Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 3 Feb 1966

Vol. 220 No. 6

Broadcasting Authority (Amendment) Bill, 1965: Report and Final Stages.

I move the following amendment:

In page 2, line 31 to add "for a period of not less than 10 years".

This amendment is in defence of what I consider to be a very important principle. To clarify the principle involved it is necessary to refer back to the Principal Act of 1960. In that Act we laid down procedure whereby the Authority should appoint its officers permanently. Section 12 (1) sets out:

The Authority shall, as well as appointing the Director-General, appoint such and so many other persons to be officers and servants of the Authority as the Authority from time to time thinks proper, but, subject to subsection (2) of this section, a person shall not be appointed under this section to be an officer of the Authority unless he has been selected by means of a public competition.

That is the general provision. The exception provided under paragraph (ii) referred to is an appointment consisting of the promotion of the person who is already an officer of the Authority.

We have preserved in our statutes an archaic, old-fashioned procedure of description for public servants which is not appropriate to modern conditions. When we speak in a statute of the Oireachtas of an officer of a public authority, we speak really of an established, pensionable employee of a Department of State or of a semi-State body. When we speak of a servant of a Department of State or semi-State body, we refer to an unestablished employee of that body.

The original Act, which came under protracted consideration by the House, determined that any person who was to be appointed a permanent, pensionable employee of the Authority was to be appointed only after he had been selected by means of a public competition, but we made the provision that if somebody had submitted himself to that public competition and had been chosen as a permanent, pensionable servant of the Authority, he was eligible to be transferred from the post in which he already enjoyed permanent, pensionable employment to another post for which he would otherwise have to stand another public competition.

There are innumerable parallels for that procedure in the public service. We are all familiar with the conditions of dispensary doctors. If a person seeks appointment as a dispensary doctor in the local authority health services, he can do so only as a result of an examination open to all qualified persons, on foot of which a recommendation is made by the Local Appointments Commissioners to the local authority which the local authority are bound to act on. But there is an exception.

If a person has already been appointed by public examination as a dispensary doctor in a given county, it is within the discretion of the manager of the local authority of that county to change him from one dispensary to another and it is a common practice that if a young doctor has served well in a relatively poor and difficult dispensary area, if a more satisfactory and attractive dispensary area becomes available within the jurisdiction of the same local authority, he may be transferred to that area and a vacancy declared in respect of the less attractive dispensary post.

It is perfectly true that numerous analogous situations obtain in the public service. Here we have a slightly different situation because we have the peculiar, and somewhat anachronistic, institution there of temporary postmen. Many of us have grown up beside temporary postmen who have been temporary postmen for 30 to 35 years. It is not unseemly, in the very special circumstances obtaining there, where the skill is delivering the post, that if a permanent position arises, there should be a confined examination, confined to persons who have been for many years temporary postmen so that they may go from the category of unpensionable and unestablished public servants to that of pensionable and established public servants as permanent postmen.

We have an analogous situation in the Department of Agriculture. That also has a historical background. When the old Congested Districts Board was established in this country, one of its functions was to provide instruction in the type of agriculture commonly obtaining in the congested areas. In the course of time, with the passage of the Land Acts which were passed when the State was founded, the Congested Districts Board was abolished. All the functions it used to discharge within the congested areas which were appropriate to the Land Commission were transferred to the Land Commission and all the functions it used to discharge in the congested areas which were appropriate to the Department of Agriculture were transferred to the Department of Agriculture, with the result that we acquired in the Department of Agriculture a body of inspectors who were doing work closely analogous to that of a junior inspector of the Department of Agriculture. Owing to the fact that they were originally appointed by the Congested Districts Board, they did not enjoy established status.

In that connection it is important to point out to the House that there was a distinction here because the CDB inspectors were not required to be university graduates in the faculty of agriculture. A junior inspector in the Department of Agriculture was required to have a degree in agriculture. In that case, I am on record as having urged that there should be a confined examination to promote the CDB inspectors, congested area inspectors, to the post of junior inspectors in the Department through a confined examination because they were doing the same work. There I ran up against the problem that the men of the congested areas had not got a degree in agriculture whereas the junior inspectors had to have such a degree. I eventually resolved that problem with the assistance of the then Minister for Finance, who, I think, was Deputy Sweetman, by which we gradually established the CDB men in their own right, because we were prevented from conducting a kind of confined examination which their circumstances would justify by the fact that they did not have a university degree in agriculture.

There are many cases throughout the service in which we seek, for special reasons and in special circumstances, to make straight the path of a long-service employee of a Department to move into a higher grade through a course of preferential treatment in consideration of his long public service. I am not against that recognised procedure but looking at section 4 of the present Bill, one sees an entirely new principle being introduced. It is a very dangerous principle, a very bad principle, because, having laid down in section 12 of the original Act that the Authority must not appoint any person to be an officer of the Authority, unless he has been selected by means of a public competition, we now come along and in section 4 of this Bill propose to make an exception to that rule. It is an exception stated in very peculiar terms. We propose to provide that the Authority shall not appoint any person to be an officer of the Authority unless he has been selected by means of a public examination, unless the appointment consists of the promotion of a person who is already a servant of the Authority, that is to say, an unestablished employee of the Authority in any capacity.

We have to consider what that means. There may be a vacancy in the Radio Éireann Authority or the Television Authority for a junior engineer. Somebody wants to get that post for some particular person. All the existing junior engineers in the service of the Authority are already appointed under the general terms of section 12 of the original Act by public examination, but you pick out the junior engineer you want appointed and appoint him gardener, caretaker or maintenance man, that is, an unestablished servant of the Authority. Remember the Authority can do that without submitting him to any public examination at all and, having put that person in the position of a servant—I am now using the archaic language of our statute—an unestablished employee, you can then publish a notice that a vacancy exists for an engineer who is an established officer of the Authority in Telefís Éireann and that you propose that there shall be a confined examination, confined to persons who are already servants of the Authority, with the result that there is only one candidate. The only candidate, the only maintenance man, the only gardener, the only servant of the Authority who is an engineer is the person to whom you want to give the permanent post. That is the extreme case but that is a bad principle to establish by statute.

I remember very well a case in this country, not so many years ago, in which there was a post to be filled for a local authority, a medical post. I remember that the advertisement appeared and when you came to study the small print of the advertisement, all the customary qualifications were stipulated but there was a new qualification, that the candidate for this post must have a diploma from some obscure pharmaceutical society in London. It transpired that of all the applicants, and there were 20, only one applicant had this diploma of the obscure pharmaceutical society. That was the end of the examination—he got the job.

Now, we are not legislating for today or for tomorrow; we are legislating not only for the Television Authority but for the whole system of public appointments in this country, and the issue here involved is: do we stand over the principle laid down in section 12 of the Act of 1960, which established the Broadcasting Authority, subsection (1) of which says:

The Authority shall, as well as appointing the Director-General, appoint such and so many other persons to be officers and servants of the Authority as the Authority from time to time thinks proper, but, subject to subsection (2) of this section, a person shall not be appointed under this section to be an officer of the Authority unless he has been selected by means of a public competition.

I think we should stand on that principle and should not introduce this highly undesirable qualification.

It has been suggested here that, unless we introduce this qualification, we will exclude from desirable promotion in the future numbers of persons who, in their youth, had not the opportunity to acquire the kind of education which others acquired. Well, none of us, I suppose, will make the case that this new subsection should be used for the purpose of promoting an unqualified person. If he is going to be made an officer of the Authority, we are to assume he has acquired, in the course of his employment as an unestablished employee of the Authority, the qualities requisite for the established post. All my amendment provides is that, when the established post comes to be put up for competition, all the unestablished servants of the Authority will be free to enter for the competition but that anybody outside who wants to enter will be free to do so, too.

Now, some people will make the case: "That seems hard; here is a young fellow who has been seven or eight years, or longer, in the service of the Authority as an unestablished officer. Is he entitled to no preference over an external applicant who, perhaps, has been working with Imperial Chemical Industries, Associated Electrical Industries or some wholly exterior body to the Television Authority?" In principle, there should be no advantage but, in practice, we know that if a man is going for a job in the Television Authority, has been in and out there, knows all the comings and goings and is familiar with all the practices and procedures of Montrose, the headquarters of the Television Authority, or is familiar with all the proceedings and practices of the outside work of the Television Authority, he has—in any examination the Authority may prescribe to qualify an established officer—a very substantial advantage over a person with equal technical qualifications but with no prior experience of service at Montrose.

What we have got to secure, and ensure, in this Bill is that the general exception proposed under section 4 in paragraph (iiA) is made to cover appointments in such a way that it cannot be abused in the future. I direct Deputies' special attention to this, that it cannot be used as a precedent to justify a similar procedure in regard to the whole system which we have painfully established in this country in regard to the appointment of persons to permanent pensionable status in the service of State Departments, local authorities, or semi-State Departments, such as CIE, Bord na Móna, et cetera.

The specific danger against which I seek to make provision here is that, with a special examination for the appointment of an established officer of the Authority in contemplation, some chosen individual will not be made what is technically described as a servant of the Authority, lest the permanent appointment, when it comes to be made, shall be made the subject of a confined examination, confined to existing servants of the Authority, to the exclusion of all others. At the same time, it seems reasonable—on the analogies I have laid before the House as existing in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, the Department of Agriculture and certain other Departments of State—that the possibility of a confined examination in very special circumstances should not be made impossible. Therefore, my suggestion is that we should add these words to section 4, paragraph (iiA).

That would provide that the Authority, if it contemplates making a permanent pensionable appointment, must hold a public competition, as provided in section 12 of the Principal Act, unless it desires to proceed by way of an appointment consisting of the promotion of a person who is already a servant of the Authority, and as I suggest, for a period of not less than ten years. That would give the Authority a discretion to hold an examination confined to those who were genuinely unestablished, nonpensionable employees of the Authority but who had not been brought in nominally as unestablished, non-pensionable employees, for no other purpose but to give them what would, in effect, be exclusive access to a confined examination, such as was contemplated in subsection (1) of section 12 of the Principal Act of 1960.

I shall not urge on the Minister that ten years is the only period which might with propriety be fixed for the purpose of establishing that a person is genuinely a servant of the Authority, in the technical sense of that word. If the Minister thought some shorter period would provide adequate protection of the fundamental principle I am concerned to preserve, I am quite prepared to meet him on that. But I do urge on him most strenuously that we should not depart from the considered decision of Oireachtas Éireann, as set out in section 12 of the Act of 1960, and that, if we do, we will do it not only to the grave detriment of the Authority itself but to the grave detriment of a principle which has served a most useful purpose in keeping the Civil Service of the State and the civil service of local authorities throughout the country relatively free from the deplorably corrupt practices that disfigured these services during the 19th century.

Had Deputy Dillon mentioned a reasonable period I could go a long way with him.

Mention any period you like.

Unfortunately the amendment says ten years.

I am quite prepared to make it three, four, five.

But you cannot do that in this amendment and it is this amendment we are now discussing.

By leave of the Chair, we can change it to any figure—three, four, five, or any figure the Deputy wants.

In view of the fact that Telefís Éireann has been in existence only five years, it seems that Deputy Dillon is now saying: "I agree there should be an avenue of promotion for qualified people but they will have to wait five years before they qualify". That is what the amendment says and I am sure Deputy Dillon gave it very full consideration before he put it down. As I said the other evening, Deputy Dillon is a great man for making a case and following it out to the bitter end, but there is one snag——

The Deputy himself is not a bad hand at special pleading.

——in that this morning he has been setting up a number of Aunt Sallys and the beauty of that whole operation is that one can set them in a position in which it is very easy to knock them down. Deputy Dillon, having knocked down most of his own Aunt Sallys, does not leave very much room for anybody else to attack them. Personally, I have no interest in this beyond the fact that I am a firm believer in promotion from the ranks. A few years ago we had an outcry when it was decided by the Department of Defence that non-commissioned officers would be entitled to promotion to full officer status. That was tried and the idea was found to be a very good one. The only snag was that they were paid less as officers, but that is something that can be got over. I quite agree with Deputy Dillon that it would be a shocking thing if we had so corrupt a set-up in Telefís and Radio Éireann that, when a vacancy was about to occur and it is known to those who run the Authority, they would immediately run out into the street and bring in an unqualified person, appoint him as a gardener or a sweeper and, the following week, set out conditions which will allow him to be appointed to a technical post for which he has no qualifications, good, bad, or indifferent.

There are qualifications.

If the argument is that we should stop any attempt to bring people in for the purpose of placing them in particular jobs, I am all with Deputy Dillon.

That is the sole purpose of the amendment.

I am not with him, however, when he suggests ten years.

Make it five.

I am not with him when he suggests that a person who is in the job and has been doing it, and who has fully qualified for it for a number of years, should not get any preference over those who are employed in some other type of employment which may provide a certain amount of experience. Deputy Dillon knows better, I think, than I do that in this country, and in any country I know of, if a man is employed in a job and is recognised as being reliable and a good worker, and he qualifies for a vacancy which occurs, he gets preference, and rightly so. It would be a shocking thing if, even in Deputy Dillon's own business and in the trade union of which I am the secretary, we went outside and threw open possible promotion to everybody, irrespective of whether we knew the background or anything else. It would be a shocking thing if we were not entitled to promote from our own ranks, that we would hold a certain type of examination and depend on the result of that rather than on what we knew of people over the years.

One of the things that are wrong with the present examination system is the fact that young people are expected to think their whole future depends on the couple of hours during which they are examined in certain subjects, subjects which are set by accident, subjects which, by accident, they may know or, again by accident, may not know. Telefís Éireann are asking for permission to promote suitable people from servant—I agree the word "servant" is a little outdated— to officer. A few years ago we had in the health services—this still operates in some cases—wardsmaids, wardsmen, boilermen and others who were officers of the local authority. The people who worked with them were only servants. The Minister for Health at the time decided he would change and from a certain period—I think it was some time around 1950—they became servants and they are now no longer officers. There is no difference except that everybody is called a servant. It was a pity, perhaps, that everybody was not declared an officer; they might feel a little bit better.

In this particular case the proposal is that, if somebody is employed by the Broadcasting Authority and a vacancy occurs, and, because of the particular type of work he is doing, he qualifies for that vacancy, it should be possible to set a particular type of examination; if he qualifies in that examination, then he is entitled to promotion to officer status. That is my interpretation. My main objection, and this is something to which Deputy Dillon did not advert so much this morning as he did the other evening, is that, from my own experience of people doing examinations, it very often happens that some will get questions of a more academic nature than a practical nature relating to the type of job for which they are being examined. As I said the other night, there are people who did not have an opportunity of getting the kind of education others have had, but that does not stop them from being very good workmen and very competent in their job and, if they got the promotion, they would be well fitted for the jobs for which they are being examined. Despite that, these people can be ruled out if the examination is of the type the Appointments Commissioners set from time to time.

There is the other angle. Deputy Dillon knows it better than I do. Take the case of the postman who passes in everything, has an excellent character and excellent health. Yet, the Appointments Commissioners, despite the fact that such a man got 2nd place, said: "You cannot get the appointment and we will not tell you why". I had a five-page letter from that man this morning. His mental health is obviously affected. Does Deputy Dillon want that kind of situation to become common in the Broadcasting Authority? What is wrong with the suggestion that those who are in the employment of the Authority, who are known to be reliable and who are considered suitable for promotion, should be given a test?

I agree with Deputy Dillon that it should not be a question of taking somebody in today and promoting him tomorrow. If you say two or three years and the Minister is prepared to accept that, that would be a good idea, but I do not think the whole thing should be thrown out simply because it seems to be cutting across the neck of one of the sacred cows set up here many years ago.

I am afraid I cannot accept the amendment for a number of reasons. Firstly, I have no reason to think that this will be abused in any way whatever; secondly, I am not establishing a precedent in this case; and thirdly, because I have as much confidence in Telefís Éireann as we have the right to have in any other State body to which we have given a relatively free hand. This is a new enterprise, not very long in existence, and the rules, if you like, under which they may employ staff are laid down in section 12 and give them pretty wide scope to recruit technical and other staff. I have no reason to think, and I do not think any other Member of the House could rightly assert, that they have in any way abused the high principles which should govern the employment of the staff.

The Minister is aware that when Telefís Éireann was set up, this question of examination did not operate and the way in which they selected people was not through examination. I admit that it turned out pretty well.

It did. Even if you take paragraph (iii) in subsection (2) which refers to "an office for which, in the opinion of the Authority, specialised qualifications not commonly held are required" they can under that take in virtually anyone. They do not take in people that they do not want, or who would not be useful to them. This is a service in which the lack of proper technical experience would manifest itself in the worsening of the service.

They took a chance in some cases but it turned out all right.

Nobody can accuse them of using subversive methods in employing staff. We all keep our eyes open as far as these things are concerned. I would not ask the House in such a simple matter as this to apply this to the most subordinate grade. This is merely to give the Authority the right to give to the lower grade workers a feeling of security, that it is possible that they would become better integrated in the service and have more security, in the knowledge that they will have security at some stage. I would not impose a period on them for the reason that I am satisfied already with the precautions that have been taken in the employment of staff at all levels. Workers today are sufficiently well organised to be able, in consultation with management, to seek a suitable formula without my trying to impose on them what it should be. I do not think that people who are already working there are going to allow somebody to be taken in off the streets today and be promoted tomorrow.

There are two different grades. The people who would be taken in off the street would be preventing the others from being promoted.

It is the people in the bottom grade about whom I am talking.

Yes, and people who have been working for three or five years can see a fellow being brought in off the street and being promoted tomorrow over their heads.

What I am saying——

I want to prevent that.

——is that labour is sufficiently well organised today to prevent that happening. They are capable of making their own case. We give to the Authority much greater powers for much more serious administrative matters and this would be the simplest of tasks we are entrusting to them. If we cannot depend on them to look after the establishment of the lowest grade as they think fit then I do not think they are capable of being entrusted with other things which it is their responsibility to do. This would be a great reflection on them. What we are doing is giving them authority to promote people who for the purpose of the Act are called servants. There are others who are called officers and officers can cover a wide field in the Civil Service. They can be one of the lowest grades, for instance, clerical officers. They could be unestablished clerical officers. This is only a distinguishing line. It may be an unfortunate selection but it is to distinguish between two classes. Some of these people are doing work as assistants or helpers in different capacities and their experience over the years has become very important to those whom they are assisting. These people would be qualified and I can understand the anxiety of the higher staff about being in a position to ensure that they can retain these people by at least being able to say to them "Some day you can or may be given more security."

The Field Marshal's baton, etc.

Yes. The only thing that is in question is whether we should stipulate in the Bill the number of years they must be in the service before they should be considered for this.

Hear, hear.

I am not prepared to set that out in the Bill.

Although you set it out in the original Act.

I am prepared to leave it to the Authority to have their own formula. As far as I can see, they have worked out a fairly satisfactory system.

Would the Minister be prepared to answer questions about it, if it is not carried out according to the way he thinks it will be carried out?

I could not commit myself to answering questions whenever Deputies might ask them. I always try to answer questions as reasonably as possible.

I would be happy if the Minister was prepared to answer questions if there is some hookery.

The Deputy is now saying that we are going to put on the record that if you do not do what we would like you to do——

Has the Deputy got a very clear answer?

No, but I am fairly satisfied with it.

Are you satisfied? Well, it takes very little to satisfy you.

The House should be satisfied with these people. Deputy Tully has a fair idea that these people are capable of looking after themselves and they will not be subject to any system that will ride roughshod over them. There is not a hope of that. I leave it to themselves, to the Authority and staff officers, who have always done a job which leaves us without any complaint. They are capable of working out a system and there is no reason to have less confidence in them than we have in the Sugar Company, Aer Lingus, CIE or any of the other State Companies. I think they should be capable of doing this.

I have not intervened very much on this question. I have listened to Deputy Dillon's argument for his amendment about which, I must say, I was never very happy. We have to make up our minds as to whether, on balance, we run the risk of somebody being appointed for mainly political reasons. When I say "appointed", I mean moved from the position of a servant to the position of an officer in the Authority. What we are making up our minds about in connection with this amendment is: do we sufficiently trust the Authority to appoint the proper person when he is already a servant of the Authority? As the Authority has given us no grounds for believing that it has abused its power in regard to any appointments made or has appointed unsuitable people, I think that in the interest of administrative efficiency and also in the very real interest of the servant sections themselves, we ought to grant the Authority this right without hamstringing it by specifying a period.

Why did we do it in section 12 of the original Act?

We did it for officers but we did not do it for servants. After the five years in which the Authority has carried out its work in a just fashion, we should give it this power. It is not fair to the servant sections that they never, never can get out of those positions, even though, in the opinion of those who know them and who work with them, they are fully entitled to that promotion. Therefore, I would say we should accept the Minister's explanation.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Bill received for final consideration and passed.