I have already answered as well as I could a considerable number of matters raised by Deputies on the Estimate for my Department. I should like to refer to a couple of developments which have occurred since my remarks some time ago.
I spoke then about the question of the national culture in the relevant section of the Broadcasting Act. I have tried to cover the question of what is meant generally by "the national culture" and, in the concluding part of my remarks I should like to discuss Irish language policy with specific reference to the responsibilities of my Department under the Broadcasting Act in relation to the use of Irish in broadcasting. I would also like to amplify some remarks I made earlier about the use of radio.
Since I last spoke the new international telephone exchange was opened. I do not propose to say a great deal about that because I made a statement when opening it setting out its nature and functions. This was published in the Press. As Deputies are aware of it I do not propose to repeat it here.
The new international telephone exchange which was brought into service on 15th June has greatly improved our international telephone service. I should specify, of course, that when I say "international telephone service" I am speaking of the service which links this country with other countries outside these islands and not specifically with the telephone service to Britain. Delays of up to two hours which were experienced at times on some routes up to the time of the opening of the new exchange have been eliminated and there is now a "demand" service. This means that the subscriber can get in touch with the operator immediately. Calls to certain countries which are not served through the international exchange are still being delayed. In these cases we are awaiting completion of circuits or other technical arrangements abroad. We hope that the routes concerned will be served through the new exchange on a nodelay basis within the next few months and some within a matter of days.
I referred in my opening statement to the proposed establishment of a Post Office Users' Council. I am now happy to announce that Mr. A.C. Crichton has accepted my invitation to be chairman of this council. Mr. Crichton is a director of Irish Distillers Limited and a former governor of the Bank of Ireland. I have written to the following organisations asking them to nominate persons for appointment to the council: Consumers' Association of Ireland, Irish Farmers' Association, Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Association of Chambers of Commerce of Ireland, Confederation of Irish Industry, General Council of County Councils and Comhairle na Gaeilge. I have also invited the following large users to nominate members: Waterford Glass Limited, Cork Co-Operative Marts Limited, Stephen Feller of Galway, Dublin Newspaper Managers Committee, Electricity Supply Board, Córas Tráchtála and the Industrial Development Authority. I should clarify, of course, that I have invited these users to nominate members but I have not yet received replies. I thought I should use this opportunity to acquaint the House of the present state of affairs in this matter which affects everybody in this country since we all, in one way or another, make use of the postal services
I would like to amplify some of the remarks I made in reply to Deputy Colley on 13th June in regard to the use of the radio networks. I am glad to come back to this matter because many Deputies placed great emphasis on radio and their wish to see the development of the radio services. Significant capital investment has been made in radio in recent years. The first VHF network, provided to supplement the inadequate medium frequency coverage of the Athlone transmitter and give high quality interference-free reception, could become available for alternative programme use when the new high power Tullamore medium frequency installation, giving coverage to the whole island, is completed in the middle of next year. In the meantime, I will give every encouragement to increasing the provision of choice in RTE radio programming on days and at times when this is most necessary, through separate utilisation of the medium frequency and VHF networks. The second VHF network, which carries the Radio na Gaeltachta service in the evening, is now broadcasting test transmissions of music for the trade in the morning and afternoon; it is hoped that these transmissions will encourage interest in Radio na Gaeltachta and also the spread of VHF receivers and the use of VHF reception by listeners. It is also hoped that the proposed pilot radio service for Gaeltacht national schools will begin transmission at the end of the year.
The new radio centre at Donny-brook is nearing completion and work is in hands on the development of facilities at provisional centres to improve the capacity for regional programme contribution to the national networks. A fully equipped mobile radio studio will be brought into operation shortly and will be available for programme origination from provincial centres. The first steps in local broadcasting have already been taken with the experimental programming from the Cork medium frequency transmitter.
A new development is that a daily half-hour programme from Monday to Friday is being provided for a period of two months from 24th June. This service has the benefit of guidance and advice from the newly established Cork Radio Advisory Committee. The Cork experience in the next few months will be important in indicating the possibility or development of other such services. If the results of the Cork experiment are encouraging, I hope to see it developed in other areas. We will be watching the experiment with great interest.
I should like to deal with the question of the role of the Irish language, particularly in relation to broadcasting, but before we can consider it specifically in this regard we must consider more generally the question of what the Irish language policy is, can be and should be. I will divide my remarks into a discussion of that situation generally and then a consideration of its application to broadcasting.
With regard to the controversy generally, I made a statement some time ago in Waterford which led to a considerable amount of public controversy. I do not regret that; I think public controversy is a healthy part of our national culture, one we should be prepared to encourage and participate in, trying always to keep it above the level of personal slanging and making it a discussion of ideas.
Considerable heat was generated in the controversy and, as often, the intensity of the heat led to some distortion of some of the things said including what I said myself. I do not complain of that because I realise that a certain amount of distortion is almost inevitable in controversy and if we engage in it we must accept that fact. I stand entirely over the substance of my remarks at Waterford but some people whom I greatly respect and whose attitude to the Irish language I respect have told me that the tone and manner in which I approached this subject on that occasion were unnecessarily abrasive and wounding. I accept that criticism and I shall try to be guided by it for the future.
I suffer, perhaps, from the disability that sometimes when attacking a set of ideas I believe to be false I fail to respect adequately the feelings of people who cherish these ideas. I am trying to cure myself of this disability; a number of critics are giving me some assistance here and I thank them for it. I should like to point out that it is difficult in this area, as well as in other areas, to criticise ideas that should be criticised without giving some offence to those who hold them. The problem arises here whether we should acquiesce in what we believe to be illusions in order not to hurt the feelings of others. Perhaps we are inclined to do just that; it is a part of our culture, in some ways it is an amiable trait but it can be costly. Some of the illusions we have let alone, the sacred cows that we have allowed to wander, have now got out of control. The problem remains of how to criticise ideas while giving the minimum of offence to others, although it must be realised that in making the criticism we will necessarily give some offence. That will be my approach to this controversy as I speak here.
The Broadcasting Act states that in performing its function An tÚdarás shall bear constantly in mind the national aim of restoring the Irish language, preserving and developing the national culture, and shall endeavour to promote the attainment of these aims. In the earlier part of my remarks I dealt with the question of national culture in other areas than the Irish language. It is just the aspect of the Irish language I should like to deal with here.
We speak of the national aim of restoring the Irish language. It has never been quite clear to me what exactly we mean when we speak of the restoration of the Irish language. I put that question to a professor of Irish when we were on television — Deputy Brugha was present also — and I asked him if it meant restoring it to the position it occupied, say, in 1169. Perhaps it was a rather abrasive formulation, although I hope not. The answer the professor gave flabbergasted me. He said "No," that he would be satisfied with restoring it to the position it occupied in 1600. How could we restore the language to the position it occupied in 1600 unless we also restored the whole state of affairs at that time, the social, economic and other circumstances? Do we really want to do that? That reply certainly is not adequate.