Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Galway Television Programmes.

23.

asked the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs if he will grant a licence in respect of piped television programmes from UTV, BBC1 and BBC2 to homes in the Galway city areas; and if he will allow interested companies to submit tenders for such licence.

I am only too willing to hold a competition for a licence to provide a cable system there when I am satisfied that a satisfactory signal can be received and the other conditions attached to the granting of licences are met. I understand that one company have shown interest in the possibilities of piped television in the Galway area but are not yet in a position to formulate proposals in the matter as it would be necessary to set up a monitoring system over 12 months in order to ascertain whether a reliable signal would be available all the year round. Without such information clearly no worthwhile proposals can be formulated.

I have been in touch with representatives of the Galway multi-channel television campaign both during last year and within the last few days about this matter and I believe they understand the present position.

I should like to ask the Minister if the effect of his reply is that the people of Galway cannot expect to have available a second television channel earlier than at least 12 months from now?

That is the case. The only company who have shown interest in the matter in relation to cable television have reported that they would need to monitor the fairly faint signal available in the area over a 12month period to ascertain whether a reliable all-year-round service could be maintained for viewers. Obviously in relation to cable the work of providing such a service could only start if this monitoring produced satisfactory results and that would take some months. We expect that by the end of 1976 the transmitters and micro-wave links in which the Government have invested will be completed and that by then it should be possible to provide by that means one alternative service which we think is likely to be BBC 1. It will be the first time any choice of programme will be available to residents in the Galway area. It is progress in the direction this Government would like to see and, if I infer correctly from this question by the Fianna Fáil spokesman, I am glad that they would also like to see freedom of choice expanded in this area. Some previous statements by Fianna Fáil Deputies in this House suggested they opposed the bringing of what Deputy Tunney calls "Telefís na Banríona" to areas such as Galway. I take it that that position is not now maintained.

Will the Minister agree that no representative of Fianna Fáil ever said he did not want to see the availability of a second channel to the people of Galway? The Minister has said that the second channel availability is likely to be BBC 1. Does he imply a decision has been made in that regard or is the position that no such decision has yet been made?

The Government have decided to give priority to the negotiation of this service with the BBC authority. If that is available on satisfactory terms, that will be the service. However, if it should not be available on satisfactory terms, consideration would have to be given to some other solution.

Is it the Government decision to have BBC 1?

Yes, if that can be negotiated on terms satisfactory from the point of view of the interests of this country.

Is it a first priority before RTE 2, UTV or anything else?

Will the Minister not agree that no Deputy from this side of the House has ever objected to alternative viewing facilities for people in parts of the country outside the eastern areas?

A number of statements have been made on this subject. Objections have been made to my officials on the grounds that it is undesirable to bring what was described as "the Queen's television", "Telefís na Banríona", to areas which do not now receive it. That objection was made in this House——

Are the words "Telefís na Banríona" the Minister's own words?

They are Deputy Tunney's words.

Deputy Lynch and I asked the Minister a question to which he has not yet replied. Has he any evidence available that any Fianna Fáil Deputy objected to or opposed the provision of an alternative channel? The answer given by the Minister so far has been to refer to some objections raised to "Telefís na Banríona" but this is not an answer to the question.

That is a fair point. I have not yet had the benefit of the views of the present spokesman for Fianna Fáil—I am sorry he is not here today but I appreciate he has to be somewhere else. When Deputy Brugha was spokesman I had many discussions with him on this subject and he indicated he favoured an alternative service but that that alternative should be a second RTE channel. My understanding of the views of people in Galway and elsewhere is that a second RTE channel is not regarded by many of them as a satisfactory outcome. Ideally what they would rather have is probably, as Deputy Molloy now suggests, piped television programmes from UTV, BBC 1 and BBC 2. It is not very likely they will get all of them. It is my understanding from my discussions with their spokesmen that they would prefer even one outside service direct such as BBC 1 to RTE 2. It was my proposal to provide them with BBC 1 but this was deprecated by Deputy Tunney—I am sorry he is not present either—as constituting a proposal to bring to the people of the west "the Queen's television", "Telefís na Banríona". It appeared to me that Deputy Tunney, a Dublin Deputy, tried to stand between the people of the west and south and what he seemed to regard as the corruption implied in "Telefís na Banríona". If that is not now Fianna Fáil policy I am glad to note it. However, I am not quite clear what Fianna Fáil policy is, perhaps because their spokesman is not present for his question.

May I take it—

We cannot debate the matter. I would remind Deputies that this is Question Time.

From the Minister's somewhat lengthy reply, may I take it he is confirming that no Fianna Fáil Deputy has ever opposed provision of an alternative viewing channel to RTE 1?

No Fianna Fáil Deputy opposed the supplying of an alternative channel——

That is what I asked the Minister.

I wish to add a little to that. What they did object to was the supplying of an outside service. They wanted an RTE 2 programme, edited in Dublin for RTE. If that is what the people in the west want I would be very interested to hear about it. I would also be very interested to know what exactly is Fianna Fáil's attitude now. Do they want the people in the west to be able to receive the British television programmes or do they not want them to receive them? I do not know.

In view of the fact that the Minister has said that the people in Galway are likely to get only one programme, is there not some merit in suggesting that they might get the best of two or three other channels if that is feasible?

Perhaps the Deputy might explain that to the people of Galway when he goes there —and I think he will go—and find out if that is what they want. I should like to add to this that if the previous Government had taken steps during their period of office to provide the transmission networks this Government are now providing the people of Galway could by now be enjoying a choice of programme.

Whatever they get they will not get it before the end of 1976.

I am calling the next question.

24.

asked the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs if he is aware that a cable television company are of the opinion that a signal can be got from UTV, BBC 1 and BBC 2 at 900 feet at Pollnaclogha, Moycullen, County Galway; and if he will arrange to have tests carried out at this location to confirm the signal.

I have received no information about the results of any tests for signals taken at Pollnaclogha, Moycullen, County Galway. If such information is received it will be carefully examined by my Department.

On receipt of such information would it be the practice of the Department to have tests carried out such as those suggested in the question?

The Department's information, based on knowledge about distance from BBC and UTV transmitters, is that signals which would provide acceptable reception on the cable system are not available off air in Galway city. In order to provide acceptable reception the signals would need to be available on a continuous basis and tests would need to be undertaken during a fairly long period to establish the quality and regularity of such signals.

Will the tests be carried out by the Department as distinct from potential operators of cable television?

It is regarded as inadvisable for the Department to arrange tests of signals quality as suggested. The only people who can usefully make such tests are cable operators who would have to have regard to the type and location of mast it would be economic to provide in relation to the estimated capital and running costs of a cable system in that area. The quality of reception on a cable system depends not only on the signals available off air but also on the type of mast provided and its proposed location. Accordingly, there would be no point in the Department carrying out tests in the absence of evidence of tests carried out by cable operators interested in providing the scheme, together with particulars of the type and location of mast proposed. Moreover it would be undesirable for the Department to do anything which would involve taking responsibility for the quality of signals in the case of multi-channel cable television systems. The signals at best are of the fringe type and are below what would be regarded as acceptable by normal engineering standards.

I asked the Minister if the Department were to receive such information, would they carry out their own tests. From his answer I am not quite clear if the answer is "yes" or "no".

The Department would monitor the development of the tests by the cable company but they would not undertake their own tests.