Dáil debates

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Communications Regulation (Postal Services) Bill 2010 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed)


2:00 am

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)

I agree, and I wish this kind of dialogue could happen more often. I am well aware of the difference between the irrationality of markets in assets. We could have added the total irrationality of markets in virtual assets such as those which have brought the banking system to its knees and brought our economy to the point at which we have lost economic sovereignty. Equally, this is quite disputable in regard to services.

I have examined that literature. We had this argument before. For example, the Minister knows I have a view that agrees with him in regard to the importance of public service broadcasting. I served as Minister in Europe where I saw that concept of the universal right to tell one's own story under attack from one Minister after another. It was led by people who had a right-wing ideological position. These are important words. There are people who say not everyone is important. Deputy Mary O'Rourke gave the example of the lady waiting for the postman to deliver a letter up a country road. That is important. If one says the delivery of letters is something to be judged primarily by market viability, one is rejecting the fundamental principle that the citizen's right to be in contact with one's society is the most important principle.

In so far as we have become a little academic about the issue, I want to make two points. Mr. Jürgen Habermas, to whom I have referred, has written a new book, Europe: The Faltering Project. He makes the point that again and again people in Europe are being asked to be bound by decisions promoted in a discourse in which they have no part. This is the whole point about majoritarianism in society, about which one would think the Green Party was sensitive. It is isolated, elderly people in remote rural areas and so forth who, while they do not have the same social power, should have the same communicative power. One either has a theory of citizenship guaranteeing the right of every citizen to be in touch with their society or one does not.

I have written about this issue elsewhere. I noted that some people in advocacy groups involving the elderly think they have won when they have come as far as the point of legislation. If one wants to make a real change, one has to look also at the point of administration and how the decision is in fact implemented. These citizenship ideals are particularly important in a State that calls itself a republic. Therefore, we need to hear very clearly that while we are implementing the third phase of the directive, we are doing so because we want to have regulation and want to be able to protect certain values, including the values people like myself identify in regard to citizenship.

We should also undertake social impact surveys, not only in regard to what happens if the service changes for those who depend on it but also for those who deliver the service. It is important, for example, that the people who have developed an ethos as the postmen and postwomen who have been trusted over generations will not be replaced by casual workers who do not come from the same ethos. Therefore, the Minister must give the guarantee on the universality of the service, show the funding mechanism, show the human content of how it will be delivered and then develop a contingency plan in case the competitive model does not produce the resources for the provision of a universal application.

I wish the Minister well if he decides to do all of that. I do not only agree with Habermas, by the way, in that I also believe there is a real discourse issue in the European Union as well as in this country in regard to people who want to be or who must be included in regard to understanding everything we do. There is an assumption, for example, that if people are allowed to vote, as they will on 11 March, and if they do so once every five years, this is the exercise of democracy. Democracy is frustrated every day if there is a bad administrative decision. The fact is there is a State service at present, which has a distinguished record by dedicated workers who have a good relationship with the public in city and rural areas. While I am not antediluvian or arguing against a market principle, I am suggesting we need to give guarantees that cherry-picking will not take place and an unfair obligation will not be imposed on what is left of An Post's service and its workers. We need security in regard to funding and employment and, ultimately, as far as the public is concerned, in regard to what one would call the consumption of the service or what I would call the exercise of the citizen's right of communication.

It is important to address these issues as from time to time there is a conflict between what is regarded as the view of the union and the view of the management. We went through a phase of that in Ireland, where managers began dressing differently to look like people in the private sector who they assumed had a kind of monopoly on efficiency and so forth. We know where that led. There were many well dressed people running our banks, wearing very broad stripes. Hopefully, we know where they will be shortly - in our courts.

The truth of the matter is that the service is efficient. An Post has the eighth lowest postage costs and is the seventh most efficient operator out of the 27 countries of the EU. All of that is brought about by the dedicated staff. How can one put a price or a value on such a person spending a certain amount of time with an older person at the door? They are the major source of information on the welfare, health and concerns of many a person in a scattered rural community. The service is invaluable and I like it. One need only consider where we were with the imposition of efficiency without a social impact evaluation, for example, when we decided that those providing the home help service would have so many minutes to get the person up out of bed, so many minutes to clean the person, so many minutes to boil a kettle and then the home help was out the door. We need State-led services based on an acceptance of the citizenship obligation, which is the bedrock upon which we should go forward in all services, including the postal service.

I urge the Minister to accept the amendments we will put down. They are positive amendments and do not ask for a rejection of the directive or its implications. However, they suggest how the assurances I have mentioned might be delivered into the legislation. They are very reasonable amendments. What the Communication Workers Union has asked for is very reasonable and it has my support.


No comments

Log in or join to post a public comment.