I move: "That the Military Service Pensions Bill be received for Final Consideration."
MILITARY SERVICE PENSIONS BILL, 1924.
Before passing this Bill there is just a word I would like to say and that is to point out that the Bill is not going to satisfy the requirements, as indicated by the Minister himself, that it does not pretend to be any logical settlement of the cases that are made, and I think that it is certain to give rise to a great deal of dissatisfaction. While professing to be a Bill to empower the giving of pensions to men who have given service in the National Forces, it is really intended to give pensions to a section of those people who served in the Army pre-Truce. It deprives those who, while serving in that Army pre-Truce were not able, for one reason or another, to serve in the National Forces post-Truce, and as a consequence I think it is sure to give rise to even more trouble than it is going to allay. I am not opposing the Bill but I want to make it clear that it is firm opinion that it is not settling anything except a few cases, perhaps even many cases, but not by any means all those who deserve recompense for losses actually sustained or for broken careers. I think it would have been better if the intention had been to confine the pensions to specific classes or to groups of persons, that it should have been so stated.
As the Bill stands, and as it will pass no doubt, it rather suggests to a considerable number of people that they are being left unprovided for and unconsidered, and that no just reason has been given for that failure to give consideration. One result of the passing of the Bill will be to allow it to be said of all those who served in the pre-Truce period that they were serving because of their patriotic feelings and impulses and desires. Now, it may be said that those who are not receiving pensions served out of their patriotic impulses and that those who are, have that satisfaction taken from them. As I say, that is merely an illustration of the logical position that would be created by the passing of this Bill, and I think it is likely to be a misfortune rather than a benefit, except for the fortunate ones who are to be participants in the pensions.
I think that Deputy Johnson is seeing this Bill a little out of perspective, or seeing a number of things in the circumstances of the last four or five years a little out of perspective with regard to the Bill. I do not want to sponsor the Bill in any way. I have assisted in the Dáil to make any improvement in the Bill where possible from my particular point of view, but I think it would be wrong to look at the Bill from a wrong point of view, and I rise to make one or two remarks in regard to what Deputy Johnson has stated. Those who were members of the Second Dáil will naturally appreciate the fact that the idea never made its appearance in the Second Dáil that those who had given service in pre-Truce days should be pensioned in any way. There were one or two matters mentioned at one particular meeting of the Dáil early in 1922 as to how they might be assisted, but a proposal to pension them never came forward. In 1922, if it did not seem right that persons who served should receive pensions, we ought not, in 1924, develop that idea. I take it, it is not proposed that men who entered the National Forces in 1922, and who served, say, for a year and a half and who doubtless gave valuable service, should be put down as persons who ought to be pensioned. In the first place I would remind the President that in the beginning of 1923, when the considerations that have prompted the putting forward of a Bill in this form had not arisen, a much more modest proposal to deal with some of these cases, even the idea of such a modest proposal was rather looked at askance by him as Minister for Finance at that time. His idea, I take it now, is to meet the particular set of circumstances that has arisen, and that in a definite and particular way it is intended to deal with men who have been removed from their ordinary avocations in a period stretching back to 1919, because full-time service in the recent struggle against the British might be taken roughly to have begun in the beginning of 1919. Whatever went before that, was a matter of a very small number of individuals, so that we are dealing in this Bill with the fact that from 1919 to 1924 there was a certain class of individual, a person who gave pre-Truce service plus service in the National Army, and that his case deserves to be dealt with. I think we are only raising hopes, that, I suggest, ought not to be raised by statements in the Dáil, in the minds of people who served for a small period pre-Truce or post-Truce, when we speak of this Bill being framed from any other angle than recognising that men of a particular class have been removed from their ordinary sphere of life over the period 1919 to 1924. There is another point in connection with this Bill that I would like to draw attention to. The Bill is framed to meet the difficulty, that is no doubt a difficulty that might be foreseen, but at any rate, it is a difficulty of to-day. Many men who would come in under the terms of this particular Bill, six months ago or twelve months ago, did find employment in State service, and it is just a question as to whether, now, finding themselves brought in within the terms of a Bill, though they did not create the problem that brought about that Bill, and finding themselves entitled to a pension, they may be inclined to throw aside a position they have already secured and, through laziness or anything else, make themselves portion of the problem this Bill is provided to meet. I would ask the President to keep that consideration in mind and to see whether, before the Bill becomes an Act, a clause might not be in that way introduced into the Bill, that would prevent the problem increasing itself by the actions of men of the type I suggest. It is a matter that may have got his consideration already, but I think something might be done because I do see a possibility of the problem that this Bill is intended to meet increasing itself, simply because a Bill is brought forward.
I cannot help wishing that Deputy Mulcahy's speech had been delivered at an earlier stage in the Bill, and, if possible, by the President, because it would have tended to correct some false hopes of which he spoke. The title of this Bill is misleading. It raised hopes in many bosoms that may not be fulfilled. I agree with Deputy Johnson that for every one satisfied by this Bill four or five will find they have new grievances, because they have been left out of its scope, or cannot get pensions which they deserve. Both people who did not join the National Army for one reason or another, and people who have not had pre-Truce service, will feel they have been discriminated against. I know that feeling exists amongst men who joined the National Army in 1922. There is a feeling amongst them that the State used them when it needed them, and has no use for them now, and anything that tends to stimulate that feeling is. I suggest, a mistake. I am afraid if there were another appeal for men in the terms of July, 1922, there would not be as ready and prompt a response. These men have left the Army without any great recognition of their services. Psychology has been neglected. They have not been paraded or thanked, and nothing was done to help to create the feeling that they sustained the Government through a difficult and trying time. It is because I know the feeling exists and is dangerous to the State that I am speaking now. I do not suggest you can pension all those men. No country could do it. This country could not. It cannot afford it, and I am not suggesting it, but, before it was thought of pensioning anybody, some care should be taken of the reaction of the pension on the mind of those who would be ruled to be ineligible for them. I do not think that care was taken in this instance. The title of the Bill, the fact that a statement made on the introduction and Second Reading did not emphasise that only those with pre-Truce service would come under the Bill—all those factors are doing harm. The Bill goes from us now an imperfect measure. It has been very much improved, in my opinion, by the amendments Deputy Mulcahy moved in Committee, because they have made it less rigid and hide-bound; but it goes from us simply as an indication of an obligation, and I hope when he concludes the debate the President will explain—I know the reason, but I hope he will explain—to the world the reason why it is not possible to provide for every man who served the State, and will also express, as only he can, the gratitude of the country to those men who came forward in July, 1922.
I much regret that there should have been any misunderstanding regarding the scope of this measure. I thought it had been made very clear what we regarded as obligations that should be discharged, and that we faced on the other side of the column obligations which we acknowledged, but in respect of which we were unable to discharge any responsibility. In the cases mentioned by Deputy Cooper I am sure that I express the view of every member of the Dáil when I say we are under a debt of gratitude to the men who served us in that trying period, but I am sure they themselves would admit it was a very short period, and that while they rendered great service that there were many others who did not join the National Army, who perhaps did not join Oglaigh na hEireann previous to the establishment of the National Army, but who, nevertheless, rendered great service to the State during many a long day or month or year, and in respect of whom no charge would be made and no payment accepted. No acknowledgement of service rendered would be expected by them, or perhaps even graciously received by them. I think that some of the legislation administered in this country during the last eight or ten years has, perhaps, done more to sap the citizenship of the country than anything in the experience of the country during the last hundred years. For example, the British Government, at its departure, made very ample and generous provision for those who had assisted them here, either in the Civil Service, the Police or the Army service. The British Government is very rich. It has enormous revenues and ample means at its disposal for providing out of its wealth for those who served. But even there the British Government does not always provide for those who render Great Britain service either nationally or civically. And it ought not to be a feature of service in this country that people should feel soured unless ample provision is made for them in subsequent years or in their declining years.
At the present moment we have a very weighty pensions bill to meet every year not alone in respect of the State, but amongst the local authorities. I understand that there is one local authority at present in the country the liability of which in respect of pensions amounts to one shilling in the £. That is an enormous liability. We ought to try to get away from such an undue strain as liabilities of that kind will impose both on the State to-day and on the State of tomorrow, or the State of twenty years hence. It is not intended, I think, either by the representatives of local authorities or by the representatives here that any such natural moral obligations on the part of the State should not be met; but it must be remembered by those who advocate meeting them that the money might in a great many cases be very, very much better spent. In these particular cases that we are dealing with at the moment I submit that we have made an attempt here, as I have said already in this Dáil, to compensate those who gave pre-Truce service and National Army service, for the interruption that took place in their lives. For many months past I have had an opportunity of examining cases which have come before me of providing supplementary grants for ex-officers of the Army; and it has been borne in on me that in the vast majority of those cases—and in saying this I am not discounting by any means the services that were rendered —it has been borne in upon me, and it must be apparent to everybody in the State, that while good service was rendered, that service in the majority of cases was not continuous. Except in a few instances—few compared with the fifty thousand soldiers who have passed through our hands—the service could not be regarded as continuous service, or service of such a character that it absorbed the entire time of the individual in question. If you take, for example, one particular period that we have put down in this measure—the Easter Week period, where is the country that would give five years' service in respect of pension for that period, five years' purchase of a particular sum to which the individual would be entitled according to his rank?
In that respect we have attempted to be generous. But while being generous it is our duty also to be just. And I do not believe that the State can afford, could possibly afford to include in a measure of this sort all the people who have been mentioned by Deputy Johnson. And when Deputy Johnson takes his place here in the position which I now occupy he will realise that his popularity will be a great deal diminished as he finds it impossible to meet all the demands that are made upon him; and he will realise that while his heart may be big his purse is very light.
You need not wait for that day for that condition.
We have to see that there will be something left in the purse when other people come along to take our places. I do not mind the unpopularity which is bound to be reached by the Government in connection with these particular cases. We cannot help it. It is inevitable that it should occur, that people should be disappointed, that hopes should be raised that they would be entitled to benefit by this measure. But I say that if Ireland is going to be served only by persons who have got to be pensioned, then the future must be dark, indeed. We have the right to expect that in respect of services rendered to Ireland, compensation or payment should not be asked for in every case. If that had been the attitude during the past few years, I think we might not be in the independent position that we are in to-day. I regret very much that the State cannot afford to deal with all the cases. I admit at once that there are cases which do not come within the scope of this measure, and which in the ordinary way ought to. But it is one of the disadvantages of legislation that it is impossible to legislate for each individual case. We have endeavoured by this measure to compensate the vast majority of persons in respect of whom we have a moral obligation. We have not been able, I believe, to reach the whole of them, but in so far as we have been able to reach them we have done it according to the best of our ability and our capacity to bear the burden.
I wish to put a question to the President. Provision is made in this Bill for what he calls meeting a moral obligation without incurring an undue burden. In regard to those who are excluded from the Bill, might it not be possible that they should get a preference in such temporary Government employment as is frequently available in different parts of the country? Just as the soldier is now entitled to preference in the matter of employment, these men to whom I refer should be entitled to local temporary positions where they are available. If the President would see his way to make an order in that direction it would meet the cases of men who gave splendid service in the early days, but who were excluded from the Army, either through illness or some other cause of that nature. I know myself of many who are suffering very keenly because of their connection with the national cause.
I would be disposed to do everything that is possible to give employment to those persons where there was any such employment to be given. There is one point I forgot in winding up, and perhaps I might be permitted to mention it now—the cases mentioned by General Mulcahy of those who are in the service. It is possible some of them may leave the service. We cannot retain them. They have their rights under this measure. We thought we were making some provision for them when we included them in the service. If they leave the service we would then include in the service such people as are mentioned by Deputy O'Doherty or others in respect of whom we have an obligation which we are unable to discharge.
I think that is very satisfactory.