The object of the present Bill is mainly to extend the date of application for pensions and allowances under the Army Pensions Acts, 1923-1937. These Acts award compensation for injuries and disease attributable to or aggravated by service, or compensation to dependents in respect of deceased members of the various Forces as defined by the Acts. The extension of the date has been necessitated by the fact that there are about 515 persons whose applications could not be dealt with because they had not applied within the statutory time limits, and as many of these cases seem to constitute a genuine hardship, it has been decided to extend that limit so as to be able to deal with the cases on their merits. The present Bill extends the date of application to 12 months after the passing of the Act, so that it will be possible under it to deal not only with the late applications already mentioned, but also with any fresh applications made within the new statutory period.
The Bill, as first introduced, only extended the date for applications under the 1932 and the 1937 Acts, but as a result of certain representations it was amended in Committee to cover also applications under the 1927 Act. It therefore puts ex-members of the National Army on the same footing as ex-members of the I.R.A. as regards the time limit of application.
Another amendment introduced on the Committee Stage in the Dáil to meet the views of members of the Oireachtas gives applicants for dependents' allowances under Part VII of the 1937 Act two years from the passing of this Bill in which they could appeal against an adverse decision by the Army Pensions Board. The right of appeal within two years from the passing of the 1937 Act was already conceded in that Act, but in a number of cases the two years had elapsed before the report was made by the board, so that in effect the right of appeal was frustrated. This defect has now been rectified by giving applicants the right to appeal within two years from the passing of the present Bill.
The necessity of extending the date of application by means of this Bill has also been utilised to solve certain difficulties which have arisen in administering the Acts. Some applicants, for instance, have failed to attend for examination when called by the board and as the Acts stand at present there is no power to compel attendance or, failing attendance, to determine the claim. Power is now taken in this Bill to determine any such application, if the person fails to attend after a second notice given after an interval of three months.
Power is also taken to reduce the allowance given under the Army Pensions Acts where the person affected receives simultaneously a pension under the Widows and Orphans Pensions Acts. Finally it is made clear that, for a widow to qualify for a gratuity under Section 19 (3) of the 1937 Act, her husband must have been actually in receipt of a pension under the 1932 Act at the date of his death.