That a sum not exceeding £3,593,600 be granted to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending the 31st day of March, 1951, 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: No. 14 of 1940 (secs. 30 and 31); No. 14 of 1942 (sec. 23); etc,), and of certain other Services administered by that Office.
The gross Post Office Estimate for 1950-51 amounts to £5,742,220 but, allowing for receipts to be appropriated in aid, the net Estimate is for £5,488,600, representing an increase of £261,100 over the net provision for 1949-50. The more substantial variations (those of £5,000 or more) occur on the following sub-heads:—
Sub-heads A (1), A (2) and A (3)— Salaries, Wages and Allowances.—The increase of £75,310 under these sub-heads is mainly attributable to increased provision for staff to meet the expansion in post office business, for the cost of the extension of the main meal relief from 40 minutes to one hour for manipulative grades and for an increase in fees for official medical officers.
Sub-head E (5)—Conveyance of Mails by Air—The increase of £10,100 is due to devaluation.
Sub-head G (1)—Stores (non-Engineering).—The increase, £23,980, is to meet anticipated increased expenditure on new motor vehicles, spare parts and petrol, mail bags and miscellaneous stores.
Sub-head G (3)—Manufacture of Stamps, etc.—The increase of £7,815 is mainly due to the cost of replenishing watermarked paper used for the production of stamps and postal orders.
Sub-head I (1)—Engineering Establishment, Salaries, Wages and Allowances.—This sub-head provides for the total pay of the engineering branch staff, less the cost of staff time devoted to the development of the telephone service—as distinct from its maintenance, which is defrayed from telephone capital funds. The increase of £31,000 is attributable to increased provision in respect of maintenance and renewal work.
Sub-head L (3)—Contract Work (Engineering).—The increase of £10,500 is in respect of anticipated increased payments for work to be undertaken by contractors.
Sub-head L (4)—Rent, Rates on Wires, etc.—The increase of £6,350 is due mainly to provision for additional rentals for telephone exchanges.
Sub-head M—Telephone Capital Repayments.—Increase £92,168. As Deputies have previously been informed, funds for the development of the telephone system are provided under the authority of the Telephone Capital Acts (1924-1946) which authorise the Minister for Finance to issue sums out of the Central Fund for this purpose. Repayment is made by means of terminable annuities extending over a period not exceeding 20 years. In consultation with the Minister for Finance provision is made each year under this sub-head for the repayment of the instalments of principal and interest on the annuities created. The increased provision in the sub-head is an indication of the continuing expansion of the telephone system.
Sub-head N (1)—Superannuation Allowances, etc.—The increase, £8,100, is attributable to the cost of increases in certain pensions and allowances arising from the Pensions (Increase) Act, 1949, to an increase in the number of pensioners and to increased provision for marriage gratuities; offset by an anticipated decrease in special grants to officers not eligible for superannuation allowances or gratuities.
In sub-head Q (2) there is a decrease of £15,000, due to reduced expenditure on equipment and maintenance. In sub-head T—Appropriations-in-Aid— there is a decrease of £16,872. Increased receipts are anticipated from the Widows' and Orphans' Pension Fund for administration expenses and under other heads. These are offset by a reduction in receipts from Savings Bank Funds and from the British Government for the staffing of wireless stations which have now been taken over by the State.
The financial position of the three main services—postal, telegraph and telephone—at the end of 1948-49, the latest year for which complete figures are available, was as follows:—Postal Services: Deficit £69,423 as against a deficit of £14,134 in 1947-48. Telegraph Service: Deficit £260,511 as against a deficit of £250,805 in 1947-48. Telephone Service: Surplus £123,412 as against a surplus of £165,328 in 1947-48.
There was thus a net deficit of £206,522 on the three services for 1948-49 as compared with a net deficit of £99,611 for the previous year.
The completed revenue and expenditure figures for the financial year 1949-50 are not yet available, but preliminary figures suggest that there will be some reduction in the deficit compared with the previous year.
I am glad to say that the main internal mail services are working satisfactorily. Night and day mail services are now available throughout the entire South and Midland and West of Ireland and all these services are as closely linked as possible. Unfortunately, it is still the case that the inward night packet from Holyhead continues to operate unsatisfactorily, particularly as regards the time of arrival. On account of this, it is impossible to ensure that the cross-Channel mails secure connection with the early morning down day mail trains from Dublin. To remedy the position, the possibility of having the cross-Channel letter mails conveyed by air is being closely examined.
The examination of postal services in provincial centres has continued with a view to giving daily delivery on posts with a restricted frequency and to improving arrivals and dispatches of mails and facilities generally at suboffices. Completely new services are now operating in the Cork, Carrick-on-Shannon and Bray districts, in addition to the Roscommon and Ballinasloe districts which I mentioned in the course of my speech on the main Estimate last year. Schemes for Longford and Wicklow have also been completed and will be brought into operation at an early date. Departmental van working has been extended throughout these districts, with material improvements in the postal services. A number of other head office districts have been surveyed and it is expected that schemes for them will be completed during the course of the current year. During 1949, the Department's fleet of motor vans on postal services was increased by 20 vehicles, 19 new sub-offices were opened, money order and savings bank facilities were extended to 34 sub-offices and 47 new letter-boxes were erected.
The volume of postal traffic during the past year was maintained at a high level. In particular, the traffic in "gift" parcels to Great Britain was very heavy, as many as 100,000 "gift" parcels weekly being sent. With the advent, however, of the British ban on the import of these parcels as from the beginning of this year, the traffic has now fallen very appreciably.
In 1949 the Christmas traffic reached a new record. The public responded satisfactorily to the Department's "post early" appeals and the early posting, together with the satisfactory arrangements made for the disposal of the heavy traffic, ensured a full clearance and delivery of all mails before Christmas. In this connection a word of praise is due not only to the Post Office staff, but to the railway and shipping companies for the manner in which they co-operated with the Department.
During 1949 the Department commenced a survey of sorting operations in offices throughout the country with the object of reducing the number of operations in the handling of mails to a minimum by the introduction of mechanical aids and the provision of more up-to-date sorting fittings. As an initial step, 80 new sorting fittings were installed in the Pearse Street Letter Office with very successful results, and contracts have been placed for the supply and installation of conveyor band systems at Pearse Street Letter Office and Amiens Street Parcel Office. The work of replacing old equipment at offices throughout the country by more up-to-date fittings will be continued throughout the year. A number of new machines are now in use at Dublin and at offices throughout the country for use at parcel counters. The machines issue adhesive labels, on which are stamped automatically the name of the office, the amount of postage and the date. The labels are affixed to parcels in lieu of postage stamps. The introduction of these machines has resulted in a speeding up of the acceptance of parcels with advantage to the public and the staff.
The conveyance of all first-class mail by air to Europe, which began in February, 1949, has proved very successful. Direct flights from Dublin to continental cities are availed of, in addition to daily despatches via London. A service is operated daily to North America for the conveyance of surcharged air mail, and services to other parts of the world are very frequent. An air service at reduced rates for second-class mail matter (printed paper, commercial papers, samples and literature for the blind) to the United States and Canada was introduced on the 1st July, 1949; air parcel post service to the United States was introduced on the same date. It is hoped to make these services available to other countries shortly.
During 1949 two new commemorative stamps were issued, one to commemorate the inauguration of the Republic of Ireland and the other to commemorate the centenary of James Clarence Mangan. A stamp in three denominations is being issued shortly to commemorate the Holy Year. Collections of Irish stamps, consisting of one specimen of each of the current permanent stamp issues and one specimen of all commemorative issues, with short descriptive notes, have been prepared and placed on sale at Shannon Airport Post Office in order to assist in the effort to earn more dollars. They have attracted a good deal of interest and are selling readily.
The volume of telegraph traffic dealt with during 1949-50 showed a slight decline compared with the previous year. During the war years the traffic more than doubled, but there has been a more or less continuous decline since the end of the war. Traffic is, however, still about 90 per cent, above that for the year 1938-39.
As I have already stated, the loss on the telegraph service in 1948-49 amounted to £260,511 as compared with £250,805 in 1947-48. The increased loss of £9,706 was due mainly to increases in salaries and wages offset by a small increase in revenue.
It is disturbing to have to report each year to the Dáil the unfavourable financial position of the telegraph service. Ireland is not, however, unique in this respect. Recent inquiries in several countries in Europe disclosed that there is a loss on the telegraph service in all of them, including Great Britain. Staff costs constitute the bulk of the expenditure on the telegraph service, and the main cause of the relatively heavy loss in the Irish service is the higher wages now being paid. In view of the general experience elsewhere it is too much to hope that the loss on the telegraph service here can be eliminated. However, to reduce the loss and at the same time to improve the service, consideration is being given to the more extended use of teleprinters, which are simpler to operate and can carry a greater amount of traffic than is secured by morse working. Examination of the service is being carried out on these lines. Progress will, however, be necessarily slow as there are many complex problems involved. The general substitution of teleprinters for morse working would, for example, involve a more extended use of the telephone for telegraph traffic and this will involve the provision of many additional circuits.
The Department is finding it increasingly difficult to secure casual messengers in many parts of the country to deliver telegrams as they arrive. The employment of regular messengers to deliver these occasional telegrams would not be justified on grounds of cost. The whole question of telegraph delivery is, however, being specially examined with a view to effecting an improvement.
During the year ended 31st March, 1950, telegraph facilities were provided at seven sub-offices and it is intended to provide service at other offices during the present year. Generally, it is the intention to provide telegraph service at all offices at which the number of telegrams for delivery is fairly substantial and where the provision can be made economically.
During the year the Department was represented at an international conference in Paris which revised the regulations governing the international telegraph service. The most important achievement of the conference was a reduction in the number of categories of telegrams and a simplification of the method of charging for telegrams exchanged with countries outside the European area. The revised regulations will come into force on the 1st July, 1950.
The telephone service continues to expand. During 1949 the number of trunk calls made was 8,950,000 an increase of 839,000 on the figure for 1948. Local calls increased by 3,000,000 to 61,000,000.
The Department continued to concentrate its main engineering effort during the year on installing telephones and some 6,500 lines were connected. The many thousands of applications for telephones which had accumulated during the war years and up to the end of 1947 have, with a few isolated exceptions, now been cleared. Moreover, service has been given to the great majority of people who applied in 1948 and to many who applied in 1949.
In the provinces the policy of concentrating engineering gangs in exchange areas until they have dealt with all applications received up to a recent date has been continued.
In the Dublin City area the Department's efforts were concentrated first on installing telephones for 1948 applicants. Applications received in 1949 are now being dealt with as well as a small balance of 1948 applications from districts where there was exceptional shortage of underground cables.
The demand for telephones in 1949 was greater than in the previous year and the rate of demand so far this year is even higher. Although the arrears are being steadily reduced, it will be, as in other countries, a long time yet before all applications received can be promptly met.
Much progress was made during the year with installation of new exchanges and extension of existing ones. The Cork and Bray areas were converted to the automatic system. New automatic exchanges were also provided at Ballsbridge and Whitehall. The opening of new exchanges at the places mentioned has enabled the Department to take on hundreds of subscribers, many of whom had been waiting some years for telephones. Exchange extensions were carried out at Dublin, Waterford, Galway, Ballina, Westport, Roscommon, Wicklow, and at over 80 other places. New exchange buildings are in course of erection in the vicinity of O'Connell Street, Dublin, to relieve the central city exchanges at Crown Alley and Ship Street; at St. Andrew's Street to relieve the central trunk exchange at Exchequer Street, and in Waterford and Dundalk to provide for the conversion of these areas to the automatic system. Sites have been obtained and plans are well advanced for a number of other exchanges in Dublin and in the provinces.
It is also proposed within the next year to install a number of small rural automatic exchanges at selected centres.
It has been decided to provide a 24-hour service at the larger exchanges where the hours of service are still restricted. In accordance with this decision ten exchanges have recently commenced to provide continuous service, and a number of others will do so shortly.
The scheme for installing call offices in rural post offices was suspended in 1948 in favour of dealing with arrears of applications for telephones. Work on the scheme has now been resumed. There are about 800 sub-offices to be dealt with, and as most of these are in remote areas heavy construction work is involved in bringing the telephones to them. The scheme will, therefore, take several years to complete. In order to enable the most rapid progress to be made without interfering unduly with other urgent work the offices to be dealt with will be selected mainly on engineering considerations.
Fourty-two new kiosks were erected during 1949. It is hoped to erect at least as many during the current year in districts where the greatest use is likely to be made of them. This is a determining factor in the selection of sites.
A number of additional trunk circuits amounting to a total of 1,050 miles were provided during the year. Three circuits each were provided on the Dublin-Galway, Dublin-An Uaimh and Dublin-Wexford routes. Owing to the steady increase in trunk traffic, there is still considerable delay on calls during the busy hours on many routes. This is, unfortunately, unavoidable until the arrears of construction work of many years can be overtaken. I am glad to say that satisfactory progress is being made with the underground cable scheme which will link Dublin with Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Athlone and intermediate places. This scheme, which is due to be completed by the end of next year, will eliminate delay on a great many routes. In the meantime, a certain amount of relief will be obtained on the routes to be served by the cable according as the laying work advances. The Department also proposes to erect over 1,100 miles of overhead trunk circuits during the coming year. Relief will be given so far as possible on the most overloaded routes.
With regard to the Department's building activities, provision of accommodation for the increasing volume of postal and telephone business remained one of the principal problems in 1949-50. A fair measure of progress was made but not as much as had been hoped for at the beginning of the year. The Office of Public Works, which carries out the architectural planning and the placing and supervision of building contracts for the Department, continued to be hampered by shortage of architectural staff and by the difficulties, principally the shortage of skilled labour and scarcities of some materials, which still arise in the building industry.
Two major works commenced last year—the new post office and telephone exchange at St. Andrew Street, Dublin, and a new telephone exchange, garage and stores at Dundalk. Progress was maintained on the new north main telephone exchange at Thomas' Lane, Dublin, and it is expected that the building work will be completed within the next four months. Structural work is still continuing on the new telephone exchange building at Waterford.
Works completed last year were extensions to the letter sorting office, Pearse Street; the engineering branch headquarters at Leitrim House, and the Terenure Telephone Exchange.
A main repeater station at Portlaoighise and three small buildings for automatic exchanges at provincial centres have also been completed. Additional accommodation has been provided at Claremorris, Arklow, Ballyhaunis and Dungarvan Post Offices.
During this financial year important works on which a start has been or will be made are:—Alterations at Cork Head Post Office to provide an enlarged and improved public office and improved staff accommodation; a main telephone cable repeater station at Limerick ; a new telephone exchange and cable repeater station at Athlone ; a temporary post office at Loughrea ; and, in Dublin, new automatic exchange buildings at Mount Merrion, Sutton and Clondalkin; a mechanical transport repair shop and garage at St. John's Road and a garage and engineering workmen's headquarters at Distillery Road. In addition, alterations and improvements will be carried out at a number of provincial offices.
Plans are also in hand for extensions and alterations to various departmental offices in Dublin and to many provincial offices, and sites are being acquired in preparation for schemes for improved accommodation at a large number of provincial centres.
Further study has been made in connection with the problem of providing a central sorting office in Dublin. The growth of traffic in recent years has been so large that the Department's original plans have required very considerable revision.
The value of contracts placed by the Department's Stores Branch last year was £1,205,975, as compared with £1,530,740 for the previous year. This decrease was mainly due to the fact that contracts for several items placed in the previous year were adequate to meet consumption requirements for much longer periods than had been anticipated. There was a slight improvement in the supply position generally, and reasonable delivery terms were obtainable for most items in general use, including many which were virtually unprocurable for several years previously. The price of most commodities continued to harden. The devaluation of sterling caused an immediate and appreciable increase in the prices of goods purchased in the dollar area, and gave rise to an increase in the prices of goods of Irish and British manufacture where purchase of the basic raw materials is made in the dollar area.
The amount (including interest) to credit of Savings Bank depositors on 31st December, 1949, was £43,920,000, an increase of £4,939,000 on the amount to credit on 31st December, 1948. In 1949 the deposits exceeded withdrawals by £3,940,000. In number and amount they are the highest recorded in the history of the Savings Bank. The Savings Publicity Campaign launched at the end of 1949 and still being pursued contributed materially to this satisfactory position.
The amount remaining invested in Savings Certificates at the end of 1949 (exclusive of interest) was £12,561,000. During 1949 the sale of certificates amounted to £1,440,000 and repayments (exclusive of interest) to £858,500. The corresponding figures for 1948 were: Sales £1,108,000, and repayments £815,700.
In the sphere of staff management very satisfactory results are being obtained from the continuous review of the Department's organisation and methods of operating, the training of new entrants and conferences with postmasters and telephone supervising officers.
In conclusion, I wish to express to all grades of the staff my appreciation of their zealous and efficient service during the year.