I want to assure Deputy Mulcahy that there is a regular review of the situation in respect to these rural postal deliveries. Hardly a day goes by, certainly never a week, when the question of the restoration of some of the rural postal deliveries is not carefully examined with a view, wherever it is humanly possible, to restore those particular deliveries. It should be remembered that the Post Office is a business concern and, that being so, one must deal with it from the point of view of pounds, shillings and pence.
There were certain statements made by Deputy Dockrell and, I think Deputy Alton, in respect to a fear which they had as to the possibility of the secrecy of the post being invaded. There is no question of the secrecy of the post being invaded any more than it was ever invaded. I want to make it clear to the members of this House that the Post Office has no power whatsoever to open letters. If the necessity ever arose for opening a letter, the Post Office would have to go to the Minister for Justice and secure a warrant before they could interfere with any closed packet. Of course the printed matter to which this Bill mostly refers, being in open envelopes, can be inspected to see if there is an evasion of this particular Bill. That, I take it, will be operated, but in no case will there be a question of anything being done that has not been done since this State was established.
Deputy McMenamin talked about the necessity for a revolution in the Post Office in order to secure efficiency. I think Deputy McMenamin was talking without knowledge of certain facts. If we were to produce a huge deficit on the Post Office I know the Deputy would be one of the first to endeavour to start a revolution in this House in view of the fact that we were responsible for the deficit. Because of the Deputy's statement as to the inefficiency of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs I want to give a few figures which will show that the Department is an efficient business concern run by efficient officers. In the year 1922-23 there was a deficit in the Post Office of £1,108,260; in 1923-24 that was reduced to £773,749; in 1924-25 it was still further reduced to £471,974; in 1925-26 it was brought down to £413,967; in 1926-27 to £379,756; in 1927-28 to £262,774; in 1928-29 to £191,357; in 1929-30 to £162,678; in 1930-31 to £45,107. Then for the first year a profit was shown. In 1931-32 there was a profit of £66,947; in 1932-33 a profit of £17,357; in 1933-34 a profit of £35,707; in 1934-35 a profit of £206,860; in 1935-36 a profit of £317,812. That does not point to the necessity for a revolution, as the Deputy suggested. It shows a continual improvement. If I so desired, I could make a much more useful propaganda speech on these figures than Deputy Mulcahy made on his amendment, but there is a proper place for carrying on that type of propaganda, and I suggest it is not this House. When the occasion arises for making use of these figures, I hope to do it with some effect on the hustings.
In regard to Deputy Norton's reference to the messenger service, all I can say is that I will have the matter examined to see what is the actual position. Most of the other queries which were mentioned I do not think require any very definite answer, but in order to make the matter clear I will just say this: as has already been explained, the Bill has been introduced to enable this Administration, in common with other countries, to give effect to the procedure prescribed at the International Postal Convention. Even if the letter and printed paper post rates here were reduced to the British level, the powers which the Bill secures for the Department would still be necessary to prevent evasion arising from posting in countries other than Great Britain or Northern Ireland. Furthermore, assuming that the Saorstát rates were now brought to the British level if, later on, the British Administration reduced its rates, is it contended that the Saorstát Post Office should again similarly reduce its rates or be faced with the abuse with which the Bill is intended to deal?
I may mention that reduction of the letter post rate to the British level would involve an immediate loss in revenue of £267,000, approximately, per annum, while a reduction of the printed paper rate would lead to a further loss of over £7,000 per annum. The internal Saorstát parcel post rates were reduced last year and are now practically the same as the British rates. The suggested reduction of the letter and printed paper rates would actually involve a total loss of revenue which would exceed the anticipated profit of the Department for the current year, viz., £200,000, and would put the Department back on a nonpaying basis.
As regards the question of a probable increase of business arising from the application of lower postage rates, the experience of the Department is that any such reduction leads only to a negligible increase in traffic. The Saorstát postcard rate was reduced in 1925, but there was no pronounced increase in traffic in consequence. Following upon the reduction last year of the Saorstát internal parcel post rates there is, so far, no noticeable traffic increase.
While I do not see any connection between the subject of the Bill and the question of the frequency of delivery, I should point out that, commencing in 1923 for purposes of economy, frequency of delivery on some 1,300 rural posts was reduced, and the services of 491 part-time employees were dispensed with. The restoration of these deliveries would, it is estimated, cost £36,000 per annum, while to afford delivery each weekday on all rural posts throughout the country would cost at least £50,000. I may add that the Department frequently reviews rural posts to see if an increase of frequency would be justified.