Before I reported progress on 16th May I had dealt with some of the points made during the debate. On the following day we had the horror of the bombings in Dublin and Monaghan with considerable loss of life. Many people were seriously injured and there was considerable damage to property. Eleven days later the Executive of Northern Ireland ended and with it power sharing, at least for the time being. I shall come back to these matters before concluding.
One consequence of the bombings was that the Government decided to recall our contingent serving with the United Nations Emergency Force in the Middle East. The exceptional strain imposed on the forces at home at present on security duty made this step necessary. The Government are, however, committed to supporting the United Nations peace-keeping operations and will play their part in this important work in the future when the situation at home permits. I want to emphasise that the withdrawal of the troops is regarded as a temporary measure.
Hopefully, and we all must live hopefully, there will be some recession in the dreadful horrors around us at the moment. When that happens it would be the Government's view, desire and hope that we renew our association with the United Nations and send our troops abroad again. I want our troops to know this because the fact that they might get a chance of overseas service is a considerable incentive to young people to join the Army. It is the view of the Government that this is desirable and our association with the United Nations in this regard has been of a very satisfactory nature. We will send the troops back as soon as the unsavoury job that must be done at home is concluded.
With reference to the security force mentioned by the Taoiseach yesterday, the present thinking is that it will be operated by the Department of Justice through the local Garda stations. I would appeal to former officers and men of the Defence Forces and former members of Forsa Cosanta Áitiúil to join this security force. Security is most important in relation to our present difficult position. The numbers of people within the permanent Defence Forces and the Garda are not at present capable of producing absolute security; in fact, it is highly doubtful if absolute security is attainable. However, it would be of help if people were prepared to do watchful duties, to record numbers of cars and to see to it that movements of subversive persons are rendered more difficult by immediate reports to the relevant authorities, whether the Garda or the Army. Therefore, I would appeal to former Army officers and men and former FCA officers and men to join this new force and give of their administrative and training abilities to ensure an end to the violence.
A number of Deputies referred to accommodation in Army barracks and housing for Army personnel. Local authorities have the primary responsibility for housing and my Department's role is supplementary and is related specifically to the housing needs of the Army. Nevertheless, a good deal of attention has been given to the matter. When introducing the Estimate, I indicated that two housing schemes for married soldiers have recently been completed. I can now state that it has been decided to build an additional 50 houses for married soldiers at the Curragh Training Camp and it is hoped to have this work commenced within the next few months.
With regard to accommodation in Army barracks, it is a formidable task to provide and maintain a good modern standard of accommodation at all locations for a force that, of its nature, is subject to fluctuation. I have already given an outline of the work that is in progress in this area and perhaps the best further indication I can give of the efforts being made to tackle this problem is to point out that expenditure on Army building contracts and the provision of material for Army building works in the last financial year was considerably higher than the highest level in any year of the previous decade.
As regards building new barracks, it is a question of priority. As priority is being given to the needs in Border areas, attention at present is directed towards making progress with the provision of new accommodation in Monaghan. Deputy Meaney referred to local objections in Dundalk and Monaghan to the arrival of the Army. During the processing of the Monaghan project, my Department have been assured by local representatives that this project is welcomed in the area. I can speak for Dundalk; the measures being taken there are welcomed locally.
We are at the point when the consultants have their first work carried out and we are in a position to bring before the Government the question of the new barracks at Monaghan. That will be before the Government at one of their meetings either this week or next week. From what I have seen of the work done, I am sure it will be a fine barracks. It will redound to the credit of the Department of Defence and will satisfy serving personnel. I am sure the House will be pleased at the progress in this area.
Deputies Dowling, Bermingham and Malone mentioned married quarters and overholdings. As I have told the House on a few occasions in reply to questions and also in connection with the Estimates for my Department, the question of overholding is a thorny one. If I sign a document it will be possible to evict an unfortunate overholder and, of course, this is something I could not think of doing. However, I am divided between my responsibility to the man who is no longer serving and is occupying a soldier's quarters and the man who is presently serving and is in need of the accommodation. It is a difficult situation and it comes back eventually to the local authorities.
Some 28 overholders of married quarters at the Curragh recently applied to Kildare County Council to be considered for rehousing in a scheme of 161 new houses being built at Newbridge and four overholders applied to be considered for re-housing in a scheme of 75 houses being built in Kildare town. My Department made representations on their behalf. The houses in Kildare town have recently been allotted and I have been informed by the council that none of the overholders has been successful. I am hoping that in relation to the houses at Newbridge some of the overholders will be successful and I am making further representations to Kildare County Council in that regard.
Liaison between the county managers and the housing officers in the various county councils is most important. I would refer to a matter I mentioned in reply to questions recently, namely, that soldiers might build their own houses. A study was carried out by a young officer and the result was that 17 houses were built in Longford, 18 in Mullingar and a further scheme is proceeding at Dundalk. I should like if this were done throughout the Army but, at the same time, I am aware there was liaison between the county managers in the cases I have mentioned and there was considerable sympathy in the provision of sites. My Department could, with profit, conduct a closer liaison with county managers in this regard. We will press forward to encourage soldiers to build their own houses. They are now better paid and if they have been paying loans repayments for ten years this may be of benefit if they are transferred to another area. However, I realise it is not practical for every soldier to build his own house. Many have large families and are not in a position financially to do this. They may be in the majority and it would be necessary for the Army or the local authority to rehouse them.
I would entreat county managers and local authorities to realise that overholders are a special case, that the Defence Forces are in a special position at this time, one that is quite different from anything that pertained in the last year. From 1969 to the present there has been an increase in Army strength from 8,000 to 11,333 and this must put a strain on the soldiers. My Department will enter into closer liaison with county managers and, at the same time, we will encourage by every means possible the creation of building societies and the building of houses by soldiers themselves.
Deputy Moore raised the matter of electrical work at the married quarters for other ranks in Cathal Brugha barracks. In fact, he referred to it as the rewiring of flats; that is not exactly correct but I think I know what Deputy Moore was trying to discuss. The position is that the work is being done to facilitate bringing in a direct supply to the quarters by the ESB. The work within the quarters is virtually completed but a new substation must be erected and main supply cables laid before the board can take over the occupants of the quarters as direct consumers. The work is being pressed forward in co-operation with the board in order to give improved supply both to the barracks proper and to the married quarters. I can assure Deputy Moore I will press forward with that as much as possible.
Deputy Meaney and others raised the question of various lands. Before I discuss the questions they raised, I should like to generalise a little on the position with regard to Army property. When I became Minister for Defence I found that the Department owned vast quantities of property, both lands and buildings, which I did not realise they owned. One of the things that has activated me since I took office has been dealing with these properties. There is one very large one that has to be dealt with, and I suppose you cannot say that, up to the present, there is much to be seen of what we have been doing. However, generally speaking, I would like to suggest to the House that the property should not be dealt with piecemeal. It should be looked on as a policy matter and always on the basis that you must accommodate your people in the Army and provide them with the opportunities and facilities for training that are proper to them.
That entails a change, the selling of property and the purchase of property. That is a policy matter and it should be dealt with in that manner. Certainly what should not happen is that just because some other agency, private individuals or even a Department of State or a local authority, lay their eye on something which seems to them not to be in full use, it should be parcelled off, on the grounds that they think their need is greater. Let us realise that there could be such a thing as mobilisation. Let us realise that there was a time during the emergency when there were four or five times as many people in the Defence Forces as there are at present. Therefore, accommodation for training and so on cannot be lightly disposed of. I want to lay it on the line that the Department of Defence policy and my policy is to deal with property in a manner which is proper and right for the Department of Defence and not to deviate. Deviation means dealing in bits and pieces, and bits and pieces are no good to anybody.
That is not to criticise Deputy Meaney or others in regard to matters raised by them. The first question about Army property was raised by Deputy Meaney in regard to accommodation on the Border. The House should be made aware that the nearest barracks to the Border in occupancy a few short years ago were Longford. Mullingar and, although not always fully occupied certainly occupied as a summer camp, Gormanston. That meant that anybody doing duty on the Border had many miles to travel, wasteful of time, effort and equipment. Since that time we have acquired a good property, a closed vocational school, at Manorhamilton, where we can accommodate a company of soldiers. We have acquired an old school in Lifford and in the words of the Commanding Officer of the Western Command, it will be the nicest little post in the Army when it is finished. That is giving accommodation on the Border, too. We have also leased at Cootehill a property from religious who now have not got people to occupy that property, and that accommodation is satisfactory. There is a post at Castleblayney which is based on the enlargement of an FCA hall. As the House knows, we are dealing with Dundalk and Monaghan. There is a barracks at Cavan which is most unsatisfactory, and I am sorry to have to keep soldiers in it, but the exigencies of the present time make it necessary. My desire would be to try to move on from the time of Queen Anne which is the period, I am told, when that barracks was built.
The sale of 260 acres at Ballincollig Barracks to Cork County Council has been completed and the purchase money has been paid. The money will be credited to the subhead for Appropriations-in-Aid for the Department's Estimate for 1974. Appropriations-in-Aid are not, as was suggested in the debate, earmarked for any specific purposes. Therefore it is a question for Government or ministerial decision how that money will be spent.
I have dealt in a general way with the question of properties available for sale. The last general review of properties administered by this Department took place a few years ago. Subsequently the Department disposed of nearly 450 acres of land in various parts of the country. About 305 acres of that total were sold to local authorities for housing and other purposes. Properties which are found to be surplus to Army requirements are offered to other Government Departments first to ascertain if they are required for other State purposes. Should such properties not be required for these purposes my Department would favourably consider disposing of them to local authorities for housing and other local needs—with the overall consideration that there is a need for an Army and that, as far as the Department of Defence and this Minister are concerned, the Army comes first and will always come first as long as I am here.
Again we regret that overholders did not get consideration in relation to one particular housing scheme. However, local authorities have been facilitated by the Department of Defence to the tune of several houses for which sites have been allotted. I hope, therefore, all this will not be on one side and that there will be a return from the local authorities.
Deputy Taylor dealt with the question of property at the Curragh which is not required and should be disposed of. A study of the administration, rehabilitation and productivity of the Curragh lands is in progress. In the course of that study the extent of military requirements at the Curragh will be examined. At present a civil servant is doing a thesis on this for his doctorate and we in the Department of Defence are helping him. It is a most difficult position. There are three groups interested in Curragh lands for their own purposes. First of all, there is the military. Of course, the Department of Defence own the Curragh and they have first right there. There must be a training camp, a military college, and all these facilities that will bring us to the stage where we really have an Army.
Then traditionally the Curragh has been used by racehorse trainers for gallops and exercise. That again is most important to our economy, and the military have always tried to facilitate these people as much as possible. Since I became Minister one member of the Turf Club has been designated as in charge of the Curragh and I have been working closely with him. One of the problems there is that everybody wants to gallop a horse on the best place and, especially when the ground starts to get soft or to get hard, the place either gets cut up or is unsuitable for training horses.
The answer to that problem is to provide, as far as possible, extra gallops and also lunging rings outside trainers' establishments. If a trainer sees the ground too wet and wants to exercise a horse that he is to run quite soon, he can exercise it in the lunging ring at his premises. This will entail no expense to the Department of Defence and it is merely a matter of permission granted to the Turf Club to put in the sand lunging rings with the dual advantage that when there is frost the sand will not freeze or when it is wet the desire of trainers to go out and cut up the Curragh into slices by galloping horses across it will not be so great. We have been working hard on this during the last year and the Department of Defence have reached the stage of doing 80 or 90 per cent of all that has to be done. Therefore, it will be for the Turf Club to do the construction or improvement themselves with the permission of the Department of Defence. If we have more to do, then we shall do it as best we can.
The third interested parties are the sheep grazers. At the moment the situation is that the sheep grazers have rights which allow each of them to graze a given number of sheep. I am informed that the Curragh lands are of high quality but they have not had lime or fertiliser for years. There is no legislative provision at the moment by which such could be done. I would hope that when this thesis has been produced we will have a blueprint whereby, in the course of the next year or so, I might be in a position to come to this House to legislate in an endeavour to improve the Curragh, bearing in mind that the sheep herders' rights in this regard will have to be preserved.
Any sheep herder who would have the right to put out 100 or 200 sheep on lands which have not been limed or subjected to fertilisers for decades, perhaps for more than decades, might be pleased to hear that a scheme has been devised under which he could, on payment of money, or on the relinguishing of his shares or the taking up of further shares, or by what medium I know not until I have to hand the best advice I can get, by means of this system, improve his lot. I am not going to put a tooth in it: there are people on the Curragh, be they race horse trainers or sheep owners who are not angels. I would think it possible that a sheep grazer might have put 200 sheep on the Curragh when he had permission for only 100. In fact on the last count, we were somewhat horrified. At the same time, all trainers do not gallop where they are meant to gallop; all trainers do not obey the Turf Club; they are not all angels either. But I am the jam in the sandwich. It is a two-layer sandwich; you have the bottom layer which is, I suppose the sheep herders and then you have the racehorse trainers with the Department on top.
I will try to do my best between them all. But, when we have this appraisal which has been commissioned and have had an opportunity of really examining it—say, by this day 12 months—I may have to come to the House and do things which may bear criticism. One cannot make omelettes without breaking eggs and I am ready to bear that criticism as long as I can be convinced that it is for the good of all parties. We must wait and see. One of the things that might happen is that, when the appraisal has been fully considered, we might find ourselves unable to do anything. But I do not think such will be the case. A deep appraisal of the situation in the Curragh has not been carried out heretofore and I think that this one will bear some fruit.
Deputy Cronin raised a point about Dublin properties which would be of considerable commercial value or be useful to local authorities for housing. I mentioned the question of Cathal Brugha Barracks on the last Estimate. There is a project afoot that there should be a new barracks outside Dublin and that Cathal Brugha barracks should be disposed of. I want to repeat that it is my conviction that in regard to an area of 47 acres in the centre of Dublin city the people of Dublin will express strong views on how it should be dealt with. I do not think the Minister for Local Defence, the Minister for Local Government, the Minister for Finance or anybody else will get a full say in this regard. Without criticism of anybody, I think we are all agreed that some of the new properties or housing in Dublin have fallen foul of justifiable criticism and the manner of development of our city has not been to everybody's liking. I think that this only real slice left of Dublin city, which can be dealt with properly, should be dealt with properly. I would hope that the people of Dublin would take a very great interest in it. It is conceivable and probable that, at a point in time, it would leave my jurisdiction and move to that of another Minister or Ministers. At that point I hope the very deepest concern will be shown by the people of Dublin, that this very large slice of Dublin city—I can think of only two other slices of the same sort of size; one is Guinness's Brewery and the other is the Royal Dublin Society grounds in Ballsbridge, but neither of those is available; this is the only one—will be dealt with properly for the people of Ireland, the people of Dublin. At the moment the position is that we will soon hold a meeting of the Council of Defence in relation to the first papers that can be put before them in respect of Cathal Brugha barracks. Certain investigations had to take place and these papers have taken some time to prepare. I hope that, before another month will have passed, we will have had our initial meeting and, perhaps, will have decided on the site for the new barracks. That would be the first main decision of this meeting of the Council of Defence. I am convening this meeting because I regard this matter as of the utmost importance. I hope that we shall be ready to hold it in about a fortnight's time. I would have had it long ago, were we ready to act, but these things take time.
Deputy G. Fitzgerald raised the possibility of transferring the headquarters in Cork to a new barracks, sited possibly in Ballincolling. The transfer of Southern Command headquarters from Cork to Ballincollig would involve the erection of a substantial number of buildings in Ballincollig. This would require considerable expenditure which would not be justified in present circumstances. My view is that it is low on the priority list.
Certainly over the next decade we will see a movement of barracks out of cities. The fact that in cities in times of terrible uprisings, of huge fires, or anything of that type, traffic gets jammed, leads one, from a military point of view, to site one's barracks within ten or 15 miles of a city. But I would think that would receive low priority in the face of all we have to do elsewhere. I might say that Collins Barracks is one of the nicest barracks I have been in, an excellent barracks is one of the pleasant place as well with, of course, the disbility that any barracks sited in the centre of a city at the moment is not an ideal barracks.
Deputy G. Fitzgerald asked also about plans for the Department's property at Crosshaven and whether this was available for other purposes. This has been examined and I think everything is satisfactory there. Over 45 acres held at Fort Camden, at Crosshaven, are used extensively by the FCA and Slua Muirí for training purposes. Permission has been granted to Crosshaven GAA club to use approximately three and a half acres of these lands as a playing pitch on a year-to-year basis. The use of the area will be subject to military requirements. This is the normal basis for the giving of army lands for playing pitches and it has worked satisfactorily for all parties. Deputy G. Fitzgerald also raised the question of the use of lands at Ballincollig by the Ballincollig Hurling and Football Club. This club has the use of approximately ten acres of those lands since the 1st May, 1951, subject to military use of the area, for military purposes and exercises. This arrangement also has worked satisfactorily for all concerned.
I have dealt with the position of housing needs in Dundalk. As I have now received the first valuations and papers from the consultant architects and engineers, I hope that Dundalk will follow quickly because they were appointed at the same time as Monaghan.
Deputy Malone raised the question of the dual carriageway through the Curragh lands. The position there is that discussions took place last year between officers of my Department and of Kildare County Council regarding the construction of a dual carriageway through the Curragh lands. Subsequently, the council indicated that they were not proceeding with the building of a dual carriageway but intended, instead, to investigate the building of a motorway through the Curragh lands. Discussion was held on this matter, at which the Department of Local Government were represented also, and further discussions are intended.
Deputy Cronin then raised the question of lands at Kilworth Camp and the possibility of making them available to the Agricultural Institute, or the handing over of them to that institute. I said: "Never; you cannot hand over lands in this way." Since then, I have examined the situation and, subject to military requirements and to the handing back of them at any time, on any notice, it may be possible—we are not quite at the point of being able to offer a lease—and the House may take it that very probably it will be possible to make available 140 acres of land to the Agricultural Institute. I saw these lands the other day and they would be most suitable for them. But I want to emphasise again that the handing over of lands piecemeal by a Department of State is not proper policy and that those lands, if given to the Agricultural Institute, will be intended for retrieval at any point in time.
Questions were raised by several Deputies of whether or not there was a reduction in the amount voted for general stores. Such is not so. The position is that one cannot buy military equipment as one buys a packet of cigarettes. It takes a long time to acquire military equipment. The experience has been that most military equipment ordered is delivered in the last three months of the financial year. I cannot bring to this House fallacious figures. If it is a fact that, because of the nine months' year this year instead of 12 months, a lot of the goods ordered will not be delivered and, therefore, not paid for until outside the financial year then I suppose the people of Ireland and the House would be extremely happy that I would not have to come for as much money. But it may be taken that the increase, on a 12 months' basis, is of the order of 25 per cent and it is merely a question of timing of delivery. A deposit was paid on jet aircraft in 1973-74. This year's Estimate includes provision for a further payment, with the balance being provided later.
I come now to the question of the new fisheries protection vessel. I hope the keel of this will be laid down this year and that the vessel will be built in Ireland but, until firm prices and delivery terms have been obtained and evaluated, I cannot state accurately when the vessel will be in commission. While I have an open mind on the number of vessels needed to patrol our territorial waters in the future, the building of a new vessel is a significant step, a clear indication of the importance I attach to the Naval Service. With the secretary of my Department, I conducted an examination on what was our position. In opening the debate I informed the House roughly of what it was, that there would very probably be a large increase in the area of sea to be covered. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the exact number of protection vessels or thing type of protection vessles one thing was quite clear and that was that you could not go wrong by ordering a duplicate of the vessel "Deirdre". "Deirdre" has been highly successful. She can do up to 18 or 19 knots. She is, capability for capability, by long odds the cheapest thing that can be bought in the world today. At the present moment a minesweeper, I am informed, runs to about £4 million and this, of course, is quite ridiculous. There are no old ships from the 1939-45 war that are practical to buy at present and as far as value for money was concerned it was quite clear, on the advice of Captain Kavanagh of the Naval Service and all the appraisal we could get on it, that this was the best buy. That is why we are building another one. The discussion on whether there should be five, six, seven, three, four, eight or any number, can go on but one thing is certain and that is that there should be another one built in Ireland this year.
I hope to see the jet aircraft arriving quite soon, not all of them immediately but I hope we will see one during the autumn and after that jet training can proceed. This is important. I have indicated before the importance of feeding Aer Lingus with persons who have given perhaps nine years or more of their lives to the Air Corps. There will, therefore, be a number of technical staff, in Aer Lingus, who will have been trained here and will be entirely racy of the soil itself.
I now come to the question of the sail training ship. When the Minister for Finance was advised that the life of the "Asgard" was possibly another five or six years and that at the end of its period coasting would be the proper work for it, the Government were faced with a decision as to whether they should discontinue the service that was provided for the training of 200 or 300 young people a year or whether they should continue it. The Government, I think wisely, decided that it should be continued and the building of the sail training vessel was handed over to me as Minister for Defence. A designer was commissioned to design the vessel and a committee was formed. The "Asgard" committee continued and, indeed, I should like to record my sadness at the death of the chairman of that committee, whose funeral I attended yesterday, the late Mr. Frank Lemass. Mr. Lemass conducted the affairs of the "Asgard" with consummate skill. Everything was done in his office. The Office of Public Works just got the bills and everything was then examined. The "Asgard" was run in a most businesslike way. We are all sorry to lose him. He acted also, of course, on the committee. I took the entire "Asgard" committee that had been appointed by the previous Minister for Finance on to the committee for the new sail training ship. I am glad to say that I have with me here in the House the specification for the new ship and the line drawings and final detailed drawings were delivered to my Department about two days ago. She is designed by Jack Tyrell of Arklow and now the designs and the specification must undergo the examination of the committee. I am advised that some of those people are on holiday and that in order to give them time to examine these very detailed plans and specifications the right thing to do is to have a meeting to consider it round about the 20th to 30th July. That I will do and then we will be in a position to send out tenders.
We have initially inquired how many Irish yards would be prepared to tender for the building of this vessel. The position is that four yards are prepared to tender. We would have hoped to have this vessel in time for the tall ships race in 1976 which would be a great fillip for our sail training. It is just a question of whether or not we will succeed. If we do not, it will not be for want of trying but it may be that when we get the time of building back from the various tenderers we will decide that we just cannot make it.
The new vessel will be different from the "Asgard" in as much as being so much bigger she will be in the water perhaps for a whole year, perhaps not, but she will be in commission for a far longer period of the year. She will be in commission during school terms. I hope that members of An Slua Muirí will at those times be released from their employment if they are in employment and I would ask employers to do this. I hope to see crews of An Slua Muirí receiving sail training on this vessel.
The capability will be quite large because it varies at the moment between 18 and 20 trainees. Therefore, every ten days for about eight months of the year we can put 20 through our hands. I would hope also to see serving soldiers having sail training. It is in the Department of Defence now. It is their vessel and I hope to see them getting their sail training and enjoying it whenever the duties they have to perform allow it. That is going well. I feel that generally speaking for an island nation it is the least we can do and it is long overdue.
The question of dealing with the "Asgard" is one that I will look at in a most detailed way. The "Asgard" should certainly never be broken up. The previous head of the Naval Service, Commodore Tom McKenna, recommended at the time of the commissioning of the "Asgard" that the "Asgard" should be taken out and put on plints at Howth. Perhaps it would have been wiser at the time to have taken Commodore McKenna's advice and to have done that and built a sail training vessel but such was not done so we now find ourselves with the "Asgard" with possibly three or four years of its life to run and then a proper decision on something that the State should keep and keep well will have to be made.
Deputy Hegarty raised the question of smaller vessels for fishery protection. There is a possibility that on our next purchase we might be changing from the prototype, the "Deirdre". That is something I cannot say at the moment because I am not fully advised but I would say to Deputy Hegarty and the House that the "Deirdre" is highly satisfactory.
Deputy Hegarty also raised the question of the purchase of twinengined helicopters. I raised this question myself shortly after coming into office because the Alouettes do not fly after dark. I was assured by Colonel Paddy Swan, the then head of the Air Corps, that from the point of view of picking up people for hospital this was not a great disability and that the hours of darkness very rarely had any great effect, that in their training they do, in fact, fly after dark and they could go out in the dusk and come in in the dusk and that sort of thing and that he would prefer —and that was the basis on which we bought the last two Alouettes—more Alouettes than more expensive helicopters in lesser numbers.
We have now reached the stage where we have to evaluate whether or not we need a different type of helicopter. It would, I suppose, be 1976 before any change could occur because these stores are not bought off the shelf. The disabilities of the helicopters are matched by very fine capabilities. I am told that the British are quite envious of us because we have the French Alouettes. However, we will now have oil rigs off Cork and we have larger areas of sea to cover for fishery protection. Helicopters are not suitable for fishery protection and the new "Deirdre" will not have a helicopter pad on the advice of the Captain of the Naval Service. At the same time, the Alouette does not go out of sight of land. The Alouette is equipped with a gyroscopic compass and an ordinary magnetic compass and nothing else. The Alouette is navigationally a very simple type of aircraft. It has not got radar, decca or various other things. There is a proposal at present that we might equip one of them with decca but every time more equipment is loaded on to a helicopter like the Alouette its carrying capabilities are lowered. The examination of twoengine helicopters and helicopters of greater capability is something that will have to be proceeded with and I shall do so but I do not see any change before 1976. I still take Colonel Swan's point, not for further purchases, but for the purchase we made, that he would prefer to have a greater number of Alouettes than a lesser number of very much more expensive helicopters.
Deputy Coughlan referred to An Slua Muirí. I am informed that the strength of An Slua Muirí in Limerick city has increased by 25 per cent over the last four years. In addition to the training carried out on one night each week An Slua Muirí personnel are encouraged to undergo annual training for a few weeks in Cork Harbour where the Naval Service facilities are made available to them, including professional instruction, and naval vessels, where possible. They are also encouraged to participate in organised weekend training on frequent occasions during the year. Further, Slua Muirí personnel are encouraged to undergo courses of instruction for two or three weeks at naval base which, when practicable, include some speed going in naval vessels. While steps have been taken towards procuring a seagoing vessel for An Slua Muirí the suggestion to use An Slua in special vessels for fishery protection duties is considered impracticable.
I think that is so because fishery protection involves a pretty tough operation. In my own constituency I was given word that there was poaching off Clogher Head. I informed the Captain of the Naval Service and a ship left Cork and chased two vessels off our area about 24 hours later. That sort of thing meant belting around Carnsore Point and up the Irish Sea as hard as they could go but it is the sort of thing that has to be done by people on fishery protection. I am glad to see that the minesweepers and the "Deirdre" are doing their very best.
I now come to the question of equitation. When introducing this Estimate I dealt with certain rumours and a discussion in relation to a horse that was owned by a member of the family of a Member of this House. There were all sorts of suggestions in relation to this horse. Since I become involved in the question of equitation, the rejuvenation of the Army jumping team, which was at a very low ebb, and the purchase of horses, I have found—I mean this in no carping way—that the gossip that goes on about horses that are sold is worse than the gossip that goes on about ladies' hats. You cannot look at a horse but there is gossip, rumours about all sorts of vast sums of money, and all sorts of rumours that the thing has only three legs. This at first sight might seem to be of no consequence but it is of very serious consequence for the sellers of the horses. If there is a rumour about a horse away up in the high price bracket that can effect the sale of the horse.
Our veterinary surgeons do the job for us and we know privately what the situation is. The private buyer and the buyer from overseas hear this rumour floating around. Either the rumours of high prices or those about any physical defect are most undesirable. I do not intend, under any circumstances, to discuss with the Press any particular detail of any purchase at any time. Purveyors of horses to the Army jumping team may realise that any of their discustions, whether they reach fruition in the sale of horses or not, will be entirely confidential. There is no question at all of any outside agency knowing anything about it. That is the only way we can proceed and it will remove a disability that would be there even for our purchasing team. If the people selling horses think that if they come to us the next thing will be that somebody will know about it that is bad for us. I want it to be quite clear that I will not mention anything at all about any particular horse, any views about him, where he went or where he was sold. I want to say from the point of view of the sellers, and from our point of view, it is most desirable that absolute secrecy be preserved. I did not realise it but when you get into horse dealing and big money there is more gossip about horses than there is about ladies' hats.
Deputy Fitzgerald raised the question about co-operation with Bord na gCapall. I want to tell the Deputy that there is the utmost co-operation with Bord na gCapall. About four mornings a week I see Bord na gCapall horses leaving McKee Barracks. I call to the Deputy's attention a horse named Wet Water Lily and a young man called Kevin Barry. He is not an Army officer. He is a rider with Bord na gCapall. He operates from McKee Barracks along with the officers who are in the equitation school and he rides Bord na gCapall horses there. If it suited us to win we would put Kevin Barry up on an Army horse just as Bord na gCapall would put an Army man up on their horse if it suited as well. There is the utmost co-operation and we are trying as best we can to put Ireland back on the equitation map.
Let the Deputies not think that is just window dressing. It is more than that. It is the only advertising we can possibly think of for the Irish horse apart from racing. The position is that the Irish horse cannot be advertised as one would advertise petrol, watches or any of these things. You can have a good jumping team. In my view it would be very difficult to produce a good jumping team this year. Building up takes years. We will do our best and while I am not very happy that we will do very well this year, because we have not been as successful in purchasing show jumpers as we have been in purchasing three-day eventers, I can see a fine improvement and our co-operation with Bord na gCapall will continue.
I am very interested in this particular practice. As I said, I am out at McKee Barracks four mornings a week. I am convinced, having looked at this place in detail, that if Bord na gCapall were to set out with a carte blanche situation and money it would be six or seven years before they could produce the same facilities that are available in McKee Barracks. There are 30 rooms there, skilled men, who spend all their lives in this environment, who have travelled the whole Continent with Irish horses and put them to jump and do the best for the country. You do not find those fellows growing on bushes and money will not buy them. From that point of view I am convinced, even from the personnel situation, Bord na gCapall on their own would not be able to provide what the Department of Defence can provide for them for some years to come. Bord na gCapall must expand spectacularly and they must get to the stage where they can provide all those services. In the short term there is no doubt that these services must be provided by the Army to help them. I want to assure the House that the Government, the Taoiseach, the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries and myself, do not care who is on the horse. We want Irish horses to win and it is in regard to that we are trying to do our best.
We have horses on loan from Bord na gCapall to the Department of Defence. The two bodies share the services of the same trainer, Mr. Eric Bubbel, who is most satisfactory. I am not too hopeful of a great showing for the Aga Khan Trophy this year because, as I said, we have not been as successful in the purchase of show jumpers as we have been in regard to the three-day eventers. If they all stay sound I am very hopeful that we will do well in the world championship three-day event at Burleigh in September. Our success in Punchestown and our successes at the start of the season show that we have the material and we have the men. If the horses stay sound we will do well. It will be a great advertisement for the Irish horses if such occurs.
Deputy Bermingham mentioned the question of making available Army sports facilities, including gymnasia, to outside bodies. We do that but at the same time we want to keep our facilities for ourselves and there are security problems as well. We will facilitate everybody, particularly in relation to football pitches, that we can. I have already instanced the manner in which we do it. Two examples in Deputy Bermingham's constituency since I took office were at the Athgarvan Gaelic football club. I had complaints that they had a pitch which was just maked out, that it was being cut up by Army vehicles and all that sort of thing. I went down to the Curragh myself and had a look at it and it did seem as if they had problems. We got our lands officer on the job and I am glad to say we got them an excellent football pitch and the people in the village of Athgarvan are delighted with it and it will be a great help to the young boys and girls who will use it.
We have not reached fruition yet where the Newbridge Soccer Club is concerned but I believe we will do a good job on that. We may not give away land but where we can provide facilities for young people we will do so and we will do it with a heart and a half. I have not yet met any Army officer, particularly the Director of Training, who is not of that mind.
Deputy Tunney complained about the Army athletic grounds in the Phoenix Park. The ground itself is all right. Deputy Tunney mentioned a building which he said was not of the very best. This is held under licence from the Office of Public Works by the Army Athletic Association and it is usually controlled by the Officer Commanding the Eastern Command. The grounds are used by the Army for recreational purposes. The building is not satisfactory, but that is a problem for the Board of Works and I have raised the matter with the Board of Works.
Deputy Cronin and Deputy G. Fitzgerald raised the question of Easter parades and the fact that there was no participation by the Army in these parades. There was no Easter parade this year and the Deputies should be aware that the Government decided this year that St. Patrick's Day should be celebrated as a day of national commemoration, a day on which all who died for Ireland and all victims of civil strife in Ireland are remembered and, as a corollary to that decision, the State did not participate in Easter ceremonies this year. That was a very wise decision. We saw last Sunday cases of assault in Dublin on people who were returning from Bodenstown. I am sure the patriot was turning in his grave at such behaviour. We are great people for wrapping the green flag around us. It is not our job to wrap the green flag around us. It is our job to stand and salute the flag, see what we can do for it in a quiet and proper way and not trail our coats or make political use of such an occasion, and political use is being made of such occasions but, thanks be to God, this Government has decided not to do so. Last Sunday I was returning from the Curragh and I suddenly found myself caught up in a procession leaving Sallins. I left very quickly, I may say, and went on somewhere else, but if I ever saw anything being used for a political purpose that was it. This Government stands by a decent State, a democratic Parliament and absolute determination that no group of subversives will take from the people what they are entitled to by the power of the ballot box.
Deputy Coughlan mentioned the question of FCA recruitment. This is a continuing process. We lose a number of young men who come in for a year, get fed up and go out again. This is quite expensive because their equipment and training costs a good deal. At the same time we get quite a lot of benefit from the FCA. In the last three months I have got the commanding officers in the various areas to contact members of the FCA and I have had an inquiry conducted to find out how many members of the FCA would be available to come up for full-time duty. I am glad to say 448 said yes. Possibly that number will decrease because of family commitments and so on but, at the same time, we had these 448 members of the FCA whose desire it was to come in and help us in our dreadful dilemma of trying to do a security job. In my own constituency, I am glad to say, recruitment is going well. The effective strength of the FCA on the 30th April was 16,419, comprising 669 officers, 2,809 non-commissioned officers and 12,741 privates. This figure is regarded as satisfactory by the military authorities.
Deputy Nolan raised the question of having boys who had completed their intermediate or group certificate recruited to the FCA to undergo whole-time training between June and September, the object being to build up a first-class defence force with attendant benefits from the point of view of discipline, hygiene and comradeship. That would entail quite a substantial reduction in the lower age limit, which is at present 17 years for enlistment to the FCA. I have had from officers of the FCA a similar request in their anxiety to try to keep their numbers up. It has been suggested they should take in 16-year-olds and it has also been suggested that some 16-year-olds have got in. Perhaps they have. I do not know. The best military appraisal of the situation is that, if you are going to put a young man out with a gun and he could find himself on barrack duty this is a responsibility which requires an age of 17 years and I think that decision is correct. We would wish, of course, to let everyone go to Finner Camp for a lovely holiday at 16 years of age and get a bit of target practice there. Let us face it; ours is not a toy army and the times in which we live do not allow us to look at these things very lightly. I am not enamoured of the idea of 16-year-olds carrying weapons and I do not favour any change in the lower age limit.
I would ask Deputies to try to get all the 17-year-olds they can in because it is most important that we should have a good FCA force. I am at the moment conducting an inquiry, the results of which I hope to have quite soon, into how many among the FCA as well as the men who have offered to give part-time service could come in for longer part-time service. At the moment they come in to do light barrack duty and release soldiers for checkpoints and patrols on the Border as well as the protection of vital installations in other parts of the country. If we could extend that and if there were people who could come in for, perhaps, three months of the year that would mean we could free one quarter of members of the Defence Forces.
This is being fully investigated. It is a long detailed business. One could do various things, such as calling up the Reserve and the FCA, but this is really not practicable because the number of recruits in training among them would mean that training would have to be carried out and, at the same time, calling them up would seriously hinder the security duties of the Permanent Defence Forces. However, if it is possible to get a larger number who can give three months, with the acquiescence of their employers, they will be taken in. That investigation is proceeding.
Deputy Taylor raised the question of uniforms. Uniforms for the Army and the FCA were some time ago a great bone of contention. There was mention of cloth known as bull's wool. I am glad to say it has disappeared and the quality provided now for FCA uniforms is the same quality as that provided for the Permanent Defence Forces. It is a good cloth. Of course FCA uniforms are not worn as frequently as they are in the case of the Permanent Defence Forces and they do not, therefore, wear out so quickly. We must wait until we get to the point at which it will be proper to issue to all the FCA these new uniforms. At the moment a great number of the FCA have had a change of uniform.
The question of resettlement and technical training was raised by Deputy Coughlan, Deputy Malone and Deputy Dowling. Here I find myself in a tugof-war. It is not for any lack of desire on our part that resettlement services and training for members of the Defence Forces are not at full strength. If everything were peaceful a very much greater number of the Permanent Defence Forces could be retrained for resettlement. I am torn between the necessity to keep these men on their soldierly duties of helping the gardaí and so on and, at the same time, the desire in their last years of service to retrain them for emergencies in the outside world. One cannot provide everything.
I would be dishonest if I did not tell the House that, if a soldier is doing a soldier's duties on the Border, it is quite impossible to train him at the same time in welding or any other skill which would be of help to him when he came out. I am restricted there but, to the maximum we can, we are trying to arrange training for resettlement. Arrangements exist for the attendance of Army personnel of 40 years of age and upwards with a view to their resettlement in civilian employment at courses of training in such skills as turning, grinding, milling at training centres under the control of AnCO. Due to the present heavy demands on the Defence Forces it has not been found possible to release any men to attend such courses in recent years.
Another matter of great contention is the question of driving licences. An Army driver of a heavy truck who has not got a driving licence outside the Army must do a driving test. I have raised that with the Minister for Local Government and I do not know at this point in time what the result will be. It seems to be a bit ridiculous that a man who has spent ten or 15 years of his life driving heavy vehicles, with full rights on the road, should find himself when he leaves the Army in the position of having to do a driving test. Apart from anything else, this takes time and, perhaps, causes a little worry.
The enlistment of young offenders was mentioned by Deputy Tunney, Deputy Callanan and Deputy Coughlan. Here, again, we are torn between a desire to be decent to a young man who has gone a little wrong, and a desire to maintain a high standard in the Defence Forces. You must face the fact that if I take a man into the Defence Forces he will probably be billeted with 19 other people. I slept in dormatories myself when dormatories were not as sumptuous as they are now, and I can tell the House that, apart from the person who snores, there is the person whose habits are not the best and he is a nuisance in close contact.
It is only right that there should be a high standard of hygiene and behaviour and mental ability in the Defence Forces. That is not to say that we should make it an elite corps. That is not to say that the ordinary person has no place in the Defence Forces. Of course he has, and we want him. At the same time, if somebody is a petty thief and would rifle his comrade's belongings, or steal his watch, or take his few pounds, the commanding officer must think about that. I am afraid I must insist that, except in the case of very minor offences, none of these persons can be considered for service in the Defence Forces.
There was a time when judges used to say: "I will let you off if you join the Army." I said introducing my first Estimate here, and I say now, that if any judge says that I guarantee that the person will not get into the Army so long as I am Minister for Defence. I will not billet with 19 other men a man who will make life abominable for them. After the recruit comes into the Army there is a period before he finally signs. I get perhaps two or three complaints a month from parents whose boy was sent home to them. He is not sent home for nothing. As I say, there is no desire to make the Army an elite corps but we must get to the stage where the people will look up to the Army. If I want to do that I cannot take people into the Army who will redound to anything but the credit of the Army.
I have discussed this with the Adjutant General at length many times, and he has assured me that nobody is being tough about this. Any of us here who was being billeted with 19 other men would not like to have an undesirable amongst them. Soldiers live in close proximity to each other. I do not see the end of billeting for some years to come. There are places where we have cubicles and individual sleeping places but, by and large, the billet for 20 men will stay for some years to come. There is also the association of sitting at table and of working together. I cannot take undesirables into the Army and I will not.
Deputy Tunney, Deputy Dowling and Deputy Bermingham raised the question of officers' orderlies. Paragraph 37 of Defence Forces Regulations A16 provides that, if the exigencies of the service permit batmen orderlies may be allotted to officers and there is a schedule showing what the situation is. It is true that, from a democratic point of view, and from the point of view of the year 1974, it might be considered that batmen are out of date. At the same time, there are people in the Army who do not mind giving this service and who like giving it. They can always opt out. One of them said to me: "It is very easy to get out of being a batman. All you have to do is break enough plates."
There is the point that it is possible to get out of being a batman if you want to. I will watch this situation. Perhaps the appointment of new batmen could be considered. I have been making inquiries and I find that many of these men are in the last years of their service. They have grown fond of the families of the officers with whom they are billeted as batmen and they do not want to change. If a young man is given that job and does not want it, I am not suggesting that he should break plates, but I think that he is a rarity.
The question of commissions for serving soldiers was raised by Deputy Coughlan and Deputy Callanan. I want to thank them for raising this matter because the result was that I investigated it immediately. In my view, the position is not satisfactory but there is a reason for it. The training of these men takes quite a bit of time and people have to train them. There is also the fact that officers and NCOs were quite scarce when we were removing them for Border duties. We are getting over the shortage of officers. We increased the number of cadets last year and this year and we will get over that shortage quite soon. There were two schemes for the award of commissions to suitable non-commissioned officers, one in 1961-62 and the other in 1969-70. Twenty non-commissioned officers were appointed to be officers under the first scheme and 31 under the second.
One of them is well known to all of us. He was my instructor during the war when I was a company officer in the Red Cross and he was an Army sergeant instructor. He travelled the whole of Meath and Louth on a bicycle in those days. I will not mention his name. When the cadets are commissioned we will be in a better position regarding officers. We are also improving in the matter of NCOs. I hope we will be able to put a class together possibly within six or nine months. This takes people away from the Border and it takes the cream of the NCOs but they are entitled to this and they have been neglected. You must give as well as take. My statement may be taken by the Department as an indication that I want a class put together within six or nine months.
Deputy Malone and Deputy Bermingham raised the question of bandsmen, and the fact that they blocked off their own promotion. This is absolutely true. They give a marvellous service. I inquired what they got as an extra for being bandsmen. It is very little really. They got £2 extra per week but they have blocked off their promotion. I will look at this as well. It is very difficult to know what you could do. You cannot have a band with every man in it a sergeant. I will see what can be done about it. I am grateful to Deputy Malone and Deputy Bermingham for raising this matter because everything cannot be brought to the Minister's attention by the various people in the Department and, therefore, Deputies who raise these matters are a great help.
Deputy Bermingham raised the question of civilian employees. He mentioned that he had been told that the practice of advertising vacancies for these employees on a notice board at the Curragh Camp had been discontinued. I investigated that and the position is that there was a case some time ago where a labourer was put on a panel of tractor drivers without the vacancy having been advertised on the notice board. The Workers Union of Ireland made representations about this and, as a result, the Corps of Engineers authorities indicated that the normal practice would be adhered to in future. Again, I am glad of Deputy Bermingham's vigilance in this regard.
The Deputy also mentioned the question of sick pay to civilian employees and I am informed that this is invariably authorised with the minimum of delay. Because of the necessity to have sick notes or medical certificates and evidence as to social welfare entitlements it does take a little time to get these payments. We have all had these irritations in relation to social welfare benefits and in many cases where there are health situations there are delays if one does not get the doctor's certificate in time. I suppose this is the same sort of thing but we will try to speed it up as well as we can.
Deputy Bermingham also mentioned delays in the payment of pensions and lump sums to retired civilian employees under the non-contributory pension scheme. This scheme was first introduced towards the end of 1971 and was made retrospective to the 1st January, 1970. This meant that considerable arrears had to be disposed of in so far as all employees with the qualifying service who had retired between the 1st January, 1970 and the date of introduction of the scheme had to be dealt with. These arrears have now been cleared up and we do not visualise any other delays. There was a large number of people who were entitled to their money and they had to be dealt with first.
The question of search for arms and security was raised by Deputy Meaney. I do not intend to go into that in great detail because it was raised on the Adjournment and I said what I wished to say there. However, I want to say that whenever it is a fact that information reaches the Department of Defence, via the Department of Justice or any other agency, which we believe is something that necessitates a search we will go out and help the guards in that search to the utmost to our ability. I would call to the attention of the House the fact that in this security game one is playing against an opponent whose scores are all chalked up as people die from bombs in the papers but the score that I want, which is to stop them doing it, means that nothing happens and that score is never chalked up. I wish to draw the attention of the people of this country to the fact that the time the security forces of this country are succeeding is a time when nothing is happening. This game where the other fellow's scores are chalked up in horror and blood and sacrifice and ours is not chalked up should not delude people into thinking that the security forces are not vigilant and not on their toes.
Much play has been made about the question of the right of the soldier to shoot. A headline in one particular newspaper used a phrase which I do not wish to use here because it could be emotive. We are, at the moment, still investigating and preparing helps for the soldier in this regard. Deputies may take it that every soldier in the Irish Army is now being instructed by his commanding officers, and his non-commissioned officers, as to what his position is. I am not going into a field which is more properly the Attorney General's but I am merely saying that it is not a toy Army we have. Nobody wants to damage or do anything to property or to people but we are there to defend and see to it that this Parliament prevails. If that necessitates certain actions then best advice will be given to the serving soldier on his position under the law. That is as far as I will go in that regard. That best advice has been given.
Dhein an Teachta Tunney tagairt d'úsáid na Gaeilge san Arm—ábhar nár cheart a phlé ann féin. Tá polasaí an Rialtais I leith na teanga lánshoiléir. Is féidir é chur in iúl i gcúpla focal: gríosadh gan éigean. Mar léirigh Aire na Gaeltachta le gairid tá beartas ginearálta ag an Rialtas chun an pobal a spreagadh ó thaobh úsáid na Gaeilge ar fud na tíre. Féadfaidh an Teach seo bheith cinnte go gcuirfear polasaí an Rialtais i bhfeidhm chomh fada is a bhaineann le hÓglaigh na hÉireann.
We will do our best to see to it that, as far as possible, the Irish language is cherished in the Army. No change of any kind has been made in relation to the commands which are given in Irish normally. Certain changes were made. I had to make certain changes on the question of the reception of cadets. There was, I feel, an unfair situation there. It was quite incorrect that the persons not coming from schools where teaching was through the medium of Irish should be at a server disadvantage. I made those changes and they were the subject of a discussion in this House in the early months of my ministry.
I had a recommendation from the Chief of Staff the other day to the effect that it is no longer possible to find enough non-commissioned officers to teach in the Military College in the Curragh through the medium of Irish and I have had to allow a relaxation there also. Those are necessary things. I must get my men on the Border and I will get them there. Nothing will stand in the way. In so far as the NCOs are available they will be taught through Irish. As well as that we are continuing a course in Irish culture as a subject so that whatever has been lost in one regard will be made up for in, perhaps, a better way.
Deputy Meaney expressed concern over the delay in settling claims made on the United Nations for expenses incurred in connection with the participation of our troops in peace-keeping operations. However, the record shows that the position is reasonably satisfactory. I have examined this position since Deputy Meaney made this remark and I am satisfied with the position. Money cannot be paid from such a source just as one might collect one's salary on the 1st of the month or one's wages on a Friday evening.
The United Nations are paying up constantly and as a percentage the amount outstanding is at no time unsatisfactory. I should also like to remind the House that the United Nations pays all the extra and extraordinary costs incurred by us in sending troops overseas on peace-keeping missions. When some stores that were left behind had to be sent later by commercial airline I discovered that the cost involved was huge. I was absolutely horrified at the cost of moving 30 tons of goods from here to Israel.
Deputy Cronin made the suggestion that the local Garda superintendent should be in a position to authorise the employment of Civil Defence in a local emergency. Deputy Cronin should know that the structure of Civil Defence is that the county manager in each county is head of Civil Defence and that it operates through the local authority. He should also be aware that Civil Defence operates beside where he was in the park and through the Department of Defence. It is a very good organisation and we have our plans made if there were to be a large number of refugees. I was entirely satisfied with the speed with which that was done and the manner in which county managers and local authorities co-operated. The back-bone of Civil Defence, as I know it, is always the staff of local authorities. This is a very proper and right way to do it. Deputy Cronin was a bit woolly but I should like to draw his attention to the fact that the Taoiseach announced yesterday that through the Department of Justice we are setting up a security force where we hope that good citizens will see to it that subversives do not move untrammelled through our country.
Army pay was mentioned by various people and I should like to assure the House that the benefits of the first phase increase under the employer trade union national agreement, 1974, have been applied with effect from 1st June, 1974, to the pay of all ranks. Further pay adjustments provided for in the agreement will be paid.
Deputy Meaney referred to my opening reference to a Supplementary Estimate to cover 15th round pay increases but this matter was included in the Book of Estimates. I can now inform the Deputy that the question of pay increases was included in Vote No. 50 and that the money is available.
I should now like to move to military service pensions and special allowances. Deputy Nolan suggested that, "veterans should be brought into line with non-contributory old age pensions. This year if a non-contributory old age pensioner has a wife he gets an extra £3.50 for her." That is what Deputy Nolan said. The Deputy also referred to, "an old IRA man with a pension if he dies his widow gets half his pension with the minimum of £1 per week. If a man in receipt of a special allowance dies his wife gets nothing."
The position is that any special allowance holder who is in receipt of a non-contributory old age pension will be eligible for the additional £3.65 provided under the Social Welfare Acts in respect of his wife and this amount will be disregarded as means for special allowance purposes.
There will, of course, be an increase in special allowances in line with the budget provisions regarding pensions. The amount of the increase will be about £15 or £16 per annum or about 9 per cent. Widows of military service pensioners get an allowance equal to one-half of their late husband's pension or £80 per annum whichever is the better. This does not apply to the widows of special allowance holders. As Deputies are aware, there is a clear distinction between military service pensions and special allowances. A special allowance is meant to help somebody in poor circumstances and it is a very good scheme but, naturally, if you are helping somebody in poor circumstances it may not look to be as attractive as a pension that comes of right. If you find an old person in poor circumstances there should be a scheme to help him.
A burial grant of £50 is payable in respect of military service pensioners and special allowance holders and certain disability pensioners.
Deputy Meaney suggested that the means test for special allowances was too rigid and urged that the existing procedure whereby free maintenance which does not include hardship on the provider is assessed, should be discontinued. Deputies Cronin, John L. O'Sullivan and Nolan also urged greater assistance for the veterans of the War of Independence.
I have dealt with the basic concept of the scheme of special allowances. It is to supplement the income of those veterans with limited means who by reason of age or permanant infirmity are unable to support themselves. The means test for special allowances has been progressively relaxed to the point that social welfare benefits are only partially assessed as means and budgetary increases in those benefits are disregarded entirely or substantially. Examples of disregarding are as follows: where a single person has an old age contributory pension of £7.20 a week or more only £0.62½ a week is assessed; where a married man has an old age contributory pension of £11.85 a week or more only £1.55 a week is assessed; where a single person has a non-contributory old age pension of £6.15 a week or more only 5p a week is assessed; where one of a married couple has a non-contributory old age pension of £6.15 a week or more no assessment is made; where a married couple have a combined non-contributory old age pension totalling £12.30 a week or more only £0.97½ a week is assessed.
I would like to scrub these pence that are assessed. Whether or not I could find it possible to do so I do not know but it appears to me as if the assessment of means is fair.
Where a person is in receipt of free maintenance which does not impose a hardship on the provider I consider it fair and reasonable that part of the value of such maintenance should be assessed. It is so small that I wonder whether or not it is practicable. However, let it be so. Any relaxation of the means test which would involve disregarding such maintenance entirely would benefit only those persons who enjoyed that privilege and would bring no improvement in the condition of the worst off category of special allowance holders, namely, persons with no assessable means.