraphs (a) and (b), which give the Commission for Communications Regulation the power to review, from time to time, the weight provided for in subsection (2) and, following a public consultation process, provide for a different weight. If its proposals are in any way controversial this will be picked up by the consultation process. Having regard to the reasonable needs of postal service users, it may, by order, provide for a weight in lieu of the weight provided for in subsection (2)(a). There are a number of safeguards built in there.

The ultimate safeguard, as we were discussing before, is section 16(1)(b), which states:

... the following services are provided: [...]

(ii) the clearance, sorting, transport and distribution of parcels up to the weight expressed in kilograms specified in subsection (2);

I am saying that it is better to specify the maximum weight - that is, the maximum service - and leave it at that, rather than allowing a diminution of the service by saying the maximum weight can be changed from 20 kg - unfortunately not kilos, although it would be good if kilos were specified - to 10 kg. This would represent a narrowing of the universal service.

I accept the directive does not allow the weight limit go above 20 kg but it could remain at that level.

The other problem with public consultations is that, like Jack Spratt, it suits some and does not others. The loudest voices might be the most commercially powerful involved and not the most socially or geographically vulnerable. Public consultation, as we know it, does not always give a fair representation of public views. Anyone involved in public consultations knows the same activists turn up to all the meetings. That does not mean, however, they represent the ordinary punter. Why not draw a line under this matter and leave it at 20 kg?

I do not see the market being impeded by this. The parcels market is one of the more dynamic sections of the postal business. If we acknowledge the market is continually changing, why should we not enshrine this provision in the legislation and let An Post react to market conditions, as it will? Deputy Ó Cuív sees this provision constraining An Post. I see the opposite happening.

It will constrain An Post. It widens the definition of universal service to include a better rather than a worse service. I beg to differ on the Minister's claim about how dynamic the parcels market is. If he checked with businesses which depend on parcel services and couriers, particularly in rural areas, he would learn how they are not delivering efficient services. It was pure chance yesterday that I was at a meeting about a long-standing business threatened because of difficulties with the parcels market. I was told problems with couriers are common in rural areas. An Post subcontracts parcel delivery to unreliable couriers and one cannot be sure whether one's goods will be delivered on time or in good order.

This idea in Europe that competition will lead to better services is somewhat wrong. The Minister will agree with me that we got our bellyful of competition from the banks. I have never been a worshipper at the shrine of competition. It was an Irishman who pushed much of this free market stuff but he was not one of my heroes. I disagreed with him philosophically; competition does not make for uniformly better services. Those calling for increased competition in services always want to take the lucrative bits leaving the others to be picked up by the Exchequer.

It is my understanding that parcel post was one of the more dynamic sections of the market. The rise in the scale of purchasing on the Internet means this is a growing sector.

Deputy Noel Harrington did not say that earlier.

Regarding the comparison with the banks and competition, the difference is that there is a hands-on regulator in the postal market who does what it is supposed to do. That did not happen in the case of the banks and there did not appear to be anyone riding shotgun at the time.

The Minister has contradicted himself. Earlier, he said independent regulation cannot touch them and now he is saying it should have touched them. The problem that arose was this theory of keeping independent regulation as far away from the Minister as possible.

I am not talking about touching or not touching them. I am talking about competence in doing the job based on the track record. The information we have is parcel post is a growing area of the overall market. Unfortunately, the market for traditional letter post is diminishing. Parcel post, because of the rise in mail order purchasing, is growing, which is to be welcomed. I hope these provisions will facilitate this into the future.

People always believe it is An Post that delivers parcels when in fact it delivers the least amount of parcels over 20 kg. There are many players in the parcel market which do not come in under the universal service obligation. In rural areas, it can be difficult to track a parcel item handled by one of these providers, for example. I agree with the Minister on the 20 kg limit. An Post has a limit of 30 kg for all parcels anyway. This section is reasonable and I support it.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 22 and 24 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 22:

In page 17, subsection (6), line 45, after "users" to insert the following:

"and any such exception shall only be with the consent of the Minister".

This amendment again deals with the issue of ministerial consent. As I stated earlier, it is important that as many fundamental decisions as is possible are subject to the Minister's approval. I believe, as the Minister does, in the hands-on approach in regulation. In the past, we made the big mistake of making regulation too independent. This amendment ensures the Minister has the final say when instructing an agency in this regard.

Agencies must, therefore, take on board what the Minister says. If a proposal is put to a Minister and if he or she is not happy with it, he or she can decline to accept it. If he or she is not satisfied with the way in which a proposal is framed, he or she could stipulate that if it were amended he or she would be willing to consent to it. That would be much different from circumstances where - as is the case at present - representatives of bodies occasionally appearing before committees to account, in a general sense, for their actions and where members may make general points. Under the current model, committee members are not legally empowered to enforce such points. I ask the Minister to agree that we should give committees a degree of additional power - and perhaps a certain amount of extra work - and that he would be required to provide his consent.

I have great regard for this institution. I also have great regard for those who stand for election and for those who are ultimately elected. I do not honestly believe that their views are as easily discounted as Deputy Ó Cuív suggests. The Government does not have any statutory authority to intervene in respect, for example, of the matter of bonuses paid to chief executives of State companies who have contracts that make certain provision. However, because the Government carries a certain moral suasion, all of the chief executives within my area of responsibility have complied and have voluntarily ceded their bonus or performance-related payments for 2010 and, although I do not like the phrase, going forward.

Members of these Houses are not without, at a minimum, moral suasion. Deputy Ó Cuív has raised the prospect of a form of regulation that would not be consistent with the understanding of regulation that obtains across the wider European Union. This territory has been fairly well trodden in respect of a number of the large utilities. The arms-length between the regulator and Government is well established. I could not really foresee the effective operation of a regulator that was a little independent. That would be a contradiction in terms.

The effect of the amendments in the name of Deputy Ó Cuív would be to require the consent of the Minister in respect of any determinations made by ComReg to allow the designated universal service provider any exemptions to the requirements of section 16. ComReg is charged with regulating the market and possesses the regulatory economic and regulatory expertise and experience to do so. Any determination made in respect of exemptions would only be made after ComReg would have had full regard to the reasonable needs of users. It would not be appropriate to require ministerial approval for any such decision by ComReg, not only because of the independence of the regulator in the exercise of its functions but also as a result of the fact that the Department would be required to duplicate ComReg's work and expertise in this area. The latter could potentially lead to time delays if the exemption was required quickly.

If it was required quickly then the Minister could sign quickly. When I was a Minister and when something was required quickly, I signed off on it on the day on which it was presented to me. My experience was that much of the time I was the quickest individual in the loop. Getting the relevant documents or whatever to me always seemed to take a great deal longer than it did for me to sign off on them.

Section 16 states:

(1) In this Part and subject to this section "universal postal 35 service" means ...

(ii) one delivery to the home or premises of every person in the State or, as the Commission considers appropriate, under such conditions as it may determine from time to time, to appropriate installations

The phrase "one delivery to the home or premises of every person in the State" is very neat and dandy. However, in its entirety this subparagraph implies that there will be one delivery except when the Commission decides, from time to time, what will be appropriate and under what conditions.

Section 16(7), which I am seeking to amend, states:

When making a determination for the purposes of subsection (1)(a)(ii), the Commission shall have regard to—

(a) the reasonable needs of postal service users, and

Again the commission will decide what is reasonable. The subsection further states:

(b) the reasonable steps a universal postal service provider may be required to take in order to meet the reasonable needs of postal service users, including ease of access to homes or premises and the health and safety of employees of the universal postal service provider.

I am proposing that when the commission wants to use this fantastically wide-ranging get out of jail card, it should be obliged to seek the Minister's permission to do so. I foresee that in respect of the offshore islands the commission will state that it is not reasonable to provide a service every day and will state that the service should instead be provided one, two or three days per week. It will then make the same decision in respect of some of the valleys in my constituency and elsewhere in which members of other political parties will not canvass because they are too remote. It will decide, for example, that it is not reasonable to provide a service each day to people who live in the Black Valley in County Kerry or in Gleann Ghlas, Glencorbet or the Inagh Valley. I am of the opinion that what is considered reasonable should be subject to ministerial approval. I cannot understand why the Minister - who seems to be particularly resistant to any suggestions in respect of this Bill - would not agree that this is a wide-ranging get out of jail card for the commission. The term "reasonable" is very broad. Why not accept, therefore, that it would be reasonable for the Minister to be obliged to approve what could be quite dramatic changes?

I am sure the Chairman is aware of a few valleys in Wicklow where houses might be anything up to two miles apart. If one is sitting in Dublin, it is utterly reasonable to state that it is unreasonable to expect someone to travel deep into such valleys in order to deliver one letter. This would be despite the fact that the addressee might be waiting for it.

I concur with the arguments put forward by Deputy Ó Cuív. How will what is reasonable be defined? Will it be defined in economic terms? I am actually concerned that it will be defined in such terms and that this will lead to many people who live in isolated rural areas being obliged to go without a universal service. That is a matter of major import to those of us who represent rural areas. Use of the term "shall only be with the consent of the Minister" would protect the integrity of both the electorate and the Minister. I hope the Minister will accept the amendment, which is designed to protect the rights and entitlements of people who, I believe, will be discriminated against in the future.

Deputies Ó Cuív and Martin Ferris make hugely compelling cases in respect of rural areas. There are seven inhabited offshore islands located in my constituency and I would have great sympathy for the people who live there. In many rural areas of the country it is an issue of time and distance. As far as I can make out from what Deputies have said, that is what determines what is reasonable or what might be determined or interpreted as unreasonable. The core issue is the time and distance from the delivery office and the economic impact of that.

This concerns just a tiny fraction of items that return that cannot be delivered for a panoply of reasons. Many of the reasons for failure to deliver centre on rural areas. Some delivery companies, for example, have issues with dangerous breeds of dogs at the address. Health and safety issues are another concern and there are issues with some houses which are locked and cannot be accessed. There might also be issues where road access could be dangerous. I have seen such conditions. The point is that everything that has been said in making the economic argument centres on time and distance. We already have examples of occasions where it has been reasonable for a postperson, a delivery agent or contractor not to make a delivery, where they could not have been required to go and put themselves in danger. I have seen the consequences of people trying to do the best they can under the circumstances and where problems have arisen. We must make distinctions on some of those issues. There are concerns with regard to time and distance.

There is some confusion with regard to putting the cruelty of the marketplace on the shoulders of ComReg. It already has the power to make exemptions within the existing framework but has not exercised that power to date. Deputies Ó Cuív and Ferris have been up the airy mountain and down the rushy glen, but cannot point to the fact there has been any departure to date. We are discussing amendments Nos. 22 and 24, not amendment No. 23, and the express imposition is on ComReg to have regard to the technical, economic and social environment and the needs of postal service users. That is deliberately included in order to address the points made Deputies Ferris and Ó Cuív. Whether it would want to or not, ComReg cannot wriggle out of the imposition in subsection (6) and must have regard to the social factors and the needs of postal service users. On its track record to date, it will continue to do that.

I accept what Deputies Ó Cuív, Ferris and Harrington have said about some distant and beautiful parts of the country being entitled to the same service as any other part of the country. The former Deputy, P. J. Sheehan, used to remind the House on a regular basis precisely how inaccessible some of the parts of his constituency were other than during the month of August if the weather was fine. Postmen have managed to surmount all of the difficulties, climatological and otherwise and it is intended they will continue to do so.

This substantial section does not seem to be the kind of force majeure section Deputy Harrington suggested. For example, in a once-off situation where a bull or snow is on the road, it is unlikely it will be possible to fulfil all the conditions of the section or to fulfil the requirement to consider an exception to the provision of a universal postal service for the purpose of subsection (1), which provides that the Commission shall have regard to aspects such as the technical and economic. It will be not be able to do the required technical and economic analysis fast enough to deal with the situation. Therefore, I take it that is just a day to day issue. However, to me it seems to be a longer term exception.

The Minister is right. When we had just one service deliverer which had the whole market, there was a clear understanding that it would deliver to everybody in the State in a reasonable fashion. There was no significant threat then to the service which provided for delivery to every house every day. The problem now is that we foresee a different game. We foresee a game where the cherry-pickers come in and take the cream of the market and put financial pressure on the universal service provider which is then informed that it cannot get the money from the cream taker. Then, being short of cash it must try to square the circle. It then puts a proposal to ComReg saying that it is no longer economically feasible to provide the universal service to the valleys and up the mountain or out to islands because all of its profitable markets have gone. It has no choice, despite all the clauses here about a reasonable and socio-economic environment and so on. The greatest excuse is that it is uneconomic to deliver the service. Balancing all the needs, ComReg will be forced to agree.

On that day, we will come back and ask the Minister if he realises the problem for large swathes of isolated older people in rural Ireland who depend on the postal service. These people, who tend to be non-computer users, will have lost their service. The Minister will say he is sorry but ComReg made the decision because An Post was under financial pressure, and having considered the technical, economic and social environment and the needs of the postal service users, the view is that pensioners in valleys and up mountains can wait two more days more for their post and that delivery twice a week is more than adequate. Or, perhaps, they could collect their post themselves. On that day, the Minister will say he is sorry, but he cannot intervene because he has no power in the matter. That is what will happen. It is not a question of what "may" happen, but what "will" happen, as sure as I am sitting in this chair.

I agree that is inevitable. The liberalisation of the postal service means it will come down to cherry-picking. That may not happen this year but it will happen in years to come. The service will be determined by the market. When it is determined by the market and the economic situation, the service to the most isolated and rural areas will suffer.

What is being missed in this is the human side of the issue. The human side of the service is the only social contact that many people living in isolated areas have. The only social contact they have is with the local postman and postal service. It is more than just a postal service for them, because those who deliver to people in valleys and remote areas provide a lot more. In many instances, particularly for elderly people, the local postman delivers messages and makes a daily check, five days a week, on the individuals in question. This will be lost.

The suggestions coming from the Opposition want to ensure that a reasonable service is provided for those people in the future and that they are not the first casualty when it comes to the economic arguments, because that is the way it is heading.

I accept and understand that the Deputies are outlining a real concern. An Post is a commercial State company that we expect to function on a professional basis. It is facing enormous challenges at present. There is no doubt about that. An Post is heading into extremely difficult terrain. The impact of electronic substitution is bad enough but the prolonged recession has made the situation worse.

There are provisions in the Bill to address the situation posited by the Deputies, if it arises. First, the universal service obligation is being strengthened as a result of the Bill. Second, if An Post finds that delivering on the universal service obligation is costing it money there is provision in section 30 to cause a contribution to be made by other operators in the marketplace. The intention is to maintain the universal service obligation.

I accept, as Deputy Ó Cuív says, that some of the people we are talking about may be of advanced years and may not be familiar with computers. In that regard, I heard "Morning Ireland" this morning accusing me of keeping the rural broadband scheme, which I announced in May, a secret. Putting something on one's website and issuing a press release is an unusual way to keep a secret. It was obviously a secret from RTE. I tell RTE now, that in the matter Deputy Ó Cuív raises, I announced a scheme last week to bring people like that up to speed in computer literacy. There is now an e-inclusion scheme, which Deputies Ferris and Ó Cuív may want to look at. It is designed for people who may have been marginalised, for whatever reason, and to address the digital divide. I hope RTE does not accuse me now of trying to keep it a secret. I want people to know about it.

All things considered, in modern conditions when technology is changing and there is an uncertain marketplace, we are doing everything we can in the Bill to address the issues raised by the Deputies.

I understand the Minister's time pressure. I will resubmit the amendment on Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

As it is now 4.30 p.m., do Members wish to resume consideration of the Bill later this evening or at 10.30 tomorrow morning?

Resuming at 6.30 p.m. this evening would give us more time and would not create such a time constraint. We are making good progress but some fundamental issues remain to be dealt with.

I am in the hands of the committee. I am anxious that the Bill be given priority. There are certain deadlines.

In that case we will resume at 6.30 p.m.

Sitting suspended at 4.35 p.m. and resumed at 6.30 p.m.

I remind members to ensure their mobile telephones are switched off.

Amendments Nos. 23, 25 and 26 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 23:

In page 17, lines 46 and 47 and in page 18, lines 1 to 6, to delete subsection (7) and substitute the following:

"(7) When making a determination for the purposes of subsection (1)(a)(ii), the Commission shall have regard to -

(a ) the reasonable needs of postal service users,

(b ) the measures a universal postal service provider may be reasonably required to take in order to meet the reasonable needs of postal service users, and

(c ) such other matters as the Commission considers appropriate, including ease of access to homes or premises and the health and safety of the employees and agents of a universal postal service provider.”

These amendments do not change the scope of the section but aim to add clarity in order to improve the text of the Bill. In regard to the amendment to section 16(10), the insertion of the new text clarifies that where ComReg issues directions to the designated universal service provider to ensure that the density of access points take account of the reasonable needs of users that the access points referred to are only those of the of the universal postal service as distinct from other postal service providers.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 24:

In page 18, subsection (8), line 10, to delete paragraph (a ).

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 25:

In page 18, subsection (10), line 22, after "that" to insert the following:

", for the purpose of the provision of a universal postal service by the universal postal service provider concerned,"

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 26:

In page 18, subsection (10), line 24, to delete "takes account" and substitute "take account".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No 27:

In page 18, subsection (12), line 31, after "provides" to insert the following:

", subject to the monetary limits specified in the terms and conditions of the service concerned,".

Section 16 sets out the minimum scope of the universal postal service, such as the five-day delivery and clearance to every home and premises, and certain services are guaranteed such as the clearance, sorting, and transport of packets up to a certain weight, a registered items service, an insured items service and free postal services for the blind. The amendment proposed clarifies that a designated universal service provider may, as is the current practice, set limits on the value of the insured items services it provides, in accordance with its terms and conditions.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 16, as amended, agreed to.
NEW SECTIONS

I move amendment No. 28:

In page 18, before section 17, but in Chapter 4, to insert the following new section:

17.—(1) Subject to subsection (2), An Post is designated as the universal postal service provider for a period of 12 years beginning on the passing of this Act.

(2) After the expiration of 7 years after the passing of this Act, and following a review under section 19 by the Commission of the designation of An Post under subsection (1), the Commission may—

(a) decide to—

(i) continue the designation of An Post as a universal postal service provider for the duration of the unexpired period of the designation specified in subsection (1), or

(ii) with the prior consent of the Minister, designate one or more than one postal service provider as a universal postal service provider for such period, subject to section 18(4), as the Commission considers appropriate,

or

(b) with the prior consent of the Minister, decide that no such designation is required.

(3) Where the Commission proposes to make a decision under subsection(2)(a)(ii) or (b), as the case may be, the Minister, following consultation with such persons as he or she considers appropriate having regard to the proposal concerned, shall give notice in writing to the Commission of his or her decision to consent, or to refuse consent, within 4 months of the date on which the Commission seeks consent.

(4) When giving or refusing consent in relation to a proposal by the Commission to make a decision under subsection(2)(a)(ii) or (b), as the case may be, the Minister shall require to be satisfied as to whether or not the Commission’s proposal ensures the provision of a universal postal service.

(5) Where the Minister refuses consent to a proposal by the Commission to make a decision under subsection (2)(a)(ii) or (b), as the case may be, the designation of An Post shall continue for the duration of the unexpired period of the designation specified in subsection (1).

(6) Where, with the prior consent of the Minister, the Commission makes a decision under subsection (2)(a)(ii), the designation of An Post under subsection (1) shall cease to have effect on the date on which that decision takes effect.

(7) Where, with the prior consent of the Minister, the Commission makes a decision under subsection (2)(b), the designation of An Post under subsection (1) shall cease to have effect on the date of that decision.”.

This was stated on 9 March 2011. It is absolutely clear and stated without reservation.

The Minister referred to my view that he said there was a proposal for a 20-year universal service derogation. He, as a member of the Government, knows he is responsible for all its collective actions. Let me quote the statement of common purpose in the programme for Government:

A universal postal service is an essential public service, in particular for rural communities and those disadvantaged communities affected by digital divide. A publicly owned, commercially viable, profitable and efficient An Post is critical to the long-term viability of the postal market. We will enact into law the Postal Services Bill which opens postal market to competition. Will protect universal service obligation by assigning it to An Post for at least 20 years, make provision for state subvention and require that any decision by ComReg to reassign or scrap USO is subject to ministerial approval.

This was stated on 9 March 2011. It is absolutely clear and without reservation.

Deputy Ó Cuív said on the last occasion that I said there ought to be a 20-year derogation. I did not say anything of the kind.

The programme for Government-----

I accept there is collective responsibility but I did not make the statement referred to.

The statement is made collectively.

Having examined the period, I believe 12 years is a very reasonable compromise. I do not know why the Deputy is so attached to his argument because, when I examined the papers to ascertain where he sought to amend the Bill when he had ownership thereof, I could not find any evidence.

That may be so. As the Minister knows, what is said in Cabinet stays in Cabinet.

This amendment has already been discussed with amendment No. 8. I have allowed a little latitude on it.

Lest there be any misunderstanding, the Minister, as Minister responsible for communications, is implementing a programme for Government to which he is party. It is splitting very fine hairs to say what is in the document is not what is said by the Ministers who form the Government, particularly in view of the very clear constitutional doctrine of collective Cabinet responsibility.

Amendment put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 7; Níl, 2.

  • Deering, Pat.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Harrington, Noel.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • O’Mahony, John.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.

Níl

  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
Amendment declared carried.

I move amendment No. 29:

In page 18, before section 17, but in Chapter 4, to insert the following new section:

18.—(1) Before the end of the period for which the designation of An Post is continued under subsection (2)(a)(i) or (5) of section 17 or, as the case may be, before the end of the period for which a universal postal service provider is designated under subsection (2)(a)(ii) of that section or, in a case where a universal postal service provider is designated under this section, before the end of the period for which the provider is so designated, the Commission—

(a) shall conduct a review of the designation, and

(b) may with effect from the expiry of that period—

(i)decide to designate one or more than one postal service provider as a universal postal service provider for such period, subject to subsection (4), as the Commission considers appropriate, or

(ii)decide that no such designation is required.

(2) Where the Commission makes a decision—

(a) with the prior consent of the Minister, under section 17(2)(b), or

(b) under subsection (1)(b)(ii),

it shall, at such intervals as it considers appropriate, conduct a review under section 19 for the purpose of deciding whether a designation of one or more than one postal service provider as a universal postal service provider is required and may decide that—

(i)no such designation is required for the time being, or

(ii)such designation is required for such period, subject to subsection (4), as the Commission considers appropriate,

and this section applies to a decision made under subparagraph (i) or (ii), as the case may be, as it applies to a decision made under subparagraph (i) or (ii) of subsection (1)(b).

(3) The Commission may determine that different universal postal service providers, the subject of a designation made by the Commission under section 17(2)(a)(ii) or this section, shall provide different parts of the universal postal service or provide that service in respect of all or any part or parts of the State, or both, having regard to the need to ensure that there is no duplication of the obligations imposed on each universal postal service provider so designated.

(4) The designation of a universal postal service provider by the Commission under section 17(2)(a)(ii) or this section—

(a) shall be for such period as the Commission considers appropriate, having regard to the need to ensure that the designation is of sufficient duration for the return on investments,

(b) shall take effect 14 days after the date on which notice of approval of the terms and conditions of its universal postal service provision is published under section 20(2)(a), and

(c) shall cease to have effect—

(i) on the date on which the designation of a universal postal service provider takes effect under paragraph (b), or

(ii) on the date on which the Commission decides that no such designation is required.".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 30:

In page 18, before section 17, but in Chapter 4, to insert the following new section:

19.—(1) A review by the Commission for the purposes of section 17 or 18 shall, subject to subsection (2), be conducted in accordance with such procedures as may be established and maintained by the Commission having regard to its functions and objectives under the Communications Regulation Acts 2002 to 2011 relating to postal services, in particular the need to ensure the provision of a universal postal service and compliance with the requirements specified in section 18.

(2) The procedures referred to in subsection (1) shall—

(a) make provision for the carrying out of an assessment of the extent to which the market for the provision of postal services in the State is meeting the reasonable needs of postal service users,

(b) be such as the Commission considers to be efficient, objective, transparent, non-discriminatory and proportionate, and

(c) be published by the Commission.”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 31:

In page 18, before section 17, but in Chapter 4, to insert the following new section:

20.—(1) The continuance of the designation of An Post under subsection(2)(a)(i) or (5) of section 17 or, as the case may be, the designation of a universal postal service provider under subsection (2)(a)(ii) of that section, or the designation of a universal postal service provider under section 18, shall be in writing, and the Commission shall—

(a) publish notice of the such continuance or designation in Iris Oifigiúil and in such other manner as it considers appropriate, and

(b) notify in writing—

(i)the European Commission of such continuance or the identity of any universal postal service provider so designated, and

(ii)the Minister of the identity of any universal postal service provider so designated.

(2) Where the Commission makes a decision under section 17(2)(b) or subsection (1)(b)(ii) or (2)(i) of section 18, as the case may be, that no designation is required, it shall—

(a) publish notice of such a decision in Iris Oifigiúil and in such other manner as it considers appropriate, and

(b) notify in writing the Minister and the European Commission.”.

Amendment agreed to.
SECTION 17.
Amendment No. 32 not moved.

I move amendment No. 33:

In page 18, subsection (1), line 43, to delete "7 years" and substitute "20 years".

I will resubmit this amendment for Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 34:

In page 19, subsection (2), to delete lines 11 and 12.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 35:

In page 19, subsection (3)(a), line 17, to delete “or more than one other”.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 36:

In page 19, subsection (3), line 21, to delete paragraph (b).

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 37:

In page 19, subsection (4), line 28, to delete paragraph (a).

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 38:

In page 19, lines 31 to 37, to delete subsection (5).

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 39:

In page 20, lines 1 to 17, to delete subsections (7) and (8).

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question: "That section 17 stand part of the Bill", put and declared carried.
SECTION 18

I move amendment No. 40:

In page 20, subsection (1)(b), lines 41 and 42, to delete “under comparable conditions,”.

A universal postal service provider is required to provide identical services to postal service users under comparable conditions. I do not know what "comparable conditions" are.

The Deputy took comparable conditions as meaning as between one kind of user and another, for example, an urban user and rural user.

Are they incomparable or comparable conditions?

No, that is not what is being compared. The legislation provides for the comparison of the conditions of big users and small users or the conditions of companies and those of private users. That is what is meant. The Deputy may have misunderstood.

It is not very clear, and that is the problem. Does the provision mean that a different service can be provided to big users and small users?

Yes, of course that can be done. Bulk mail is an example.

Where is the Minister's interpretation in the legislation? "Comparable conditions" could refer to two urban houses but not an urban house and a rural house. Where does it state in the-----

Section 18 is essentially a restatement of what is in the directive.

The legislation refers to providing identical services to postal service users under comparable conditions. All I am saying to the Deputy is that he has made one assumption as to what might constitute discrimination between users while my understanding of what is involved is entirely different. The provision that stipulates that the universal postal service provider must provide identical services under comparable conditions in its provision of a universal postal service is a requirement of Article 5 of the directive. Therefore, the transposition of this specific provision into Irish law is obligatory.

For comparable conditions, two big businessmen must get the same service as two individuals. However, an ordinary individual need not get the same service as a big businessman. An allowance has been made for this difference.

Two similarly sized businesses in Dublin are comparable as they are in the same location. However, what about two similarly size businesses, one in Dublin and the other on an offshore island, which are totally different locations? Are these businesses in comparable conditions? In plain English, they are not comparable because the conditions are totally different. Therefore, one cannot compare them. Is the Minister able to give me a cast iron legal guarantee that comparable conditions would require the person with a business on an offshore island to receive the exact same service as the person with a business in Dublin? Will we be told it will require two service providers to be comparable?

The only difference in treatment is the fact that one is located on an offshore island and one is located in Dublin. There is a distinction to be drawn between a big company user and a private individual. For example, one could have a postal service user-----

So they are not comparable.

Let us tease it out if the Deputy wants to do so. The mail of a large postal service user such as the ESB which issues blanket communications on bills might be bundled and sorted by route before it is presented to the designated universal service provider. This bulk mailing will not be treated the same as a single piece of mail sent by an individual citizen and it would not be appropriate to require this of a designated universal service provider. However, there should be no discrimination between postal service users under comparable conditions. A citizen on an offshore island and a citizen in Churchtown will get the same treatment of five-day delivery of single pieces of mail.

But a business-----

A main mailing being done by, for example, the national lottery, is not comparable to the mail of an individual citizen. This is how I understand it.

It is comparable in that sense but what about comparable in the other sense? Are two businesses which are absolutely identical in their postage usage but one is in an isolated or remote location and the other is in a major urban area in comparable conditions?

There are inevitable logistical problems. There is no main mail centre on the Aran Islands, for example. If one had on the Aran Islands a comparable employer to the ESB, for a start one would have to import many workers.

There is a significant employer on the Aran Islands-----

-----which employs 20 people and has high mail usage.

It would get the same service, but it would have to-----

I am asking with regard to comparable conditions whether the regulator could state similarly sized companies which have the same volume and weight of mail but one is on an island and the other in Dublin are in comparable conditions?

They are not in comparable conditions because of the very reason the Deputy stated, but they will receive the same treatment from the postal network.

Only if they are in comparable conditions. I do not want to tease this out all evening; the Minister knows the point I am trying to make. I accept the Minister's argument on the difference between a company using bulk mail and an individual. It is fair enough and a reasonable point as they are not in comparable conditions. The principle of universal service is very attractive as one pays the same amount for a stamp to send a letter from Kerry to Dublin as to send a letter within Dublin or within Kerry. We need to be clear before we agree that "under comparable conditions" means one cannot differentiate between an isolated location and a central location. I will withdraw the amendment if the Minister agrees to examine and clarify this point. We can discuss it further on Report Stage.

If a business on the Aran Islands engages in the same bundling and sorting by route as the ESB, then it will get the same-----

Forget about the ESB. That is-----

-----treatment.

Is this absolutely clear in the definition? I ask the Minister to get legal advice on whether this is the case. If this is how it is, it is fine but if it is not-----

The legal advice we have is that there is no statutory discrimination but there is nothing I can do to address the logistical challenge facing a business on the Aran Islands. There is no statutory discrimination.

I am delighted Minister has clarified this as clearly as he can. The CAO based in Galway will bulk mail 60,000 offers in the coming weeks and this will be a very important mailing. I welcome the clarification that there will be no discrimination. I hear the word "comparable" used, and a stamp bought in Galway is as valid as a stamp bought in Ballinteer-----

-----and this is why I welcome the Minister's-----

It will not be under the Bill.

The Deputy is misinterpreting it. We have clarification there will be no discrimination for a large collected bundle of mail from County Galway.

The Minister stated the opposite.

What needs to be defined is what is meant by "comparable conditions". I am concerned about the cost of deliveries to Dublin or the midlands compared with the cost of delivering further afield. Will there be discrimination against delivery to peripheral regions of mail comparable in size and bulk? We need to know this before we can agree to the measure.

The provision in the directive reads, "it shall offer an identical service to users under comparable conditions". The directive does not define what "comparable" means but it forbids discrimination as between users in the circumstances posited of two large companies. One may not discriminate statutorily and mail under similar conditions must be treated equally.

I would be very surprised if this is what the Europeans meant. Let us take an extreme case: would a business in the very north of Sweden or Finland receive an identical service as a similarly sized business in Stockholm? I suggest the analogy drawn with regard to the CAO is valid but let us go a step further and use as an example another major company, FEXCO, which is based in Killorglin. Under the legislation will it be absolutely guaranteed the exact same service for its mail as a company in Dublin city? Unequivocally, will this be how it will be? I do not believe this is what the directive states. The more one thinks about the nature of the European Union and its extreme parts, one will find it does not mean this. Therefore, we should include provisions. I want to go a step further than the directive, which one is allowed to do, by removing the reference to providing identical services to postal users. One would do this by removing the provision requiring a service provider "to provide identical services to postal users". One could add a qualification that this be based on size or factors other than location.

FEXCO will get the same service and will not be discriminated against because it is located in Killorglin, as distinct from Churchtown.

Where is that specified?

That is my legal advice on the interpretation of the directive which is transposed in the Bill. If somebody wants to test that, let them do so. I have explained that we are not talking about discrimination as between users because if one is a bulk user, there is a difference as compared to being a citizen involved in a single item transmission through the post. However, in terms of any attempt to imply that a company such as FEXCO would be discriminated against because it is located in Killorglin is incorrect and is not provided for in the directive. It may not be so discriminated against in the directive and the Bill transposes the contents of the directive in that regard.

Will the Minister, between now and Report Stage, have someone send me the part of the directive where this is specified?

All I can tell the Deputy is what I read out. I do not have any difficulty in-----

To facilitate the Minister, I will resubmit the amendment on Report Stage and save time this evening.

While I do not have a difficulty sending a letter through the post to the Deputy in a remote part of Connemara, it will not change what I am telling him.

The Minister has made a highly categorical statement. The sentence he read out, however, is not in any way categorical. To try to speed up matters I propose to withdraw the amendment and resubmit it on Report Stage. I ask the Minister to send me the categorical, absolute assurance from the European Union that the directive is as he Minister sees it.

We have just heard categorical information from-----

What we have heard was the Minister outlining his legal advice as to what is the interpretation of the section.

For clarification purposes, what more could possibly be provided?

I have not had an opportunity to read the European directive. The Minister stated the directive includes a categorical assurance that one cannot do what I am worried about. Given that he has legal advice to hand, I have asked him to provide me with the relevant section of the directive in which this assurance is given. On that basis, I will withdraw the amendment. Failing that, however, I will force the amendment to a vote.

I will be glad to do as the Deputy requests. The relevant section of the directive is article 5 which I will post to him in a letter to demonstrate our commitment. The article states: "it shall offer an identical service to users under comparable conditions" and "shall be made available without any form of discrimination whatsoever".

How stands the amendment?

I will withdraw it with a right to re-enter it on Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 41 to 45, inclusive, 51 and 77 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 41

In page 20, subsection (1)(c), line 44, to delete “section 19” and substitute “section 19 or 20, as the case may be”.

The main purpose of the amendments to sections 19 and 20 is to add clarity in respect of the oversight by ComReg of the terms and conditions and charges submitted by An Post and any subsequent universal postal service providers in relation to their provision of the universal postal service. Sections 19 and 20 are being replaced with four new sections, with the main objective of providing that charges for universal services and products will not be subject to ComReg's approval, as they are already subject to ComReg's oversight with respect to compliance with the tariff principles, as set out in section 23, and also to the price cap regulation provisions set out in section 25. Significant amendments are required to achieve a simple objective but according to the Parliamentary Counsel the text had to be rewritten in this manner.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 18, as amended, agreed to.
NEW SECTIONS

Amendment No. 42 has been discussed.

I move amendment No. 42:

In page 21, before section 19, to insert the following new section:

19.—(1) An Post shall—

(a)not later than 21 days after the coming into operation of this Act, give to the Commission a statement in writing of the terms and conditions of its universal postal service and the charges made by it in respect of the universal postal service provision (save in so far as those charges may otherwise be agreed between the universal postal service provider and a postal service user), and

(b)as soon as practicable after notification of the Commission under paragraph (a), publish on its website and by such other means as the Commission may direct—

(i)the terms and conditions of its universal postal service provision, and

(ii) the charges referred to in paragraph (a).

(2) The Commission shall, within 6 months of the coming into operation of this Act, approve, subject to section 21(3), with or without amendment, the terms and conditions notified to it under subsection (1).”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No.43:

In page 21, before section 19, to insert the following new section:

20.—(1) Within such period as the Commission may specify in a designation made by it under section 17(2)(a)(ii) or 18, but in any case not more than 3 months from the date of such designation, a universal postal service provider shall give to the Commission a statement in writing of—

(a) the terms and conditions of its universal postal service provision for approval by the Commission, subject to section 21(3)***, with or without amendment, and

(b) the charges made by it in respect of the universal postal service provision (save in so far as may otherwise be agreed between the universal postal service provider and a postal service user).

(2) When the terms and conditions are approved by the Commission, with or without amendment, a universal postal service provider shall publish on its website and by such other means as the Commission may direct—

(a) notice of the approval,

(b) the terms and conditions so approved, and

(c) the charges referred to in subsection (1)(b).

(3) The terms and conditions approved under this section shall come into effect on a day that is not earlier than 14 days after the date of their publication under subsection (2)(b).”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 44:

In page 21, before section 19, to insert the following new section:

21.—(1) In this section—

"charges" means the charges published under section 19 or 20 as the case may be;

"terms and conditions" means terms and conditions published under section 19 or 20, as the case may be.

(2) The terms and conditions shall be such as to ensure compliance with the obligations imposed on the universal postal service provider by or under the Communications Regulation Acts 2002 to 2011 in respect of the provision of a universal postal service and shall include—

(a) the terms and conditions in accordance with which a postal service user may avail of the postal services concerned, and

(b) terms and conditions relating to, and its procedures for dealing with, complaints made by postal service users relating to the universal postal service provision.

(3) For the purposes of approving terms and conditions under section 19(2) or 20(1), the Commission shall consider whether the terms and conditions are appropriate having regard to the obligations imposed on the universal postal service provider by or under the Communications Regulation Acts 2002 to 2011 in respect of the provision of a universal postal service and the reasonable needs of users and do not have a significantly adverse effect on postal service users.

(4) Where a universal postal service provider proposes to amend any of its terms and conditions it shall give at least 30 days notice, or such shorter period of notice as may be agreed with the Commission, in writing, to the Commission of its intention to make amendments and the Commission may, subject to subsection (5)(a) or (b), as the case may be, approve those amendments, with or without amendment.

(5) The Commission may, following a public consultation process, give a direction to a universal postal service provider requiring it to modify its terms and conditions—

(a) where the Commission considers such modification is appropriate having regard to the obligations imposed on a universal postal service provider by or under the Communications Regulation Acts 2002 to 2011 in respect of the provision of a universal postal service and the reasonable needs of postal service users, or

(b) where the Commission considers that a proposed amendment notified to it under subsection (4) may have a significantly adverse effect on postal service users.

(6) Where a universal postal service provider amends or modifies its terms and conditions pursuant to subsection (4) or (5), as the case may be, it shall publish notice of the amendment or modification on its website and by such other means as the Commission may direct and the amendment or modification shall not come into effect earlier than 14 days after the date of publication of such notice or such other period as may be agreed with the Commission.

(7) The Commission may make a request in writing to a universal postal service provider to give to the Commission such additional information, and within such period, as the Commission specifies in its request, which period shall not be less than 14 days from the date of the request.

(8) Where a universal postal service provider amends the charges made by it in respect of the universal postal service provision, it shall—

(a) publish notice of any such amendment on its website and by such other means as the Commission may direct, and

(b) as soon as practicable thereafter notify the Commission in writing of the amendment,

and the charges as so amended shall not come into effect earlier than 14 days after the date of publication of the notice under paragraph (a).

(9) A universal postal service provider shall make available to postal service users, on request, free of charge, and at such access points as it considers appropriate its terms and conditions and charges.

(10) References to technical standards in terms and conditions shall be read as references to those standards published in the Official Journal of the European Union as drawn up by the European Committee for Standardisation.

(11) Where the Commission is of the opinion that a universal postal service provider is failing, or has failed, to comply with any of the requirements of section 19 or 20 or this section, the Commission may give a direction to the universal postal service provider to ensure compliance with the requirement concerned.”.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 19 deleted.
NEW SECTION

I move amendment No. 45:

In page 22, before section 20, to insert the following new section:

20.—(1) Subject to subsection (2), notwithstanding the repeal by section 4(1) of sections 70 and 72 of the Act of 1983—

(a) schemes made by An Post under section 70 of the Act of 1983 that were in force immediately before the coming into operation of this Act, and

(b) regulations referred to in section 72 of the Act of 1983 that, by virtue of subsection (1) of that section, were in force immediately before the coming into operation of this Act,

shall continue in force.

(2) Subsection (1) ceases to apply—

(a) in the case of terms and conditions published under section 19*, on and from the date of such publication, and

(b) in the case of charges published under section 19*, on and from the date of such publication.”.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 20 deleted.
SECTION 21

Amendments Nos. 46, 71, 78, 79, 82, 85 to 87, inclusive, and 91 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 46:

In page 23, subsection (2), line 8, after "employees" to insert "and agents".

These amendments replace references in the Bill to "employee" with references to "employee or agent", where appropriate, and are proposed to take account of and apply the provisions - rights and obligations - of the Bill to the many staff who are agents rather than employees of a postal service provider. For example, in An Post most postmasters and postmistresses are independent contractors. An Post also has some non-employees involved in the carriage of mail, namely, mail car contractors and mail boat contractors.

As a postmaster, I seek direction from the Chairman as to whether a conflict of interest arises in this connection or if it is sufficient to declare my interest.

As the Deputy declared an interest earlier, it is already on record.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 47:

In page 23, subsection (3), line 15, to delete "Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation" and substitute "Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 48:

In page 23, subsection (3), lines 20 and 21, to delete "Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation" and substitute "Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation".

Amendment agreed to.
Section 21, as amended, agreed to.
Section 22 agreed to.
SECTION 23

Amendments Nos. 49, 50 and 53 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 49:

In page 24, subsection (2), line 18, to delete "may" and substitute "shall".

Section 23 states: "The tariffs for each postal service or part of a postal service provided by a universal postal service provider in the provision of a universal postal service shall comply with the following requirements." The requirements are then listed and the second of them is as follows: "prices shall be cost-oriented, that is to say, the prices shall take account of, and reflect the costs of, providing the postal service or part of the postal service concerned."

That makes me very worried. When one starts to reflect the cost of the individual service in the price one charges for the service, one starts moving away from the universal tariff. To ensure that construction cannot be made by ComReg or anybody else in the future, section 23(2) should be changed to provide that the commission shall, with the consent of the Minister, make a decision on the uniform tariff. In other words, it would nail down the uniform tariff principle and ensure that in any deal made under subsection (3) the price on an individual basis can only be less than the uniform tariff and cannot be greater than it.

I am afraid that muscle might be brought to bear on people to accept higher tariffs, so we must close off that possibility. Section 23(1)(b) makes me very fearful with the use of terms such as "cost-oriented" and so forth. The way to prevent a bad interpretation of section 23(1) being made in the future is to use the word "shall" in section 23(2) and, in subsection (3), to use the words "shall not exclude the right of a universal postal service provider to conclude individual agreements on prices with postal service users which are less", which means they are less than the universal tariff, not greater.

I honestly believe that Deputy Ó Cuív need not be afraid. Subsection (b) provides that prices should be cost-oriented and I would have expected him to support that proposition in a successful, professionally managed, commercial State company. However, if there is a shortfall for a given reason, the capacity is there to cause other providers to make a contribution to the fund. The Deputy's concern is not well founded. I cannot accept the amendments because the effect of doing so would be to restrict An Post's ability to compete with other postal operators. I am sure that is not the Deputy's intention. An Post or a designated universal postal service provider should have as much pricing flexibility as any other postal service provider, subject to compliance with the tariff principles of section 23, to which the Deputy referred, and price regulation provisions under section 25.

Amendment No. 49 relates to the application of a uniform tariff. The amendment would replace "The Commission may" with "The Commission shall" and therefore remove any discretion surrounding the application of a uniform tariff. It would not be appropriate to restrict pricing options thus in primary legislation, and it is more appropriate that any decisions relating to the application of a uniform tariff would be made by ComReg with the consent of the Minister, one of the few areas in the regulatory framework in which the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources has a direct role.

This appears to be opening the prospect of relating the cost of the service to the cost of providing it. That is not the way it is being done in An Post at present. Currently, there is an overall cost for the full service and it charges the same price for a stamp for a letter being sent 50 yards as for one being sent 50 miles. The Minister has confirmed, and there is no point in including section 23(2) if the option was not being left open, that we will have a service that will move away from that principle of the uniform tariff that has served us so well, whereby the cost of posting a letter is a uniform price regardless of its destination.

The Minister makes the case regarding the bulk delivery of mail for bodies such as the ESB, but that is provided for under section 23(3). In other words, the uniform tariff is for ordinary customers. I believe that should be protected. If one posts a letter from one place to another within the State or within this island, which we will deal with later, the price should be the same. If there is a bulk provider, one can come to an individual arrangement under section 23(3) for that person, as long as the price is less than the uniform tariff.

Everything the Minister says is confirming the fact that the way this will develop, and the commission can decide to let it go this way, is that the concept of the universal stamp, whereby one does not have to check the price because it will apply to a letter from any one place to another in the State, will disappear. The provider will be able to set a price of, for example, 20 cent for a letter from Dublin to Dublin and 70 cent for a letter from Dublin to Kerry. This provision is specifically and explicitly providing for that.

There is no intention to depart from the uniform tariff, and I do not know how the Deputy can take an inference from section 23(2) that there is. In fact, the Deputy's further amendment in this batch of amendments, No. 53, also relates to the uniform tariff except it proposes that the uniform rate ought to apply across the island. My advice is that it is not wise to include that in primary legislation as it would restrict An Post. In any event, primary legislation here would not have an impact on Northern Ireland. However, I am happy to ask the Parliamentary Counsel if he can find some other way of meeting the Deputy's objective in that. I believe a uniform tariff across the island is a good idea, and he can see if there is a way he can re-frame the Deputy's amendment or, perhaps, include it in secondary legislation. I will examine if that can be done.

However, I cannot see the point in amendment No. 49. The Deputy is reading into the provision something that is not intended. The provision reflects the status quo with regard to the role of the Minister and ComReg. The use of the word “may”, on which the Deputy is focused, reflects the provisions of both the directive and the current postal regulations of 2002. In addition, there is currently a uniform tariff in place. In fact, there has been a uniform domestic tariff for single piece mail in the Republic of Ireland since the introduction of the penny post in 1840. Furthermore, since 1991, postal charges for single piece mail posted with An Post have been the same for mail posted in Ireland for delivery anywhere on the island of Ireland. The single piece tariff of 55 cent applies to mail sent to the whole of the island. We checked with An Post if there was any basis for anticipating that it is intended to change this and there is none.

Deputy Ó Cuív said he is very afraid, but there is no need to be in this regard. That is not the intention.

If that is not the intention, is it legally possible under section 23(3)? If the commission and the universal postal service provider wished to change something that has been there from 1840, and many things have been there a long time and were changed, would it be legally possible to do so under the section? Would it be legally possible to move away from what we have known across the island? If one posts a letter in this jurisdiction, it is delivered anywhere on this island for 55 cent. When the Bill is passed, will it be legally possible for the universal postal service provider to apply to the commission and for the commission to agree to a differentiated tariff? Is that legally possible or impossible under this section?

Of course it is legally possible, but it would require the consent of the Minister. Not even the kind of Minister adduced earlier by Deputy Ferris, and with whom Deputy Ó Cuív used to share government, would want to make the decision Deputy Ó Cuív anticipates. Why would a Minister consent to a departure from a uniform tariff, which is obviously desirable?

If it is so clear that a Minister would never consent, why is the provision being made? It is irrational. The Minister is saying a Minister would never consent to such a measure.

The sky may fall on Grafton Street. I do not think it will, but it may. We could have this discussion all night. I am using the language of the directive. I am telling the committee what has been the practice and that there is no intention to depart from it. Deputy Ó Cuív asks, in the case he posits, if it is legally possible. Of course it is. It is legally possible that we could get a dictator.

It is not legally possible, nor is it constitutionally possible.

In a normal democratic system one must get the consent of the Minister. Reasonably, I do not think a Minister would be likely to consent to something that would be damaging politically for his own party.

He could. The way of putting it beyond doubt is to amend the section as I proposed by substituting "shall" for "may". In that case one does not put the poor old Minister in the awkward position of saying no to ComReg. The Minister wants to leave a legal doubt. I want legal certainty. There is nothing to stop us, within domestic law, going beyond the directive on this issue.

I do not suppose there is anything stopping us going beyond the directive. Whether there is a need to go beyond the directive is the point at issue. We can imagine all kinds of bogeymen making all kinds of adverse decisions.

We used to. We used to do so all the time.

Why would one want to depart from the uniform tariff when one would have to get ministerial consent?

Because someone might, as they often do in these cases, interpret paragraph 23(1)(e) as requiring the Minister to do so. It states “prices shall be cost-orientated, that is to say, the prices shall take account of, and reflect the costs of, providing the postal service or part of the postal service concerned”.

Is the Deputy arguing that regard ought not be taken of the cost of delivering the postal service?

I think this is meant in a gross rather than an individual sense. However, if someone interprets it in an individual sense, that is, that the lead service should be costed on the basis of the cost of the individual service, and it is much more expensive to deliver a letter from Dublin to Tralee than from Dublin to Dublin, one could argue that paragraph 23(1)(b) requires one to differentiate the prices, because they are meant to be cost-orientated.

Why does the Deputy choose to read paragraph 23(1)(b )? Why does he not read paragraph 23(1)(a)?

I did read that too. It merely says "prices shall be affordable and be such that all postal service users may avail of the services provided". Of course users may avail of the services provided. A cost of 70 cent for a long distance versus 20 cent for a short distance could be said to be affordable. That does not provide one with any protection. I do not want to prolong this debate, but this measure will really open things up.

We are dealing with primary legislation and not with the nitty gritty of what one might put into a statutory instrument. If primary legislation states as its first objective that prices shall be affordable in order that they may be available to all service users, I do not know how much further one can reasonably go.

One could argue that a range of prices was affordable, for example, between 30 cent for a cheap letter to a nearby address and 55 or 60 cent for a letter going a longer distance. I am asking the Minister to insert in the Bill what he has lauded and what has been there since 1840, that is, that a letter posted from anywhere within the State to anywhere within the island will be charged at a uniform rate, irrespective of the distance involved. Then we will all be agreed that he has done a great job and preserved what has been there since 1840.

Does Deputy Ó Cuív consider that the existing situation does not require the Minister to consent to any departure from the uniform tariff? That safeguard is not there at present. I am putting it in. There will now be political oversight of the question. In future, if ComReg requires to depart from a uniform tariff, it can be done with the consent of the Minister. An Post does not have the freedom to depart from the uniform tariff. I would have thought that is a far more rigorous test to surmount than the existing provision. It has worked quite well.

It has worked here because the tradition has been so long. Over time, because of the opening up of competition and what is in the Bill, it might not work any longer. We all know of the irrationality of telecommunications charging, both within the State and within the European Union. For some reason, instead of having a uniform State-wide charge, when telecommunications were set up the charges were dramatically different for talking down the wire between two towns only ten miles apart depending on whether they were in the same or different charging areas. It is not certain that because no one touched the An Post pricing structure to date it will not be touched in the future. We know that an alternative system that was grossly unfair pertained for telecommunications. It is my belief that, in telecommunications, postal services, electronic communications and landline phones, the charge from anywhere within the State to anywhere within the island of Ireland should be uniform. This brings social solidarity and balance to the country.

We have given this question a fair airing. We could go over and back all evening. We seem to have an agreement to disagree. I cannot offer an opinion.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 50:

In page 24, subsection (3), line 25, after "users" to insert "which are less".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 51:

In page 24, subsection (4), lines 28 and 29, to delete all words from and including "in" in line 28 down to and including "section 19” in line 29 and substitute the following:

"in its charges published under section 19 or 20, as the case may be”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 52:

In page 24, lines 30 to 31, to delete subsection (5) and substitute the following:

"(5) Agreements on terminal dues, for all cross-border mail which is not intra-Community cross-border mail, do not constitute special tariffs for the purposes of subsection (1)(e).”.

The background to this is a high volume of Irish generated mail destined for the domestic market is produced and printed abroad. One company, for example, prints and posts all the Garda speeding fines and public order notices. One in eight items delivered by An Post each day comes from abroad. This compares to one in 12 internationally and one in 36 in England. ComReg in the past has asked An Post to renegotiate its international agreements, yet the company continues to lose millions of euro in this area. An Post applies tariffs, which should be transparent and non-discriminatory but this would not appear to be the case.

I welcome the opportunity to support the amendment, with which the Minister will be familiar. As Deputy Deering said, the section it seeks to replace permits An Post to charge a preferential rate to foreign postal providers such as Royal Mail, Swiss Post and the French and German postal services than it offers to licensed providers of bulk mail domestically. The result is that Irish generated bulk mail with an Irish destination is shipped abroad for processing, sorting, printing and packaging before being sent back to Ireland at a preferential rate. Apart from the air miles incurred, jobs are lost to other countries.

Will the Minister clarify why An Post wishes to continue to avail of this provision? According to its latest published accounts, the company is losing money on this service and ComReg asked it to examine why it was providing a loss making service. On the face of it, it is an anti-competitive provision, which is an abuse of a monopoly position by a State protected organisation. It is segmenting its market because it can do so as a monopoly provider. I am keen that this arrangement would cease in order that at least we would not disadvantage Irish licensed providers. It is ironic that a directive, which seeks to increase competition, is helping to reduce it through this section, which the amendment seeks to delete.

The Deputy is wrong. I am not as familiar with the phenomenon as I ought to be or as she imputes to me. I find the issue raised by her and Deputy Deering interesting and I would like the opportunity to examine it. I did not appreciate that anything like one in eight items was being posted here from abroad.

Terminal dues agreements relate to the payments that universal service providers such as An Post pay each other for the delivery of inbound international mail and are governed by the Reims Agreement and article 13 of the directive. In addition, the postal directive sets out a series of tariff principles and includes provisions relating to special tariffs which operate on a cost avoided principle.

The Postal Services Regulations 2002, which govern the management of the regulatory framework for the postal sector, state that agreements on terminal dues do not constitute special tariffs and this requirement is transposed into the postal bill. The directive provides that the charges for terminal dues are aligned with the cost of processing cross-border mail. Since 2009, An Post has agreed with ComReg that its terminal dues should be cost-based. The terminal dues arrangements operate on a reciprocal basis. Only national operators can satisfy the full requirements implicit in these arrangements.

I understand that a non-universal service provider, whether Irish or not, can present mail for delivery in Ireland provided it meets the same conditions as mail from another universal service provider of an EU member state at terminal dues rates plus a charge, the charge being objectively justified by the additional cost An Post incurs. In any event, the Bill provides for a downstream access regime in the An Post network and if an access seeker is dissatisfied with the terms offered by An Post, ComReg has a role in determining the access conditions having regard to a number of factors including price and development of competition.

I am not sure what that means. The Reims Agreement is not mandatory and I am not sure why An Post has agreed to sign up again to it. I understand, for instance, the UK was a party to the agreement but pulled out because it disadvantaged its own providers. I do not understand why An Post insists on disadvantaging Irish providers. It would be too complicated to deal with countries outside the EU but surely within the Union, it would be possible to provide for a scenario where domestic providers would not be disadvantaged by offering preferential rates to foreign postal providers.

I would like to take the opportunity between now and Report Stage to research the issue further but, as I understand it, the Reims Agreement is long-standing and it stems from a simpler time when some of today's complexities did not have to contended with. It is essentially an agreement between universal service providers from different states and it provides for reciprocity. Deputy Mitchell questioned whether this was anti-competitive and so on. My understanding is the agreement was tested by European competition authorities and given a clean bill of health My advice is that the issue of reciprocity must be involved, as it would be, for example, between An Post on the one hand and the Royal Mail on the other hand, and that unless that element is involved in it, the arrangement as provided for in the Bill would apply. On competition, it seems to have cleared the hurdle to satisfy the European authorities in that regard. Where there is no reciprocity, does that meet the requirement of Reims? I am advised that it does not. I am genuinely taken aback at the information about one in eight items. I accept what Deputies Deering and Mitchell said. If it is of that order, it is significant and must be examined. However, it does not disadvantage An Post which might do well out of it.

I refer to the licensed postal providers, the bulk providers.

Does Deputy Deering wish to press the amendment?

I will withdraw my amendment with the option of resubmitting it at a later stage.

I have lost my way. I will come back to the matter on Report Stage. I do not give an undertaking that it is feasible to reframe something but I wish to satisfy myself on the issue.

I thank the Minister.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 23, as amended, agreed to.
Amendment No. 53 not moved.
Section 24 agreed to.
SECTION 25

I move amendment No. 54:

In page 27, lines 14 to 19, to delete subsection (12) and substitute the following:

"(12) Pending the making of a price cap decision under subsection (2), unless otherwise directed by the Commission under section 23(6), no change shall be made by An Post to any charge that applies immediately before the passing of this Act for postal services within the scope of the universal postal service relating to postal packets weighing less than 50 grams without the prior consent in writing of the Commission.”.

The purpose of the amendment is to tidy up the legislation. It inserts into the text "unless otherwise directed by the Commission under section 23(6) into 25(12)”. It does not change the scope of either sections 23 or 25 but it is proposed simply to remove any doubt about An Post being able to amend charges during the transitional period pending the making of a price gap if directed to do so by ComReg to ensure compliance with the tariff principles of section 23.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 25, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 26

Amendments Nos. 55 to 57, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 55:

In page 28, subsection (3), lines 1 to 3, to delete paragraph (d) and substitute the following:

"(d) the verification by a statutory auditor or statutory audit firm of compliance with internal cost accounting systems,”.

This is a drafting amendment to provide that a direction issued by ComReg under section 26(1) shall require verification by an auditor that a relevant cost accounting system is in place. The text "conducting an annual audit" goes beyond what is required by the directive and the revised wording more closely reflects that of Regulation 11(4) of the 2002 postal services regulations.

The proposed amendment No. 56 agreed with the Parliamentary Counsel seeks to more accurately reflect Article 14 of the directive on the submission of accounting information by the universal postal service provider to the European Commission. The amendment replaces subsection (4) with a new subsection (4) and (5). The new section 26(4) requires ComReg to keep available the appropriate level of detail on the cost accounting systems applied by the designated universal service provider and on request submit the information to the European Commission.

The new section 26(5) requires the designated universal service provider to provide detailed cost accounting information directly to the European Commission. These requirements are not new and the proposed amendments are, in the main, a restatement of obligations currently set out in Regulation 11 of the old postal services regulations.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 56:

In page 28, lines 15 to 17, to delete subsection (4) and substitute the following:

"(4) The Commission shall keep available, to an adequate level of detail, information on the cost accounting systems applied by a universal postal service provider, and shall submit such information to the European Commission on request.".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 57:

In page 28, between lines 17 and 18, to insert the following subsection:

"(5) A universal postal service provider shall make available in confidence to the European Commission, on request, detailed accounting information arising from its cost accounting systems.".

Amendment agreed to.
Section 26, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 27

Amendments Nos. 58 and 59 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 58:

In page 28, lines 21 to 25, to delete subsection (1) and substitute the following:

"27.—(1) The Commission, following a public consultation process, shall draw up, and may from time to time revise, quality of service standards in relation to universal postal service provision by universal postal service providers (in this Part referred to as "quality of service standards"), other than intra-Community cross-border services.".

The amendment to section 27(5), by deleting the text in lines 41 and 42 clarifies that ComReg is not required to monitor intra-Community quality of service standards. That is not a change to existing policy or of the regulatory framework and reflects the current situation since 2002.

The amendment proposed to section (27)(1) is simply a redrafting by the Parliamentary Counsel in the interests of clarity. There is no substantive change to the meaning of the provision.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 59:

In page 28, subsection (5), lines 40 to 42, to delete paragraph (a) and substitute the following:

"(a) monitor compliance with the quality of service standards, and”.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 27, as amended, agreed to.
Amendment No. 60 not moved.
Section 28 agreed to.
Section 29 agreed to.
SECTION 30

Amendments Nos. 61 to 64, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 61:

In page 31, lines 18 to 20, to delete subsection (1) and substitute the following:

"30.—(1) A universal postal service provider, designated under section 17 or 18, which seeks to receive funding for the net costs (if any) of providing a universal postal service may submit a request in writing to the Commission.”.

A number of amendments are proposed to section 30. Amendment No. 61 provides that a universal postal service provider may apply to ComReg for funding for the net cost of the universal postal service obligation. ComReg is required to assess any such application and determine whether the universal postal service obligation represents a net cost and is in its opinion an unfair financial burden.

Amendment No. 62 clarifies that any request for funding may relate only to a designation made under section 17 of the Bill. In other words, no funding can be sought in regard to the current designation under the 2002 regulations.

The amendment to section 30(2) sets out the timeframe within which a designated universal postal service provider may submit a request for funding to ComReg. That will give certainty to all players on the timing of any potential request for funding.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 62:

In page 31, lines 21 to 24, to delete subsection (2) and substitute the following:

"(2) A request under subsection (1) shall be—

(a) made in such form and manner as the Commission determines,

(b) submitted no earlier than after the end of the first financial year immediately following the designation under section 17 or 18 and thereafter no later than 6 months after the accounts for the financial year concerned have been audited, unless the Commission agrees otherwise, and

(c) accompanied by such supporting information as may reasonably be required by the Commission for the purposes of subsection (4).”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 63:

In page 32, subsection (5)(a), to delete lines 4 to 6 and substitute the following: “(i) the methodology used by the universal postal service provider with respect to the information given to the Commission under this section,”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 64:

In page 32, subsection (5)(b), to delete lines 18 to 21 and substitute the following:

"(ii) appoint a person possessing, in the opinion of the Commission, the requisite qualifications and degree of independence from the universal postal service provider, to audit or verify,".

Amendment agreed to.
Section 30, as amended, agreed to.
Section 31 agreed to.
SECTION 32

Amendments Nos. 65 and 67 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 65:

In page 34, subsection (1), lines 31 to 41, to delete paragraph (b).

I ask the Minister to read out his reply to this amendment, and I will then consider what to do next.

Section 32 is a cornerstone of the regulatory framework. It sets out when a postal service is to be considered to be within the scope of the universal postal service. The Bill distinguishes, as does the directive, between the obligations that can be imposed on postal service providers depending on whether they are within the scope of the universal postal service. This section allows ComReg to regulate those postal service providers who will be competing with An Post. However, the main focus of regulation by ComReg will be on the providers of universal services, both those designated and those that come within the scope of the universal service, with limited regulation of all other postal providers, including those outside the universal service.

Do I take it that what this section does is to give power to the commission to impose restrictions on companies in competition with the universal service provider even if they do not have the full characteristics of a universal service provider? The section includes a description of a universal postal service qualified by the phrase "but for the fact". Does this mean the provision applies to providers that would not otherwise come under the restrictions of the universal service provider? This is a situation that occurs in law. A house is a house if it is defined to be a house, even if it is not a house.

I do not know how to answer that. To return to the Deputy's own example of the telecommunications sector, there will inevitably be complaints that the regulator is leaning disproportionately on the old provider that had a dominant position. That is always the case. This section will permit ComReg, the regulator in this case, to regulate postal service providers that will be competing with An Post. However, the main focus of regulation by the regulator will be on the providers of universal services. That is the story of regulation in whichever utility one wants to point to.

I will withdraw it for today, but the Minister has not convinced me.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 66:

In page 35, subsection (2), lines 3 and 4, to delete "commencement date" and substitute "passing of this Act".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 67 not moved.
Section 32, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 33

I move amendment No. 68:

In page 35, subsection (2), line 31, to delete "commencement date" and substitute "passing of this Act".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 69:

In page 36, subsection (7), lines 32 and 33, to delete "to a fine not exceeding €5,000" and substitute "to a class A fine".

Amendment agreed to.
Section 33, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 34 to 36, inclusive, agreed to.
SECTION 37

I move amendment No. 70:

In page 38, subsection (4), lines 46 and 47, to delete "to a fine not exceeding €5,000" and substitute "to a class A fine".

Amendment agreed to.
Section 37, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 38 to 40, inclusive, agreed to.
SECTION 41

I move amendment No. 71:

In page 42, subsection (2), lines 13 to 15, to delete all words from and including ", employees" in line 13 down to and including "provider" in line 15 and substitute the following:

"and employees and agents of a universal postal service provider".

Amendment agreed to.
Section 41, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 42

Amendments Nos. 72 and 73 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 72:

In page 42, subsection (3)(b), line 36, to delete “or”.

This amendment permits a postal service provider to open a postal packet that does not comply with the provider's terms and conditions, but only in circumstances in which the sender cannot be identified. This may happen, for example, where an item is underpaid or not properly packaged.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 73:

In page 42, subsection (3)(c), line 37, to delete “collected,” and substitute the following:

"collected, or

(d) not in compliance with its terms and conditions for the transmission of postal packets,”.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 42, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 43

I move amendment No. 74:

In page 43, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following subsection:

"(3) This section shall come into operation on such day as the Minister may appoint by order.".

Amendment agreed to.
Section 43, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 44 to 46, inclusive, agreed to.
SECTION 47

I move amendment No. 75:

In page 46, subsection (1)(a), lines 1 and 2, to delete “section 17(2), (3) or (4),” and substitute “section 17(2), 18(1)(b) or (2),”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 76:

In page 46, subsection (1)(b), line 4, to delete “17(5)” and substitute “18(3)”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 77:

In page 46, subsection (1)(c), line 7, to delete “19(7)” and substitute “21(5)”.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 47, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 48

I move amendment No. 78:

In page 47, subsection (1), line 16, after "employee" to insert "or agent".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 79:

In page 47, subsection (2), line 28, after "employee" to insert "or agent".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 80:

In page 47, subsection (3)(a), line 32, to delete “to a fine not exceeding €2,500” and substitute “to a class C fine”.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 48, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 49

I move amendment No. 81:

In page 48, line 35, to delete "subsection (6)" and substitute ", subsection (6)".

I do not know if Deputy Ó Cuív will be able to oppose me on this one. I ask for his support. The amendment corrects a typographical error by the insertion of a comma.

I support the amendment. Commas are very important.

Very important.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 49, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 50

I move amendment No 82:

In page 49, subsection (1)(a)(ii), line 3, after “employee” to insert “or agent”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 83:

In page 49, subsection (2)(a), line 11, to delete “to a fine not exceeding €5,000” and substitute “to a class A fine”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 84:

In page 49, lines 17 to 19, to delete subsection (3) and substitute the following:

"(3) Subsection (1)(a) does not apply to postal packets which enclose anything permitted to be sent (whether generally or specifically) by the postal service provider concerned, provided that such postal packets are sent in compliance with the terms and conditions of that postal service provider.”.

This amendment clarifies that postal packets, whose transmission may be prohibited under this section, may legitimately be sent if they comply with the terms and conditions of the postal service provider concerned.

This may apply, for example, in the case of potentially harmful objects which, if packaged in accordance with the terms and conditions of the provider concerned, would pose no harm and may thus be legitimately sent.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 50, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 51

I move amendment No. 85:

In page 49, subsection (1)(a), line 23, after “employee” to insert “or agent”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 86:

In page 49, subsection (2), line 33, after "employee" to insert "or agent".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 87:

In page 49, subsection (2), line 36, after "employee" to insert "or agent".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 88:

In page 49, subsection (3), line 38, to delete "to a fine not exceeding €500" and substitute "to a class E fine".

Amendment agreed to.
Section 51, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 52

I move amendment No. 89:

In page 49, subsection (1)(a), line 44, to delete “to a fine not exceeding €2,500” and substitute “to a class C fine”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 90:

In page 50, subsection (2), line 7, to delete "to a fine not exceeding €2,500" and substitute "to a class C fine".

Amendment agreed to.
Section 52, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 53

I move amendment No. 91:

In page 50, line 9, after "employee" to insert "or agent".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 92:

In page 50, line 12, to delete "to a fine not exceeding €2,500" and substitute "to a class C fine".

Amendment agreed to.
Section 53, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 54

Amendments Nos. 93 to 96, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 93:

In page 50, to delete lines 19 to 22 and substitute the following:

"(b) the European Communities (Electronic Communications Networks and Services) (Universal Service and Users’ Rights) Regulations 2003 (S.I. No. 308 of 2003),”.

These amendments seek to correct some minor typographical errors. Among these is a correction to the title of the regulations referred to in this section.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 94:

In page 50, line 25, to delete "Regulations" and substitute "Regulations 2003".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 95:

In page 50, line 31, to delete "section" and substitute "subsection".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 96:

In page 50, line 33, to delete "13C(2)" and substitute "section 13C(2)".

Amendment agreed to.
Section 54, as amended, agreed to.
Section 55 agreed to.
SECTION 56

I move amendment No. 97:

In page 51, subsection (1), lines 10 and 11, to delete "Minister for Finance" and substitute "Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 98:

In page 51, subsection (2), lines 24 and 25, to delete all words from and including "The" where it firstly occurs in line 24 down to and including "Government," in line 25 and substitute the following:

"The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, after consultation with the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government,".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 99:

In page 51, lines 28 to 37, to delete subsection (3) and substitute the following:

"(3) (a) The terms and conditions applying to the provision of free postage to candidates pursuant to all or any of the provisions specified in subparagraphs (i) to (iv) of the definition of “relevant postal service provider” in subsection (1) shall be agreed by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and the relevant postal service provider concerned, after consultation with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and, where appropriate, the Minister for Defence.

(b) The appropriate sum payable, pursuant to the terms and conditions referred to in paragraph (a), from the Central Fund, or the growing produce of that Fund, to a relevant postal service provider shall be authorised by the Minister for Finance at the request of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.”.

Chapter 11 relates to the regulation of free postage for election candidates. The principle of free postage for election candidates is provided for in electoral legislation and is not affected by this Bill.

Section 56 will enable the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, formerly Minister for Finance, to designate a postal service provider, which may be other than An Post, for the purposes of providing free election post for candidates and determine the conditions under which it is to be provided. It also provides that An Post will be the provider of free election post until such time as the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform makes a designation order under this section.

The amendment proposed to section 56(3), provides that the terms and conditions of this free postage and the sum payable from the Central Fund for it shall be agreed between the Minister and the relevant postal service provider rather than simply determined by the Minister. This amendment better reflects the contractual nature of the agreement and is a safeguard for postal service providers against an imposition of unfair terms and conditions.

The amendment also better reflects the intention that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Minister for Defence are consulted, not about the contract but to allow them decide that electoral needs are met.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 100:

In page 51, subsection (4), line 40, to delete "commencement date" and substitute "passing of this Act".

Amendment agreed to.
Section 56, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 57

I move amendment No. 101:

In page 52, lines 21 and 22, to delete all words from and including "to" in line 21 down to and including "Finance" in line 22 and substitute the following:

"to such extent as may be authorised by the Minister for Finance at the request of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform".

Amendment agreed to.
Section 57, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 58 to 60, inclusive, agreed to.
NEW SECTION

Amendments Nos. 102 and 103 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 102:

In page 53, before section 61, to insert the following new section:

"PART 3

THE NATIONAL POSTCODE SYSTEM

61.—(1) In this section—

"national postcode system" has the meaning given to it by subsection (2); “postcode” means a code consisting of numbers or other characters or both numbers and other characters that identifies the locality of an address and, where appropriate, the geographic location of an address;

"public body" means—

(a) a Department of State,

(b) a local authority,

(c) a body established by any enactment.

(2) The Minister may, with the prior consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, enter into a contract with one or more than one person for the development, implementation and maintenance of a system (in this section referred to as the "national postcode system") for the allocation, dissemination and management of postcodes for the purposes of, or relating to, the provision of postal services and the use of the national postcode system by other persons for such other purposes as the Minister considers appropriate.

(3) The contract referred to in subsection (2) shall specify the terms and conditions relating to the development, implementation and maintenance of the national postcode system and, in particular, shall specify—

(a) the conditions subject to which postcodes may be made available,

(b) the conditions relating to the protection of intellectual property rights, and

(c) the conditions (including conditions as to the making of charges) subject to which the national postcode system may be made available to any person who may wish to use it.

(4) While the contract referred to in subsection (2) remains in force, the person or persons with whom the Minister so contracts shall provide such information as the Minister requires for the purposes of this section.

(5) Nothing in subsection (3) shall be read so as to prevent—

(a) the sharing of the national postcode system with public bodies free of charge for the purposes of the performance of their functions,

(b) the requirement, subject to such terms and conditions as the contract may specify, for the adoption of a differential charging policy for commercial and non-commercial use of the national postcode system by other persons.”.

The purpose of this section is enable the Minister to establish, maintain and operate a national postcode system. This amendment restates this section in its entirety to clarify that the national postcode system may be used by a person-body for purposes other than the provision of postal services. The amendment aims to avoid any unintended restriction on the use of postcodes.

It provides for terms and conditions of a postcode contract regarding property rights and charging. It allows for the sharing of the national postcode system with public bodies free of charge to perform their functions.

The amendment submitted by Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív would require the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to have regard to the position of the Irish language as the national language in the operation of any national postcode system.

While I am sympathetic to the aims of the proposal I do not propose to accept it on several grounds. A procurement process is under way for a national postcode system, designed to produce a technical specification and an implementation plan for a national postcode system. The issue of what that specification will be and how it will take effect in an operating postcode will be determined through that competition. The issue of memorability, or placename recognition, by the general public will be an important consideration in any final recommendation to the Government. The Government will take a view on the proposals emerging from the procurement process before committing to a postcode roll-out process. The language issue will be dealt with as part of the procurement but it is neither necessary nor appropriate to set language-related conditions on the process at this stage.

My Department has published a notice seeking candidates to implement a national postcode system. That notice states that the conclusions and recommendations of the national postcodes project board should be the basis of the implementation but that innovation with regard to the incorporation of the unique identification of properties should be investigated.

Although the procurement is being managed by my Department on a ring-fenced basis, any final go-ahead will require Government approval. In making a final decision on the project, the Government will consider a variety of financial, operational and technical issues. The position of the national language will be part of this consideration.

As already stated, I have sympathy for the objective being advanced in the amendment. As a general principle, I wish to see the position of the Irish language respected in the roll-out of any national infrastructure. At the same time, that roll-out will be subject to technical conditions which will be determined through the procurement process currently under way.

I welcome amendment No. 102. Postcodes are not really needed for ordinary post but they are required by businesses. One of the great advantages they will offer will be in the context of satellite navigation or satnav systems, the blue light service, etc. If one obtains the unique identifier relating to an address, one can simply input the number and one will be directed to the exact premises to which one wishes to drive. I am extremely supportive of the process to which the Minister refers.

People who have dealt with farmers will know that it is impossible to find one who does not know his or her herd number. I am always amazed at how individuals can always recite their PPS numbers for me. As is usually the case with Departments, however, I am of the view that this was issued without a specific language requirement being built in. This means that argument to the effect that something is much more memorable if it is all in English will eventually be advanced. I do not necessarily believe that to be true. I am of the view that we are going to be informed that it is too late to deal with this issue.

The reply the Minister gave is disingenuous. We are aware of the difficulties which arose in the past when a similar approach was taken in respect of car registrations. We were subsequently obliged to amend the law to deal with the language issue in rural areas. If a postcode system was being developed in France, would it be left to the potential operator to include English versions of placenames or would it be stated that postcodes must appear in the national language, French? I do not believe it would have been impossible to give a direction in the Irish case. I can imagine what would happen in a bilingual country such as Belgium if no direction were given in respect of language and if all postcodes appeared either exclusively in Flemish or in French. I am of the view that a clear direction would be given in that country with regard to how to deal with this issue.

This matter was never clarified by the Department at any stage of the process. There was serious concern among members of the previous Cabinet on the last occasion on which this matter came before it. That Cabinet offered a clear direction that the Irish language issue should be dealt with. I am aware that Conradh na Gaeilge has been in contact about this matter. I am of the view that it is one which we can get right. If postcodes are to be exclusively in English, then the Minister should inform us of that fact. What is going to happen, however, is that the Minister will not tell us what is going to happen. It is designed in such a way that a certain answer is obtained and then the Minister will return and state that the technical advice indicates a certain route must be taken. At that stage, it will be too late. The Minister should be up front and should inform us with regard to what he intends to do.

I welcome the amendment in the Minister's name. As I recall the original enabling legislation provides for the postcode system only to apply for use by the postal service. I welcome the change that will allow for its use by others because that will change the criteria relating to the system. I was afraid that the postcode system would only be of use to postal service providers. I am not sure when the Minister intends to go to tender with the new system.

If a postcode system is being introduced, one tends only to get one shot at it per generation. It must, therefore, be a system that will stand the test of time and that will have universal application. As the previous speaker indicated, it must provide unique identifiers in respect of specific locations. In that context, such identifiers should not relate to, for example, a group of 50 hours but rather to an actual spot on the map. It is only really possible to achieve this with a GPS system based on latitude and longitude, which is immutable. In such circumstances it would not matter if roads are changed, if they fall asunder or if they are replaced, because the system will remain the same.

The Minister is making this change for a number of reasons, not least because the system will be saleable and will generate income for the State. In that context, I welcome amendment No. 102.

This system is probably going to grab the imagination of the public. It certainly did so during the period in office of the previous Administration. I welcome the effort to introduce a postcode system. As Deputy Olivia Mitchell stated, one only gets one shot at it. Once the system is introduced, that is the end of the matter. It is not possible to continually revisit it and make changes. It is inevitable that the new system will completely replace the existing system whereby townlands, streets, house numbers, etc., are listed on people's addresses. A great deal of consideration will have to be given to how this will be achieved.

An Post has access to geodata which is updated quite regularly. Within this data, each house has its own individual code or number. These are not postcodes, however, they are house identifiers. There are challenges which will have to be met in the context of establishing codes for houses, dwellings and units and also for areas. Such codes will not resolve the problems that exist for the emergency services. For example, in a rural area, the code provided might direct those services to an area of so many square miles.

The system is extremely accurate. I was driving to a particular location in London and when I entered the postcode I was directed right to the front door of the premises, namely, a certain famous football stadium.

The point I am making is that the postcode system will eventually replace the existing postal address system. In the UK, one's postcode becomes one's identify. It is clear that a considerable amount of consideration will have to be devoted to this matter.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 103:

In page 54, after line 19, to insert the following subsection:

"(5) In operating a system of postcodes the Minister shall have regard to the position of the Irish language as the national language.".

I will withdraw this amendment on the understanding that I may resubmit it on Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 61 deleted.
SCHEDULE 1

I move amendment No. 104:

In page 55, to delete lines 43 to 45 and substitute the following:

"

13

No. 24 of 1983

Postal and Telecommunications Services Act 1983

Sections 5(2), 64, 66, 70 (in so far as it relates to schemes as respects the provision of postal services), 71, 72, 74, 75, 82, 83 and 84.

Deputy Pat Deering,

Deputy Mattie McGrath,

Deputy Robert Dowds,

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív,

Deputy Martin Ferris,

Deputy John O’Mahony,

Deputy Noel Harrington,

Deputy Pat Rabbitte (Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources.)

Deputy Colm Keaveney,

This amendment provides that An Post will continue to have the power to make schemes or statutory instruments with regard to services it provides that do not fall within the regulatory framework of the Bill. These services for which An Post will still be able to make schemes are non-postal services and relate primarily to money and postal orders.

Amendment agreed to.
Schedule 1, as amended, agreed to.
SCHEDULE 2

I move amendment No. 105:

In page 57, line 54, to delete "administrative".

This section relates to the Ombudsman Act 1980 and the exemption of An Post from oversight by the Ombudsman in respect of any of its functions that relate to postal services within the meaning of the Bill. The amendment, which deletes the word "administrative", used here to qualify An Post's functions, seeks to clarify that all functions of An Post relating to postal services are exempt from the Ombudsman's oversight, and not just its administrative functions.

Amendment agreed to.
Schedule 2, as amended, agreed to.
Schedules 3 and 4 agreed to.
TITLE

Amendments Nos. 106 to 108, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 106:

In page 7, lines 9 to 13, to delete all words from and including "DIRECTIVE" in line 9 down to and including "SERVICES," in line 13 and substitute the following:

"DIRECTIVE 97/67/EC OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL OF 15 DECEMBER 19971 AS AMENDED BY DIRECTIVE 2002/39/EC OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL OF 10 JUNE 20022 AND DIRECTIVE 2008/6/EC OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL OF 20 FEBRUARY 20083,".

I have been looking forward to these three amendments. The amendments to the Long Title are drafting amendments made by the Parliamentary Counsel and do not reflect any policy change to the Bill.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 107:

In page 7, to delete lines 29 to 31 and substitute the following:

"POSTCODES, FOR THOSE AND OTHER PURPOSES TO REPEAL CERTAIN PROVISIONS OF, AND TO AMEND AND EXTEND,".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 108:

In page 7, line 39, to delete "ENACTMENTS,"" and substitute the following:

"ACTS AND STATUTORY INSTRUMENTS,".

Amendment agreed to.
Title, as amended, agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.

I thank the Minister and his officials for their forbearance and thank all the members of the committee for their co-operation. This is new territory for many members and it is new territory for me as Chairman. We have tried to give as much latitude as possible and have had some interesting discussions. The Bill as amended has been given a fair hearing.

I too would like to thank all the members.

Message to Dáil

In accordance with Standing Order 87, the following message will be sent to the Dáil:

Pursuant to Standing Order 131(3), the Select Sub-Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources has completed its consideration of the Communications Regulation (Postal Services) Bill 2010 and has made amendments thereto and has amended the Title.

The select sub-committee adjourned at 8.35 p.m. until 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 13 July 2011.
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