I move the Second Reading of this Bill. It has been circulated, and I regret that there has been so much delay in presenting it to the Dáil, but it was inevitable in the circumstances. The Bill covers a very wide field, as will have been observed, and in asking the Dáil to accept the principles embodied in it, I will just explain some of the points that are involved. The Bill is divided into three parts. The first part deals with claims arising out of incidents which took place from the 21st January, 1918, to the 11th July, 1921, that is, from the date of the first meeting of the Dáil until the truce.
The second part, Sections 2 to 15, relates to injuries to property which were done from the 11th July to the 6th of this month, that is, with property claims from the Truce up to the date of the circulation of this Bill. It will be remembered that a resolution was submitted to the Dáil (Provisional Parliament) somewhere in September last, the terms of which were to the effect that the Government intended to relieve local authorities of a considerable part of the burden that was occasioned by the damage that was done, and that a certain date would be fixed from which no further liability would be accepted by the Government, and the date that is now laid down in the Bill is the 6th February, and I take it it will be admitted that that is a generous extension of the period. Some criticism of the terms of that resolution was made, and I think that this is a generous interpretation of the views given in the Dáil at that time.
Part 3 of the Bill is concerned with matters of a general character, and also with personal injuries in the Post-Truce period. The first part of the Bill deals only with the pre-Truce period, and, as the Deputies are aware, an International tribunal is dealing with cases which occurred from January, 1919, till the 11th July. This arrangement, which was come to between the British Government and the members of the Provisional Government, has been open to a good deal of criticism by reason of the delay incurred in the preliminary stages in dealing with cases. The arrangements, however, have been improved, and there is much more expedition recently in dealing with these cases. Delay was also occasioned by reason of the fact that certain liens, mortgages, or other arrangements had been made, and the Government had to be safeguarded in that connection, and legal formalities occupied a considerable amount of time. There is now no unnecessary delay in dealing with these cases, but having regard to the large number some allowance must be made, and the most recent proposals that we have adopted render it possible to have these cases dealt with very much more expeditiously. This clause gives effect to the policy indicated in the public notice Number 2, in which all the proceedings in respect of the pre-Truce claims were set out. The relief given by the clause to the local authorities is rendered possible by reason of the fact that responsibility for the period in question is assumed either by the Irish Government or the British Government. A considerable number of awards have already been reported, and with the improvement that I have already indicated to the Dáil, it is hoped that that progress upon this side of the problem will give satisfaction to all persons concerned. In the personal injuries cases, where decress have already been obtained before the issue of the public notice, payments are at present in the course of being made, and for dealing with other personal injury cases it is proposed at once to constitute a special tribunal, which will be in a position to deal with cases in their proper categories, for which the British Government did not assume liability.
Part 2, consisting of Sections 2 to 15, makes provision for dealing with post-truce cases of damage to property. The Compensation Commission does not deal with those post-truce cases. The liability of the British Government for anything that happened since the Truce in respect of such damage is not the same as in the pre-Truce period. I think that the number of cases that have occurred are very few as far as any liability of theirs is concerned, and it is necessary to provide other machinery for dealing with such cases. We came to the conclusion that no more satisfactory method could be adopted than allowing these cases to come before the County Courts, but, as already indicated, some modifications had to be made in the law respecting that. In the ordinary way, the hearing of these cases, in normal times, would be assisted by the presence of legal representatives of the local authorities. Now provision is made in this part of the Bill for the presence of a representative of the Ministry of Finance to contest all claims; and it will be observed that there is no compensation for consequential loss. The Criminal and Malicious Injury code was specially intended, or had special arrangements in it, for having compensation awarded for consequential loss; and that was equitable in the case where a person was aggrieved, and in any case which arose— the number was small—it was natural that provision should be made for consequential loss, but the number of cases and the magnitude of the loss is such now that the Government would not be justified in putting forward any provision for making compensation for consequential loss under a Bill of this sort. As a matter of fact, if such provision were made, then those who had suffered damage to property might also claim for compensation of the same sort.
Compensation will not be paid for certain articles, such as ornamental jewellery and loss of money. As a rule the loss in these cases is rather difficult to establish, and, generally speaking, Insurance Companies do not make any provision for compensation in respect of such loss. The nearest parallel that can be taken for a similar state of affairs, or a state of affairs that is in some respects like the present, is that of 1916, and no such provision was made for compensation for such articles at that period.
Now, Clause 10 of the Bill is one of the most important; it deals with a case where damage to buildings has taken place, and it makes provision for fulfilment of conditions which the Court may impose requiring the building to be wholly or partially reinstated. This principle is being observed to some extent in the case of the Commission which is generally described as the "Shaw" Commission, at present sitting.
Clause 12 of the Bill deals with the method of the payments of compensation. It is proposed in this Clause to adopt the expedient of requiring applicants to accept a proportion of their compensation in the form of Government Securities, and it is only natural to assume that Deputies will have expected some proposal of that sort. It is the general method adopted in dealing with large sums of money, and affords an opportunity for extending over a period the burden to meet applications of this sort. It is not expected that securities that will be issued will run for many years, probably a few years. It is contemplated here that small payments up to £500 should be made in cash, and that one half of the excess above £500 also will be paid in cash, subject to a maximum cash payment of £2,000. In the case of damage amounting to £2,000 the first £500 would be paid in cash, then £750 further would be paid in Government securities, and a further £750 in cash, so that the sum of £1,250 would be paid in cash and £750 in securities. I think it will be admitted that that is a fair and equitable method of dealing with a matter of that sort. There is an advantage in issuing public securities such as these, because the stability of the State is largely influenced by the number of persons who have a real interest in seeing that stability insured. In cases where there is a condition that a building must be reinstated it is proposed that the compensation should be paid not by security, but by cash in instalments as the work of reinstatement progresses. A further provision of Part 2 is to be found in Clause 14, which deals with certain kinds of losses that would not give rise to a legal right to compensation under the Malicious Injuries code. We do not propose to confer any legal rights in respect of looting, but that the Judge may hear, consider, and investigate such cases, not making a legal award but reporting the result of his investigations to the Minister for Finance, and any subsequent compensation that would be made in respect of such report would be in the nature of an ex gratia payment. The Government does not feel justified in committing itself to any definite view at this stage as to how far the State should make grants, but it will be possible to realise the dimensions of the problem when we have received the Judges' reports. Clause 9 deals with the conduct of the claimant, which must be taken into consideration. The clause is very clear, and it is probably unnecessary at this stage to develop to any extent what is involved in it. It deals with the legitimacy of the claim of a person. Those who have been engaged in this destruction ought not, in the opinion of the Government, be persons who can derive compensation for the destruction caused by their own friends and people whom they supported. Clause 8 deals with the railways, and we have been unable to submit a clause dealing with compensation in their case, and the railways are omitted from this Bill. They are in rather a special position. The damage done to them is of such a character that the Government feel that it would be unsuitable to have their claims dealt with in the ordinary way before the Country Courts. Other arrangements for giving fair compensation to the Railway Companies have already been the subject of discussion between the companies and the Government. Further conferences will be held, and it is possible that before the final stages of the Bill be reached a clause can be inserted dealing with them. The only other case that I have in mind at the moment is the destruction of title deeds and other legal documents and the method of determining the compensation for such destruction is to be found in Clause 11. The Third Part of the Bill deals with the relief that is being given to local authorities. They are relieved entirely from liability in respect of the period from January, 1919, until July, 1921. Clause 17 provides for the appointment of additional Judges where necessary to assist Country Court Judges in making awards under the Malicious Injuries Acts, and the number of claims in certain areas is so large that some assistance must be afforded to the Country Court Judges in some cases. Clause 18 deals with the repeal of certain provisions of the existing law. In this clause the vindictive clauses, as they have been called, of the Acts of 1919 and 1920 are proposed to be repealed. The whole of the Act of 1919 comes within this category, and part of the Act of 1920. These repeals are not limited in their operation to pre-Truce and post-Truce periods, but are permanent changes in the existing law. This involves the abolition of special provisions of the Act of 1919, for instance for the recovery of compensation in cases of murder, maiming, wounding, or malicious injury to the person, arising out of a combination of a seditious character or unlawful association and also the abolition of part of the Act of 1920 by which a person getting an award in Court is entitled to draw interest at the rate of five per cent. from the date on which the award was made. The Bill has taken a great deal of time, but it has had to cover a very wide field. It has had to take into consideration three distinct classes of the community—in the first case the persons injured, in the second case those who have not suffered injury, and then the State, dealing as fairly and impartially to all persons, having regard to its resources, as is possible in a matter of this kind. It may be natural to ask what amount of damage is estimated in these cases and what is the probable percentage of the cost of this damage to the State. At this stage one could not give anything like an approximate figure; suffice to say that very extravagant and very unreasonable claims have been put in, and the work of dealing with cases of this kind is not rendered easier where such extravagant claims are sent in. I am sure the Government has correctly interpreted the opinion of the Dáil when it means to deal fairly and justly with all these cases, having regard to the resources at its disposal. I beg to move the Second Reading of this Bill.