Very well, Sir; I shall not look a gift horse in the mouth. When we come to discuss this Estimate, or indeed any Estimate, whether there is a motion to refer back or not, we come to it in the knowledge that it affords us an opportunity of criticising, and of doing so constructively, I hope. In this particular instance, as is the case of any other Estimate, the Government of the day need not and invariably do not alter their figures or give way in any respect to criticism from an Opposition. They can, by a vote, put the Estimate through as it stands on presentation.
In this case in relation to the office of the Minister for Transport and Power I would like to say what I have said on previous occasions, and what I said as recently as last night on the CIE pensioners motion, that we deplore the Minister's apparent lack of power in dealing with matters of concern to the House and the country, especially as all of the money voted to the various bodies for which the Minister has, or should have, overall responsibility is voted from this House. If the Minister is prepared to shelter behind the technicality of the day-to-day administration in order to avoid the proper working of the democratic process, it is very bad both for the organisations concerned and the country as a whole. Should he desire the power to get a further opportunity of examining the affairs of the various bodies, all he has to do is to bring in a Bill to give him the power to do so. We will support it. In fact, we have a motion down calling for the appointment of a committee to examine the affairs of State and semi-State bodies. We do this not because we believe there is anything seriously wrong anywhere, but in answer to a public demand for such inquiries and such investigations.
Once there is any kind of public uneasiness and public inquiry either through letters to the newspapers, gossip, speeches at protest meetings or any of the sources from which uneasiness of that kind can be detected, it is better that such investigation be held or that the power to investigate should be there in order to alleviate any uneasiness present in the public mind at any time in relation to any given body or part of semi-State or State bodies. I know as well as anybody, and the Minister knows and every Member of this House and every member of the public knows, that, in making appointments to State boards by way of directorships and by way of managing directors, the temptation to appoint political friends must be very great indeed. The pressure brought to bear upon Ministers in that regard and particularly upon the Minister for Transport and Power, who has so many boards and so many vacancies to fill from time to time, must be very considerable. Not to succumb to it to some extent would involve great courage indeed.
At no time do I or any member of my Party wish to confuse the directorships of State companies, for which the Minister is responsible, with staff that work under them and who carry out the policy of the board through which the Minister's and Government policy is being implemented. They must be kept apart. It must be clear at all times that our viewpoint is—certainly mine—that the people employed in a permanent capacity on these boards, either seconded from the Civil Service or drafted into executive positions through interview or competitive examination, are, as far as my knowledge goes and indeed in some cases my investigation, beyond reproach. I think the public uneasiness in this regard is directed towards the boards of directors and boards of management appointed from time to time. I think it would be a good thing if the Minister would accept that as something very real in the life of the country.
Day-to-day administration may deal with trivial matters: it may also deal with very big and very important matters. The trivial matter may be important to some and the important matter may not seem of significance at all to others. A reasonable question asked in this House should be answered by the Minister. There is no difficulty in supplying the information that is asked in most of these questions. If there is difficulty, the Minister would be justified in resorting to what other Ministers do on such occasions when they say that the answer would require research to such extent that the expenditure of time required for such research would not be justified. That answer would be accepted by most Deputies. However, to say that it is a matter of day-to-day administration and that the Minister has no function means, in effect, that the Minister is doing damage, in particular, to State bodies and he is reducing his own effective status as the responsible Minister by giving answers of that kind.
From my knowledge and experience in this House and from watching the work of the Minister both inside and outside the House, I am prepared not to concede at all but to acknowledge that the Minister is a man of no inconsiderable capacity, that he is a man whose application is undoubtedly great and who could be dedicated to any worthwhile purpose. If he is to be denied and, essentially, if he is to deny himself the opportunity of using this capacity and application and to deprive himself of a purpose to which he can dedicate himself, then he relegates himself straight away to a person who has not got any responsibility in this particular ministry and at once falls into the category of those who appear to have a tremendous grasp of the unessential. It is all very well for the Minister to go around the country to meetings sponsored by Bord Fáilte, and so on, and tell people there how to present fish dishes or to expand on the more delectable types of soufflé but it is not the kind of detail or indulgence in minutiae on which the Minister should spend his time or to which he should devote his talent which could be devoted to better things.
The Minister's responsibility—if it is a responsibility—is, of course, very varied, ranging from air services and shipping services to internal transport by rail and by road. He is responsible for Bord na Móna, for Bord Fáilte and for the ESB. This is a very worthwhile ministry if it were worked as ministries are normally worked. I do not like to repeat myself but it is irritating to be told on so many occasions that the Minister has no function in a particular matter which is directly associated with a company over which he extends his political jurisdiction. To be told that he has no function in these matters is irritating and gives rise to considerable uneasiness. We all know our people well enough. When a reply of that kind is given, they are quick to say: "Why did he not answer the question, anyway? There must be something to hide." It must be perfectly clear, even to lesser intelligences that the answer to the question could easily be given. The answer would give rise to no uneasiness but would, indeed, alleviate any uneasiness or any doubt which might exist in people's minds in relation to the subject. That is my objection to sheltering behind the phrase "day-to-day administration" in order to avoid giving the answer to the Parliamentary question. I think it important in the general way too, of course, that the Parliamentary process should be preserved and the freedom it guarantees to individuals should equally be preserved.
Now, taking these various aspects of the Minister's Department, I want to say about our air services that from my not too unlimited knowledge of them, they are very good. Last year on this debate, I paid a tribute to the then retiring General Manager, Dr. Dempsey, who very kindly acknowledged it. I think a great deal of the success is due to him and to his feeling for human relationships. I think it is true of all State bodies that the sooner we get down to this question of human relationships, in industry particularly and in these parts of these bodies where industry plays a prominent part, the better. The sooner we get down to this whole question of human relationships to see that conditions in which people work are not alone materially comfortable but that there is an atmosphere of happiness and mutual confidence as between executive and worker the better. It should not be hard to work out that formula if people would approach it with the proper attitude of mind and with hearts unhardened by power.
As I have said, our air services are very good and the people who work in them, both on land and in the air, are very efficient. Our record of safety in that respect is tremendously high in relation to other services of the world. That is in no small way due to the sense of responsibility all have, from the porter who handles the luggage in the first instance right up to the pilot who guarantees one's safety through the air from one airport to another. The service given by the hostesses and the stewards on board is beyond question and if we find on occasion that there is criticism, that kind of criticism mounts sometimes from an isolated incident where somebody expects too much in too short a time and then proceeds to argue from the particular to the general, which is a very bad method of argument and one not recommended, and blame the whole service for that isolated experience which is not the experience of the vast majority of travellers.
With regard to our shipping service, and with that must be combined the question of harbour development, the only query I want to raise is whether when the B & I Company was being purchased, the survey was of a sufficiently probing character to ascertain whether we were likely to be faced with heavy expenses for overhaul, and even with finding that certain ships were unseaworthy. I think the Minister has spoken about that already in reply to a question but I would like to have an assurance again that such a survey was made and that it was the kind of survey that would leave us in no doubt that we were getting value for the money expended at the time.
In relation to CIE where there has been a lot of trouble by way of strikes and token strikes, again it reduces itself down to this question of human relationships. I do not concede that the reason for the trouble is a multiplicity of unions. I was watching and listening to Mr. F. Lemass the General Manager —I do not know what his correct description is—being interviewed on television in relation to this and I thought he was not being all-embracing in trying to put blame for the trouble in CIE on the multiplicity of unions. I think it should be easy to get a formula to deal adequately with that.
The long-distance bus services are good and they do the journeys they are meant to do in reasonable time. The buses are comfortable. They are well and carefully driven. I would like to say that a bus driver in Dublin city is a man for whom one cannot have anything but the greatest admiration. He is handling a very heavy vehicle and he is negotiating through increasingly difficult traffic. The small number of accidents recorded is evidence of the care and skill that goes into this particular manoeuvre. I might say in passing that it is a job, if the figures quoted in recent disputes are correct, that certainly would call for somewhat higher remuneration.
Coming from a part of the country where the bus services end rather early, County Mayo, I do not have occasion to use the train. One would require a car at each end to have that luxury; but to Galway, yes; to Cork, yes; and to Belfast, yes. I think far too often do we indulge in criticism of small things and fail to pay tribute where tribute is due. I have travelled recently a fair bit on these trains to Cork, to Galway and to Belfast, and for speed, safety, cleanliness and heating, they are excellent. From the point of view of heating, it was too intense for me as I am not a central heating lover but for the average person travelling, the heating was extremely comfortable. The diningcars on all trains were spotlessly clean, the food tastefully presented, well cooked, and altogether they give a service by way of speed, comfort, efficiency and courtesy that leaves nothing or at least very little to be desired. There may be somebody more finnicky than the average person but there was no fault whatsoever that I could find particularly on the run from Dublin to Cork. This is not due to any great exhortation from the Board or the management. This work is done by drivers, guards, ticket collectors and the people working in the diningcar. All these people are doing their own job in an extremely efficient manner. I do not think these things can be said too often about our people. As a nation, we are extremely fond of criticising one another and trying to denigrate the work of one another. The sooner we get away from that the better it will be for all concerned.
It is regrettable that Bord na Móna have suffered these losses over the past year and that they may not be able to get over their difficulties in the next year, due to weather difficulties. Of course, that is something over which no Minister or no board has any control. I know the work that is being done, particularly, of course, in my constituency of North Mayo at Bellacorick. The work is being done there by a competent group of people. From the teamaker to the top executive, they are all good, all doing their work and doing it well.
I am somewhat concerned about the ESB. I think everybody is concerned about the capital payments being sought for a first installation of power and light in places such as those mentioned by Deputy Dunne. It is fairly stated by the ESB that refunds will be considered. As against that, however, it is difficult to ask people who are operating in a small way to produce anything from £200 to £300 in order to have light and power installed, without any definite date being fixed for consideration of this promised refund.
I feel that the ESB spends too much money on advertising. After all, the ESB has a monopoly here, a very substantial monopoly, and this advertising and high pressure salesmanship is not really warranted. Certainly, the expenditure on it is not warranted. Any saving that could be effected should go towards the abolition of these special service charges. I know the Minister has dealt with this many times and has been questioned on it many times and protests have been made quite frequently in the House in relation to these special service charges. They are irksome and they fall upon the people who are least able to bear them.
That is the unfortunate part of it. They fall on people in the west of Ireland and in inaccessible places even in the midlands. They are the people who have survived on the hillsides and the remote fishing villages and places equally inaccessible. They are the people who have survived down the ages. Even in a sentimental vein they are the people who, I feel, should be provided with the modern amenities which the new State has developed. In fact, of course, although that is not the intention I am sure, they are being punished for having survived on these small farms in the out-of-the-way places, the fishing villages or the remote hillsides.
I think the ESB would be well advised, even though it may be necessary to increase very little in some other way or save something from some other source, to get rid of these special service charges. They do not involve that much in relation to the revenue and expenditure of a big corporation like the ESB. The sum involved is very small. I would urge upon the Minister, by way of repetition indeed, to try to do something at an early date about these charges.
I do not like the recent method adopted by the ESB in relation to increases in charges. Incidentally, if I may express an opinion in passing, I think the charges for light, power, and heating by the ESB are not exorbitant. If one examines it, takes the two monthly bill and considers what one gets by way of light, heat, cooking, water heating and so on and divides it up into a daily charge, it is a small sum and taking into consideration the amount of labour saved to the housewife in the process and the amount of convenience one enjoys, one realises that the charge for these services is not great. I do not like the method of increasing the charge and then setting up a committee to inquire into whether it is justified or not. Once a price goes up, it is very hard to reduce it afterwards because the argument can always be made that during the duration of the increased cost, the justification appeared all the greater. This is something that probably should not be allowed to happen again.
All that remains then, in my consideration, at any rate, in relation to the Minister's Department is Bord Fáilte. This of course is no small part of it, related as it is to tourism, which is responsible for a substantial portion of our income. In my travels, particularly in the west of Ireland and generally speaking all over the country, but particularly in the west of Ireland and more particularly in west Donegal, I have found that the people there interested in the catering business in hotels and restaurants have done the very best within the limits of their resources and within the limits of the capacity of Bord Fáilte to help them. They have answered the challenge of tourism in a reasonably good way.
There are many more improvements to be effected here and there but from what I have seen and examined, I think the concentration should be on the smaller hotels and guesthouses in the more remote places. The big isolated one does not really make any great impact in relation to the local people. It is the small ones, dotted here and there, that provide their own little bit of employment by way of the supply of milk and vegetables and the supply of turf in turf-burning areas. All these things indirectly affect the lives of the people of the small holdings who live round about. For that reason I am extremely anxious to see that Bord Fáilte gives every assistance to the small hotelier and to the guesthouse keeper, as well, of course, as encouraging farmhouse holidays. I think good progress has been made. I think Bord Fáilte, through its officers, are doing a good job.
The only complaint I have is that I do not think it necessary to be doing all this travel to the far ends of the earth on this "image" business, and I do not like that word "image". I think we should concentrate on the real source of our tourist revenue, that is, England, Wales and Scotland and our country cousins, if we like to call them that, in Northern Ireland. I am glad to see that there is talk at last and I hope it will be effective, of combining our resources in that regard and availing of each other's knowledge. With the restrictions on English travel, I feel that a heavy bombardment by way of advertising during the winter and up to Easter should be made on Britain so that they would come here in greater numbers. I am told they are better spenders. I do not want to say anything by way of comparison with any other people who visit here but they come and spend money and go away satisfied. They are the people who will be looking for the small hotel, for the cheaper hotel.
We have had a lot of complaints about charges in hotels. There is no doubt that the charges in the top-grade hotels, including the CIE hotels for which the Minister is responsible, are outrageous, if one relates them to the average income. Paying £1 or in some cases 30/- for a porterhouse steak in an Irish hotel when we cannot sell our cattle at the moment appears to be a bit ludicrous. I do not know where they get it or what it costs them but the costs are too high. I know, of course, that it is very difficult to do table d'hôte with à la carte menus but, in my experience —and I think it is the experience of most people—the table d'hôte menu is so designed and so uninteresting by way of what it contains, as to be deliberately calculated to drive one away from the fixed charge meal to à la carte where, of course, ruination ensues by way of bills.
There is need for more and more consultation as between the Department of Local Government and the Department of Transport and Power in relation to the provision of water and water schemes generally, particularly in tourist resorts. I might mention —one always, of course, has an eye to one's own constituency but, in this particular case, it happens to be a fact —that on Achill Island at the moment there is a huge outcry for water, not alone water for the existing hotels but water for the people who are making great advances in the provision of accommodation for guests in their houses under the farmhouse holiday schemes. That is something which should be looked after straight away.
In relation to water, there is another matter in which the Minister should interest himself: again, it is with the Department of Local Government. It is true that the Oireachtas gave the power to the Department of Local Government, under an Act, I think, of 1960, to install meters in hotels and charge so much a gallon, or so much per number of gallons used in the hotel. That is bad policy and is being done in a few places, to my knowledge. It is bad policy that one Government Department should be using the people's money for the promotion of tourism while another Government Department, through the local councils or corporations, is penalising them for doing what they can in this regard. This is being done—and it is right, I think, that the Minister should know this—but without any great preconceived plan.
For instance, the Minister is aware, and we are all aware, of the average commercial hotel in a country town; it is part hotel and part pub. The public house is used not alone by the visitors to the hotel but by the residents of the town, particularly if it is a popular resort. Water is used in a public house to a very considerable extent for cleaning of bottles, glasses and even for consumption with certain items, but no account seems to be taken of the water normally used in the public house part of the premises. It is all lumped together under this meter system, with a very high charge. It is very difficult for people, particularly people who pay high rates, almost immediately upon completion of some improvement to an existing hotel, to then find themselves further saddled with a stiff demand for a water rate. There should be some kind of uniformity and, if it was necessary, first of all, to collect it, it should be distributed more equitably amongst the people of the town or village concerned.
Those are the general matters to which I wanted to bring the Minister's attention. I hope that I have been constructive, as I think it is our duty to be on an Estimate of this kind. In so far as I have criticised, I have done so with the best possible intention, namely, to remove irritations and suspicions and, where my criticism has tended to be directed towards the top, relieving others, I have my mind upon the creation of proper human relations between executives and workers so that —in the words I have used already— there may be an atmosphere of case and happiness. All in all, while the money we are spending is great, and while we are irritated that we cannot find out from time to time how it is being expended in a particular direction, I feel that progress is being made. Notwithstanding the taking away of certain railway lines—which seems to be the trend at the moment—the substitution of the long distance buses has met the case fairly well. Therefore, while the Minister disclaims responsibility and disclaims that he has any function in the matter from time to time, we cannot now allow him to take the praise for anything good which has happened. All of that praise must go to the devoted and dedicated people who work in the day-to-day administration of his Department.