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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 23 Jul 1935

Vol. 58 No. 9

Unemployment Assistance (Amendment) Bill, 1935—Money Resolution.

I move:—

That it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas of any expenses incurred in carrying into effect any Act of the present Session to amend and extend the Unemployment Assistance Act, 1933.

It is not easy to say what the expenditure under the Act will be. There are two main provisions which will involve expenditure. One arises from the extension of the definition of the term "continuously employed." That extension of the definition, it is estimated, might cost £25,000, if it had no other effect than to increase the number of claims, but we anticipate that it will have the effect of encouraging people to take shorter terms of work when they offer and, consequently, the additional cost may not be so high as the figure I have mentioned, The second provision involving increase of expenditure arises from the necessity of appointing appeals officers. In the first year the expenses under that section will be higher than in subsequent years when the arrears of appeals will have been cleared off. It is expected that in the first year the expenses under that head will be £5,000.

Could the Minister give us more information with regard to the appeals or could he say when he hopes under the new machinery that the great number of appeals pending will be dealt with? Apart from the appeals which will necessarily arise as a result of this amending Act, there are 32,000 to 35,000 appeals at present pending. Could the Minister say in what period he hopes to have these appeals cleared, particularly in view of the fact that many of these cases have been awaiting decision for a period of 12 months or more? The whole position with regard to appeals is very unsatisfactory at the moment. Deputies are continually getting letters from unemployed persons who have appealed asking for that information. I have received hundreds myself and I am sure other Deputies are in the same position. The Minister has for a very good reason refused to answer questions in the House as to individual cases. We are placed in this position at present that the person who has appealed can get no information and we, on his behalf, can get no information. The Minister has not now told us when he hopes that appeals under the principal Act will be cleared off. It should be also noted that, so far as I know, those people who have appealed will not be entitled to retrospective payments when the appeals have been decided in their favour.

It would appear to me to be to the advantage of the Minister for Finance that the decisions in the case of the appeals should be delayed. I am not suggesting that that is the reason for the delay, but it would be a very good reason from the point of view of the Minister for Finance. We ought to be told whether the Minister is satisfied with the new machinery he has set up and whether that machinery will be adequate to have these appeals cleared within a reasonable time. It seems to me that it would be very difficult to clear 30,000 to 35,000 appeals within a reasonable time. Surely we ought to have from the Minister some information as to what his proposal is—whether it is proposed first to take the long-standing appeals and give them priority. It seems to me that men whose cases have been appealed for six, nine or twelve months should have their cases taken first. Some of the appeals have been pending for more than 12 months and the decision in such cases should be given priority. Then there are cases of married men with families and great hardships are suffered in those cases. I appreciate the Minister's difficulties in dealing with the matter. I suggest he ought to take the steps necessary to give clearance to these appeals in the shortest possible time.

I think the Minister indicated the cost of two sections of this Bill, and he stated that the cost of the amendment in connection with the continuous periods of unemployment would be £25,000. He said the cost of the appeals section would be approximately £5,000. What I am mainly concerned with is the saving to the Exchequer that would be effected by one section. I would like to know from the Minister whether, he is in a position to inform us what the extent of the saving is? Can the Minister say whether he has made any inquiries and whether we can have some information of that kind so as to be able to appraise the merits of this Bill—if there are on balance any merits in it?

When we were discussing the Bill on the last occasion I said it was worthless from the point of view of the unemployed, and I say again that my suspicions in that respect are confirmed. The Minister said on that occasion that there were five good sections in this Bill, and he proceeded to enumerate them. Some of them are only good when viewed from the standpoint that there is a jam caused by the Minister's own sluggish administration. There has been a complete deluge of appeals in the Department, and that is caused by the Minister's slowness in getting rid of the appeals. I suggest to the Minister that under this Bill the Exchequer is gaining an amount of money. The Minister spoke of five sections which are beneficial to the claimants in the Bill, but the amount of benefit in these sections will be nothing as against what will be saved to the Exchequer under Section 11. If the Minister disputes that, we are entitled to know what sum of money will be saved to the Exchequer under Section 11 so that we can compare that and weigh it. against the five other sections in the Bill.

I join with Deputy Morrissey in protesting against the grievances in the matter of appeals under the principal Act. The Minister in replying to a question in this House has already indicated that there are over 30,000 appeals yet to be dealt with, and that 23,000 of these appeals have been in since January last. That was the last reliable information we had from the Minister. That is a hopeless and chaotic state of affairs, and besides being a chaotic state of affairs it is unjust as well, because many of the applicants are persons who appealed against the reduction in the amount of their assistance benefit many months ago. When their appeals are considered, if it is decided that they are entitled to an increase, they will not be paid retrospectively. In other words, the man who submitted an appeal last August—if he gets a decision in July this year, having been so lucky as to have waited only 11 months—even after getting the decision he will not get the benefit retrospectively of the increase.

Suppose it was decreased.

Has the Minister any information of such cases?

There are cases where the applicant on appeal was held not to be entitled to unemployment assistance at all.

If I put down a question to-morrow, could I have that information from the Minister?

The Deputy has it now.

I should like to get the information and to discuss it. I am not standing for the person who is not entitled to unemployment assistance benefit. I am standing for the person who is clearly entitled to unemployment assistance benefit; who has his benefit reduced in the first instance; who makes an appeal against the reduction of his benefit; who has his appeal held up for 12 months, and then gets the decision applied only from the current date. To put it frankly and plainly, that person is being swindled out of his arrears of benefit for the previous 12 months. There is no other term to apply to it. A man makes a claim for benefit; he does not get the benefit to which he thinks he has a right; he appeals; the Appeals Tribunal says: "Yes, you are entitled to the full benefit, but because of the way in which the Act is drawn we are not going to give it to you from the time at which you were entitled to it. We are going to give it to you only from a date 12 months later than that on which you should have got it." That seems to me to be downright legalised swindling. Even in this amending Bill, which I do not want to discuss on this motion, the Minister is not taking any power whatever to remedy that obvious injustice to unemployed persons. It is proposed to continue this scheme, by which appeals will be held up, and under which, when the applicants get a favourable decision, it will apply only from the current date instead of from the date on which the appeal was lodged.

The Minister might, if he had no amending Bill before the Dáil, plead that the removal of the injustice would require amending legislation. He might have pleaded also that the legislative programme was such that he could not have that amending legislation at the moment. But here we have an amending Bill. Is not this an opportune moment for inserting an amendment in that Bill which will give such persons the right to their full benefit as from the date on which they made an appeal for that benefit, in cases where that appeal is held up by the Tribunal to which they apply? I think the Minister must admit that the present position is grossly unfair to those people. There has not been a single attempt to defend the refusal to apply a favourable decision retrospectively when appeals are held up for a period of six or 12 months through no fault of the applicants themselves. If a man were to make an appeal in the month of July, and got a decision in the month of August, one might perhaps understand the position, although one could not logically explain why the decision on his appeal only took effect from the current date. But where a man submits an appeal and, for reasons outside his control but within the control of the Minister, his claim for benefit is not decided until 12 months afterwards, surely that man has a strong claim to be paid the higher amount of benefit retrospectively. If the Minister is convinced of the justice of that claim, I think he should avail of this amending Bill in order to make it possible for such persons to obtain that benefit.

There is another aspect of this whole Unemployment Assistance Act to which I should like to call attention. I think many Deputies will have had experience, during the past couple of months especially, of a large number of cases where payment of unemployment assistance benefit has been disallowed, no evidence being produced to the claimants as to the reasons for such action. Many cases have come to my notice where persons who have been drawing benefit for a long period have been notified by the local employment exchange that their benefit has been stopped pending investigation.

The Deputy is now dealing with administration, which can scarcely arise on a Money Resolution.

I think the matter does arise. I think it is being done by virtue of the powers claimed to be vested in the Minister under the Act.

On this Money Resolution we cannot go into everything arising under the Unemployment Assistance Act. The Deputy is dealing with purely administrative matters.

I think I would be entitled to discuss on this Money Resolution the general policy of the Department in that respect, seeing that the Minister is asking us to vote some additional moneys for the continuation of a policy of that kind, which I want to criticise.

If that were to be allowed, we would be entitled to go into everything which the Minister has done with reference to the previous Unemployment Assistance Act. All the administration of the previous Act would then arise on this Money Resolution, which, clearly, would be impossible.

I am not desirous of reviewing the administration under the principal Act. What I am anxious to do is to call attention to the fact that in regard to this particular amending Bill we ought to have some precise machinery set up for determining under what circumstances persons may have their unemployment assistance benefit stopped.

I cannot see how it arises on this Money Resolution.

I submit, Sir——

I do not see how it can arise on this Money Resolution. The Deputy will have each section of the Bill before him on Committee Stage.

Unfortunately, I do not see how I can get it before me on the amending Bill. If I did——

If it does not arise on the amending Bill I do not see how it can arise on the Money Resolution.

I suggest that, in connection with the provision of money for the administration of the amending Bill, it is not unreasonable that I should seek an opportunity of calling the attention of the Minister to the fact that in administering the amending Bill he ought to consider the establishment, in connection with that Bill, of machinery to replace the defective machinery under the principal Act.

The Deputy has called attention to it, and that is all he can do. He cannot go any further into it on this resolution.

May I discuss, Sir, the utilisation of the sum provided under this Money Resolution for continuing under this amending Bill an administration policy which I think is defective? Apparently, the Minister intends upon this amending Bill to continue a policy which, as practised under the principal Act, has been an unfair and a disorganised kind of policy.

The Deputy will not get past the Chair in that fashion.

I am not seeking to do so, Sir.

This Resolution is to authorise the payment out of money provided by the Oireachtas of any expenses incurred in carrying into effect any Act of the present session to amend and extend the Unemployment Assistance Act, 1933.

Very well, Sir. I accept your ruling on that. Perhaps the same point really arises in connection with the appeals legislation which it is proposed to set up under the amending Act. At present, many of the applicants for unemployment assistance benefit are having that benefit stopped. No explanation is given to them as to why it is stopped. They present themselves at the employment exchange and inquire why their benefit has been stopped. They are informed that certain investigation has to be made into the circumstances of their case. Perhaps some of them are fortunate enough to be able to ascertain that the complaint is in the form of an anonymous letter.

Is not the Deputy proceeding to discuss what I said he should not discuss?

I put to you, Sir, the point of view that the reason why this particular type of complaint imposes so much hardship on the applicant is that the appeals machinery of the principal Act and of the amending Act is not adequate to deal with those cases expeditiously?

The appeals machinery of the amending Act has nothing to do with those cases.

How are they going to be dealt with?

They will be dealt with by the local courts of referees.

When will they be dealt with?

There is money provided under the previous Act for setting up that machinery. It does not arise, therefore, on this Money Resolution.

Are we to take it, then, that you rule that I cannot raise in this House——

Am I not entitled to refer to provisions in the principal Act which, as applied to claimants for unemployment assistance, are rather harsh as provisions rather than refer to them from the point of view of administration?

The Deputy can discuss at the moment the Resolution, which is to provide the money for putting the provisions of this measure into operation.

I accept that ruling. I would like to know if I can have from the Minister some idea as to the speed at which the 31,000 appeals now on hands—probably the number has increased since the Minister gave us information relating to them—will be dealt with? The Minister told us recently that he thought it would be nearly two years before all the appeals were dealt with if the old machinery were the only machinery at his disposal.

Now it is proposed to improve the machinery of the principal Act in the manner suggested in the amending Bill. I would like to know from the Minister when we may expect to see a substantial diminution in the 31,000 appeals now pending. Would the Minister say what period he anticipates will elapse before all these appeals are disposed of? In view of the fact that the hearing of these appeals has been delayed so long, by reason of the defects in the principal Act introduced by the Minister, will he not consider at this stage the introduction of an amendment to this Bill to ensure that, in cases where an abnormal delay has occurred in dealing with appeals, a retrospective decision may be arrived at so that the persons who have appealed and whose benefit has been increased will not lose as a result of the delay which has arisen through circumstances outside of their control?

Mr. Rice

I hope that the Minister, when replying, will deal with some of the points raised by Deputy Norton. The Deputy has pointed out that there are over 30,000 appeals pending. I think it is correct to say that 23,000 appeals have been pending since January last, and some of the others for a much longer period. It is an absolute denial of justice to those people to have their appeals held up for such a long period. A worse feature of this is that the people who have been successful in their appeals are to be deprived of benefit during the whole of the period that the appeal was pending. That, I know, is due to a defect in the principal Act. I think the Minister should avail of this measure to remedy that defect. I hope the Minister does not propose to adhere to the old vicious principle that, where there is a dispute between the State and the subject, the subject is not to get ordinary justice. In recent years we remedied, to some extent, that state of affairs by providing in a case where, say, the Minister's car ran over a citizen, that the citizen is entitled to seek a remedy. It seems to me, however, that the procedure that has been followed in connection with this unemployment assistance is really putting into effect the old vicious principle to which I have referred. When Deputy Norton urged that people whose claims to benefit were allowed by the Appeals Tribunal should be paid benefit retrospectively, the Minister asked what about the other side of it, where they are not entitled to benefit? Does the Minister mean to argue that if I have a claim against him and that it is held to be bad, and that, say, Deputy Norton has a good claim against him, that one is to be taken as balancing the other? Surely, the Minister is not going to take up that attitude, because I submit that each case should be taken on its merits and justice done to each individual as between him and the State. Why should people whose claims have been allowed be deprived of benefit, if it is found that they are entitled to it, during the period that their appeal was pending? Will the Minister tell us when he thinks these appeals are going to be dealt with, because the long delay that has taken place is really a denial of justice to those people? They are being kept out of their rights, and that is a very serious matter for the poor people concerned. In some cases there has been a delay of more than 12 months in dealing with appeals. I suggest that is a denial of justice to these people, and, now that the Minister has the opportunity, I suggest to him that he should take power to remedy that matter forthwith.

We have been told of the large number of appeals pending and of the long delay that has taken place in dealing with them. What has been pointed out is that where appeals are allowed, where the Appeals Tribunal decides that the amounts granted to claimants were either unjust or inequitable, there is no power to make the award of the Appeals Tribunal retrospective.

May I point out to the Deputy, and to the House, that the Appeals Tribunal that we are discussing has nothing whatever to do with the question of a person's eligibility to receive assistance of any kind? The Appeals Tribunal only deals with the qualification certificate and the means assessment.

And the amount granted to the person?

The Appeals Tribunal has nothing whatever to do with determining the eligibility of an applicant to the payment of assistance.

Who determines it?

The unemployment assistance officer and, on appeal, the Court of Referees.

I made no reference to the eligibility of claimants. I am referring to appeals lodged against the amounts granted. The point that I want to emphasise is that when an appeal is allowed and when it has been supported by evidence, there is an apparent injustice to a claimant in view of the fact that under present legislation it is not possible to make the award of the Appeals Tribunal retrospective. The Minister, by way of interruption, made a remark that may or may not be reasonable. That depends entirely on the extent to which it is supported by figures. The Minister put this question to Deputy Norton: what about those cases in which the amount is reduced?

In cases in which persons, whose appeals are awaiting consideration, may be employed.

That argument, like any other kind of argument, is one that is open to be supported by facts and figures. Would the Minister support his argument by giving us the number of cases in which, in fact, the amount has been reduced? Therefore, what he demonstrates is that his officers have been slack, lazy or inefficient, in making the original award. The case made originally in this Chamber appears to have been that the action of his officers was entirely in the other direction. There are 30,000 appeals against the amount assessed as being inadequate. How many notices of appeal has the Minister against assessment on the grounds that people got too much? The Minister's interruption could be supported if he showed that there were 30,000 appeals against the amount granted, on the grounds that it was excessive. Otherwise, it merely means the big-tongued interruption in order to side-track discussion of a point really important to the persons concerned. There will be general agreement, I think, that men out of work who rely on State assistance in order to support themselves and their families are, at least, entitled to fair play. If we were dealing with a pensioner, a military pensioner, an old age pensioner, or an employee of a firm the precedent has already been established in this House that when an award is made it applies from the date of the claim.

It should be conceded that the State should be the model employer. Employers or firms are within their rights if they follow the example of the State. Let us apply the principle being established by the Minister to private employers or big firms. If that principle is followed outside the House, conditions of employment, instead of being bettered by this Bill, will be very considerably worsened. What does it mean in practice? That the coin the State tosses has two heads; that it does not matter what side turns up, the State wins and the unemployed man loses. We were told in the Budget that we are living in times when there is the direst necessity for economy, but we mean economy to be effected at the expense of the unemployed. Could the Minister say if any estimate has been made of the saving to the State by each week's delay in the hearing of these appeals? Is it not apparent to everyone that the longer the machine delays the hearing of the appeals the greater economy there is for the State, and the greater the loss to the unemployed? It is unreasonable to expect this House to approve of the principle that where there is an appeal against the amount granted, if the appeal is confirmed, the extra money will only be granted from the date the appeal is heard. Meanwhile, on the person against whom the appeal is lodged, money can be saved every week, every month and every year that there is delay in hearing the appeal. That is unreasonable, and the Minister should reconsider the position.

There are 30,000 appeals awaiting decision for several months. Can the Minister tell the House what he has done to satisfy himself that he has the proper people in charge of the machinery of the Act? Has the Minister made any effort to see that he has got officials, from the highest to the lowest, best fitted to operate the Act? If the House could get some information from the Minister in that respect it would know where it was. Section 15 (1) (b) is quoted to every unfortunate applicant for assistance. I came across a case recently where a man, after attending the employment exchange and signing for unemployment assistance, secured employment on the way home. That was on a Saturday morning. He returned to the labour exchange to report the fact, but the office was closed. The following week he could not get away from his work and he sent as his deputy an unemployed person, with the necessary form, to draw the few shillings that were coming to him. I understand that he got 1/8 in respect of the Saturday, and because of that error— although he got the employment on his own initiative—payment of benefit due to him has been held up. We hear a lot of talk about unemployed people being told that the unemployment officer is not satisfied that they are genuinely unemployed and seeking employment. This is a case where a man, without any effort of the Department, got employment and as a result is severely penalised. He is at present in dire distress. The Minister should take particular note of cases that come before the Department to see if the right people are in the right places, as far as the administration of the Unemployment Assistance Act is concerned.

I want to draw the Minister's attention to another matter which affects my constituency. The married quarters attached to Kilkenny military barracks happen to be a few feet outside the borough boundary. The building was idle for a long time, and the Corporation got permission from the Department of Defence to accommodate people from slum areas in it temporarily. Because these people reside in the married quarters, which are outside the boundary, they are described as rural workers, and under the Order recently issued by the Minister are debarred from receiving unemployment assistance. I ask the Minister to look into this matter, because I hold that these people are really citizens, and should not be deprived of unemployment assistance.

In the cases referred to by Deputy Pattison, the applicants can lodge an appeal to the Court of Referees, and if the Court of Referees decides in their favour, they are entitled to claim retrospective of the date.

They appealed against a reduction in the rates of benefit, but the appeals were disallowed.

I am talking of people who were held not to be genuinely seeking work. If people of that description appeal to the Court of Referees, a favourable decision upon the claims involves payment retrospective to the date of the claim. These were not the type of appeals that Deputies on the opposite benches referred to. In the case of persons resident outside a borough boundary that difficulty is bound to arise, where you have differential rates of payment for different areas. Somewhere the boundary must be, and somewhere there will be persons just inside and just outside the boundary. We have to work upon the boundaries that were there, namely, county boroughs and urban districts, and certain anomalies are bound to arise in that regard. In fact, the Bill before the Dáil is designed to enable us to avoid certain obvious anomalies due to the alteration of county boroughs or urban districts. I think Deputy O'Higgins quite clearly mixed up in his mind appeals to the Appeals Committee against the refusal of qualification certificates or against the means stated in the certificate, with appeals to the Court of Referees and the Umpire against the refusal of assistance. These are different matters. It was clear Deputy Rice also did not appreciate the difference between them. A person whose appeal is awaiting the decision of the Appeals Committee may, in fact, have been in employment from the date of the appeal. He may have been employed when he made the appeal.

Mr. Rice

Or he may not.

Or he may not. It is because it is impossible to know whether he is, or has been in employment, and for other reasons, that no retrospective provision could possibly be attached to that part of the Act.

Is that the reason?

It works both ways. A person on appeal may have the rate of means stated on the certificate decreased and consequently the rate of unemployment assistance which he may be eligible to receive may be increased or the reverse may happen. We are not proposing to recover retrospectively the amount he may have been overpaid. We cannot pay retrospectively the amount he was underpaid, because the mere possession of a qualification certificate does not entitle him to unemployment assistance. It is one of the things that qualify him to receive unemployment assistance but, after he has got his qualification certificate, he must prove his eligibility— that he conforms to the condition about which Deputy Pattison has been speaking, that he is unemployed, that he is genuinely seeking work, that he is unable to obtain work and that he has complied generally with the conditions set out in Section 15 of the Act. It is only when he satisfies the unemployment assistance officer on these matters that he is entitled to receive unemployment assistance and, so far as the Department of Industry and Commerce is concerned in the administration of the Act, we must regard as the means of that person the means stated in the qualification certificate.

There is another consideration in that regard. Any system of determining these appeals must be entirely detached from the ordinary working of the Department. At present, the person possessing a qualification certificate who is denied unemployment assistance on any of the grounds on which he may be denied unemployment assistance may appeal to the Court of Referees, which is a body consisting of a neutral and impartial chairman and an equal number of representatives of workers and employers in the area concerned. It is that body determines and decides the appeal. In certain cases, with the permission of the unemployment assistance officer and the court, there may be an appeal from that body to the umpire but the whole machinery of the appeals is outside the administration of the Department and it is desirable to keep it so. Nor do I believe that, in relation to appeals of that kind, there is any considerable delay anywhere.

30,000 is not considerable?

The remark which Deputy Rice has just made proves what I thought—that he does not know to what these 30,000 appeals relate. These are not 30,000 appeals to the Court of Referees.

The Minister does not know himself. He has not told us.

These are appeals to the Appeals Committee established at the headquarters of the Department in Dublin against the refusal of qualification certificates or the assessment of the means of applicants in relation to qualification certificates. Undoubtedly, these appeals have accumulated. I agree that the machinery established by the Act for the determining of these appeals was inadequate to deal with them in the initial stages—and the initial stages only.

They are increasing every day.

The machinery is inadequate and, because it is inadequate, we have here a Bill designed to improve that machinery and set up a new type of appeals organisation, which can be expanded or contracted to whatever extent may be necessary to enable appeals to be rapidly disposed of. We hope to be able to get rid of these appeals at the rate of 2,000 a week, which is the maximum the Department would be able to handle.

Those are arrears.

Once the arrears are cleared off the position will be quite normal and the machinery provided by the original Act will probably be effective to keep the appeals up to date. Deputy Norton inquired what was the saving anticipated in consequence of the reduction of uncalculated means. It is impossible to give a net figure. It is true that, if that section of the Bill stood alone and no other changes were likely to follow—if there were no change in the number of persons unemployed and no change in the proportion of unemployed persons who have means—a saving would result which might amount to £150,000 in this year but, against that, there are all the other provisions—the change in the definition of "continuous unemployment," the expeditious disposal of the appeals and so forth.

Will these two new benefits cost £30,000?

I did not say that. The change in the definition of "continuous unemployment" may cost £25,000. The salaries of the officers constituting the new appeals organisation may cost, in the present year, £5,000. It will be less in other years.

None of the unemployed will get any of that £5,000.

That is so. What the net result to the Exchequer will be in the present year it is hard to say. It may be that the saving under Section 11 will be completely wiped out by the increased cost resulting from the expeditious disposal of appeals and the operation of the "continuous unemployment" definition. In that way, the cost of the Unemployment Assistance Act might even be increased. One cannot be certain. The number of persons claiming fluctuates from day to day. What the position may be at any time it is impossible to say. We have not got sufficient experience of the Act to enable us to make reliable estimates. It has been in full operation for the first time this year, and to enable us to formulate proper estimates the machinery would require to be in operation a number of years. Section 11 effects a saving, which saving I am quite prepared to justify, but the other provisions of the Bill I have mentioned will necessitate increased expenditure.

The net result of five concessions, and one gain to the Minister, is that the Exchequer gains.

Possibly. The new procedure for determining appeals will, I think, commend itself to everybody. It is of the elastic nature which I described, so that it can be expanded to whatever extent is necessary to enable the appeals to be disposed of. The delay in disposing of these appeals is due to the inadequate nature of the machinery, which was set up to deal with normal conditions and which proved incapable of dealing with the abnormal conditions which operated in the period immediately following the bringing into operation of the scheme. The new procedure in respect of appeals will enable these abnormal appeals to be cleared off, and there will be no undue delay in doing that once the new machinery is availed of. There were no Exchequer considerations behind the delay in dealing with these appeals. The officers appointed on the Committee have been working almost night and day at their ordinary duties in the Department as well as at their duties on the Appeals Committee. It became obvious at an early stage that, no matter how hard they worked, they could not keep pace with the number of appeals. Everybody who was refused a qualification certificate, or whose means were fixed at any figure whatever, exercised his right of appeal. It cost him nothing and it might have brought him in an increased amount weekly in unemployment assistance. In the case of every one of these appeals the decision of the unemployment assistance officer was against the applicant. The unemployment assistance officer, on the information supplied as to the means of the applicant, fixed his means, and the decision of that officer was arrived at with a knowledge of the decisions which had been given in previous cases. In an increasing number of cases in future the decision of the Appeals Committee will be against the applicant, because, following upon the determination of typical cases by the Appeals Committee, the unemployment assistance officers were asked to revise their decisions in certain cases where their decisions seemed to call for revision. In 9,000 cases the applications have been reconsidered by the unemployment assistance officers. So that a series of decisions has been arrived at which will enable these unemployment assistance officers to make their decisions uniform and to apply the same considerations to the determination of applications in one area as in another. Therefore, I think that the hardship which may be inflicted on certain persons by the delay in considering appeals has been exaggerated in cases where a decision upon the applications of these persons has been given. In any event one of the main purposes of this Bill is to provide new appeals machinery for the future.

Will the Minister say how many appeals have been decided in favour of the applicant and how many against the applicant?

I could not say that. I only know the number decided.

So that it is really valueless to tell us that. We have no information to enable us to judge what degree of discretion was exercised by the unemployment assistance officers.

The unemployment assistance officers were asked to revise such of their decisions as appeared to be open to revision having regard to the decisions of the Appeals Committee, so that an indication of the number of such appeals revised in favour of the applicants would be of very little value in forming any general conclusions about the main body of appeals.

Have not thousands of cases been decided favourably to the applicant?


Though they have been decided favourably to the applicant, the applicant did not get the benefit applied retrospectively.

He may not have been entitled to unemployment assistance at all.

How many were entitled and how many were not entitled?

It is impossible to say that.

The Minister wants to throw these on the floor and say "look at these".

The Deputy misunderstands. The applicant must prove eligibility to receive unemployment assistance after he has got the qualifying certificate. If in fact he had not got the qualifying certificate, there was no means by which he could prove unemployment or eligibility and that could not be proved retrospectively.

I cannot understand why the Minister wants to assume that nobody understands the provisions of this Act except himself. This is a clear case and the Minister's advisers will tell him it is a fairly typical case. John Murphy makes a claim for unemployment assistance benefit and gets 6/6 per week, instead of 12/6 per week which he would be entitled to, having a wife and five children and being resident in a rural area. John Murphy says "The amount of benefit allowed to me is inadequate, or is not what I am entitled to under the Act", and proceeds to the Labour Exchange, gets a pink appeals form, and submits an appeal against the reduction in the amount of his benefit. John Murphy continues to draw his 6/6 per week while his appeal is before the unemployment appeals committee. The appeal is before that committee for nine months, during which time John Murphy is still getting 6/- per week less than he believes he is entitled to. If after having had the appeal before them for that time, the committee say be should have got 12/6 in the first instance, they revoke the qualification certificate which he had showing means of 8/- per week and they proceed to give him the 6/- arrears as from the date upon which they decided the case. But John Murphy's circumstances have been unchanged during the previous nine months; yet he is denied the arrears benefit which he is clearly entitled to, since his circumstances were unchanged, and the committee decide the case on the same set of circumstances as operated when John Murphy got the 6/6 in the first instance. There is a simple typical case.

It is by no means a typical case. It is a most unusual case.

There are thousands of them.

The Minister should ask his advisers.

The figures prove conclusively that it is most unusual for any person to be unemployed for a nine months' period without getting any employment.

In Kildare I will get you a public meeting of people unemployed for nine months. You could not pack them into the halls there. Will the Minister go round the country and take a census of these people?

We have taken it.

I put this offer to the Minister. Let him ask Deputy Harris of the Minister's own Party to take him to Kildare and see how many of these people he will find there.

I am not denying that there are such people, but I say they are not typical.

The Minister is not denying that there are such people but he is denying them their rightful claim to have their arrears of benefit paid to them. Could the Minister say how many cases of that kind are on hands?

Obviously I could not say. I say that a much more usual case is where a person has got periods of employment while his appeal was under consideration. How does the Deputy propose to deal with that?

Easily. It will be known at the Labour Exchange whether the person was employed by reason of the fact that he did not sign on.

Suppose he had been refused a certificate at all?

That does not arise.

You cannot legislate for one type of case.

The Minister and his Departmental advisers will have no difficulty in devising a scheme of that kind. People who designed the means test in this Act could devise a scheme for anything. Some of them should have been poultry farmers judging by their conception of the prolific nature of hens. Here in this particular instance we have got a case, and it is a very typical case, of a person not getting the arrears of benefit to which he was entitled.

To which he was not entitled.

The fact that the Appeals Committee subsequently gave him the full benefit is evidence that he was entitled to it in the first instance if, as usually happens, the circumstances are unchanged in the intervening period. The Minister says as a reason why that person should not get the sum to which he is entitled: "What are you going to do with him during the period he is employed?" You do not give him the 6/6 when he is employed and you need not give him the arrears of 6/- in respect of the weeks during which he is employed. There is no difficulty in calculating the period he was unemployed, and in respect of that period he ought to get the arrears of benefit. That is a simple proposition which it is not possible for anybody to confuse. I suggest to the Minister that it is a very typical case. I do not say that it represents all the cases that are with the appeals committee, but it is typical of a category of cases and the Minister ought to have no difficulty in deciding on the obvious merits of a case of that kind and meeting it in this Bill.

Is it not on all-fours with the old age pensions? If any person applies for a pension he is adjudged to be entitled to a pension or not to be entitled to a pension. Secondly, a decision is arrived at as to what means he has. If the pensions officer decides that he is entitled to 8/- he gets 8/- for a considerable time. He then applies for 10/- and there is an appeal against that. The appeal hangs fire for eight or nine months and, eventually, the Minister for Local Government decides that he is and was entitled to 10/- from the date of his application. He then gets 2/- per week in respect of each week which has elapsed since the date of his application. Take an unemployed man seeking unemployment assistance, having got his qualification certificate showing his means to be 8/-, as in John Murphy's case, who appeals on the ground that they are not, and that lies out for 15 months. He has been drawing 6/6 for, say, 60 weeks out of these 15 months because he has not been unemployed all the time. He has only got 60 weeks' unemployment assistance. He alleges in his appeal that in respect of each week's unemployment assistance received he was docked 6/-, to which he was entitled, owing to the error of the unemployment assistance officer. The Appeals Committee say at the end of 15 months that John Murphy was right and the unemployment assistance officer was wrong. John Murphy was in fact entitled to 6/- more than the unemployment assistance officer showed in his certificate. John Murphy's certificate showed his means to be 8/- a week when they have not been more than 2/-. What on earth difficulty is there in sending a message down to the labour exchange where John Murphy drew his benefit and saying: "Since January 1st, 1935, how many weeks' benefit did John Murphy draw?" The answer comes back: "He drew 30 weeks' benefit and then he was employed for a period. Then he drew ten weeks' benefit and he was employed for a period. Then he drew 20 weeks' benefit and he was employed for a period and he is actually employed now." Will it tax the ingenuity of the Department of Industry and Commerce to multiply, say, 60 by 6 and then divide the net result by 20 and pay the man the sum due to him in £ s. d.? What is the trouble about it?

It is a question of subtraction more than multiplication.

I have the utmost confidence in the mathematical ability of any Government at the head of which President de Valera presides, and I have not the slightest doubt that this will tax their capacity. It is judicrous to suggest that that creates any difficulty, because it does not. The Minister says that they do not propose to recover any over-payment or to recoup for any underpayment. I disagree with that principle because the mistake, if there be a mistake, is that of an officer of the Government. I think we should recoup for underpayment, but I do not think that you should compulsorily recover overpayment unless the Department is satisfied that that overpayment has been secured by conscious fraud on the part of the applicant. If the Department makes a mistake, and pays a very poor person three or four shillings a week too much, it is not reasonable that at the end of a long period it should endeavour to recover that money, unless it was fraudulently obtained by the applicant, who then has been guilty of a criminal offence by defrauding the Government. Then it is perfectly legitimate to penalise him and to require him to return the money, and possibly to punish him in addition. There is, however, no shadow of equity in the plea that we do not propose to recoup for underpayment, nor do we propose to recover overpayment. There is an obligation on the Government to repair their own errors.

By the Minister's own admission, where the qualification certificate bears on its face too high an assessment of means, that assessment is an error on the part of a servant of the Department, and it is the duty of the Department to repair it. I should like to ask the Minister if an amendment to that effect is put down for the Report Stage will he favourably consider it? Will he accept an amendment on Thursday morning to that effect?

I would certainly oppose it.

On what grounds?

If on no other grounds, the fact that if we followed up that amendment with a financial resolution to provide the extra half million which it would involve, that resolution would certainly meet with the vigorous opposition of the Deputy and his Party.

Half a million?

At least that.

Do you mean to say that you have defrauded unemployed persons of £500,000 owing to the incompetence of your officers, since the Bill came into operation?

The Deputy wants the principle to operate in one way only.

The Minister has the courage to face the House and plead guilty to the terrible charge of having defrauded persons, whom he has described as necessitous, of £500,000, all through the incompetence of the persons he appointed to carry out the Act?

There is no question of incompetence.

I do not believe for a single moment that the amount involved is much more than one-twentieth of the sum which the Minister mentioned. I am satisfied that in their administration of the Act the officers administered it, in so far as it was possible, in the spirit in which this House desired it should be administered. I think that taking all matters into consideration those in charge of the administration of the Act performed miracles. I do not believe the margin of error is anything like what the Minister believes.

I take it the Deputy would not give this concession to one group only, that he would give it to everybody?

How do you mean?

Since the Act came into operation.

I would give it to any person who through the error of any official of the Department did not receive the amount to which he was entitled.

Whether his appeal was determined or not?

In every case where the appeal was determined.

The Minister as usual tries to draw a red herring over the point under discussion. Any person applying for a qualification certificate under this Act got a means assessment on which he received unemployment assistance. If it is discovered that he received less than the amount to which he was entitled he should be recouped for whatever loss he suffered.

No question of incompetence on the part of officials arises in this connection. The calculation of the assets of persons claiming unemployment assistance was carried out by members of the Gárda Síochána assisted by old age pension officers. The only question that arose had reference to the values of certain assets enjoyed by the applicants in respect to which the Appeals Committee exercise a different judgment to that of the unemployment assistance officers.

That is another way of saying that the officers were incompetent to assess these values.

There was nobody incompetent. If the Deputy would get out of the habit of thinking that he is the only competent member of this Assembly and that every Government official is incompetent, he would be a much more useful member of the House.

The Minister has given a rather unique reason for not accepting an amendment designed to secure the repayment of arrears in these cases. He says that one of the reasons—as a matter of fact, I presume, the only reason, since he has given no other——

I say it is a practical impossibility.

I take it that, so far as it would be possible, the Minister would accept the necessary amendment if he was assured by the Opposition that they would be willing to vote the money?

No. I would not take their assurance on anything.

I understood that was the proposition the Minister submitted, namely, that the reason for not accepting the amendment was that the Opposition would oppose the appropriation of money for the purpose.

That is one of the reasons, undoubtedly. I would like to make the case as strong as I could.

Strength is becoming a very relative term in this House, if there is strength in that argument. In other words, the Government are going to shape their whole policy in social legislation and in every other matter, not on the justice of the claim of any particular section for relief, but on whether they can get an assurance from the Opposition that they will vote the necessary money.

Is not that the logic of the Minister's argument, if there is any logic in it?

The cost of the proposal has to be considered.

What does it matter to the Minister what the Opposition do?

I quite agree it does not matter.

Would the Minister give us some convincing reason as to why he will not accept an amendment of this kind on the Report Stage?

I shall give the Deputy two. One is that it would be administratively impracticable, and the second is that it would be unduly costly.

These are the strongest reasons.

It could be conceivably done in subsequent years when the arrears are wiped out, but it would not be considered in the present year.

Question put and agreed to.