In Committee on Finance. - Vote No. 7—Old Age Pensions.

I move:—

Go ndeontar suim Bhreise ná raghaidh thar £74,400 chun íoctha an Mhuirir a thiocfaidh chun bheith iníoctha i rith na bliana dar críoch an 31adh lá de Mhárta, 1934, chun íoctha Pinsean Sean-Aoise (8 Edw. 7, c. 40; 1 agus 2 Geo. 5, c. 16; 9 agus 10 Geo. 5, c. 102; Uimh, 19 de 1924, Uimh. 1 de 1928, agus Uimh. 18 de 1932); chun Pinsean do Dhaill (10 agus 11 Geo. 5, c. 49, a. 1 agus Uimh. 18 de 1932); agus chun Costaisí riaracháin áirithe bhaineann leo san.

That a Supplementary sum not exceeding £74,400 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending 31st March, 1934, for the payment of Old Age Pensions (8 Edw. 7, c. 40; 1 and 2 Geo. 5, c. 16; 9 and 10 Geo. 5, c. 102; No. 19 of 1924; No. 1 of 1928, and No. 18 of 1932); for Pensions to Blind Persons (10 and 11 Geo 5, c. 102; No. 19 of 1924; No. 1 and for certain administrative expenses in connection therewith.

Has the Minister anything to say as to the necessity for this Vote?

I think the necessity is clear. It arises out of the increased number of pensions which have been granted this year and out of the more humane administration of the Old Age Pensions Act.

I should like to say a word on the "humane administration" of the Old Age Pensions Act. I have cases at present in Donegal of people who are waiting three, four, and in some cases five months in order to be examined for blind pensions. Some of those people went to Derry and got certificates there. In some of those cases it was held that that was not a sufficient certificate of blindness, although it was given by a qualified oculist. It now appears that in order to qualify for a blind pension you must submit for examination to the Department's ophthalmologist. I should like to say that, in my experience, the gentleman who is charged with those duties at present is doing all that any man could possibly do to expedite appeals on blind pensions, but the volume of work which he is called upon to do is quite beyond the capacity of any individual, and the Department, I submit, if they wish to be as humane as the Minister for Local Government or the Minister for Finance would wish us to believe they are, must take steps either to increase the staff of ophthalmologists in the Department of else decide that they will be prepared to accept the certificate of the local medical officer in regard to blindness. I can speak with special knowledge for the County Donegal, as I have no doubt Deputy Blaney could too.

There are not so many cases of blindness there.

I am happy to think that there are no more cases of blindness in County Donegal than there are in any other county, but such as they are, they are being unduly delayed in getting the pensions to which they are entitled. I have no doubt it applies to Kerry and other counties as well. It is a matter for immediate consideration. That refers to administration. I want to refer to a typical case of what the Department considers to be blindness for the purpose of this Act. I had a case before the Department of Local Government and Public Health to which I drew the Parliamentary Secretary's attention, and in respect to which I addressed a question to him. It was in regard to a man who was certified to be blind in one eye and to have, if my memory serves me right, 6/16ths of normal vision in the other eye, and the humane administration of the Blind Pensions Act held that that man was not blind for the purposes of the Act at all. He was told to go out and do his work, and that he was well able to earn his living. That man has applied again for the pension, and his application is being appealed against. I hope when that appeal comes before the Parliamentary Secretary he will imbibe a little of the humanity which is overflowing from his chief, the Minister, and from the Minister for Finance. I do not know whether cases like that could be produced from other counties, but until the Minister for Finance is satisfied that cases of that kind do not occur he would be wiser not to speak of the humanity with which he administers the old age pension code.

This Estimate is not correctly described by the Minister when he says that it has been more humanely administered. The fact is that the Minister got a wrong Estimate; he must have got a wrong Estimate. The sum which he got was approximately £230,000, and the sum required was approximately £300,000. There was some reason for that. There was some miscalculation. There was apparently an entire misinterpretation of what the Act entailed. The Act provides not only for the very poor, but for those who are not poor at all; it embraces pensions for people in very comfortable circumstances—people who are in more comfortable circumstances than members of the Ministry, not-withstanding what we heard last week about the wealth of some member of the Ministry. The fact is that the Ministry must have miscalculated completely, and got a miscalculation of the estimate of cost. That is the fact, and the Dáil should not be misled by the statement that it is owing to a more humane administration. While that is so with regard to this dispensation of wealth to those who are in comfortable circumstances, there has been a statutory withholding of it from those who have far more moral claim, but are legally debarred by reason of some negligible income, such as a payment from one of the trade unions or something of that sort. It would be well if the Minister would say that the Ministry in charge of it made a complete mistake in this Estimate, and did apparently not properly calculate nor consider what was the cost of the Bill which was introduced here, and was supposed to look after the very poor, but in its essence looks after the comfortably-off.

I should like to ask the Minister what time is supposed to elapse between the date on which the local committee testifies that a claim is valid—a claim for old age pension or a blind pension—and the date on which payment begins? How long after the decision? The reason I ask the question is that I know of a good many cases—and the Parliamentary Secretary must be aware of them— where old age pensions and, in some cases, blind pensions, were granted as far back as September, 1932, and the money came only a week or two before last Christmas; in other words, over twelve months had elapsed between the decision and the first payment. There must be something wrong somewhere. If the Department say they have not got the money, we know where we are. I want to know what is the cause. The cases I referred to must be within the knowledge of the Parliamentary Secretary. The cases occurred in Cork; I do not know anything about Tipperary, Kerry or anywhere else. The award was given in September, 1932, and they only received payment in December, 1933. What was the cause of the delay? When the claimants got their first instalment it amounted to only £3 in some cases, while about £22 or £23 was due. I should like to know from the Minister what is the cause of that delay?

I also wish to ask the Minister if he will tell us the cause of the delay in appeals in Co. Mayo. Several thousand appeals are pending for the last five or six months in that county. Several cases were passed in 1932 and nothing has been done with them yet. I know also certain cases where, within the last week, there was a notification from the Department that the claims were passed for the full pension, and the party died last August. I think there is somebody responsible, and I hope the Minister will take steps to expedite the matter.

Deputy Dillon, posing as the friend of humanity, and speaking from the benches opposite in association with Deputies of this House who, when they were Ministers, virtually refused to concede pensionable rights to any person unless he were stone blind, carries amusement beyond the borders of ridicule. I said, and I repeat, that this excess is due to a more humane administration of the Pensions Acts than prevailed during the period of our predecessors' administration. The original estimate of the number of persons eligible for pensions in the current year has not been exceeded, but the estimate of the average weekly amount payable by way of pensions to those persons has been exceeded. That has been due to the more humane operation—I again repeat it—of the Appeals Tribunal in the Department of Local Government and Public Health. Deserving cases, which possibly under our predecessors would have been turned down owing to a too rigid and unsustainable calculation of means, are now permitted to secure the benefit of the Act, in the spirit in which the Dáil intended when the Act was being passed. Deputy Dillon has cited one case. I wonder what chance the particular person concerned in that case would have had of procuring a pension under our predecessors—a person who, according to the certificate presented, the validity of which would possibly have to be examined and might be contested, had six-sixteenths of normal vision in one eye? Not if Deputy Dillon had been a member of the Dáil and had that applicant sitting on his doorstep, and Deputy Dillon brought him up and set him down on the doorstep of his colleague on the front bench, Deputy Mulcahy, would he have the faintest chance of getting a pension. Many others who have got pensions under this Act and under this Administration would have been in the same position. Deputy Anthony has cited one case. He has told us about a person who applied for a pension and was granted it in September, 1932— granted it by whom?

The local committee.

The local committee have no power to grant pensions.

The claim was passed and forwarded, and the Government decision reached twelve months afterwards. I will bring the letter to the Minister if he wants it.

And what is more, the Deputy will remember that when the claim was granted—some time he said in December, 1933—the arrears of pension which were payable to that person amounted to a sum of only £3. Therefore, the person, if he were to draw the full pension at the rate of 10/- a week, could only—on the ground of age or some other statutory requirement—have become entitled to that pension about six weeks before it was paid to him. On the facts, as the Deputy himself has recited them in this House, the local pensions committee who made the recommendation in 1932 were not justified in doing so. That is the sort of case we have trotted out here by Deputy Anthony. The Deputy ought to make sure of his facts before he comes here. If he wanted this matter investigated he ought to have it put down as a Parliamentary question, and not have relied—as I believe he is now relying—on his imagination.

On a point of order, I respectfully submit that I am not relying on my imagination. I am prepared to bring proofs to the Minister if he requires them. I am prepared to put in his hands the replies I received from the Department, as far back as 1932, that those persons were entitled to pensions; the pensions were awarded in September, 1933.

I would sooner hear someone on the Ministerial Benches who knows something about this matter replying to the criticisms raised here, particularly by Deputy Cosgrave. I would like to hear someone who can tell us something about the real reasons why this additional money is required. The humanity that the Minister for Finance speaks about now and then, and that is planned for so very carefully from the Government offices, finds itself oozing out in the strangest possible places. It is people other than those for whom that humanity is really intended, and about whom the speeches are made and the preachings are carried on here in the Dáil who benefit; it is into other hands than those that that humanity gets itself in the end. The Minister for Local Government, a day or two ago, insisted that he was not going to do anything to implement the humanity that was spoken about on the turf scheme, and the poor in the City of Dublin are being given turf which the Minister for Education tells was only half the value of coal, at a cost to the ratepayers that is greater than the cost of coal.

I would like to hear the Minister for Local Government or his Parliamentary Secretary telling us what is happening under the Old Age Pensions Act. If they tell us what they know, they will tell the House that what they were told from these benches when they passed the Old Age Pensions Act was true; that is, that the biggest burden of the additional cost that the new Act is putting on this country is a burden for giving pensions to persons in very substantial and comfortable circumstances and who are in no public need of old age pensions at all. The Parliamentary Secretary very jauntily told the House, when introducing the Bill, that it would cost a certain amount, but that he hoped it would cost more. The Estimate was more than generous at the time. Dangers in the Old Age Pensions Act were pointed out here. It would be much more satisfactory to the House, when this Estimate for the very substantial sum of £75,000 is being presented, if Deputies were given some information as to what happened under the Old Age Pensions Act.

There ought to be some particulars showing how this figure is arrived at. Has the number increased? The number must be enormously increased to necessitate this substantial Estimate. It may as well be remembered that people other than those in this House are going to pay for it. Surely it ought to be possible to get the number of persons concerned; what is the exact amount involved, and how much is humanity responsible for out of the £75,000. Is it responsible for 10,000 persons getting 1/- a week more, or what exactly are the circumstances?

I would like to refresh the memory of the late Minister for Local Government and Public Health in connection with one case. He has talked of humanity. I remember an agricultural labourer in my constituency who succeeded in living to the age of 70, and he applied for a pension. The local committee granted him a pension but, as usual, there was an appeal. An official of the Department, who was probably paid £5 or £10 a week, spent three weeks in the area collecting evidence from farmers. He asked them how long this applicant worked for them, what they paid him, did they give him a bit of tobacco, and so on. All the information was compiled, and in the end the application was refused. After a long fight the poor man succeeded in getting 2/- a week. This man had absolutely no property, and he had lived by the sweat of his brow. I remember that case perfectly, and we were told that the authorities had acted most generously towards this man.

Was he living with his family?

He was living alone?

He had nowhere to live. He was travelling round from farmer to farmer. His board was taken into consideration, too. The man was more or less kept on charity by the people there except for two or three months of the year when he was working at the harvest. He was dependent on the local farmers for a bit to eat. That was humanity. Now we are told we are spending extravagantly because that unfortunate man is getting ten shillings a week.

The Deputy entirely misses my point. We know his keen interest in the agricultural labourers, although his policy has succeeded in reducing their wages in Cork, as well as in every other part of the country. What we are asking is what amount of the £75,000 is going to go to the type of person on whose behalf the Deputy speaks, and what amount is going to go to people in substantially comfortable circumstances.

I wish to assure the Deputy that the agricultural labourers of Cork county——

Their wages have been cut.

——Will be a long time sorry before they depend on him for assistance. They got too much of the Deputy. I would like to know how much was spent by those £5 and £10 a week officals who went around asking how many pipefuls of tobacco this man got from the farmers. How much was paid to those officials for that job?

The Deputy is aware that the Deputy to whom he addresses the question is not in a position to give the information and, even if he were, it would not be relevant.

At least they would be enlightening.

Deputy Cosgrave asked the Minister to give some clear information as to the purpose for which this Supplementary Estimate was required. The Minister hugged himself and said he was the most humane creature who ever sat in these seats, and he intended to get more and more humane with the passage of time. But the Minister forgets that President de Valera got up three months ago and said that he was very much dissatisfied with the way the Old Age Pensions Act was being administered. He said that it seemed to him there was extravagance and that it was clear that tightening was required. I am sure the Minister remembers the President saying that.

The President never said anything of the kind. I think the Deputy should quote the remark.

I remember it very well. Does the Parliamentary Secretary remember the President saying that the expenditure on old age pensions was considerably greater than was anticipated and that it seemed clear to him that there ought to be a tightening up in the expenditure of the Act?

I will get the reports later, and I will refer the Parliamentary Secretary to that passage.

The Deputy's paraphrasing of it is very inaccurate and misleading.

The Parliamentary Secretary remembers the passage to which I refer?

Distinctly.

Perhaps he will give his version of it when I sit down. So far as the itinerant labourer to whom Deputy Corry refers is concerned, Deputy Corry is apparently blandly ignorant of the fact that there is nothing in the Old Age Pensions Act of 1932 which would entitle that labourer to a penny more than he would have got under the original measure, and every penny that that man got under the circumstances which Deputy Corry describes, he was entitled to and would have got and could have got under the old administration.

But did not get.

I wonder is the Minister quite satisfied with the charges Deputy Corry has made in a certain set of circumstances, when he knows that the men who were determining the Old Age Pension appeals then are the same men who administer them now? Does he believe that any man was deprived of his legal due by the men who were administering Old Age Pensions in 1931? Does he not know perfectly well that that is the cheapest form of crossroad slander upon a body of men who cannot defend themselves? Does he not know from his own experience that in all cases that come before the Department of Local Government and Public Health of people who should get the pension, such persons would get that pension? With all the facts as stated by Deputy Corry, a man earning 6/- a week would be entitled to a full 10/- a week pension. A man to-day earning 6/- a week, with all the magnanimity of the Minister, is only entitled to 10/- a week. Is it not so that in 1931 he would be similarly entitled?

It is quite clear the Deputy is unfamiliar with the terms of the Act of 1932.

No, I am not. The only additional benefit a person could get under the Act of 1932 is that maintenance by his family would not be taken into consideration.

Maintenance which he received as charity.

I asked Deputy Corry if the man he mentioned was living with his relatives and he said no. Whatever he earned he earned as wages with the sweat of his brow——

May I enlighten the Deputy on two points on this matter? One of these is that when Deputy Mulcahy was the proud dictator in the Local Government Department, even Deputy Dillon dare not go there to interview the officials, or to open up one of those cases with the officials. If he did he would be ordered out for having dared to come to make such representations.

He was not even as decent as Mr. Thomas. He says the door is still open but Deputy Mulcahy shut all doors.

There were no wages so far as this man was concerned. He was kept by a couple of farmers for charity. He did a little work for them if he was able.

He did a little here and there.

If he was able. If he was not able to work for three months he would be kept by the farmers for those three months. But when an official came to inquire into this matter he asked the farmers did he smoke.

The Deputy will have an opportunity of making his speech after me. I have no doubt the case will now be suitably amended, but the fact remains, with all the attacks on humanity, that what we are concerned with is the administration of the law as it stands to-day, and I draw attention to the fact that if there are hardships experienced by persons who have certain legal rights under the law as it stands to-day, these hardships should be redressed. If a man who retains 6/16th of his vision is denied a blind pension, that man is suffering a hardship which should be redressed. I remind the Minister that the definition of blindness is that a person shall have vision so defective as to prevent him following his ordinary avocation. Even the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Local Government and Public Health, I am sure, will not pretend to the House that that provision is being literally interpreted. A person must be a great deal more blind than indicated by that section to get a pension. I would be very interested to hear from the Parliamentary Secretary his version of what the President had to say as to the administration of the Old Age Pensions Act.

Turn it up and read it for yourself.

Surely the Parliamentary Secretary will give us his version?

I could not possibly do so. Since Deputy Dillon joined the Party opposite he has gone to the dogs altogether.

I would like to inform Deputy Dillon that the result of the recent Act is that the poor man about whom I spoke has now 10/- a week and need not thank either Deputy Mulcahy or Deputy Dillon.

I support the action of the Minister in these matters. It is quite right that there should be a tightening up. I was rather amazed to hear Deputy Mulcahy say that nobody but a spendthrift would get the old age pension. I hold the very reverse idea. I hold that a man who has been an industrious worker all his life and reaches the age of 70 is entitled to get a pension.

The Deputy has completely misquoted me. I said nothing about spendthrifts.

The Deputy meant that.

Are we to hear nothing from the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary as to how this £75,000 is to be expended?

In providing for old age pensions and blind pensions.

Question put and agreed to.