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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 18 Apr 1961

Vol. 188 No. 4

Committee on Finance. - Vote 48—Army Pensions.


Go ndeonófar suim nach mó na £1,228,620 chun slánuithe na suime is gá chun íoctha an mhuirir a thiocfaidh chun bheith iníoctha i rith na bliana dar críoch an 31ú lá de Mhárta, 1962, le haghaidh Pinsin Chréachta agus Mhíchumais, Pinsin Bhreise agus Pinsin Fear Pósta, Liúntais agus Aiscí (Uimh. 26 de 1923, Uimh. 12 de 1927, Uimh. 24 de 1932, Uimh. 15 de 1937, Uimh. 2 de 1941, Uimh. 14 de 1943, Uimh. 3 de 1946, Uimh. 19 agus Uimh. 28 de 1949, Uimh. 23 de 1953, Uimh. 19 de 1957, Uimh. 15 de 1959 agus Uimh. 2 de 1960, etc.); Pinsin, Liúntais agus Aiscí Seirbhíse Míleata (Uimh. 48 de 1924, Uimh. 26 de 1932, Uimh. 43 de 1934, Uimh. 33 de 1938, Uimh. 5 de 1944, Uimh. 11 agus 34 de 1945, Uimh. 7 agus 29 de 1949, Uimh. 5 de 1953, Uimh. 12 de 1957 agus Uimh. 3 agus 30 de 1960); Pinsin, Liúntais agus Aiscí (Uimh. 37 de 1936, Uimh. 9 de 1948, Uimh. 30 de 1950, Uimh. 27 de 1952, Uimh. 4 de 1953, Uimh. 17 de 1957 agus Uimh. 4, 5, 6, 31 agus 33 de 1960, etc.); íocaíochtaí i leith Cúitimh de Chomhaltaí den Fhórsa Cosanta Áitiúil (Uimh. 19 de 1946, agus Uimh. 15 de 1949); agus le haghaidh Ranníocaí agus Costais iolartha ina dtaobh sin, etc.

£1,842,920 méid iomlán an Mheastacháin seo, sé sin £125,290 níos mó ná an chéad Vóta don bhliain airgeadais 1960-61. Chun críocha na méaduithe ar phá agus ar liúntaisí deonadh le Cáinaisnéis na bliana sin, tharla i rith na bliana 1960-61 gur aistríodh £54,714 ón Vóta le haghaidh Méaduithe ar Phinsin; tharla comh maith, anuraidh, go raibh gá le Meastachán Breise le go n-íocfaí cúiteamh ar leith do chleithiúnaithe iad siúd a maruíodh sa Congo agus iad ar sheirbhís le Fórsa na Náisiún Aontuithe nó a fuair bás de bharr na seirbhíse sin. Fágann sin gurbh é £36,076 glan mhéid na breise ar solathríodh don bhliain 1960-61.

The Estimate is for a sum of £1,842,920, which is an increase of £125,290 on the original vote for the financial year 1960/61. During 1960/61, however, a sum of £54,714 was transferred from the Vote for Increases in Pensions for the purpose of meeting the Budgetary increases in pensions and allowances, and a Supplementary Estimate was taken last year also in respect of the payment of special compensation to the dependants of members of Na Buan-Oglaigh who were killed while serving with the United Nations Force in the Congo or died as a result of such service. The nett increase over the provision for 1960/61 is, therefore, £36,076.

The Estimate is, I think, self-explanatory, and I feel that it is unnecessary for me to delay the House unduly in introducing it. The principal increases are in Subhead G, which provides for retired pay and service pensions for former members of Na Buan-Oglaigh, and Subhead L, which relates to special allowances. The principal decrease is in Subhead O, which provides for special compensation for or in respect of personnel serving in the Congo. This year, only a token provision is being made.

I shall be glad, when concluding, to supply any additional information that may be required.

I am disappointed that the Minister has not given us some further indication of what his intentions are about the further administration of this Vote. I am sure there is no Deputy in the House who has not received, within the last two or three years, complaints from various sections of the forces that served in this country, whether it be the present Army, the Volunteers from 1916 to 1923, the Army of the Emergency and the allied associations, the nursing services and so on. The Minister just blandly tells us that the Vote is so much and, notwithstanding all the complaints I know he must have received, he has not given us any indication of what administrative activities he proposes to alleviate the distress a number of these people are suffering.

Taking the Army first, I am sure the Minister is perfectly aware that the allowance granted to the widow of a young officer who has lost his life in the service is totally inadequate. He may say that to make a change would involve legislation but I do not know that that is right. There is a scheme which he can draft which would alter the allowances over the last year or two. I have written him on various cases but the reply I get is that the limit is set and it is regretted that there can be no increase. Sympathetic consideration is given but these are the regulations and that is that. Can you consider the widow of a second lieutenant—there are very few but there are some—who gets £80 a year? That is an extraordinary sum. We have the case of young officers who were killed recently—one of them was married— and again there is no indication of any sort of an adequate pension. I did think that the Minister would avail of the opportunity granted by this Vote to meet these cases.

On the question of military service certificates, the situation is in a hopeless condition. The Minister has wound up the Pensions Board and no matter what the circumstances are, or who you are, there is no machinery by which justice can be done to those who, for one reason or another, failed to get the benefits from the 1924 Act, the 1934 Act or the amending Acts. I feel that the Minister must, over the past two years, have received fairly substantial evidence that there are injustices and hardships still existing that should be remedied.

It may be argued that hard cases make bad law but I do not subscribe to that view. Even if there are only two people, when they are entitled to something from the State, the State should give these two people what they are entitled to. I am aware that the Old I.R.A. have sent a memorandum to the Minister. I thought again that he might on this occasion avail of the opportunity of this Vote to say that he was having it considered or that he was doing something about it. I trust that, before a decision is taken on the Vote, he will give some expression of his intentions and the intentions of the Government on the matter.

Numerous hardships arise on the question of the special allowances. Not the least of these is the fact that where an old age pensioner had the full allowance and now qualifies for a contributory old-age pension, the increased sum is, I am informed, taken into consideration in the assessment of means. I am informed that, in certain cases, deductions have been made because there was over-payment for a certain time. The situation is that one Minister is giving something with one hand and another Minister is taking it away with the other hand. I feel that that is having a psychological effect on these people. They felt that they had got something, that the Minister and the Government had been generous. They were led to believe that they were going to benefit from the increases in the contributory old age pensions. Those with no special allowances have done so but, where there was a special allowance, that has been withdrawn. I leave it to any Deputy of the Fianna Fáil Party to say that that is something he approves of. There is not a responsible Deputy in the House who is not aware of the hardship and distress that have been created for many of those people who have served the country faithfully and well.

The Minister should have told us something more about the administration of the special allowance. I mentioned here recently that it is impossible to understand fully how the means are calculated. For old age pension purposes the assessment is made in one way and for the special allowance it is made in a completely different way. A standard should be set so that not only would justice be done but would appear to be done.

As I visualised some years ago, the numbers in receipt of the special allowances are increasing. However, every week there are more absentees from the roll call. Time is pressing. In a few years' time, this problem will not be with us. The Minister should tell us if he received a memorandum from the Old I.R.A. If so, is he giving it any consideration and what are his intentions?

I urge the Government to reconsider the whole question of medals with or without bar. The benefit bestowed upon the Army by giving an extension of service to the people who had the medal with or without bar should also apply to other services in the country.

I should like to know if the Minister, with the Minister for Finance, has been able to make any adjustment in the pension or gratuity of a civil medical member of the Pensions Board. The matter has been a long time under consideration. He has been a temporary official for over 30 years, rendering wholetime service. His position is most unsatisfactory. When I was Minister, the case was made to me that he was a nominee of the Minister for Finance. The Minister for Finance says he is the responsibility of the Minister for Defence. Between the two Ministries, he has fallen to the ground. I am sure the Minister is aware of the facts of the case.

I hold no brief for the officer concerned. He did not ask me to make this case for him. He is not a political supporter. I feel that, no matter what he is, he is a person who has rendered very valuable and faithful service and should get recognition for it. The Government of the day, no matter who may be in office, have an obligation in that case. I would ask the Minister to say what his intentions are about the administration of this Vote.

The first point raised by Deputy MacEoin was in connection with the pensions of widows of junior officers. I am afraid he is under a misapprehension with regard to the case he quoted. He quoted a figure of £80 per annum. If I understood him rightly, he referred to the widow of an officer who was killed on service with the Defence Forces.

The Deputy had the wrong figure. A sum of £88 is the pension in the case of a widow of a second lieutenant or lieutenant who dies in the normal way from natural causes.

It is still a poor sum.

In a case such as that to which Deputy MacEoin referred —a second lieutenant who died as a result of service—the amount would be £117 10s. 0d. plus 50 per cent. of that amount. If the officer dies of wounds arising out of his service four years after discharge from the Army, the amount is £117 10s. 0d. but that amount is increased by 50 per cent. if he dies within four years. Therefore, the figure was completely wrong.

Does the Minister not agree that that is still a small figure?

If the officer's pay was less than £800 a year, his widow would also be entitled to a contributory widow's pension which is all that is available to most widows. Therefore the amount provided under the Army pensions code would be in addition to the contributory widow's pension. That applies to anyone whose pay is under £800 a year. However, an officer can always keep up the contributions even when he goes over that amount. The case mentioned by Deputy MacEoin would be under £800 a year and the contributory widow's pension would therefore be payable also.

My opening statement was rather short. Recently I introduced an Increases Bill on which I went into considerably more detail. There was also a recent Private Members' Motion on which most of the points raised in the Old I.R.A. memorandum, to which Deputy MacEoin refers, were covered. I received it only comparatively lately. I am not aware that anything new has been raised in it but, if there is, it will be considered. It is in process of being considered at the moment.

The question of special allowances was raised, with particular reference to the case of special allowance holders who have recently qualified for the new Contributory Old Age Pensions Scheme. There again, I think there is a certain amount of misunderstanding of the position. It is true that in most cases those who have qualified for Contributory Old Age Pensions— and they are a very small minority of special allowance holders—have had their special allowances reduced even though the appropriate annual sums have been increased in the Army Pensions Bill, 1961.

I think I should explain something more about these special allowances. First of all, the special allowance is a sum of such amount as, when added to a person's yearly means, will not equal or exceed what is known as the appropriate annual sum. That is, in essence, what the special allowance is. It is not granted on the basis of service in the same way as the military service pension is. The only qualification from that point of view is that the recipient or claimant should have been a member of one of the specified organisations for the three months prior to the Truce. He has not to establish any greater degree of service than that. There are the other conditions. If he is under the age of 70, he must be unable to earn his livelihood because of permanent infirmity. Then there is this condition that his means must not exceed the appropriate annual sum.

On reaching 70 years of age?

If he is under 70 years, the medical condition comes into it. If he is over 70 years, that is not a necessary condition. Certain items of means are taken fully into account in calculating the amount of the special allowance while others are taken into account only in part and others are ignored. I circulated with the Official Report in reply to a question some time ago the main items taken into account and the main items ignored in that respect. Perhaps I should give them again now in view of the fact that this question has been raised.

The principal items taken into account are: value of house, plot or farm; the value of capital—the first £25 is disregarded; the next £375 is taken at 1/20th of the total and the remainder at 1/10th. One half of the amount of disability benefit payable under the Social Welfare Acts is taken into account. The amount of wages, profit from trade or business or other cash income is taken into account. In the case of an unmarried person one shilling a week of the non-contributory old age pension of 28/6d. a week and 12/6 a week of the contributory old age pension of £2 a week is taken into account.

In the case of a married person 19/6d. a week of the second pension, where both the person and the spouse are in receipt of a non-contributory old age pension of 28/6d. a week, is taken into account. In the case of a married person who has a contributory old age pension and supplementary allowance for the spouse, 31/- a week of the combined amount of £3 8s. 6d. a week is taken into account. In the case of a military service pensioner or a person holding a disability pension, wound pension or Connaught Rangers' pension, the amount exceeding £30 of such a pension or combination of pensions is taken into account where the person is under 70, but the first £30 is not taken into account. The entire amount is taken into account, however, where the applicant is over 70 because it has already been ignored for old age pension purposes. In no cases, however, are the increases in pensions granted in 1959 and 1960 taken into account. They are ignored in all cases.

The value of free maintenance, where that does not impose any hardship on the giver, is taken into account, but if it can be shown there is a hardship on the person providing the free maintenance, then it is not taken into account. The value of free lodging is taken at £3 18s. 0d. per annum; and the profit from the contributions of members of a family who are employed and live at home, is assessed on a scale. If there is a son or daughter working and living at home and contributing to the household, the amount of his or her contributions is not taken into account, but what is estimated as the profit from their contributions is taken into consideration. If the contribution is under 30/-, no profit is assumed to arise and nothing is taken into account; if it is between 30/- and 35/- 2/- is taken into account; if it is between 35/- and 40/- 3/- is taken into account; if it is between 40/- and 42/-, 4/- is taken into account; if it is between 42/- and 44/-, 5/- is taken into account; if it is between 44/- and 46/-, 6/- is taken into account; and anything over that is 6/- plus the amount by which the contribution exceeds 46/-. That is in respect of urban areas.

For rural areas there is a similar but slightly different scale. If the children concerned are under 18 years of age and the contribution does not exceed £28 14s. 0d., no amount is taken into account; if it is between £28 14s. 0d. and £39 2s. 0d., the actual excess over £28 14s. 0d. is taken into account; if it exceeds £39 2s. 0d. a year, then £10 8s. 0d. is taken into account, plus the profit from contributions as I already mentioned.

The principal items not taken into account are: children's allowances under the Social Welfare Acts; public assistance; free maintenance, as I have said, where it imposes hardship on the provider; maintenance in a hospital, sanatorium or county home—old age pensions are not taken into account except in the manner I have already mentioned—Gaeltacht grants, blind welfare grants; infectious diseases maintenance allowances and disabled persons maintenance allowances.

With regard to the question of old age pensions it is not true to say that, as a result of the adjustments made in the special allowances, anybody receiving a contributory old age pension received less than he did previously. I explained that up to the 6th January, 1961, only non-contributory old age pensions were payable. They were at the maximum rate of 28s. 6d. per week. For special allowances, one pension was completely ignored when assessing means. If there were two pensions—if the man and his wife both had old age pensions—one was completely ignored and the second taken into account as means to the extent of 24s. per week.

As from the 6th January, 1961, however, contributory old age pensions became payable for the first time to persons who had the necessary insurance contributions. Two pounds a week is the contributory old age pension and in the case of a married person the supplementary allowance is £1 8s. 6d. As a result of that, there was a revision of the means adjustment for special allowances. From that date also the appropriate annual sum for special allowances was increased by £13 a year, except in one particular type of case where the increase was £36 10s. 0d. a year. That was under the recent Army Pensions (Increase) Act, 1961.

The means test was revised as follows: in the case of a married person who himself had a non-contributory pension—as I said it is in this class most of the special allowance holders with old age pensions are included, because only a comparatively small number qualified for a contributory old age pension—but whose spouse had not, he received prior to the 6th January, by way of pension plus special allowance, approximately £3 6s. 0d. a week. The non-contributory pension was completely ignored as means in the assessment of the special allowance. But if as from the 6th January, 1961, he was still not qualified for a contributory pension but continued to be eligible for a non-contributory pension only, the appropriate annual sum in that case was increased by £36 10s. 0d. a year—giving him approximately £4 a week by way of an aggregated pension and special allowance. That is a person with a non-contributory pension whose spouse had not got an old age pension.

Where a person, prior to 6th January, 1961, had a non-contributory pension and his wife also had one, the position was as I have already stated —that the second pension was assessed as means to the extent of 24/- a week and income by way of aggregated and special allowance was £3 10s. 6d. a week. Now, if as from 6th January, 1961, that person still continued to be ineligible for a contributory pension, the means test was altered so that the second non-contributory pension was assessed to the extent of 19/6d. a week only, and that, taken in conjunction with the increase in the appropriate annual sum of £13, brought him also to approximately £4 by way of combined pension and special allowance. So it is obvious that in both of those cases there was an improvement in the total means.

In the first case, the previous means were £3 6s. a week. That was raised to £4 a week and in the second case, the total means were £3 10s. 6d. previously, and by means of the combination of the change in the means test and the increase of £13 in the appropriate annual sum, that was also raised to £4 per week.

With regard to contributory pensions, where a person became eligible, from 6th January, 1961, for a contributory pension of £2 a week and the supplementary allowance was £1 8s. 6d. a week for his spouse, it was decided that 31/- of the £3 8s. 6d. would be assessed as means so that he would, having regard to the increased annual sum, receive £4 a week approximately by way of combined pension and supplementary allowance and special allowance. That is what has been done for married couples—to equalise the position. By giving a greater increase in the case of a non-contributory pensioner and by taking 31/- of the £3 8s. 6d. into account in the case of the contributory old age pensioner, we have equalised the position of these two classes.

With regard to unmarried persons, up to 6th January, 1961, the person who had a non-contributory pension had £2 18s. 6d. a week approximately by way of special allowance or pension combined. It was the position at that time that the old age pension was not taken into account as means. If since 6th January 1961, he was still eligible for a non-contributary pension only, there was an increase of approximately 5/- a week in the appropriate annual sum and 1/- of the pension was taken into account as means thus giving him £3 2s. 6d. a week between combined pension and special allowance. If such a person became eligible for a contributory pension of £2 a week from 6th January 1961, then 12/6d. of that pension is taken into account as means and that, taken in conjunction with the 5/- a week increase in the appropriate annual sum, gives him also £3 2s. 6d. approximately, between pension and special allowance.

It will therefore be seen that in all cases the total income has been increased, that is, a total increase from the combined pensions and special allowance. As I say, it happened in some cases, for instance where a person became eligible for a contributory pension of £2 and supplementary allowance of £1 8s. 6d., the special allowance fell to be reduced and in some cases was discontinued. But so far from there being a loss in the total income, the contrary was the case in all instances.

I agree that this is a rather involved matter but this should make it clear what the position is with regard to these contributory old age pensions. Regard had to be had to the fact that the special allowance was not something that a person is automatically entitled to because of his service but something introduced to relieve hardship. While it is true that some people will have their special allowances reduced, because of the contributory old age pensions the fact is that because of the increase in the appropriate annual sums that were introduced in the Army Pensions Bill, 1961, a number of new people became eligible for special allowances for the first time, and of course all those who did not qualify for contributory old age pensions, either because they had not reached the age or had not got the contributions, also received increases. The total cost of all those increases is £75,000 approximately per annum.

From 6th January, 1961, also, special allowance holders under seventy received an increase of 5s. a week in their special allowance and in addition to that, there is an increase in the child's allowance from £10 8s. to £11 14s. a year. The total cost of those increases is £75,000 per annum. I think the best possible use was made of the £75,000 in the way in which it was used. I do not think it——

I wonder would the Minister allow me to ask a question? I gather he is waiting for the Minister for Local Government. I came in here to speak and I was surprised to find the Minister speaking. Will he allow me to ask a question?

The Deputy may ask a question when the Minister finishes.

It is in connection with the matter he is discussing.

The Deputy may only interrupt now.

Let me put it this way; it will only be a long question. Complaints have been made that those who decide whether people qualify or not are only civil servants who were not associated with the I.R.A. and who should receive assistance. There should be advisory groups set up in every brigade area, is what has been said to me. As time goes on, it will become much more difficult. That is just one point. Would the Minister not set up advisory groups because, until the I.R.A. cease to exist, there will be claimants under this heading?

The second point is that as this is the only concession medal holders get, they ought to get some other concession. There is the case of the Guards looking for the extra two years' service. Would the Minister not give the medal holders some little concession? I could speak at some length on the raw deal these medal holders got. They should be getting some little concession by virtue of their being medal holders.

With regard to Deputy MacEoin's point in relation to a member of the Army Pensions Board, I think the Deputy knows the difficulty in granting a pension in the case of a temporary appointment. It has been the practice, however, that when a person with long temporary service comes to retire, the Minister for Finance invariably considers favourably the granting of a gratuity. It must be remembered, too, that the normal retiring age does not apply in a case of that kind.

The pay is small.

It depends on what you compare the pay with.

With the same work as his colleague, the Army man, is doing.

It is a different question. Deputy Sherwin raised the question of establishing whether or not a claimant for a medal without bar had the three months' pre-Truce service. Obviously, it is becoming more and more difficult to establish that. It is a statutory requirement that a person must have that service before the medal can be awarded. The special allowance attaches to a duly awarded medal without bar. It applies automatically in the case of a man with a military service certificate.

We have adopted the only possible method of securing verification. From whom can verification be got except from the officers of the unit to which the person claims he belonged? If that verification cannot be got and if the weight of evidence is against the applicant, I cannot see how any advisory body could deal with the question more fairly or more objectively than the body available to me in the Department.

Surely the Minister will agree that the evidence of company commanders should be accepted.

I always pay more attention to evidence at company level than at other levels. There can be conflicts of evidence even at company level and in such cases one must go further. We usually go to the battalion and company officers and very often it is difficult to decide even then. There are also the rolls which were submitted. Again, the presence or absence of a man's name is not taken as definite evidence. What can one do except assess all the evidence available—company verification, or the lack of it; battalion verification, or the lack of it—and the presence on or the absence of the person's name from the company roll. That is the basis on which one decides that a man had or had not the requisite three months' pre-Truce service. I can think of no other more satisfactory method of dealing with the matter.

How does the Minister expect to deal with the situation in ten years' time?

Those interested should apply for their medals now and have them verified and awarded now.

But the Minister says they will be rechecked again before they get the allowance. In ten years' time, all the officers may be dead.

There is no recheck in the case of a medal awarded under the present system, but in some cases when the medals were originally awarded, I am afraid the officers were not as careful about verification as they are now that this monetary provision attaches to the medal. In such cases, we try to get the award of the medal re-verified. Where there is no possibility of getting such verification because the officers concerned are no longer available, the only just course appears to be to give the claimant the benefit of the doubt. With regard to claims now, surely the neglect in not claiming until now is the claimant's own fault. We could not be expected to award such a claimant a medal merely on the basis of his own statements.

With regard to the two years' extension of service for members of the Garda Síochána, that is a regulation which was introduced by the Minister for Justice, as the Deputy knows. It has nothing whatever to do with the Department of Defence.

Why not give more concessions like that?

I can deal only with the Army and that concession is already there for the Army.

They have got nothing. All they have is the medal.

Where their health and circumstances are such as to qualify them, they can get a special allowance. With regard to the service medal with bar in the case of members of the Garda Síochána, that medal with bar was awarded in cases where either the Board of Assessors or the Referee and Advisory Committee awarded a military service certificate. In the case of those who were turned down by either of these bodies, the Minister has obviously no power to go against that decision since these were statutory bodies entrusted with the task of deciding whether or not the applicant was a person to whom the relevant Acts applied. Nothing can be done to reopen such cases. If a person has never applied for a military service certificate under the appropriate Acts, I can consider a claim for a military service medal with bar. I cannot award a military service certificate. If, however, it is decided that the evidence produced in the course of such investigation is such as would justify the award of a military service certificate, the applicant can be given a military service medal with bar and that will qualify him for two years' extension in, for instance, the Garda Síochána.

But it will not qualify him for a pension.

No, because the time for applying for pensions has come to an end.

Can the Minister give us any idea of the number who did not apply early on and who have since applied and succeeded?

Very few have come to my notice. Is the Deputy speaking now of members of the Garda Síochána?

Or anybody else.

Not more than 20 have come to notice.

Did they succeed?

About a total of 20 succeeded.

I want to say——

The Deputy is establishing a precedent.

He is helping the Minister.

The debate is closed. The Deputy may ask questions. I shall allow him to ask questions.

Perhaps the Deputy could ask a long question?

I should like to ask the Minister why a special allowance is not retrospective and why there is undue delay in having it passed. The Minister will agree that the special allowance takes a long time to investigate. When there is an award, there is no retrospective payment. Would the Minister say why and whether it is his intention to have it retrospective in the future? I should also like to ask the Minister why a Guard, who made application for a military service pension and was refused, has no hope of getting the medal with bar? In other words, he has no hope of getting an extension of his service. Could the Minister explain to the House why or how that decision was arrived at?

Again, I would ask the Minister to tell the House how many applications for medals are in abeyance at the moment? There is grave dissatisfaction with regard to verification amongst many of the young soldiers. Is he aware that many of the old soldiers are being buried in poverty-stricken circumstances? The hat has to go around. Surely the Minister will see it is now time to make provision to cover the funeral expenses of all soldiers who die in impecunious circumstances.

Would the Minister state whether it is his intention to provide medical treatment for those in receipt of wound and disability pensions? I should like the Minister to say whether he will consider official treatment for those who have already been awarded wound and disability pensions. Will he tell the House how many people's claims are now outstanding in respect of dependants' allowances? Can he tell us how many were refused?

Is the Minister concluding?

There is no doubt that some claims for special allowance do take a long time to investigate. That is no fault of my Department. As I said, we have to obtain verification before a medal can be duly awarded. The only way in which verification can be obtained is by applying to the company or battalion officers of the unit to which the claimant claims to have belonged. A number of these officers are very lax in replying to queries. You have to wait a reasonable time for the person concerned to reply. In the absence of verification, it is very unlikely that a decision would go to the applicant. Before deciding, you have to send a number of reminders to those people. In any case in which there is a long delay, it can be taken that the delay is made in the interests of the person concerned. If adequate verification were available, the decision would be made quickly. If the matter is not decided in a reasonable time, the likelihood is that it is being held over in order to try to obtain verification which would establish the person's claim to the medal. I think that is the usual and probably the only cause of the delay.

With regard to the question whether the allowance, when finally granted, should be made retrospective, that is a principle which it would be very difficult to expect any Government to accept.

It is accepted in relation to old age pensions by the Department of Social Welfare.

You have not got the same type of investigation there. In that case, it is only a question of means which has to be investigated. Here we have to investigate a person's entitlement to a medal. We have to investigate a claim for service given 40 years ago. In most cases, it is the person himself who has been remiss in not applying for the medal earlier. Most of these cases are difficult to decide because of the fact that the service claimed was given such a long time ago and the fact that people's memories have deteriorated in the meantime. Also, it is sometimes difficult to trace some of the officers concerned and others are deceased.

It is quite true, as Deputy Davern said, that a member of the Garda Síochána, who was refused a military service certificate either under the 1924 Act or the 1934 Act, has, under the existing regulation, no hope of extension of service. I do not think it reasonable to ask me to do anything about that. The regulation is that the two years' extension of service is granted to a member of the Garda Síochána who has been awarded a service medal with bar. The qualification for that is a military service certificate. Whether a man qualifies for a military service certificate or not is established by the Board of Assessors under the 1924 Act or the Referee and Advisory Board under the 1934 Act. The Minister has no power to overrule their decision so there is nothing that I, as Minister for Defence, can do in that respect. In the case of a Guard who never applied for a military service pension under the 1924 or the 1934 Act, I can deal with it.

Deputy Davern asked whether I could give any idea of the number of current applications for medals without bars. There are in my Department quite a big number still undecided. Some of them arose a considerable time ago. The number, I think, would be of the order of 5,000. Most of those are cases where it appears impossible to get verification. Applications for these medals are still coming in very rapidly, at an estimated rate of about 1,000 a year and the practice is to deal with those which appear to be the most urgent.

In a considerable number of the undecided cases, it may be that the applicants have since died. Medical treatment for wounded and disabled pensioners is, of course, provided only in the cases of disability of a temporary nature—where there is some hope that the degree of disability will lessen with treatment—but in the cases of final disability, there is no provision under the Army Pensions Acts for medical treatment. In those cases, however, the services provided under the Health Act are available. The Deputy also asked about the number of applicants for dependants' allowances. I think he was referring to allowances under Part II of the 1953 Act and I can say that there are very few such cases outstanding at the moment.

Vote put and agreed to.