Dáil Éireann - Volume 296 - 09 February, 1977

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Telephone Service.

11. Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick (Dublin Central) and Mr. Gallagher asked the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs if he is aware of the dissatisfaction and unrest due to poor work conditions and facilities amongst telephonist at the telephone exchange in Ballinrobe, County Mayo; and if he has any plans to initiate much needed improvements.

Dr. Cruise-O'Brien: I am aware that telephonists in Ballinrobe are dissatisfied with the accommodation and staff facilities in the telephone exchange there. The Department have been trying for some time to acquire a suitable site on which to erect a new manual exchange to replace the existing one which is too small, as well as to meet some other needs. Acquisition of the origional site selected was held up because of protracted legal difficulties which have not yet been resolved. When it became evident last year that it could still take a long time to clear the legal formalities in relation to this it was decided to get an alternative site for the manual exchange building. Negotiations for the leasing of this site have recently been completed. Work on the provision of the new exchange building on this site is now in hands and will be pressed ahead as quickly as possible. Meantime, the Department are examining the possibility of providing welfare facilities in rented acommodation close to the exchange and of improving the position for the staff in any other way possible.

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick (Dublin Central): Could the Minister give any indication when this new building will be completed and the facilities available?

Dr. Cruise-O'Brien: The new exchange will be ready for occupation about the end of this year but every effort will be made to have it available before then.

12. Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick (Dublin Central) asked the Minister for Posts [1129] and Telegraphs if he is satisfied that the contract section of his Department is adequately staffed to deal with the increasing demand for telephone service.

Dr. Cruise-O'Brien: The staff serving at present is not sufficient in number for the volume of work and extensive overtime is accordingly being worked. A competition will be held shortly from which it is hoped to recruit more staff.

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick (Dublin Central): Could the Minister give some indication when this additional staff will be available? The information I have is that there is a backlog due to not having sufficient staff in this section.

Dr. Cruise-O'Brien: The Deputy is correct, there is a backlog, and my Department are urgently concerned with this. The first necessity is the holding of the competition, as the Deputy will agree. The holding of the competition was held up owing to negotiations with the staff which were rather protracted regarding the conditions of the competition. The Department are now pressing the Civil Service Commission to hold a competition as soon as possible. Until I have a definite reply from the Commission I will not be able to give a definite answer on this.

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick (Dublin Central): Could the Minister say whether any staff were recruited in 1975 and 1976 due to this expansion?

Dr. Cruise-O'Brien: The staff of the section was last increased in 1974. As the Deputy is aware, there have been restraints throughout the civil service on the recruitment of additional staff during that period as a result of the repercussions of the world economic crisis but we are anxious now to proceed with this competition and with recruitment.

13. Mr. Toal asked the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs the cost of the issue of the 1977 telephone directory; the estimated number of alterations and additions in it as compared with [1130] the 1976 issue; and if he has considered the possibility of savings by the issue of directories at intervals longer than one year and the periodic issue of supplements.

Dr. Cruise-O'Brien: The main cost is on the production and printing. This is done under contract to my Department and it would be contrary to established practice in relation to contract matters to disclose information about costs.

The estimated number of alterations and additions in the 1977 directory (parts one and two) will be about 95,000 or over 30 per cent of total entries as compared with 85,000 or again over 30 per cent of total entries in the 1976 issue. It is considered that less frequent issue of the directory would not result in any real economy. In this connection I would refer the Deputy to Volume 286, column 1601, of the Official Report which contains a statement I made on 16th December, 1975, on the same point.

Mr. MacSharry: Could the Minister state what steps have been taken to facilitate the thousands of people left out of the new directory?

Dr. Cruise-O'Brien: Does the Deputy want to put down a separate question? That does not arise out of my reply.

Mr. MacSharry: The Minister does not know.

14. Mr. Briscoe asked the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs the waiting list for telephone service in 1973, 1974, 1975 and 1976.

Dr. Cruise-O'Brien: The approximate number of waiting applications at 31st December in each of the years in question was: 1973, 33,000; 1974, 42,000; 1975, 42,600; 1976, 40,000.

15. Mr. Briscoe asked the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs the number of applications for telephone service received in each of the last four years by his Department.

Dr. Cruise-O'Brien: About 41,000 in 1973, 39,000 in 1974, 37,000 in 1975 and 36,000 in 1976.

[1131] Mr. Power: Could the Minister comment on the fact that the numbers he has indicated show that at no time did the number of new connections match the demand? The backlog must be increasing each year. Would the Minister see to it that those who want telephones at least will have them dealt with year by year?

Dr. Cruise-O'Brien: The most succinct way I can answer that question is to supply the Deputy with figures for demand and connections in 1972 and 1976. In 1972 the demand was 32,000 and connections were 25,600, running, that is to say, not far from 7,000 below demand. In 1976 the demand was 36,000 and connections were 38,700. In that year for the first time in many years the rate of connections topped the rate of demand.

Mr. Power: Would the Minister comment on the fact that usually an increase in the number of telephones each year is looked upon as an indication of increasing affluence and that the number of telephones has decreased apparently in the last year?

Dr. Cruise-O'Brien: I am delighted that the Deputy has asked that question. It is quite true that in that period, 1974 to 1976, the fall in the rate of telephone demand was an index of the effects of the world depression setting in in the year 1974 on Ireland. However, in 1976 there was something of a turning. I will give the House the comparative statistics for the different quarters of 1975-76. First, let me give the 1976 figures: first quarter 7,500; second quarter 8,450; third quarter 9,150; fourth quarter 10,900. The improved demand is reflected also in the small part of the present year which has gone by. It was 4,100 in January, 1977, as against 3,500 in January, 1976. In the fourth quarter of 1976 the figure as compared with the corresponding quarter of 1975 was higher for the first time. In 1975 it was 10,650, in 1976 it was 10,900, so the indications are that demand having gone down for some time then flattened out, is now rising again. I would agree with the Deputy that telephone demand is quite a sensitive index of how business is looking and [1132] feeling. This index, together with other indices, bears out the diagnosis of the Minister for Finance that in 1976 we started emerging from the recession.

16. Mr. Briscoe asked the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs the number of applicants at present on the waiting list for telephone service in each of the Dublin postal districts.

17. Mr. Briscoe asked the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs the number of telephones that have been installed in each of the Dublin postal districts for each of the last four years.

Dr. Cruise-O'Brien: With the permission of the Ceann Comhairle, I propose to take Questions Nos. 16 and 17 together.

I regret that it is not possible to furnish the information requested as statistics of telephone applications and installations are not maintained on a postal district basis.

Mr. Briscoe: Could I ask the Minister in what way they are maintained, by county or otherwise?

Dr. Cruise-O'Brien: Statistics of waiting applications of demand and of connections are maintained on the following basis: (a) exchange areas, (b) engineering districts, for example, 01 area Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Drogheda, Portlaoise, Galway, and Sligo and (c) nationally, that is, of course, all engineering districts combined. Each engineering district comprises a number of exchange areas. For example, 01 area covers 50 such areas and, of these, 23 are in the Dublin postal district which embraces an area bounded by Santry on the north side, Chapelizod and Palmerstown on the west, and Ballinteer on the south. The Dublin postal districts bear no relation to the exchange areas in the 01 area. For example, Dublin 4 postal district contains portions of Crown Alley, Merrion, Beggar's Bush and Nutley exchange areas, and so on.

Mr. Briscoe: If I ask the Minister another question about the number of connections, and so on, in exchange areas I will get the information, I gather.

[1133] Dr. Cruise-O'Brien: Yes, indeed. I would be happy to oblige the Deputy.

18. Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs if he will facilitate the general public, in view of the substantial increase in telephone charges, by replacing the penny slot on public telephone boxes immediately.

Dr. Cruise-O'Brien: Arrangements are being made to replace coinbox mechanisms in automatic public coinbox telephones with new mechanisms catering for 2p, 5p and 10p coins. It is hoped to commence introducing the new coinboxes within the next three to four months.

Mr. Allen: In view of the fact that local calls now cost 5p does the Minister not feel he is not facilitating the general public? Unless they have a 5p piece going into a telephone booth they will be charged 6p for a local telephone call which will increase telephone charges by another 25 per cent on top of his present increase of 25 per cent, which makes a total increase of 45 per cent?

Dr. Cruise-O'Brien: I do not agree with the Deputy's interpretation which is altogether unfounded.

Mr. Allen: Would the Minister not agree to facilitate the general public by opening the 1p slots in the public telephone booths?

Dr. Cruise-O'Brien: The new telephone charges will apply to operator-controlled trunk calls from coin box telephones from 1st April next. It will not be possible to introduce the 5p local calls from automatic coinboxes as the automatic coinbox mechanism has to be modified using components which have to be specially manufactured. It will be about eight months before the necessary components will be available from the manufacturers. Modifications of coinboxes will be carried out by the engineering branch staff and will take about three months from the time components become available. It is not proposed to introduce a 5p local call fee for manual coinboxes until the automatic coinboxes are modified. The new automatic [1134] coinboxes with a 10p slot will also have to be modified for 5p local call dialling as they are designed for 4p local call working. This is a small job. Any not actually installed at the time the 5p components became available will be modified before they are installed in kiosks.

Mr. Allen: Can the Minister say what the total cost will be?

Dr. Cruise-O'Brien: The total cost of what?

Mr. Allen: Of the modification of the telephones?

Dr. Cruise-O'Brien: If the Deputy cares to put down a question about that I will answer it.