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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 26 Jun 1952

Vol. 132 No. 12

Vote 57—Army Pensions (Resumed).

We have spent some time considering the equipment, the strength and the provision to be made for our Army. Having done so, very properly we have come to the consideration of the matter of Army pensions in the interest of our armies of the past, volunteer and otherwise. Deputies have spoken of certain aspects of this Vote which I do not wish to go back over. But, in dealing especially with the Volunteer force, the Old I.R.A., some of us would like to make a special appeal to the Minister in regard to some men with very good service in various company areas who have not yet had their cases finally decided and the matter determined as to whether they were entitled to Army certificates or not. There is a certain measure of grievance with regard to that particular matter. With so many applications, undoubtedly the investigation of appeals is very often slow. If applicants who have appeals lodged or who are awaiting investigation of their cases by the Referee had an assurance that in due time their claims will be considered and that they will get an opportunity at a public hearing to put their cases before the Referee much of the resentment which is being felt may be allayed.

Many of these men suffer a disability in the hearing of their claims owing to the fact that many senior officers lost their lives in the conflict for the independence of this country or died owing to disability or disease as a result of the hardships which they suffered during these years. In consequence, it appears to me and to other members of the Old I.R.A. who have been present now and again at the hearing of those cases that perhaps too much detail is required in these cases which go back over a big number of years. I am sure the Referee means to be fair in all these matters, but where evidence from senior officers is now impossible as these officers are no longer available, I think that information from other reliable sources should be sufficient to help the Referee to determine these cases. There are in the company or battalion areas still a number of men who have a grievance because they have not been awarded service certificates. They feel that they are being ignored, that their service is not being recognised, even though the people in their own particular areas know they have given good service which is worthy of recognition. Even though it may take time, I make an appeal to the Minister to continue the facilities and make available, as far as is in his power, the necessary time for hearings locally so that all these cases may be investigated.

There is also the question of the service medal and the benefit accruing from it in the case of disability. Many Old I.R.A. members for various reasons, perhaps owing to the resentment to which I have referred, did not apply for these medals before certain specified dates and in consequence they are not now entitled, even if the medals were awarded, to the benefits which would accrue if they had applied at the proper time. When we consider the amount of freedom which has been won for a good portion of this country and the voluntary service given in the past by our people generally and the volunteers in particular, I think that every possible concession should be made in order to have these cases determined favourably for those who have given good, sound national service in these past years in such a noble cause. I have risen specially to stress that point to the Minister. Other members have dealt with other points and it serves no purpose delaying the time of the House in referring to those matters again.

I wish to refer to a few points in connection with this Estimate. Certain matters have been raised by the last speaker, Deputy MacCarthy, and I would like to add my appeal to the Minister with regard to the question of the period of extension for special allowances to an individual who holds a medal. The Minister would be surprised, I am sure, to know that there are a number of people throughout the country still who are unaware of the fact that holding a medal carries with it special benefits provided they qualify for the receipt of those benefits. There are a number of Old I.R.A. men you meet from time to time who are even unaware of the fact that they can get a medal if they prove they had three months' continuous service previous to the truce. The particular individuals I have in mind are those people within that category who are unaware of the benefits they can derive from the fact that they are the holders of a service medal provided they have the necessary qualifications to receive those benefits.

Those people of late have been aware that those benefits are there and I have in mind a few people who unfortunately did not apply for that medal within the specified period. As a result, having received the medal after a certain date and being in need of the benefits accruing from the fact that they hold those medals they are unable to obtain those benefits because they did not receive the medal within the specified period. I would like to make my appeal to the Minister that he would extend immediately, either by way of legislation or otherwise, the qualifying period in order that those people will derive the necessary benefits which accrue from the fact that they are holders of the medal.

I might also mention that there has been general agreement in the House in regard to a general increase in the I.R.A. pensions, but I would particularly refer again to the special allowance. You have individuals, male and female, under 70 years of age who are in receipt of special allowances probably for the past four or four and a half years. The Minister for Social Welfare and the Government took the necessary steps to see that, so far as the special allowance is concerned, the old age pensioner would still be able to draw the full pension even though he would be in receipt of a special allowance, thereby in some way providing, if you like, an increase in the benefits of the special allowance. The special allowance was not taken into consideration as means so far as the old age pension was concerned. However, the individual who is suffering from illhealth, incapacitated or handicapped in any way and has no other means of support other than the special allowance of which he is in receipt, deserves special consideration.

I would ask the Minister to deal sympathetically with such cases. It is hardly necessary for me to point out to the Minister or any Deputy of the House that, in regard to an individual who was qualified for the special allowance four and a half years ago who received that money, as was intended that he should receive it by law, that amount had been fixed in order that he would at least have the necessary wherewithal to keep body and soul together because of the fact that he was incapacitated and unable to earn his living. I believe that that particular section of people drawing special allowances deserve some further increase in the special allowance.

It was intended in the first instance as a means whereby a man who was in receipt of a medal for services rendered to the country would be able to provide himself with the necessities of life in order to prevent him from having to go to what was referred to some years ago as the workhouse or some other almshouse. That was the primary objective and if when that measure was introduced the Minister considered that 30/- a week or £78 per year should be sufficient to give that particular person the wherewithal to keep himself in something approaching frugal comfort, I am sure he will admit that due to the increase in the cost of living, the time has now come to review such cases. As I said, steps have already been taken to meet the case of the person who has reached 70 years of age. The position of those people to whom I have referred is such that a review of their case is absolutely necessary in order that the sum due to them under that special allowances scheme will be increased somewhat.

Reference has been made to applications for pensions and the hearing of cases before the board. I have only to say on that matter, having had some years' experience on the board in the early days after the passing of the 1934 Act, that quite recently I had occasion to go before the board to give evidence on behalf of certain applicants whose cases were being reheard. I should like to say that in my opinion both the applicant and I, as an old officer of the I.R.A., got every facility, and were given every facility by the board, to help to make the best case we could for the applicant. I should like to pay that tribute to the board as one who has had years of experience as a verifying officer before the board.

I would appeal to the Minister to consider the two points I have made dealing with the question of special allowances—firstly, the question of the period for the receipt of a medal, so that everyone who has got a medal or will eventually get one will qualify for the special allowance and, secondly, the question of a review of the cases of persons under 70 years of age who are in receipt of special allowances in the hope that the amount will be increased to meet the increased cost of living.

I have very few points to raise in connection with this group of Estimates, mainly for the reason that this particular Estimate has been very fully discussed for the last couple of weeks and on reading through the debates I saw that practically every point had been covered. My real purpose in rising is to lend my voice in support of certain requests that had been made to the Minister. My experience as Minister for Defence, particularly in regard to the Old I.R.A., was that there was general sympathy all round with regard to their claims but that there was no such thing as any general agreement as to how these claims should be met. There were within the Old I.R.A. so many different organisations making different demands that it was extremely difficult to know which should get priority. I received deputations from representatives of the Easter Week men requesting and pressing very hard for a special pension at a special minimum rate for those who had participated in the events of Easter Week. I had very large and numerous representations from those representing active service units claiming—and it is beyond dispute— that they were whole-time men, that they were in the position that they could not hold any job or occupation, that they had got to be within call at any time of the day or night, that they received a small payment so as to maintain them in that position, that they were in fact the first regular Army in this country, that they had got in the past verbal assurances that they would be specially looked after if the people of this country got command of their own affairs. These assurances were verbal and the people who had given the assurances are long since dead.

Then we had deputations also with regard to people who had been either late or had been turned down in their applications for pensions, where they themselves believed, and neighbours, comrades and a number of others believed, that their cases were such that they should have been awarded pensions. Another body was interested in the question of removing or abolishing the abatement clauses which reduced the pension of an I.R.A. man because of his salary coming from any public funds.

My opinion was that the first step necessary was to ensure that everyone entitled to a pension would get it and, after that, to see what legislation was most suitable to do the greatest justice to the greater number. The first step was to let all people who had genuine service through the gate so as to be eligible for pension and to be there for consideration. We did that some time ago. My job was not made very easy at that time. I do not want to be harping back or barking back but I was generally denounced because I had not made these pensions retrospective to 1934 or 1924. If I had attempted to do it, I certainly would not have got sanction for that particular Bill but there was scarcely a Deputy opposite who joined in that debate who did not accuse me of cheating these Old I.R.A. men. I do not think these denunciations were sincere. If they were sincere, we would have had an amending Bill long ago to make that Act of mine retrospective. We shall never have such an Act. My main purpose was to ensure that whoever was entitled to a pension would get it and I had to go whatever road appeared to be the most likely road to achieve that purpose.

There were many people who doubted at that time whether there was some case for re-establishing the Pensions Board. I had a volume of evidence, information and that kind of thing, indicating that there were quite a considerable number of genuine cases of applicants who, for one reason or another, had not got their pensions and that the board had got to be reformed to give these people a chance of bare justice. I think it is clear to everyone to-day that there was a very considerable number of such cases and that they are getting justice to-day. The figures alone quoted by the Minister demonstrate that of the cases so far heard and finally dealt with, practically half or more of the applicants have received an award. I know that the apparently more genuine cases were brought to the surface, so to speak, and dealt with first. The figures I have quoted show that there is urgent need for reforming that board. Deputy MacCarthy pointed out that there are areas where everyone living in the areas knows that A, B or C gave genuine service and yet has not been awarded a pension.

The position now is that everybody entitled to a pension is in a position to get it and the next question, then, for consideration is as to whether or not the pensions are adequate. These pensions were awarded very many years ago when money was money and when the recipients, even the oldest of them at the time, were quite young men. There was strong objection to giving a pension of any size, great or small, to comparatively young men. Things have changed since then and money has lost its value. The youngest now entitled to an I.R.A. pension is a doddering old man. If an increase is given the bill would certainly not be a formidable one and it would be a rapidly diminishing bill.

The only State pensioner who has received no increase in his pension commensurate with the rise in the cost of living is the Old I.R.A. pensioner. Every other group has been dealt with. One reason for that was that only one thing could be done at a time. All the other groups have been dealt with and we have now reached the next stage. The question as to how best to approach this matter is one for the Minister and his Department. Seeing that these pensions run down as low as £7, £8 or £9 a year, I do not think that any increase granted could be reckoned up as a matter that touches in any way on the cost of living. That would be a rather ridiculous argument. Probably some kind of special scheme will have to be devised such as had to be devised in the case of disability and wound pension increases. In that respect the automatic increases granted in wages and salaries could not be made applicable because the bigger percentage increase was given to those on the lower scales. If that were to apply in the case of pensions for wounds and disability it would mean that the biggest percentage increases would be given to those with the most minor ailments and the least increases would be given to those totally disabled.

In the light of the case that has been urged on the Minister by both sides of the House as to the necessity for a general review of I.R.A. pension rates, I think the whole matter will have to be reviewed from the point of view of a very much modified scheme, if not an entirely new scheme. There are special bodies within the main group, such as active service people and the Easter Week people. In the first Act a special arrangement was made in relation to the Easter Week people both in relation to rank and duration.

In regard to the question of abatement, I have never been able to satisfy myself as to the justice of abatement in relation to any pension. I have studied the matter. I have heard the case made for abatement generally. When it is all boiled down, it amounts to the fact that it is a British precedent. The British adopted it generally in relation to pensions and we have inherited the trend. I have never succeeded in seeing the justice of that.

Leaving aside the I.R.A. pensioners, let us consider the position of the civil servant or Army pensioner. If a civil servant retires on pension and subsequently is re-employed by the State because of specialised knowledge, his pension is abated during his re-employment. If, on the other hand, an outsider is appointed, he has to make no sacrifice. He is paid the full rate attaching to the post and, if he is drawing a pension from some outside body, his pension does not suffer.

The anomalies are even greater in relation to I.R.A. pensions. Absurdities too numerous to mention occur to the minds of all of us. There may be two brothers with equal service and equal pensions in the Old I.R.A. One brother fortunate enough to earn £20,000 a year gets his full pension. The other brother continues to serve the State as a State employee. He gets a salary of some hundreds a year and his pension is stopped. With the development of semi-State and State-controlled companies the position becomes even more paradoxical. We have two airports here. If a man gets employment in one airport his pension is abated. If he gets employment in the other airport there is no abatement because there is some distinction in the financing of the two bodies. We have the Electricity Supply Board. We have Bord na Móna. We have the Sugar Beet Company and a number of other bodies of that kind set up by the State, some of them carried on by the credit of the State and others carried on by means of State grants or subsidies. Córas Iompair Éireann is maintained to a great extent by State subsidy annually. In some of these bodies there is abatement of pension. In others there is not. The position is very puzzling. It is a pity that so many bites were made in the past of such a very small cherry. Abatement was introduced in the beginning. There was a Bill to abate the abatement. Abatement is an absurdity. I believe it is an injustice and I am convinced that it would not stand up to any searching investigation. The one thing that is behind it is precedent, long-established practice. With regard to the Old I.R.A. pensions, in particular, I think they should be reconsidered.

I listened to Deputy Brennan on the question of extending the dates for medals. I have no doubt that he has many cases in mind of men who let the last date pass, now regret it and cannot get the medal or the allowance. I sympathise with the Minister if he was a bit impatient on that particular front because the last date for applying for medals, and other things, was extended nine or ten times, and every time it was extended was to be the last. There was a most energetic publicity drive so as to ensure that never again would there be a claim for a further date extension. Radio Éireann, the Post Office, labour exchanges, Deputies in Dáil Éireann, public bodies, daily newspapers, provincial newspapers and every possible medium for contacting people was used energetically and exhaustively, and yet we are told that there are a great number still shut out. In spite of all that people will not sit up and put in a claim, even though the date was extended year after year for a great number of years. In view of that it is very difficult to get hot under the collar about it. If, however, the case made by Deputy Brennan has universal or general application, then I think it would be worth while reopening the date for a very short period and be done with it. Have it reopened for, say, a period of three months. Let all concentrate on dragging in, if necessary by the hair of the head, anyone who has a claim within these three months, and then forget about it. While making that suggestion I would not blame any Minister if he turned it down because of the fact that this thing has been reopened so many times. It is hard to expect any Minister to reopen it again.

It is difficult, really, to discuss, with brevity, these particular pensions: Defence Force pensions, Army pensions, I.R.A. pensions, would pensions, disability pensions, and the Amendment (Pensions) Act, all at the one time. I think it is incredible the number of Acts we have for one of the smallest armies in the world. We have an Army of tiny numbers, and yet, if my memory serves me correctly, there are, I think, 16 different Bills dealing with pensions and with different amendments of one kind or another. The number of Bills is indicative of the niggardliness and the lack of generosity with which this subject was approached by the Department of Finance. The battle to get anything through the Department of Finance for such objects as we are discussing is such that any Minister, when he comes to the point of getting half a loaf, will grab it, and hope to get the other half by instalments as the years pass. That means that there are three, four or five Acts where one would suffice if the thing were faced up to in a generous spirit when propositions were made.

That has been my experience in Government and in Opposition. That was my sad and weary experience during many years in the Army. There is a generation of soldiers paying for that whose names are never mentioned nowadays—stricken, forgotten and disabled cases that are still alive where the disability arose between 1924 and 1939 and was not caused by a wound. With regard to disabilities, other than wounds, over 80 per cent. are covered up to 1924. They are covered again for 1939, for the duration of the emergency. But, in between these periods, you have your tuberculosis cases, your mental cases, your chronically crippled cases with rheumatoid arthritis, with no pension scheme whatsoever for them. They are overlooked and forgotten.

When the first Act was there, we could not get people to make it a lasting Act. It stopped on the 1st October, 1924, and it took the best part of 20 years to get another Act to cover disabilities other than wounds. When the other Act came, it could not be thrown back to cover the particular cases I have referred to. I do not know the number of them. It was fairly considerable at one time. I do not know how many have since died. Probably a considerable number but, when discussing pensions of various kinds—Army pensions, Old I.R.A. pensions, wound and disability pensions— let us not forget that there is a generation of Irish soldiers, over a period of 15 years who, if they acquired any disability that was attributable to and aggravated by service, and are totally and completely disabled at the present moment, that there is no Act and no machinery for giving anything whatsoever to them. That is a group which should be considered if there is amending legislation. As I have said, I cannot say what the number is. I do not believe it would be very great. I should like, at any rate, that at least we would recollect the fact that they are there and unattended to. I would like to have that fact kept before the minds of the Minister and of Deputies.

I desire to support the claims that have been made for a general review of the rate of pensions payable to the Old I.R.A. I think it will be accepted now that, in many cases, the rates fixed were ridiculously small. It may not have seemed so at the time when many of those men were young. The years, however, have passed, and many of those men are now growing old, and so, I think, it will be recognised that something ought to be done for them.

The cost of meeting those claims in a generous way may be considerable but at the same time it will be recognised that it will be a very rapidly reducing bill because every year the number entitled to benefit will diminish. That should be the main consideration in regard to this matter. We are dealing now, not with young able-bodied men, but, in the main, with men who are aged or ageing. Therefore, the House would endorse the action of the Minister if he were to take steps to review the existing rates and substantially increase them. A percentage increase would hardly meet the case. Some of the pensions are so very small that a percentage increase would not be satisfactory. It has been suggested by Deputies that there should be a basic minimum rate and that no one would receive less than that rate.

The former Minister, Deputy O'Higgins, pointed out that he had been very much concerned to ensure that everyone who was entitled to benefit would benefit and that the necessary legislation would be enacted to bring all those people into benefit; that he regarded that as the first consideration. That was quite correct. Now, it is a question of deciding as between the relative claims of different types of people, people who rendered maximum service on the one hand and people who have the maximum need at the present moment on the other hand. These are matters that can be adjusted provided there is a general desire on the part of the House to ensure that justice will be done and that there will be even a certain measure of generosity in this matter, having regard to the fact that the cost will tend, not to increase from year to year, but rather to decrease.

There is a vast difference between the value of money to-day and the value of money in 1934. For that reason the whole matter requires immediate consideration.

The claims of many different types of people have been submitted to the Minister and it is not my intention to go over any of the ground that has been covered by other speakers. I would like to make a special appeal on behalf of one small section who have been left out of any schemes that have been introduced to give recognition or reward. I refer to the small handful of men who still survive from the Casement Brigade. Deputy Cowan referred to this matter and I want to endorse the claim that he made on behalf of those people.

The men who joined the Casement Brigade did so on the invitation of one of the highest officers of the Volunteer Movement. Commandant Joseph Plunkett went to Germany in 1915 and invited these men to throw in their lot with the Irish nation. They took a very drastic step. For many of them it was an heroic step because it exposed them to grave risk and danger. A number of them volunteered to come to Ireland to take part in the military operations. Some of them were specially trained as machine gunners. It was not their fault if it was not possible to give them an opportunity of serving within this country. At least they took a very heroic stand which should be recognised.

If it is not within the power of the Minister to recognise their claims now, at least he might go so far as to have them investigated. The least that could be done in regard to a matter of this kind is to have a most careful and impartial investigation into the circumstances surrounding the formation of that brigade and the contribution made by its members to the national cause. These men are in a very different position from those who served within this country. The machinery for verification of their service may not be the same as that which exists in regard to members of the Volunteer Force here but ample evidence can be produced to support their claims. The number is now very small. I think there are less than 20 of that force now alive in this country. For that reason it is desirable that even at this late stage steps are taken to ensure that complete justice will be done.

I know the Minister has given this matter consideration in the past. It also received sympathetic consideration from his predecessors in office during the inter-Party Government régime. It is desirable that the matter should be further and finally investigated with a view to ensuring that no worthy and deserving man who took a very drastic stand on behalf of this nation is neglected by the nation which he sought to serve.

Those who served on the British side have had their claims very adequately met. The claim of anyone who gave service either in the British Army in the first or second world war or who served with the British Forces against this country, has not been overlooked. It is only right that the claim of anyone who served this country would not be denied by our Government.

Deputies might say that in making an appeal for a general review of the pensions position and in making a special plea on behalf of a particular section, such as the Casement Brigade, I am asking for an addition to the cost of Government and to the burden on the general tax-paying community but the citizens of this country as a body have never protested against meeting the claims of the soldiers of this nation in a generous way. Any burden that may be placed on them in order to meet such claims will not be resented by the people.

I support the appeal that has been made from all sides of the House for an increase in pensions for the Old I.R.A. At no time in dealing with the Old I.R.A. has any Government here been lavish. In fact, it would be more correct to describe their attitude as miserly. With the increase in the cost of living most of the pensions which these men enjoy are ridiculously low in actual value. The average pension of the men who spent the best years of their lives in bringing about the freedom we enjoy in this part of the country is only £31 per annum. At no time was that a big sum of money. To-day it is not worth more than half the amount it was originally worth. In addition to that, these men are the only section of people receiving emoluments from this State whose allowance has not been increased. That is very unfair treatment for men who did such great work for this country and but for whom this House would not be in existence.

Now that these men are reaching advanced years I hope that the Government will seriously consider giving a generous advance in the amount payable. As Deputy Dr. O'Higgins pointed out, even the youngest man who took part in that movement is now well advanced in years. Surely any Government in this country should see that these men are put into a position that for the remaining years of their lives they will be able to live in ordinary frugal comfort.

I do not believe that the people would object to these men getting a reasonable allowance. As far as I have been able to find out, every country in the world which has achieved its freedom by revolution has honoured and looked after the men responsible for achieving that freedom. We here have been lax in that regard and it is time that we should see to it. I know that the time is not favourable from a financial point of view. But somehow, whenever this question cropped up, the time was never favourable. Even in the present unfavourable circumstances I think it is our duty to see that we put our house in order in regard to this matter. Owing to the ages of these men, their numbers are rapidly dwindling year by year and it is a matter of urgency now.

I should also like to refer to the position of medal holders receiving the special allowance and, more particularly, the medal holders who are not receiving the special allowance although otherwise qualified. The same argument that I have put forward with regard to military service pensioners in general applies to the recipients of the special allowance. There are cases of men however who, because they did not apply before a certain date, have been awarded the medal but on the condition that it does not qualify them for the special allowance. That is a terrible anomaly which will lead to bickering and misunderstanding. If we decided that the date would not be extended, that no more medals would be given, that would have been all right. But recognising that a man was entitled to a medal by giving it to him and then withholding from him the amount that he would in certain circumstances be entitled to is very wrong. There cannot be any great number of cases involved and I appeal to the Minister to have the matter rectified.

On the question of abatement of pensions of people in public employment, I have never heard any reasoned argument as to why men who qualified in exactly the same way as their colleagues for I.R.A. pensions should have their pensions abated because they work in public employment. They rendered service just the same as their colleagues; they proved their cases on the same basis. Some of them perhaps risked more than their colleagues by taking the line they did when they were in public employment. But, because they happen to be in public employment, they are not paid the full pension. I cannot see the justice of that. I do not think there is any justice in it. As I said, I never heard anyone putting forward a reasoned case for it. Some of these men actually suffered very severely for a long number of years because they took part in the fight for freedom. That has not been made up to them in the vast number of cases. In addition to that, after all the years, they suffered an abatement of the pension that would have been awarded to them if they were in outside employment. To my mind it is something that nobody could defend. I remember one Old I.R.A. man, now deceased, who used from time to time get periods of employment in the Board of Works, telling me that it meant this to him: when he was working for an outside firm he got his trade union pay and his full pension but when he was working for the Board of Works he got his trade union pay and part pension, though he was doing the same type of work in exactly the same way. It also had the effect that when the increase was given to the Gardaí and others last year, for some men the increase was practically nullified. Some of them got their increase this month but next month they got no pension because of that. Because they got an increase their pension was stopped. These men, therefore, are not getting the full benefit of the increases that are being given to the ordinary man. I do not think that is a way in which men who proved themselves—and they had to do real active service to prove it—entitled to pension, should continue to be treated.

I hope the Minister will take up this question strongly with the Government. Personally I see no remedy for it but to wipe out completely all those abatement clauses. Nothing else will really satisfy. It has always been an injustice and I hope he will see his way to take up that question and have the clauses removed. For years now this particular number of I.R.A. have been suffering that injustice. A very few I.R.A. men who were brought into the public service from the national health a few years ago have been relieved of that liability. I hope that before we are much older we will be able to say that all I.R.A. men in the public service will be relieved of this incubus that has been put on them for years.

I would like to refer to the disability pensions. I am more concerned in this with the people who have a great degree of disability. In a number of cases they are reaching a stage in life when the medical expenses on them are becoming very heavy. I would ask the Minister in any revision he is contemplating to try to give special attention to that class and to see if he can help to alleviate the position in which they are now.

Reference has been made here to the present Pensions Board and particularly to the present Referee. It has been alleged that the same Referee is now hearing an appeal from his own previous decision. I do not think that is so. Firstly, the present Referee dealt with only a very small number of claims under the old Act towards the tail-end of the hearing. Secondly, the men making their claims now can produce evidence that was not allowed under the old Act. In fact, it is a completely new hearing and I believe it will be found that those cases are being heard absolutely on the merits and on the evidence as produced now under the new Act.

It would be very interesting if the Minister could give us, if he has it available, the figures of awards made by this Referee out of the total of 700 cases heard. I would not like that any agitation should now be started that would help to hold up still further any genuine men who for any reason may have been overlooked or not awarded their pension in the past. In view of the circumstances that the Referee is going as a judge bound by the Act he is working under, I do not believe there would be any reason for believing that any man who can make a case for his claim would not receive his award.

I will conclude by asking the Minister to put up the best case he can for increasing the pensions and the allowances of the Old I.R.A. in view of the general agreement in the House during the course of this debate.

I will be very brief. When the 1934 Act and the previous Act were brought in we all understood it was to cover men who took part in the Rebellion in 1916. I have the honour to come from Enniscorthy, which was a town which took part, along with the capital, in that rising. While many of the men in that town got pensions, a great many still are denied as persons to whom the Act does not apply. I cannot see how the Minister, his Referee or his Pensions Board could turn down people who never appeared before the Referee but merely got a circular from the Department of Defence saying that they did not come under the Act. I think that there is something wrong there and I am afraid that politics entered into it. If you did not see eye to eye with another man who went out in 1916, or because you went on another platform, you were met with an enemy in the camp and you were deprived even of a reference from the people with whom you served because they took a different side in politics. That happened in the very town in which I live.

We find that of two men who were comrades during that time, one got a pension while the other was deprived of it. That is a thing I could never understand and neither could my colleagues. People had gone out in that town in 1916, small as the town was and they held it for a week. The leaders came to Dublin to meet the leaders here in Arbour Hill before they would surrender. Many of the people of that town were arrested and thrown into jail. Others had to leave the town because they could not get employment. You were considered an enemy by some people at that time if you had taken part in the Rebellion. Lots of us had to go to Scotland and England and remain there until things simmered down at home.

We must remember that the Fianna Fáil Government closed the door against the Old I.R.A. men in 1945, closed the door against the very people for whom supporters of that Government are now speaking. When, however, the inter-Party Government came into power one of the ten points in the programme adopted by that Government was a promise that the claims of the Old I.R.A. men would be reopened. That promise was fulfilled. Many of these applicants have since been brought before the Pensions Board and some of them have got pensions, in some cases very small pensions. I read in a paper last week where a certain section of the Old I.R.A. refused to act as a bodyguard to the present Taoiseach because of the actions of the Fianna Fáil Government in bringing certain cases to the Supreme Court and having awards made null and void. There is still a feeling of grievance amongst many 1916 men who are now getting old. Since I first came into this House in 1943 I have always advocated the claims of the Old I.R.A. men. It must be remembered that the majority of the men who participated in the 1916 Rebellion were workers and supporters of the labour policy.

We hear a good deal of talk about disability pensions and special allowances, but a disability pension is given only because a man is unable to work. I think the time has come when these pensions should be revised owing to the high cost of living. The British Government have revised the pensions granted to their ex-soldiers and granted them substantial increases. While we hear a lot of lip service for our I.R.A. men, very little of a practical nature has been done. I put down a question here in 1945 dealing with this matter at a time when a number of these men had qualified for medals but had no pension. There was a good deal of talk then with reference to cases of men dying in the county home. The Minister said that he would bring in a Bill to provide assistance for such cases. The Bill was subsequently introduced and that is how the special allowances were made available.

Since then a number of these men have died leaving widows and other dependents. What provision has the Minister made for such widows? All that a widow appears to be entitled to is a non-contributory pension. That is the only hope she has after her husband's death. I have known of some widows of Old I.R.A. men to whom five or six days' pension was due at the time of their death. These unfortunate widows are called upon to send up a detailed bill of the funeral expenses and in some cases their claims are left in abeyance for a considerable time. I do not know who is at fault but surely to goodness there should be no delay in dealing with claims on behalf of a man who has served his country in critical times. Some of these Old I.R.A. men died in Britain.

I knew of a case of a widow whose husband died in England about the time his pension was due. She received the pension but she had to return it to the Department and the man was buried in Britain. She would not be allowed to cash the pension. All these things, to my mind, are no encouragement to young men of the present day to render service to their country. The young men of to-day will not join in any movement of that kind when they see what happened to their fathers and how they were treated by Governments past and present.

Take the case of the men who took part in the Mutiny in India. One of these men lives in my own town to-day and is employed as a builder's labourer. He has no pension in respect of the action which he took in that foreign country, while other people, through political influence and otherwise, have secured very good pensions. It is a remarkable fact that there are many able-bodied persons drawing bigger pensions than the disability pensions awarded to men who lost their health in rendering service to the country. I have often been asked by men who have been in receipt of pensions of 3/6 per week if the Minister would commute these pensions by giving them a lump sum. That has been put up to me several times. The question of awarding medals, which was first introduced by the Fianna Fáil Government, has never been brought to the notice of many people. Deputy Dr. O'Higgins mentioned that it was announced over the radio and in the Press but there are many people who never see these things in the paper. I knew of such a case myself in Borris. Surely these medals are not given to people as ornaments; yet many persons are in receipt of good pensions while others have received only medals. There are Old I.R.A. men in America, Canada and other places who would be entitled to claim medals and pensions but who do not know anything about these provisions. These men had to leave the country because of their part in the Rebellion, and they now want to know if they are entitled to claim.

I give full support to the 1916 men but I do not support the claims of those who took part in the Civil War on either side. I think the 1916 men deserve everything the State can give them. They have a grievance in relation to pensions. The number who took part in the 1916 Rising was small because outside of Dublin only two other towns supported that Rising— Enniscorthy and Galway. If the number applying for pensions had taken part we could have beaten the British Army out of the country in no time.

Reference has been made to the Referee. I understand that the same Referee hears the appeals and I can see no hope for an applicant going before him for a rehearing of his application. If the Referee gave a decision in 1946, 1947 or 1948 how can he now be expected to change that decision in 1952? He cannot alter his previous decision. Indeed, it would be very hard to expect him to do that. I think a new Referee should be appointed to hear these appeals and decide on claims that are still awaiting decision.

Active service was referred to. It has been said that applicants for pensions who did good work in the Black and Tan War have been turned down because they could not prove active service. That matter should be seriously considered and the grievance remedied once and for all. The numbers of applicants must now be very small. Many of the Old I.R.A. have died. It is ridiculous to find ourselves in the year 1952 pleading for the Old I.R.A. I sincerely hope something will be done quickly to solve any remaining difficulties once and for all.

As I pointed out, people in isolated areas only read their own weekly paper. They never read the Independent or the Irish Press. They never see such things as references to the latest date for making application. From that point of view I think the Minister should extend the period for three months as was suggested by Deputy Dr. O'Higgins. I was one of the people who applied for a pension and I never appeared before the Referee at all. I was told I was a person to whom the Act did not apply. Yet colleagues in Enniscorthy were awarded small pensions. I am glad they were. At the same time there were people who did good work but who have been turned down because they were not certified as having had active service. How does the Referee decide on that? We have been told that it is the certifying officers who are responsible. One man will be certified while another will not and that is causing endless confusion. Under the 1934 Act any man who supported Cumann na nGaedheal was turned down. That is well known to everyone in Enniscorthy and people were disgusted when a man who had gone on hunger strike, who had drilled the volunteers and took part in the 1916 Rising was turned down. He was awarded his pension a short time ago. He has since died. He was a national health insurance employee and the Minister can verify what I have said if he so desires.

Irrespective of which side a man supports in this House, he should get a pension if he is entitled to it. I have had letters from these men in Chicago and elsewhere asking me if they can still make application. It was only lately they learned that the Referee was still touring the country. I think every man who took part in our fight for freedom should get his due reward. Every man who makes application should go before the Referee. He should not receive an R.30 form telling him that he is not a person to whom the Act applies.

I am glad that the House appears to be united in relation to the Old I.R.A. It is heartening to know that, but it is humiliating to find that after 30 years we still have to appeal here on behalf of these people. These men should have been treated generously in the past. Unfortunately they were not so treated. The Old I.R.A. never looked for a pension. It was forced upon them. I was an Army officer in 1924 when we discovered that the majority of the men who had taken part in the conflict between the years 1917 and 1924 were being turfed out of the Army with £25 or £30 apiece. We did not take that lying down and a militant section joined together to fight our case. We had disruption in the Army and in this House with the result that the Government of the day said: "We will have to do something about it or we are going to have further civil strife." There would have been if we were thrown out with not one penny in our pockets after keeping the Government in power and winning the country its freedom. We find the same thing to-day with regard to the Army Pensions Acts. We never looked for a pension, but what we did look for was a decent gratuity. We wanted to see Army officers getting £1,000 and be done with it. We were well entitled to that. We wanted also to see that privates in the Old I.R.A. would get, as they were entitled to get, £500 or £1,000, so that they would have a chance of settling themselves in life. That was not done. The Government said that they had no money to spend and that they could not do it. In many cases, these men were looked upon as a nuisance. Here we are, 30 years after, making the same appeal. In the meantime, Pensions Act after Pensions Act has been passed. We have spent thousands of pounds on a pensions board which has been sitting since 1924. The whole thing is make-believe with files and secretaries, etc. I am satisfied that more money has been spent on pension boards and their staffs than would have provided decent treatment for every Old I.R.A. man, irrespective of his class.

All that hateful nonsense has gone on over the years. I do not blame any particular Government for this. They all did it. You had men chucked out in 1924. Many of them have since died. Some of them were given pensions of £5 or £6 a year. That was an insult to offer to men who had been fighting for the country's freedom from 1916 on. I say that was a shame as regards the first Government we had, to the Government that succeeded it and to every Government we have had. There were only a few thousand men to be dealt with and they should have been treated generously. We are making a final appeal now that justice be done to the Old I.R.A. men. We want a decent floor put under this Pensions Act. We want to see that men who are getting £5 or £6 a year will get something generous. In my opinion, any Old I.R.A. man would be entitled to at least £1 a week of a pension, and I would not thank any Government for giving them that. These were the men who secured for us the right to speak here and to legislate for the Irish people. They endured great sufferings and humiliations. I hope, therefore, that at the eleventh hour, the Minister will hearken to the appeal which has been made by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour and Independents. It is a noble appeal that has been made on behalf of the remnants of the Old I.R.A. who are living. We ask that justice be done to them.

Since the cost of living commenced to rise, every State employee in this country has got an increase in his pension. That has not been so with the Old I.R.A. They are treated as the cinderellas of the country. I cannot understand that. Many of them are old and infirm now. I know where they would be to-day if they were in their old health and vigour. They would be marching on this State demanding their rights. If this happened in 1921, the Government of the day would have to realise that we were alive and still fit to fight.

I want to see this pensions board wound up as soon as possible. I want to see an end to all this struggling and squabbling that has been going on. We have certain men running the board at one period and when there is a change of Government another set of men take over. That is not fair. A pensions board should do its duty speedily and well. The work could be done speedily and well if the proper course was followed in regard to the applications which are lodged. These applications should be dealt with by the officers who were in charge of brigades and divisions. They should be the judge and jury in the cases of these Old I.R.A. men and nobody else. I am satisfied that if our first Government had been big enough we would have been spared a lot of the bickering that went on afterwards. My idea would be to give a pension to every man who fought from 1916 to 1921, and to stop at that. I would be in favour of giving a pension to those who fought against us as well as those who fought with us in that period. Let the Pensions Act be a generous one and be applied to every man, no matter on what side he fought. If that had been done in 1921 I am satisfied we would have been spared all the squabbling and strife that has gone on over the last 30 years. We would not be sitting on different sides here to-day. It is because the matter was approached in a small, narrow, mean way that we have had Pensions Act after Pensions Act during the last 30 years.

Justice has not been done to the Old I.R.A. men. If those men had been allowed to go before a tribunal composed of the officers of the different brigades and divisions in which they fought there is no doubt but that this question would have been settled long ago. The evidence of the men, no matter on what side they took part, would have been listened to. Those officers should have been given the power to legislate on behalf of their comrades. They would have the knowledge to sift the evidence given before them and would know who was or who was not a genuine Old I.R.A. man. Of course, the Government of that time was too narrow and wanted to exclude the men who fought against it in the Civil War. The next Government in 1932 did the same thing. You had all that strife and struggling going on over the years. All that had its reactions on the country.

We who fought in the Army were paid for our service and then we were chucked out in 1924 on a small pittance. It was not enough to enable one to go on "the booze" for a week. That was what was offered to us after spending our lives fighting for the country. We spent our terms in prisons, and risked our lives in ambushes. We had brother Irishmen fighting us during the Civil War. All that we wanted was to get something that would enable us to set ourselves up in life again. We did not want to be a drag on the nation. They gave us £50 to set ourselves up in life. The "boyos" who did not join the I.R.A. were able to get the good jobs. They did not risk their lives. They were not beggared and broken. The men who had to suffer the hard and bitter things were forgotten and have been forgotten to this day by the first Government and the Governments that have followed it. They looked upon us as a damned nuisance and nothing more. I am not going to mince my words in regard to any of our Governments where Old I.R.A. men are concerned. The number of them who are entitled to pensions now cannot be very great, and surely it is time they were treated generously.

The Minister is an honourable man. He is listening to me and I am sure is saying to himself, "Giles is right." He was in charge of a brigade himself. I am sure he knew every man in it, and could tell who was or was not entitled to a pension. The same is true of the whole country. The brigade commanders knew the men who served under them. It is because politics has played its dirty part that we have been kept asunder and never got a chance of coming together. We have that same old squabble still going on. I saw an example of it in Waterford a few days ago with half the Old I.R.A. men there wanting to march behind the Taoiseach while the other half did not want to march behind him. These unfortunate men did want to march behind the Taoiseach and would want to march behind Deputy Costello if he were Head of the Government. They want to do justice to the Irish Government. But no. Politics must play their mean part and we must be divided year in and year out. I hope our appeal will be a final appeal and that we will not have to come in here next year and beg again on behalf of a few stragglers who may be left out.

I would ask the Minister to be generous and big. I know that he is generous and big and I know that the Taoiseach is a big and generous man. Politics are there all the time. An all-Party committee of this House should be set up with a view to getting rid of all the difficulties and doing justice to the few who are left. They should be given decent and generous treatment.

We could have afforded to spend £2,000,000 in 1924 in giving justice to the 5,000 or 6,000 men who fought. We were told at that time that we could not afford it. We have spent hundreds of millions since that time. Yet, we could not spend £2,000,000 then. We should have spent that amount of money at that time so that all these men could have been settled in happy homes, working with their fellow Irishmen. We of the Old I.R.A. do not want Party strife. We want to be able to meet in Dublin, no matter what side we took, as brother Irishmen, having a common cause. We want to end our life saying, "Thanks be to God. We have lived through troublesome times and we are now united." We want to be of use to the younger generation and be able to say to them that they have a job to fulfil, that is, to secure an Irish Ireland of 32 counties and that we will give them any help we can. Party strife, Party politics keep them divided and as long as they are divided that is all right for political Parties but it is not all right for the nation. This nation could be further advanced than it is if only we had used common sense 25 or 30 years ago.

I would appeal to the Minister to try to put this matter above Party politics. The appeal we make is a noble appeal. It is an appeal on behalf of a very few men. There are not a few thousand of us left. We are in the humiliating position that when one of our comrades dies and we go to his funeral, when the salute has been fired over his grave, we find that we have to send the hat around to collect in order to have a few Masses said for the repose of his soul and we often have to try to help the little family that he leaves behind.

In the town of Trim there is a man who had been a good officer. He has nine children. He has a small pension. He is suffering from a varicose ulcer. He loses a great deal of employment as a result. He has appealed to be taken into some hospital at a cheap rate. He cannot afford to pay. He has appealed to the Army authorities and to political authorities to get him into St. Bricin's or some hospital for free treatment. He could be cured. Instead of that, he is left there. The pain of the wound in his leg is nothing to the pain of remorse at seeing his family in misery, his wife wondering how she will be able to make ends meet, when there is nothing coming into the house.

These are the things we see down the country. The people in Dublin may not see them. Along the roads of Trim and Navan I see a few Old I.R.A. men hobbling out of the poorhouse on sticks trying to meet a few comrades or friends who will give them a drink or an ounce of tobacco. That should not be. It is terrible to see these men almost beggars in the land they made. It is a frightful state of affairs. I would ask the Minister to have a full review of the whole position. There is no use talking about the few pensioners who are left. Their case should be dealt with quickly.

In the case of disability pensions, they should be of such an amount that a man can live on them. The disability pensions are a public disgrace, at starvation level. I am not blaming this Government, I am blaming all Governments for it.

Another matter is the abatement of pensions. Some men try to get a few days' work under the county council, draining streams and rivers. If they get such work and if they have a pension of £5 or £6, the pension is cut off. That is a public disgrace. These pensions were given for services rendered to their country. There is no thanks due to anybody for them. The men are entitled to every penny of them. Even if they were earning £10,000 a year, even if they were President of the Republic, they would be fully entitled to the pension for services rendered and there should be no abatement or whittling down of that pension.

The cost of living affects the Old I.R.A. man just as it affects everyone else. How is it that civil servants and others can have their salaries and pensions stepped up while the Old I.R.A. are ignored? We in this House must have been asleep as far as justice is concerned. I am satisfied that we have wakened up now and I am glad that there are men on all sides of the House who are genuine Old I.R.A. men, who can stand with their heads up and their chests out, having regard to the service they rendered. I would ask them to make a united effort to do the right thing for the Old I.R.A. and, when that is done, I hope that we will meet in the Mansion House, shake hands and be comrades in arms and show that we can unite. There is work to be done yet. Justice must be done to every man, whether he is poor or well off. I would ask the Minister to listen to our appeal.

Mr. Byrne

I wish to add my voice to the united appeal that has been made to the Minister. We can all have confidence that the Minister will do the right thing but it is well that he should get a little support so that he can make that extra demand on the Department of Finance to meet the appeal that has been made from every side of the House.

Within the last month or so we all received a circular setting out the claims of the Old I.R.A. It was signed by well-known persons who served in 1916. Piaras Beaslaoi, Colonel Gay, a man named O'Connor and a number of men whom I met some years ago behind prison walls signed the circular. They served the country and served it well.

Deputy Giles has reminded us that the cost of living affects the Old I.R.A. men as well as other people. The Minister ought to secure some increase in their pensions. I join in the plea for that.

My attention has been brought very forcibly to a rather sad case of a member of the Old Cumann na mBan, who has no pension and who is now in a nursing home. Her friends are doing their best to keep her in the comfort to which she is entitled. In 1915 and 1916 that lady rendered magnificent service to the State. She is well known to every member of the Front Bench. I will give her name to the Minister later. This lady has never applied for a pension. I want to know if there is a fund out of which she can be provided for. I know that this lady is most deserving and her colleagues, members of the Old Cumann na mBan, will be most anxious to come forward and give any evidence the Minister requires so that she will get something to supplement the small comforts that are being provided for her by her relatives. This lady is a widow. Her husband had been a civil servant, in a very good position. Her husband died. Because he was a civil servant, the lady in question did not or would not apply for a pension. If there is anything that can be done for that lady, who served the country, I earnestly hope that the Minister will do it.

We were all made aware of the sad plight and, shall I say, the niggardly treatment of the widow of a flying officer who met his death in the service of the State. That widow finds the income of the family reduced from £700 or £800 a year to something like £200. I feel that something will be done for that widow. I earnestly hope that the widow and children of that officer will be treated properly, as well as the widow and children of other officers and men. I hope that a reasonable increase will be given to them to meet the increased cost of living and that sufficient allowance will be made to them to enable them to give the education to their children which it was intended to give them. These children ought not to suffer because their fathers died while in the Service.

I should also like to refer to the cases of I.R.A. pensioners employed by local authorities, whether as attendants or in a professional capacity. Men gave valuable service in the period from 1916 onwards and their services warranted their being awarded a fair pension at the time. I do not think that any of us could call it a fair pension now. In order to buy the same quantity of food to-day their pensions would have to be doubled. It is only right that we should support the Minister in any request he may make to the Department of Finance to increase the pensions of those who served the country, whether as private soldiers or as officers.

To come back to the cases of those pensioners employed in the public service, let us take the case of an attendant or a doorkeeper employed in the Government service or by the Dublin Corporation at £5 or £6 a week, or even £8 or £10 a week. As soon as such a person gets employment in the public service the pension which he earned for the risks he took and the service he rendered is, as a result of a means test, taken from him. There is one case of which the Minister has personal knowledge and which I raised some time ago. The Minister did inquire into that case and remedied some of the grievances. Then take the case of an Old I.R.A. man who is past his work. If the income of his family increases a means tests is applied and his pension is reduced, if not taken from him altogether. I have in mind the case of a man who had a pension of £90 a year. In the course of time that was brought down to £9 a year. I have not seen him for some time and it may be that his grievance has been remedied. If it has not been remedied it would appear, from the fact that I have not seen him, that he is in ill-health.

I hope that the public service employees who were awarded I.R.A. pensions and who got some small job because of their service to the country will have their pensions restored to them. Their pensions should not be taken from them because they got a job worth £5 or £6, or even £10 a week. In the old days anyone who employed people with a pension were accused of availing of their pensions to give them low wages, of looking for cheap labour and not giving workers what they were entitled to. That applies now to the Government and local authorities all over the country, including Dublin. Men who were awarded pensions had their pensions taken away from them because they got a job as a messenger, as a steward, or perhaps in a professional capacity. I hope the Minister will see that these pensions are restored.

In the case of the Old I.R.A. men the pension should be increased. Those of them who are left are entitled to something better than we are doing for them. People may be rather surprised that I should feel so strongly about them. I suppose no Deputy met more of the Old I.R.A. collected together than I did. I met them in Frongoch and in Wandsworth and in Knutsford jails. In fact I met them in nearly every prison in England. At that time they were in lots of 500 and I had only a nodding acquaintance with most of them. I am always happy to know when they are doing well. But there are perhaps 5 per cent. of them who are not doing well like those described by Deputy Giles. I can hardly credit that some of these old soldiers were allowed to die in union hospitals. I hope the condition of some of these men is not as bad as he described, that men who served the country when they meet their friends hope to get a packet of cigarettes from them. If what Deputy Giles says is true, it is a shame for all the Governments which are responsible for such a thing taking place. I hope it is not as bad as Deputy Giles said.

Just as bad.

Mr. Byrne

Might I make a personal appeal to the Minister to consider the case of the lady whose name I shall give him? I hope he will make inquiries into the case. She is an old member of Cumann na mBan who never applied for a pension. She is in a Dublin nursing home at present and she is worthy of all the honour the country can bestow on her.

I am sure it is the ambition of the present Minister and has been the ambition of former Ministers for Defence to solve this ever-recurring problem which has been coming before the House for so long. When after such a short period in the House I feel that the problem should be settled once and for all, I can imagine the feelings of Deputies who have been in the House for 20 or 25 years. I have not the slightest doubt that if it is possible to settle this matter once and for all the present Minister will do it. From the tributes which have been paid to the Minister by Deputies I am sure they have the same feeling concerning him that I have. If the Minister does solve it, he will earn the appreciation not only of these Old I.R.A. men but also of every Deputy. I have not the slightest doubt that, irrespective of what the cost would be, it would be an ideal objective for the Minister and I am perfectly certain there would not be any dissension in the House on the question of the cost.

Deputy O'Leary was, in my opinion, a little bit off the mark in connection with his reference to the political aspect of pensions decisions. I do not think that is quite fair. I know it has been said right down, irrespective of what Government has been in power but I do not think it is ever counted and it certainly does not count where I or, I am sure, any other Deputy in the House is concerned. Many of us have had connections with I.R.A. associations in different counties and attended meetings. Deputy Rice was invited and Deputy Dillon was invited and there is no question of politics. We are all out to help them as much as we can.

He also referred to the certifying officers. There is no doubt that certifying officers have a very difficult problem, and it can be very unpleasant for them to give evidence in matters which happened so long ago. I have one particular case in mind. I could not understand why a certain man did not get a pension. I had been working for him for about six or seven years even before I came into this House and on his word I felt there was something wrong. Eventually I did discover that the certifying officer did send in the report about him. On inquiry it was confirmed that the report had been sent in but unfortunately the report was unfavourable. There is no doubt that there cannot be a cut and dried decision to give everyone pensions. It is obvious that that would not be fair or logical. There will always be a number of disgruntled, disappointed members of the Old I.R.A., although they probably know themselves the reason for the rejection of their cases.

Regarding difficulties associated with witnesses brought to give evidence at the sittings of the Referee in the various areas, due allowance should be made for the difficulties those witnesses experience in trying to remember details in connection with their association with the applicant's activities. I have known a number of cases where, frankly, I could not even remember certain details, and I have had some I.R.A. activities. If I were put on my oath I could not remember having brought back truckloads of rifles through Dublin streets past sentries. I could not remember having sat one night behind a Thompson gun after taking it from the barracks. I am perfectly certain when I could not remember those things, witnesses could not remember quarter of the details.

It could not be expected.

It could not be expected. There should be allowance made in matters of that kind. Regarding the widows, it is only natural that everybody should appeal on their behalf. It seems tragic that a pension or small emolument enjoyed by a man should die when he goes himself and that the widow should be deprived of it. If it were only a little memory of the honour which had been done to this man in appreciation of his activities for his country, some allowance should be made to the widow in regard to her husband's pension.

In regard to the special allowances there is only one matter I would like to mention. There are a number of cases I have come across of people who are unfit to travel to Dublin for their examination. While I do find that the medical officer who examines them has, on all occasions, been very generous and fair when asked to examine them by the Department, I would suggest that perhaps mainly in the interests of the applicant, his own dispensary doctor should be asked to examine him. I am not saying that because I am a dispensary doctor myself or because a physician or anyone else in an adjoining county would be in any way unfair or prejudiced. It is for the sole reason that I do think that matters other than the actual medical end of it might count and influence the Department to be favourably disposed. There is one thing I would say. If the dispensary doctor decides that the man is fit and is not suffering from any disability, the Department can rest assured it is final. I think the applicant himself would be of the same opinion. As I say, the dispensary doctor is in the best position. Having known the applicant for so long he would be an ideal person to appoint to carry out the examination for that purpose.

I support many if not all of the sensible suggestions made by Deputy MacEoin and by other ex-Old I.R.A. Deputies on every side of the House. The Minister appears to me to be in the happy position for the first time I have heard of, that he can go to the Government, as I am sure he will be willing to go, with the full influence of that support behind him, in any of the matters that he himself feels call for favourable revision. I have heard charges made here—I am quite certain I have never repeated them myself either on public platforms or here—about political prejudice against the previous Administration as well as against the present Administration in connection with military service pensions. This kind of charge can neither be proved nor disproved. No matter who they may be made against, I can say that I am personally convinced that the Minister would not condone or encourage the provision of pensions on the basis of the political affiliations of a particular candidate. If a certifying officer or an old brigade officer happened to be a supporter of Fianna Fáil or previously a supporter of Cumann na nGaedheal under a previous Administration and the applicant feels he has a good case for the receipt of a pension, if he does not get that pension it is correct to say in many cases allegations have been made that a refusal to sanction a pension has been founded on the alleged political prejudice of the certifying officer or the brigade officer as the case may be.

I have come across a few cases myself where I did not understand the position. A man makes application under old and new Acts for the payment of a pension. He is turned down and he is given the option of providing additional evidence or information in support of his application. If he does so the Referee, the members of the Military Service Board or the powers that be have the authority and responsibility of seeing that the additional evidence, whether furnished in writing or whether given by way of oral evidence by the individual concerned and those who are willing to give the additional evidence, should be heard on the appeal. I have reported a small number of cases where the additional evidence was provided after considerable trouble. I know a man whose case was not been disputed locally and who found it extremely difficult over a period of years to get a man who is now a superintendent in the Garda Síochána to furnish the additional evidence in support of his particular application. The superintendent agreed to come before the members of the board, the Referee, or whoever was the person authorised to hear the additional evidence but he was never called. It leaves the applicant in a difficult position. I know a case where a witness voluntarily agreed—he was under no pressure in this matter—to give additional evidence but he was never called. In fairness to the applicant whether the witnesses are willing to come forward or not, if they are regarded as reliable witnesses, having held a superior rank in the I.R.A. they should be compelled to come forward in the interests of the applicant. I do not know what the Minister has to say about that particular aspect. I am sure cases of that kind have come under his own personal notice but I would like him to look into the matter. I am not saying I am doing it for the first time because I know what I am saying has already been submitted in writing as I always do in every kind of case to the Minister or Department responsible.

I want to make a confession and to express regret for having in this House on one occasion supported the proposal for the abatement of military service pensions. I express regret because I did not know at the time— had I known I would not have given my support to the proposal or the policy enshined in this matter—that men who served in the R.I.C. during the Black and Tan War had the benefit of their pensions while employed in the Government service, whereas Old I.R.A. men had their military service pensions abated in similar circumstances.

People who formerly served with the British forces and are now employed in public positions here receive their full pension while Old I.R.A. men who fought for this country and devoted the best days of their life to the fight for the freedom of the country, and who now happen to be employed in the Government service here or in the service of a local authority, suffer an abatement in their pensions. I express regret—and there is nothing cowardly in expressing regret—that such an unfair distinction has been allowed to exist for so long, and I would now appeal to the Minister to wipe out that form of injustice which has been inflicted on Old I.R.A. men who are employed in the public service in this country. I understand the figure involved is only £35,000, and if there is any money available for the remission of taxation or the removal of any grievances that may exist, that kind of case should be one of the first to be met. In any case a regulation which involves preferential treatment for one type of individual as against another in the public service inflicts an injustice that should be removed.

I want to say a word based on my experience in connection with the administration of disability pensions. I have made representations in connection with six or eight cases of individuals who are unfit for any kind of work and who are in receipt, where they can qualify for it, of national health insurance benefit. I have reported certain cases to the Minister and I am still waiting for a favourable decision in regard to them because I cannot see anything but a favourable decision being given. I cannot understand why it is necessary for the Department administering disability pensions to inquire into the financial position of applicants in receipt of home assistance. If I know anything— and I do—about the callous way in which home assistance is administered and the kind of investigation that is held into every aspect of the domestic life of an applicant for home assistance, I cannot understand why it should be necessary to inquire into the means of a person in receipt of home assistance who applies for a disability pension. I should like to hear the Minister's explanation, because these inquiries have been going on for far too long in the case of people in whom I am interested.

I also understand that when a deserving applicant qualifies for a disability pension, he having been in receipt of home assistance for a period, any payments that have been made to him in respect of home assistance are deducted from the amount due to him as a disability pension. I do not agree with that. I suppose it is due to red tape regulations which the civil servants administering the pensions code have to carry out. I am not going to say anything against civil servants for carrying out the regulations but I think this regulation should be amended or altered to ensure that a man who receives a disability pension will not have deducted from the amount of that pension any money which he may have received from a local authority by way of home assistance. I presume the local authority gets a refund of the amount deducted, but I ask the Minister is it not possible to deal in a more generous and Christian way with these cases?

I know of one very bad case where an applicant—a very deserving applicant I have no doubt—for a disability pension has been turned down because the family income was supposed to be in excess of the figure which would qualify the applicant for a disability pension. I have reported this case a considerable time ago. Deputy O'Higgins and other Deputies from the constituency may also know of it. It is a case where the investigation officer gave in his report—I saw a copy of it—the amount of wages drawn by members of the applicant's family who are married and who are not living with the applicant.

That is not right.

If anybody has any doubt of the accuracy of the statement, I shall produce a copy of the letter which I received. If I, Deputy O'Higgins or any other Deputy from Leix-Offaly make representations to have that case reviewed on the grounds that the information supplied to the deciding officer or officers was wrong and clearly proved to be wrong, we are told: "You will have to wait for another 12 months before that can be looked into." In the meantime, the applicant must go on short rations, simply because the investigation officer got his information from people who may have been prejudiced or, at any rate, from people who did not get the correct information. If a Deputy can prove that such a case is decided on the basis of wrong information, surely to goodness there is a case for an immediate and favourable review and for the payment of back money to an applicant from whom such deductions had been made from his disability pension? I could elaborate on these cases but I am not going to do so, because I believe the Minister will do the right thing if he is not precluded by some sort of red tape regulations which are not fair to applicants. I think these are cases that should be dealt with in the most generous and Christian way possible. I believe the Minister means well in these matters and I am not making any personal complaint against him.

Deputy MacEoin suggested that, in the light of present circumstances and of the huge increase in the cost of living since the whole pensions code was originally framed, there is a good case for the payment of a minimum pension of £1 a week. There is a minimum pension, if you can call it a pension, in the case of widows and orphans and old age pensioners. There is also, in the case of children's allowances, a minimum payment and in common decency, a reasonable figure should be fixed as a minimum pension in cases of military pensions. I would ask the Minister how many of the military service pensions paid are under £20 a year. I suggested many years ago when this matter was under consideration that it is a costly type of administration to administer a military service pensions code in the case of persons who have pensions of £20 or under. The fair and decent thing to do, and it should have been done in the beginning for the Old I.R.A., would be to give them a lump sum and let them make some use of it rather than give them pensions of under £20 and, in hundreds of cases, of under £10 a year. Even if I were supporting the Government, I could not support that type of administration because it is too costly. A lump sum would enable an Old I.R.A. man to buy a hackney car or set up in a small shop and that would be far better than the costly way we have of administering a pension code under which thousands of persons are getting lest than £20 a year.

Is he not allowed to commute his pension?

That is unusual.

I am sure the Deputy knows there are many other pension laws and regulations applicable to public servants, local authority and public service corporations where a person is allowed to commute the pension or a minimum of one-fourth of the pension.

In the British Army they can do that.

It is also allowed in the case of Irish seamen. I am not now appealing for something that is unusual or that would help to create a precedent. I hope the Minister will give the matter favourable consideration. I make the suggestion for what it is worth. I am certain I am speaking to the converted when appealing to the Minister to support the proposal made by Deputy General MacEoin, Deputy Dr. Maguire and others, believing that when the Minister has this support, for the first time as far as I know, he will go back to his colleagues in the Government and ask them to do the right thing.

Mr. O'Higgins

I think, first of all, I should make some reference to a matter raised by Deputy General MacEoin with regard to the appointment of the Referee. I do not raise this out of any feeling of hostility towards the present Referee because I count him amongst my personal friends, but I think it is unfair to that gentleman that he should be put in the position of acting as Referee under the present military service pensions code because he is thereby called upon, in effect though perhaps not in law, to re-Part hear cases that he has dealt with three or four years previously. I know that the present Referee will administer the Acts as he finds them and will endeavour to arrive at a decision in accordance with the evidence and in accordance with the canons of justice.

The position, however, is very unfortunate so far as the applicants are concerned. There is, as the Minister knows, a considerable volume of dissatisfaction amongst applicants for military service pensions in relation to the administration of the different Acts. That dissatisfaction undoubtedly arises in large measure because many applicants were not, as they feel they should have been, judges in their own cases. Nevertheless applicants over the last 20 years or so, when they were refused a pension, proceeded to attack the person who decided against them and did not consider that the refusal of their application was in any degree attributable to a weakness in the case they presented.

Over the years—and the Minister is aware of this because he referred to this particular matter two years ago when he was a Deputy on the Opposition Benches—because of the refusal of thousands of pension applications the blame unfortunately became attached to the person who had to advise the Minister in relation to each application, namely the Referee appointed by the Government. The facts are that prior to the termination of the military service pensions cases under the previous Acts the Referee was the person who is now the Referee administering these particular Acts and that person, as Referee, became involved in a considerable amount of what I believe to be unjustifiable criticism of decisions arrived at in military service pension claims.

In considering a matter of this kind Deputies should recollect matters of a controversial nature in the year 1948 prior to the passage of the amending Act of 1949. At that time when considering the merits, or otherwise, of some 20,000 or 30,000 claims that had been refused there existed a considerable number of Old I.R.A. who felt they had been either wrongly refused a pension or wrongly refused an opportunity of presenting their case. It was because that substantial number existed that the then Government, with the support of the then Opposition, decided to amend the Military Service Pensions Acts in order to enable these people to have another "go" in relation to an application for pension. As a result of the amending Act of 1949 an opportunity was given to over 20,000 Old I.R.A. to submit their claim again on fresh evidence, or on the same evidence, to a Referee to have it determined on the same evidence or on fresh evidence or, if they had not applied before, to submit an application then. It is under those circumstances that the opportunity now arises for some criticism of the present Minister because he appointed to adjudicate on claims arising under that Act the same person who was Referee when the previous Military Service Pensions Acts ceased to operate. Arising out of that appointment inevitably a new issue has been raised by the present Opposition, an Opposition which has treated the Minister with far more courtesy in this respect than might have been extended by the Minister to his predecessor.

Nevertheless, the fact is that, as a result of that appointment, applications are now being heard and determined by the person who three or four years ago reported against them to the present Minister, and, I am certain, reported accurately in accordance with the evidence and with justice. Nevertheless, by reason of the reappointment of this individual, the Minister is building up a new grievance amongst those who may be again refused a military service pension. I think that is unfair to the applicants for a military service pension in the first instance. Secondly, I think it is extremely unfair to the person appointed as Referee. I think it is unfair to put him in the invidious position of having to hear and determine appeals for himself. I do not think it is the type of administration that should appeal to Deputies. I think it is an unfortunate thing and will, I fear, further prolong this entire story of Military Service Pensions Acts, amendment Acts and all the rest of it, because, as sure as the Minister made that appointment, the case will be made to the Minister's successor, whether it be in a month's time, six months, 12 months or in four years' time, that a new Military Service Pensions Bill should be brought into this House and passed into law entitling applicants, refused a second time by the present Referee, to submit a third claim. There will be no finality to this unfortunate series of legislation. I think it is unfortunate that, 30 years after the War of Independence, we should still be seeking some perfect method of legislation to bring finality to the nation's debt to those who fought and waged the War of Independence. I do think that the appointment of the present Referee was an unhappy appointment, and one that certainly should have been considered very carefully before it was made.

I wanted to raise that matter. It may have been referred to by other Deputies. It certainly was raised by Deputy MacEoin. It was raised by him in response to what undoubtedly is the feeling amongst the members of different Old I.R.A. organisations. It is not raised or repeated by me with any feeling of hostility towards the individual concerned, or out of any desire to make political capital out of the appointment because, as the Minister is aware, this appointment was made nearly 12 months ago. The Opposition certainly did not make any issue in that connection of a controversial kind in this House in the hope that what was originally a temporary appointment might not be confirmed as a permanent appointment, as unfortunately has been done. I think it is a decision that might be reconsidered. The person who is the Referee is well qualified, by reason of his qualifications and standing in his profession, to fill many other posts. He is well fitted to do that, and I think that, in other positions, he would give a considerable service to the State and to the people. The only reason why I raise this objection to the filling of this particular post is because of the fact that applicants for these pensions will feel that, when they were afforded by statute the right of appeal, they should at least have the right to go before another tribunal.

I do not know what the Minister would say if he were ever litigant in either the District Court or the Circuit Court, and had an unsuccessful case before the Circuit Court judge and then appealed to the High Court. I wonder how he would feel when he discovered that the same judge was sitting in the High Court to hear his appeal. The judge, of course, would hear the case twice in accordance with his oath, and in full consideration of the evidence, but I am certain that the Minister, in the event of a second unsuccessful hearing, would leave the court saying: "Well, there is something wrong with the law". It is that feeling that will undoubtedly exist amongst applicants for pensions as a result of this appointment.

I suggest to the Minister that, having at his disposal a person of undoubted attainments and considerable qualifications, his services could be better employed in the interests of the State in some other position, and that the Minister should seek, as Referee, a person who has not had any previous dealings with these applications, and who has not been a controversial figure in relation to pension applications. I know—and the Minister is aware of it —that was the desire of the Minister's predecessors in relation to all the appointments of Referees made under the present Acts. The two previous appointments made since 1948 were deliberately designed to ensure that the Referee would be a newcomer, one not involved in previous applications, who would give the confidence necessary for the proper operation of these Acts. I think it is a mistake to have gone back to appoint an individual who was involved in these applications previously. However, as I say, that is a matter which, I am sure, has occurred to the Minister, and I would ask him to consider it very carefully.

The second matter that I want to raise is with regard to the operation of the means test in relation to payments made under the different Military Service Pensions Acts. In the early days of this Dáil, as a result of a measure introduced in the previous Dáil, an old age pensions Act was passed which provided that, for the purposes of old age pensions, various special allowances payable under the Military Service Pensions Acts would not be regarded as means. That was a very desirable provision to make in our social legislation. It had the support of both sides of the House.

I would like to know from the Minister whether the reverse case has also been attended to. Is an old age pension now counted as means in relation to an application for a special allowance? I know of two cases in my constituency, of two Old I.R.A. men who are invalids and cripples, unable to earn their livelihood. They are in receipt of the full old age pension because they have no means, but both have been refused a special allowance, apparently on the basis that the old age pension of £1 a week disentitles them to any claim for a special allowance. Now, it seems to me somewhat odd that our legislation should provide that, if you have a special allowance before you come to the age of 70, it will not count as means in connection with the old age pension, but that if you get the old age pension first, and then apply for a special allowance, by reason of the fact that you are in receipt of the pension you are counted out in relation to your application for the special allowance.

I raised this matter previously by way of parliamentary question with the Minister for Social Welfare. I understood the matter was being considered by the Minister. I suggest that some regulation or, if necessary, legislation should be introduced to ensure that in future the old age pension should not count as means in relation to an application for a special allowance.

The final matter I want to raise is the old question of bringing the hearings of military pension applications as far as possible into rural areas. I know that that is the desire of the Minister, as it was of his predecessor, but in fact and in practice there is a tendency to concentrate local hearings in some town intended to serve three, four or possibly five counties. Although it might prolong hearings, I would suggest to the Minister that the Referee should endeavour to appoint a local hearing for each county town. Naturally, as the Minister is aware, many of the applicants for military service pensions have not the means to travel 40, 50 or 60 miles and are unable to provide for the travelling expenses of the witnesses upon whose evidence they might rely. The Minister should suggest to the Referee more localised hearings.

In my constituency there has been a tendency to centralise hearings to cover Laois, portion of Tipperary, Kilkenny and Carlow. That may be desirable from the point of view of the convenience of the board, but, for applicants, it has meant that they have had to travel 40 or 50 miles and have had to bring witnesses that distance, and their means would not permit of the expense involved. The Minister should ensure that, in future, hearings will be held at least in the county town in each county.

I appeal to the Minister to be somewhat more generous to the remaining band of loyal Old I.R.A. men, to whom we are all indebted for being in this House this evening. I cannot help but comment on a scene which I witnessed in Dublin Castle yesterday evening when the President of the Irish Republic reviewed a section of the Irish Army. I could not help reminiscing on the days of 1913 onward, of which the Minister has as clear a recollection as I have.

One feels sad when one thinks of the manner in which some of those people have been dealt with and the difficulties that have been placed in their way in claiming some small recognition of the service which they rendered this old nation. One feels sad when one looks back upon the whole sorry story of pensions for the Old I.R.A.

In 1937, 15 years ago, I rose in this House and objected to military service pensions being granted to men who were physically fit and able to pursue their various avocations. I then said that men, no matter on which side they served after the division, should have been treated generously and should have been whole-heartedly provided for. That did not happen. To-day we find that the position in regard to pensions for the Old I.R.A. is just as unsatisfactory as it was in those days.

I can sympathise with the Minister who, I believe, is quite anxious to do what he can to alleviate the distress in which many of our old comrades find themselves to-day, and who will find it more difficult as the years advance, until they pass from us. If the Minister were to calculate the total amounts allocated in pensions to the men of 1916 and subsequent years, and were to deduct that from the amount which is being paid at present in Old I.R.A. pensions, he would find that he could well afford to increase the pensions to-day to a point that would enable the Old I.R.A., particularly those who are incapacitated and who have no other source of income, to have a reasonable standard.

We all know that the depreciation in the value of money makes it difficult for people who are depending on pensions to get a living. That is due to circumstances over which this Government has no control and in fact, over which the Government of any country has no control. It is only a question of the Government trying to do the best it can. That best ought to be done on behalf of the Old I.R.A., particularly of those that remain of the 1916 element. In my district I know a few who, like myself, never made any application for pension, and who never will. When we joined the Volunteers in 1913 after the Larne gun-running, speaking for myself and a few others, we gave our service freely to the cause. When we answered the call on Easter Sunday morning we did not have in our minds then what the pension would be if we survived or what our position in life would be.

I earnestly appeal to the Minister to consider those who have been unjustly dealt with and those who have received a meagre pension and to give them some alleviation. I conclude, in the words of the poet, by saying:

"To-day their ranks are thinned by time;

To-day we can only await the hour that

God shall call the last Old I.R.A. man."

That day is not very far distant. Many years will not elapse when there will be people in this House replacing us who will know nothing of 1916 or its subsequent tragedies. I appeal to the Minister, therefore, to do the best he can under the circumstances and to come to the assistance of the Old I.R.A.

I want to thank the Deputies who so ably and sincerely put the case before the Minister for an increase in the pensions of widows of Air Force personnel. The particular case which has been mentioned of the widow of the late Captain Billy Ryan affects me more than any other Deputy and it is only natural that I should voice my opinion in the matter and ask the Minister in the immediate future to introduce, if necessary, legislation which will enable the widow of that gallant officer and his six children to enjoy the same standard of living and the same conditions in life as if he had lived. That is the least that his widow and six young children deserve from this State. He is the third of that family to lose his life in the service of the State. The other two had no dependents and therefore there was no demand from anybody for compensation or a gratuity or pension or anything else.

Fortunately, our casualties in the Army have been very few indeed, and that is all the more reason why we should be generous in these cases. I doubt if there is in this country one person who would protest against any taxation, if it were necessary, to make adequate provision for the dependents of these gallant men who died defending the freedom that we won for them. Many of these young men were born into freedom. Unlike some of us of the older generation, they never knew what it was to be born a slave. All the more credit to them for having defended the freedom which was won for them.

Therefore, I make a special appeal to the Minister—and I say that Deputies should not take "No" for an answer—that adequate provision be made in these cases. The sum of £16 a year to educate a child is preposterous. In pre-war days it might do so, but it is totally inadequate now. The duty of the Minister and the Government is to make adequate provision for these widows and children, so that they will not go to the Great Beyond with a note of dissatisfaction with an Irish Government on their lips although their fathers had given their lives for the country. Many Deputies have spoken strongly and sincerely on the matter and, as I said, I am thankful to them. It behoves me to express my sincere gratitude to every Deputy who has furthered their interests and tried to impress on the Minister and the Government the crying necessity for immediate action, so that these widows and children may be adequately provided for.

I also ask the Minister to see that the pensions of the old soldiers of the legion will be increased. Freedom for this country was won with a very small monetary outlay. Voluntary soldiers gave their time and their youth to achieve freedom. If this generation allows the old soliders to go to their graves without adequate provision being made for them, then future generations will speak very harshly of those who allowed that to happen. The pensions awarded were perhaps in many cases adequate, but I make a special appeal for the men who, because of wounds or disablement, are now dependent to a great extent on their pensions. The Minister should immediately come to their rescue, and see that they are adequately provided for, especially those men who suffered disablement to the extent of 80 per cent. or over. Those who are 100 per cent. disabled must depend altogether on their pensions, which are altogether inadequate.

I hope that the Minister will abolish the system of abatement of pensions. Nothing has caused greater dissatisfaction in the minds of many Old I.R.A. men than this system under which pensioners who are employed in the Civil Service or by local authorities find that people in the same service who are in receipt of pensions from other Governments have not got their pensions reduced while the pensions of the old soldiers of the Republic are reduced. Why should there be such a discrimination as that? It should not happen. There is a fundamental principle involved which the Minister must seriously take to heart, and must say: "I am going to right it." I believe he will have the support of every Deputy. This abatement of pensions has been a mental canker to the Old I.R.A.

I sincerely hope we are coming to the period when the Military Service Board will be able to say that they have dealt with all the cases that they should deal with. As Deputy O'Higgins rightly said, it is very unfair to expect poor men to go to such great expense in order to have their cases heard. It is very difficult now for a man to get sufficient witnesses as many of them have crossed the Rubicon. Instead of, perhaps, one officer being able to verify, as was the case ten or 15 years ago, they now find that they may have to get half a dozen different people for verification purposes, and the expense of that, as compared with the pension that they would hope to get, is altogether out of proportion. Therefore, I ask the Minister to send the board down to the different areas.

The pensions which these men are to get are very small. The number of years they have to live may not be very many. Most of the Old I.R.A. are in the autumn, in fact, almost in the winter of their lives. Therefore, I think that, instead of granting pensions to men who can prove they gave service in order to achieve independence, they should be given a gratuity. I do not know exactly what the definition of active service is, but I know that any man who carried out the orders and instructions given to him and risked his life in so doing should qualify for a military service pension.

There are many cases of people who, for one reason or another, did not apply for military service medals and I ask the Minister, if at all possible, to reopen that matter even for a period of three months, so that these people may have a further opportunity of making the necessary application. There are not many of them. I am sure that we would find half a dozen in every county, or perhaps a dozen in some, who, for some reason, did not make the necessary application within the prescribed period. There are people who are not in good health or who might have been suffering from some particular grievance, real or imaginary, against a particular Department who did not make the application. Now, if they are able to furnish sufficient evidence, they will in the ordinary way qualify for the grant of a military service medal. That medal, however, will not entitle them ever to claim or become entitled to a special allowance under the 1946 Act. I do not know the reason for that, but it is a position which should not be allowed to continue. If a man is entitled to a military service medal, there should be no qualification about it—he is either entitled to it or he is not. I hope the Minister will give serious attention to that point because the man who perhaps is the Joe Louis of to-day may be the invalid of to-morrow. That is why it is our duty as public representatives always to keep in the forefront of our minds the fact that these people for whom we now speak are the people who won independence for us. After 700 years and many attempts, theirs was the first successful effort and if this generation fails in its duty to give them the credit they so well deserve, I feel that a future generation will think very badly of us in that it might be said of us that we neglected our former comrades.

The statement of Deputy O'Higgins with regard to old age pensions being assessed as means has come as a bombshell to me because up to now I have been perfectly satisfied that old age pensions were not assessed as means in calculating means under the 1946 Act. If that statement of Deputy O'Higgins is correct, there will be a great many injustices, because a person might be granted a special allowance on 1st January, with no reopening of the case for another 12 months, and might become entitled to an old age pension on 15th January and, therefore, entitled to the allowance for the full year, whereas a person who might reach the age in the last week of December would not be entitled to a special allowance at all. If, as Deputy O'Higgins says, it has happened in some cases, my view is that it should not have happened. I do not think it was ever intended, and I shall be surprised if the Minister does not make the position very clear now.

Again I say to the Minister: Give us a guarantee that nothing will stop him from doing the right thing in the matter of giving adequate compensation to the dependents of the late Captain Ryan and other officers who, unfortunately, have gone down in defending the freedom of this country. The cost to the State will be infinitesimal. Our Air Force casualties number only 14, a very small number, but, compared with other countries, we cannot boast that we have been liberal with the dependents of Air Force personnel. Further, are we going to allow a state of affairs to exist in which the children of that gallant young officer will be deprived of the education and the standard of living to which they would be entitled had he not given his life for his country? I am grateful to the Minister for the many occasions on which he received, at very short notice, deputations of the Old I.R.A. I will appreciate his interest more than ever if, in his reply, he assures us that he intends to go full speed ahead. If he does so, he will have the blessing in the future of the old soldiers of the Republic.

I find it rather difficult to reply to the various very sincere statements made in regard to appeals to further the interests of the Old I.R.A. I find it difficult for this reason, that, so far as I am concerned, practically all the questions discussed in this debate can be regarded as being sub judice, for the simple reason that there is on the agenda of the Government a memorandum dealing with the claims of the Old I.R.A. A circular has been widely circulated, not alone to members of the House but to practically every public man in the country. Not only am I aware, but every Deputy is aware, of the claims made in that pamphlet, which is entitled “The Claims of the Old I.R.A.”.

I met a deputation of the Old I.R.A. on this particular question and I was supplied with the necessary data which they circulated. When Deputies are talking in terms of generous treatment they should know that the cost of the claims would be very great. The first task which I felt was imposed upon me by the reception of this circular was to have it costed. That was my first duty. When it was costed by experts it was found to be somewhere in the region of £1,500,000. That is a very considerable sum of money and I think that Deputies would hardly expect the State to expend that vast sum in present circumstances. It would be necessary to find that money through taxes and I doubt if the House expects me or the Government to do that.

Before dealing with what I might describe as the positive statements made in the House I think the best thing I could do would be to deal with statements which I might suggest were based on misconceptions. For instance, Deputy MacEoin stated that the pensions of serving personnel were held up for months on end pending the furnishing of clearance certificates. Now that statement is not correct. It is true that a certain amount of examination must be undertaken and that a period of perhaps a month is necessary for that examination, but I do not think that the period to which the Deputy referred has ever been reached. The longest period in that respect would be two months; I do not think that two months has ever been exceeded.

The Deputy also referred to a special allowances case in which a son's earnings as an apprentice plasterer were estimated at £234 a year. I think that Deputy Davin intervened then to say that he could not be a plasterer but must only be an apprentice plasterer. The sum referred to by Deputy MacEoin, £234, would be approximately £4 a week. I suggest that that is not an excessive sum at the present time for a young man who may have served a considerable portion of his apprenticeship. The Deputy described the assessment as incredible. Certainly if the social welfare officer examining that case found that that sum of money was going into the house I think he would be in duty bound to take notice of that fact. If the Deputy will establish to my satisfaction, however, that the report of the social welfare officer's examination dated the 15th May, 1952, was wrong in fact, I will have the refusal of the allowance reconsidered.

Deputy MacEoin should know that in the case of a wound or disability pension a widow is entitled to an allowance or pension under the Acts provided, of course, that the pensioner during life had a married pension and that he died as a result of the wound or disease for which the pension was payable.

Deputy Cosgrave was under a misapprehension regarding the pensions of serving personnel. They have been in existence since 1937, and every rank can ascertain his pension by consulting the relevant Order. What they do not know is the increased pension due to the increased pay. I can only say that I hope that Order will be published in due course.

Deputy McGrath and later Deputy O'Higgins referred to the old age pension in relation to special allowances. The old age pension is not taken into account at all and anyone who argues on that ground is arguing on a misconception of the whole position. Under the Social Welfare Act, 1951, the old age pension of the applicant is not taken into account.

Up to 1951 it was.

Special allowances received a considerable amount of attention. A special allowance is an annual allowance of such amount as will, when added to the means of the applicant, not equal or exceed the appropriate annual sum which, in the case of a single person, is £78, and in the case of a married person £97 10s., with an additional £10 8s. per annum for each child under the age of 18 years. Special allowances are payable to holders of pre-Truce service medals who are incapable of self-support by reason of age or permanent infirmity and whose yearly means do not equal or exceed the appropriate sum. The qualification necessary for the grant of a medal is continuous membership of one of the organisations during the period of three months ending on 11th July, 1921. When Deputies talk in this House about men who are in difficult circumstances, men who are going around asking their comrades for a packet of cigarettes, they are not aware of the fact, must not be aware of the fact, or are not sufficiently interested in the fact that this special allowance is available and can be secured by any person who is incapable of self-support by reason of age or permanent infirmity. Every Deputy must realise that the special allowance is provided to ensure against the conditions which have been mentioned in the House both by Deputy Giles and Deputy O'Leary. The following items are disregarded in the calculation of means in regard to the special allowances: free maintenance in a hospital, sanatorium or county home; free maintenance by a relative or friend where the provision of such maintenance imposes a hardship on the provider; home assistance; gifts of a bona fide charitable nature; one half of the amount received by way of national health insurance or sickness benefit; children's allowances. Because of the passing of the Social Welfare Act of 1951, old age pensions are not now taken into consideration, so that by or through the means of the special allowances there should not be conditions existing such as were described by those Deputies.

That has only happened lately.

I told the Deputy it happened since the passing of the Social Welfare Act, 1951.

Only two weeks ago.

Anyhow, this Government did that and the Deputy would not give us credit for it.

It is about time you did it.

The Deputy's mind is too narrow and too political. He was the only Deputy in this House who discussed this matter of pensions from a political standpoint. He made charges against the Old I.R.A. vouching authorities, against the brigade committees, and against the Referee and his board. According to Deputy O'Leary everyone is dishonest and politically-minded and will not give pensions to people if they stand on platforms that he stands on—figments of the Deputy's imagination.

Not at all. I can prove it.

Everybody in this House realises full well except the Deputy himself that the pensions are given on the evidence that is provided and on no other basis. If the Deputy can prove that he himself is entitled to a pension he will get it, and if he cannot he will not. That is the situation. There is no use in taking up that narrow viewpoint that pensions are being provided for political adherents of this Government or the other Government.

It is rampant in our county.

Is it not a fact that the concession you have referred to was contained in the Norton social welfare scheme?

I am not aware of that, but it may have been. I am only stating the fact that following the Social Welfare Act of 1951 it is provided that the old age pension is not now counted in a means test for special allowances.

The section was copied from the Norton scheme.

The question of disability pensions was also raised. All I can say in regard to that also is that it is under consideration. I do not want to make any statement in respect to it or to any of the other points made except to say that I am fortified by the statements which have been made in this House from every side. I mentioned earlier that the whole question is on the Government Agenda. It was, in fact, reached at the last meeting of the Government and, at my request, discussion on it was adjourned for the purpose of providing members of the Government with the views of Deputies in this House. From that point of view I say I am fortified in a very strong way by the views expressed from all sections of the House in respect of the various points which have been raised and on which there has been discussion.

Deputy General MacEoin, in the course of his speech, talked about active service rules which had been, apparently, put into operation by the first Referee under the 1949 Act. Actually that is not correct. What the then Referee did was to examine all possible legal aspects of active service in an effort to find for himself some means of guidance. What he did was to write a memorandum on that and that memorandum was merely to act as a guide for himself and for his colleagues on the board. There is nothing that could be described as a set of rules or anything like that. When Deputy MacEoin asked me to supply this to the House that is my answer, that there are no such rules in existence.

There has been a great deal of discussion in regard to the Referee. That is rather unfortunate. I feel myself that it is organised from outside and that Deputies are being asked to refer to this aspect of the working of the Referee on the board. The fact of the matter is this. Under the previous Acts, the Referee who decided the cases also heard the appeals. This is not an Appeals Act. All this Act provides for is a re-examination of the claims. It does not in any sense set out to provide an Appeals Board. As I have already stated, previous Referees have examined large numbers of appeal cases which were their own original decisions. Deputy Dr. O'Higgins, when he was introducing the 1949 Act, referred to the fact that there were something like 1,294 appeals under the 1934 Act. Of those something like 654 succeeded. The adverse decisions had been made by Referees who also came to favourable decisions in respect of the appeals. Therefore, as far as I can see something more than 50 per cent. of the appeals succeeded and they succeeded merely on the grounds that they conformed with what was required at that time, the provision of evidence which had not been previously available and which could not have been made available. All the 1949 Act has done is to remove that necessity. There is now no necessity on the part of the applicant to provide evidence that was not available, and could not be made available. He can provide any evidence whether it is available or whether it is not available and it is on that ground that we have had something in the region of 700 successful appeals, which only goes to show that if the evidence can be produced the appeals will succeed. In that respect I might say that the applicant has every likelihood of succeeding in his appeal, in respect of any volunteer service provided it meets the demands of the Act for continuous service during two particular periods, one of them ending on the 11th July, 1921.

References were also made to the difficulties of applicants making their case. So far as I know the board is anxious at all times to help applicants. Deputy Cowan referred to a sort of soldiers' friend. What better friend can a soldier have than two prominent Old I.R.A. officers who were appointed for that reason? In addition to the two so appointed on these grounds, there is a representative of the Minister for Finance and a representative of the Minister for Defence, one of whom is also an Old I.R.A. officer. What greater safeguard can any man have than the sympathetic attention of these officers? But these officers have a duty to perform, and they cannot provide pensions for applicants unless they come within the scope of the requirements in regard to evidence. If the evidence is produced, as I have said, it is almost certain that the applicant will succeed, but not otherwise. I have no doubt that out of the 16,000 odd, almost 17,000 applicants, we are going to have some disappointed individuals who will leave no stone unturned to cause as much difficulty and as much trouble for Deputies in respect of their failure, as they did since the first Act came into operation.

The case which came to be known as the Ryan case has been referred to by quite a number of Deputies. On that point I should like to say that every one of us has very great sympathy with the Ryan family. The Ryan family has given what I might describe as very sincere and patriotic service to this nation, and this particular officer, who was killed in the flying accident to which Deputies have referred, was the third member of that family to lose his life. I know that I am expressing the views of every Deputy when I say that we deeply appreciate the services which these boys gave, and regret the loss sustained by the father, mother, and wife of the latest member of the family to die. Having said all that, in examining cases of this kind we have to try to get away from the particular aspect of the tragedy, and examine the matter from the point of view of the Army in general. What I find is that the risk involved in service is not confined to the Air Force alone. For instance, you have to remember that we have men who have had from time to time to dismantle mines, mines which carry very high explosives which are not only terribly destructive to property but to life. These men have had to tackle a mine about which they knew little or nothing because the mine was made in some country other than this, and they, therefore, knew very little about its mechanics. The risk involved for them is very great.

Then you have the naval service, which has to patrol the Atlantic coast of this country in all sorts of weather. They have to meet terrific storms all the winter off the Atlantic coast and it is reasonable to assume that these men, too, are undertaking a considerable amount of risk. I think the same thing can be said of the men who drive our transport over thousands of miles of our roads annually. I could go on enumerating the various types of services which also have their dangers but it will be interesting to the House to have these figures. The figures of fatal accidents in the Army show clearly that all the risks are not in the Air Corps. In the pre-emergency period from January, 1933, of 25 fatal accidents, six were flying accidents. During the emergency, of 137 accidents, only six were in the air; and in the post-emergency period to date, of 19 accidents, only four were flying accidents. In other words, of 181 fatal Army accidents in nearly 20 years, 16 were in the air and 165 were due to other causes. These figures show that the problem relates not merely to the Air Corps but to the Army as a whole and that any relief given in one case will have to be given to all the others.

Some publicity was given in the Press of this country to this particular case and certain references were made to conditions which exist in the Civil Service as against the conditions which exist in respect of officers in the category of the late Captain Ryan. It might be no harm if I made some slight reference to that aspect of the question. Admittedly in the very rare instance where a civil servant is either killed or dies as a result of an injury received in the course of duty his widow receives a higher rate of pension than does the widow of the Army officer. It is wrong, however, to argue from the particular and the rare to the general and the normal. In the normal case—and the normal constitutes the vast majority of cases—the advantage lies with the Army officer. Take, for instance, the normal case of a married officer or a civil servant with £886 a year and with 17 years' service. If after 17 years the officer retires voluntarily to take up a new appointment in, say, civil aviation, he is entitled to a pension of £177 a year plus a gratuity of £340, but the civil servant is not entitled to one penny for his 17 years' service.

Suppose, again, that the officer contracts some disease and has to leave the Army, he is entitled to a pension of £221 a year plus a gratuity of £340 and, if he dies after retirement, his widow is entitled to a pension both for herself and for her children. If, on the other hand, a civil servant is forced by disease to quit his job his pension will be £188 a year with a gratuity of £502. If he dies after retirement there is no pension for his widow or his children. Finally, if the officer dies while serving, his widow will have a pension of about £82 a year plus a gratuity of £340, but the widow of the civil servant will not get any pension. She will get a gratuity which, in this case, would amount to £886. This comparison shows that in the rare case of death or injury due to service, the civil servant is better off; but in normal circumstances the advantage lies with the Army officer and we must, therefore, look at the position as a whole and not from a particular and very rare aspect.

The Minister is not, of course, really putting that forward.

I am only telling you what the facts are and the reason why I am giving the facts is because statements were made here and in the Press giving what I regard as a somewhat distorted view inasmuch as there was a one-sided presentation of the situation.

But you can never compare the Civil Service and the Army, because in the Civil Service a man could carry on until 65 even if he had only one leg. If a man loses a toe in the Army he may have to get out.

That is so. I must not be taken as being averse to the general view expressed in this case.

I appreciate that.

I am trying to disabuse the minds of Deputies in their presentation of a one-sided situation. We must see both sides. The sum of money which it was proposed to give to the widow of a civil servant who died in a flying accident originated during the war period when civil servants might be required to fly from here to England in carrying out the business of the State. They could refuse to do that if they so desired but, to their credit, they did not refuse, and it was, arising out of that service, which had nothing to do with their ordinary duty, that this scheme was initiated.

The officer, or the man who flies in the Army, has made flying his career, and he knows right from the beginning the risks that he will have to take. In due course he becomes a skilled aviator and, as a result of his skill, the possibility of an accident diminishes. With the continued development of aeroplanes the risk of accident is becoming less each year. That can be proved by the figures I have given. There have been as many, or more, men killed in road accidents, in transport accidents, in accidents in connection with ordnance and so on than in flying accidents.

Deputy Major de Valera was one of those who strongly advocated some action in this particular case. In the course of his remarks he asked for some information as to what would be the position in similar circumstances in civil aviation. I went to the trouble of trying to find out as far as possible what the actual position would be there. This is what I found: there is no pension paid, or payable, to the widow or children in a civil aviation accident, but a lump sum is given. That lump sum is made up of three factors: the deceased officer's contribution to the ordinary superannuation fund, the contribution of the company and an insurance policy effected by the company, which varies with the rank of the aviator. That is the position in respect of civil aviation. I should tell the House that we had the question of risk pay, as it was called, examined some time ago. It was examined by experienced officers. The former Chief of Staff, General McKenna, was one of the officers; the present Chief of Staff was another, and the present officer commanding the Military College, Curragh, was the third. They, together with two civil servants, constituted the committee which examined this whole question.

Approximately, what year was that?

It was as far back as 1934. These officers, having examined the position, admitted that the pay did constitute a risk pay and a pay in regard to skill. They recommended, however, that officers should be compelled to take out insurance policies, and a regulation was actually brought out in respect of that. The officers of the Flying Corps objected to compulsory insurance, and their objection was noted. Their argument was that if they wished to take out an insurance policy they could do so in the same circumstances as their colleagues in the Army were doing it, and the matter was left at that.

But there was a very heavy anti-air bias on that committee.

I would not say so.

There was no airman on it.

There certainly was not any airman on it, but after all they are brother officers.

Surely a very heavy premium would be asked for from an air force officer. The premium he would be asked to pay would be enormous. It would be impossible for an ordinary aviator to carry it.

That shows that the committee did not really appreciate the duty they were engaged on at the time.

I would not agree with that because these were, after all, experienced officers, and they knew the situation pretty thoroughly. I could never understand Deputy Cowan when, in our discussions here, he assumes that groups of officers have some kind of animosity against each other, and that it may exist. I could never understand why it should exist.

Time after time they used to send officers to the Air Corps to take command of it. Everyone knows there was this bias against the Air Corps all through. I think it is gone now. It was there for a long time.

I am Minister for Defence and could be regarded as being a civilian. The Deputy might as well argue that the Chief of Staff should be here in my place. The Minister for Justice is a lay man, and the Deputy might as well say that it is a judge who should be sitting here as Minister for Justice.

That is a different point altogether.

It is not a different point. The fact of the matter is that you could have had this matter examined by civilians and all that would be necessary would be for that civilian board to examine into all the facts, and, having given consideration to them, come to their decision. I do not think that there would be any difficulty about coming to a decision, but whatever the decision would be, some people would regard it as a biased decision while others would regard it as a good decision.

To come back to the general discussion which took place on this estimate, the issue of medals was one of the topics which got a fair amount of discussion.

Mr. Byrne

Will the Minister be coming back to the Captain Ryan case.

The only thing I have to say about that case is what I mentioned at the outset, that it is still sub judice in as much as it is being examined. I do not want to say anything either in respect to the decision likely to be arrived at in that case, or to the decision that will be arrived at in respect to the claims of the I.R.A. I have mentioned the likely cost, and warned Deputies that these claims are excessive. My own belief is that they could hardly be met in their entirety. All we can hope for is that they will be met as generously as the Government believe the State can afford to meet them because it is the State, and not the Government, that is going to meet the cost.

Did you go for the estimate to the Department of Finance?

No, but to the officials who have been dealing with this matter all their lives, the officials in the Department of Defence. They are men with a considerable amount of experience in this matter. As a matter of fact, when I met the deputation I mentioned to them that in my opinion the cost of meeting these claims would be in the region of £2,000,000. I felt that they were shocked when they heard that statement. They poohpoohed that figure and did not believe it would be anything like that, but when the experts got down to examine it item by item, that was around the figure which they reached. I think myself it was a conservative figure.

The Minister knows himself how figures are always used to frighten people.

They may be, and they may not, but it certainly frightened me. In conclusion, I think I have covered most of the matters which were raised. If I have not gone into them in detail it is because of the reasons which I have given, that the memoranda are before the Government and will probably be discussed in the course of the next couple of weeks when decisions will probably be made.

Mr. Byrne

What about the woman in the Cumann na mBan who is in bad circumstances at the moment?

It astonishes me how, year after year as far back as we can throw our minds we are having this question raised—of an application by someone who failed to apply. Here we are now eighteen years after the passing of that Act and we still have people briefing Deputies to make requests in respect of late applications. All I can say is that I will look into the matter as carefully as possible. Is the Deputy aware that this lady will be prepared to apply? It may be one of those cases in which, for reasons of her own, she will not apply for the pension.

Mr. Byrne

I think it is a question of "must" now. Otherwise she would not voluntarily do it.

Can the Deputy say if the lady is anxious to apply?

Mr. Byrne

I will see the lady. She is in a nursing home at the moment.

We will leave it at that. As I say, I think I have covered most of the points that were raised. I am satisfied that the request which I made to the Government last week to adjourn the discussion on the pensions claims has been justified inasmuch as I can now produce to my colleagues in the Government the views of Deputies in respect of these particular claims.

Question put and agreed to.
Progress reported; Committee to sit again.