MIONTUAIRISC NA FINNEACHTA
(Minutes of Evidence)
Dé Céadaoin, 28adh Mí na Samhna, 1928.
(Wednesday, 28th November, 1928.)
The Joint Committee met at 11 a.m.
Mr. P. S. O’Hegarty (Secretary to the Ministry of Posts and Telegraphs) called and examined.
98. Mr. O’Hegarty, you have sent us this memorandum?—Yes.
The memorandum referred to by the Chairman was as follows:—
The Post Office is concerned only with Section 22, which empowers it to detain and forward to the Revenue Commissioners “any packet suspected to contain a communication to which this section applies,” and also to forward to the Revenue Commissioners a copy of any telegram which “appears to be a communication to which this section applies.”
In consultation after the passing of the Act it was agreed between the Post Office and the Revenue Commissioners that the Post Office should act, in the carrying out of this section, in cooperation with and under the direction of the Revenue Commissioners, and copies of betting telegrams were sent at regular intervals to the Revenue Commissioners, who, however, did not, so far as is known, find themselves in a position to institute a prosecution in any case. In the case of letters, correspondence for the main external betting centres was scrutinised periodically, but the examination did not support the theory that there was any regular outflow of betting from this country.
The Post Office dislikes intensely any legislation of this character, which empowers it, or empowers anybody, to interfere with communications of any sort entrusted to it by the public. The whole of its experience goes to show that no effective watch can be kept upon communications of any sort passing through the post or over the wires without a general dislocation of Post Office business, and an expenditure altogether out of keeping with the importance of the object aimed at. Apart from that altogether, the Post Office attaches great importance to the general principle of the inviolability of communications, once entrusted to it.
The Post Office does not think that the power conferred by Section 22 can be made more effective by amendment. It thinks that these powers have their real value rather in their deterrent effect than in any positive discoveries through their operations, and it does not desire any amendment to the section, save a verbal one in 22 (1), to provide for the return of detained correspondence to the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs for forwarding to the person to whom it was addressed.
P. S. O’HEGARTY.
24adh Samhain, 1928.
99. You are only concerned with Section 22 of the Act?—Yes, that is all.
100. Have you any statement to make or any suggestion as to amendment or improvement?—Well, I think that all I have to say is said in the memorandum I have sent forward.
101. That you have sent us here?—Yes, unless the Committee would wish me to amplify anything in it.
102. Deputy Byrne.—Are we to presume from the statement that you are satisfied with the powers that you have? —That raises the whole vital question. We looked upon the matter as merely powers delegated to us to act under the wishes of the Revenue authorities, and we did everything they asked us to do. But you see the point is that you can put into operation no effective censorship of this sort without doing two things. In the first place, you will incur a vast expenditure which may not give you any real return; and in the second place, you will demoralise totally your Post Office force. And that is of very vital consideration to us. We had, for instance, in the years of the Black-and-Tan war, from 1914 until 1921, two censorships in the Post Office—the British censorship and the Irish Volunteers and the I.R.A. censorship. The result of those two censorships was to shake in the Post Office staff the general cardinal principle of the inviolability of correspondence. The result was that when we took over the Department in 1922 we found a large number of Post Office thefts and violations of secrecy and things of that sort, matters which were very troublesome to deal with. Every extension of any principle of censorship of correspondence will react upon your staff to that extent; and for that reason we are very much opposed to it. Then there is the question of the working of a thing of this sort. You see, in order to do it properly, we should have to open all correspondence going to all racing centres, and obviously that is impossible, because no ordinary censorship of letters addressed to particular addresses will get over the fact of covering addresses.
103. Deputy Cooper.—You are talking about postal packets. Does it apply equally to telegrams?—Yes.
104. The contents of telegrams are necessarily available to the postal authoroties?—There is that difference, but there is the point about telegrams also that telegrams may be sent to agreed addresses which are not known addresses at all, and to any agreed premises.
105. Have you any information as to the relative amount of betting done by post and by telegrams?—No, we have no information of that sort at all.
106. Before this Act came into force was there a substantial amount of betting by telegrams for Great Britain?—I don’t think so, because we took the actual figures, and the percentage of betting telegrams was exceedingly small. I think it was something like 5 per cent. of the total.
107. As regards sub-section (2) of Section 22, what procedure do you adopt to detect betting telegrams—do you have a list of addresses circulated?—What we did with regard to sub-section (2) was: We scrutinised the telegrams each day, and we picked out from those any telegrams which seemed to us to relate to betting, and we sent copies of those to the Revenue Commissioners. We did that for a good while. Then it was agreed between us that a weekly check would do, and then we took a weekly check and sent copies to the Revenue Commissioners. Then some time afterwards they agreed that the check might be abandoned altogether, and that they would send us addresses telegrams to which ought to be scrutinised.
108. On what did you base your opinion that a telegram was a betting telegram— on the contents or the address or the fact that it was in code?—It was based really upon a sort of general opinion and on the intelligence of the officer who scrutinised the thing. They were to use their own judgment upon what was and what was not a betting telegram.
109. You gave general instructions without any particular indication?—We could not indicate exactly what a betting telegram was, but they would know when they came to a telegram with a sign of a bet in it.
110. Had you any experience of dealing with letters or telegrams relating to sweepstakes before this Act came into force?—We had a good deal to do about sweepstakes.
111. In that case you went by the address?—Yes.
112. Senator Bennett.—The Revenue Commissioners did not find themselves in a position to institute prosecutions. You are not able to say why?—I assume they were not, because they did not take prosecutions.
113. You gave them a good many cases?—Yes.
114. Chairman.—According to your experience there was not a very great quantity of betting done by telegram?—No. There was some done by telegrams. We took the percentage before this Act came into operation, and it was 5 per cent.
115. Deputy Cooper.—Have you noticed a falling off of 5 per cent. in the telegrams since the Act came into force?—I don’t think there has been any falling off in connection with this Act.
116. Under sub-section (3) the Minister has power to make regulations. Have any regulations been made?—The only regulations we made were the instructions to postmasters and officers generally to take action on the lines indicated, to send up copies of telegrams relating to betting and so on.
117. Chairman.—The only suggestion you make is that telegrams should be returned to the Post Office instead of being sent direct to the sender?—Yes, that is all we have to say.
118. Deputy Cooper.—It is not telegrams, it is letters?—Yes.
119. You would not send a telegram back to the sender?—Telegrams are always sent forward without delay. We keep copies of them.
120. It is correspondence, you say?— Yes; that is only a verbal alteration.
121. You do not detain telegrams. A man may make a bet by a telegram and win £80 on it?—Yes.
122. And then he may be fined for sending it?—Yes.
123. Senator Bennett.—You open correspondence if you find that it relates to betting?—The Post Office would not open correspondence. If we had a suspicion that a correspondence related to betting it would be detained and handed over to the Revenue Commissioners. We do not actually open any correspondence. We do not scrutinise the correspondence further than that.
124. Deputy Doyle.—With regard to telephones, it has been said that there is a decided objection against paying bets immediately after a race. Have you any opinion to offer with regard to the use of the telephone for that purpose—if telephone messages about a race reach certain commission agents they may be used in many other respects to encourage this system?—Of course if the Post Office was to be asked to establish effectively a censorship of that sort upon telephones, you would have to have somebody listening in upon every telephone call; and that is obviously out of the question. Any scrutinising of telephone calls is impossible for practical reasons.
125. Have you any idea as to the extent to which the telephone is used for that purpose?—No, I have no idea.
126. Deputy Cooper.—I would ask you a question, not in your official capacity but as a citizen. You need not answer it if you wish. Have you any views of this Act as a whole, as to its effect on the morale of the community and as to its general effect?—I will answer the question, but I do not think it ought to go upon the Minutes.
Deputy Cooper.—Perhaps you had better not answer it then.
127. Deputy Anthony.—One of the most important statements made by Mr. O’Hegarty is that in which he states that after the censorship of the I.R.A. and the British forces he had to deal with a lot of cases of pilfering and petty larceny in the Post Office. (To the Witness)—Is that your statement?—Yes, that is so.
128. I think that is a very valuable contribution. Is it your opinion also that if any legislation is introduced in this House which would have the effect of censoring correspondence passing through the post, which, of course, should be a kind of indiscriminate censorship, because nobody is supposed to know what is contained in a sealed envelope—is it your opinion that that would lead to the demoralisation of your staff—not demoralisation exactly, but dislocation, if you like, of your staff, and that it might afterwards tend to the demoralisation of the staff in the way suggested in your statement by leading to petty larcenies and pilferings from the Post Office?—Yes, I think that any general censorship of that nature would have that effect in both ways—it would dislocate the work generally, and have its reaction upon the psychology of the staff. The cardinal principle of the Post Office has been the inviolability of correspondence, and that has become a kind of second nature with all members of the Post Office everywhere; and if you establish any general agreement that this inviolability is not a cardinal principle, your whole system breaks down. We had a great deal of trouble in the years following the Treaty from the reactions following that idea.
129. Deputy Cooper.—Your opinion may be summed up in this way: that any censorship is comparatively ineffective, that you can check betting with offices outside the State, but that you cannot completely stop it?—You cannot stop it.
130. Without considerable expense and dislocation?—Yes, that is my opinion.
131. Deputy Byrne.—And you cause a sense of distrust among the public if you have too much power to tamper with the post—Yes.
Chairman.—If there are no other questions, we thank Mr. O’Hegarty very much for his courtesy in coming here, and for the very valuable information he has given us.
Mr. O’Hegarty.—I thank you very much, gentlemen.
The Committee deliberated in private, and adjourned at 12 o’clock midday until Wednesday, 5th December, at 11 a.m.