That Seanad Éireann is of opinion that, in view of the steep rise in the cost of living, I.R.A. service pensions, disability pensions and special allowances should be increased and that the Army Pensions Acts be amended (a) to abolish the closing dates for applications for military service pensions and military service medals, (b) make provision for invalid children of I.R.A. men killed in action, and (c) make all I.R.A. service medal holders eligible for a special allowance irrespective of the date of issue of the medal provided that the claimants are otherwise qualified.
In moving this motion, I feel that I am merely pressing an open door, so far as the present holder of the office of Minister for Defence is concerned. I am satisfied from my experience of the Minister over a long number of years that he is as anxious as I am, and as anxious as any member of the Oireachtas is, to ensure that the persons referred to in the motion will get all the consideration possible from this State. But when I saw during the past few weeks that increases were being given to persons in receipt of State pensions on the ground of the drop in the purchasing power of the £ and the increase in the cost of living, I felt it was unfair that, as happened on previous occasions, persons in receipt of I.R.A. and Cumann na mBan pensions should again be the last to be considered. For that reason I put down this motion. It is an endeavour to strengthen the Minister's hand in dealing with the Government.
I am sure it would be the unanimous opinion of the House, and also of the Dáil, if they had the opportunity of discussing it, that persons in receipt of military service pensions, army pensions, and special allowances, should be considered in the very near future. I have no intention of flogging the question of the rights and claims of those people who gave service in the cause of the freedom of this country. It has been talked about often enough and I know that every member of this House will pay tribute to them, as I am satisfied every member of the other House would pay tribute to them also. Nobody will question that they are entitled to all the consideration that this or any other Government can give them during the few short years which are left to them. In the course of ten or 15 years, they will, at any rate, all have passed on and it would be a terrible thing if it should be thrown in the faces of future members of the Oireachtas that they were unfairly treated by their own Government and country.
I have not got the figure of what has been saved year by year to the Department of Finance by the deaths of a large number of these persons. I am sure the Minister could easily get that figure and probably he has it, but the fact remains that it is a decreasing debt and is likely to decrease more quickly now than ever it did before. If the fact rate at which this debt is decreasing is taken into consideration, I think nobody will quibble about improving the present position because, by the end of, say, 15 years, this debt will no longer be there. Because of that, I would ask the Minister for Defence to expedite the introduction of any legislation he has in mind for the purpose of giving these people the benefit of it as soon as possible.
In the motion, I mention three headings in which I was interested and which, I think, cover the ground. I will first take military service pensions. From time to time, we have had Bills before the Oireachtas for improvement of military service pensions and again, for the improvement of disability pensions and special allowances. On each occasion these different items were mentioned, members of the Oireachtas were anxious that they should not be taken piecemeal. In other words, they preferred that they would all be included in one Bill. That is one of the reasons why I put down the different headings.
In fact, the Minister himself was always in favour of that and in Volume 136, column 104 of the Dáil Debates, he was anxious that these pensions should not be taken piecemeal and that debates on increasing military service pensions, disability pensions and special allowances should be taken together. In connection with the increasing of military service pensions, it is a well-known fact that some very low pensions are paid—some of them so low that we are almost ashamed to mention them. As far as I can remember, we have military service pensions under £10 per annum, including past increases.
When this matter was being debated previously, many members of the Dáil and Seanad were anxious that there should be minimum pensions. I know how difficult it is for any Minister to fix minimum pensions because of the method that was used and is being used in assessing military service. As the lower pensions, and the higher pensions, too, of course, are paid on the assessment of the value of the service rendered, it will be very difficult to fix minimum pensions. Certainly, I should like to see minimum pensions fixed, if it were at all possible, because it is certainly no tribute to us or anybody else when we see such a small pension as £10 or less than £10 paid for military service.
At any rate, a big number of Deputies and at least five Minister of the present Government supported the idea of minimum pensions and every member of the Oireachtas who spoke on the occasion of the last increase in military service pensions regretted that the increase could not be greater. I think they very definitely accepted the increase then given as an instalment of more to come. That was the position in 1953 and that being so, I think a great case can be made now for an increase at the present moment. If there was a case then and if, as we saw last week, there was a case made for an increase in other State pensions, I think we must all agree that there is need for consideration of an increase at the present moment.
So much for the increase but there is another matter in connection with military service pensions which I should like to mention and it is in connection with the making of applications for military service pensions. At any rate, throughout the years I have been associated with it, I have always made it a point that I do not think any date should be set up after which a man may not apply or be entitled to a military service pension.
I think that the question of a date after which a man may not apply should be abolished. Any fixed date or closing down on applications of that kind should be abolished. I know it will be argued that military service pensions have been in vogue since 1924 —that is 32 years. It was argued before by previous Ministers that it was there long enough and that everybody should know about it, but the fact remains that, year by year, we have some applications coming from many parts of the world from people who were entitled to a military service pension and, indeed, we have even some coming in from this country after all the years. I cannot understand why there should be a closing date in relation to something to which a citizen of this State is, by law, entitled. That to which he is entitled this year or was entitled to last year, he will still be entitled to next year. I suggest to the Minister that there should be no closing date.
I notice from Volume 160, column 2108 of the Dáil Reports, that the Minister for Defence in reply to a question by Deputy Gilbride said that he was glad to be in a position to state that the Government had now decided to introduce with all speed the necessary legislation to amend the Acts to provide for an extension of the date to enable members of the organisations mentioned in the Acts to apply for the award of a 1916 service medal or a 1917-1921 medal.
I am very glad to hear that. Of course, medals were issued but the holders of those medals were not entitled to a special allowance if the need arose, that is, if they were incapable of self-support and had no means. The medals were issued and, of course, beyond the fact that they proved a person was a member of the forces, they were worthless as far as obtaining a special allowance was concerned.
I know that the Minister has that matter under very active consideration and that he has decided to put it right but here, again, I should like to suggest to the Minister that, as in the case of applying for military service pensions, there should be no date limit for applying for military service medals. I know that in that matter, too, the Minister is of the same opinion. I hold with the Minister that what a man is entitled to now he will still be entitled to five years or ten years from now. We have it in the Minister's own words, that what a person is entitled to in June he is also entitled to the following January. I am sure I am merely pressing an open door as far as that matter is concerned but I feel that it is up to me, when I feel that way, to take some steps to bring the notice of the House and the Minister to bear on the matter again.
With regard to disability pensions, it is true that a small increase was given recently which was, indeed, much appreciated by the recipients, but it is a well-known fact that the money expended by the State in payment of disability pensions will decrease much more rapidly than the sum paid in any other kind of benefit. Because of the very nature of these pensions—they are disability pensions —everyone in receipt of them is, in the natural order of things, on the move out. These recipients have a far less chance of drawing these pensions for any length of time than the recipients of any other pension. As far as they are concerned, surely the position is that no sum of money will give them back their health. I am sure it is the wish of every member of the Government, of every member of the Oireachtas and of every Irish man and woman who was grateful for their services in the struggle for the independence of this State, that they should be treated as generously as conditions will allow in the few short years that remain to them.
In connection with the payment of dependents' allowances under the Army Pensions Act, I came across a rather sad case a few weeks ago. In the Army Pensions Acts, provision is made for the payment of an allowance, which barely helps to keep body and soul together, to certain dependent relatives of I.R.A. men killed in action. Under Section 4 of the Army Pensions Act, 1953, an allowance may be granted to a widow of such deceased person, or to one parent of such deceased person, or to one sister of such deceased person provided she is unmarried or a widow, or to one permanently invalided brother of such person; but, to our enternal reproach, there is no provision whatever for the invalid child of a man killed in action.
The case I have in mind—I will give the Minister the name at some future date—is that of the son of a man who was killed in action in 1920. The widow and child got an allowance, the child up to the time he reached the age of 16 and the widow up to her death. That child is a grown man now, but I regret to say that he is practically totally incapacitated, owing to congenital paralysis and debility. I have doctors' certificates—I think they are in the Department—to bear that out. Surely it is a reflection on us and on our Government, on our country and on every member of the Oireachtas, that the orphan son of a man killed in action, this child who is totally incapacitated and therefore surely a dependent of that man who was killed, within the meaning of any of the Acts, cannot get an allowance from this State while, as I said before, there is provision in the Act of 1953 for the widow, parent, brother and sister of such a man.
I thought this might be an opportune time for the Minister to correct that omission from the I.R.A. Pensions Acts. I do not know whether there is any other such case in the country. I have heard only of one. The Minister may know of others or may have them on the record. However, there should not be even one case of that type without some provision being made for it. I suggest to the Minister that Section 4 of the 1953 Act should be amended by adding a grant to such invalid child of a man killed in action, of an annual allowance, because provision is made for the other members of his family in that section.
With regard to special allowances, I can make the same case for an increase as I made for increases in military service pensions and disability pensions. I feel there is a much stronger claim under this heading. First of all, a special allowance is granted only to persons who are incapable of self-support and who have no other means. Therefore, a person in receipt of a special allowance is entirely dependent on it and if a case can be made for anybody in this State for assistance by way of an increase surely it can be made for the person who has no means beyond his special allowance? Again, from what I know of the Minister over the years and from his statements in connection with these matters from time to time, I am sure I am merely pressing an open door.
I know it is rather late in the evening now and at the end of the session, to bring up this matter. I was hoping, from time to time in the past few weeks, when I saw increases in other State pensions coming up, that this matter would be introduced before this session finished. Now we have it from the Minister that some legislation is to be introduced early in the next session. I was anxious to put these points before him, so that he would know the way the people I represent, so far as this motion is concerned, are thinking and the way we are hoping. I would make a very special plea for consideration for the smaller pensions and for the special allowances. Above all, I would like some clear decision as soon as possible, whether or not we have any other cases in the country like the one I have mentioned—that is, the invalid son or daughter, the invalid child, at any rate, of a man who gave his life for this country—and I trust that we will be able to say in the new year that that reproach on us will have been removed.
I thank you, Sir, and I thank the Minister for giving me this opportunity to say these few words on this matter, even at this late hour.