I wish to draw the attention of the House to the part of this Vote that comes under Sub-head J in regard to medical attendance on the Gárda Síochána. I think most Deputies and the public generally believe that the Vote for medical attendance on the Gárda covers full system of medical attendance for members of the Gárda Síochána; that a man entering the Gárda comes under the care of the authorities as regards any medical attendance he may need during his service, in the same sense and to the same degree as a soldier entering the National Army comes under the care of the Army authorities as regards whatever medical attendance he may require. I must confess that it was a considerable surprise to me when I found that that is not the case, but that a member of the Gárda is granted only a limited degree of medical attendance and that any special medical attendance he may require he has to provide at his own expense.
I submit that it is against the interests of the force that this medical attention should be insufficient and inadequate as it is; that it would be to the interest of the force and for the good of the country that the health of the Gárda should be safeguarded as adequately as it would be in the power of the authorities to safeguard it; that care should be taken to prevent illness occurring in the force; and that when illness does occur, the member of the force who suffers should be given a full degree of medical attendance with any special attention that is required. The position is that a member of the force who falls ill is entitled to what may be called the attention of a general medical practitioner, but he is not entitled to anything further unless the illness from which he suffers is due definitely to his service in the force, and not merely to his service in the force, but to the fact of injury being received in the course of his duty. Where a member of the Gárda requires further attention which cannot be given by the ordinary medical attendant, he has to provide it at his own expense or to accept it as an act of charity from a public hospital.
That is the position at the moment. If he enters a public hospital and some contribution towards his maintenance in the hospital is paid, it is deducted from his pay. No payment is made for his treatment in the public hospital. There is, I understand, a contribution towards the cost of his maintenance but nothing further. The suggestion has been made by the Gárda authorities that a Gárda is a suitable subject for the charity of a hospital in the same sense as a scavenger on the streets of Dublin. That is the exact parallel used by the Gárda authorities in reference to this particular question when the point was raised with them some months ago. I submit that it is not for the good of the force, for the good of the contentment of the force, or for the good of the health of the force that they should be treated in that way and put in the undignified position of seeking public charity for the necessary hospital attendance they may require as a result of illness.
It is necessary to go further and to ask what is the nature of, and in what way is the ordinary medical attendance provided for members of the Gárda? For a considerable time, from the foundation of the force until comparatively recently, the custom followed previously in regard to the Royal Irish Constabulary was followed in the country districts. A reputable medical man, very commonly the dispensary doctor of the district in which the Gárda station was situated, was invited to give medical attention to the men of the station and he was paid by means of a capitation fee. It was part of his duty not only to attend the men when sick but to exercise a general surveillance over the sanitary condition of the station, and, in that way, endeavour to prevent the occurrence of sickness in the station and in every way possible to preserve the health of the men before falling sick, and not merely endeavour to give them necessary attention when sick.
A different system has been adopted in recent years which is very inferior to the old system. In the last few years, when a vacancy occurs, a different system is adopted. The officers of the Gárda, acting, no doubt, on local advice, used to choose a medical man of repute to look after the health of the station generally, but what is done now is to invite all the medical men within a radius of several miles of the station to tender for attendance on the men when sick, and to state what fees they will charge per visit. The position is put up for auction and the man who values his services most cheaply is given the appointment. The man who values his services very cheaply is not likely to be mistaken in his estimate of his own value. We have the principle now being adopted by the Gárda authorities that the cheapest attendance is what they will give to the Gárda—the attendance which is valued most cheaply by the person who gives it.
I submit that the change of policy is mischievous and is unfair to the Gárda who deserve the best attention that can be given them in regard to sickness; and that it has substituted a much inferior system for a system which, on the whole, worked very well in the past. I would urge the Minister for Justice, who, I am quite certain, is very interested in the welfare of the individual men of the Gárda, as, I believe, we all are, to give his personal attention to this alteration of the system in regard to the attendance given to the Gárda, and to return to the old system as regards choice of medical attendant in country districts and consider the propriety of providing full medical attendance for the men of the Gárda in regard to the sickness they may encounter in the ordinary course of nature, and not merely limit that attendance to what is given in the case of injuries received in the course of duty.