Communications Regulation (Postal Services) Bill 2010 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil]: Report Stage

As this is the first occasion on which he has visited the House since his appointment, I welcome the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte.

This is a Seanad Bill which has been amended by the Dáil. In accordance with Standing Order 118, it is deemed to have passed its First, Second and Third Stages in the Seanad and has been placed on the Order Paper for Report Stage. On the question "That the Bill be received for final consideration," the Minister will explain the purpose of the amendments made by the Dáil. This is looked upon as the report of the Dáil amendments to the Seanad. For the convenience of Senators, the Cathaoirleach has arranged for the printing and circulation to them of the amendments. There are eight other amendments to the Bill as passed by the Dáil. If the House agrees, the Minister will first explain the changes made by the Dáil to the Bill. We can then deal with the eight amendments to the Bill as passed by the Dáil. Is that agreed? Agreed.

In regard to the amendments made to the Bill by the Dáil, I am suggesting 21 groupings based on the subject matter of the 96 amendments made. The Minister will deal separately with the subject matter of each related group of amendments. I advise the House that Senators may speak only once on each grouping. I also remind Senators that the only matters that can be discussed are the amendments made by the Dáil.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be received for final consideration."

I thank the Acting Chairman for his welcome to the Seanad.

I find myself in a slightly unusual position in that I am bringing back to this House a Bill initiated by the previous Government in the last Seanad. I am, therefore, conscious that this is the first time many Senators will have seen or had an opportunity to consider the Bill. Before addressing the amendments I brought forward in the Dáil to improve the Bill, I will give the House an overview of the context of the Bill, in terms of its origins and objectives, and some background information on the postal market and the regulatory framework that will apply as a result of the enactment of the Bill.

Postal sector liberalisation is not new and much of the regulatory framework for the postal sector has been in place since the transposition of the first postal services directive in 2000. The Bill transposes the third postal services directive and puts in place the regulatory framework necessary to govern a fully liberalised postal sector, a sector which has been fully open to competition since January 2011. The Bill also enshrines and safeguards the universal postal service, that is, the collection and delivery of mail throughout the entire country on every working day. An Post will remain the designated universal service provider for the next 12 years. The Bill also provides for enhanced consumer protection measures.

The Bill has been the subject of a very thorough debate in both Houses of the Oireachtas. All Members of the Oireachtas hold their local postperson and post office in high regard and many of the current postal issues were given the benefit of a thorough airing. I was pleased to participate in the Dáil debate and noted that many of my colleagues made their maiden speeches on postal issues.

The opening of the postal market means that An Post is already facing a more competitive environment in which there are other operators. The reality is that — unfortunately, some Members of the Oireachtas are reluctant to accept this fact — the greatest competitive pressures on An Post and the postal sector are exerted by the twin threats of the general economic weakness and electronic substitution. Postal volumes have declined by almost 20% since 2008 and this trend is, unfortunately, set to continue. In order to address the competitive pressures on the company, An Post needs to build on its true competitive advantages. If it succeeds in doing so, I see a sustainable business for the company and its highly regarded workforce.

Most of the amendments which I will discuss individually seek to clarify policy around and make minor textual changes to certain provisions in the Bill. Amendments Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, are textual changes made to the Long Title of the Bill. They include references to the Broadcasting Act 2009, certain provisions of which are being amended by the Bill.

Amendments Nos. 5 and 8 relate to the commencement of the Bill which had been set as 1 January 2011, the date for full market opening as prescribed by the postal services directive. As the Bill will come into force on its passing, with the exception of section 48, the amendments delete the reference to the original commencement date. Amendment No. 60 relates to section 48, the commencement of which is dependent on the enactment of the customs Bill and will be by ministerial order. In addition, amendments Nos. 53, 54 and 86 are drafting amendments that arise as a consequence of amendments Nos. 5 and 8.

Amendments Nos. 6, 34, 35, 83, 84 and 87 are technical amendments to a number of sections in the Bill that reflect the establishment of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the transfer of certain functions from the Minister for Finance to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. They also account for name changes for the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.

Amendments Nos. 7, 9, 10, 12, 13 and 22 are drafting amendments that lend clarity to and remove ambiguity from a number of definitions. Amendments Nos. 23 to 26, inclusive, reflect a commitment made in the programme for Government to safeguarding the universal postal service, which is fundamental to the regulatory framework for the postal sector. The amendments made to section 17 extend the designation period for An Post as universal service provider from seven years to 12 and provide also that any decision made by ComReg in the designation process, if it decides not to redesignate An Post, shall be subject to ministerial oversight which I consider an important safeguard of the universal postal service. Substantial redrafting by the Parliamentary Counsel was required to accommodate the amendments, leading to the replacement of section 17 with four new sections, sections 17 to 20, inclusive. In addition, amendments Nos. 11, 16, 17, 61 and 62 are drafting amendments that arise as a result of the amendments to section 17, mainly in order to update cross-references in the Bill.

Amendments Nos. 14, 15, 19 to 21, inclusive, 41, 67, 79 to 82 and 96 are drafting amendments, made mainly at the behest of the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, that seek to add clarity and make minor corrections to the text of the Bill. Amendments Nos. 18, 55, 56, 66, 69, 74 to 76, inclusive, and 78 are being made to reflect Part 2 of the Fines Act 2010 which was commenced earlier this year.

Amendments Nos. 29 to 32, inclusive, seek to add clarity in respect of the oversight by ComReg of the terms and conditions submitted by An Post or any other universal postal service providers, in relation to their provision of the universal postal service. In this regard, the main objective of these amendments is to provide that charges for universal services will not be subject to ComReg's approval under this section. The reason for this is that all charges must be compliant with the tariff principles, as monitored by ComReg, with charges for some universal services being subject to a price cap.

The intention of the Bill was never for ComReg to approve every price change made by a designated universal service provider and these amendments correct this. In addition, this set of amendments reduces the transitional period, for the ending of An Post's schemes and the publication and coming into force of its terms and conditions, from six months to three weeks. In addition, ComReg is to approve An Post's terms and conditions within six months of their publication. These amendments have led to some redrafting by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, resulting in the replacement of two sections by four. In addition, amendments Nos. 27, 28, 39 and 63 are consequential amendments, mainly to update cross references arising as a result of the insertion of these new sections.

Amendments Nos. 33, 57, 64, 65, 68, 71, 72, 73 and 77 replace references in the Bill to "employee" with references to "employee or agent" where appropriate, and are proposed to take account of and apply the rights and obligations of the Bill to the many postal workers who are agents rather than employees of a postal service provider.

Amendments Nos. 36 and 37 arose following discussion on amendments tabled by Deputy Ó Cuív on Committee Stage. The amendments provided that under section 23, a uniform tariff will apply across the State to any postal service provided at single piece tariff. The legislation now sets this as the default position. It also permits ComReg to make a decision, having regard to the reasonable needs of users and with the consent of the Minister, to move away from this default position, should the market necessitate it. This is in line with the postal directive which permits the imposition of a uniform tariff in the public interest.

Amendments Nos. 38 and 52 are technical amendments that arise as a result of amendments Nos. 36 and 37. Amendment No. 40 also relates to section 23 and deletes subsection (5) of that section, which linked special tariffs for businesses to terminal dues which is the method of settling accounts in relation to cross-Border post. This amendment is being made on foot of a requirement of the postal directive to distinguish clearly between the regulation of terminal dues and the regulation of domestic universal services tariffs.

Amendments Nos. 42 to 44, inclusive, relate to accounting obligations placed on universal postal service providers, and seek to reflect more accurately the intention of the directive in relation to the submission of accounting information by the universal postal service provider to the European Commission. Amendments Nos. 45 and 46 clarify that the monitoring by ComReg of the quality of universal postal services relates to domestic services only. While intra-community services are monitored by the EU according to specified standards, the Bill provides that ComReg will have a role to play in any instance of those standards not being met, in that it can issue directions to a universal postal service provider in relation to corrective action to be taken.

As a result of discussions held on Committee Stage and in order to address concerns that Deputies Ferris and Mattie McGrath expressed on the matter of access to An Post's postal network, I brought forward an amendment to section 28. Amendment No. 47 adds to the list of issues, set out in that section, that ComReg must take into account, when settling any disputes around access. The main effect of the amendment is that it will be an explicit requirement that the capital investment made by a universal service provider in its network must be factored into ComReg's considerations when resolving a disagreement in relation to access issues.

Amendments Nos. 48 to 51 relate to section 30, which provides that a universal postal service provider may apply to ComReg for funding for the net cost of the universal postal service obligation. ComReg is required to assess any such application and determine whether or not the universal postal service obligation represents a net cost and is in its opinion an unfair financial burden.

The effect of these amendments is threefold. First, to clarify that any request for funding may relate only to a designation made under section 17, that is, no funding can be sought in regard to the current designation under the 2002 regulations. Second, to clearly set out the timeframe within which a designated universal postal service provider may submit a request for funding to ComReg, so as to give certainty to all players in regard to the timing of any potential request for funding. Third, to clarify that it is ComReg that is responsible for determining the net cost of the provision of the universal postal service and to widen the class of body that ComReg may appoint to verify the calculation of the net cost.

Amendments Nos. 58 and 59, relating to section 42, permit postal service providers to open postal packets only in cases where there is no return address and which do not comply with the providers' terms and conditions. This allows the provider to ascertain details of the sender in cases where a packet may, for example, be underpaid or not properly packaged. Amendment No. 70 clarifies that postal packets, whose transmission may be prohibited under this section, may legitimately be sent if they comply with the terms and conditions of the postal service provider concerned.

Amendment No. 85 relates to Chapter 11, which provides for the regulation of free postage for election candidates. Section 56 will enable the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to designate a postal service provider, for the purposes of providing free election post for candidates and determine the conditions under which it is to be provided. It also provides that An Post will be the provider of free election post until such time as the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform makes a designation order under this section.

The amendment to this section provides that the terms and conditions of this free postage and the sum payable from the Central Fund for it shall be agreed between the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and the relevant postal service provider rather than simply determined by the Minister. This amendment better reflects the contractual nature of these agreements. The amendment also better reflects the intention that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Minister for Defence are consulted, not in regard to the contract, but rather in order for them to satisfy themselves that electoral needs are met.

Amendment No. 88 relates to section 61, which enables the Minister to establish, maintain and operate a national postcode system. This amendment restates this section in its entirety in order to clarify that the national postcode system may be used by a person or body for purposes other than the provision of postal services. The amendment aims to avoid any unintended restriction on the use of postcodes. It provides for terms and conditions of a postcode contract regarding property rights and charging. It allows for the sharing of the national postcode system with public bodies free of charge to perform their functions.

Amendments Nos. 89 to 94, inclusive, introduce a number of amendments to the Broadcasting Act 2009. The purpose of these amendments is twofold: first, to give legal effect to two budget 2011 decisions in relation to television licence fee receipts and, second, to pave the way for the establishment of a funding scheme for public and private broadcasters in relation to the archiving of programme material. The proposed amendments are of vital importance, in particular as they ensure the ongoing funding of TG4. There is an urgent need to enact provisions to give effect to the decisions taken. These amendments seek to generate savings to the Exchequer, while ensuring that RTÉ and TG4 continue to be funded sufficiently to enable delivery of their statutory public service obligations. I am sure Senators will agree that it is crucial that Irish viewers and listeners can enjoy access to a quality, free to air broadcasting service into the future and in this regard support the rapid passage of this legislation.

The effect of amendment No. 95 is to ensure that An Post may continue to make schemes, which are statutory instruments, in regard to the services it provides that do not fall within the regulatory framework of the Bill. These services, for which An Post will still be able to make schemes, are non-postal services and relate primarily to money and postal orders.

I thank the Minister for his numerical tour de force. I call on the Minister to speak on the subject matter of amendments Nos. 1 to 4.

Are we discussing amendments Nos. 1 and 6?

The subject matter of amendments Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive.

The Bill requires that access to a universal service provider's network should be agreed in the first instance on a commercial basis. I do not believe that legislation that restricts any legitimate commercial activity would best serve the needs of postal users, the economy or An Post. Therefore, especially in the context of the contracting market size and the need for flexibility in meeting the challenges that the sector faces, I do not propose to accept the Opposition amendments. However, as I said in my opening address, and in reply to the legitimate concerns raised by Deputies Ferris and McGrath in the other House on the matter of access, I am introducing an amendment in section 33(8) of the Bill which provides that ComReg must consider the capital investment made by a universal service provider in its postal network in arriving at any decision when resolving disputes about access to the network. I believe this goes some way towards dealing with the concerns expressed in the amendments that have been tabled.

I must say the same in respect of amendment No. 2. In our view, a reliance on legal protections to shield An Post from competition will not ensure it is in a position to face the various challenges that lie ahead. Providing for the continuation of its legal monopoly is expressly prohibited by the directive. I introduced an amendment in the Dáil on Report Stage which reflects the commitment made in the programme for Government to safeguard universal postal services. The amendment extends the designation to 12 years, with the Minister now having a consenting role in any decision made by ComReg in the designation process. However, the Bill provides that ComReg may designate a universal postal service provider after that period of 12 years, and An Post could, if ComReg so decides, be designated beyond that period.

On a point of order, are we taking amendments Nos. 1 and 6 together?

No. My understanding is that the Minister has now explained the 21 amendment groups. If any Senator wishes to speak to any of the amendments——

Are we discussing all the groupings together?

All of the 21 groups. That is what the Minister has outlined. Senators may speak once.

How much time have we got? I would like to share with my colleagues.

No. We are on Report Stage now. The Senator can speak for as long as he wishes, but he can make only one contribution.

But we are being cut off at 7.30 p.m.

Is the Senator offering to speak now?

Yes. I am just saying that I do not want to hog the time, as we are doing all of this in one go and stopping at 7.30 p.m.

I was interested that the Minister mentioned the commitment in the programme for Government to protect the universal postal service. I have mentioned previously the statement in the programme for Government about the position of An Post as the State's postal service provider for the next 20 years. This will now not be the case, as we can see from this legislation and the amendments. The period now being talked about is 12 years, with a review after seven years. This does not provide certainty to An Post in line with the commitment made by Fine Gael and the Labour Party in their programme for Government, which was not a million years ago. It was not even an election promise, which is a bit unusual. The programme for Government states:

A universal postal service is an essential public service, in particular for rural communities and those disadvantaged communities affected by digital divide. A publicly owned, commercially viable, profitable and efficient An Post is critical to the long-term viability of the postal market. We will enact into law the Postal Services Bill which opens postal market to competition. Will protect universal service obligation by assigning it to An Post for at least 20 years, make provision for state subvention and require that any decision by ComReg to reassign or scrap USO is subject to ministerial approval.

As the Minister knows, this did not come from the Labour Party manifesto. Lord Denning was even quoted: what is said in an election manifesto is not a contractual obligation, but then again it is probably not worth the paper it is written on either. However, the commitment to which I refer is not from an election manifesto; it is from a programme for Government from just over four months ago. We are not happy that the Government is doing this after giving that commitment. I ask the Minister to consider this. There are some worthy amendments proposed by my colleagues, which were also made in the Dáil by Opposition parties.

I also refer to the provision for the post code system to acknowledge place names and locations in the Irish language. With that in mind and bearing in mind that the debate on the Bill is being guillotined, I ask the Minister to provide an answer on that most important issue. Fundamentally, the postal service as we know it will be radically changed. Other European countries have managed to comply with the European directives without taking the steps that are being proposed in this legislation. We must ensure that rural areas will be provided with the service they should be getting and that they are getting at the moment. Unfortunately, however, this is being changed, even since January. I ask the Minister to come back to us with regard to the commitment in the programme for Government. I will not speak any more as I want to ensure my colleagues have a chance to speak, but I ask him to address that specific point.

I welcome the Minister. I would like to speak to the amendments in group 5. There is much concern in rural Ireland about the future of postal services and the potential downgrading of An Post. I am sure the Minister is aware of that. Many arguments were made on Second Stage, both here and in the Dáil, about the fact that the post office has a social dimension and is not just about the provision of postal services. Local post offices are much more than just a service that delivers post. In many towns and villages across the State, they are seen as pillars of the community — a place where people interact socially, which is important for pensioners and people who are isolated due to a lack of public transport. There is a dependency on An Post in rural Ireland. That is why I want to see An Post retained as the only provider of the collection and delivery of letters.

An Post has served us very well and I do not see why we would consider its privatisation. While the Minister will say we are simply opening the market to competition, we saw what happened with Eircom, which led to the privatisation of the industry. We then saw the slow roll-out, almost at a snail's pace, of broadband infrastructure which proved to be a disaster for rural communities. For these reasons, I cannot support what the Minister is proposing in the Bill.

The Minister will recall that when he sat on the Opposition benches with Sinn Féin Members, the then Minister had no understanding of social ownership, the social dimension or the social needs post offices served. The Minister's party was supportive of the policies and proposals Sinn Féin was bringing forward. There was a meeting of minds in our parties on these issues, but it now seems there is a divergence between us and I wonder why that is the case.

I echo the point made by Senator Mark Daly on the commitment given in the programme for Government covering a 20 year period. Why is the Government deviating from that commitment? Why is the period being reduced from 20 years to 12? What is the reasoning behind this?

My main argument with the Bill is that I want to see An Post being the only service provider. I do not believe the opening up of the sector to competition will inevitably lead to the provision of a better service. Private operators will cherrypick the routes or services they want to provide and it might lead to a weakened system for many, especially those living in rural communities. For these reasons, I will be opposing the Bill and the amendments I cited in group 5.

Senator Mary White may speak to any of the 21 groupings of amendments.

I will speak about amendment No. 88 in group 19 which deals with the national postcode system. I propose that we not support the area postcode system decided on by the former Minister with responsibility for communications in the previous Government, Eamon Ryan. As noted, Fine Gael and the Labour Party supported a distinctly more unambiguous postcode system in their recent manifestos. For example, the Fine Gael manifesto read: "Fine Gael will introduce a new postcode system that works on the principle of codes unique to the location of buildings as opposed to the Government's current plan for an area code system". Why has the Government altered its previous position on this matter? Why is the provision included in the Bill much broader in terms of who the system will benefit?

The system of postcodes which the Government intends to introduce is based on 1960s technology, pre-scanners, pre-GPS and pre-satnav systems. A system of postcodes has been in the pipeline for many years. However, it was always thought by the general public and An Post that postcodes were unnecessary. An Post always stated it did not need postcodes to do its job, even though it now appears to have changed its stance on the subject. The truth of the matter is that such a system would be of no benefit to rural communities. Practically 40% of the population is rural based. Ireland has the largest percentage of rural dwellers in Europe. The reason such a system would be of no benefit is that in many rural areas there are no street names, let alone house names. Without this information postcodes would lead the postman to a general area or townland in which there may be up to 50 properties. He would still have to wander around and ask for directions.

The Bill proposes that additional characters be added to the postcode for selected organisations such as the Revenue Commissions and the Department of Social Protection in order to find the correct properties. However, the owner of a property who might have to dial 999 to call for an ambulance would not be in possession of a postcode to unambiguously identify his or her house. Neither would a courier, a census enumerator or even a political canvasser be able to use the postcode to identify individual properties.

A report by PA Consulting released in 2008 on the website of the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources estimated the cost of implementing this inefficient postal system. It was predicted that the total cost would be approximately €45 million. I, therefore, ask the Government to reassess its options. There is state-of-the-art technology available which allocates codes to individual buildings. This is the technology developed by an Irish company based in Cork and it is so advanced that it has recently been incorporated by a leading international company, Garmin. I propose that the Government invest in implementing this technology to ensure taxpayers' money is not wasted on a substandard system. Not only would an investment in the company mentioned be efficient and economical, it would lead to the creation of employment in our jobs-straved economy.

I strongly urge my colleagues to reject the Bill and force the Government to remove all of these faults from the system under consideration. We need a more proficient, economically-friendly system, not one that will be inefficient and of no use to a significant percentage of the population. Passing the Bill today would not only be wrong, it would also be a serious waste of money, something of which we must all be conscious when making decisions, as money is one thing we do not have.

I wish the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, every success in his position and I am confident he will do a superb job.

Tagaim go hiomlán leis an méid a dúirt an Seanadóir White romham agus ní rachaidh mé siar ar na pointí sin seachas le rá i ndáiríre má táimid ag breathnú chun cinn, caithfear pé rud a dhéanfar ó thaobh na postcodes a bheith future proofed, caithfear dul i ngleic leis an teicneolaíocht nua atá againn idir satailít agus GPS agus mar sin. San áit ina bhfuil mé i mo chónaí ar an gCeathrú Rua ar an gCaorán Beag, ní oibreodh postchód i mo chás nó i gcás go leor daoine eile atá ina gcónaí i gceantair thuaithe bunaithe ar an mholadh atá déanta. Tá sé tábhachtach go dtabharfar san áireamh an cineál teicneolaíochta nua atá againn agus go mbeidh úsáid aige sin in go leor rannóga eile sa Rialtas agus sna Ranna Stáit éagsúla.

Tá deis iontach eile ag an Aire maidir le cúrsaí Gaeilge leis an mBille seo agus an obair atá á déanamh aige maidir leis na postchóid náisiúnta — an Ghaeilge a chur san áireamh sa chineál códaíochta a bheidh á dhéanamh, nach mbeimid ag brath ar Bhéarla na banríona amháin nuair a dhéanfar an chódaíocht, go dtabharfar aitheantas do logainmneach bailte i nGaeilge agus, go háirithe sa Ghaeltacht, an leagan Gaeilge de na logainmneacha a choinneáil. Impím ar an Aire nuair atá an conradh á thabhairt amach don chomhlacht sin, go mbeidh sin mar choinníol: go gcaithfear aitheantas a thabhairt don chéad teanga náisiúnta atá againn. Tá sin ríthábhachtach sa gcomhthéacs ina bhfuilimid ag feidhmiú. Táim cinnte mar Ghaeilgeoir é féin go mbeidh sé breá ábalta sin a chur i bhfeidhm agus níl aon fáth ó thaobh na teicneolaíochta de nach ndéanfaí a leithéid. Tá a fhios agam go bhfuil stocaireacht déanta ag cuid mhaith de na heagrais Ghaeilge ar an Aire maidir leis an gceist sin agus iarraim air an chomhairle sin a thógáil ar bord.

Cuirim fáilte mhór roimh na leasuithe ó thaobh an Achta Craolacháin. Tugann sé aitheantas d'iar-fhostóir de mo chuid féin, TG4, maidir leis an stádas atá aige mar chraoltóir náisiúnta poiblí. Caithfimid cuimhneamh nuair a tháinig an ceadúnas teilifíse isteach i dtosach báire, ní raibh ann ach craoltóir poiblí amháin, RTÉ, ach tá athrú aeráide tagtha agus tá dhá chraoltóir phoiblí againn agus tá aitheantas nach mór bainte amach ag TG4 mar chraoltóir atá ina sheasamh ar an stáitse domhanda. Níl orainn ach breathnú ar chláir ar nós "1916 — Seachtar na Cásca" le feiceáil an cineál caighdeáin agus an cineál seirbhíse poiblí gur féidir leis a thabhairt. Tréaslaím leis an Aire as ucht an tacaíocht bhreise seo a chur san Acht do TG4.

Táim ag tacú leis na moltaí atá déanta ag mo chomhghleacaí maidir leis An Post agus an greasán oifigí poist ar fud na gceantar tuaithe. Mar dhuine atá i mo chónaí faoin tuath, ní féidir beag is fiú a dhéanamh de na hoifigí poist agus caithfear an gréasán sin a chur san áireamh.

Amendments Nos. 1 and 6 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 9, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following:

" "inward mail centre" is the last centralised automated processing location prior to transmission to the distribution centre;".

The Minister did not accept this amendment on Committee Stage, which is the reason we have retabled on Report Stage. We seek to ensure post will be delivered to recipients rather than being taken from a centre and dropped in post offices. I am concerned that An Post and other postal services will cherrypick the easy options. That is why we are specifically tabling this amendment, which would insert "inward mail centre". I hope the Minister will support the amendment.

I regret that at this late stage it is not possible for me to accept the amendment. I explained why I considered that any restriction on the commercial role of An Post is undesirable. Listening to some of the contributions — I identify with many of the sentiments — it is clear that speakers do not accept that what I am doing is transposing an EU directive. There are central matters in which I do not have freedom to make changes that some Senators would like.

We are now in a competitive environment and the privatisation of Telecom Éireann is not analogous because we are not discussing privatisation. It is true that the country suffered economically because of a lack of investment in broadband, etc., arising from the manner in which what was Telecom Éireann changed ownership on a number of occasions and was asset-stripped. There is no intention, on my part as Minister or on the part of the Government, to privatise An Post. However, as it must function in a competitive environment in future as a result of the directive, I cannot shackle it in the manner in which Senator Cullinane believes is advantageous. As we go through the amendments I will have an opportunity to reply to some of the points raised by other Senators.

I have been informed that The Netherlands sought a derogation with respect to that EU directive. If it was good enough for that state it can be good enough for us. We cannot hide behind EU directives on every issue. There is a responsibility to ensure we act in the interests of citizens here. We have the opportunity to seek a derogation from any EU directive if we so wish.

I will deal with amendment No. 6 very quickly. The Minister will remember that postcodes were to be introduced to Ireland by January 2008, more than three and a half years ago. Little has happened in the intervening period due to clear opposition to previous proposals. However, in a last minute effort to rush matters before the election, a tender process to select an organisation to implement the planned postcode system was commenced on 17 January 2011, and this tender was to proceed on the basis of the 2006 report by the postcode project board, which recommended an area-based post code. That was criticised in the Oireachtas report referred to earlier.

In addition, a few days before the tender was announced, officials from the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources were quoted in an article in The Irish Times stating that a precise digital address code, such as that designed by Garmin, would not provide the basis of the national system. Such a statement serves several purposes, one of which was to emphasise that a precise code as advocated would not be selected. A minimum turnover of €40 million is required for a business to enter the process, which highlights that the tender process is not to design a suitable post code but rather to find a large business process outsourcing company to implement post code design which has already been decided.

These are the reasons we have concerns about the Government proposals. I would welcome a response from the Minister and I hope he can support the amendment.

Debate adjourned.