Dáil Éireann - Volume 370 - 04 December, 1986

Supplementary Estimates, 1986. - Vote 43: Communications.

[1605] Minister for Health (Mr. B. Desmond): I move:

That a supplementary sum not exceeding £2,500,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of December 1986, for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Minister for Communications and of certain other services administered by that Office, for a cost alleviation payment and for payment of certain grants and grants-in-aid.

Minister of State at the Department of Communications (Mr. Nealon): This Supplementary Estimate arises principally from the need to make provision for a shortfall of £2.7 million in the appropriations-in-aid from Eurocontrol, £1.2 million for final payments on The Irish Spruce and £0.5 million for a new Cork-Swansea ferry. It also provides for new subheads for the Dublin runway project and a new grant-in-aid for capital purposes for the Dublin Transport Authority. These two new subheads do not involve extra Exchequer expenditure but rather the transfer of funds from existing subheads. Finally, there are other miscellaneous small expenditures and receipts not provided for in the original Estimates. The gross amount required is £4,250,000. This is offset by savings of £1,750,000 on other subheads, giving a net excess of £2,500,000. Following are details of the major extra expenditure items in sequential order by subhead.

Telecommunications equipment may be connected to the national telecommunications network subject to two conditions: it must be approved as being compatible with the network and it must be supplied under licence granted by the Minister. In 1984-85 the cost of testing was borne on subhead C2 of the Department's Vote and recovered through licence fees. The Minister decided in 1985 to rationalise the system with effect from 1 January 1986 by making applicants pay [1606] the costs of testing directly to the testing houses.

It was necessary, however, to include an amount in the 1986 Estimates to cover the cost of testing equipment for which applications had been made and paid for in 1985 but were not completed until 1986. The additional sum now sought arises because at the time the 1986 Estimates were being framed it was not possible to make an accurate estimate of the number of applications which would be outstanding due to the wide range of telecommunications equipment available and the liberalisation of the telecommunications market. In addition, a glut of applications was received towards the end of 1985 in anticipation of the rationalisation to which I have just referred.

An increase of £140,000 is sought under subhead D1 to meet interest charges arising on borrowings by CIE to purchase buses from GAC (Ireland) Ltd. In March 1985 the Government authorised additional borrowing by CIE of £10 million for the purchase of buses and also that any extra financial charges incurred on the additional borrowings would be recouped to CIE out of the Vote for this Department. The interest charges for which recoupment is now sought arose in 1985 but could not be paid until now due to lack of supporting documentation.

Subhead F1 provides for a grant-in-aid to RTE in respect of the net receipts from television licence fees. It is now estimated that net receipts will exceed the budgeted figure by £520,000 necessitating an equivalent increase in the grant-in-aid to RTE.

The task of collecting television licence fee revenue and of detecting unlicensed and incorrectly licensed sets is delegated by statutory order from the Minister for Communications to An Post. Gross licence fee revenue is paid by An Post to my Department and is brought to account as an appropriation-in-aid (Y17) of my Vote. A payment equivalent to gross receipts less collection and other minor costs is made from subhead F1 to RTE.

Subhead G provides for payments to [1607] An Post in respect of issuing television licences, collecting fees and detecting and prosecuting licence fee evaders. I am seeking an additional provision of £237,000 under this subhead. The increase arises from the introduction this year of a new agreement between An Post and RTE which provides for tiered payment rates and incentive bonuses. depending on the number of licences sold. The increases sought under subheads F1 and G, totalling £757,000 are offset fully by the additional Appropriation-in-Aid under subhead Y17, £532,000, and savings under subhead F2, £225,000 — grants to RTE in respect of relay licence fees.

The extra receipts reflects the continuing efforts of both An Post and RTE in reducing the number of unlicensed and incorrectly licensed television sets. While full credit is due to An Post for their success to date, much work remains to be done in this area and I am considering how the present arrangements can be improved upon.

On 12 December 1985 the Government approved the construction of a new runway and associated facilities at Dublin Airport at an estimated cost of £31.26 million in 1985 prices. Traditionally, developments at State airports have been financed by means of voted capital grants from my Department's Vote. However, in view of the heavy demands on the Exchequer, the scale of expenditure involved, the expected commercial rate of return on the project and the strong financial performance of Aer Rianta in recent years, it has been decided that the project should be financed primarily from non-Exchequer sources. Under these arrangements, Aer Rianta will finance about 75 per cent of the cost of the project from their own resources and from borrowings. The remaining 25 per cent of the cost will be financed by Exchequer capital grants.

Preliminary expenditure of around £900,000 is being incurred on the project in 1986, mainly in respect of the provision of infrastructural services. This expenditure is being financed by way of [1608] Exchequer capital grants which had already been provided for in the existing subhead H2. Because of the size of the project and the expected level and nature of expenditure on it, it has been decided to create a separate subhead to provide for the Exchequer investment in the runway. This is being done in a new subhead H3.

It is anticipated that an excess of £120,000 will arise on subhead L in respect of contributions to international organisations. This arises principally because the draft Eurocontrol budget did not become available until after my Department's Estimate had been framed and our contribution to that organisation was greater than expected. In addition, provision is now being made for a contribution to the International Telecommunications Union. A substantial portion of this contribution will be met by Bord Telecom Éireann.

The Dublin Transport Authority was established on 12 November. The provision under subhead S2 is a technical adjustment in order to create a new capital grant-in-aid subhead for capital expenditure by the newly formed Authority.

The purpose of the subhead is to continue the traffic management work previously carried out by the Dublin transportation task force. Projects to be financed by the Authority in 1986 will include ongoing work on Dublin Corporation's urban traffic control system involving the computerised co-ordination of city centre traffic signals and the incorporation into this scheme, on a pilot basis, of closed circuit television. By allowing direct observation of traffic situations as they arise, CCTV will make the traffic signalling system more responsive to actual traffic demands at any given time and help to maximise the benefits of UTC.

Funds will also be required to meet costs arising from the pilot electronic bus priority system through which buses, which are behind schedule, are given priority at signalised junctions. The Authority are currently examining proposals for the wider development of this [1609] scheme. In addition to capital expenditure, the Authority will also be incurring expenses of a current nature such as staff, accommodation and administrative costs. These will be kept to the minimum and I am confident that the Authority will produce concrete results and recommendations.

An additional sum of £1.2 million is likely to be incurred under subhead V and will represent the final payments that will arise on my Vote in respect of the Irish Spruce. From the date of liquidation of ISL to September 1986, total care and maintenance and other payments on the ship are payable from the Communications Vote. The sums involved amount to around £3.1 million. Of this sum, two initial such payments totalling £376,631 were made in December 1984 and January 1985 from the central fund under the 1982 Act. These payments were made under the guarantee on the basis of advice from the Attorney General that the Minister for Finance had power under the 1982 Act to meet these expenses. Subsequent legal advice did not confirm this, but indicated instead that these costs were not liabilities under the guarantee. Following this advice, the Comptroller and Auditor General was informed on 29 July 1985 that this situation would be regularised and arrangements made to reimburse the central fund. This is being done under this Supplementary Estimate.

Under the Postal and Telecommunications Services Act, 1983, statutory responsibility for the operation and development of the postal and telecommunications services was vested in two semi-State bodies, An Post and Telecom Éireann respectively, with effect from 1 January 1984. In the period to end December 1985, the traditional financial arrangements provided for in that Act were effected. During this period, the bank account of the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, held at the Bank of Ireland, College Green, Dublin, was held open to clear various transactions associated with the transitional financial arrangements and to honour cheques and [1610] other negotiable instruments drawn on the account up to 31 December 1983.

At the end of 1985, cheques and other negotiable instruments to the value of approximately £180,000 had not been presented for payment. At the beginning of 1986, the bank account was formally closed following the provision of a token subhead X in my Vote to honour any such negotiable instruments presented for payment following the closing of the account. It is expected that by the end of the year negotiable instruments to the value of £41,000 will have been presented for payment, leaving a balance of approximately £140,000. It is probable that the bulk of these outstanding cheques will now never be presented for payment, but in order to cater for such an eventuality I intend to provide a token subhead in the Estimate for my Department in 1987 for this purpose.

Following a recent Government decision, this Supplementary Estimate makes provision for a grant of £500,000 towards the cost of a car ferry service from Cork to Swansea in 1987 by Swan-sea-Cork Car Ferries Limited. I understand that the promoters of the service are at present actively engaged in preparations for the commencement of the service.

Eurocontrol, the European organisation for the safety of air navigation, was set up in 1960 to provide a common system of air traffic control in the upper airspace of member states. Ireland joined the organisation in 1965. The principal task of the organisation is the collection of the charges levied on user airlines on the basis of a fixed unit rate relative to each state's costs of providing en route air navigation facilities and services and its airspace.

We have recently been informed by Eurocontrol that receipts for the current year will amount to only £8.8 million, a shortfall of £2.7 million on the original estimate of £11.5 million.

Mr. Wilson: Why is that?

Mr. Nealon: The main reasons for the [1611] shortfall can be attributed to an over-recovery in previous years and to the fall-off in USA traffic because of perceived fears of terrorism and unrest in Europe.

I commend the Supplementary Estimate to the House.

An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Wilson has 25 minutes.

Mr. Wilson: First, I want to deal with the individual amounts as outlined in the Supplementary Estimates. I got two versions of this, the first being for £2 million and the second for £2.5 million. I presume that the sum of £500,000 that appears in the second version here is the money allocated to the Cork-Swansea ferry service. The title says that it is a Supplementary Estimate of the amount required for year ending 31 December 1986 for the salaries and expenses of the offices of the Minister for Communications and certain other services administered by that office, for a cost alleviation payment and for payment of certain grants and grants-in-aid. I do not know what the cost alleviation payment is if it is not that same £500,000. There does not seem to be a cost alleviation payment in the sense that we had in this Estimate, £5 million to Aer Lingus for the transatlantic service. I am a little puzzled about that.

There is a CIE grant here — this refers to subhead D.1. It is only a few short hours since we were dealing with CIE on the broad basis of their reorganisation into four companies, or into Córas Iompair Éireann itself and three subsidiary companies, so that I shall not delay very much on this. However, it is significant that this subhead relates to the bus building operation at Shannon. I, as well as other contributors to the debate on CIE reorganisation, indicated the foolishness of having a facility at Shannon such as we have there and not using it.

The House has been led to understand that the building of buses for CIE is being phased out. They are finishing off 25 buses at present. I pointed out to the House that the total capital investment is [1612] still there and still belongs to CIE, that all the machinery, tooling and so on necessary for the building of buses of whatever size are still in place and belong to CIE. I take this opportunity to ask the Minister of State to talk to his Minister and impress on him the desirability of using these resources, particularly as there are also skills available in the area to make use of these resources.

The next item I see here in which I am interested is Aer Rianta. Deputy Leyden will deal with some of the An Post and Telecom Éireann items. I should like to make the point — and I am dealing with subhead H.3 — that a tendency has started and is well under way now of not giving that company their proper name. I believe Aer Rianta themselves are responsible for this “Irish Airports” we are reading about. Aer Rianta is a well recognised name and I want to put on the record my objection to what is happening with regard to that name.

I am a little puzzled about a provision for Aer Rianta, that is, for the new Dublin runway. In the original Revised Book of Estimates, 1986, in the breakdown of subhead H we read that Dublin Airport was allocated an estimated £2,139,000, Shannon Airport £1,271,000 and Cork Airport £501,000. Subhead H.2 seems to be wiped out and a new subhead H.3 inserted. Why is this necessary? If the money is being allocated for Dublin Airport, why is it not under subhead H.2 (1) as on page 180 of the Book of Estimates? What is the purpose of changing the actual subhead? There must be some reason for it because it is not done without reason.

The Minister this evening reiterated what the Minister, Deputy Mitchell said last June when we were taking the general Estimate. He said that the method of financing Aer Rianta has changed. The Minister said today:

However, in view of the heavy demands on the Exchequer, the scale of expenditure involved, the expected commercial rate of return on the project and the strong financial performance of Aer Rianta in recent [1613] years, it has been decided that the project should be financed primarily from non-Exchequer sources. Under these arrangements, Aer Rianta will finance about 75 per cent of the cost of the project from their own resources and from borrowings. The remaining 25 per cent of the cost will be financed by Exchequer capital grants.

According to the general Book of Estimates, Dublin Airport was supposed to get £2,139,000 and now, under a different subhead another £900,000 is being added. I am puzzled about that. Why do we not have subhead H.2 — Dublin Airport — £3,039,000? Is there any reason for this? I am sorry the Minister did not avail of this opportunity to let us know how much has been spent on the runway this year. We know what provision the Minister is making but we do not know what borrowings Aer Rianta have made, and we do not know what capital from their profits Aer Rianta have provided for this project.

The Minister went on to say:

Preliminary expenditure of around £900,000 is being incurred on the project in 1986....

That seems to indicate that the only money spent on the runway in 1986 is the money provided under subhead H.3. I do not know if that is true but I would like the Minister to tell me. A question arises immediately from that: what money has been returned to the Exchequer from Aer Rianta in 1986? As the House knows, Aer Rianta send their profits to the Exchequer each year. Has that happened in 1986? A preliminary expenditure of £900,000 for this runway has been mentioned, but it seems to be the money provided by the Minister.

I have a number of notes to hand about various points connected with this matter, but I am puzzled about why we have a new subhead. It may mean that the new subhead caters exclusively for the Dublin Airport runway and that other expenditure for Dublin Airport will be shown separately. I suppose I should welcome that seeing that transparency is the [1614] in word for all accounts in public companies. If that is a move towards greater transparency, I welcome it.

At column 1489 of the Official Report on 27 June last the Minister said that some months earlier the Government had approved the provision of a new 8,650 ft. runway at an estimated cost of £31 million and he mentioned the change in funding. The only point which is opaque, rather than transparent, is how much Aer Rianta will be able to fund out of profits and how much they will have to borrow. We will be able to see how much is involved because the Dáil will have to vote the money for this project.

On the subhead in this Estimate making provision for the bulk carrier, the original Estimate was for £400,000 and we are now voting £1,600,000. This subhead under which we are being asked to provide extra money to the tune of £1,600,000 is the saddest aspect of the whole communications and transport area. If the Minister and his Department have achievements, they will all be vitiated by the fact that Irish Shipping were liquidated and we are continuing to pay for that. I will oppose this Supplementary Estimate to show the distaste I have, that Deputies on this side of the House have, and that many Members of the Government parties have, with regard to what happened to Irish Shipping. In Irish Oifigiúil, 31 October, the most recent copy I could lay hands on, it is stated that £51,267,290 was issued under Irish Shipping Limited Acts, 1947 to 1984 and that £40,350,752 was paid out in 1985. It is a disgrace that a fine Irish public company was destroyed.

I have in front of me a record of payments of £90 million plus, and we have nothing for it. At the price The Irish Spruce fetched on the market, we could have 30 Irish Spruces for the money spent and recorded in Irish Oifigiúil and in this Supplementary Estimate. We do not need 30 Panama vessels at 70 million tonnes. If that money was husbanded and invested properly in the handy size ships, we could have a substantial fleet. For that reason the Government and the Minister deserve the castigation of this House. [1615] The Minister set up a committee to examine this problem and they told him that we need a fleet. He told me that in this House. Yet he has deprived us of a deep sea fleet and he has deprived long-serving loyal workers, right up to the masters rank, of their profession in which they took pride. The objectives and hopes of many young students who were training for this profession have been dashed. I have a short time to deal with this but I could spend all the time on this subhead which seeks to provide £1,600,000 and all for nothing. It is a big investment with nothing at the end of it. I invite Members of the House to examine the Iris Oifigiúil to see the scandal with regard to public funds that is implicit in the figures. I hope I never see the like of that performance again.

The figures of £51,250,000 and £14,350,000 have been mentioned. On top of that there is £25 million for the B&I but that is not under discussion at present. This House should be alerted to what is going on. If the Minister had a cooler head and the Government a steadier nerve — and I am making no excuses for the mistakes that were made in the chartering of vessels — they would have put out of business the man from Hong Kong, who was in charge of the company that was involved, and we would still have our fleet. We would than have been in a position to sell, even in a bad market, and not have a receiver doing it for us by getting rid of a fine serviceable vessel to the Yugoslavs for a mere bagatelle. That is all one could call it considering what it cost

Moneypoint will now be served totally by foreign ships. The Fianna Fáil Government, when making a decision to have The Irish Spruce built, specifically thought of it in the context of Money-point. Now the ESB will pay out moneys to foreign companies, not to Irish companies. I hope that when the Minister considers this he will make better plans. I am not indulging in any kind of gigantism. I would not like anybody to set forth on a policy of major investment or major [1616] purchasing at present but I would like to see a start made on the building of an Irish deep sea fleet, even if that is only a 6,000 tonne ship. I feel very strongly about that.

There are provisions under subhead W2 for the pensioners of Irish Shipping Limited. There is not enough provision for those people. They continue to dun this House and they are right. They have stated that they will not give up as long as the injustice lasts. They look around them and see people who, without ever taking their feet off dry land, have been generously rewarded by this House and by the State while wholly owned State companies were wound up or went into liquidation. It is difficult to remain dispassionate when dealing with that problem.

I want to comment on the Cork-Swansea provision. There seems to be a note of optimism in what the Minister said. I examined it carefully and I could not see that there was a positive statement that there would be a Cork-Swansea ferry next year. I do not know what the objective is; I have an idea that some people are thinking in terms of a summer service. I welcome the provision and I hope the ferry will be provided. It is difficult to tease out the economic implications of a ferry. Losses may occur in the actual running of a ferry but despite that the country may gain substantially. I do not suppose there ever was an actuary who could give a tight account of that. The people in the Cork-Kerry region are convinced that the ferry is a major economic contributor to the tourist industry in that area.

I know there was talk of an offer of £500,000 but that finally was not taken up. I understand there are business interests who want to provide this service. Naturally enough they want to embark on it if they think it will be a viable service. I do not want to be profligate in my suggestion but if nudging the £500,000 upwards would mean the provision of a service, let us not spoil the ship for a hap'orth of tar. I hope it will become a reality. Representatives from the region have indicated in this House [1617] and to me privately that they are very anxious that this service be got under way.

Under subhead K1 there is provision of £1,000 for wreck and salvage. It is particularly ad rem here. I had representations from a citizen of this city asking me to indicate to the Minister that as far as the Kowloon Bridge is concerned he, on behalf of the Government, should try to do the salvaging and perhaps make some money out of that disaster. He feels that the insurance company will pay the owners and that the large cargo of iron ore could be salvaged.

There are aspects of the Supplementary Estimate which I welcome but one thing that perhaps perturbs me is the whole sorry saga of Irish Shipping Limited. As I said in June it is enough to vitiate the good the Minister has done. He has done some good by way of legislation, apart from the fact that the legislation had been made ready in his Department before he took over. However, the one rotten apple is Irish Shipping Limited and that is enough to spoil the barrel for me.

Mr. Leyden: Like Deputy Wilson I should like to comment on the discrepancy between the draft estimate we received and the Supplementary Estimate issued today. The Supplementary Estimate today deals mainly with the proposed Swansea-Cork ferry. I would regard that as a last minute decision by the Government for electoral purposes.

Mr. Wilson: A death-bed conversion.

Mr. Leyden: We welcome the Government's move. Deputy Wilson has for a long time been campaigning for that service on behalf of our party. The Government's decision today is an indication of their last ditch efforts.

I should like to deal with the postal and telephone services and the broadcasting area. The Minister should request Bord Telecom to adopt a better sales campaign for the connection of telephone equipment. I note with concern that there is an embargo on the connection of private [1618] internal phones to the system. It appears that it is illegal to connect such phones to the system although many people bought private phones and connected them efficiently to the telephone system. The Minister should, if necessary, amend the Act, by order or otherwise, to ensure that that petty provision is omitted.

I note that in the year ending 30 September 1985 the total amount collected in licence fees was £32,981,628 and that the cost of collecting those fees was £3,616,500. When one bears in mind the amount collected in licence fees one must ask why viewers do not get more home produced programmes. The most popular programmes on the RTE 1 and RTE 2 schedules are home produced, such as the daily news, “Glenroe”, “Today Tonight”, “Encore”, “Questions and Answers” and other current affairs programmes. We need more drama on television. For a country that is so fortunate in having the finest theatres in the world it is surprising that we do not have more drama on our television stations. We should have more home produced shows and less of the imported material such as “Dallas”, “Dynasty”, “Falcon Crest” and other soap operas. I do not think those programmes are that entertaining.

We should concentrate more resources on Irish music and dancing. We do not give sufficient coverage to Irish cultural events which would prove very popular on television. There is a great need to extend the regional coverage of news events. A regional news service should be introduced for the different regions. I note with concern that the Kevin McDonald news round-up programme after the 6.30 p.m. news on radio is to be phased out in the new year. I appeal to the Minister of State to endeavour to have that decision changed. He should ensure that all regions get adequate coverage. That programme gave people an opportunity to put forward their point of view on national radio. There is a need to provide more regional studios and I recommend that some of the money being given to RTE should be devoted to building them. I suggest that such a studio be provided [1619] in my constituency, Roscommon-East Galway.

There is a feeling abroad that RTE transmit too many current affairs programmes, particularly on radio. From 8 a.m. with “Morning Ireland” to the late evening, RTE radio have many current affairs programmes. We have reached the stage at which the station have difficulty in getting different people to interview on those programmes. We must have a greater variety of topics and people to interview and there should be a recruitment of new personnel for RTE. Some of the presenters are very popular but they have been with the station for some time and irrespective of how good they are we should get new talent on radio and television. There is a view abroad that RTE have a club of people they choose from to appear on their shows regularly. It appears that those who are in the know are called on to appear on quiz shows and other programmes. I do not know if the Chair will permit me to discuss all aspects of broadcasting——

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy may raise matters that are relevant to the Estimate.

Mr. Leyden: It is relevant in that we are providing finance to RTE. There is widespread concern about the future of RTE. There is great scope for joint productions by RTE and private enterprise. In regard to section 31 of the Broadcasting Act 1960, will the Minister indicate if he proposes to review the working of the order made under that section in view of recent political developments, including the highly successful broadcasting of Dáil and Seanad business? I strongly recommend that “Today in the Oireachtas” be repeated in the morning. When the Minister comes to deciding whether to renew that section or not he should carefully consider the submission made by NUJ members in RTE and those made by the Repeal Section 31 Committee. One must ask how effective section 31 has been since its introduction. [1620] With modern developments such as cable systems and direct satellite broadcasting surely there is a contradiction in the implementation of that directive. RTE, which owns Dublin Cablesystems Limited and the Galway Cable Company, are responsible for piping BBC1, BBC2, ITV and Channel Four directly into the homes of many people in the country and those stations are not constrained by section 31. The Minister has approved the provision of receiving dishes for direct satellite broadcasting but he did not impose any restriction on the type of programmes to be relayed.

An Ceann Comhairle: I have allowed the Deputy much latitude on this subject.

Mr. Leyden: I think I am in order in discussing the use of the money being allocated to RTE. I sympathise with producers and programme managers because of the constraints under which they operate in relation to section 31. When we provide funding for RTE it is to cover them until 31 December 1986. By then RTE will have had 25 years of broadcasting. On behalf of Fianna Fáil I wish to extend to the RTE Authority, the management and the entire staff my sincerest congratulations on the work they have been doing in that quarter of a century. They have provided a first-class television service, second to none. From time to time we may criticise RTE, but fair constructive criticism is good. We provide the finance and we are entitled to criticise programmes we think could be improved.

The birth of RTE 2 was a welcome addition to the station's available programmes, but after 25 years of broadcasting I suggest it is time to review the operation of section 31. I appreciate the background against which the section was introduced and put into operation and I fully support the idea that it was needed at the time. After 25 years, though, I suggest the Minister should initiate a debate on the issue and set up a review group of qualified, experienced people to advise him and the incoming Minister for Communications on the operation of [1621] section 31. That section has made it extremely difficult for producers and framers of programmes in deciding whether to interview certain people. Without giving any commitment about changes that may be made before the order on section 31 is reviewed next January, I ask the Minister to consider amending it.

The Minister so far has failed to put through legislation setting up a local radio authority. It is four years since he was appointed, but we still have as many as 16 unlicensed radio stations throughout the country. On 5 July 1985 a debate was opened here on the Second Stage of a Bill to regularise this matter and to establish local radio by statute, but when the Labour Party voiced their objections the Bill was shelved and we have not seen it since. The Minister and the Minister of State have neglected their responsibility in this respect.

Of course there are ideological differences between Fine Gael and Labour on this issue and consequently it will be the duty of the incoming Fianna Fáil Minister to establish a local radio authority and have it in operation within six months so that order and regulation will be brought into this area. At the moment the position is chaotic. I have had many complaints about the abuse of the airwaves in this connection. People have been forced into setting up local radio but they want to come out of that twilight zone. They want to be licensed and to make their contributions to the Irish economy.

The Government have failed local communities by not providing legitimate local radio. We stand behind the people who want commercial and communityoriented radio services and when we are returned to power in the near future we will have no hesitation about bringing in legislation that will provide local radio for the Irish people in their localities. When local radio is established statutorily RTE will have a role to play in it. They can be useful in training personnel, in providing services and in giving advice.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy has [1622] been given advice and considerable latitude and he must not dwell on local radio.

Mr. Leyden: Part of the licence fee goes towards RTE for the provision of community radio on a trial basis. Therefore, I am in order in referring to that matter. As I have said, RTE will have a service to perform when local radio has been established. Some of the money is going towards Radio na Gaeltachta, which Fianna Fáil are proud to have established. After 25 years of television broadcasting it is time to provide a television service for the Gaeltachtaí to be named Teilifís na Gaeltachta. Have RTE been advised to carry out pilot schemes in preparation for such a service for Gaeltacht areas?

I do not think there is adequate provision for long wave radio. I would ask the Minister to expedite a decision and to approve the joint venture with Radio Luxembourg for broadcasting into Europe. It would give great opportunities to RTE staff, and we have the finest producers and broadcasters in the world. It is my intention, when Fianna Fáil return to office, to provide an opportunity to RTE to set up and establish a long wave radio service in conjunction with Radio Luxembourg. This will be established in the not too distant future and will give an opportunity to people in the broadcasting area to establish themselves in this new market.

Finally, the events of the next year will be a great opportunity for RTE to look at their position again. I recommend the Minister to take my advice and review the workings and operations of RTE in the light of 25 years of service to the Irish people.

Mr. M. Brennan: The Minister has made no money available for the completion of Sligo Airport. That is a shame because we had a wonderful service from Sligo to Dublin at one time. I once had the opportunity to fly from Sligo Airport to Dublin, and a journey that takes three and a half hours by car takes a half an hour by plane. An airport in Donegal has a daily service from Donegal to Scotland [1623] and I do not see why the Minister could not, before an election is called, make an announcement that money will be made available to complete Sligo Airport so that there will be regular flights from Sligo to Dublin. It is a very fast way to travel from Dublin to Sligo for industrialists and business people.

Aer Lingus has serviced the main routes between Dublin and London for many years now. We have competition so that fares are cheaper: it is always said that competition is the life of trade. We have competition, too, on the seas. It is much cheaper for a family to go to Britain today than it was years ago.

I have one thing to say about Aer Lingus and it saddens me to have to say it. I had a brother-in-law in New York who, on 3 November had occasion to come home from New York for his mother's funeral. My sister, Mrs. Irwin, telephoned Aer Lingus direct to ask for a booking to Dublin on an Aer Lingus flight. They said they were booked out but that they could facilitate her husband at a cost of $1,000. It is unfortunate Aer Lingus are doing that to emigrants who always used their airline to the US. They had no option but not to use Aer Lingus on that occasion. They got a flight with British Airways from New York to London and from London to Dublin at a cost of $476 for the round trip, a saving of $500. Mr. Irwin stayed one week in Ireland. Unfortunately he was refused the opportunity of flying with Aer Lingus from New York to Shannon and from Shannon to Dublin.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I do not like interrupting the Deputy on his journey, but this is a Supplementary Estimate and the debate is limited to items in the Estimate. Perhaps the Deputy would conclude his journey and come back to the Estimate.

Mr. M. Brennan: I thank the Chair for giving me the opportunity of raising that because of the way an Irish emigrant was treated by an Irish airline. I do not wish to hold this up much longer. If anything [1624] can be done to provide money to finish Sligo Airport so we could have regular flights to Dublin and perhaps to Britain and the Continent, it would be a good thing. I am delighted that in recent times the airlines have decided they will use the Connaught Regional Airport. Money has been spent on it and it can do nothing but good for the west, just as Shannon did for the south. I hope the day will come when that airport will be continuously used, and I am sure it will because industrialists will be flown into Knock bringing industry to the west.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Before I call on the Minister to respond to the debate on the Vote, under the Standing Order of 29 April last interventions are allowed if any Deputy wishes to make any particular point before the Minister comes in to close the debate. If there is anything Deputy Wilson wishes to raise before the Minister comes in, he is entitled to do it.

Mr. Wilson: I have already raised my points.

Minister of State at the Department of Communications (Mr. Nealon): Arising out of the fine contribution by Deputy Wilson the H.3 subhead is a transfer of £900,000 from H.2; it is not additional money. It is simply to show the runway expenditure separately. I think the word Deputy Wilson used himself was to get some “transparency” into it. Traditionally, developments of State airports are financed by means of voted capital grants from this Department's Vote. However, in view of the heavy demands on the Exchequer, the scale of expenditure involved, the expected commercial rate of return on a project and the strong financial performance of Aer Rianta in recent years, it has been decided that the projects should be financed primarily from non-Exchequer sources. The detailed financing arrangements for the projects are as follows: 25 per cent Exchequer grants; 25 per cent Aer Rianta own resources, that is, retained profits; and 50 per cent borrowing by Aer Rianta, [1625] supported by State guarantee. These arrangements were agreed between the Minister for Communications and the Minister for Finance and were subsequently endorsed

Mr. Wilson: There is one problem there, that is, if the EC stops the trading in the duty-free area, a large source of income will be lost for Aer Rianta, but we will have to cross that bridge when we come to it.

Mr. Nealon: Yes. The preliminary expenditure, around £900,000 expected to be incurred on the project in 1986 is in respect of the provision of infrastructural services. This expenditure has been financed by way of Exchequer capital grants which are provided in a new subhead H.3, the one I referred to. Because of the size of the project, the expected level of expenditure from it and certain administrative aspects it has been decided to create this separate subhead to provide for the Exchequer investment in the runway. As the Deputy said, it will show clearly where we are and what is happening and this would be a good thing if it were carried on more broadly as far as major capital projects are concerned. It is expected that £900,000 will be expended in 1986 and I explained the breakdown. The Deputy asked about the surrender money. Aer Rianta expect to surrender £11.5 million in 1986 to the Exchequer through our own Vote for Communications.

Mr. Wilson: That is the scale they will be using, then the runway will be finished.

Mr. Nealon: I do not know the phased expenditure. It is over a number of years but I do not know the expenditure for each year. They will be paying out of their retained profits, so it would be foolish to borrow if they had retained profits to finance their service. I do not know the exact flow of expenditure over each year.

The Government have given careful consideration to the question of a strategic fleet. This arises out of the great tragedy of Irish Shipping. This concept [1626] was last reviewed in 1963 when the tonnage requirements were fixed at 155,000 tonnes dead weight. There are now substantially more vessels on the Irish register and now we have also the State owned B&I company. The Government are satisfied that the winding up of Irish Shipping is not a cause of concern in terms of our current strategic needs. The Government regret particularly the loss of jobs for employees of Irish Shipping. Over the years those employees have served Irish Shipping well and they and their families were the victims of these developments. This is one of the most unfortunate and tragic aspects of the liquidation of Irish Shipping. That is the common sentiment of all of us. I know there are great differences across the House about the handling of this issue, but the Minister on many occasions made his position clear.

There is a provision of £500,000 for the Cork-Swansea car ferry which is a grant payment. Subsequent to Deputy Wilson's contribution Deputy Leyden asked about the timing of it and suggested that it was perhaps timed in connection with a possible election. The Government made their decision to make available a grant of £500,000 on 23 October this year.

Deputy Wilson asked about progress. A submission from Swansea-Cork Car Ferries Ltd. has been made and received in which progress made to date is reported. The service will be a 38 weeks service from 15 April 1987 to 4 January 1988. In addition to five trips weekly to Swansea, in the peak season there will be one trip per week to Roscoff in France. The charter of a vessel has now been signed and the company have a suitable ferry for the 1987 season with an option for 1988. Therefore, there is considerable progress in that respect.

Deputy Wilson asked about receivers of wreck. The Minister for Communications is empowered under section 566 of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894 to appoint receivers of wreck. Each appointment is made in respect of a specified area of coast. Receivers, who are usually officers of the Revenue Commissioners based locally, are vested with wide powers under the Act to deal with [1627] situations where vessels are wrecked, stranded or in distress in any place on or near the Irish coast. The receiver is entitled to take such action as he thinks fit for the preservation of the vessel, for the lives of persons on board and for the vessel's cargo and equipment and so on. He may requisition any assistance necessary. Put at its broadest the function of a receiver of wreck is to preserve the vessel and its contents in order to allow restoration to the owners at a later stage after the deduction of salvage and other expenses due. Unclaimed wrecks in the possession of a receiver become the property of the State after one year.

Given the gravity of the incident involving the Kowloon Bridge, Captain James Kelly, deputy chief surveyor in the Department of Communications, was appointed as receiver of wreck for the area extending from the Kenmare river to Galley Head in order to deal with the situation. Captain Kelly has taken possession of the vessel and has placed an exclusion zone of 1,000 metres around it which is a prohibited area to unauthorised vessels and personnel. This area is protected on his behalf by the Garda, the Naval Service and Customs officials. In addition, Captain Kelly has liaised with representatives of the local fishermen and between them they have agreed that it is in the fishermen's interest that they should be on the alert to prevent unauthorised entry.

That gives in fair detail an outline of the position as regards a receiver of wreck which is very pertinent at this moment.

Deputy Leyden seemed to suggest that I should take a more active part in the day to day running of RTE's affairs and programmes.

Mr. Wilson: Who knows more about them?

Mr. Nealon: When I was appointed to the position giving me responsibility in the areas of broadcasting in the Department of Communications, Deputy Leyden alleged that I was interfering. Of course, I put it on the record — which [1628] was entirely unnecessary — that at no time in any of my various reincarnations — so to speak — did I interfere because professionally I objected to any interference when I was there and I thought that I should carry on that standard when I turned gamekeeper, so to speak.

Deputy Leyden made a number of interesting points about the programmes and I suppose as a turned TV critic I would have to agree with him as regards the home produced programmes, and RTE when dealing with the money aspect of it would also agree with him because only in the home produced programmes in the future will we be able to compete. Now with satellite television, national frontiers have gone totally. We will have ten or 20 channels coming in here in two or three years' time and the only way to beat them is to have home produced programmes. I know that RTE share that view.

Deputy Leyden mentioned section 31. We would all like to see conditions arising whereby, if possible, we could forget about section 31, but I regret that that time has not yet arrived. I note the Deputy's remarks about the difficulties this creates for the journalists working in RTE. I worked under it myself, though not perhaps in the exact form it is now. I believe that Members on all sides of the House and everyone in the country — or at least almost everyone — look forward to the day when it will be entirely unnecessary.

I am confident that the RTE Authority will streamline and strengthen the organisation and their financial base to enable them to face the current and future demands of their customers. This will entail greater labour flexibility in RTE, increasing substantially the amount of home produced material transmitted and containing all input costs. RTE can and must give licence holders better value for money. In dealing with the many excellent suggestions that Deputy Leyden made the cost factor is enormously important because providing the type of regional news service that he talked about and providing drama which we would all like to see, involve a high cost factor and, [1629] unfortunately, we can bring in imported programmes which are extremely popular and cost only a fraction of what a home produced programme would cost. That is the difficulty, but RTE on this occasion have made a major push at the parameters as far as home produced programmes are concerned. To a great extent that is where the future of our national television station lies.

We appointed a local radio commission and they have done much work in endeavouring to formulate the policy that would be adopted by the statutory commission in relation to the areas where a local and community radio service can be established and in relation to the type of service that may be allowed within the framework of the Bill. Deputies will appreciate that this type of work will be the statutory responsibility of the commission in due course and to the extent that the ground rules have been laid, legitimate local and community radio can be established quickly. I am very disappointed, as is the Minister, that it has not been possible to make progress with the Bill despite the Minister's efforts to resolve the difficulties that have arisen.

I have given consideration to the application from RTE to extend its Cork local radio service. While I accept there is an unsatisfied demand for legal local radio, whether RTE based or otherwise, the development of such services should proceed in a coherent, balanced and integrated fashion. In these circumstances it would be inappropriate to make any decision on Cork local radio until the future format of local radio in general is clear. A detailed submission by RTE proposing the establishment of a long wave radio service has been received and is currently under consideration. There are major policy, legal and financial issues associated with the project to be taken into account before a definite decision can be reached. That is something in which there are great possibilities.

The provision of a television service is a matter for RTE in the first instance under existing legislation. However, RTE would require Government [1630] approval if they were to embark on the provision of a television service for the Gaeltacht. The major stumbling blocks to a project of that sort, apart from the heavy capital expenditure that would be involved in establishing a station and transmission network, are the unavailability of adequate programming and the cost of producing programmes for such services. Whether one produces a service for a station which has a limited audience or for a station which has a massive audience, the cost of the production of the programme is the same and cannot be shared as can the cost of the programme which is going out to millions of people where revenue can be raised towards off-setting the cost through advertising. The recently established Welsh channel 4 television service is providing 40 hours of Welsh language programming with an annual operating budget of around £16 million.

Deputy Brennan, my constituency colleague from Sligo, spoke about the value of a commuter service from Sligo Airport to Dublin. We all appreciate the great importance of that because not only does it cut time and save TDs and businessmen a lot of difficulties in travelling by road, but it will enable them to enjoy the scenery as they are passing over the beautiful lakes of Cavan and the sylvan pastures of the area. I fully agree with Deputy Brennan about the necessity for this. It is not a question of money for the Sligo Airport, because Sligo Airport is excellently equipped to take planes. The difficulty is in getting an airline who will operate it on a successful commercial basis. We have had lots of good news in recent times for Sligo. Getting an airline is something in which I have had a great interest and I have been trying to progress it as fast as I can. I am hopeful that Deputy Brennan will not have too long to wait before his desire for a commuter service from Sligo to Dublin is fully satisfied.

Mr. Wilson: It is getting dangerously like a general election.

Mr. Nealon: Whatever happens in [1631] another election, I could not possibly wish Deputy Brennan any ill. I am sure that over the next few years Deputy Brennan will be flying in and out of Sligo Airport, coming up to attend the Dáil. I thank Deputies for their contributions. There has been an interesting exchange of views which can be very useful as far as the working of the Department is concerned.

Question put, and a division being demanded, it was postponed in accordance with Standing Order of the Dáil No. 123 as modified by order of the House, until 8.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 10 December 1986.