asked the Minister for Social Welfare whether he is aware that Mrs. Mary O'Connor, of 2 Grattan Hill, Lower Road, Cork, widow of the late John O'Connor, carpenter, has been refused a contributory pension under the Widows' and Orphans' Pensions Acts; that the late Mr. O'Connor had 25 years of unbroken contributions to the National Health Insurance Society up to 1942; that his failure to maintain the necessary stamps was only brought about by the slump in the building trade arising from the war; that if he had gone to work in Great Britain his widow would now be entitled to a contributory pension; if he will state how many stamps the late Mr. O'Connor had to his credit in each of the years 1942, 1943, 1944 and 1945, and how many stamps he should have had for qualification purposes; if he will reconsider this case; and also if he will state whether it is proposed to make any concession in cases of this kind to enable men who stayed at home looking for work to establish a qualification which would now be established if they had gone to work in Great Britain.
Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Cork Widow's Pension.
I am aware that a contributory pension under the Widows' and Orphans' Pensions Acts was not granted to Mrs. Mary O'Connor, 2 Grattan Hill, Lower Road, Cork, widow of the late John O'Connor and that the late Mr. O'Connor was insured under the National Health Insurance Acts continuously from 1916 until 9th November, 1942.
I am not aware that his failure to remain in insurance was caused by the slump in the building trade due to the war or that if he had gone to Great Britain his widow would now be in receipt of a contributory pension, but both inferences are not unlikely.
The number of stamps to Mr. O'Connor's credit in respect of the years 1943 and 1945 are nine and 26 respectively. No stamps are to credit in respect of 1942 (during portion of which he was self-employed) or 1944.
Mr. O'Connor last entered insurance on 19th March, 1945, and had not the requisite 104 contributions to credit from that date to the date of his death.
The case was decided by a referee on 8th February last. Under the Acts, his decision is final and consequently the matter cannot be reconsidered. I should perhaps add that I am satisfied that the approach of both the deciding officer and the referee was sympathetic to the claimant and that it was only after the most exhaustive inquiries that their decision was taken.
It is not proposed to introduce legislation of the type referred to in the final part of the question. By reason of the provisions of Section 4 of the National Health Insurance Act, 1947, the conditions for the grant of widows' pensions have been eased by the extension of the "free" insurance period from one year to 18 months. The concession granted in respect of persons who leave the State for employment in Great Britain was made solely to cover the limited class who die or return to the State without having established a right to a contributory pension under the British code. An extension on the lines mentioned by the Deputy would be of such wide application that it would be tantamount to setting aside the whole financial structure of the scheme.
It was, of course, open to the late Mr. O'Connor to maintain his position in insurance by becoming a voluntary contributor and paying the entire contribution (1/4 per week) during periods when he was not an employed contributor.
In view of the emergency circumstances, would the Minister consider, in the case of persons who, like Mr. O'Connor, died, allowing back payment to be made in respect of such persons so as to hold their widows in insurance? Arrangements have been made so that, where persons left the country and worked in Great Britain and died there, the widows are kept in insurance. It is rather a hardship on men who, like Mr. O'Connor, remained at home and did their best to find employment at home and died, that they would be prevented from holding their widows in insurance as a result of the scarcity of work here. The number of persons who left widows here during that period might be very small and I suggest the Minister should inquire into that aspect of the matter.
There is a very big difference between the two instances mentioned by the Deputy. As regards persons going to Great Britain, special provisions were made for these people so as to cover a certain gap there between the time they were still eligible, having left this country, and before they became eligible by contributing in Great Britain. I think it only right that that gap should be covered. With regard to the other class of case, a case like that of Mr. O'Connor, who died, his insurance having lapsed for some time, if we were to change the conditions, as I said in the reply, we would have to re-examine the whole financial structure of the scheme, as will be done when we come to bring in a more comprehensive scheme within 12 months.
Without having to examine the whole financial structure of the scheme, would the Minister see whether it would not be desirable to find out how many widows have had claims of this particular kind and to ascertain, if the number is not small, if such claims could not be met by some arrangement providing for back stamps?
I shall certainly inquire into the matter.