Defence Forces (Temporary Provisions) Bill, 1941—Second and Subsequent Stages.

I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. This is the annual Defence Forces (Temporary Provisions) Bill and its main purpose, therefore, is to provide that the Defence Forces (Temporary Provisions) Acts shall continue in force for another year—that is, until the 31st March, 1942. The necessary provision in this respect is made in Section 2 of the Bill.

This year, in addition to the usual continuing section, the Bill contains a number of sections—none of them of a difficult or contentious nature—the necessity for which has arisen since the enactment of the Defence Forces (Temporary Provisions) (No. 2) Act, 1940. Two of the sections are amendments of that Act. The first of these— Section 4—amends Section 12 of the No. 2 Act of 1940, which provided that occupiers of premises might, during an emergency, be required to supply billets for members of the Defence Forces and that billeting requisitions might be served on such occupiers. The section did not advert specifically to the procedure to be followed as regards unoccupied premises. Provision is, therefore, being made in Section 4 of the present Bill that, in the case of unoccupied premises, the owner shall be regarded as the occupier for the purposes of emergency billeting.

When the No. 2 Act of 1940 was being debated in this House one or two Deputies suggested, with regard to Section 57, which relates to the restoration to employment, at the end of the emergency, of reservists called out on permanent service and of soldiers enlisted for the duration of the emergency, that a Minister should be given the power to prosecute employers who were guilty of flagrant breaches of the Section. Time did not then permit of the necessary amendment being made, but it is now being provided in sub-section 5 (1) of the present Bill that offences under Section 57 of the No. 2 Act of 1940 may be prosecuted either by the Minister for Defence or by the former employé. The power conferred on the Minister for Defence would be exercised in flagrant cases of victimisation where, in the public interest, an example should be made of the guilty party. Sub-section 5 (2) rectifies a slight drafting error in Section 57.

Also in the nature of an amendment of Section 57 of the No. 2 Act of 1940 is Section 8 of the present Bill. Through an oversight, due to the urgency with which the No. 2 Act had, in the circumstances of the time, to be enacted, Section 57 did not cover the reinstatement in their employment of officers of the Reserve called out on permanent service and of officers granted temporary commissions during the emergency. The necessary provision in respect of such officers is now being made in Section 8, the terms of which are similar to those of Section 57 of the No. 2 Act of 1940.

Sections 6 and 7 of the present Bill are of an emergency nature. Sub-section 6 (1) will enable Reserve officers who, for one reason or another, have not been called out on permanent service or who, owing to any special circumstances, have been granted exemption, to be removed from the Reserve if such a course is considered desirable.

Sub-section 6 (2) provides the machinery under which persons granted temporary commissions during the emergency will relinquish their commissions when the period of emergency has ended. In addition, it will cover the removal of such officers from the Defence Forces during the emergency, where such a course is necessary in the interests of the service, but where dismissal, with its consequent severe slur on the character and reputation of the officer, would be over-harsh or inappropriate—for instance, in the case of an officer found to be temperamentally unsuited to Army life or discipline.

Section 7 provides that no soldier of the Forces or Reserve will be entitled to be discharged during an emergency. The position in this connection is that, since the commencement of the present emergency, a considerable number of soldiers have had to be discharged after having completed their full period of enlistment and having been detained for the additional period of 12 months which existing legislation allows during a period of emergency. It will be appreciated, however, that a very difficult position will be created, having regard to the great expansion of the Army and the comparative military inexperience of so many of its members, if further experienced noncommissioned officers and men are allowed to leave Army service while the emergency continues. Section 7 is being introduced, therefore, to cover the matter. It will be noted that it provides only that there shall be no entitlement to discharge. Individual cases of possible hardship arising out of its enforcement can be considered on their merits. In any event, Deputies will have no hesitation in agreeing that the proposed course is fully justified by the cost to the State, over so many years, of the military training of the personnel in question.

Section 3 proposes to apply to officers the terms of Section 9 of the Defence Forces (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1925. That section provides that where a soldier is certified by a registered medical practitioner to be of unsound mind and to be a proper person to be detained under care and treatment, the Minister for Defence may, upon such soldier's discharge, cause him to be sent to the asylum of the district to which he belongs. I may mention that where a soldier has relatives or friends capable of taking care of him and willing to do so, and where such a course is considered advisable, he is discharged into their care. In applying this section to officers, the same procedure would, of course, be followed.

Finally, there are two sections— Sections 9 and 10—relating to salvage. Section 9 proposes to give the same rights to the Minister for Defence to claim salvage in respect of the services of State ships as shipping owners have in law in respect of salvage services rendered by their ships. This section is being introduced to place the Minister's rights in this connection beyond any doubt.

Section 10 provides that a claim by the commander or crew of a State ship in respect of salvage services shall not be finally adjudicated upon without the consent of the Minister for Defence. This procedure is somewhat similar to that prescribed in the case of the British Royal Navy and is based on the very reasonable argument that salvage work carried out by the commanders and crews of state ships is done in the course of duty. Only in the most exceptional cases, therefore, where outstanding work has been done and the services rendered are very valuable, should a claim by the commander and crew of a state ship be permitted.

This Bill was submitted to the Defence Advisory Committee and they were satisfied with its terms. They recommended that, if it were found convenient, the House should give us all stages to-day.

The Minister is correct in saying that this Bill was submitted to the Defence Conference and that it has been carefully discussed by that body, and the House is entitled to know that the members of the Defence Conference are in agreement with the Minister that this Bill should be recommended to the House. I think it right to repeat what I have mentioned on previous occasions when Bills of this character were brought before the House. The House should be fully aware of the fact that there are certain parts of this Bill which have a material effect on the existing law and which, in normal times, might properly be very comprehensively and exhaustively debated in the House. The House has determined that it is not in the public interest to do that during this period of crisis and has delegated that duty to the Defence Conference. The House should know that they have delegated certain duties to the Defence Conference and must place their trust in that body to exercise the supervision that the members of this House otherwise would exercise, had the Bill come before them in the normal way. The members of the Defence Conference recommend the House to pass the Bill and to give the Minister all stages now.

That much having been said, three matters arise on the Ministerial statement in producing it. One is this. I understood the Minister to say that one of the sections provided that, in the case of unoccupied premises the occupier would be deemed to be the owner. Am I correct in believing that what the Minister intended to say was that in the case of unoccupied premises the owner would be deemed to be the occupier?

The owner shall be regarded as the occupier.

I think the Minister just crossed the words when he was speaking. I do not think it is inappropriate to say that, in regard to Section 6, which deals with the Reserve whatever powers the Minister may acquire under that, it could be very much wiser not to remove persons from the Reserve until the general revision of the Reserve comes up for consideration at the conclusion of this period of crisis. If we are asking certain persons to make the sacrifice of staying with the colours when they have the statutory right to leave them, then I believe, per contra, the House should bear any modest extra expense to leave on the Reserve, with Reserve allowances, those other men who may not wish to be discharged from the Reserve and deprived of their allowances now, in as much as they were ready and willing—if not physically able—to do whatever service they might be called upon to do in virtue of their membership of the Reserve when this crisis began.

The last thing I wish to mention in connection with the Ministerial statement is that the Minister dwelt on the powers given to him under Section 7. For information purposes, I should like to know if persons who are sent back are entitled to a bonus of £10 and if they are being fully looked after. Are persons discharged from the Army at the present time, as being unfit for one reason or another, entitled to the bonus of £10, and is due precaution taken to ensure that they are facilitated in reaching their homes with a reasonable degree of comfort and expedition after being discharged from active service?

Mr. Byrne

Deputy Dillon has informed us that the Defence Conference is backing this Bill and recommends it. Is there any means by which ordinary members of the House can be consulted by the Defence Conference and told what is going on and the reasons for certain measures? This one, for instance, curtails the liberties of certain people for a time—with good reason, no doubt—but I do not think the very ordinary members of this House should pass in and out of the Lobbies and hear rumours and get no definite information from anybody as to what is behind them. It would be right and proper for us to have a secret session of the Dáil itself, so that we can get to know what is required of us, what loyalty and support are expected. I think every member of the House is prepared to give that, if he gets a reason. As elected representatives who believe in Parliamentary representation, we should be made aware, by secret session of the House, or by conference with the Defence Conference, of the position, and not be left in the dark all the time.

I should like to ask the Minister if there is any possibility of increasing the allowances to the wives and dependents of soldiers. I am sure the Minister is aware, and that members of his Party are aware, that complaints are being made that the family allowances of these men are unsatisfactory. These men have given up their employment and gone into the Army and made many sacrifices, financial and otherwise. I believe the community will not grumble if their allowances are increased, and I hope the Minister will look into that matter.

I support the plea made by Deputy Hickey. It is the general opinion throughout the country that the allowances to soldiers' wives are entirely inadequate. Take the case of a man with a wife and one child, getting 21/6 a week. That is entirely inadequate, especially in virtue of the fact that food prices have increased enormously since those allowances were fixed. As far as I know, there have been two or three increases in Northern Ireland and Great Britain since the war broke out, and the Minister on examination will find that the sums given to dependents of those in the Irish Army are far too small.

Mr. Byrne

I had that in mind when I spoke, and that we could discuss that matter, and other serious matters, in conference and not openly.

There is one point in connection with Section 6 under the Bill as now introduced. The Minister is taking power, in the case of a person on Reserve and called out on permanent service, not merely to retain that person in the Army for the 12 months following the expiration of the period on the Reserve, which is permissible under existing legislation, but to keep that person in the Army for the duration of the emergency situation. He is also taking power in Section 6 so that, where a man is serving with the Colours, he finds that, when his time has expired he will not be entitled to discharge from the Army whilst the Reserve is in fact on permanent service.

I notice in Section 7 that the Minister is asking that this section shall be deemed to have come into force on, and shall have effect as and from the 1st January, 1941. Will the Minister indicate why it is necessary to make this particular section retrospective? Is anybody being detained in the Army at present who would be entitled to discharge under existing legislation, or is it intended to recall persons who have been discharged from the Army since the 1st January last? I notice that the Minister, when introducing the Bill, said that this section was giving power to the Minister to retain persons in the service of the Defence Forces and to deprive the soldier or reservist of entitlement to discharge. The Minister intimated that, whilst that would be the general position in future, so far as the defence legislation is concerned, he would be prepared to give consideration to individual cases of hardship.

The Minister will recognise, at the outset, that the introduction of this Bill is, in fact, breaking our contract with the soldiers. That contract was that, if his time expired when he was with the Colours, he was entitled to discharge or, if his time expired when he was on the Reserve, he was entitled to discharge. Under this Bill we are depriving him of his entitlement to discharge under Section 7 and, while one can understand there may be very special circumstances which may render it necessary that the State should have such powers, the Minister should be generous in his interpretation of the section and generous and understanding in his use of those powers.

Many persons may have joined the Army or have continued on the Reserve in the belief that their military service would expire at a particular date. They may have entered, in fact, into certain commitments, having that consideration in mind, or their domestic circumstances may be such that the prolongation of their military service would cause considerable hardship on them. They are all trained soldiers and are available for service at any time we may require them. I hope the Minister will be able to give the House an assurance that, subject to a generous interpretation of military exigencies, he will, in fact, discharge from the Army persons who seek their discharge, as in the past. If it is necessary, in special circumstances, to keep these persons in the Army, well and good, and they will have to understand that the circumstances render it necessary, but I hope this section will not be used to keep people in the Army or on the Reserve, and liable for Army service, when their time has expired, irrespective of their family circumstances or of commitments into which they may have entered. I hope that section will be interpreted liberally so far as the soldiers are concerned and that persons will not be held merely for the purpose of exercising the powers given in this section, powers which, as I said, are in fact an infraction of the contract we entered into with the soldier up to the present.

In reply to Deputy Dillon, there has been no decision so far on the question of a grant to "durationists." The matter is being considered with a view to seeing whether or not it is possible to do something on the lines suggested. Long-service soldiers, of course, if they are not entitled to a pension, are entitled to a gratuity based on the number of years of service given in the Army. In reply to Deputy Byrne, I have made it pretty clear here that there will be no question of any of these individuals being dealt with unduly harshly. The same applies to what Deputy Norton mentioned in respect to the holding of these soldiers who may have completed their terms of service. Most of these long-service soldiers are outstanding in their ability to handle men, but I can assure the Deputy that in cases where some undue hardship would be entailed by the retention of these men in the service, they will be released. However, our experience, generally, is that the desire is the other way about, and the men are more anxious to continue in the service than to be sent out of it.

As I have said, the situation at present is very far from being normal, and in desperate situations such as this it might be found necessary to retain some of these individuals who otherwise would have been released. It is true to say that some of these men have been held since the 1st January, but I have not heard any complaints. I did not receive one single complaint in respect of that from any of the men. On the other hand, I have had representations made to me by Deputies of this House to have retained in the service men who were fearful of having to go out and face the ordinary normal citizen's life as against the safeguards that are provided for a man in the Army. I think that the question of a secret session to discuss a Bill of this particular type would be quite unnecessary.

Mr. Byrne

I mean general affairs so far as the country is concerned, that are not being told at the moment.

Well, I think there is nothing in this Bill that would come within the ambit of such a discussion. As I mentioned, and Deputy Dillon mentioned, this Bill was submitted to the Defence Conference. The Defence Conference had it in their hands for several days and, I am sure, thoroughly examined it. Certain suggestions were made and, as far as the suggestions made are concerned, I shall carry them out to the best of my ability.

What about the separation allowances?

What is the point about the separation allowances?

They want an increase.

Is it that they are not being paid?

No, that they are not being paid enough.

Well, of course, that is a matter over which I have no control. We all realise, of course, the enormous bill that there is for the Army at the present time. The marriage allowance, in addition to that, is going to make it much larger, and I am afraid I could not make any promise on the matter raised by the Deputies.

Question put and agreed to.
Bill passed through Committee and reported without amendment.
Question—"That the Bill be received for final consideration," put and agreed to.
Question—"That the Bill do now pass", put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be sent to Seanad.