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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 3 Apr 1963

Vol. 201 No. 7

Committee on Finance. - Vote 46—Army Pensions (Resumed).

Debate resumed on the following motion:
Go ndeonófar suim nach mó ná £1,458,210 chun slánaithe na suime is gá chun íoctha an mhuirir a thiocfaidh chun bheith iníoctha i rith na bliana dar críoch an 31ú lá de Mhárta, 1964, le haghaidh Pá Scortha, Pinsin, Cúiteamh, Liúntais agus Aiscí is iníoctha faoi Reachtanna Éagsúla le Comhaltaí d'óglaidh na hÉireann agus d'Eagraíochtaí áirithe Míleata eile, etc., nó ina leith sin, agus le haghaidh, Ranníocaí agus Costais Éagsúla i ndáil leo sin, etc.—(Minister for Defence).

Yesterday I gave the names of several members of the Old IRA, mentioned their circumstances, who had all failed to get an allowance from the Department. I could give many more names, if I could just think of them, of people equally deserving of pensions. Since I became a Deputy, I have received continuous correspondence from those people who are very disappointed that at this stage of their lives, they should be deprived of a small pension for the services they gave to this country. Recently I met an aged man who lived near the town of Drumshambo, in Leitrim. He was beaten by the Black and Tans and got away with his life only by God's Providence. When he applied for a pension, he was turned down. Surely at this stage of his life he must be disappointed that he did not get a pension.

Yesterday when I left the Dáil, I received a letter from the Department of Defence in regard to an application by Michael Kerrigan of Fivemilebourne for a special allowance. The letter stated that he should apply for an application form and when he completed and returned it, his case would be dealt with as quickly as possible. He is an applicant who underwent an operation in Dublin in 1922. The operation was a failure, and he was sent home a semi-invalid, although he had been called to join the Garda Síochána. A few years ago, he applied for an allowance. It was refused. Owing to the poor circumstances in which he finds himself, he tried again and now he is invited to renew his application. It would appear that this man will be dead and gone before he gets an allowance. That is a sad reflection on the administration of today. The genuine cases should get every consideration and should be awarded a pension, big or small.

I would also suggest that the pension should not be included in the assessment of means for the purposes of the old age pension. A military service pension or allowance is given as a reward for services and in view of loss of health as a result of Old IRA activities. It is too bad that such pension or allowance should be used against these people when they apply for an old age pension on reaching 70 years of age.

The number of veterans is diminishing. Every day we read of the death of one of them in the daily papers. The usual military honours are accorded, except in a few cases such as Deputy O'Donnell mentioned yesterday evening. I suppose there are men who, while they may have been the best in time of trouble, go unnoticed and are not lucky enough to be given this tribute which they deserve.

I appeal to the Minister to take notice of all the cases being dealt with at the moment. I would request that he should make some allowance to the wives and children of Old IRA men who have died suddenly leaving their wives and children in very poor circumstances. Some small allowance would be a great help to these widows and orphans to supplement their small incomes.

I want to refer to two matters. I should like the Minister to say something about his extraordinary behaviour with regard to the service medal related to the special allowance. I have in mind one or two cases and would ask the Minister to say something about them when he replies. I had two cases recently where a man, who had been awarded a pre-Truce service medal, was denied a special allowance, even though his circumstances warranted the granting of a special allowance. I always believed that it was a pretty difficult business to be awarded a pre-Truce service medal. I assume that is so and that the applicants must prove they have the requisite service to qualify for the medal. I have a case in mind of a man who held this medal for very many years. He is very proud of the medal and he and his colleagues and neighbours believe that he deserves it. When his circumstances forced him to apply for a special allowance, the Minister decided that his case would be investigated, not in relation to his circumstances, but in relation to his entitlement to the medal. The Minister and his Department discovered that he was not entitled to the medal and it was taken from him.

Are we to assume, therefore, that this man got the medal under false pretences? Is it to be assumed by his neighbours and colleagues that he was a fraud and that he told lies in order to obtain the medal? This has happened in at least two cases I know of. I do not know whether there are other cases throughout the country or not. Perhaps the Minister would say something about it?

The only other matter I want to raise is again in relation to the special allowance, that is, review of the circumstances of recipients. That review should take place when there is a change in a man's circumstances. I realise that the review can either militate against or favour the recipient. I know of cases where a man who has a special allowance finds in the beginning of the year that his circumstances have deteriorated but must suffer on, continuing at the same rate of allowance, until a review is carried out.

I would, therefore, suggest to the Minister that the review of recipients' circumstances be carried out in the same way as applies in the case of the Department of Social Welfare, where the circumstances can be reviewed at any time at the request of the recipient. In the case of an old age pensioner, if his circumstances deteriorate at any time during the year, he is entitled to ask the Minister for Social Welfare for a review, with, of course, the object of having the allowance increased. I would ask the Minister to make a statement with regard to this business of withdrawing pre-Truce service medals held for years.

The first matter to which I wish to refer on this Estimate deals with medical certification. I have in mind the case of a man in my area who suffers frequently from haemorrhage and who for years has been considered unfit for work. In fact, going back to the old National Health Insurance, he had been certified as unfit for work for quite a number of years and, as he described it, occasionally he is brought before a board and on each occasion the board has considered him still unfit for work and he has been continued on insurance.

A couple of years ago, he applied for a special allowance and was brought to St. Bricin's Hospital. During the short time he was there, fortunately, I suppose, for himself, he did not have any recurrence of his trouble. The decision of the doctors there was that he was not permanently incapacitated and, therefore, he is not eligible for the special allowance. At the same time, that man has been accepted in respect of insurance over the years as being unfit for work and his insurance has been continued on that ground. That should have been sufficient guarantee to the authorities of his eligibility for a special allowance. I would ask that, if it is possible, something be done to ease the test in respect of a man's incapacity for work.

The second point I want to make is in regard to the verification of the claims of those who are looking for medals, obviously with a view to seeking a special allowance. I do not want verification to be made so easy that people who are not entitled can slip through, but we all have come across cases where difficulties do arise in verification of pre-Truce service. It is a long time back and memories become dim. Apart from that, many of the older officers have passed away, while others have left the districts in which they operated. In the case of my home town, the officer is at present living in Dublin; he is not in the best of health and it is very difficult for the men in the area to get in touch with him. Writing to him is not very satisfactory because often, through his illhealth, he is not able to carry on the correspondence involved. If something could be done to ease these difficulties, I would be very grateful. I have come across a case of three men in the one company, all of whom stated that the surviving members of the company are prepared to verify their services, but the verifying officer is not so easily got in touch with and the men have not been able to get the verification which the Department demand.

I am in some difficulty in regard to the last point because it may be more rightly a matter for the Minister for Social Welfare. I would ask the Minister for Defence to use his good offices with his colleague, by way of representation or otherwise, if it really is a matter for the Department of Social Welfare. I refer to the case of a widow whose son was killed in the Congo. The payment being made to her by the Department of Defence has left her ineligible for the widow's pension which has been withdrawn. I think the Minister could do something through representations to the Department of Social Welfare. Such payments as these should not serve to disqualify such a woman for her widow's pension.

We have now reached the stage in the matter of these pensions when the contributions of Deputies to the debate deal with specific cases, each of which is known to the Deputy concerned. That indicates to me that by and large the problem of dealing with people who have been incapacitated either by disease or wounds contracted in service has very largely been solved. Hard cases there always will be and, as we all know, exceptions make poor law. However, some of the cases referred to we have been able to identify while others are not so easily identifiable.

To give a sample, I would mention a case referred to by Deputy P. O'Donnell. He said that the entitlement of an applicant to a medal had been vouched for by the battalion OC. The Deputy may not know, however, that the battalion OC, in giving his opinion of the man's service, added that the applicant had left the area early in 1921. Of course, that destroyed straight away the man's entitlement because we all know that one of the requirements for the award of a medal is that the man stuck it out to the end. If he left his own area and became inactive or left the country, the effect was the same.

Might I ask the Minister whether he thinks it is in the best interests of the investigation of cases that the evidence any officer gave relating to an application should be given in this fashion? The Minister has given it in this case. Very often verifying officers do not wish the evidence they have given to become known to all and sundry. The Minister would want to be careful.

That is quite correct and we ordinarily follow that rule. I think, however, that it is desirable, by citing one or two cases——

I submit that the Minister could say something to the effect that, on investigation, the claim was not sustained by those called on to verify, rather than to say that the battalion OC did not qualify the person.

In this case I actually gave the answer in the form Deputy MacEoin indicates in recent months —within the last three months, in fact.

Apparently it had no effect on Deputy O'Donnell who comes along now and makes a very hard case about the treatment of the applicant in question. I do not want to be pilloried here as being the perpetrator of a harsh judgment in a very genuine case.

The Minister is there to be pilloried, unfortunately.

All right, and I am parrying as well as I can. In this case, perhaps I should add that the verifying officer has gone to his reward. By way of corroboration of the decision taken in this case, I may also say that on neither of the rolls, pre-Truce or postTruce, submitted for the company was this man's name mentioned so that it is obvious that, however hard his circumstances may now be, this is not the source from which he should seek relief—that in fact the rules laid down and sanctioned by this House have not been fulfilled. That is a fair typical sample of these special pleading cases which we hear each year on this Estimate. In my short time in the Department of Defence, I have in fact reviewed a number of these cases in favour of the applicant by giving the benefit of the doubt. However, I repeat what I have said already, that I want to be reasonably particular that applicants who did not give service will not get recognition.

I do not think it necessary to apologise for that type of attitude.

There is no apology required for that.

Deputy MacEoin knows, and I know, that there is the type of case not easily verifiable where a man would have to be an Old IRA man himself to give a satisfactory judgment. I have had to deal with one or two of them myself and because of my own special knowledge, I think I was able to do justice in those cases. That type of case is not common. Usually, we are able to give what I think are fair decisions by the ordinary method of verification.

I do not know that I should go into the cases that have been mentioned one after another, but I think I should give another example. In a case mentioned by Deputy McLaughlin, he named the applicant as Michael Kerrigan. Does the Deputy know that in response to a request by him in January, 1962, an application form was sent to that man and that we did not receive the application back until 7th March, 1963? We are not responsible for the 15 months' delay and it is most unreasonable of the Deputy to allege negligence on the part of the Department when the delay has been entirely due to the applicant or to his advisers.

It was I who got that application form sent to him by the Department. He said he had got such a gruelling during all those years when he had made a genuine attempt to supply the information sought earlier that he would not apply for this allowance again. Whether it was the special allowance or some other allowance, I do not know.

I had this case looked up and I am informed it is the first application by him for a special allowance.

He told me he would not go through it again.

I can assure the Deputy it is his first application for a special allowance.

It may have been an application for an allowance before the special allowance came in.

The application was received last month and we have already adjudged him eligible for the award of a medal. The investigation of his means is proceeding, and if he satisfies the conditions as to means and medical unfitness, the Deputy may take it this man will get a special allowance.

During 1962, 1,100 special allowances were granted and 80 were refused. These figures indicate that the adjudication is not quite as severe as many of the speeches made last evening would suggest.

Some of these allowances would be small but it is a good proportion.

I think the average is £80. It is a much higher average than in respect of service pensions. The average time taken, in dealing with a case, from receipt of the application until it is adjudicated upon, is three to four months. That cannot be regarded as excessive.

In this connection, I should deal with a matter that has been referred to by one or two speakers, the matter of reinvestigation of medals already issued. Deputy Corish spoke about it just now. Deputy O'Donnell was a little caustic about it last evening. It is probably true to say that there was not as close an investigation of entitlement to medals when no special allowance or other pecuniary advantage attached to them. We know that a very large number of people applied for them because of their personal association with the movement which may not have always been a military association. In the case of people well known to have been associated, I suppose their right to a medal was not questioned in a way that now happens. For that reason, I take it, a great many medals were issued, the award of which was not able to stand up to the strict military test.

When the special allowance became payable with the medal, a new system of investigation was ordered and in a number of these cases, the entitlement could not be sustained. For the verification of medal awards in connection with applications for special allowances, we go to the officers of the units, company and battalion officers. Usually, we do not set great store by the verification of brigade officers because we know that a brigade officer, except in respect of the company or battalion from which he graduated, could not have the precise knowledge of all the men in a brigade necessary for this purpose. We, therefore, refer applications to company and battalion officers. The delay in dealing with these cases about which there was so much complaint yesterday is almost invariably due to the failure to reply or the delay of these verifying officers in replying to those queries. As soon as we get the verification to a stage at which we can adjudicate, there is very little delay on our part from that point on. Where there is a means test or a medical test involved, we deal with it immediately.

I think that was the main burden of complaint on the Estimate—special allowances, delay in adjudicating and withdrawal of medals in certain cases of reinvestigation. I may as well inform the House again that the number of medals issued is 43,000 and fewer than 5,000 have been refused.

Deputy MacEoin asked me to say whether I had arrived at a decision in relation to a certain category of case to which I made reference when dealing with his motion last year. All I can say to him is that I have nothing further to add to that reply. I am pursuing the matter.

I do not think I can add anything either to my remarks with regard to the revocation of the two years' extension granted to certain Old IRA men in the Army. That was dealt with before I entered the Department of Defence. It would not be possible for me to reopen it.

It is only an administrative order.

What the Deputy is asking me to do is to have these two years for which, as the Deputy knows, additional retired pay was given, recognised as pensionable.

What about the increases that accrued after they retired? If they had served for the two years, they would automatically have got increases—and their pension is payable at the lower level.

The unfavourable decision, I understand, is based on the principle that you cannot regard as pensionable service that was not in fact given.

Except that in this case, their service was shortened. Normally service is not shortened arbitrarily.

But evidently there is a rigid principle that if service in fact was not given, it cannot be pensionable. That is what I have been told. It is on that rock that the Deputy's request in this matter has foundered.

There is one point with regard to revocation of medal awards which I think I ought to mention here. We have found on re-investigation that in certain cases where medals were granted under the earlier system, the applicants were only seven or eight years of age in 1921. It is quite possible that children of that tender age might have carried a message going to school or something like that. However, I doubt if it would be possible to establish medal-worthy service on the part of a child of such tender years.

If there is any question any Deputy would like me to deal with, and to which I have not referred, I will do my best to answer it. However, I think I have dealt with the problems generally which arise on this Estimate. The cases which formed the burden of the speeches were individual cases known to Deputies. If they were counted up, they would not amount to a large number. I am referring now to these cases of people who are in poor circumstances or bad health.

Where the service is in question, and has not been properly and duly verified, there is nothing the Minister for Defence can do about it. With regard to cases depending on a medical decision, if the Army Pensions Board do not give a favourable decision, there is nothing the Minister for Defence can do about that, either. He has to accept the Board's decision on medical matters.

Vote put and agreed to.