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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 6 Dec 1960

Vol. 185 No. 5

Committee on Finance. - Army Pensions (No. 2) Bill, 1960—Committee and Final Stages.

I have considered the representations which were made during the Second Reading debate that the time limit of four years from date of discharge within which applications for pensions in respect of disease might be made was too short.

I am advised that, normally, a four year period is quite long enough for a disease to manifest itself and I do not propose to make any change, therefore, in the conditions governing the receipt of applications for pensions in respect of disablement due to disease attributable to Defence Force service at home.

I agree that our knowledge of the incubation period of diseases which might arise from overseas service is not perhaps such as would justify the exclusion of the possibility that such a disease would take more than four years to show up. I am quite satisfied that, even if this Bill remained unamended, steps would be taken to cover such a case if it did arise and, rather than disturb a long-standing principle, I would prefer the matter dealt with in that manner. In deference, however, to the fears of Deputies that circumstances might operate to deprive a genuine applicant of a pension solely because his disease did not become apparent within the four years period, I propose that, in respect of United Nations service only, the time limit should be extended to eight years.

I am therefore moving five amendments necessary to give effect to this proposal. They arise in Sections 3, 4 and 7 of the Bill—as Deputies will have seen from the document circulated. I am taking the opportunity also to rectify in Section 6 a very minor drafting defect.

I hope that Deputies will agree that the extension of time afforded will be adequate and I would only point out in this connection that any longer period would make it so difficult as to be almost impossible for medical examination to diagnose with certainty whether the disease was attributable to service or not.

I think we had better take it in the regular Committee Stage way at the moment.

Sections 1 and 2 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete subsection (1) and substitute the following subsection:

"(1) Section 10 (which provides for the grant of disability pensions in certain cases) of the Act of 1927, as extended by subsection (1) of section 4 of the Act of 1943 to members of the Army Nursing Service, shall have effect in relation to every person who is discharged from the forces or whose service in the Army Nursing Service is terminated (whether before or after the passing of this Act) as if, in subsection (1), after "during the emergency period" (inserted by section 3 of the Act of 1943) there were inserted "or with a United Nations Force", subject to the modifications that, in relation to disablement caused by disease attributable to service with a United Nations Force—

(a) the reference in that subsection to four years shall be construed as a reference to eight years,


(b) the scales and rates of pensions shall be those specified in that behalf in those provisions of the First Schedule to this Act which are applicable.”

This subsection, by providing for the insertion in Section 10 of the Act of 1927 of the words "or with a United Nations Force" has the effect of including disablement, whether before or after the passing of this Bill, due to disease attributable to service with a United Nations Force within the ambit of the said Section 10 which, as amended, deals with pensions for officers, soldiers and members of the Army Nursing Service disabled due to disease.

The subsection provides that the scales and rates of pensions applicable to United Nations service shall be those in the first section of this Bill and extends the four year limit of disease qualification to eight years. That is the amendment.

Of course, the Minister's amendment is better by four years than the subsection as originally drafted. It is a 100 per cent. improvement upon his original proposals, but I am convinced that eight years is again much too short. It is admitted by most medical authorities that tropical diseases can be contracted that do not manifest themselves for many years afterwards. There are various types of disease that they know very little about. When the Minister says that four years is an ample period he must not have sought information from his Department. He could ask them to cite cases that arose over the years in which disease contracted during active service did not manifest itself until quite recently, several years afterwards. It was proven beyond yea or nay that the disease was contracted on service during the emergency. Yet, the Minister tells us that four years is ample time.

I put down an amendment which you, Sir, have ruled out on the grounds that it would involve a charge on public funds and that no Deputy has the right to move such an amendment. I accept that ruling, of course, without question. It means that Deputies on this side of the House or on the opposite side of the House have no say in this matter. It is solely the responsibility of a Minister and the Government to move that the period be extended.

As I have said at the commencement, we are grateful for small mercies. Remember, this is not to protect the interests of the serving soldier; this is to protect the Department of Finance and the Exchequer. If this amendment were accepted it would put a charge on the Exchequer.

Apparently, all our approval of and pride in our troops has always subsided after a four-year period. While the soldiers were fighting in the Crimean War they were great fellows but when four years had passed they were referred to the workhouse or a charitable institution. The 1914-1918 war was fought by heroes for houses to live in and all that sort of thing. When four years had passed they were relegated to the scrap heap. Here we are carrying on that principle. I reject it. When a Bill such as this is going through the House we should subscribe to the principle and the Minister and the Government should subscribe to the principle that if it is found that the applicant contracted disease on active service he should get what he is entitled to get whether it is four, eight, ten, 15 or any number of years afterwards.

Of course, there is a small advantage to be gained if the applicant is able to continue to serve for some time because he can apply four years from the date of discharge.

There is the extraordinary case, as I said on Second Reading, that a boy might contract disease now and he may return from the Congo next January and, in 1969, if it is then found that he is suffering from some tropical disease that he could only have contracted on active service the Minister says that in those circumstances the Government of that day will amend the Act. How does he know? There will not be the enthusiasm for them then, perhaps. Maybe the Government that will be in office at that time will say that they should not have gone at all, that this Government and this Dáil were wrong to send them and that anything they got was good enough for them. We should guard against that and I appeal to the Minister to delete the subsection altogether. I know the Minister will say: "If I delete this from the Bill, then I must delete it from the Pensions Act for the forces at home", and my answer is: "why not?" I am grateful that the Minister has met us some of the way but I hold that it is not sufficient.

The Minister in this amendment has gone some way to meet an amendment I had down and which was ruled out of order on the ground that it would impose a charge on the Exchequer. However, the Minister and his advisers should advert to the very different circumstances under which this Pensions Bill is being passed compared with those of previous measures.

All the previous measures have dealt with Army personnel who had served at home and I think, almost without exception, the four-year period was intended to cover the most likely cases which arose and they were cases of tuberculosis contracted while on Army service and which did not manifest itself until some years later even in these cases. I have no doubt from experience there were some very severe decisions under the terms of the Act because persons who contracted tuberculosis had not, according to the decisions in these cases, contracted it during Army service.

In this situation for the first time we are dealing with tropical diseases. So far as I am aware there is, in regard to some of these diseases, no limitation of time during which a particular disease may manifest itself. There is a somewhat extraordinary provision in this Bill, which is copied out of the earlier one. A person serving for a period abroad returns home and shortly afterwards his Army service terminates. If after a lapse of, say eight years, no disease manifests itself and subsequently it does, he is not entitled to a pension because of the terms of this Bill. A fellow soldier may serve in the Army for a longer period and subsequently the disease manifests itself. Because he has the benefit of the longer service in the Army he will have the additional advantage of the extra eight years and if, after retirement, it manifests itself he will be entitled to a pension. A disease contracted abroad on the same occasion does not in one case manifest itself for a greater number of years than in another case. Because one person serves longer than another he will be entitled to a pension whereas his comrade who had served for a shorter period will not be entitled to it.

The Minister and the Department should do some fresh thinking in this matter and, in consultation with the Department of Health, consider in so far as medical information and medical opinion is available, the situation which could possibly develop, but which we all hope will not, arising out of service abroad.

We have all heard of cases of people who have lived abroad and who many years afterwards contracted a tropical disease. It was obvious that unless they had lived in some of these foreign climates such a disease would never have been contracted by them. In this case if tropical diseases manifest themselves at a later period they will certainly stem from the period of service abroad.

The Minister should consider the peculiar nature of this service in contradistinction to any service our soldiers have given in the past which has always been on home territory. Undoubtedly the amendment goes a distance to meet the objections which were expressed here on the Second Stage but I believe that, in a matter of this sort, there should be no time limit. This question should receive examination on the basis that this is an entirely new situation and one in which the Department of Defence have not had previous experience. The opinion of the Department of Health or that of other experts qualified to give an opinion on the medical aspect of it should be sought and in the light of that a measure should be drafted which would ensure that no one who in the future may contract a disease will because of the terms of this legislation be prevented from receiving a pension.

I would ask the Minister in respect of his amendment further to define "disease". Does "disease" mean any kind of disability or ailment? If a soldier in the Congo gets the butt of a rifle in the stomach and is injured——

That is a wound.

Is that covered?

The wound is covered already. We are dealing with diseases in this Bill.

Does the eight years relate to a wound as well as a disease?

Supposing the serving soldier sustains an injury in a soccer, hurling or rugby match, does that constitute a disability for the purpose of the four years?

No, unless it was arising out of service.

It might be.

There have been claims, whether successful or not, in respect of young soldiers who have been hurt in the field of sport. I should like the Minister to clarify the position. I know many cases of hardship to dependants where no compensation or pension is paid. The Minister would do well to clarify the position in relation to that type of service on the sports field.

I want to put succinctly again the representations that have been made by Deputy MacEoin and Deputy Cosgrave. I want to ask the Minister this question: Suppose a constituent of mine, who never put his foot outside Castleblayney in his life until he joined the Irish Army, goes on foreign service to the Congo and at some stage thereafter manifests the symptoms of malaria filariasis in Castleblayney, am I expected to argue that he contracted one of those diseases in Dublin or Monaghan when it is manifest to the simplest child that it is one of the diseases which are endemic to the Congo?

I can conceive of a situation arising with regard to some disease known in that area of West Africa and virtually nowhere else in the world. Is it seriously suggested to this House in the case of a man who never put his foot outside Ireland, except to go on foreign service to the Congo, who later develops a disease consistent with the disease pattern in question: a long period of incubation—"incubation" is not really the word I want—a long period of suppressed symptoms which flare up at a later stage, that we should envisage a situation being brought about by our statute law whereby the effluxion of time proves that the obvious is not true?

The Minister's answer is that if such a case arises, we will pass another Act of Parliament. He says he would prefer to do that rather than make a breach in the principles which attach to our pension regulations. I think the Minister is making a mistake. I think that without any breach in the existing code of time limitation attaching to the ordinary Pensions Acts, all of which have been enacted in contemplation of service at home, this is an occasion when a departure can be made and the time limit removed with special reference to foreign service. If that is done, there is no breach of the long-established principle of time limitation which we all agree is a matter of compromise and adjustment on as fair a basis as we are able to find.

This is an entirely new situation and it is fantastic for the House to place upon anyone in the public service, or outside it, the obligation of telling a man that he developed malaria or some other Congo disease somewhere in Ireland, although it can be demonstrated that never since St. Patrick set foot in Ireland was the disease known in the country, and he can demonstrate that he was on service in the Congo where the disease is endemic. It is fantastic that we should pass a statute under which the effluxion of time makes that certain fact statutorily untrue.

The Minister says that if such a case arises we will pass a special Act of Parliament to provide for that soldier. That is bad legislation. It would be much better that for foreign service, we should drop the time limit. I think the Minister would be entitled to make a certain schedule of tropical diseases and to say that in respect of those diseases there will be no time limit, but in respect of diseases which are known at home and abroad, such as T.B. and various other diseases, the eight year limitation will apply. I think it is bad legislation to provide that the effluxion of time should operate to make that which is certainly true statutorily false.

In answering Deputy Corish's interjection about injuries sustained in the course of sporting activities, the Minister was a bit too emphatic when he said that would not arise.

If it were an Army activity, it would be covered.

That is the true answer. If a soldier is playing football during his weekend leave, that is his own business, but a situation could arise, particularly on foreign service, where a man might be directed, for policy reasons, to engage in a football match with a team of local people which would clearly be part of his Army duties.

That is covered.

The Minister and I are ad idem on that point. If it is a part of his duty, the soldier is covered, but if he chooses to play during his leave period, he is not covered. I suggest to the Minister that he might reconsider this question as to whether there should not be at least a scheduled list of diseases for which the time limit would be removed in respect of soldiers on foreign service.

I welcome this Bill, of course——

We are not dealing with the Bill; we are talking on the amendment.

I understand that. Listening to Deputy Cosgrave, I was reminded of certain problems we dealt with in the House which came to the notice of every Deputy. I am referring to the case of a man who is declared fit on joining the Army, and who subsequently contracts a disease, but for some reason or another, the medical board says he did not contract that disease in the Army. If a man is passed as healthy into the Army and subsequently contracts a disease, I shall go to my grave trying to understand why any medical board should say he did not contract the disease during his service in the Army. It has happened that a man passed as physically fit and free from disease has contracted T.B. afterwards, and it was said that it was not due to Army service. The Minister has nothing to do with this matter because it goes back over the years, but I have always resisted that idea. If a man is examined and told that he is physically fit, if he passes the X-ray test and the other tests to prove that he is fit, and afterwards contracts a disease, it has been said, for some reason or another, that he did not contract it during his Army service. That is wrong in principle. I have always opposed that idea and shall continue to oppose it.

I know the previous Minister for Defence dealt with many cases of that kind during the Emergency but we are dealing with another problem now and we all hope that when a man is passed as physically fit and contracts any disease afterwards, the Army authorities or the medical board will not say that the disease was not contracted due to his army service.

The Deputy has said that several times and it is not relevant to the amendment.

In connection with the extended period, the point I want to make is that the other Acts dealt with the Army at home, and under those Acts dealing with disability, the Minister has power to re-open a case at any time. If the Minister included some such clause in this Bill, if a case arose after the eight year period, instead of opening the gates, so to speak, there would be provision for special cases which the Minister was satisfied arose out of service in the Congo.

A man might be mentally sick and be placed in an asylum for a number of years. Later, having regained his sanity, he might want to make a claim and that might be nine or ten years after the event. He might say: "Look, I was in an asylum and I did not know what was what. I have now regained my sanity and I want to make a claim for this disability." On the evidence, the Minister could say that he was a special case without opening the floodgates, as I said, if he inserted some clause giving himself power to re-open those special cases without necessarily extending the period of eight years.

Deputy Corish raised the point of injuries and wounds received during activities outside the normal time on which a soldier is on duty. Let us take the case of an officer or other member of the Defence Forces on service abroad who is involved in an accident or is involved in some way in a civil pursuit arising out of which there may be a civil action. As the regulations exist at the moment, the Army authorities would look after the welfare of the member but he would be precluded from coming to any decision in relation to the civil action. Any arrangement arrived at with the other parties involved would be without prejudice to any claim the Department of Defence would have in respect of hospitalisation or the giving of particular services to the injured member of the Defence Forces. I regard this as iniquitous.

We know how lengthy litigation can be; we know the length of time it can take. It is detrimental to the future prospects of an injured party where such a regulation compels him rigorously to adhere to the court procedure and await protracted court proceedings before a decision is reached. There could be relaxation in relation to that. It is something which could certainly be particularly harsh on the unfortunate person involved.

I think I have gone as far as it is reasonable to expect me to go in meeting the case that has been made by agreeing to introduce amendments to double the normal period, by extending it from four years to eight years, although I know of no good reason why that should be done except for the fact that this comparatively speaking unknown quantity of tropical diseases enters into this question. I am advised that even in the case of tropical diseases, there is no reason to believe that they would not show up within the four years. The best advice available to me indicates that doubling the period would give plenty of opportunity.

For obvious reasons, there is need for some time limit. That should be obvious to everybody. It is in every-body's interest that the claim should be made as soon as possible. It is necessary to establish that the disease from which the disability arises is due to service within a definite period, within the period, in this case, of United Nations service. Except on presumptions which have not been established or in respect of which no evidence has been produced to support them, I can see no reason for suggesting there is any need for the removal of a time limit altogether.

As I said, when speaking earlier today, I am quite satisfied that if a case arose in which it was not possible to make the claim within the eight year period, steps would be taken by any Government to cover it. I have no reason to believe that such cases would arise. It was stated that there were cases over the years in which disease contracted during the Emergency did not appear until well after the four year limit. My Department knows nothing about that. We know claims have been made but it is practically impossible to believe that such claims could be established after the four year period since the Emergency. We believe that these diseases would have manifested themselves within that four year period, that is, if they had been, in fact, contracted during the Emergency period. It is impossible to believe they would not have manifested themselves within the four year period.

It was also argued that we should consider the peculiar nature of the service that gives rise to this Bill today. Of course, that is what we have done and that is why I have agreed to extend the time limit as I am doing in the amendment. It is because of the peculiar nature of that service.

I did not quite understand what Deputy Corish was getting at when he spoke about injuries that might be received on the sports field. If the sports in which the member of the Defence Forces was engaged when he was injured were connected with his Army service—if it was an Army match or something like that—then he would be covered by the existing legislation. Of course, that is not disease. That is already covered by the legislation. It would be looked upon as a wound and it does not then really arise in this Bill.

Deputy Sherwin stated the Minister had authority to open cases at any time in connection with some of the other Acts. That is not so. What the Minister has authority to do is to re-open cases that have been turned down, if there is fresh medical evidence produced which purports to establish the claim which had already been turned down. In that event, the case can always be reopened.

I do not think it is reasonable to ask me to remove this time limit altogether because no case has been made except on the basis of pure surmise that there may be some disease which does not show itself within the eight year period, but my medical advisers do not know of any such disease and I am quite certain that if such a case did materialise, steps would be taken to cover it. Why should we cover things that nobody knows to exist?

The other points raised have nothing to do with this Bill. Deputy O'Sullivan referred to a member of the Defence Forces injured in an accident being treated by the Army and then taking a civil action to recover damages. He objected to the Department of Defence insisting that their interests should be covered in any settlement arrived at. Surely it is obvious that that is one of the things that should be covered. No person should make a settlement and ignore the claims of the Department of Defence. We would not countenance that. If the State is at expense in respect of an accident for which somebody is held responsible, obviously the State is entitled to recover in any settlement arrived at. That is completely irrelevant to the present Bill. I am moving this amendment to extend the time limit for applications from four years to eight years. I am quite satisfied that that will be ample.

I am not presuming anything at all. I am officially aware of cases in this country where the disease did not show until after the four year period. I can cite offhand one particular case in which a man became ill. The doctors could not discover what was wrong with him. He was discharged from the Army. He was given every test. No trace of T. B. was found in him. Nevertheless, he had all the symptoms. He was turned down on the ground that whatever he had was not contracted in the Army. Later T.B. was established. The case was re-opened by Ministerial Order. On investigation it was found that the man did have contact with people who had T.B. when he was in in Army. After 12 or 14 years they were able to establish that he had contracted T.B. on active service.

If the circumstances were not just like that, then, in a Congo case, the man is out after the eight years. I want to stress that my amendment to delete the section is not acceptable because it is not within the Rules of Order to move an amendment which imposes a charge on the Exchequer. Therefore, the restriction protects the Exchequer. The attitude would seem to be: Never mind the fellow in the Congo; never mind the sufferer; it does not matter about him once the enthusiasm and the glory are over; away with him then; it makes no difference.

I firmly believe in what I am saying. If I could put the matter to a division I would hope Deputy P.J. Burke would come into the Division Lobby with me. This is something we should not do in this enlightened age. We should not do what was done immediately after the Crimean War.

Deputy MacEoin and some other Deputies are to some extent unduly pessimistic. The young men who went to the Congo are physically fit. As far as medical science can ensure it, they have been immunised against contracting disease of any kind. If, in a year or two or five or ten, a delayed action, as it were, on the part of some tropical disease occurs in any of the gallant men who are defending not alone Ireland but world peace, medical science will be able to establish to all concerned— the Army Pensions Board or any such board—that it was due to service in a tropical region.

We are unduly pessimistic and may cause a great deal of concern to the immediate relatives of men in the Congo by suggesting that they will come back here physical wrecks. That will not happen. I am quite satisfied our soldiers will come through with flying colours.

If the position should be as Deputy MacEoin and another Deputy suggested, the men on these benches will most assuredly have regard for the welfare of our soldiers. They will be ever-mindful of the great service rendered by them. They will always be on the side of the soldier who—we hope not—might contract any disease that would incapacitate him in any way. I am convinced we are unduly pessimistic. I always like to cross my fences when I meet them rather than to think three or four fences ahead and to assume that the one at the end will be the fatal one. I hope we are not causing unnecessary concern to the relatives of our gallant men who are helping to preserve world peace.

Deputy MacEoin said he had personal knowledge of cases in which disease appeared after the four year time limit and that men were, consequently, ruled out. However, the example he gave us was of a case that was not ruled out. It was turned down originally because it was not established. Subsequently, when the disease did develop, it became possible to reopen that case. In other words, the example he gave was not an example of a case ruled out but of a case that came within the provisions of the Act.

Deputy Davern is quite right. I do not feel it is well to give the impression that the men out there are subject to great danger of contracting tropical diseases. The health record of our two battalions in the Congo has been very good indeed. If anything, their health record is better than that of an average similar unit at home since they went out. There is no reason to believe that any great amount of disablement will arise from tropical or any other kind of disease when these men come back. I am quite satisfied that if any of them should suffer disablement, they are adequately covered by the provisions of this Bill.

I am perfectly satisfied that the health of the troops in the Congo at the moment is good. I am satisfied, beyond yea or nay, that our Government, the Minister for Defence and the Army authorities are making every provision and taking every possible step to protect them from contracting certain tropical diseases. Vaccination and other treatments have been carried out. That proves that there was a danger of some diseases which could be guarded against before they left. Suppose that arising from one of the vaccinations that have taken place, something goes wrong in ten years' time. It will then be two years too late. Does the Minister not agree that this is a provision to protect the Exchequer?

No. It is a provision to make some practical arrangement. There is no reason to believe that anything will show up in ten years' time.

If it is practicable, the insertion of the years does not make it any more so. It makes sure one cannot succeed after a certain period, that there is a deadline and that is the end of it.

It is a reasonable period all the same, eight years.

It is twice as good as what was proposed. Assume for a minute——

Four years is a reasonable period.

If this point had not been raised on the Second Reading and if this Front Bench had agreed to take all the Stages of the Bill then what would the period have been? Four years.

Would the Minister have brought in the amendment?

There is no need for the amendment. We did that to please the Deputy.

If there is no need for the amendment why is it being amended to eight years? Is it because the Minister likes the colour of my eyes?

That is right.

There is no need to try that. It is because the Minister was convinced that there was a need to extend it and has done so. As I cannot move what I was going to move and as the only person entitled to move what is possible is the Minister, I am accepting it and this Party will accept it as the best we can get.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 2 is out of order.

And more is the pity.

I move amendment No. 3:

In subsection (2), page 2, line 38, to delete "four" and substitute "eight."

Amendment No. 3 is related to amendment No. 1.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 4 is out of order.

Section 3, as amended, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 5:

In subsection (1), page 3, line 20, to delete "four" and substitute "eight".

Amendments Nos. 5 and 6 are related to amendment No. 1.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 6.

In subsection (4), page 3, line 59, to delete "four" and substitute "eight".

Amendment agreed to.
Section 4, as amended, agreed to.
Section 5 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 7:

In subsection (1), page 5, line 16, to delete "of subsection (2)".

This is just a drafting amendment. It is a minor change.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 8 is out of order.

Section 6, as amended, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 9:

In subsection (3), page 6, line 13, to delete "four" and substitute "eight".

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 10, in the name of Deputy MacEoin, is out of order.

Section 7, as amended, agreed to.
Section 8 agreed to.
First and Second Schedules agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.
Agreed to take remaining Stages today.
Bill received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I asked the Minister to consider the adequacy or inadequacy of the allowance for the education of a child of an officer, N.C.O. or man, after 18 years of age. I suggested to him that if a child was at a whole-time educational establishment, even after the age of 18, the State should assume the responsibility for the child. The Minister said that the officer, N.C.O. or man if he was alive might not be able to do it. That, I think, was a presumption on the part of the Minister because it is the intention of everybody to do the best he can for his family, and where there is evidence available that the child of a deceased officer, N.C.O. or man is at a whole-time educational establishment the grant should be continued until the education is completed. I now ask the Minister to consider that point and see what he can do about it.

Question put and agreed to.

This Bill is certified as a Money Bill in accordance with Article 22 of the Constitution.