Before I reported progress last night, I referred to the fact that there are still people in this country who seem to think that if a young fellow gets into trouble, the proper thing to do is recommend him to join the Army; at least a few weeks ago I saw such a comment by somebody who should have known better. I was interrupted by the Minister who pointed out that those people were not accepted in the Army. I am well aware they are not accepted and it is an excellent thing they are not. But, if somebody in a responsible position makes a comment that a person who has been up for breaking the law should join the Army, it gives the impression that the Army will accept people of that type. I want to make it clear that as far as this House is concerned the expressed opinion is that the Army are doing the proper thing in refusing to accept any except people of good character. That is the system at the present time and that system should be continued, and should be made clear to everybody concerned.
Reference was made by Deputy MacEoin and myself to the people who served both in the Congo and in Cyprus and there is one point I should like to draw to the Minister's attention. Perhaps he is unaware of it. When many of these people return to this country, they have reached the stage at which they can retire and they leave the Army. I am reliably informed that quite a number of people have found it impossible to obtain civilian employment. Some of them I know of were in very bad straits and usually such people finish up in England, perhaps join the British Army, and are lost to this country. That is a shocking state of affairs.
When people who have given such excellent service to the Army leave the Army, every effort should be made to find employment for them. I know of one person who tramped around from barracks to barracks trying to get an ordinary labouring job with the Board of Works, and although he was a fine young man capable of doing a good day's work, he could not get a job. Although there were vacancies, there was no vacancy for him. It is too bad that that situation should be allowed to continue. We have a further responsibility to these men after they leave the Army.
The strength of the Army and the question of recruitment come under review on this Estimate. The matter, to my mind, is not being faced up to in the way it should be. For instance, the figures for the Army strength last year were 11,666 all ranks but the Minister has not told us what the strength of the regular Army is today. He knows that the strength is very much below that figure and a significant thing was that we got the figures of what this strength would be, if at full strength, and what the cost would be, but as soon as we came to deal with the actual cost, the figures for the strength of the Army were dropped. Obviously there was some reason for that and the Minister should come straight out and tell us the position. We would all like to give him every possible assistance to bring the Army up to strength but there are half a dozen different reasons which caused the Army to reach its present level.
One of the chief reasons is the question of pay. It cannot be stressed too much that it is unreasonable to expect young men to embark on a career in the Army when they know the rate of pay they will receive will be very much lower than what they could earn even as labourers in civilian employment. It is also unreasonable to imagine that those who have been serving for a number of years—and some of them have been a very long time in the Army—should continue to be content with a rate of pay which does not make them even second-class citizens, because they cannot compete with their civilian counterparts when they leave the Army.
The Minister may consider that those are harsh words but I have a keen interest in the Defence Forces in which there are many of my former comrades and I do not believe that they are getting a fair deal. It is all right for the Minister to say that they got the ninth round but so did everybody else. One thing which was wrong with the ninth round was that the man with low wages, on a percentage increase, received very little compared with somebody very much higher up, on the same percentage.
One thing which happened last year, and the Minister must be aware of it, was that for some extraordinary reason a rumour was started about last November to the effect that there was a further increase for soldiers about to take place. Every soldier I met, no matter of what rank, was under the impression that that increase was coming. Some of them are even foolish enough to believe that it is still coming and that they will get it with retrospective effect. I do not know who started the rumour but it was a rotten, shabby trick to play and it has resulted in grave discontent among the ranks. They feel they were prevented from getting something to which they were entitled. If they are to get an increase, give it to them; if not, do not let us start the rumour high enough to make them believe it is the truth.
One thing which a man in a job likes to look forward to is a pension scheme. Civil servants, local authority employees and employees in civilian jobs are well covered in that regard and are treated decently when they retire. That is not so, however, in the Army. To begin with, a man must complete 21 years service before he is entitled to a pension. The pension he then gets is only a small pension. If he is an officer, he is all right: certain types can get a gratuity which will enable them to get a start in life but the soldier who has spent from 21 years upwards, whether as an NCO or private, will get only a small pension but no gratuity when he leaves.
The Minister can say that he gets the 90 days to which he is entitled on leaving the Army but often he does not get that. If he is fortunate enough to find employment in the State, he does not get any predischarge leave or gets it only until he takes up employment. If the soldier who is going out looks for employment, he does not get his insurance card until the 90 days predischarge leave is up. In effect, he is looking for a job for 90 days and if he is fortunate enough to get it, he draws his insurance card and the State feels it has no further responsibility.
The private gets a very small pension but if we come up as high as a company quartermaster sergeant who has, say, 21 years service, then his basic pension is £2.17.9. a week. The contributory old age pensioner gets almost that now. Is there any use talking about treating people fairly when you have this sort of thing going on? If the man is going to stay on after 21 years, his commanding officer must OK him. He may be as satisfactory as could be but if the commanding officer does not OK him, for one reason or another, out he goes. If the commanding officer decides to OK his employment in the Army for a further two years, then he gets one shilling per year of service. After two years service he gets a further shilling per year of service up to a maximum of ten years, which adds to his £2.17.9d. another 10/-. Glory be to God, if he is a married man, the Army certainly looks after him. He gets a married pension of 18/11d per week.
With whom do the Army authorities or the Department of Defence think they are dealing? Those men have given responsible service, there is no doubt about that. I have deliberately chosen this particular rank because there are, I understand, 120 of them employed on FCA training at the present time. They are responsible not alone for a tremendous amount of gear belonging to the Army and the FCA but they are also responsible for the safekeeping of this property. How are they treated when they leave the Army? They get this money, £2.17.9d. plus 10/-, if they are a further ten years over 21 years there. If they are married they get 18/11 extra, a total of £4 6s. 8d. pension.
Some of those people joined the Army at the beginning and have had over 40 years service. When they are retiring, this is what they get. There is no point in saying they can get another job because one of the most frustrating things for any ex-soldier is his inability, if he has been over 20 years in the Army, no matter what his age is, to find suitable civilian employment. The young fellow who does a few years may have some chance but the man who has stayed 21 years not alone cannot get suitable employment but cannot get any employment unless he is very lucky and gets somebody to pull strings for him. The belief is, because he has spent over 20 years in the Army, he would not know how to do anything else. He is just paid off by the Army with a few shillings, and pence for the children. There is no point in the Minister saying those are regulations which have been laid down and we are carrying them out. If the Minister were big enough to acknowledge that this is wrong and that something should be done about it, he would get the support of every Deputy.
The State in order to help soldiers with long service should give them a start by granting them a gratuity. It would not break the country. It would not break the Vote of over £10 million for the Department of Defence to give them a gratuity of £400-£500. When such schemes are suggested, the Government's attitude is to ask where the money is to come from and whether the Opposition can say where it can be found. I should like to remind the Minister that before the last war the Army estimate was very small. Overnight, when war was declared, there was absolutely no difficulty at all in finding the tremendous finance required. Nobody objected because it was needed. I suggest it is needed now and if the Department of Defence are really serious about the Army, they must give them more than they are getting. As serving soldiers, they should be treated decently when they are leaving the Army. It would be an encouragement for young men who have an inclination to join the Defence Forces, if they knew they would be treated properly both in the Army and when they were leaving it.
There are a number of things I should like to refer to in connection with the Army. In the Minister's speech on the Estimate less than one page was devoted to the Army. I was rather surprised. It made me wonder why. Perhaps, the Minister deliberately spoke about other things in his opening address but most certainly he was very sparing in his reference to the regular Army. We have got, according to the Minister, quite a substantial number of people in the FCA. I do not think the Minister is right there. While there are a number of dedicated people in the FCA who are doing everything they possibly can to keep the work going, I believe the attraction for the youth to join the force is waning. That should not be so. I believe the main reason is the way the FCA are being treated. The whole approach is wrong. A very definite effort should be made to improve the position.
I want to refer to the uniforms. The Army uniform was improved last year but if I had any say in regard to the selection of the uniform, I would not have selected either the type or the cut of material used in the Army or FCA uniform. The FCA uniform is baggy. Everybody knows the young people in this country—leaving out the teddy boys—take pride in their attire. It is certainly no attraction to them to have to wear the type of uniform supplied to the FCA and the Army and be required to walk through the cities and towns of this country.
Apropos dress, I understand that an order was issued recently. It is the most ridiculous one I ever heard. Everybody admits the present walking out dress of the Irish Army officer is a very smart one. It looks well and if they go to the trouble of dressing properly, it is very impressive. I understand that a direction was recently issued requiring officers attending civilian functions to wear full dress uniform. The full ceremonial Irish Army attire for officers is a blue uniform with red stripes. It is a shocking thing to suggest that this should be done and I would ask the Minister to make inquiries and find out if that is so. If it is so, somebody has made a bad mistake and it should be rectified. We know what will happen now. Officers will go in mufti and we will no longer see our smart looking officers.
The question of Civil Defence was mentioned. I do not know whether the Minister is serious or not but he has given 17,000 as being the present strength of the Civil Defence service. Does he believe that is correct? I do not. I have travelled a lot around this country and let me be quite frank about this. The only people I see interested in Civil Defence are the officials of local authorities. The main reason they are in it is that they are told they should be. If there are 17,000 people in Civil Defence in this country, perhaps the Minister will break down the figures and tell us how many there are in each county. I know how many there are in my own county and how many there are in the neighbouring counties. I would be very interested to know how the 17,000 are made up. I believe it is just, as it was described last year, a bad joke on the people of this country if they are given the impression they are there. I believe the place to talk about this matter is on the floor of the House. If the Minister is able to tell me that there are 17,000 active people in Civil Defence, I shall be the most delighted person in the House, but I am afraid he will not be able to do that.
As far as the Red Cross is concerned, they have, over the years, been doing quite a decent job. I will not refer to the political affiliations of the Red Cross, but there is one comment which has been made again and again. It has been said that if something happens anywhere in the world, the Irish Red Cross immediately step into the breach, but that they do not seem to be so anxious to do something when a minor disaster happens in this country. Maybe that is not so; maybe they do step in—I do not know—but that comment has been made both by individuals and in the public press. Perhaps the Minister can point to the activities of the Red Cross in cases of severe hardship. I should be glad to hear him. I know that a number of voluntary organisations have been doing excellent work.
The Minister referred to the training of Aer Lingus pilots in Gormanston. That is an excellent idea, but someone has to look after those pilots, and the situation is that a few men are on fatigues continuously waiting on those pilots and looking after them as if they were royalty. They are doing that work without getting an extra penny as recompense. I do not think men who join the Army to defend their country, if necessary, should be asked to act as batmen to a group of civilians. The Minister should make other arrangements, or those people should be paid for doing the work. Civilians could be brought in to do it. That type of fatigues can develop into something very like slavery. It is a situation that should not be allowed to continue. It leaves a bad odour. I am bringing it to the Minister's attention and I hope he will take the necessary steps to see that it is discontinued as quickly as possible.
Another item that merits comment is that men over a certain age cannot get promotion. I know quite a number of men who would make excellent NCOs but who, because they were a few months over the age, were told: "We know you are the right person but you cannot get promotion." In fact they were acting as unpaid NCOs. This question of sticking strictly to the letter of the regulations is overdone in the Army. The Minister relaxed a number of annoying regulations when he took office and made Army life much more bearable, but there are still some things that could be changed. If the regulations are there, they will be adhered to by those in authority. I know one man who was a couple of days over the age and could not get promotion. That is all cod, and I would ask the Minister to do something about it.
The same thing occurs in the case of men who want to rejoin. I brought to the Minister's notice the case of a sergeant who had long service. He was a marksman and an instructor in various types of weapons. He left the Army and then applied for readmission. It was found that he was one month over age and his application was held up for a couple of months, until it could be said he was a few months over the age. He was refused permission to rejoin the Army at a time when the Army were finding it impossible to get recruits. This is not the Minister's fault, but the fault of all the red tape and the green tape. In his own interest, the Minister should wipe out a lot of that sort of thing. If he does, he will be doing a good job, and he will be remembered with pleasure by members of the Defence Forces long after he has left his present office.
Deputy MacEoin referred to the housing of soldiers and to the fact that a number of local authorities will not house soldiers or ex-soldiers. I am glad to be a member of a local authority that will house either or both according to their living conditions. It does not matter if they are serving soldiers, ex-soldiers or civilians, if their housing conditions warrant it, they are rehoused. That is as it should be, but that is not the end of the story. The Minister should continue with the experiment which he referred to of building houses for members of the Defence Forces in the areas in which their permanent barracks are situated.
I live beside Gormanston Camp and I know a number of young married men whose wives live in County Dublin while they live in the camp or somewhere else in the county and they cannot get housing accommodation from the Meath local authority because they have no temporary accommodation in County Meath. I believe the onus is on the Minister to ensure that houses are made available for such people. He could build houses in such places as Drogheda, Laytown or Bettystown, where sites could be made available.
The special allowances were referred to also. The Minister tended to take pride in the fact that there has been an increase of £4. He said that the average was £20 per year. If the average is £20 per year and some people can get as much as £140 per year, the minimum must be terribly small. I do not think it right that men who have to prove that they gave service to the country when they were required, should be offered a sum like £20 a year or 8/- a week. The Minister should appreciate that people who apply for special allowances are in a certain class. They are in the class of people who feel they require some assistance or they would not demean themselves by asking the State for something.