Tá a rabh le rá agam ráidhte. Ós rud é go bhfuil an Teachta de Bhulbh mí-shásta liom agus go n-abrann sé go bhfuilim a léigheamh m'oráide, b'fhéidir go mbeidh sé níos sásta liom má chromaim ar an Bhéarla.
It seems to me that the Minister for Finance, in asking the Dáil to pass this Bill, has thrown a red herring into the discussion and cleverly evaded the important question of whether or not economies should be effected in the administration of the telegraph service by saying that the whole question is that under present circumstances an enormous burden has been placed on the rest of the community who are not themselves in the habit of sending telegrams and that the whole of that burden should be borne by the business community or whatever other people are mainly sending these telegrams.
I think the House expected, and I hope before the discussion closes the Minister will say something more than he has on this important question of effecting economy in the administration of the telegraph service. The question, in my opinion, is not chiefly the changing of the burden, or the lessening of the burden, of the subsidy which he claims the taxpayer is paying for an adequate telegraph service, but whether the cost to the business community and those who are sending telegrams could not have been greatly reduced if the Minister, during the past few years, had taken steps to see that this service, which we know he and other Ministers stress as a service, which is being conducted on business lines and which would bear favourable comparison with business concerns, had gone into the matter or had got his Parliamentary Secretary to go into this business of telegraph administration, as the director of a private business concern would have done. I think he would have found considerable room for economies, and by effecting those economies it would not have been necessary either to charge the tax-paying community with a burden of £150,000 per year, nor would it have been necessary to inflict upon those who are sending telegrams an extra fee of sixpence per telegram. The cost has been estimated by the Minister for Finance at 2/7 per telegram, while the receipts in respect of each telegram come to only 1/3½, so that there is a loss of 1/3½ per telegram, or £150,000 per year. The Minister has not vouchsafed any details to show us in what way he computes that cost of 2/7, nor has he, as he might have, when he contemplates that an addition should be made to the charge for telegrams, gone on to show what the result would be in a detailed manner. He has simply said that he does not anticipate any considerable diminution in the number of telegrams. He says that he is not convinced, so far as the arguments may have been made by representatives of the business community, that this new charge inflicts a further burden upon the producers and upon the business community generally. He is not satisfied that that is a fair statement of the case, and he wants to lead the House to believe that the burden, in fact, will mainly fall upon individuals concerned in betting. It has been pointed out by various other Deputies that that is an over-statement, that there are certain merchants in the country engaged in the egg trade, for example, whose business demands that they should be in daily and constant intercourse with the English markets. I think unless the Minister can produce further details to prove the strength of his argument, the House would be well advised to follow their own common sense and to agree with me that, instead of inflicting a burden upon the people interested in gambling, the burden will be inflicted upon merchants such as I have mentioned, whose business makes it necessary for them to be in constant touch with other agents and with the English markets.
How will the extra cost imposed upon them work out? The Minister says it will not effect any diminution in the number of telegrams and that any diminution that may eventually be caused will be more than counterbalanced by the economies that will be effected. It is an extraordinary way to carry out economies that you should first have to impose an additional cost on the consumer in order to carry your economies subsequently into effect. Why not carry out the economies in any case and show the House what has been done and what could be done in order to reduce the cost before you inflict a further burden upon the producer?
The trunk system of telephones is now fairly well established throughout the country and it may be the attitude of the Ministry that they desire to subsidise in this strange way the telephone service by compelling the people to use it. I think they said pretty definitely that in the vicinity of Dublin telegrams had decreased considerably and they have tried to argue that there is a greater loss in the administration of the telegraph service in Dublin City and round about than down the country and that that is caused by the fact that an increasing number of people about Dublin who would otherwise have used the telegraph are now using the telephone. If the Minister wants telephones to become more widely used, if it is his desire to carry it still further down the country and get a larger number of people to instal telephones, I think he could have found a more economical and desirable way to achieve his end than by putting an extra cost on telegrams, because at the present time there is a heavy loss on the telephone as well as on the telegraph service. It is not a case of what you lose on the swing you gain on the roundabouts. It is quite possible, and I venture to predict what will happen is, that you are going to have a continual loss both on the swings and the roundabouts, and the Ministry in imposing this new rate have not looked forward sufficiently and contemplated the result of their action.
They have not contemplated what exactly is going to happen in connection with the telephones. They had a vague idea that there would be an increase in the telephone service, and there the matter stands. As a matter of fact, even if there is an increase, and if there was a proportionate increase such as we would expect if a large number of people now considered that telegrams were too expensive, and that it would be more profitable and cheaper to use the telephone, even if a large number of people changed their habits in that respect, we are not at all sure, and we have not received any assurance from the Minister that the telephone service, as it stands at present, would be able to cope with any new demand on a large scale. The telephone service is greatly in arrear, and until the telephone service is properly established and developed and is able to stand on its own legs largely, and to show that it can be run as a business proposition, the cost of the telegraph service should not be made prohibitive for those availing of it. The Post Office, as a whole, is being run, we are told, as a business proposition. But until that stage has been reached, until the telephone service is working clearly and definitely as a separate unit and has shown indications that it will in future be able to pay its way, I submit that it is a mistaken policy to assist it in this manner by trying to force people to establish telephones in their houses and make it too expensive for them to pay 1/6 for a telegram.
There is also the question of the delivery fee in out-of-the-way districts where the people are poor. Perhaps the Minister for Finance thinks that these people are not very much interested in the matter of telegrams, and that they only get a few during the year. Nevertheless, in those cases where the total income of the poorer people is very small, and where the people are living in places which are remote from telegraph offices, porterage fees are excessive. While the Minister is trying to lead us to believe that it will be possible to effect economies in the service and add on an additional cost to the price of the telegrams, and at the same time to give even a better service —not alone to maintain the present service, but to make it cheaper for the people in remote districts, to reduce the delivery or porterage fees for the poorer people in remote places—he has given us no definite idea as to what he has in mind. He has made a statement. He showed by a certain amount of information, which will be naturally irritating to the people who live in those remote places that are not favourably situated, that these charges for porterage are going to continue there, and not only that, but the cost of the telegrams is to be increased by 50 per cent. The Minister also stated that economies would be effected this year, and perhaps this was an attempt to answer those who thought that, perhaps, better efforts might be made to secure economies and to carry out this work on a system that would bear better comparison with business methods. He stated that the temporary staffs that had been employed throughout the past few years had been largely got rid of; that large numbers of auxiliary postmen and staffs in the lower grades of the Post Office had been got rid of, and that in that way economies had been uneffected. Great hardship had been undoubtedly caused to large numbers of these people who had been in what they thought was a quasi-permanent form of employment for years past.