I remind Senators that they may speak only once on Report Stage except for the proposer of an amendment who may reply to the discussion on the amendment. I also remind Senators that each amendment must be seconded.
Communications Regulation Bill, 2002: Report and Final Stages.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 17, lines 41 and 42, to delete "grading, remuneration and other conditions of service".
I second the amendment.
The Minister of State's officials have assured both him and me that the electricity and aviation regulators have exactly the same conditions in the relevant legislation. It is about time this stopped. It is frankly ridiculous that these conditions are sent out to those who are supposed to be acting as independent bodies. That is the reason I have reintroduced the amendment on Report Stage.
The conditions are similar in all three Bills – the two that have been enacted and this Bill which I hope will be enacted soon. It is important that we have consistency. We cannot have a situation whereby one authority can use surplus resources to perhaps create new posts, structures or systems while another entirely dependent on the Exchequer but carrying out an equally important job for the nation is impeded in terms of flexibility because it does not have the necessary resources. This is the case in order to maintain the balance of efficiency in financial management, fairness in structures, promotions, grading, accommodation and facilities. It has served us well during the years and maintained a common denominator of opportunity for those who enter and move through the service or others from outside to enter. It would be foolish to change it in the Bill as distinct from others.
Bohan, Eddie.Bonner, Enda.Callanan, Peter.Dardis, John.Farrell, Willie.Gibbons, Jim.Glynn, Camillus.Kett, Tony.Kiely, Rory.Lanigan, Mick.
Leonard, Ann.Mooney, Paschal.Moylan, Pat.O'Brien, Francis.Ó Fearghail, Seán.Ó Murchú, Labhrás.Ormonde, Ann.Quill, Máirín.Walsh, Jim.
Burke, Paddy.Caffrey, Ernie.Coghlan, Paul.Coogan, Fintan.Cosgrave, Liam T.
Henry, Mary.Manning, Maurice.Norris, David.Ridge, Thérèse.Ross, Shane.
I compliment the Minister of State on his common sense approach to introducing this legislation which contains a series of practical provisions. As he rightly indicated, it will provide the background for rolling out the IT communications industry. It will stand us in good stead as the sector continues to make progress.
I thank the Minister of State for steering this important legislation through the House. I regret that I was unable to make the input on Second Stage that I would have wished. The current climate did not allow me to put the necessary time into the debate; I am referring to the political climate, rather than the weather. While I regret this, the Bill was well marshalled through the House. I thank Senator Coghlan for standing in for me during the debate. I welcome the legislation and hope it will make a major contribution to freeing up the communications industry which is a vital component of the economy. The industry is in its infancy, given the extent of the roll-out of the communications sector generally and the astounding developments that have taken place in the past four or five years. If the Bill, when enacted, helps to continue this progress, it will be well worthwhile.
I congratulate the Minister of State on bringing the Bill through the House. He has been greatly helped by my amendments, although he explained very carefully the reasons they could not be accepted. The Bill is important. A great deal of work must have been put into it by the Minister of State's officials. It is a practical measure which deals with an important industrial sector. During the debate we have dealt with everything from the ether to the felling of trees, including those covered by preservation orders. I congratulate the Minister of State and his officials on introducing this comprehensive Bill.
I thank all Senators for their contributions to the debate. I sincerely thank Senators Henry, Caffrey and Walsh, all of whom spoke eloquently and excellently on the Bill. Their contributions have demonstrated a keen awareness of the importance of the communications sector to the social and economic development of the economy.
The Bill provides for the creation of a commission for communications regulation, the dissolution of the Office of the Director of Telecommunications Regulation and the transfer of its functions to the new commission. It provides for a substantial increase in penalties for breaches of licence conditions by operators and the improved management of public road openings for the laying of telecommunications infrastructure. The importance of the Bill cannot be underestimated. It will be vital to support the unprecedented and ever-increasing pace of change in this important sector in the country. The electronic communications sector remains an important building block for the development of the information society, and the regulatory framework for the sector plays a major part in enabling it to move towards the information society.
The reform of the regulatory framework for the sector set out in the Bill takes account of a number of developments since the existing arrangements for regulation of the sector were put in place under the Telecommunications (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1996. The contents of the Bill represent the outcome of detailed consideration and the balancing of various options. It benefits from substantial public consultation and debate on various approaches. We are satisfied that the Bill represents the optimum balance between various avenues of approach, taking into account the interests of the consumer, industry players and the general public interest and common good.
The Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke, has placed on the record of the House her appreciation of the work of the director, Etain Doyle, and her staff in the past five years. I underline the Minister's appreciation of the work of the director and her staff and welcome their continued availability to the new commission so that they can bring the benefit of their experience to the new body. Ms Doyle and her staff have done an outstanding job. We can be proud of them as distinguished public servants in a complex, professional area of importance. I thank them sincerely for their work and look forward to their continuing involvement as part of the new commission.
The reform of the regime governing access to public roads for the construction of electronic communications infrastructure has been long awaited. The existing legislation dates back to the 1860s. The Bill brings legislation on this matter up to date and I am sure it will be welcomed by everyone.
On behalf of the Minister for Public Enterprise, I sincerely thank Senators who spoke and turned up to vote for their valuable contributions to the debate, the evolution and conclusion of the Bill and for facilitating its passage through the House. As someone who will face the national adjudication panel some time this year with reasonable optimism, I wish Senators every success in the future. I assure them that, given the opportunity, we will acknowledge their tremendous performances as valued Members of the Oireachtas and the democratic structure. I appreciate the great work done by the Seanad in ensuring we have the best possible legislation available to the people.