Committee on Finance. - Vote 63—Posts and Telegraphs.

I move:—

Go ndeontar suim ná raghaidh thar £1,395,885 chun slánuithe na suime is gá chun íoctha an Mhuirir a thiocfaidh chun bheith iníoctha i rith na bliana dar críoch an 31adh lá de Mhárta, 1938, chun Tuarastail agus Costaisí Oifig an Aire Puist agus Telegrafa (45 agus 46 Vict., c. 74; 8 Edw. 7, c. 48; 1 agus 2 Geo. 5, c. 26; na hAchtanna Telegrafa, 1863 go 1928, etc.); agus Seirbhísí áirithe eile atá fé riaradh na hOifige sin.

That a sum not exceeding £1,395,885 be granted to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1938, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs (45 and 46 Vict., c. 74; 8 Edw. 7, c. 48; 1 and 2 Geo. 5, c. 26; the Telegraph Acts, 1863 to 1928, etc.); and of certain other Services administered by that Office.

The total Post Office expenditure estimated for the year 1937-38 is £2,165,335, being a net increase, including bonus, of £118,697 on the Estimate for last year. The higher figure is due to increased allowances by way of cost-of-living bonus, to incremental additions and staff changes, civil aviation and meteorological wireless services, etc., amounting in all to about £133,000 but the increases are off-set to the extent of £15,000 by certain items under other sub-heads of the Vote. The financial position of the Department is ascertained from the commercial accounts which are prepared annually and the latest such accounts available (which are subject to audit) are those for 1935-36. They show as follows:—

Postal services.—Income, £1,655,664; expenditure, £1,347,771; surplus, £307,893.

Telegraph services. — Income, £180,136; expenditure, £275,919; deficit, £95,783.

Telephone services.— Income, £491,682; expenditure, £385,980; surplus, £105,702. It will be seen that on the postal and telephone services there was a surplus of £413,595 against a deficit of £95,783 in the telegraph services leaving a profit of £317,612 on the combined services as compared with £206,860 in the previous year.

The gradual replacement of horsed vehicles by motor transport for mail services by road continued during the year. There are now 160 motor and 37 horsed services. Of the motor services 37 are staffed and equipped by the Department. The ports of Cobh, Galway and Dublin are utilised to the greatest practicable extent for the exchange of mails between the Saorstát and America. Some 17,200 bags were despatched through these ports, and 29,000 bags were received during the past year. The frequency of utilisation and the volume of mails despatched depend naturally on the incidence of the sailings. Correspondence forwarded for conveyance by the international air services approximated in numbers to that despatched last year, that is, 82,000 packets. Of this traffic 42½ per cent. was carried by the London-India-Australia service, and over 33 per cent. by the London-Capetown service.

Consideration is being given to the question of using the Cross-Channel air service for the exchange of correspondence where such a course would lead to acceleration. The ordinary mail matter handled by the Department continues its upward trend and the number of items dealt with in the year show an increase of 20,000,000.

Inland sample post within An Saorstát which was introduced on 12th November, 1934, is being availed of to a still greater extent by Dublin manufacturers, etc. According to a recent return the number of sample packets posted in Dublin is approximately 3,500 a week—an increase of 1,000 a week as compared with a year ago. So far the posting of sample packets in the provinces is light.

The inland cash-on-delivery service showed a slight decrease in volume during 1936. The number of parcels posted was 15,537 on which trade charges amounting to £16,240 were collected. For the previous year the corresponding figures were 16,883 and trade charges amounting to £17,635. Express delivery services are being well patronised particularly the telephonic express service. Prior to 1st July, 1936, the fees for express delivery in An Saorstát were 6d. a mile or part of a mile from the office of delivery to the address and they were then reduced to 6d. for the first mile and 3d. for every mile or part thereof beyond the first mile.

The Post Office factory is mainly engaged in repair work and it is not the policy of the management to undertake the manufacture of articles that can be produced by the home manufacturer at a reasonable cost. This necessarily confines the manufacturing operations of the factory mainly to the production of special articles for the Post Office service and to a lesser extent for other Government Departments. The factory is responsible for the maintenance and repair of Post Office mechanical transport and the fleet consists of 91 vans and trucks and 75 motor cycles and combinations. The van and cycle combination bodies built by Saorstát manufacturers are proving satisfactory in service.

The engineering branch which is responsible for the construction and maintenance of the telephone and telegraph plant was subjected to special strain during the past year on account of the extensive damage done to the lines by successive storms. The blizzard of the 11th of March this year which caused extensive damage in the Dublin, Naas and Mullingar areas was followed by the most inclement weather but despite this, service was practically normal by the 16th of March.

Telegraphs are still losing to the telephone and the past year has seen considerable developments in the telephone service both in the way of reductions of charges and extension of facilities. The reductions of rentals have resulted in an appreciable increase in the number of subscribers, particularly in rural areas. The total number of subscribers at the end of 1936 was 22,844 and the total number of telephone instruments connected to the public exchange service was 37,712. These figures show increases of 1,214 subscribers and 1,892 telephone stations over the previous year. There are now 779 exchanges, 1,357 public call offices and 99 telephone kiosks. The reductions in call charges have resulted in a considerable increase of traffic. Local calls have increased by nearly 1,250,000 and trunk calls by nearly 280,000. The "personal" trunk call facility continues to be appreciated and the number of such calls in 1936 was over 44,000 Last year's works programme provided for a large number of new trunk circuits; for the installation of an automatic exchange in Crown Alley, Dublin, to which subscribers are at present being transferred; for extensions and improvements in various exchanges throughout the country; as well as for heavy expenditure on subscribers' circuits particularly in rural areas.

This year's programme provides for a new direct cross-Channel cable which it is expected will be in service some time in the autumn. It also provides for conversion of the Clontarf Exchange to automatic working, and for the closing of the Drumcondra Manual Exchange, and the connection of the subscribers to Crown Alley Automatic Exchange. Provision is also made for the commencement of work on a big scheme for the conversion of the whole of the Dún Laoghaire area to automatic working. A new automatic exchange is also proposed for Cork. This exchange will be located in the head post office. It will not be ready until well into the next financial year. Development of the telephone system will involve increasing costs, but with the greater facilities afforded to the public and the reasonable charges operative, it is expected that revenue will continue to rise and that the favourable financial position of the service will be maintained in the future.

Arrangements were made by the Department for the exchange in each direction during the Christmas and New Year season 1935-36 of greetings telegrams at reduced rates between the Saorstát and extra-European countries. During that season 939 greetings telegrams were forwarded from the Saorstát, while 1,336 were received. Last season the service was extended to provide for the exchange of greetings telegrams with all foreign countries, 1,467 telegrams being sent from the Saorstát and 2,293 received.

The Department's building programme comprises: Dublin—The construction of the new post office in St. Andrew Street; completion of the new central motor garage at Sandwith Street in connection with the proposed central sorting offices scheme; provision of new warehouses at St. John's Road factory consequent on the transfer of portion of the Aldboro' House property to the Dublin Corporation. Cork—Completion of structural works in connection with the provision of new sorting and customs office. Thurles—Structural alterations and extension to provide increased space and improved facilities. Mallow—Alterations to provide additional accommodation. In addition to the normal works of renovation and maintenance, minor structural alterations and improvements, including electric light installations, will be undertaken at a number of provincial offices.

The progress of the Post Office Savings Bank was well maintained during the year 1936. The net deposits continue to show a progressive increase, the amount for 1936 being £121,405 more than the figure for 1935, which exceeded the amount of the previous year by £107,779. The total amount to credit of all depositors at the close of the year 1936 exceeded the corresponding figure for the previous year by more than £1,000,000, the average amount to credit per account being £24 12s. 4d. as compared with £22 19s. 11d. at the close of the year 1935. The number of accounts remaining open at the end of 1936 represents an increase of approximately 23,000 over the previous year. For the current year to date, the number of accounts opened and the net deposits received indicate that the upward tendency of previous years is being maintained.

Arrangements are now being made for the completion of the series of postage stamps of Irish design by the issue of new stamps for the higher values (2/6, 5/-, 10/-). The design chosen for these stamps is the work of an Irish artist, and the stamps will be printed on Irish-made paper in the Stamping Department of the Revenue Commissioners. It is expected that the new stamps will be on issue in the course of a couple of months.

As you have heard in the Budget statement, the Minister for Finance has accepted proposals which I made to him, involving a cost of £43,000 per annum. Although the telegraph service is, and has been, unremunerative, and, taken by itself, is not likely to become self-supporting, I think a case can be made out for taking it in conjunction with the telephone service, which is attracting most of the quick communication business, and which now shows a substantial profit. Last year, telephone subscribers obtained the advantage of reduced rates; and in a recent examination of the telegraph charges, I came to the conclusion that the public who have to avail of the telegraph service might be enabled to do so at cheaper rates. The existing rates for ordinary telegrams are: ? for the first 12 words or less, with 1d. for each additional word beyond 12. As on and from the 1st June next, I propose to reduce the rates to 1/- for the first nine words or less, with 1d. per word for each additional word beyond nine. The reduced rates will apply to internal telegrams only; the existing rates will continue in the case of messages for Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The loss involved by this concession in a full year will be about £12,800.

The "printed paper" service is used mainly for the transmission by post of greeting cards, books and other publications, and by the commercial community for invoices, advice notes, advertising circulars, etc. The present rates of postage are: Not exceeding 1oz., ½d.; not exceeding 2oz., 1d.; and for every additional 2oz. up to 2lb., ½d. I propose to make a reduction in these rates to ½d. for the first 2oz., with ½d. for each additional 2oz., thus reducing the postage on all packets in excess of 1oz. by ½d. It is estimated that this concession will involve a loss to revenue of £8,000 per annum, but it is hoped that the change will stimulate traffic and thereby provide some offset.

I have had numerous requests from time to time for an increase in the number of days of delivery on rural posts operating on less than six days a week, and I am glad to say I am now in a position to authorise arrangements which will have the effect of increasing the frequency of delivery to six days in a large number of these cases. The total number of rural posts is approximately 4,970, comprising at present: 3,500 six-day posts, 73 four and five-day posts, 1,200 three-day posts, and a small number (less than 3 per cent.) with a frequency of less than three days a week—principally services to islands and extremely remote areas. A more favourable basis for the calculation of revenue against cost has been secured and as a result I anticipate that one-half, or about 600, of the present three-day posts will be increased to six-day frequency. Some minor improvements on other posts will be effected, and in all the cost of the proposed delivery extensions will be about £22,200 per annum. These changes will be carried out as soon as possible, when over 95 per cent. of the population will have at least one postal delivery on each weekday.

I hope the House is satisfied with the progress which the Department is making and I think I am justified in claiming that the services generally are satisfactorily performed. I can assure the Deputies that the various departmental activities are under constant examination with a view to making further improvements where these are found to be warranted.

I am sorry that the reduction the Minister proposes to make in telegrams is taking the form it is, because I do not think it is satisfactory. I think to charge 1/- for nine words is a most unsatisfactory way of dealing with the matter. If you are going to reduce the telegraph rate to 1/- for nine words, with 1d. per word for each word afterwards, that reduces the cost of a telegram sent in the Saorstát, but when you come to send a telegram to Great Britain or Northern Ireland the old rate will still prevail. In fact, it is a constant source of embarrassment to present a telegram in Great Britain or Northern Ireland for delivery in the Saorstát. They generally demand 6d., but when they see it is addressed to a place in the Saorstát they ask for ?. An elaborate mathematical calculation will have to be made in order to work out what a telegram should cost if there are 11 words. It has been a well-established practice in the telegraph service for years that there has been a basic charge for 12 words, and a further charge for every word thereafter. I do not believe it would break the Minister's heart if he allowed 12 words for the "bob," nor do I think it is going to set the Liffey on fire if he does. I do not like the nine words for 1/-.

I thought that applied only to local telegrams.

That applies only to internal telegrams. He is going to charge ? still for the telegram to London, so they will still be knocking three times the price of the telegram out of us when we wire from London. However, we will get over that, I suppose. Upon my word, I think it is waste of money to reduce the cost of the telegram to nine words for 1/-. You will find that the vast majority of people will not use the nine word telegram, and the difference between ? and ½ or ¼ is not worth financing. You will not get any increase in traffic as a result of it, and it will be a dead loss to you. You would be much better employed in using the money for the purpose of making some further concession in telephone charges.

There are two points to which I wish to direct the Minister's attention. One is in regard to the conditions under which sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses in rural Ireland work. The telephone service has always tried to maintain a kind of dual existence, partially as a public service and partially as a commercial enterprise. It has been made an immense success in Great Britain, and is about to become a huge source of revenue to the Chancellor of the Exchequer there. I do not know what the conditions are for rural postmasters and postmistresses there, but in this country there is no doubt whatever that the Post Office trades on the fact that to have a sub-post office in his shop is a source of revenue to a shopkeeper. That may be true in the very small offices, but when you get into the medium-sized sub-post offices you have postmistresses who have not got enough time to run a shop along with a sub-post office, and who are working like slaves for an entirely inadequate contract compensation. I use the words "contract compensation" designedly, because the system apparently is that you pay her a lump sum for running the post office, and it is open to her to hire assistants or not. Well, a poor woman has to live, and the tendency is to struggle to do all the work herself without getting adequate assistance, the result of which is that the work is not done.

Now, when you know that an individual is working like a black, you do not care to be sending in complaints that the work is not being done, because you know that no matter how hard he works he would not be able to do any more. The only real method of relieving the situation would be to employ more help. The money they are getting for running the post office does not permit of employing more help, unless both the employer and employee are prepared to live on half nothing. I really think that the Post Office, yielding the profit it at present yields, could afford to be more generous in the treatment it metes out to postmasters and postmistresses in rural areas. Of course one of the undesirable consequences of that cheese-paring in their remuneration is that you have deplorably frequent peculation, and some perfectly decent person who has been tempted by penury into the falsification of accounts is hauled before the courts and either sentenced to jail or allowed out under the Probation of Offenders Act, with all the disastrous surrounding circumstances. I am not suggesting that the Post Office authorities are draconian, and throw everybody into jail. As a matter of fact, in my experience the Post Office acts with extreme reasonableness in that regard. I have found that the Post Office, in so far as its discretion allows, is not vindictive. If they can redeem a man, get him back on his feet and gloss over his peculation, while maintaining the integrity of the public funds, they do not pursue him vindictively, but of course there are cases in which people get themselves into such trouble that the Post Office is obliged to prosecute. A good many of those cases arise on account of the inadequate remuneration which the Post Office allows, and that is a matter which ought to be attended to.

The trunk telephone has gone to hell. It was good for awhile, but for the last six months it has steadily deteriorated and is now wretched. If you want to get in touch with this city from any place a reasonable distance from Dublin, it takes from half an hour to an hour, and when you do establish contact it is quite impossible, in many cases, to hear what your correspondent is saying. I have on more than one occasion written to the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs directing his attention to delays on specific calls, because I believed it might be of assistance in tracing down the reason why those delays are occurring. You cannot expect people to do that with any degree of regularity. A great deal of inconvenience is being silently suffered because people cannot be bothered writing to the Minister about it. Now, the question of delay is bad enough, but what is even more provoking is that when you do establish contact you cannot hear the person at the other end. The telephone, from that point of view, has deteriorated immensely during the last 12 months. I do not know what the reason for that is. I have complained to the operatives repeatedly, and they have admitted that they are deluged with complaints with regard to the unsatisfactory condition of the lines. Now, that is intolerable.

I remember suggesting here, I think about two years ago, that a comprehensive system should be developed whereby the telephones would be reorganised on a county basis and that one county should be connected with the next: that there should be a simplification of the existing circuits. I was told, of course, that that would be too expensive. It was the greatest possible mistake that it was not done two or three years ago. The cost of doing it now would be substantially greater than it would have been two or three years ago. It will have to be done sooner or later, and the longer you put it off the greater the cost is going to be. At the present time the telephone circuits in this country are pandemonium. You frequently find yourself connected half way around the country in trying to get connected with a comparatively close centre. That arises from the piecemeal development of the telephone in this country. However, that is a wide problem on which I said on previous occasions all that I want to say. What I want to emphasise to the Minister now is: (1) that if he is going to reduce the charges for telegrams that he ought to reduce the price for 12 words to 6d. or 1/-; (2) that he ought immediately to provide that sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses who are grossly overworked should be relieved by having their wages increased or assistance provided for them; and (3) that he should get the trunk telephone service improved.

In previous years I have had to complain about the late delivery of letters in the College Green, Dame Street, and Grafton Street area in Dublin. The Minister's predecessor undertook to have the matter looked into, and I am sure he did, but nothing has been done. This matter has been a constant source of complaint. Letters frequently arrive in those areas between 10 and 11 o'clock in the morning, requesting that a reply by wire be sent on some urgent matter before 12 o'clock the same day. When the letter does not arrive until 11 o'clock, by the time the wire is got away and returned the tide is missed and business is lost. We have been pressing that matter on the Minister for Posts for a number of years, but nothing has been done. I trust that the new Minister will look into it, and see that something is done because it is a matter of importance. Further, there is a considerable increase in the number of letters delivered in that area. I would be glad to know if there has been a corresponding increase in staff, because, from inquiries I have made, I learn that the delays that occur are largely due to inadequacy of staff

In the Pembroke area, where I live myself, heretofore English letters were delivered by the first post. Then, for a time we got the English letters by the first post on two or three days a week, but for the last six months we have not had an English letter delivered by the first post. They do not arrive at our homes until between 11 and 12 o'clock, and by that time people have gone to town and do not receive their letters until they return in the evening. That is a complaint I have to make with regard to the delivery of the English post. I have made inquiries with regard to it and, again, I am told that the number of letters delivered in the area has increased very considerably owing to the increase in population. While that is so, I cannot find that there has been an adequate increase in the staff. Now, if the work in the area has increased, naturally one would expect that increased staff would be provided to deal with it. It would be unfair to blame the existing staff for not doing the work in the circumstances stated.

Deputy Dillon referred to the delays that occur in making telephone calls. It is not an uncommon thing to have to wait for an hour or two hours when you have to use the 'phone to a remote place in Ireland. It happens sometimes, too, that when one is down the country and wants to telephone to Dublin, you are told at the local office that it may be a half hour, threequarters of an hour or an hour before you can get through. A great deal of time is wasted in that way. These delays are a real hindrance to the service, and something ought to be done to get over that difficulty.

With regard to the reductions mentioned by the Minister, he said that they are going to cost the Department something like £40,000 in the year. They are not, I think, the most useful reductions that could have been given to the public. For instance, we have to pay and will have to continue to pay, 2d. postage on our letters, while the people at the other side can post their letters for 1½d. In fact, they are hoping to get back to the old 1d. postage rate. This charge of 2d. on letters has been retained here for an undue period, and I think it is time that it should be reduced to 1½d. That would benefit every section of the community, and the poor especially, because they avail of the postal service to a greater extent than those who can afford to use the telephone. I hope that something will be done in the direction I have mentioned. The reduction of charges in the telegraph service will be of little advantage because we all recognise that it is a dying service. The service in which to give reductions is the telephone service which is a largely expanding service, and one that deserves every encouragement that can be given to it.

It is no doubt a comforting thought to know that the Post Office is on a profit-earning basis and that the substantial profit of £307,893 was realised last year. Against that, however, I notice that there is an increase of approximately £119,000 in expenditure as compared with the previous year. While allowing for the fact that the Post Office does undoubtedly employ a very large staff and that the normal increase in wages and bonuses would amount to a very substantial sum, I am certain that the sum of £119,000 far exceeds the amount represented by the normal increase in wages and bonuses. That increase is somewhere about 25 per cent. more than the increase for the previous year. I was sorry that the Minister did not go into more detail in regard to the reasons for, to me at all events, the abnormal increase for this particular year.

The Minister mentioned at the end of his statement that there were about 1,200 areas in the Free State at present where people had only a three-day delivery. It is proposed to reduce that number, I think he said, by 100. There would still remain, therefore, 1,100 districts having only a three-day delivery. Surely, the Minister will appreciate that, if there has been a very substantial profit earned by the Post Office in the last year, there is one direction in which portion of that profit could be utilised, and that is in providing the people in the Free State with at least a daily delivery of letters. There can be no question that business people especially are considerably hampered by the fact that in many areas at present there is only a three-day delivery of letters. I know that in the constituency I represent in the majority of rural areas, I might say, you have only a three-day delivery of letters. Surely in this year of grace there should at least be a two-day delivery of letters.

On a point of correction. I said that

" A more favourable basis for the calculation of revenue against cost has been secured and, as a result, I anticipate that one-half or about 600 of the present three-day posts will be increased to six-day frequency."

There would still remain 600 districts, approximately, with only a three-day delivery and the point I made has still the same force that 600 areas will have only a three-day delivery. There is no question that these people are definitely placed under a handicap. Traders, shopkeepers, and others who wish to do business are very definitely placed under a handicap. Again, it may be necessary for people to get into communication with a doctor, or nurse, or other professional people, and in so far as there is only a three-day delivery, they are very definitely placed under a handicap as well.

The Minister referred to the development which has taken place in telephone communication in this country but that development has taken place in a most extraordinary way. So far as trunk facilities are concerned, in certain counties the trunk lines were carried up to a certain point and then stopped dead at that particular point. There is no communication between the principal town and many important areas in the same country. That has been the position for the last couple of years. Then the engineers have proceeded from that county probably to the neighbouring county to provide trunk facilities there. In County Sligo, for instance, trunk lines have been laid from Enniscrone to Ballisodare, but the engineers stopped dead there and proceeded to County Donegal to lay down trunk lines. No effort was made to connect up with the principal town in the county, namely, Sligo. I think my colleague who represents the county drew attention to that in the debate on the Estimate last year. The same thing has happened in other counties. If the engineering staff of the Department are laying down trunk lines at least they should connect up these lines with the principal town in the county and ensure that the facilities are such as will enable towns on the outskirts of the county to be in constant communication with the principal town.

The Minister stressed the wonderful developments which have taken place in establishing international communications. In fact, the main part of his statement on the telephone services was devoted to the wonderful developments which have taken place in establishing international communications between this country and Great Britain and continental countries. Surely the main duty of a Minister is to ensure, first of all, that we have adequate telephone facilities in the Free State itself. International communications were fairly adequate already and while I admit that they are very necessary I think they should be, to some extent, subordinated to the improvement and development of internal telephonic communication.

The Minister has undoubtedly reduced the charge for telegrams, but again I submit that if the Minister had taken the advice of many people who have spoken on the Estimate in past years, and reduced the charges for telegrams in this State, he would be realising a very much better revenue from the service than he did last year. After all, the rate for telegrams in Great Britain was reduced, and, following on that reduction, there was a very substantial increase in revenue. Just as a very substantial increase has taken place in the revenue from telephones, because of the reductions effected last year, so a corresponding increase would be realised if a proportionate reduction had been made in the charge for telegrams. A charge of 1/- for nine words is still exorbitant. After all, the business community and the professional community will still be almost as hard hit as in the past by the fact that they have still to pay ? in order to send a telegram from this country to Great Britain. It is a definite hardship on the business community and on the professional community, and I submit that, relatively, the reduction means very little when a man, sending a telegram from one town to another in the Free State, or from one city to another, will have to pay at the rate of 1/- for nine words. It represents a negligible reduction, in my opinion.

Deputy Dillon complained of the bad service provided on the trunk lines between the provincial towns and the capital here. I agree whole-heartedly with what he said. I have occasion myself to use the trunk lines very frequently on business, and I find that the service is by no means satisfactory. I am not at all blaming the local people, because I know they are doing their utmost to provide as satisfactory a service as possible. There are occasions when, sending a trunk call, say, from Sligo to Dublin, you may get the call in ten or 15 minutes, but very frequently you have to wait at least one hour before you get a reply from the Dublin end. Deputy Dillon also pointed out, which I can verify, that oftentimes the service is entirely unsatisfactory. It is difficult sometimes to hear the party speaking at the other end. Sometimes, even after such a telephone conversation, I have to send a lengthy telegram, even at the charge of 1/6 for 12 words, explaining the nature of the business I had to transact with the party at the other end of the telephone.

The Minister should certainly do something with the object of improving the trunk facilities between Dublin and the provincial towns. The service is not at all satisfactory, and is not nearly up to the standard of trunk services in different parts of England. After all, the developments which have taken place, and all the money which has been spent in developing that service, the least we should expect is that we should have a moderately satisfactory service, which we have not at present. In fact, in many respects, the service is very unsatisfactory. I hope the Minister will take some steps to see that the country is provided with a more efficient trunk service. I am not complaining of the local service. My experience of the local service in Sligo is that it is quite satisfactory. The local people are doing their utmost to improve the standard and efficiency of the service; and I am certain that in other parts of the country the same thing can be said of the local service. But the trunk services are not satisfactory, and I hope the Minister will take some steps to see that the trunk service between the head office in Dublin and the provincial towns is improved.

I want to add my appeal to what has been said with regard to the concession given on telegrams. The concession of from 12 words for ? to nine words for 1/- is so small that it is of little or no value. If there was any great value in the concession it would go to those who have not the telephone service available. It is notorious that people in the country districts have very long addresses, so that nine words for 1/- means very little in such cases. It would be difficult for a countryman sending a telegram to another man to include both addresses in nine words. He would probably have to adopt the old practice in order to get in all he wanted, the net result being that it would cost him ? in lieu of 1/-. If by chance someone does achieve the impossible, and sends a precise message of nine words, the saving would be something less. It would be a reduction of about one-sixth of 1d. a word. The average countryman finds it difficult when sending a telegram to keep it within 12 words, taking into account the number of words in the average address. In my own case four words would be necessary for the address, but I can envisage cases where, to be recognisable, it could not be kept within four or five words. The reduction in the number of words to nine makes the concession very little use. I appeal to the Minister to consider the question of leaving the number of words the same as at present. As to the delay in connection with trunk calls, I would like to add my voice to what has been said in that regard. In some places trunk facilities are not available, but where they are available I found that I had often to wait a considerable time. As Deputy Roddy stated, once or twice I was lucky enough to get through in a few minutes, but on an average a call takes over half an hour. Possibly the Minister may find some method of getting over that difficulty.

I do not know if I can serve any useful purpose by mentioning the case of an employee of whose circumstances I am aware. The regulations regarding employees are very strict and, in some cases, unfortunate workers in the postal service, and indeed in other Government services, are harshly dealt with. The case I am concerned with is that of an unfortunate man in my locality who was a postman for 19 years. I do not believe he was on the established service. After 19 years service, whether due to an accident or not to his knee he was laid up for some months. Eventually he applied to be admitted to his old job as his knee had been cured. I think the reason he did not succeed was because certain doctors declared that he had a tuberculous knee. While he was unable to work his knee was in plaster of Paris, but eventually he was cured, and for the past 12 months he is walking around doing nothing. He is unable to find work and is living on two or three shillings a week. I do not suggest that the regulations will permit of the reinstatement of such an official, but I say that there should be some compassionate treatment of such cases. If it is not possible to find permanent employment for such a man who, to all intents and purposes, is able to do the work he was doing for 19 years, there is no reason why he should not get the benefit of temporary employment. If he breaks down again there is no further loss and the Post Office can act as harshly as they did previously, by getting rid of him. Where such an employee is sound and able to work, there ought to be some method of employing him. I do not know if the Minister is aware of the case, and perhaps I might send him a note about it. I thought I should raise this matter in case there are other instances of hardship towards unfortunate employees in the postal service.

When the Minister started by talking of a reduction in charges I was beginning to feel very happy, but my enthusiasm disappeared as he proceeded. For a couple of years I have felt somewhat of a Bolshie on this Vote, when urging that the question of a reduction of the charges should be tackled. I was attacked for doing that, but I felt in doing so that I was a very radically minded person. It was from the ordinary commercial point of view that I made the suggestion. What have we got? We have got concessions on telegrams and some postal concessions, but they are concessions on stilts. How were these concessions arrived at and who arrived at them? Take the average rural address. It will take up five words which, with the name of the sender, makes six words and the message is to consist then of three words if it is to go for 1/-. Who concocted that and where was it concocted? And we are asked to waste time discussing that as a concession. This thing is utterly futile.

To come down to the business side of it, there is a telegram form, printed and paid for, designed to hold any telegram of ordinary length. There is nothing lost on the printing or on the paper. There is an official sending it off, and you are cutting that by three words. That is not business at all. I wonder would the Minister suggest that to any business man. If the head of a department went to his employer and made a suggestion of that kind to him, what would he say? The thing is fantastic and futile. I have appealed to the Minister's predecessors for the past few years to take a reasonably bold step of some kind, but this is not a step at all. It is merely putting the thing up on stilts. There you can see it better and one may believe that one is getting something. We are not getting anything at all and I ask the Minister to reconsider this. I have been appealing for a couple of years and I think he should reconsider it. If he is going to give any concession in relation to telegrams, let it be 12 words for 1/- or nothing.

A Considerable amount of telegraphic work is done with England and the Six Counties and, very often, if people in my own constituency who are going to Dublin want to send a message of any kind to Dublin, they will send it from across the Border, from Strabane, which is their main station of departure. They are coming perhaps from a rural part of the county, and possibly there is no post office on their way to the station, or perhaps they are in a hurry to get there. They have to pay ? to send that message. Why not cut it down to 1/- and make the thing uniform? Why all this hotch-potch stuff of up and down? Why not make the relief uniform? The telegraph service is a dying service, and Deputy Good says it would be more useful to give concessions on the telephone. That is so. I believe it is good business to give the very best service you possibly can. It is on that basis, and on that basis only, that successful business has been built up anywhere, and on that basis only will it be built up here. In the rural parts of Ireland, there are yet many districts in which there are no telephone connections. There may be a connection to a village, but the surrounding rural district has no telephone, and if a telegram is sent there, it has to be sent out to that district. I believe it would be good business to give a cheaper telephone service.

With regard to the trunk system, I think I mentioned this matter on an early Supplementary Vote. Deputy Dillon has complained about the difficulty of getting a connection, and also of the difficulty of hearing the person one is speaking to. I had an experience in the West of Ireland—I do not know whether this covers the area Deputy Dillon spoke of or not—when I went into the post office in Athenry a couple of months ago. I wanted to put a call through, and the girl went over to the wall and began to wind up some sort of instrument. She twisted and twisted at that instrument until I became thoroughly disgusted. I asked her how long this instrument had been in the post office and she could not tell me. I made further inquiries, and I took down a list of the connections controlled by Athenry post office. I think it controlled some five, six or seven areas. How can one expect to get a good connection, so far as hearing the voice of the person to whom one is speaking is concerned, on an instrument of that kind? I wonder is that centre connected with County Roscommon, to which Deputy Dillon referred?

The new machines installed are modern, efficient, and in good order, and, in the main, the exchanges in County Donegal are new and efficient enough. I am often rung up from the county, and I find the connection excellent. With regard to the West of Ireland, however, my experience is as I have related, but perhaps it is the machine in the Athenry post office, which is the exchange for a number of areas, that was responsible for it. I am glad there is an improved service with regard to rural areas. It has been said for the past couple of years that I was very radical in the matter of giving service. I do not want to be too radical, but I am glad there is a beginning made towards improving the service, because serious complaints were arising that, since a native Government took charge of the Post Office service, it was being gradually restricted. The people were not getting the postal service they had previously been getting, but Rome was not built in a day, and I think the Department are on the right road. Let us hope that the improvement will continue.

Deputy Dillon spoke about a matter which requires serious consideration by all sides of the House. It is the payment made to sub-postmasters and postmistresses. There might have been a time, ten, 15 or 20 years ago, when the work of the post office was somewhat circumscribed, but the amount of work in a modern post office is out of all proportion to what it was 20 years ago. Take the rural parts of Ireland along the western seaboard. There, there is an enormous number of registered unemployed, and the post office deals with all those. There is the cashing of these orders. Add to that the old age pensions, and now, the widows' and orphans' pensions. Then, in all these rural areas, you have now the telephone extension. It is not fair or right that these people should be working on the amount they were paid 20 years ago. I do not want to be definite about the amounts, but I understand that these people are paid annually from about £40 to £50.

Nobody on any side of the House is going to defend that payment for such work. I do not know any rural post office in which one person could do all the work and assist in the house or in the shop at the same time. Take a post office area in which there are 500 registered unemployed persons. All the orders sent out to these people have to be cashed. Some of them may be cashed in the local shops, but they eventually reach the post office. The old age pensioners have to be paid on Fridays. The pensions for the widows and orphans have also to be dealt with. When we were passing all this social legislation, nobody reflected that it all referred back to a central unit —the Post Office. We never considered from the day we began on this hot race of social services that our work reacted on people who have never been considered by this House or by the Department with which they are connected. The House should authorise the Minister to review the position of these people. I would go so far as to say that some of the people who have post offices are, owing to the amount of assistance they have to employ, running the post offices at a loss or, at least, that they have no more than pays the cost of light and heating after they have paid for assistance. Simply because they have had the post office in the past, they want to hold on to it but, from a strictly monetary point of view, they would be better off without the post office. I hold no brief for these people but, when we pass measures that react on them, we should give them some consideration. Consider the amount of time a girl in one of these offices spends in getting a trunk call through, as mentioned by Deputy Good, Deputy Dillon and Deputy Roddy. An account must be entered up of that trunk call and the money received. These are things that require immediate consideration in justice to the people concerned.

Deputy Good has referred to delivery of letters and I confirm what he has said regarding delivery of English letters. Those who live in the suburbs leave home, as a rule, in the morning, with the result that they do not get their letters until they return in the evening or, perhaps, late at night. Particulars of an anomalous case have been sent to me by a very prominent man in Donegal, to whom I have written for more details. He occupies a State position in the county and he told me that he had been staying at a little hotel in Ballyliffan in the Inishowen Peninsula. He assured me that the only postal collection there was in the morning, notwithstanding that, in another village three or four miles south, a vehicle calls for the letters in the evening. He did not say whether it was a public vehicle or a post office vehicle, but it collects the letters at Clonmany, while the letters in Ballyliffan are not collected until the following morning. Who would tolerate a collection of letters in the morning, perhaps before people would be out of bed? This district is being developed and contact has been made with English visitors. They must have a peculiar idea of our efficiency and a funny idea of our conception of time. Those letters were probably written the previous day and were left lying there until morning. This vehicle, I understand, passes through between six and seven o'clock in the evening and collects the letters at Clonmany. I shall send the Minister more particulars of the complaint when I receive them, but I ask him now to make inquiry as to the position.

It would, I think, be very good business for the Minister to act boldly with regard to the postal rates. I was told during the debate on this Vote in the last few years that this would involve money and extra costs. A public Department of a quasi-commercial character that has a mental outlook of that kind is not going to get anywhere. In this age of intensive competition and lightning transport, something better is expected. A transport service, such as this is, has got to move with the times. It must move forward or backward. There is no such thing as remaining stationary.

Leave the ordinary civil population altogether out of this and look at what is the position of the ordinary commercial population who have to pay a 2d. rate of postage as against a 1½d, rate across the Border and in England. I am glad that the Department has taken one step with regard to the cost of telegrams. If the Minister now takes a bold step with regard to the postal service itself it will be good business. Considering the distribution of wealth everywhere, not only in this State but all over the world, and the trend of communications between the people of this country with other countries and with this idea of correspondence becoming more highly developed, it would be a good idea to give the people a cheaper postal rate than a 2d. rate so as to encourage them to develop that correspondence. We have transport of every character around us, over us and across us, and if we stick in the mud there is only one thing can happen us and that is decay. We must go backward or forward; it is impossible to remain stationary. I am very glad that the Minister has made a move at all with regard to concessions, but I am sorry he did not go further in the matter of telegrams. A bad telegraphic service is not a good commercial foundation. It is not good business, and as sound results cannot be shown as would be shown if the Post Office had been run on a good commercial basis.

I was not in the House when the Minister made his statement. I understand that he has decided to make some concessions in the telegraphic section of the Post Office. I understand there are some slight reductions in the postal section. I hope those small concessions have not been given because of finding out that this was the section with which the Post Office regulations are concurring. I do not think that is the right spirit in which to approach concessions. If the Minister looks into the question closely I am sure he will find a great many instances in which it would pay commercial firms to send their correspondence out of the country because of the savings they would make in the rates of postage. The fact that that has not been done is more of a tribute to the patriotism of the commercial community than that they considered doing so would not bring them a considerable saving.

Some mention has been made of the 2d. postage rate here as against the 1½d. rate across the water. But there are cases where we are charged 1d. for what in Northern Ireland and across the water is given for ½d. I do not think we should be asked to stand a 100 per cent. increase in business costs as against our competitors.

I would like to draw the Minister's attention to the telephone service. That is a great and growing service; it has entered into the life of a community in a way that was undreamt of some years ago. At the same time I would like to appeal to the Minister to spend money in order to make money. Most of the wires here— telegraphic and telephonic—are carried on poles along the roads. Ireland is not supposed to possess many trees, but I think most of the trees must be growing in proximity to the telephone or telegraph wires; because every time there is a storm it seems as if the morning after you will find in certain directions that the telegraph and telephone wires are down.

What the country wants is a reliable telephone service. When this matter was brought to the notice of the Minister's predecessor, he pleaded that the Government could not stand the capital outlay. We spend a great deal of money on unemployment grants. I see Deputy Norton looking at me. But I often think we might spend more money on reproductive works and less on unemployment grants. I know that is a very controversial subject, but I put it to the Minister for what it is worth. I think other Departments besides that of the Minister should give that appeal consideration. With regard to delays in the telephone service, I notice that some mention has been made about delays in calls to different parts of Ireland. Last month I arrived in London on a Sunday evening at 9 o'clock. I made a calculation that the difference between ringing up my home and sending a telegram announcing my arrival was not very much. I thought I would blow the difference and find out what the latest news from home was. It was 9 o'clock, and having convinced the girl in the office that it was Dun Laoghaire and not Dundalk I wanted, I was told I would have to wait two hours. I do not blame the Minister for that. If there was blame it was on the other side. Waiting two hours meant that I might get the call at 11 o'clock, and even that was only an estimate, and I might be delayed after 11. I presume that if on a particular Sunday night a person at this side of the water wished to call up somebody in England a similar delay would occur. I am not constantly ringing up this country from the other side. But I do suggest to the Minister that if a delay of two hours can occur, there is a case for more telephone lines; the service would repay the capital cost.

There is another matter in the Minister's Department to which I would like to call attention. That is the Savings Bank. Very many years ago the Savings Bank provided a useful service. I suppose some time early in the last century it was a valuable service, but with the growth of banks, thrift accounts and various other ways of keeping money, I suggest to the Minister that he ought to have the courage either to modernise the methods of the Savings Bank or to scrap the bank altogether. I think I am right in saying that the practice still prevails of somebody wanting over £2 requiring to give so many days' notice, and they can shorten that time by sending a telegram to the Postmaster-General, but it will be duly debited to their account. I think that is like feeding a dog with a bit of its own tail.

How does the Minister think that anybody is going to keep an account in the Post Office in place of being able to walk into a bank and get out the money on demand? After all, the Minister ought not to be appalled at the idea of somebody requiring a couple of pounds. He ought not to require notice, as the head of the State Department, that a person proposes to withdraw a couple of pounds. I heard of an instance, it was last year as a matter of fact, when some unfortunate had had his pocket picked in Dublin and all the money that he had in his possession was taken. He was just left with his Post Office bank book, and there were very extraordinary Post Office officials who took their courage in their hands and allowed the man to draw money out immediately. I do not like to give the name of any of the officials because it might not meet with approval. At the same time, I think if that was done in a commercial concern that employee would be considered worthy of praise.

I merely wish to point out to the Minister that he ought to take a bird's-eye view as to what he is in competition with, and he should give the same services as his competitors, or go out of business. I see here that the Post Office Savings Bank is going to cost £16,000. I am afraid that is partly an obsolescent service which is maintained by the State, and nobody has the courage to bring it up-to-date or to suggest that in the alternative it should be done away with.

There is some merit in portion of the suggestion made by Deputy Dockrell, namely, that the Post Office Savings Bank ought to be modernised. In other countries there is a system known as the postal cheque system, which enables a depositor to operate on his account in much the same way as he would in a commercial bank. It works very conveniently, relatively inexpensively, and I think it is a scheme which could be adopted here with quite considerable success. I am not too sure, however, that if the scheme were in operation Deputy Dockrell would be as enthusiastic about it as he appears to be this evening. The Minister ought to look at the position in Switzerland and Holland, for example, and ascertain the advantages which are derived by the general community from the adoption of the postal cheque system. If he can see his way to adopt that scheme for this country, I think he will make the Post Office Saving Bank a much more useful institution than it can possibly be under existing regulations.

In the course of this debate reference has been made to the delay in trunk telephone operating, and to anybody who knows the real position it is little wonder that there would be complaints. Deputy Dillon raised the matter and other Deputies also criticised the delay in trunk working. To my mind it is a wonder that there has not been a greater measure of public indignation at the method of operating trunk telephones, particularly in this city. If the Minister has any experience of up-to-date telephone apparatus, if he has any experience of what an up-to-date telephone exchange is like, and if he were to compare his knowledge in that connection with the type of apparatus in use in the central telephone exchange in Dublin, he would find that the apparatus used there for trunk working is unsuitable and out of date. Indeed, it is incapable of carrying the present load of trunk work. The staff endeavouring to operate the out-of-date apparatus is hopelessly overburdened with work and it is on the staff falls the responsibility of dealing with irritable subscribers, subscribers made irritable by reason of the unsatisfactory provision made by the Department.

The members of the staff who are called upon to operate this out-of-date plant have complained bitterly to the Department about the handicaps and burdens imposed upon them. They have declared that they are not able, under the existing circumstances, to give a satisfactory service. They have complained that they are overworked and that the central telephone exchange trunk section is hopelessly understaffed. I challenge the Minister to say that the position in Dublin is at all comparable to any city of the same size in these islands. We have an out-of-date plant, understaffed trunk positions and no provision made for proper staffing or relieving an overburdened staff. That is the kind of internal apparatus which is supposed to give the public a satisfactory service. If there were as much attention paid towards supplying decent telephone apparatus as there is to providing a reduction in telegraph charges, such as is indicated in this Estimate, I think the public would be much better pleased. At least, they would be given an efficient telephone service which they cannot get out of the present plant. There is good ground for the complaint made by Deputy Dillon and others. When making these complaints Deputies are only re-echoing the complaints made by those who are called upon to operate the service. Whether it is in the telephone section or in the postal section, there is the same kind of niggardliness in the matter of providing an efficient service; that spirit of niggardliness characterises the whole outlook and policy of the Post Office in staff matters.

I want to call attention particularly to complaints which have been made for a pretty long period in connection with the inadequate staffing of the sorting office and postmen's office in Pearse Street. Deputy Good was quite right in saying there has been a considerable increase in the volume of traffic and no compensating increase in staff. The staff in the central sorting office and the postmen's office have complained that they are unable to deal with the heavy burden of work on the late evening and midnight periods of duty. It has been shown to the Department that there has been a recurring breakdown in the postal arrangements of the city. Evidence has been produced to the Department to show that both offices are utterly understaffed and that the postal arrangements in the city are no credit to the Post Office administration. The staff have complained repeatedly, and particularly in the past two years, against that condition of affairs, but the Post Office, apparently, takes very little notice of these complaints. The Post Office cannot be induced to do anything to provide adequate staff to deal with traffic, and I have begun to think that the Post Office, instead of welcoming additional traffic, have now developed the mentality that additional traffic is a nuisance, and that it is not they who are responsible for the conditions, but that it is the public, who post this additional traffic, who are responsible for all this annoyance.

Just to give the House a picture of what the sorting office in Dublin is like in the eyes of people who have to work in it, I need only quote from a journal published by the Post Office Workers' Union—The Postal Worker— in which the condition in the sorting office on the 16th March, St. Patrick's Eve, is described. The note in the journal says:

"Again we have to draw attention to the necessity of making ample provision to deal with correspondence passing through the sorting office. During the recent ‘shamrock' pressure period ..."

That is the period when shamrock is being sent to exiles.

"... the staff were subjected to severe strain, working conditions being anything but satisfactory. Particular notice must be taken of the morning of St. Patrick's Eve, when absolutely chaotic conditions were in evidence. The need for extra staff on the up-night T.P.O.s ..."

These are mail trains travelling up from the provinces into the city.

"... was shown by the amount of ‘shamrock' packets forwarded to the sorting office, ..."

These are packets which could not be dealt with in the travelling post office.

"... and in the latter office by the number of items left behind after the cross-Channel mails were despatched.

Not only were the midnight staff retained on overtime, but an abundance of service messengers were despatched asking the late evening staff to attend at an earlier hour to try and reduce the chaos prevailing. It was evident on the previous evening that such a breakdown in the service was about to occur. The usual last-minute provision in the shape of looking for volunteers from the late evening staff, or requesting men to remain on extra duty from 11 p.m. to 12 midnight, being resorted to. Such want of provision shows a continued lack of efficient organisation."

That is a description of the conditions in the Dublin sorting office on the 16th March, as seen by people who were in the office that day, and who know the traffic conditions there. This condition of affairs has been brought to the notice of the Minister's Department on numerous occasions. It is not being raised, by any means, for the first time. There have been constant complaints in the staff journal for quite a long time, and even organs of the Press have indulged in severe strictures on the Post Office Department for its failure to provide adequate staff. If there were a scarcity of men, one could understand it, but there is no scarcity of men. There is no scarcity of unemployed men, or of people looking for employment. There is an abundance of them, and surely the Post Office ought to make some attempt to meet this increased volume of traffic by providing a staff adequate to deal with the requirements of the Post Office. It surprises me that there have not been more public complaints about the conditions here in the city, and there certainly would be more complaints if the public really realised the unsatisfactory position which obtains.

If the Minister challenges the accuracy of the statement I am making here this evening, I invite him to set up a public inquiry to go into the whole matter, and I can assure him that all the evidence to substantiate these complaints will be forthcoming. The most satisfactory thing to do, however, would be to remedy this condition of affairs at once and not allow what is already unsatisfactory to generate still further dissatisfaction. On many occasions the attention of the Minister's Department has been called to the fact that there are 35 part-time officers engaged in part-time work in the Post Office in Dublin. The Post Office has been repeatedly asked to abolish these part-time duties by converting them into full-time duties, and it is amazing that the Post Office still displays reluctance to provide these people with regular full-time duties, in view of the obvious need of their services.

Now, let us turn to the case of the public counter in the G.P.O. in O'Connell Street—the chief Post Office in the city and in Saorstát Eireann. There you have the same complaint—an inadequate staff for attending to the needs of the public. There have been complaints there by the public for a very long time past, and, as a result of inadequate staffing, there has been severe pressure on the staff there—particularly at certain times of the day— which does not make their lot, by any means, a rosy one. At certain times of the day the public are compelled to wait in queues in order to be attended to at the public counter. Naturally, they become irritable, and very often their irritability takes the form of complaining to and about the staff. The inadequacy of the staff is such that the volume of traffic becomes absolutely unmanageable at times. Here, again, what is the central point of the Post Office policy in staffing matters at all? In Pearse Street they say the traffic is a nuisance: that it is not the Post Office that is responsible for not providing for the traffic, but that the trouble is with the public who insist on posting letters. Every business man in the City of Dublin welcomes customers, but evidently the Post Office regard customers at the public counter in O'Connell Street as a nuisance and as something not to be welcomed, and instead of doing their best to provide a proper staff to attend to these customers, they proceed to carry on with an inadequate staff, irritating the public, and exposing to everybody their own niggardliness in staffing matters.

I suggest to the Minister, since his office is in the same building, that he ought to go down and take an occasional peep into the public office and watch the conditions there. I can tell him that it will do him good. I suggest also that, when he finishes there, he ought to go over to the telephone exchange and look at the trunk positions there, and then he ought to go to the sorting office on a week-end or a month-end and get a picture of the condition of affairs which, I can assure him, will not reflect any great credit on his Department. Additional staff at the public office would help to provide a satisfactory service there. It would help to stop the irritability which the public inevitably generate by reason of the inadequate staff there. An adequate staff in the sorting office and in the postmen's office would also provide a more satisfactory service than is at present being provided, and an adequate and proper telephone apparatus to cover the trunk offices in the Central Exchange would help to provide the public with a much better telephone service than they are getting to-day.

In particular, I again refer him to what I consider is the lamentable incompetence of the Post Office in facing up to big staffing or traffic problems. The Christmas arrangements, particularly in this city, have been anything but satisfactory for many years past, and last year was no exception to a rule which has now been obtaining for many years. At one particular office in the city the staff were required to work for 17 hours on Christmas Eve. They finished at 10 p.m. on Christmas Eve, and were required to come back on duty at 4 a.m.—a working period of 17 hours—a gap of six hours—and then a fresh attendance at 4 a.m. At 7.40 a.m. they received a relief of 40 minutes for the purpose of having a meal. They were then required to work until 5, 6 and 7 o'clock in the evening without a second meal. There was no further relief for dinner provided. That was on Christmas Day. So that, while the Minister was at home enjoying his Christmas dinner and probably eating it luxuriously and throughly enjoying it, and while the officials responsible for these chaotic arrangements were probably doing the same, the staff in this particular office, having worked 17 hours on Christmas Eve, and from 4 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Christmas Day, were denied any relief for the purpose of having their dinner. I consider that that is a disgraceful condition of affairs, and it would amaze me if the Minister would stand over it, but that is what happened. There is incontrovertible evidence that it happened. The attendance book, signed by the staff in this particular office, will show that it happened, and there can be no possible excuse for it. I think it is a most outrageous and inhuman performance on the part of those responsible for denying to the staff a proper interval for their dinner on Christmas Day. Does the Minister stand for that kind of chaotic staff organisation, which is just typical of the mess which is made of the entire staffing matters in this city?

I want to bring to the notice of the Minister now—probably I shall do it in more detail later on—a case of what I regard as a particularly mean attitude on the part of the Post Office Department. A case came to my notice recently where a person, an auxiliary postman, was due for retirement. Auxiliary postmen, when they retire, are not at present entitled to any pension or gratuity, but the Minister has at his disposal a fund known as the Special Fund from which he is entitled to give compassionate grants. This fund, while established long before the coming into operation of the National Health Insurance Acts or the Old Age Pensions Act, to assist persons not entitled to a pension or gratuity, has now been hinged around by regulations which provide that any person who retires either through age, ill-health or general infirmity cannot get any grant from the fund if he is in receipt of an old age pension, national health insurance benefit, unemployment assistance benefit or unemployment insurance benefit. So that, in fact, although the fund was established to relieve distress amongst part-time people of that kind who are not entitled to a pension or gratuity, the fund is now administered in such a way that it is impossible for them to get any grant whatever from the fund. The fund itself was created in the days of the British Administration and it was taken over by the Free State Administration. The British people have amended their regulations so that the receipt of benefit from national health or unemployment insurance, widows' and orphans' pensions or the old age pensions does not disqualify persons from receiving assistance from the fund in England but it does disqualify them from receiving assistance from the fund as administered here.

A case came to my notice recently where a part-time postman who had served for 51 years, over half a century, retired. He got no pension or gratuity and he applied for a compassionate grant from the Special Fund. Although he had served the Post Office for 51 years he was told that, as he was now in receipt of an old age pension, the Post Office did not think that he was in need and they did not give him a farthing's compensation for his 51 years' service. I should like to put that case to the Minister and to ask him if that were a personal employee of his, or of any other employer in the country, would he not find it very hard to cast that person off without a farthing compensation, without even a letter of thanks? Yet to the representations that were made to try to secure some grant for that person, the reply received in the name of the Minister was that no grant could be made, the reason given being that the person was in receipt of an old age pension. I think that is a particularly mean and miserly attitude on the part of the Minister's Department or, if that Department is not responsible entirely, then it is a particularly mean attitude on the part of the Department of Finance and the Minister's Department. At all events that is obviously a case which should be remedied and remedied without delay. It is nothing short of a shame that the Post Office should employ a person on a part-time basis, pay him a low wage for 51 years, and then, when he goes out, give him not a farthing compensation in respect of the 51 years' service which he has rendered. I doubt if you could find even amongst the most grasping and greedy type of private employer a person who would treat an employee of such long-standing service with such meanness.

The Minister in his statement on the Estimates has been announcing concessions to telegraph users and certain concessions in respect to postal charges. Last year, of course, we had reductions in telephone charges. The telephone, telegraph and postal users generally, have now been able to rake off some concessions from the Post Office Department. I put it to the Minister that there is another section entitled to some consideration from him, and that is the section for whose wage standards he is personally responsible as Minister. The Minister employs thousands of people in the Post Office and in respect to 3,000 of them, he pays a wage of less than 30/- per week. When the Minister was distributing benefits, he should have had some regard to the intolerably low wage standards of those who are his employees. In February last a claim was submitted on behalf of the Post Office staff for an increase in wages and the Minister's Department was asked to receive a deputation. I should like to know from the Minister what he proposes to do in the matter of receiving that deputation. I should also like to hear from him that some of the surplus in the Post Office is going to be utilised for the purpose of improving the very low wage standards of those who made it possible for him to have that surplus.

I should like to draw the Minister's attention to the hardship endured by the people of the Aran Islands owing to the breaking of the cable between the islands and the mainland. This happened some time ago and so far no steps have been taken to repair it. At the time of the influenza epidemic recently this hardship was greatly accentuated, and on two or three occasions a lifeboat had to be sent out for medical supplies and medical aid. Another way in which the hardship manifested itself was that in one particular case, a person from the islands died in the Central Hospital at Galway and the relatives could not be communicated with. The first intimation they had of the death was when the coffin was brought ashore from the Dun Aengus. I should like to impress upon the Minister the necessity of getting this cable repaired with the least possible delay.

I wish to call attention for a few moments to a matter which I raised this time last year in regard to local telephones. I must admit that there has been some improvement. Last year I referred to telephone services operating in certain towns which were closed down at 8 o'clock in the evening and to the fact that in other towns within a radius of a few miles the telephone service was kept open until 10 o'clock. I think I went further and referred to other towns, still about the same distance away, which had an all-night service. If we are to reach any measure of progress in this time of speed, and if certain towns are to get equality of opportunity with other towns, this telephone system will have to be standardised, and everybody put on an equal footing. This may necessitate increased staffs. This may necessitate coming up to scratch with modern instalments and scrapping old-fashioned instruments. It may necessitate a tremendous effort, but it is warranted; the situation demands it. I would ask the Minister's secretariat sitting on his right to take note of one or two of those appeals—not so much complaints—to have the modern system adopted in our country towns. Take, for instance, the town which I come from. After ten o'clock there is a complete cessation of all telephone services. In Carlow there is an all-night service. With new industries coming into existence there is the necessity for long-distance telephone calls, and cross-Channel calls. The system is perfectly futile. First of all, in regard to the cheap evening service, you may get a booking before ten o'clock, and you find that the place is closed down after ten o'clock. I am informed that the congestion and confusion which are going on in regard to the cross-Channel cheap evening service are of a very serious character. The system is incapable of conveying the traffic. Deputy Dockrell spoke about his experience on the other side. I happened to be on the other side quite recently, and I found it worse than that. On several occasions I tried to telephone from this side, and the conditions are equally bad. We here in Dublin believe that we know the cause. We are understaffed. I would ask the secretariat——

I think it would be a very bad practice, if allowed to creep in, that remarks would be directed to civil servants seated in this House. The Minister is the person responsible, and to him all remarks should be directed.

I wish to return you my sincere thanks, Sir, for recalling that to me; it was the Minister I meant. I would call the Minister's attention to such telephone numbers as Carlow 24 and Dublin 43179, and ask him to note the amount of telephone calls of different classes that those particular numbers get through. He will find that they are large subscribers. Complaints have come to me from those two numbers as to the impossibility of getting adequate services. Why cannot we have in large towns—if we wish to call them large; towns with a population of over 3,500—an all night service? Telephones are now extending outside the towns. If there is a sudden illness or an accident after ten o'clock you cannot call anybody. I understand that the Guards can be communicated with—that when the local office is closed at ten o'clock you can get through to the Guards; possibly yes, and possibly no. I should like if the Minister when replying would give us the objections to this equality of opportunity and fair play. Why is it that if one wishes to ring up Dublin aften ten o'clock one has to go off down to Carlow? If one is living in Athy or in Bagenalstown or in Stradbally one would have to go to Maryborough. I do not know whether Maryborough is open after ten o'clock either. The whole system, which was capable of accepting traffic ten years ago, is utterly unable to do it now. That fact might be faced up to with the necessary drive and enterprise which I think exist within the Post Office. The trunk call system has been referred to here, and I got from Deputy Norton the first explanation I have ever heard about the general breakdown and the irritability of the public and the staff. If there is one thing which is driving business people—and those who are not business people—mad, it is this trunk call system. You are cutting in and cutting out. You are told: "Wait a second," and then word will come back that you are on the wrong number; you have to wait again, and ultimately after a quarter of an hour you will get through.

After a quarter of an hour?

I am referring to the ordinary trunk call, and not to the long distance calls which Ballaghaderreen may require. I put it to the Minister in all sincerity that the out-of-date trunk call apparatus operated by the Post Office service requires to be scrapped. The matter should be attended to at once. The last matter I wish to refer to is the hopeless and antiquated post office telephone apparatus that is still in existence—those old systems that Mr. Bell had long before the war. Over and over again there have been requests for modern apparatus, and the only result is that an engineer will come down and change a few little things here and there. We all want to get down to the automatic dialling system. We all want to get down to the modern receivers, to replace those antiquated ones which are impossible to keep clean and most unsatisfactory. I have nothing further to say, a Leas-Chinn Comhairle, except to refer to the matter in regard to which you pulled me up. It was not my intention or desire to criticise in any way the officials here who cannot respond for themselves.

The Minister to conclude.

I did not expect that there would be any bouquets thrown at me when I announced those concessions, but I must admit that I was almost overwhelmed by the manner in which those concessions were received by members of the Opposition. I can only take it that it is part of their campaign of opposition and action——

And sabotage!

——and leave it at that. The various concessions which have been announced here to-day are concessions which restore to the people conditions which were taken from them in the lifetime of the former Government. We are not responsible for the conditions which existed up to this, and we are now trying to do the right thing as far as we can. In reducing the charge for telegrams from ? for 12 words to 1/- for nine words we are at least making a start in the right direction. I do not think there is one member of the Opposition who gave us credit for that. It is at least a reduction; no matter how the mathematicians may get at it, it is 3d. off the former charge. That does not appear to be acceptable.

Deputy McMenamin almost suggested that we should go back to the ?, that it would be much more acceptable. With regard to Deputy Dillion's complaints in respect to trunk calls, I candidly admit that there is some reason for them. At the same time, I want to say that the average all over delay is only seven minutes. I am certain some Deputies will regard that statement as almost an exaggeration, but that is the computation of the Department of the average over-all delay. In view of that, I do not think the conditions are as bad as they have been said to be by a number of Deputies. I am not defending, or attempting to defend, something that may appear to be wrong. I may say that the complaints made here to-day are carefully noted, and that when the Official Report of the debate appears the statements made by Deputies will be carefully perused by Departmental officials.

I can assure the House that wherever there is a possibility, however slight, of making concessions, there are taken into account. Where improvements can be made they are made. I am as anxious about that as any member of the House. The Post Office is the people's property. It is not my property or the property of the Government, and we are all anxious, naturally, that the Post Office service should be what we desire it to be. It is our desire to do everything that we can, within reason, to give satisfaction to the public. But we must, of course, always keep our eye on the financial considerations involved. I suppose, if left to my own desires, I would probably grant most of the concessions demanded by Deputies. At the same time, it is perhaps a lucky thing for the nation that there is another Department to check my ambitions in that direction.

Deputy Good, for instance, suggested that we should have a reduction in postal charges. I am prepared to concede that that would be a good thing for business, if we could afford to do it, but when I tell the Deputy that it would cost us £267,000 a year, I wonder if he would agree that, in order to recoup the State for that loss, the Minister for Finance should put another 3d. or 6d. on the income tax.

In order to recoup the Post Office for the reduction I suggest, what development would the Minister expect?

It would be almost negligible.

I think the Minister is under-estimating.

I am giving the Deputy the opinion of the experienced people who have gone into the matter. I may say that I have gone carefully into almost every demand made here this evening, and made investigations with a view to seeing what could be done in the way of meeting them. I have indicated some of the obstacles in my way. Deputy Good spoke of delays in the delivery of letters in the College Green area. He referred particularly to the delay in the delivery of the cross-Channel mail. The cross-Channel mail, which arrives here in the evening, is delivered by first post on the following morning.

What about the cross-Channel mail that arrives on the morning boat?

The latest of it is delivered about 11 o'clock.

The result is that in many cases the Post Office might as well keep the letters.

I am satisfied that the greatest possible effort is made to deliver the letters at the earliest possible moment.

If the cross-Channel mails arrive in Dublin between six and seven o'clock in the morning, it is surely absurd to say that they cannot be got to College Green before 11 o'clock. It is only in Dublin that a thing like that could occur.

Deputy Roddy was not correctly informed when he said that only 100 of the 1,200 posts were being restored. Actually 600 are being restored from 3-day to 6-day, and there will be some other minor adjustments as well. He also spoke about the laying of telephone wires for trunk calls, and said that they stopped at certain places. He almost suggested that there was something in the nature of sabotage by the officials in the way they are doing their work. I am perfectly satisfied that the engineering staff of the Post Office is doing its work efficiently and well. It has not done anything that is irresponsible, and if, in laying wires, it has stopped at certain places, then I am satisfied that it has done so for some very good reason.

Deputy Dockrell suggested that the time had now come for laying the trunk wires underground. That is a question that has been raised very often. It would involve a tremendous cost to put all the trunk wires underground. There is, I understand, a new system coming into use, a "carrier" apparatus being installed at each end which will provide for the transmission of as many as eight or ten messages on the one line, through some method of frequency. Some possibilities may lie in that direction, but I cannot say very much more on the point. Deputy Dockrell also raised the question of the Post Office Savings Bank. He suggested, and Deputy Norton agreed with him, that we should make it possible for people to secure their money on demand. I do not think that the people who use the savings bank have any desire to be allowed to do that. I think the fact that they cannot get it out on demand is looked on by them as a kind of safeguard.

In the course of my introductory statement I indicated that the net deposits continued to show a progressive increase, the amount for 1936 being £121,405 more than the figure for 1935, which in turn exceeded the amount of the previous year by £107,779. The total to the credit of depositors, at the close of the year 1936, exceeded the corresponding figure for the previous year by more than £1,000,000. These figures, I think, indicate the popularity of the methods adopted in connection with the Post Office Savings Bank. It is also worthy of note that the average amount to the credit of each person using the savings bank was £24 12s. 4d. at the end of 1936, as against £22 19s. 11d. at the end of the previous year— an increase of £1 12s. 5d.

Is the interest carried forward each year?

I understand it is. Deputy Norton made certain charges with regard to conditions in the sorting office in Pearse Street. The periods that the Deputy referred to were what would normally be regarded by everbody as rush periods. Naturally the conditions which exist during rush periods are not normal conditions. I would be quite prepared to admit that during such periods conditions, such as the Deputy described, might prevail, just as they might in any other business during rush periods. The Deputy also referred to the conditions that exist in the G.P.O. in O'Connell Street, and suggested that I should have a look in there. I did have a look in on several occasions and did not find anything abnormal there. I also had a look in at the Central Telephone Exchange which the Deputy also mentioned. I was shown the whole system for dealing with trunk calls and I thought that the conditions and the methods in use there were fairly up-to-date.

Did you ask any of the staff?

I admit I did not discuss anything with any of the staff. I was also in Pearse Street and went through the whole building and I did not see anything very abnormal there either.

But you had not to work in it.

I suppose that is correct.

There was a little dress rehearsal for you.

I went there without notifying anybody at Pearse Street. I notified the Secretary only half an hour before I went. As to the Christmas conditions, Deputy Norton painted a very impressive picture and one which would shock most people, but he did not tell us that the extreme conditions he mentioned only applied to four or five people.

That is not so.

Even though there were only four or five people——

I challenge that.

——to whom these conditions applied, I would still be against the conditions applying even to the four or five.

Four or five do not represent the position.

Four or five represent the position in regard to the excessive extra time—the evening time.

I have no hesitation in saying that it does not. If the Minister calls for the attendance sheet in that office, he will see that it does not.

As to the fund he mentioned, I do not know a whole lot about that particular fund, but I am inclined to believe that any man who was put out of the Post Office on reaching 70 years and was not in receipt of the old age pension at that particular time should be entitled to whatever gratuity would be given from the fund.

Is the Minister in favour of giving a gratuity?

I would be in favour of giving a gratuity under the conditions I have stated.

Will the Minister give him a gratuity as he served 50 years?

Yes, I would not be against it. As regards Deputy Bartley's question about the repair of the cable to the Aran Islands, I am informed that it is a very difficult matter owing to the very bad weather prevailing, and that every effort is being made to get it repaired at once. As to closing the telephone exchanges, which was mentioned by Deputy Minch, some of them at 8 o'clock and others at 10 o'clock, so far as possible we meet the demands made by the people in the district. There, again, business methods have to come into operation, and Deputy Minch, I am sure, will admit that that is correct. Where there are only two or three people wanting to use the telephone after a particular time, it would be very bad business on our part to have an operator remaining there the whole night merely to facilitate one, two, or three persons who might want to use the telephone on these occasions. Where we have found any demand for the service we have increased the hours, sometimes from 8 o'clock to 10 o'clock, and we have even put on a whole night service where we have found there was a demand for it.

Might I ask the Minister if he has not received, in recent weeks, a memorial signed by up to 50 subscribers looking for an all-night service for my own town?

I have not received it personally, but there may have been a memorial signed. The Deputy will admit that it is an easy thing to get a memorial signed. The fact remains that we know the demand there is for the use of the telephone after certain hours and it is on that we act. As I stated we are always prepared, wherever we believe the necessity arises, to meet that demand.

Might I ask the Minister a question? His predecessor in office introduced extended hours to 10 o'clock as an experiment last year in certain towns. Has the Minister any statistics as to whether the results of that experiment were satisfactory or not? The reason I ask the question is that there is no use waiting for the demand to arise before you supply the facility, because the demand cannot arise until you supply the facility. You cannot ring up on the telephone if there is no telephone on which to ring up. You must provide the telephone before anybody can use it. In view of that, the predecessor in office of the Minister provided the facility when there was no demand. During the last 12 months I say you will find that that facility has created the demand. If you extended the facilities still further, you might still further increase the demand.

If the 50 memorialists Deputy Minch mentioned were in possession of telephones and stated that they wanted to use these telephones on certain nights, I am certain that that would be sympathetically considered. That would meet the suggestion which Deputy Dillon makes, that we cannot know there is a demand. We would know there was a genuine demand there if we knew that 50 people with telephones were asking for a service from 8 to 10 o'clock, or from 8 o'clock until the following morning. Deputy Dillon did not specify the particular towns he had in mind where this experiment was being carried out.

The Minister's predecessor stated last year that he proposed to take a group of towns and extend the hours from 8 to 10 o'clock and that, after he tried it out for a year, he would let the House know whether the result of that experiment encouraged him to extend it to a larger group of towns. I wondered if the Minister has any statistics.

First of all, the Minister who suggested that is not here now.

Send for him.

I am replacing him. I am informed that the year is not yet completed, so that this factor comes into operation in respect to the request for statistics made by Deputy Dillon.

Has the Minister anything to say on the question of the wages of the Post Office staff?

I have only this to say. The Deputy asked me if I would be prepared to meet a deputation. I would be quite prepared to meet a deputation if any good purpose could be served, in my opinion, by meeting it.

When will the Minister decide the matter?

At the earliest possible date.

Will that be soon?

The Minister did not say anything about the sub-postmasters or sub-postmistresses.

I did not evade the question, although I may have overlooked it. The position in respect to the remuneration of these particular people is under consideration.

As to the case made by Deputy Dillon, these people are given post offices and a certain amount of remuneration to work these post offices efficiently. If their other work is such that it is going to impede them in doing that, they should, in my opinion, and I am sure in the Deputy's opinion, employ an assistant. The post offices must be run efficiently. The Deputy will agree, I am sure, that the demand for these sub-post offices is a clear proof that they are a very useful asset on business premises.

Vote put and agreed to.