Perhaps the Minister would give us some indication of his intention on the matter, before I address myself to it.
Private Deputies' Business. - Military Service Pensions—Motion.
The motion will have to be seconded before it can go any further.
I formally second the motion.
Naturally, I was hoping to hear a case being made for this motion. So far, only Deputy Keane has spoken and he has spoken only for about 15 minutes. He was giving something in the nature of an historical review of the Volunteer movement and dealt only very briefly with the motion, towards the conclusion of his speech. I did not hear anything that would provide me with any matter for replying. However, in the course of his remarks he suggested—I have not seen his speech and I do not want to misquote him—that no Government had done justice to the Old I.R.A. Deputy MacEoin knows, of course, that that is not correct.
In 1924 an Act was passed to deal with sections of the Old I.R.A. and there were in addition, at a later date, disability pensions Acts brought in that dealt to some extent with Old I.R.A. men who became disabled. I am not quite certain whether they dealt with disease and wounds or only with wounds or only with disease. Anyhow, an effort was made to do justice to the men who had fought in the War of Independence. Since that the Military Service Pensions Act of 1934 provided pensions for persons who, not having served in the National Army or the Defence Forces, were not eligible under the 1924 Act. Something like 12,500 persons secured pensions under that Act. A very much larger number took advantage of the Act.
Under the Acts of 1924 and 1934 all receipts from public moneys were abated, but with the passage of the Military Service Pensions Act of 1945 only sums over £250 a year caused any abatement, so that was another attempt to bring relief to those Old I.R.A. men. Almost 3,000 pensioners under the Acts of both 1924 and 1934 benefited by this alteration. Then, by a series of amending regulations, the latest date of application for service certificates was extended so as to enable anybody to apply where he could give a reasonable excuse for not having done so. A further extension up to the 8th June, 1953, will also be effected shortly.
In addition, by the Act of 1949 provision was made for petitioning against previous refusals to award a certificate, and 13,800 have availed of this privilege. There were also more than 3,000 new applicants—that is, persons who did not apply under any of the previous Acts who came in under that particular Act.
Then there was the Army Pensions Act of 1932 which provided for wound and disease pensions in respect of Pre- and Post-Truce I.R.A. service and also for allowances and gratuities to widows and children of persons covered by the Act. Earlier Acts covered only Pre-Truce service and service in the National Army or the Defence Forces. Under the 1932 Act, 80 per cent. disablement was necessary for a disease pension. The 1937 Act made it possible to get a modified pension in respect of disablement of not less than 50 per cent. In addition, it provided pensions in respect of wounds or disease aggravated by military service, as distinct from the earlier position under which they had to be attributable to military service.
There was also the Army Pensions (Increase) Act 1949, which provided increases in disability pensions and allowances. There has been the system of special allowances. That was first introduced in 1937 under the Army Pensions Act brought in in that year, when what were described as "special dependents' allowances" were provided for dependents of deceased persons covered by the 1932 Act. The dependents were either mother, father (over 60 or invalided), permanently invalided brother or permanently invalided unmarried sister, and the appropriate annual sum was £40. By the Act of 1943 provision was made for special allowances for persons with 1916 service who possessed a service certificate or a disability pension. A recipient has to be permanently incapacitated and the appropriate annual sum is fixed at £78 for a single person or a widowed person, and £97 10s. 0d. for a married person, with £10 8s. 0d. for each child under 18 years of age. The Act of 1946 enabled special allowances to be paid to persons with service in respect of the period commencing 23rd April, 1921, and ending 11th July, 1921, and duly awarded a medal in respect of such service.
The Act of 1949 made holders of 1916 medals and holders of service certificates in respect of any period between Easter Week 1916 and the 11th July 1921 eligible for special allowances. It also extended the date for application for medals from 1st January, 1947, to 30th January, 1950. The following number of special allowances has already been sanctioned: Under the 1943 Act—the Act dealing specifically with 1916 men—106; and all others, 2,895, a total of 3,001 persons who have benefited under the Special Allowances Act.
In addition, we provided for a special type of employment in the various barracks throughout the country for Old I.R.A. men who were in receipt of pensions of less than £50 a year and almost 200 persons were given employment in these cases. That provided a reasonably good means of livelihood for these people, in addition to the £50 or whatever the pension was. When Deputies, in the course of their remarks on the question of dealing fairly with the Old I.R.A., refer to nothing being done, they should remember that these at least are some of the things that have been done, some of the efforts made to alleviate distress amongst these men, so far as possible. One of the finest measures introduced here, so far as my experience goes, is that which provides for special allowances for those persons who are incapable of earning their own livelihood or who have exceeded the age of 70 years. That is governed by a means test and in many cases the persons applying, by reason of the fact that they have certain means which are evaluated by the same officer as deals with old age pensions, may not receive the full amount, but they are entitled to an amount which will be the equivalent of the special allowance; that is, the amount of their means, plus the amount granted under the special allowance scheme will at least come to £78 in the case of a single man and £97 10s., in the case of a married man, with £10 8s. for each child under 18 years.
The various Governments have done what they thought was possible, always having consideration for the public purse which must at all times be given consideration. In the course of the past month or two, I have replied on two occasions to Dáil questions and I have intimated that I hope, as I still hope, to introduce a Bill before the session closes which will deal with certain claims that have been made recently. The House will naturally understand that it would be wrong for me to discuss any of these decisions, until such time as I can introduce this Bill and make it available for examination and discussion by every Deputy when the proper time comes. My difficulty in speaking now is that which I referred to in my opening remarks. I have heard only Deputy Keane's case, which I must say was a very fair case, and the type of case that one would expect from a man who has given service to the country as Deputy Keane gave. I had been hoping to hear other cases before replying but, as Deputy MacEoin asked me to make these few remarks, I have obliged him by doing so and all I can say is that I will naturally take note of what may be said in the discussion which follows.
I am grateful to the Minister for the courteous manner in which he has accepted the invitation I extended to him to address himself to this problem. It is true that Deputy Keane had not concluded when the debate was adjourned, but my invitation to the Minister was given in the hope that, notwithstanding his difficulty, he might give an indication as to what the Bill he proposes to introduce might contain. If he were able to give the House an indication of what his proposals were, the debate on this motion could perhaps be terminated and there would be no necessity to make any further case. The Minister says that he feels that at the moment he cannot give any indication of what his proposals will be. This motion and any other motion which any of us might put down would be designed to try to get some foreshadowing of the nature of the legislation and, therefore, we have to make our case in face of just as great a difficulty as that which the Minister has referred to.
We are making a case for what has already been put to the Minister by the various organisations. I know well that the Minister has received this document from the Old I.R.A., as I have received it, and the Minister, being a member of that body himself, knows thoroughly what the position is. Let me say that the Minister's recitation of the efforts made by the various Governments on behalf of the Old I.R.A. was a factual one, but what does that mean? At no time, could I, or did I, accept the view that any of the Governments gave justice to the Old I.R.A. They never did. The first Government defended the paucity of their efforts on the grounds that, owing to financial stringency, it was the best they could do. It was argued, and properly argued, that that was not much. When one considers the time at which that Bill was brought in and the mistaken hostility there was to it, the Government of the day was hedged round with all sorts of restrictions despite their anxiety to meet the position.
I do not want to comment now on the attitude of any section in this House at the time, but I do say that the introduction of the abatement clause was an outrage. That was forced on the Government of the day on the grounds that if one was re-employed by the State one should not at the same time draw a pension from the State. That was argued by people who pretended they knew what the usage and practice was in the case of the British Government in relation to matters of this kind. It is obvious now that they did not know what they were talking about though they pretended to know.
The result was the abatement clause was included and once one was re-employed, even though it might only be as a clerk or a pioneer, one could not get a pension. That was altered subsequently in the 1934 Act. When the 1934 Act was passed, however, there was not a proper appreciation of the situation and the Government at the time had nearly as much pretence as the Government that brought in the 1924 Act. That situation tended to prevent the Government from doing justice.
I do not want to speak on this matter as a former Minister but I believe that in 1923, in 1924 and in 1934 the dark hand of finance was stretching out all the time over the Minister for Defence in his effort to do the right thing for the Old I.R.A. We have now reached a stage at which we can look at these things dispassionately. The Minister has the support of every section and I hope he will take a confident, fair and just stand for the Old I.R.A. and do the right thing for them.
This motion is not an easy one to handle. I think I would have worded it somewhat differently. I asked the Minister whether or not he accepted the principle in the motion. He did not answer the question. I think he could say he accepted the view expressed even though that would not be sufficient. While I do not wish to amend the motion I think an increase at the same rate as that given to other State pensioners would be very inadequate in a great number of cases. What is the point in increasing a pension of £6 10s. a year by 20 per cent.? What is the point of increasing it by 50 per cent.? It is true that people like the Minister and myself who have a pension of £100 or £200 a year would get a substantial increase if the pension was raised by 50 per cent, but the man with the small pension would still have a small pension, and a very small pension.
The approach to this matter is from the wrong direction. The whole system of pensions should be examined in the light of the present-day value of money. That applies not only to military service pensions but to disability pensions, special allowances and dependents' allowances. I have always thought that the widows of those who died either from wounds or as a result of disease from service in our Defence Forces have been badly treated. The Minister should keep these in mind in his proposed legislation and he should be fair to them.
I agree with the Minister that special allowances are of great benefit. They certainly keep those who served the country well out of the workhouse. But that is all they do. The £70 or £80 a year which these people get is very small. If they have any other means these means are taken into computation in calculating the rate of allowance. I raised a case here where a man was living in a labourer's cottage. Before he joined the Volunteers and the Army he had a good position in life. After leaving the Army his position deteriorated. He lost the very fine appointment he had before he entered the Army. His son is apprenticed to a plasterer. There are no means in the house but the plasterer's apprentice was assessed by the pensions officer at the princely figure of £240 a year. Deputy Burke would not believe me when I cited that example on a previous occasion. He asked me to get him the particulars. I did. In that case the father is assessed with the earnings of an apprentice. That is utter nonsense. No apprentice ever received such a sum. No apprentice could really be described as an earner until he would have served at least three years.
In another case an old volunteer went to live with his brother. He is not able to work and is admitted to be 100 per cent. disabled. Because he is living with his brother and told the pensions officer that his brother fed him well and gave him a good bed the officer assessed that bed and food at £200 per annum. That is the value of the support his brother is giving him in the officer's estimation. What will happen is that the brother will throw him out and then this permanently disabled old volunteer will get his £80 per annum.
The principle is quite wrong. There is no justification for that. In another case a man's wife has an income of a couple of hundred a year. She gives her husband none of it. However, because she has it—even though he does not know precisely how much she has—he is refused. That sort of assessment, while it may be accurate in law, is not fair. I suggest that, whatever amendment to the legislation is necessary, the Minister should cut all that out and leave it to the board set up to examine the case to decide the matter. If a person has no means whatever, he should get what it is intended to give him so as to prevent him from being a burden on his relatives whether it be his wife, his father, mother, brother or anybody else or on the local authority.
The Minister has said that he is bringing in legislation. I want to make this appeal to him. When a person has applied for a certificate of service under any of the Acts the application should include and be taken to include an application for a medal. I have argued here time after time that the application for the major includes the lesser—and the medal is less, in a sense, than the certificate of service. Therefore, when a man has applied for a certificate of service that should automatically mean an application for a medal, that is, if the applicant does not succeed in getting the military service pension. Medals are being issued and when they are granted the applicant is informed: "This does not entitle you to the special allowance." For goodness' sake, stop issuing the medals if it——
The Deputy knows the circumstances?
I do. I appeal to the Minister, in these circumstances, to stop issuing them until he amends the Act. I assert, however, that it is possible by regulation to govern the point that if, say, I applied in 1934 for a certificate of service that was also an application for a medal. In other words when an application is made for a certificate of service that application should be deemed to include an application for a medal.
That would imply that if the application for the certificate failed the application for the medal would fail also. That should not necessarily follow. An applicant could fail to secure a pension and yet have service for a medal.
My point is that, having failed to get a certificate of service, he should not have to make a new application for a medal. The one application should do for both a certificate of service and a medal. In that application the applicant sets out his service. The procedure is that I fill up a form for a military service certificate and I set out particulars of my service. If it is found that I am not entitled to a certificate of service I contend that, without having to make a further application, that same application should be taken as an application for the lesser, to with, the medal. A man should not have to start all over again and have to give particulars identical to those which he has already given on oath when applying for the certificate of service. The one application should suffice. If it is found that that application and that service entitles me to a medal then I submit that that medal has all its rights——
I think the Deputy is widening the scope of the motion. This motion refers to the increase of existing pensions.
Not exactly. The Minister was kind enough to say that he proposes to introduce legislation at an early stage and that he wanted a case to be made upon the whole question of pensions. The Minister pointed out that he was in a difficulty in that he had not any case to answer.
He gave a history of the legislative and administrative acts by the various Governments on behalf of the Old I.R.A. more or less to counter Deputy Keane's point that the Old I.R.A. were not being properly treated. The Minister made the case that they were fairly generously treated as far as the Governments could go. I think that is a fair interpretation of what he said. He summarised all the legislation. I am appealing to the Minister that the new legislation will be the last one. The best that those of us who were in the Old I.R.A. have left now is 20 years, and that is an optimistic estimate. For the remaining 20 years during which you will have us I appeal to the Minister to do the decent thing once and for all.
The Minister is a member of the Old I.R.A. He occupied a very honourable and important post in the national struggle. He knows our requirements just as well as I do. I knew them when I was a Minister, and so does the Minister. The Minister has particulars of the case made by the various organisations. There is no point in my repeating it now and putting it on the records of the House, though if anybody thinks I should do so I will do so. In these circumstances I do not think that there is any necessity for people like me to make the case, except in so far as to show our support of the Minister. That will help him when he is resisting and fighting the hands of the Department of Finance—hands that have their grip round his throat just as they have their grip round the throat of anybody who attempts to do anything for the Old I.R.A. I regret to say that there are some people in the Treasury Department of this country who have never forgiven the I.R.A. for the "dirty work" which they did in 1920-21 and changed the history of this country.
The Civil Service should not control the Government.
As Deputy MacEoin has said, we are in rather a difficulty in regard to this matter to-day because we do not know what the terms of the new Bill will be. When moving his motion the other night, Deputy Keane said that these pensioners should have been included in the general increase in pensions in 1950. I think that they were the only class of pensioners who were omitted. So far as the present Minister is concerned, I think that Deputy Keane is pushing an open door in trying to get help for the Old I.R.A. He confined his motion to military service pensions only. As Deputy MacEoin pointed out, there are various other facets of the case for better treatment for the Old I.R.A. I hope that the new Bill which the Minister has stated is being prepared will cover all these points. I think myself, having regard to the stage we now have reached, that Deputy MacEoin is right in expressing the hope that this should be the last effort to deal with the claims of the Old I.R.A. It has been left perhaps too late having regard to the present age of many members of the Old I.R.A.
We want the monuments now, not afterwards.
I hope, as I have said, that this will be the last Bill of this character and that a real effort will now be made to meet claims that have not been dealt with in previous years. Deputy MacEoin stated that in the first Act the Government were forced to accept the abatement clause. I must say that I cannot understand that statement. I could never see what reason there was, or what argument could be made, for the abatement clause. I have challenged it on a few occasions in this House before and how the Government could have been forced to accept it, as Deputy MacEoin says, I cannot understand. Unfortunately, that clause has been incorporated in the other Acts that followed. I hope that the new Bill will make an honest attempt to deal with that clause and the only honest way to deal with it is to wipe it out.
The special allowances means test is certainly a source of irritation but I am afraid that, no matter what we may do, so long as there is a means test cases will always arise that one will think have not been dealt with fairly. There have been some rather remarkable cases, cases in which one could not see how any investigating officer could have taken the line he did. As I have said, however, I expect these cases will arise so long as inquiry is necessary into the means of applicants. I agree with Deputy MacEoin that if it could be so arranged, the application for a certificate should be taken to cover the application for a medal. It would save an awful lot of trouble. The fact that we have now cases of people who have got medals that do not entitle them to the special allowance has complicated matters very much. I think it was a terrible mistake to have issued medals which did not carry the same rights as other medals. That was done during the period of office of the previous Government and I think it was a very bad mistake.
Wait a moment.
It scarcely arises.
I am dealing with the point raised by Deputy MacEoin.
The Chair pointed out to Deputy MacEoin that it was widening the scope of this motion which deals only with increases in existing pensions.
Permit me to correct the Deputy. It was not done by the previous Government.
I can only conclude by saying that I hope that the new Bill will go a long way to meet claims that we on all sides of the House have been pushing for some time.
I was not present unfortunately when the Minister made his statement but I assume it was to the effect that something was about to be done for the people covered by this motion. I think that was the gist of the statement. I think it must be a cause of shame to this House and to various Governments over the last few years that military service pensions are at such a low level. It would be I suppose futile to go back as far as 1916 and right up to 1921 in an attempt to remind this House and remind the country again what we of this generation owe to the men who made sacrifices in 1916 and over the subsequent five years. Personally, I think we treated our pensioners in a very shabby fashion, especially when some of us are aware of how Governments of the country across the water have treated their ex-servicemen, including, as I am reminded by Deputy Davin, ex-servicemen of Irish extraction.
From 1916 on to 1921, in fact for a period of seven or eight years, a small band of men including many who are, and who were, on the far side of the House and on this side of the House willingly gave their services in the fight for independence. Thousands died that we might live and it is a very sad reflection on the Governments that we have had in this country for a number of years past to say that the average military service pension awarded for active service is less than £31 per year —£31 a year in this year of grace, 1952, when everyone is clamouring about the increased cost of living. I make these remarks bearing in mind that the Minister has given an assurance that an attempt will shortly be made to deal with the claims of these men. I assume that he will make a big effort to grant a substantial increase to these people who have been treated so shabbily in the past. I know that many of those in receipt of military service pensions and of special allowances have been criticised and have been the objects of sarcastic sneers by many people who were traditionally, and who still are, opposed to the idea of a free united Republic of Ireland.
We hear many sneers about people in receipt of pensions or special allowances, and against whom it is alleged they did nothing and that, possibly, they were not in a particular locality at a particular time. We have sarcastic gibes about other people against whom it is alleged that they were not even in the country during the troubled period from 1916 to 1921. It may be that there are one or two who did not deserve the pensions they got. I do not suggest that is the fault of any Minister for Defence that we have had in this country since the State was set up. There is one thing that we must remind ourselves of, because very often it is too easily forgotten, and that is that we would not be sitting in this House to-day and would not have a native Government if it were not for the sacrifices made by the people who are now appealing to us, to the Minister and to the Government to come to their assistance and help them to reach a somewhat better standard of life.
There are many individual cases that could be mentioned. I could give examples of how hard it is for those folk to exist on their present pensions or allowances. I shall mention one case which is typical of many. It has happened in the last few months and is not peculiar to the individual I have in mind. The circumstances in the case apply to many persons in receipt of military service pensions. This is the case of a man who was in receipt of a pension of £109 per annum. By reason of the fact that he was a married man with a family, he came under the Social Welfare Act of 1952 and got an increase of, I think, 35/- per week. While the Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy Dr. Ryan, gave him that increase, the Minister for Defence took £45 off him. That may not have been a deliberate act, but it is certainly due to an oversight, and I think that we and this House must hold ourselves guilty of that oversight as it applies to those Old I.R.A. men in receipt of military service pensions.
I may say that they are becoming very cynical about the tributes which have been paid, which are being paid and which will be paid to the services which they rendered to the country in the past, especially when they remember what now happens under the Social Welfare Act. They get something on the one hand under that Act, and on the other hand something is taken from them by the Minister for Defence. Is it any wonder that they are cynical when something like half the amount of their military service pension is taken from them, and in some cases their disability pension?
I should like to make an appeal, not to the Minister but to those who were commanding officers from 1916 to 1921. In support of what I have to say, might I refer to the appeal for unity which was made by the President of our country some weeks ago? It is to be regretted that we still have many prejudices down the country. There are people who still remember the Civil War. That is unfortunate, but everyone knows that an applicant for a military service pension must, as a prerequisite, have a military service medal. When he asks his former commanding officer to certify that he was an active member of the Old I.R.A. up to July, 1921, he refuses to sign, because the two men concerned were on opposite sides in the Civil War. That is widespread through the country.
That does not arise on this motion which deals simply with increases on existing military service pensions.
I merely mention that in support of the appeal which I am making on behalf of those men. I do not think it would be totally irrelevant to suggest that Old I.R.A. men of different political persuasions should co-operate in a matter of this kind and make this gesture in the cause of unity by being fair to their former fellow-members of the Old I.R.A. I am suggesting that they should forget their prejudices arising out of the Civil War period, and should be prepared to sign for a genuine Old I.R.A. man whether he was on one side or the other during the Civil War. The attitude that I have referred to arises, in my opinion, from pure spite and prejudice, and I am not accusing one side more than the other so far as that goes.
I have already pointed out to the Deputy that that is not relevant on this motion.
I bow to your ruling, but I still suggest that it is relevant to this motion in the name of Deputy Keane which endeavours to ensure that all Old I.R.A. men will get a fair deal not only in respect of the military service pensions which they are in receipt of, as well as those who, ordinarily, would be due such a pension but who, owing to the prejudice of some person or persons, are not given them.
I humbly suggest to the Minister that he should go even further than Deputy Keane suggests in this motion. He asks the Dáil to express the opinion that the pensions of Old I.R.A. men should be increased on a par with the increases given to other pensioners in the Republic of Ireland, and that as this increase is overdue it should be retrospective from the operative date of the increases given to other State pensioners. I assume that Deputy Keane does not mean by his motion that the increase in the military service pension should be the miserable sum that was given to old age pensioners under a recent Act. I hope he does not mean that the increase should be on the same scale as that given to widows and orphans or that it should be on a par with that given to pensioners under local authorities. I support the suggestion that was made by Deputy Colley and Deputy MacEoin that the Minister should try to be fair and just with the Old I.R.A. men and bring their pensions up to such a figure as will enable them to enjoy a reasonable standard of living. Many of us know that many of them are living in abject poverty.
The special allowance that has been referred to is defined as a maximum figure, and that maximum figure is far too inadequate. The fact is that so many conditions have to be complied with before one can qualify for it that it means absolutely nothing. For example, if an Old I.R.A. man has a son working in England there is a certain deduction from the allowance. If he has a son working at home who makes some small contribution towards the upkeep of the family, that also is taken into account and the allowance is cut. We, at least, ought to be able to do as much for our Old I.R.A. men as Britain is doing for her ex-servicemen who were in the 1914-1918 war, the Boer war and in the war of 1939-1945—the number in the latter case running into hundreds of thousands. I suggest that since it is 30 odd years since we had a war, we surely ought to be able to do as much for our ex-servicemen, or as we call them, Old I.R.A. men, as Britain is doing for her ex-servicemen.
In my home-town of Wexford, there are men in receipt of disability pensions arising out of their services in the 1939-1945 war who go to their clubs or wherever they meet and wave cheques for substantial amounts in front of unfortunate Old I.R.A. men who can only show cheques the average of which is £31 per year. It is a very shameful position for our Old I.R.A. men when the British Government can afford to pay hundreds of thousands of ex-servicemen from their army substantial weekly or monthly amounts. I suggest that inasmuch as the struggle which went on from 1916 to 1921 was of far greater and more significance to this country we should make an endeavour to see that the Old I.R.A. men can hold up their heads and that we, as representing the people of the country, and the Government responsible for the affairs of the country should do proper justice to these people who made it possible for people like the Minister and myself and the rest of us to sit in this free and independent House to-day.
It is not often that we get this House as a forum to fight on behalf of the old Republican Army, and when we get the opportunity it is only right that we should make the best of it. I am glad that there is always a happy, healthy atmosphere here when the claims of the old Republican Army come up for debate. I am also glad that after 30 years we have many old militant watchdogs able to plead on behalf of the Old I.R.A. men. That is heartening to the people down the country who are looking forward to something being done. On the one side we have the Minister for Defence and on the other side Deputy MacEoin standing four-square on behalf of these men. That is something for which our people will be glad.
I expect that this is the last opportunity we will have of dealing with this matter before the Bill is brought in. I hope the Bill will bring justice to these men and that we will be able to write finis to this matter. We know the circumstances of the last few years when things were not too happy as we had taken different roads. But now we find that there is a plea for national unity and that our people are hearkening to that plea. The greatest response to it we could make is to see that these people who gave us the right to sit here should get every consideration. These people gave us the right to sit here and they should get the consideration which they need very badly.
I appeal to the Minister when he is bringing in this Bill to put a final touch to it and see that the Department of Finance or nobody else will stand in the way; that he will fight the Department of Finance in the same way as he fought for his country in the past; that he will brace himself up and see that nothing will stand in his way. We know the position of the people who formed the rank and file of this movement. They are drawing from £6 to £15 a year as pension. It is humiliating for them at the end of the quarter to get only £2 or £3 for the services which they rendered to the country. They feel humiliated when they have to accept such a despicable sum. Many of them are in sore need and want the few pounds badly.
When the Bill is brought in I hope that every effort will be made to see that the lower grade pensioners are stepped up, not by 100 per cent. but by 700 per cent. so that they will be in a position of having a reasonably good living. Those of us who are in the upper grade are in a better way of life and do not worry so much whether our pensions are increased or not. Many of these other men have big families of five or six children and they have to earn their living in a hard way and we should do everything we can for them. Now that we have a happy atmosphere and that all sides of the House are in agreement, I hope that something will be done for them and that we will be able to write finis to this bickering which has been going on for years. I know several people who were in the Black and Tans and who fought us bitterly and who are living in this country on handsome rewards from the British Government for services rendered against this country. They treat us with contempt. It is humiliating to see these men with £4 £5 or £6 a week pension living in the same area with Old I.R.A. men drawing, not £6 per week, but £6 per year as a pension. We should decide to change that.
This motion has been on the Order Paper for a long time and it is only now that is has reached the light of day. I am glad that it has done so before the final effort is made. It will place the Minister in a stronger position to face the Government in order to get these grievances righted. I know that he welcomes it, because every time we speak on behalf of these people it helps to strengthen his hands. I know that he is one of those who feel sorely about the position of the Old I.R.A. men because he was one of the leaders of the organisation. He wants us to make a case from this forum so that we can strengthen his hands and we are glad to do it.
For years we have been hearing that the Department of Finance was the trouble and that the country could not afford this. Look at what the country has afforded over the last 30 years and the waste of millions of pounds which took place. We could not afford to spend £2,000,000 or £3,000,000 in 1924 or 1927 when our squabbles ended. If we had spent that and left these people in the position that they would not have to worry, all our troubles would have been forgotten. Instead of that, we brought in Bill after Bill giving all types of allowances. There would be no necessity for these allowances if a decent, honourable pension was given to these men. They would not have to ask the State then for anything else. I hope that the nation will respond to their claim now at the latter end of their lives.
I can understand that over the long period of years when bitterness and hatred and spite were rampant in the country very much could not be done. We have left that period behind and we have now unity in the House and almost unity in the country and a desire to march in the right direction in the near future. There is, therefore, no excuse for bringing in a pittance of a pension. I hope that a satisfactory Bill will be brought in so that we will not have to say to the Minister: "You did not do this or you did not do that." The Minister should not let the Department of Finance stand in his way. I know that they will stand in his way if there is not strength behind the drive. We have the Old I.R.A. men all working together. We have the Minister and members of all Parties ready to work with these people.
There is, therefore, no excuse and this should be the final Bill and one which will do justice to the men who for 30 years have been fighting for justice but got nothing but contempt, insults and hardship. If they only got a day's work on the roads or in the sandpits, their pension was whittled down. Service pensions given to Irishmen for service to their country should be given and no more about it. There should be no whittling down until they go into their graves and do not want them. I would make a final appeal to the Minister to do the big thing, to see that the Department of Finance does not stand in his way and if he does we will say: "God bless you."
Mr. A. Byrne
It has been said on all sides of the House that there is complete unanimity in the request now being made to the Minister and I want to join in that appeal. I have reason to know that in certain of our Dublin Corporation houses at the moment Old I.R.A. men are in difficulties about their rent and are threatened with eviction because they are not able to pay. One man went so far as to give his name and ask me to use it in the interests of the others. he served at one time with a soldier known as Oscar Traynor. I think he was in the same battalion. That soldier is now the Minister. This man's name is Owen Meade, formerly of the North Strand, now of Cabra. He has a miserable pension and is now broken in health. He had a pension of £90 a year but when his son got a job, an ordinary small job in some industry in the city, the pension was reduced to £10. Subsequently, on appeal to the Minister, it went back to something better than £10. What it is to-day I do not know. All I know is that Owen is broken down in health and in difficulties with his rent. He told me to say something. I want that clearly understood. I do not think it is right to give people's names but when a man gives me his name so as to help others and to get them out of difficulties I feel I can mention his name.
A complete overhaul of legislation is required. Suppose an Old I.R.A. man gets a job with a local authority or as an usher in this House or a messenger. If an Old I.R.A. pension has been allotted to him it is stopped completely when he goes on the payroll of the local authority with a moderate workman's wage. That is shameful. The county owes these men something better. They should have something to fall back on as well as the weekly wages which they are earning at the present moment.
I know a good many of these men. Deputy Harry Colley knows that I know a good many of them on the North Strand. I would go so far as to say that the North Strand and the parish of St. Laurence O'Toole's was responsible for the foundation of this State, that it was in that area that everything which led up to the formation of this House took place. Some day some writer will write about it and I hope that it will not be left too long. I know some of these men who served in 1916 who are on the unemployed list. I have here a letter from George Gavan Duffy addressed Gray's Inns and dated 16/6/1917, giving me certain names, asking me to do something for them and to get him some evidence to help in their defence. I have another letter addressed St. John's Road, Oxford, dated 27th December, 1916, and signed P.N. Count Plunkett and Countess Plunkett. I have another document addressed to Alfred Byrne, Esq., M.P., the House of Commons, from the Irish prisoners at Frongoch dated 26th October, 1916.
The motion deals with the question of giving an increase in pensions.
Mr. A. Byrne
These are men who served. Some of them who are mentioned in these reports, dated 1916, are going through hard times and I merely wish to call attention to that. I have the originals here. These are documents for anyone to see. They are signed George Gavan Duffy, Count and Countess Plunkett, Michael Staines, Head Leader, James Murphy, Leader No. 1 Room, E.A. Morkan, Leader No. 2 Room.
It does not seem to the Chair to be relevant to this motion.
Mr. A. Byrne
I think it is. It is a report from Frongoch and 1916 men are named in it. The next names are Richard J. Mulcahy, Leader No. 3 Room and T.D. Sinnott, Leader No. 5 Room. I knew them. I visited them at Frongoch, at Oxford, at Reading, at Wandsworth, at Knutsford and at Aylesbury. Some of them were women prisoners at Aylesbury. What about the women? I hope that the motion means the women too who served in those days gone by. I have known women who rendered great service in those days. I visited them in Aylesbury Jail. I met them in prison cells. I do not know how they are doing now. There may be some who succeeded in business but there are probably others who did not. The Old I.R.A. men are dying rapidly. Their time has arrived. They are beginning to drift out. Every week it will cost the State less and less to give them a decent means of livelihood. A complete overhaul of legislation is now needed.
My authority was questioned. I was asked why I asked about the Old I.R.A. men. I was supplied with official documents by the Mansion House Committee. They want unity. Any time I put a question, I want to assure the Minister it was as a result of an official request to join in this campaign and show him and the House that these men should get decent treatment. I would join, then, with the others in asking the Minister to do something quickly and not to wait until to-morrow, next week, next month or next year when another dozen of these men will have passed to their eternal reward. Give it to them now.
As an Independent Deputy, I want to endorse the appeal made from all parts of the House for an improvement in the pensions and allowances given to members of the Old I.R.A. I think that the main obstacle to doing justice to these men has come from the Department of Finance and has arisen from financial considerations, but I think that every Deputy in the House will realise that the passing of the years has reduced the financial burden on the State in that connection. It is most urgently necessary that something big should be done at this stage.
I think it is now admitted that it was a pity that something big was not done in earlier years and that a fairly large sum was not set aside, perhaps not to provide annual pensions but to establish in life men whose lives had been disrupted by service to the State. If in the early years money had been set aside to establish on farms or in some independent way of life the men who had served the State, less expenditure would have been involved than has now occurred, as a result of the efforts, well meant efforts perhaps, at financial cheeseparing down through the years. However, what has been and what has not been done cannot, I suppose, be rectified now.
I think the House is unanimous in asking that the allowances and pensions provided for the men entitled to them should be increased. I have not been requested by anyone to mention this and I do not know whether it would be a feasible proposition at this late stage to offer in exchange for the pension where the men so desire a lump sum to set them up in some business. Many, I know, the vast majority, now are past the age when such an alternative to a pension would be feasible. There are still some men who, if given a lump sum of money, might be able so to invest it as to benefit themselves and their families. I would like the Minister, when he is dealing with this matter, to give consideration to that alternative. It is satisfactory to know from the Minister's statement that he does intend to introduce legislation at an early date. All we can do at this stage is to wish him God speed.
As far as special allowances are concerned, I think that in cases where men are disabled and unable to earn a living, the means test should not be too rigid. I think also that there should not be too much delay in considering their particular cases. I know men who served in the British army for only a short time during the 1914-18 war and, having suffered slight disability, have been drawing pensions since 1918. Some of those men who were merely privates in the British army are at the present time in receipt of a pension of £200 and in some cases £250 per year.
That treatment compares very unfavourably with the treatment which the Irish Government has afforded to its soldiers. No matter what considerations may be submitted to the Minister in regard to the cost of providing at least some measure of justice, he will see how necessary it is to override those considerations in this particular matter, and see that justice is done even at this late hour.
Being one of the new members of this House, I am glad to say I am in full support of the remarks made from both sides of the House. I know the circumstances of some of those people down my way, and the hardships they must suffer because of this meagre pension, which is far too small. The biggest insult that was ever offered to those people was to give them the small sum of £6 or £7 per year. There should be no great difficulty in having those pensions increased. Considering the large number of Old I.R.A. men who have gone to their eternal reward, it will not be very costly. In conclusion, may I say that respect is due to those people? By their heroic efforts they have made the road for people like us. They deserve our gratitude and respect.
I join with Deputies Colley, MacEoin, Giles and every other Deputy who has encouraged the Minister—although encouragement is, I am sure, unnecessary so far as he is personally concerned—in connection with the promised amending legislation which, it is hoped, will clear up and settle all the genuine, outstanding cases. I regret personally that the motion is limited in its scope, but I know that is not the fault of Deputy Keane, who is responsible for putting down the motion.
As an officer of the Labour Party, I am fairly fully acquainted with the history of the original Military Service Pensions Act, and particularly with the history of the Act which came into operation after Fianna Fáil took office for the first time in 1932. If the Minister is in any doubt about my knowledge of what happened at that particular period, I think his colleague, the Minister for Justice, who was then the Chief Whip of the Fianna Fáil Party, will be able to enlighten him on our point of view as expressed at that particular period. At that time the Fianna Fáil Government were depending upon our votes to get into office and to remain in office for the short lifetime of what was the 1932-33 Dáil. In putting the Labour Party point of view to the Minister and his colleagues, through the present Minister for Justice, at that particular period, we expressed a very definite opinion that any pension scheme that would be brought in by the Fianna Fáil Government should be in an upward direction rather than a downward direction. I personally, and every one of my colleagues, regret that the Act of 1934 had not provided pensions at least as good as were provided for those who qualified under the Act of 1924.
There is now an opportunity, through this amending legislation, to rectify what I regard as a blunder. The men who qualified under the 1934 Act are entitled, particularly for their pre-truce service, at least to the same treatment, although it is not very generous, as those who qualified under the 1924 Act. If that can be done by the Minister even under the new amending legislation—and I am sure it is his wish and his will—it will help, at any rate, to give further support to the appeal for unity that was recently made by our respected President when he was unveiling a monument to the Old I.R.A. men in County Limerick.
I suppose it is only natural that in respect of people who gave similar service in pre-Truce days in their own respective areas, they would be jealous, one of the other, where one is getting a pension which averages half what his colleague got. If that can be rectified I would encourage the Minister to do it. Every one of us here who knows the courageous history of the present Minister for Defence and Deputy MacEoin, an old colleague who sits on this side of the House, can have no doubt about their sympathy or their desire to do the right and the just thing in a matter of this kind. I agree with Deputy MacEoin, because his view is based upon some knowledge, that it is most unfortunate that whatever is amiss in regard to this whole matter is due to the overpowering influence of civil servants who sit in high seats and who apparently are able to modify, through the legislation that comes before the House, the views expressed by a Government on a policy matter. I remember an occasion, and so does the Minister, when a policy decision was taken during the last emergency that any policy decisions taken in regard to the strengthening of our national defence forces at that time should not, and as far as I am concerned were not, interferred with by civil servants, whether they were in high or in low positions.
The same attitude should be adopted by the Government in this matter and I hope the Minister will see to it that whatever power he has been given by way of a policy decision in this connection, whatever kind of cases he has been authorised to clear up, whatever results he has been authorised to effect in the way of levelling up the miserable pittances that are now being paid will be put down in plain language in the different sections of whatever amending Bill comes before the House, and that no civil servant, no matter how highly placed he may be, will be allowed to interfere with a policy decision of the Cabinet on this matter.
A very large number of the Old I.R.A. men have passed to their reward. I suppose under the amending legislation that those who qualify now, 35 years after they have given this service, will not get the benefit of retrospective legislation. They are going to be made suffer because their cases were not dealt with at the time they should have been dealt with. Deputy Keane calls, in his motion, for an increase in the existing pensions. I am not satisfied that pensions of £6 a year should be doubled. A pension of £6 a year to any man who gave any kind of service, who wore the uniform and went out even on one occasion, is an insult. I have always taken the view that, if there was any justification for the thousands of pensions under £20 a year that are being paid to men who qualify, the pensions should be commuted and a lump sum given to the individuals concerned that would be sufficient to enable them to do something for themselves rather than wait from year to year for a miserable pittance of £6, £10 or, as in the majority of cases, pensions under £20 a year. Deputy Keane could have spoken at length on that aspect of the matter from his personal knowledge and experience.
I suppose the circular that I received was sent to every Deputy. In that circular we have it from the representatives of the Old I.R.A. that the average pensions under the 1924 Act are almost double the pensions provided for under the amending Act of 1934. There is something radically wrong there which I hope will be rectified. I am sure the Minister would desire to do so in fairness to everybody concerned.
As a Deputy, I have never sought out grievances of Old I.R.A. men or any section of my constituents. I do not canvass for grievances for the purpose of advertising them in the House as political propaganda, but I am not satisfied with the manner in which the Military Service pensions Act is being administered. I hope something will be done to tidy up the administrative side when the promised legislation comes into operation. It is a disgrace that a genuine applicant should have to wait 12 months or more for a decision in connection with his application for disability pension.
That does not come under review on this motion.
I salute the other Deputies who have been able to refer to it.
It cannot be discussed. It does not come under review on this motion.
Apparently, it cannot be discussed by me. If you so rule, I shall have to finish but if the Ceann Comhairle had been in the Chair at the time he would have heard other Deputies referring to the disability pension aspect of this matter.
This motion does not refer to disability pensions.
I said—whether you were in the Chair or not—that I regret the limited form of this motion and I know it does not refer to disability pensions and I know, because I have been listening, that other Deputies referred to this aspect. I accept your ruling. I know I am talking to the converted when talking to the present Minister. He is an honourable, decent, generous-minded man. I know his desire is to do the right thing and I am certain, from my knowledge of him, that the legislation which he has promised to introduce will go far beyond the terms of the motion moved by Deputy Keane.
I understand that the Minister has indicated to the House, as he indicated to me in answer to parliamentary questions, that legislation is contemplated in connection with this matter. The Minister will find unanimous accord in this House with any effort he makes to solve this problem finally. When I spoke yesterday on another Bill catering for former Directors or Ministers of the Provisional Government, I made a case that I could repeat now. I do not wish to do that. Let the Minister's effort this time be a full effort. Let him approach the matter with the assurance that there will be a unanimous Dáil behind him.
I am not at all enamoured at the terms of the motion. I have discussed with the Minister over a number of years cases that will not be met by this motion. I would make an urgent appeal to the Minister to bring the legislation in forthwith. We would be prepared to make available any time that the Government wants to get this legislation through. As Deputy Alderman Byrne said, the numbers are rapidly decreasing. It would be a comfort to us, particularly to the newer generation, to feel that we helped to give justice to these people by our acknowledgment of their service to this country, irrespective of what may have subsequently happened. In all sincerity I say that the newer generation would have satisfaction if this Dáil could make a gesture to these people that might give them a measure of justice commensurate with the extraordinary service and sacrifice that made our membership of the Dáil possible. I put it as bluntly as that. I have referred to that generation as a generation of achievement. As a younger Deputy, born at the period when this service was given to the State, I would feel it not only a duty but a privilege and honour to be able, with my voice in the Dáil, to see that whatever satisfaction and justice the State could give was accorded to them.
I know that the present Minister is anxious to do that and that he is as conscious of their grievance as I am. From personal contact with the Minister in this connection, I know of his interest in the matter and I feel that I am pushing an open door. I make this appeal not in any Party spirit or for political purposes. I make it as a young man conscious of his debt to that generation. I say to the Minister: "God speed. Make the effort a good one." I feel proud that I am able to play my part in asking the Minister to make that effort.
In view of the intimation given to the House by the Minister that he will bring in amending legislation in the near future, I desire to bring to his notice a type of case where the person concerned was not conversant with the legislation passed in the House, and consequently missed the bus, so to speak. That was not through any fault of their own. It may have been due to bad health or to the locality where they lived that they were not able to take advantage of the legislation. I have in mind a particular case which I have brought to the notice of the Department on a few occasions, of an applicant who applied for a medal. I understand that a medal can be given, at the discretion of the Minister, but that does not entitle the applicant to the special allowance. I would ask the Minister to include that type of case in any legislation he brings in.
I also join with other Deputies in asking the Minister to be speedy in implementing the undertaking he has given to the House.
I do not want to be tied down to the terms of the motion. I mentioned initially that we were bringing in this legislation, and I hoped it would be in by the end of the session. I still have that hope. I am not prepared to discuss its terms now. In view of that fact, it might be well to leave things as they are until the legislation is ready.
We will withdraw the motion.