McHugh highlights mobile phone difficulties on the Border

Ongoing difficulties with mobile phone coverage along the Border were raised in the Dáil by Donegal North-East deputy Joe McHugh.

Ongoing difficulties with mobile phone coverage along the Border were raised in the Dáil by Donegal North-East deputy Joe McHugh.

Speaking on a Topical Issues debate, he said when he leaves his home in Carrigart to drive to Dublin each Tuesday, it is a nightmare when he tries to have conversations with people on his phone.

“I travel through Northern Ireland on my way south and even though the Orange and Vodafone UK networks operate there, the coverage is still disastrous,” he said. “There are people in the Gallery from Lifford, County Donegal, and I am aware that they have difficulties with dropped calls and that their phones drop into and out of UK coverage. In that context, there is a need for a debate on the entire cross-Border dimension to this matter. We must, therefore, consider this matter in the context of the North-South integration commitments contained in the Good Friday Agreement. We must also consider why we are incurring additional costs and the role played by ComReg.”

“If we want to turn intangibles such as the positive goodwill between our two countries into something tangible, we should consider ways in which we can make it easier for people to communicate while doing business,” he added.

In reply, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Pat Rabbitte said the role of the State in the provision of broadband infrastructure was generally limited to policy and regulation. In terms of direct service provision, the State could only intervene in areas where the commercial service providers had been unable to offer services on a commercial basis.

“I am aware that there continue to be a relatively small number of premises that are not capable of receiving broadband services,” he said. “This is primarily due to technical and other reasons such as suitability of telephone lines, distance from an enabled exchange and no line of sight. The Government’s most recent intervention, namely, the rural broadband scheme, which is currently in the verification phase with licensed service providers, is aimed at making broadband services available to individual unserved premises in rural non-national broadband scheme areas.”

This could include individual premises located in the non-national broadband scheme electoral divisions in Border counties, he said. A total of 1,148 applications to the rural broadband schemes were received from those counties. Each application corresponded to an individual household or premises.

Doherty calls for naming of Anglo bondholders

Despite repeated attempts by Sinn Fein and others to have the identity of the Anglo-Irish Bank bondholders revealed, the Government continues to shield them, Donegal South-West Deputy Pearse Doherty told the Dáil.

“We know that the ‘Day 1’ list has been sought,” he said. “I call on the Government and on the Minister for Finance in particular to publish the Day 1 list for Anglo Irish Bank, which lists the names of those who bought bonds on the day the bank was nationalized,” he said. “It is likely they are private speculators, investors and hedge funds who were betting on the financial markets. It is also highly likely that they bought these bonds at a dramatically reduced value.”

Supporting an Opposition motion calling for an end to all payments of the Anglo bondholders, he said it was only a few short weeks ago that the Government wrenched €3.8 billion from the economy in the form of spending cuts and taxes.

The €1.25 billion paid to the bondholders equated to almost two and a half times the total cuts in social welfare in 2012, more than twice the amount of cuts to the health service announced in the 2012 budget, more than eight times the total to be raised from the household charge this year, and almost ten times the amount to be cut from the education budget in 2012.

The motion was defeated by 87 votes to 41.

O’Domhnaill concerned at Primary School cutbacks

The effects of the planned restrictions on primary schools with less than 86 pupils were raised in the Seanad by Fianna Fail Senator Brian O’Domhnaill. In his area alone, he said 45 schools would be affected. In addition he said the proposed cuts would deal a further blow to the native speaking of Irish in the Gaeltacht areas.

“The decision was taken by the Minister in the Budget to try to, as he said, cut down on the expenditure, without even waiting for the efficiency and value for money review, which is being compiled by the Department, to be published,” he said. “The Minister made a decision to proceed with a policy decision without having first consulted or published the value for money review which was undertaken in consultation with boards of management and principals throughout the country.”

The schools concerned provide excellent educational opportunities to children of primary school age, he said. It was regrettable that the Minister for Education and Skills proceeded with implementing a cost-cutting exercise on small schools only.

“What he is in effect doing is targeting small schools in a blatant way to force them to amalgamate or close by raising the pupil-teacher ratio in such schools only, without affecting larger schools,” he said. “This will inevitably result in a loss of teachers, which will mean larger classes, and a greater number of class groupings having to be taught by one teacher.”

Replying on behalf of the Minister for Education & Skills, Minister John Perry said as part of the budget decisions announced recently, the number of pupils required to gain and retain a teaching post in small primary schools will be gradually increased between September 2012 and September 2014.

“The schools concerned are those with four or fewer classroom teachers,” he said.