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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 13 Jun 1923

Vol. 3 No. 26


I beg to move the Second Reading of the Army Pensions Bill.

I beg to second.

I think everybody will be gratified that a definite step has been taken towards ensuring that the position of wounded soldiers will be made somewhat secure, and that their widows and children, and the dependants of deceased soldiers, shall be provided for. It is not the class of Bill that will require very much discussion at this Stage; but one or two questions might be answered, and some difficulties cleared up, by the Minister. In his statement on the First Reading he made it clear that the Bill would provide for pensions for wounded members, not only of the Volunteers of the time, but of the Citizen Army of the time. The name of the Citizen Army did not appear in the Bill. There seems to be no good reason for their exclusion, and when other organisations are referred to by name, it seems to be an unnecessary slight that the Citizen Army should not be referred to by name. The question also has arisen as to whether the powers of the Bill would include pensions for persons who have suffered disability, not actual wounds, but disability directly traceable to service.

We recognise that it raises a difficult problem — the differentiation — but it is a problem that has to be met, and has been met. I refer to sufferers from such mental disorders as those which in the European war arose from shell-shock, or disorders of a physical kind arising from lying-out on service, and similar complaints and sufferings which are directly traceable to active service. It may be claimed that one or two Sections do cover such cases, but one would like to know from the Minister whether they have been in mind in the drafting, and whether he is satisfied such cases are met by the provisions of the Bill. There is another matter which is a little delicate and difficult to deal with, especially when one bears in mind the composition of the Army of 1916-17-18. One cannot quite reconcile that Army with the rather striking distinction in the treatment as between officers and men — the age at which allowances for children of officers and men ceases. The distinction there is one I cannot reconcile with the democratic army that we knew. That criticism may apply very generally to those distinctions. One cannot say that social standing makes it essential that the distinction shall be made, and one cannot see that in those days pay was the factor that decided the distinction. I would like to hear the Minister's views upon that side of the question. There are two or three matters of more detail that can be dealt with at a later stage. These one or two points seem, on a cursory reading, to require some attention and explanation.

In rising to give a welcome to this Bill, I desire, if I may, to underline, underscore, one question that Deputy Johnson has put, and to add a second. In doing so, I say this is a Bill that is welcomed by this Dáil, and should pass with such slight amendments, if amendments be considered, as may be deemed necessary. The principle of the Bill is one that carries the general consent unquestionably. The first question I wish the Minister to answer is respecting the point made by Deputy Johnson with regard to injuries received other than direct wounds. As the Minister is aware, I know something of one who has had the handling of a large number of cases of this kind for the White Cross, and who is handling such cases now, and merely by way of ordinary information, I can instantly recall some 6 or 7 names of men who are at present receiving treatment. In the particular case that comes to my mind, a man is suffering from consumption contracted when sleeping out on active service. That kind of case is not easy to deal with, and not so easy to trace as in the case of wounds. It is very definite and widespread, as I happen to know.

Many a young fellow at that time had his health irremediably broken because of the conditions under which he happened at the time to be conducting the Nation's war. It will be known to the Minister, that in some of those cases, the assistance that they are now receiving will shortly cease. Then they will be helpless and will not be in receipt of any further assistance. Provisions are already being made to set aside sums of money for them by the White Cross, if I am rightly informed. But this is rather a question that should be undertaken by the State. I fail to see how they can be covered by this Bill as it stands. We think they should be covered by special machinery set up to deal with matters of that kind. The second inquiry is with regard to the machinery by which the Bill will be worked. I do not recall that the Minister, on the First Stage, gave any information on this matter. We remember when the English Government in this country had to deal with soldiers wounded in its war in Europe they set up a special Department that gave special attention to Irishmen in this matter. The Department worked that with great success, and gave very great satisfaction. Perhaps the Minister has in mind the creation of a Department of that special kind for working this Bill. Why I bring it to his attention is because I think some special Department of this kind might suitably be created. Whatever the conception is for the machinery by which the Bill's provisions will be executed, perhaps the Minister, when he comes to conclude this discussion, will give such information as he may have with regard to proposals to that end.

I wish to take this opportunity of urging upon the Minister not only the desirability, but the absolute necessity, of making provisions in the Bill for the dependants of those who died as a result of hunger-striking. It may be correct to state, and it is correct to state, that men who were killed on active service have rendered great service to the country and their dependants should be amply provided for. I contend, however, that the attention of the world was drawn to the Irish war in a far greater degree by the people who undertook to carry out the hunger-strike in prison. During the Anglo-Irish war we had cases of many noted Irishmen whose names I am not going to mention at the moment, but I am sure the Minister will realise that the men who died on hunger-strike did make equally as great a sacrifice as the men who died out in the field in action with the enemy. We know of several such cases. There are one or two of them from my own area. One is a case of a widow with a small family whose husband went through the hunger-strike and who contracted consumption and, as a result, died some short time ago. It can be clearly proved by medical authorities that his death was attributable to the effects of the hunger-strike. There is another case of a young man from my own area also who is at present in a sanatorium. I do not believe there are many such cases, but they are cases where the Minister might make provision for their dependants under the terms of this Bill, and I would appeal to him to try to do so at a later stage and to have the necessary amendments made so that provision may be made for this particular class of people. I am quite satisfied that the number would not be very great. I would like if the Minister in his reply would give the Dáil information of the number of people in his opinion who would come within the terms of the Bill as it is drafted.

It is quite possible that organised representations have been made to the Ministry by the old I.R.A., and, if so, I daresay he would be in a position to give the Dáil the number of men affected by this Bill, which, generally speaking, makes reasonable provision for the men who made sacrifices. I appeal to him, and I do not think that it would add any great burden to the State funds, to make provision for the dependants of people who died as a result of hunger-strike in prison or after they left it.

I would like to remind the Minister for Defence of a few cases which I brought forward here some time ago in reference to young men shot in ambushes during the fight against the enemy Government. I would also like to bring under his notice the case of a young man, a despatch rider, who got serious wettings and died from pneumonia and whose parents are in a bad state. I am sure that the Minister fully realises the importance of taking into account the cases of the majority of the men who laid down their lives in 1916 and during the time prior to the Truce. I particularly mention the case of Captain James Tormey, who was killed on the 2nd February, 1921, outside Athlone. At that time he was O.C. of the Athlone Brigade fighting against the enemy Government. I understand that his parents have received no compensation.

Perhaps the Minister, in reply, would say whether it is intended to include in the provisions of this Bill the cases of men who were acting in the Intelligence Department during the old Volunteer days. I had a communication from some of these people who, while they were not formally enrolled, were engaged to do intelligence work. If such can be ascertained to be correct, I think that if any of these men suffered in any way, while performing that work, they should be entitled to come under the provisions of the Bill.

There is a point I would like the Minister to deal with in reply. Up to a few months ago I know that there was at least one man in an asylum as a result of ill-treatment received by enemy forces. From information which I have got, I believe there are others also in asylums as the result of such ill-treatment. I would like to know whether such cases will be considered.

I have no objection of any kind to associate in the title of this Bill the name of the Irish Citizen Army of 1916. I did mention, in speaking on the last day, the reason why we did not include it in the title, viz., that the Irish Volunteers played rather a different part in the whole struggle that was taking place to bring about the present situation, but the Irish Citizen Army is entitled to be mentioned in the Bill just as it is entitled to be provided for the part which it took at that particular time. On the question of distinctions between officers and men, you have officers and you have men at the present time bearing rather different responsibilities and playing rather a different part in the work that is carried out by the Army. In the matter of making a difference in making provision for the dependants, we are bearing that in mind and we are influenced by general precedent. Even in the pre-Truce days you had officers and men, and you had even then a greater distinction between work that was carried out and a greater distinction between the services rendered by officers and men. The presence or absence of an officer, or two or three officers in any particular district made all the difference in the world as to whether you got any return from the men in the district or not. I do not see any reason, on the face of it, why the provisions that we propose to make with regard to these two distinct classes should undergo any change. I would rather put on anybody else the onus of showing why we should not make different provision for the widow and children of men who acted in the capacity of officers from those who acted simply as men. On the question with regard to persons who lost their lives as a result of hunger strike, or as a result of disease, or persons incapacitated as a result of these, we have to make rather a distinction between what is possible for the State to do, in a formal way through its machinery, and what it is possible for voluntary societies to do in the case of moneys voluntarily subscribed for the general purpose of giving assistance to people in distress. The purpose of this Bill is such that we do not desire to leave unprovided for, the dependants of anybody who in any phase of the armed struggle against the British lost his life or became incapacitated. You will have to be very careful in the matter of persons who say that they are suffering from consumption because of services rendered by them in a military capacity and because of nights they slept out. Voluntary societies may deal readily and generously with cases like that, but it is a different matter for the State to come along with its particular type of responsibility and handling money taken from people for definite purposes, to be indiscriminate about these matters. Our outlook on the Bill is that if a person died on hunger-strike in protest against the British in their actions here, to make provision for his dependants, or if a person died directly as the result of any action due to such protest to make provisions for his dependants also. I will have the provisions of the Bill examined to see whether, as they stand, they do secure that, and if they do not, to see what amendment is necessary to make that secure. The machinery it is proposed to set up is that we shall have a Medical Board, which will be responsible for examining all cases from the medical point of view and give decisions on medical points, and we shall have a Pensions' Board, set up by the Executive Council, which will deal with the judicial aspect of the examining of each case and the assessing of the various pensions. There will be set up under that Pensions Board the necessary machinery for the proper carrying out of the work in connection with the payment of these pensions. Any person who can be declared to have been a member of the Irish Volunteers, and to have given service will come within the scope of this Bill, and those persons who served actively and definitely as Intelligence Officers or members of the Intelligence Branch of the Volunteers would be included also. As far as the number of persons likely to have to be provided for is concerned, all I can say at the present moment is that roughly the number of people during the 1916 period, and that general period, who were killed or who died as an immediate result of their service at that time, is less than 100. The number of persons who, in the second period, that is down to the period of the Truce, who were killed in one way or another, amounts to 650, approximately. The number of persons who, in the present struggle lost their lives, is, approximately, 540. I am not in a position to give any approximate figures with regard to the persons who are permanently or semi-permanently disabled at the moment.

Would the Minister tell us, for information, whether there is an approximation to the normal relation between deaths and wounds, or has the normal experience in armies been thrown overboard in this case?

To a certain extent it has, and it would be impossible to say, at the present moment, what the percentage is, and how the number of persons in any way permanently disabled would compare with the number of persons who lost their lives.

Question: "That the Army Pensions Bill, 1923, be read a second time," put, and agreed to.

The next stage could be taken this day week.

In respect to the next stage may I suggest we should have some longer time for the purpose of bringing forward any amendments necessary? We have now a spate of Bills, and it is not easy to examine them all with a view to amendment when they are piled, on, one after the other. We have to attend here daily in addition to other occupations we have occasionally to fulfil, and, perhaps, if it is not an urgent matter, we might have a lengthened time before going on to the next stage of the Bill.

Is next Wednesday too soon?

We will have the Land Bill coming around, and one suspects there may be a desire to bring that into discussion fairly early. That may mean a preparation of amendments running alongside this. We have had three or four Bills during the last few days before this.

I take it the Land Purchase Bill cannot be taken in Committee next week. It must be postponed until the week after unless the Minister has some strong line.

I have no strong line on that. The Second Reading will be on to-morrow (Thursday). I do not see any reason why the Committee Stage should not be taken that day week. That is my own view. If it suits the Dáil we can defer it to the week after.

I think it would be better to defer it to the first sitting of the week after.

In view of the fact that the Land Purchase Bill will not be in Committee next week is Wednesday too soon for that? We will need to have a Money Resolution on the Committee Stage, and on that a great many questions raised to-day can be discussed.

Third Stage ordered for Wednesday, 20th June.

We will postpone the Money Resolution on the Orders of the Day until the Minister for Finance appears, and go on to the Rent Restrictions Bill.