Skip to main content
Normal View

Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 20 Feb 1946

Vol. 31 No. 6

Army Pensions Bill, 1946—Committee and Final Stages.

The Seanad went into Committee.
Sections 1 to 3 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That Section 4 stand part of the Bill."

Are we to take it that a married man with a child, or two children, has to make a final option to put him in a position to get a certain amount of money? Suppose the child is born subsequent to his making the option, does he get the 4/- for that child or must he make the option in the first instance?

He must opt as to which he will have. Every soldier in the Army at present will naturally opt as suits him best. Those coming in after the passing of this Bill will have no option.

Question put and agreed to.

I move the following recommendation:—

In sub-section (2), page 5, line 44, that the word "special" be deleted.

Does nobody propose to tell us what this amendment means?

It is only a drafting amendment.

The word "special" slipped in where it should not have been used. The word "emergency" has been used in the Bill and we are afraid that if the question came before the courts it might be argued, if this word remained, that there was an "emergency" and a "special emergency."

That it might be more restrictive.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 5, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 6 to 11, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That Section 12 stand part of the Bill."

This is one of the sections which, again in the way of administration, probably give rise to more difficulties to applicants than anything else. Though I quite appreciate that the administration of this section must remain to a very large extent a matter for the medical profession, there is a certain amount of difficulty, on the lines which Senator Duffy mentioned, in ascertaining exactly how the board come to their conclusions. It seems, for example, extraordinarily difficult to understand how, if a man is at the beginning of the emergency in such a fit condition as to be able to win an Army long distance swimming race, and subsequently contracts tuberculosis during the emergency while he is still in the Army, the tuberculosis could have arisen other than in the course of his Army service. It is well known that swimming is one of the most strenuous exercises there is and I do not think a man suffering from the disease could succeed in a swimming race. Perhaps—the reason I mention this is that I want the Minister to enlighten me—in a case like that where there is proof that at the beginning of the emergency period the man seemed so fit but subsequently contracted tuberculosis, that would be considered a case in which there had been primary tuberculosis beforehand and that it was accelerated, aggravated or excited by service. There is a further point. As I understand the position, Section 12 only operates where the soldier is alive on the operative date.

There have been cases in which tuberculosis has been aggravated, accelerated or excited prior to the operative date, and where the soldier concerned died prior to that date. There are two cases from Naas, County Kildare, in regard to which I have made representations to the Minister's Department and, so far as I know, there is no provision for gratuities, though I will admit quite frankly that I have found it extremely difficult to understand all the ramifications of the Army Pensions Acts. I think one would want to engage in that work for a very long period with a wet towel, as I think the Minister recommended in the other House.

On this section I should like to supplement something I said earlier. I want to make it clear that my difficulty is that if I want to discuss cases of hardship under the Bill, apparently I must attack the Minister, although I know personally—and I think most members of the House know— that the Minister probably is as anxious as anybody in the House to give a liberal interpretation to the Bill. Therefore, I am forced back into admitting when I am challenged by the Minister, that I am in fact making allegations against somebody else. I am told that is not good form, and I do not want to pursue it, but I do feel that there is a matter for investigation. I admit at once that we cannot introduce amendments to meet the point I have in mind, but I do want to point out that there is need, in some form or other, to deal with what seems to me to be a most unimaginative administration of these pensions Bills. I shall refer to one other case to indicate what I have in mind. Here is the case of a soldier discharged on the 25th March, 1942. He was discharged, of course, on medical grounds suffering from progressive muscular atrophy. He died on the 26th September, 1944.

He had an application pending for a pension, and was very ill for some considerable time before he died, but, for one reason or another, the pension authorities, which I assume are the Pensions Board, were unable to carry out an examination and to decide his case. Exactly a month after he died, an Army medical board came down from Dublin to County Cavan to examine the man. The soldier was then a month in the clay, dead. The decision of the board was: "It has not been established that the disability from which he suffered is attributable to service during the emergency period." If there is any imagination left in the board which wrote that report on a corpse, a month after death had taken place, I am baffled.

I can only say in respect of that particular case that it is one of those examples, perhaps, where the delay was unduly long. In other words, I am quite prepared to accept the blame for what the Senator states. It is quite possible that lack of details or something of that kind may have caused that particular delay, or it may have been that pressure of work in that particular section prevented their getting there earlier. Why they could not have been aware of the fact that the particular individual in the case was dead, I do not know. It is extraordinary to me that they were not informed of that fact. They must have been under the belief that the individual was still alive when they went down, and I can only presume that they went with the good intention of doing something if it was possible. It is to me rather inexplicable.

Would the Minister tell me whether this section would cover a case where a man has died before the operative date?

What is the point?

Where a man whose tuberculosis was aggravated, accelerated or excited by emergency service is already dead, can the widow under this Bill get a gratuity?

Does the Minister not think that is a very unfair hiatus in his legislation if the fact is—I am waiting for the Minister to tell me if it is a fact; I speak entirely subject to correction—that if that man lived one day after the operative date his widow would be entitled to get something, whereas if he died one day before the operative date she would not?

I am informed that would not be correct, and we are following the precedent of the Acts which came before this particular Bill.

Therefore, I understand the Minister to say this does not bring any amelioration of the condition of a widow whose husband has already died as the result of tuberculosis aggravated by service?

That is so.

Quite frankly, if I had not misunderstood it at an earlier stage, I would have suggested an amendment although, I suppose, we could not do it because it would mean an increased charge on the Exchequer. But it does seem to me to be an unfair distinction. They did their duty during the emergency. It was not through any fault of their own, and their widows and families are in just the same need—very often in greater need —than the cases of men still alive. I would seriously ask the Minister to reconsider that point.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 13 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That Section 14 stand part of the Bill."

On Section 14, could the Minister tell us how many people will benefit by the provisions for the 1916 men?

About 62. I think that is the actual number.

Is there any idea how many more, or would that be an impossible calculation?

There are 12,403 persons who have received the medal with the bar—that is the medal for active service.

They have pensions? They do not come under this?

They would, in due course, if incapable or provided their pension did not exceed the amount. There are 10,186 persons who received the medal without the bar. It is quite possible as the result of the passing of this Bill that there will be a large number of further applications. I rather imagine there will be, and, therefore, we have something like 22,500 people who could benefit at the present moment, but if you take the average based on the 62, in respect of the 22,000 under the 1916 provisions, it is quite possible that not more than 600 or 1,000 will eventually benefit or use their claims.

There is one point I want to raise. It is a question I brought up earlier about the position of the man who marries after being wounded and is discharged with a wound. He is never entitled to a pension at the marriage rate. Is that so?

Do you mean under Section 14?

I do not know exactly what section applies to it. If it is not the present section I can come back to it again.

You can raise it on the Fourth Stage.

As the question of efficient service as distinct from active service does not arise, would there be any way of overcoming the difficulties of those who had efficient service in 1916 but who did not get medals because they were not entitled to them for active service? The 1916 men are entitled to medals even though they might have had no active service, but others are debarred altogether because they did not get medals. Is there any way that could be straightened out?

I think that Senator Corkery's question is an example of what happens to you when you go out, if this section goes in. There were people who got neither medals nor pensions for 1916 service, who were at least as worthy as those who had three months' service afterwards. That is his point. You can go further and say that there are people who were never members of the Forces at all and yet are far more worthy, all kinds of people. Take two people sitting here on the front bench? Will I benefit by the provision for 1916 men if I am in the lamentable position that I require it? Senator Douglas, for instance, devoted two years of his life to the White Cross. I hope he is not in any danger of wanting any kind of pension. Of course, the real answer is that you cannot bring in everybody, but the Minister is bringing in 20,000 people as distinct from 2,000 under the 1916 provision. Three months' membership of the Volunteers is easily established and very vague, and sometimes some of the services performed were much more dangerous than services regarded as military service.

The point is that he must have three months' continuous service on the 11th of July, 1921. If he had not that he would not qualify. An individual may have served in 1916 and did not serve in the Forces afterwards. He does not come in at all. The qualification is three months' continuous service on the 11th July, 1921.

I imagine the number is very small.

We could not take them in.

Section 14 agreed to.
Sections 15, 16 and the First and Second Schedules agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill ordered to be reported.
Bill reported with one recommendation.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Next stage?

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now received for final consideration."

On that question, I would like to go back to the point I made earlier—a man is discharged from the Army with a wound. He is discharged as medically unfit and has a pension awarded to him as a single man. Subsequently, he marries and what I am trying to get is a decision whether at any stage he is likely to get a pension at the married rate. As I understand, the attitude of the Government is that he is discharged as a single man, and that if he marries afterwards, well, shall I say, it is his own funeral. That may seem a peculiar way of putting it, but from the point of view of his pensionability and the marriage, it is a realistic view.

I am endeavouring to point out to the Minister that a social question is involved in this, and that this is not merely a matter to be sanctioned Departmentally, but that it should be considered by the Government whether it is good policy, in the case of a man discharged from the Army with a wound pension, that if he marries he would get no addition to his pension in respect of his wife or any family that he may have. I am putting that case seriously to the Minister. There may not be a large number of such cases, but I think it is a matter that should be given sympathetic consideration by the Minister.

Well, that principle exists in almost every Army Act. As a matter of fact, it exists in Acts over which we have no control at all, such as the Workmen's Compensation Act. The particular type of individual that the Senator has been speaking of will benefit, at least, to some extent under the Children's Allowances Act. Such people probably will not benefit to the same extent as they would under this particular Act, but the fact of the matter is that this principle is, apparently, a well-established principle, running through every Act from 1923 up to the present: that a man should be married at the time of his wound, or otherwise he does not come within the scope of the Act. This was argued in the other House on Section 2, but it would be quite impossible to accede to such a request. It would bring in a vast number of people.

Would it, in fact?

Yes. It would bring in a very large number of people, and an unestimated number under the Workmen's Compensation Act.

Well, I do not know how the Workmen's Compensation Act comes in here. It seems to me that that is a different matter. Under that Act a man is entitled to compensation in respect of an injury he suffers through an accident arising out of his employment, and the compensation is measured in relation to the rate of wages, and, of course, there is a ceiling—I think that under the wages clause there is a ceiling of 37/6 a week. However, as I say, I do not see how that comes in here. Again, I do not see how children's allowances come in here, because the individual concerned will not be allowed children's allowances unless there are at least three children, whereas I was thinking of the case of a man who may get married afterwards and who, of course, may have children, but in any case there would be no benefit under the Children's Allowances Act unless there were at least three children.

Question put and agreed to.
Question—"That the Bill, with one recommendation, be returned to the Dáil"—put and agreed to.