The House may recollect that I stated this Bill would appear upon the Order Paper to-day, for the purpose of taking the Committee Stage. At the same time, if there were any Senators keenly interested in it who wished to put down amendments, any suggestion in reference to that would be considered. No amendments have appeared on the Paper, so I take it the House is prepared to consider the Bill now in Committee.
ARMY PENSION (No. 2) BILL, 1926—COMMITTEE STAGE.
This section provides for the reconsideration of applications, in certain circumstances, that were turned down under the Principal Act, and I think anyone having any knowledge of the difficulties arising under that Act will see the advisability of this section. What I should like to know from the Minister is if he could, in some way or other, speed up the consideration of applications. I have seen a number of cases, and the delay in the consideration of them seems absolutely inexplicable. One quite appreciates the difficulties of sitting the evidence advanced on various occasions, but it seems strange that when all the evidence asked for has been sent in several months elapse before the applicant hears anything at all, and sometimes it is only after numerous appeals have been sent in that a reply is received. I do not know if that is due to staffing, that is, the amount of staff available, but certainly it has caused irritation and disappointment on the part of hundreds of applicants who could not get a reply.
If a member of the Oireachtas takes up a case on an applicant's behalf a reply of some kind is forthcoming without delay, but I think from the business point of view these applications should be considered as quickly as possible, and they should not be let run for a period of two years. There have been such cases drifting all that period. Evidence is asked for at a later stage which might be given in the first instance if proper application forms were supplied indicating the type of information that is necessary. An application in the first case is acknowledged, but I do not know whether it is filed or not. At all events it is not replied to definitely. It is only after a lot of correspondence takes place and a great deal of time has elapsed that the applicant is told that information of a different character is necessary. I would ask the Minister to see, if possible, that a new Board is set up to expedite those cases and not let them hang over a couple of years.
There is some justification, perhaps, for the criticism the Senator has passed, but I do not know whether he is criticising the 1924 Act or the 1923 Act, of which this Act is an amendment. It is quite natural that a good deal of time has to elapse in certain cases. I am glad to say that the 1923 Act is nearly finished as far as applicants are concerned. The 1924 Military Service Pensions Act is almost finished as well. An enormous number of cases had to be dealt with, somewhere between 21,000 and 22,000 cases from every part of the country and from every class of person. Some of these had no claim at all for a pension. The Board had often to go around the country taking evidence from those people, which was subsequently filed in the office.
When they even got oral evidence from a large number of these people they did not get as much evidence as would satisfy the Board either in rejecting their claim or awarding a pension. The consequence was that in numerous cases they had to send out forms asking the people to give further information and names of referees. In several cases they had to bring the witnesses to Dublin and examine them on oath. These things took a lot of time, and in all cases of such magnitude, if you want to deal with the people in a proper manner both as regards the State and themselves, it takes time, and someone must be last. The labours of the Army Pensions Board are practically concluded. I think the Board will have all its work done in a month, and that there are only sixty cases not dealt with, outside the cases on appeal. These cases are coming before them. As far as the new Board is concerned, I am sure the work will be expedited as soon as possible. We anticipate that a large number of claims will come in under this Act.