While speaking on this Bill on 5th May I was explaining the claims which were ruled out, and detailing the reasons why it was not deemed possible to include them in the Bill. I had intended to show how the claims which would properly be made under the Bill would be disposed of. It will be appreciated that the difficulties that existed under previous legislation, dealing with such claims as were made then, have been greatly accentuated by the passage of years. Whereas formerly it might have been easy to secure reliable evidence which would enable claims to be sifted and investigated, now, ten, and in some cases, 14 years later, it would be very difficult to do so.
A number of claims, under previous Acts, were dealt with departmentally, and, notably, those in regard to damage done by the National Army, and also claims which were made under the Indemnity Act. We have come to the conclusion, however, with the possibility now of having exaggerated and bogus claims made that really, from the point of view of the State and, also, as I shall explain later, from the point of view of the applicant, the only satisfactory method of having these claims examined is to have them investigated and proved in open court. Accordingly, in this Bill, it is provided that the application shall be heard by the Circuit Court. This court hearing will inevitably and in general take place in the area where loss in respect of the claims made was sustained. That will have, from the point of view of the State, this advantage: that being made in open court the Press will be present and the evidence will be taken only upon oath which will tend to eliminate fraudulent claims and to reduce exaggerated ones.
On the other hand, from the point of view of the applicant, a legal hearing will have this advantage that such I.R.A. officers, as may be available, can come to court to support just claims and, we hope, to refute unjust ones. The cost of the proceedings, both to the State and to the applicants will, we believe, also by this means, be reduced to a minimum. We have very carefully considered the matter and we cannot see any alternative to this proposal. If a commission were set up to deal specifically with the claims that arise under this Bill, there would be considerable delay in dealing with them. The commission would have to go from county to county and from place to place if it were to meet the convenience of the applicants. That would involve the State in undue expense and it would not relieve the applicants of expense to any greater extent than will the machinery proposed in the Bill. The mere fact that one commission would have to investigate all the claims would mean that some applicants in favoured districts would get a great priority over applicants in more remote districts. Before the whole procedure would be wound up and all the claims made under the Act disposed of, a very considerable period would have elapsed. On the other hand, if we avail of the Circuit Courts, we can have what will be the equivalent of a number of commissions sitting simultaneously. In every court district, applications will be examined at the same time and claims will be heard and disposed of. Under that procedure, one great advantage to the State and to the applicant will be that a great deal of very valuable time— valuable to the State and to the applicant—will be saved. Perhaps that time is more valuable to the applicant than to the State, because the applicants complain that justice has so long been deferred.
As to the manner of payment, it is proposed that decrees up to £300 and awards in consequence of reports of less than £50 shall be paid in cash. Decrees exceeding £300 and awards on reports of £50 and over will be paid in 3½ per cent. stock, save for odd balances of less than £50. As under the preceding Acts recovery may be effected from decrees or awards on reports of debts due to State Departments and local authorities in respect of income-tax and rates. This was the procedure followed under the 1923 Act and, in justice to the State and to the local authorities, we could not depart from it now.
A minor matter dealt with in the Bill, which does not properly arise out of the disqualifications imposed upon certain applicants under preceding legislation, is that advantage will be taken of this measure to terminate on 30th September, 1934, the liabilities of the Exchequer in respect of outstanding awards made under previous legislation. The main object of this provision is to dispose of a number of awards made subject to a reinstatement condition. The most recent of these awards was made over six years ago and the beneficiaries have had time in the interval to make up their minds as to rebuilding. We cannot allow the present position to continue indefinitely and, accordingly, we are now going to compel the beneficiaries definitely to make up their minds as to whether they will reinstate or not. If they are not going to reinstate, then we hold that they should forfeit their awards. The last provision in the Bill is one whereby if a person has received compensation in respect of property lost and such property is subsequently recovered, it shall, on recovery, become the property of the Minister for Finance and shall be used for the benefit of the Exchequer unless the original owner desires to buy it back.
With regard to the sections of the Bill, Section 1 is the definition section. Section 2 defines the classes of cases that come within the Bill. As I have already indicated, these are claims for injury to property where no claim was made to the Compensation (Ireland) Commission in pre-Truce cases or to the court in post-Truce cases or, if made to the court, were dismissed on political grounds. Claims may also be made under this section for goods taken by Volunteers or Republican forces where no claim was made to the Indemnity Act Committee or to the court or, if made to the latter, was dismissed on political grounds. Section 3 indicates the procedure to be followed by applicants in lodging claims, and limits the time for lodgment to three months after the passing of the Act. Section 4 applies the provisions of the 1923 Act, modified or amended where necessary, including the deletion of the penal provisions of Sections 9 and 15 or that Act. It also provides for the hearing of claims by the Circuit Court, and in cases of injury to buildings it provides that compensation shall be assessed on the market value and not on the full restoration basis of the building. Section 5 specifies the items in respect of which compensation will not be granted. As I have already pointed out, the principal of these is consequential loss. No claims will be entertained for consequential loss, for billeting or for cash taken or expended. Section 6 empowers the Minister for Finance to pay compensation on foot of reports made under the 1923 Act, which were refused by the former Minister on political grounds. Section 7 prescribes the method of payment and re-enacts the provisions of the Act of 1923 enabling recovery to be made from a decree or report for any debt due to a Government department or local authority in respect of arrears of rates or taxes. Section 8 provides that the 10 per cent. addition which, under the amending Act of 1926, was made to awards under the 1923 Act shall not apply to awards made under this Bill. Section 9 embodies the provision I have already referred to— that after 30th September, 1934, no payment shall be made out of public funds on foot of any awards made under existing legislation in respect of property losses during the pre-Truce or post-Truce period. Section 10 provides that chattels in respect of which compensation has been paid from public funds shall become the property of the Minister for Finance and, where recovered, that the Minister may sell them or otherwise dispose of them for the benefit of the Exchequer.
It is not possible to estimate at this stage, with any great degree of accuracy, what the total cost of this Bill will be to the Exchequer. Claims received between the 1st March, 1932, and 28th February, 1933, number 1,280 and amount to £118,000. In addition, there are report cases under the Act of 1923 aggregating £52,000, payment of which has been withheld.
I have no doubt many new claims will be made as a result of this measure. I am certain that not all of them will be valid and that not all of them will be sustained. I should say that the total cost of this measure, when it becomes law, will probably be in the neighbourhood of £350,000. It is a very large sum. I do not wish to disguise that fact, or withhold it from the House; but it is a sum which, I think, in justice must be paid.
As I have already indicated, the necessity for introducing this Bill arose entirely out of the discriminatory provision included in the original Act. It is only just that there should be no discrimination between one section of the community and another in regard to matters of this kind. I think it would have been a graceful act if our predecessors, when they had the power and when they felt themselves secure in office, had done what we are doing now. They could not see their way to do it. I hope the fact that they could not see their way to make that gesture at that time will not impel them now to oppose what is merely an act of justice long deferred.
I am sure all of us want, as soon as we can, to heal wounds that were left by the civil war. None of us wants the bitterness which that civil war engendered to remain. One of the things that would keep the old wounds rankling and festering would be an indication on the part of those who took part in that war an either side not to give justice and compensation where justice and compensation have been long withheld.