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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 15 May 1968

Vol. 64 No. 16

Houses of the Oireachtas (Members) Pensions Scheme: Motion.

I move:

"That Seanad Éireann hereby approves of the amendment of the Houses of the Oireachtas (Members) section 6 (A) of the Oireachtas (Allowances to Members) Act, 1938, by

(1) the addition to sub-clause (1) of clause 1 of the following definitions :

‘member' without qualification means a member of either House of the Oireachtas

‘widow' means the widow of a member or former member

‘child' means a child who is the issue of, or was legally adopted during, the marriage of a member or former member

‘orphan' means a child both of whose parents are dead

‘appropriate age' means the later of age 16 or the age not exceeding 21 years up to which a child is receiving full-time education;

(2) the insertion of ‘and their widows and children' after ‘Oireachtas' in sub-clause (1) of clause 2;

(3) the substitution in clause 5 of

(a) ‘eight' for ‘ten' and ‘10' in sub-clauses (1) (a), (4) (including the amendment to this sub-clause made with effect from 7 July, 1966) and (5),

(b) ‘1/40' for ‘1/60' in sub-clause (1) (c),

(c) ‘27 years, provided that the amount of pension in respect of the 27th year of service shall be reduced by one-third' for ‘40 years' in sub-clause (5),

(d) ‘person' for ‘former member of the Oireachtas' in sub-clause (8);

(4) the addition to clause 5 of the following sub-clauses:—

(10) The Trustees may pay to a widow

(a) whose marriage to her husband took place before he ceased to be a member, and

(b) whose husband was

(i) in receipt of a pension under this Scheme, or

(ii) a member after 1 December, 1960 and had not less than 8 years' service as a member on the date of his death

a pension until her widowhood ceases not exceeding the greater of

(a) £250, or

(b) one-half of the pension payable to her husband under this Scheme or which would have been payable to him if he had ceased to be a member on the date of his death

together with an addition to such pension of £50 for each child under the appropriate age subject to the total amount so payable not exceeding the greater of

(a) £250, or

(b) the pension payable to her husband under this Scheme or which would have been payable to him if he had ceased to be a member on the date of his death.

(11) Where a widow was married to a member for less than a year prior to the date of his death and where there are no children of the marriage, the Trustees may, at their discretion, direct that no pension be paid to her.

(12) No pension shall be paid to a widow for any period during which she is a member but on her ceasing to be a member and provided she has not remarried payment of a pension under subclause (10) of this clause may commence or be resumed with effect from the date on which it would be payable if it were a pension under sub-clause (1) of this clause, and continue for any period during which it would exceed the pension, if any, payable to her under sub-clause (1) of this clause but no pension under the aforestated sub-clause (1) shall be payable to her during such period.

(13) The Trustees may pay to each orphan whose parent was

(a) in receipt of a pension under this Scheme, or

(b) a member after 1 December, 1960 and had not less than 8 years service as a member on the date of his death

a pension of £100 up to the appropriate age subject to the pensions payable to the orphans of such parent not exceeding the greater of

(a) £250, or

(b) one-half of the pension payable to such parent under this Scheme or which would have been payable to him if he had ceased to be a member on the date of his death

and, where both parents have been members, the parent eligible for, if he had ceased to be a member on the date of his death, or in receipt of, the smaller pension shall be disregarded for the purposes of this sub-clause.

(5) the insertion of ‘or if an orphan is entitled to receive a pension under this Scheme' after ‘thereof' in clause 10.

(6) the renumbering of the existing clause 11 as 11 (1) and the insertion of a new sub-clause as follows:

(2) Any amendment of this Scheme made between 1 April and 30 June, 1968, shall apply with effect from 1 December, 1960 (except in the case of the amendment already made to sub-clause (4) of clause 5, in which case it shall apply with effect from 7 July, 1966) but no payment shall be made by virtue of such amendment with effect from a date earlier than 1 April, 1968."

The power to provide pensions for the widows and orphans of deceased Members was taken in the Oireachtas (Allowances to Members) (Amendment) Act, 1968, and the purpose of this motion is to make the necessary alterations in the Members' Pension Scheme. It also provides improved benefits for Members themselves. The effects of the proposed changes are as follows:

(i) the fraction of 1/60th of the parliamentary allowance will be increased by 50 per cent to 1/40th for each year of service, with a maximum of 2/3rds, for both current and future pensions;

(ii) the minimum period of service required for pension will be reduced from 10 to 8 years. Any person who ceased to be a Member of either House after 1 December, 1960, with 8 years of service but less than 10 years, will benefit, as well as persons ceasing membership after 1 April, 1968;

(iii) the widow and children of any Member who died on or after 1st December, 1960, with at least 8 years' service will be eligible for a pension. A widow's pension will be one-half of her late husband's entitlement with a minimum of £250. The widow's pension will be increased by a flat amount of £50 a year for each child, subject generally to the total not exceeding the late Member's entitlement;

(iv) provision is also made for the suspension and termination of widows' pensions in certain circumstances. I might add that no widow's pension will be payable unless marriage took place during or prior to membership of either House of the Oireachtas;

(v) orphans' pensions will be £100 per annum each, subject to the total not exceeding £250 or one-half of the late Member's entitlement, whichever is the greater, and the position of orphaned children of a deceased female Member is also provided for;

(vi) finally, where the widow of a Member or former Member qualifies for a Member's pension, she will be paid either her pension as a Member or the widow's and children's pensions appropriate to her case, whichever is the greater.

The Members' Pension Fund will not be able to bear the cost of the extra liabilities which these improvements will impose on it. It is estimated that they will increase the outgoings of the Fund by about £12,000 a year initially and it is proposed that the Exchequer will make a grant of £12,000 to the Fund this year. The total cost of the extra liabilities cannot be ascertained until they are examined by an actuary. It is proposed that this examination should take place at an early date.

As I indicated previously, these improved benefits will be payable with effect from 1st April, 1968.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Before we take up consideration of this motion, I should like to indicate that I have ruled that amendment No. 1 in the names of Senator Sheehy Skeffington and Senator McQuillan is out of order on the grounds that it introduces a factor irrelevant to the motion.

The Senators have been notified accordingly.

I move amendment No. 2:

To delete "1968" where it occurs at the end of the motion and substitute "1969".

I have put down this amendment, which defers the moment of application of this scheme from 1st April, 1968, to 1st April, 1969, in order to give the Minister another year of grace, as it were, in order that he may take time off to consider whether widows other than those of former Members of the Oireachtas have not got a prior claim to consideration in relation to pensions. This scheme is brought in mainly for the benefit of the widows of former Members of the Oireachtas who are pensioners, and I think it is a good scheme in that connection, but we have long urged the Minister, many of us here in this House, to give active consideration to the necessity for a wider scheme for the widows of all State servants, and it was with that purpose that originally I put down the motion, which was not in order unfortunately, that this scheme, which applies to the widows of former Members of the Oireachtas, should not come into being until the others were provided for by a State-sponsored scheme. I am, however, entitled to suggest postponing the application of this present scheme, which is for our benefit and for the benefit of our dependants, until both Houses of the Oireachtas have accepted an equitable scheme, on the proposal, I would hope, of the Minister for Finance, to deal also with widows of all State pensioners. I read the other day that the Garda Síochána were, in fact, asking for widows pensions of 50 per cent of the pension of gardaí. This would seem to me to be absolutely fair and this is what I should like to see happening in relation to widows of all State pensioners. I would like to put it that, and I think it applies to all State servants, a pension is, in fact, a form of deferred payment of salary, that this is put off until retirement age, and that pensioner then draws the payments which have been deferred up to then.

I do not think it could be denied that the pension of any pensioner, if he is married, is intended to keep himself and his wife. Therefore, it seems to me inequitable that the pension should die with the pensioner. I am aware of the fact that the State graciously allows pensioners on retirement to defer payment of portion of their pensions for the sake of their widows. This is a kindly act on the part of the State which does not lose them a penny. It enables the man to put aside a small pension for his widow, should he die before his wife.

The State insists even in this scheme that the pensioner should produce a medical certificate for himself, not for his wife, to show that he is 100 per cent fit, and is consequently unlikely to have to use this scheme for the benefit of his widow, since the State insists that he provide this medical certificate for himself but not for his wife. Therefore, this extra precaution on the part of the State really means that a pensioner who might have most need to provide for his widow, a person not in the best of health, is automatically precluded from the scheme. I would ask the Minister—I happen to know that he personally is most sympathetic on the whole question—to look at this. I feel I have a right to challenge him in public to show what precisely he expects the widow of a State pensioner to do. In certain countries I understand they burn the widow on the funeral pyre of the dead man. I do not think there is any such organisation here for the carrying out of that, but as far as the State is concerned the widow is apparently expected to disappear when her husband dies.

Or come in here.

May I interrupt the Senator on a point of order ? Is this speech in relation to the amendment ruled out of order rather than to the amendment under discussion ?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

I think what the Senator is saying would be in relation to the amendment which I ruled out of order, but I think the Senator is sufficiently close to the issue for his speech to be in order.

I am making the point that if the Minister is given another year to consider this, he will be in a position to deal as well with widows of State pensioners as now he is dealing with widows of former Members of the Oireachtas. I feel, and I think other Members of this House feel, that we are not acting correctly in accepting this benefit for ourselves and for our widows when, in fact, the Minister tells us, apparently by his action so far, that it is not possible to do this for other widows of men who are equally servants of the State, I think, in the way we all are in these Houses of the Oireachtas.

The three main differences made by the Minister's amendment to the original Bill deal first with pensions for widows. That is a new thing. Secondly, a reduction in time that one has to be in this or the other House in order to get a pension. It was ten years when it was first introduced, and now the period is reduced to eight years. If you have been a Member of either House for eight years you are entitled to a pension or will be if we pass this amendment. Thirdly, the State will put up a sum of money, in accordance with the proposal of the Minister for Finance, in order to meet the extra cost involved.

I remember very clearly, I was a Member of this House when the Oireachtas pension scheme for Members of the Oireachtas was introduced, and a great point was made then that this was not going to cost the State anything, that this was a self-supporting fund, that this was entirely contributory and consequently one could accept it, because we were not putting a charge on the State. We are now being asked to put a charge on the State and it is for one reason which might be regarded as highly legitimate and worthy and that is for the arrangement that widows as well as Members of the Oireachtas pensioners shall get a pension. In the original Act, however, the pension was given after a membership of ten years and now this is to be reduced to eight years. I would be inclined to object to this. I would like to hear the Minister defending it. Why reduce it to eight years? It now means that after eight years serving in either House of the Oireachtas you are entitled to a pension. I think this is too short. I thought ten years was really a minimum, but I now see even that being reduced. The reduction of this period will cost the State money so that in the first year of application it will cost about £12,000.

In those circumstances I feel the Minister should be given another year in order to think over the implications of this, because of the fact that we are now putting a charge on the State for pensions for ourselves, to get them more readily in a shorter space of time. While the State can find money to help to subsidise pensions for our widows, the State cannot find the money to devise an equitable scheme for pensioners for widows of all State servants. I say again I am certain the Minister personally would like nothing better than to introduce such a general scheme. I would urge him very strongly to do so, and I would urge the House to pass my amendment, and allow this year of delay which would enable the Minister to go into this question, and come up with a solution that will be fair to all, and not merely to Members of the Oireachtas and their widows.

I should like to second the amendment and wait until later to speak.

I support the motion that the scheme for the Members of the Oireachtas pension scheme be amended in the manner suggested by the Minister. I do not agree with Senator Sheehy Skeffington's amendment although I sympathise with his reason for putting it down. If Senator Sheehy Skeffington tabled a motion calling on the Minister for Finance to introduce a scheme of pensions for the widows and orphans of State servants and, indeed, for a number of persons who are not covered by the widows pensions under the Social Welfare Acts, he would never get heard in this House. There are motions on the Order Paper for several months and they have not been reached yet. We are meeting this afternoon until only 6 o'clock. We are meeting for a short time. To the extent that Senator Sheehy Skeffington wants to avail of this particular motion to amend the Oireachtas Members Pension Scheme to make a plea for the introduction of a comprehensive widows and orphans pension scheme for all State servants and for other people not covered by the Social Welfare Acts, I can sympathise with him and I support his plea. There is no use in saying that in order to benefit the large number of people who are suffering because of the neglect of the Government we ought to cause other people to suffer for a further year by accepting Senator Sheehy Skeffington's motion.

It is a question of priorities.

It may be a question of priorities but if there are people we can help here and now we ought to do so. The fact that we cannot help others does not mean there is any reason for not helping those we can help. You might as well say there is no use in Mother Theresa looking after 5,000 people in Calcutta because there are 1,000,000 people living on the streets of Calcutta. You might as well say that she should not do anything about it. Of course, we ought to help the widows and orphans of Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas and we ought also to help all the others, but because we cannot help the others is no reason for not helping those whom to a large extent we are helping out of funds provided by ourselves.

We are helping ourselves first.

I shall come to that in a minute. It is invidious that we should appear to be concerned firstly for ourselves, but to a large extent, as I understand the financial provisions of this scheme, the Members of the Oireachtas are paying for the benefits their widows will get and they themselves will get if they retire, resign or are dismissed by the electorate. We are paying for this to a great extent out of our own moneys.

For that reason I think it is entirely correct that we ought to introduce this scheme at this time. It is invidious, indeed, in relation to the fixing of salaries of Ministers, Members of the Dáil and Members of the Seanad, that this task should be undertaken and done by ourselves, that we should be judges in our own cause. I think that, while the public know what is going on and that there is nothing done in an underhand way, we are doing ourselves as Members of the Oireachtas less than fair play in not having these salaries and matters relating to pensions determined by a body outside ourselves who would make recommendations and then it would be for the Oireachtas to accept or reject or modify these recommendations.

In relation to matters such as pensions, it would be far better if there were a committee consisting of any seven members of the public, like the elected members of trade unions, farmers' organisations, philanthropic organisations, and so on, presided over by an accountant, a judge or a businessman, who would determine the salaries appropriate having regard to the conditions and then let the Oireachtas decide whether to reject or accept them and enact them into law. I do not like the idea that we have any hand on the public purse and that we can put our hand into it when we want to to the extent of £12,000. I think this is only a single payment of £12,000 and that the scheme will be financed by the Oireachtas after this. The Minister can correct me on this. For that reason, I can see the point made by Senator Sheehy Skeffington but he is not playing his usual rôle when he is seeking not to relieve suffering when it needs to be relieved.

With regard to the form of the amendment, I think even the Minister will deplore the shape that this pension scheme is taking. Look at the sheets in which the pension scheme is embodied. There are four different sets of sheets and when anybody wants to find out what he or a widow is entitled to he has to cut through the jig-saw puzzle with a scissors to find out what it is all about. Senator Ó Maoláin, when introducing a motion here last year, showed how these pension schemes were not clear. It is absurd and completely ridiculous and unjustifiable and hopelessly indefensible to say that when we want to formulate a pension scheme we have to get on with the business of deciding the substitution in clause 5 of "eight" for "ten" and the figure 10 in clause 1 (a) (4) including the amendment to this sub-clause made with effect from the 7th July, 1966, and (5).

Did anybody ever hear such rubbish and such mumbo-jumbo? To the extent to which the parliamentary draftsman has been involved, I think he is rather tied by the original scheme which said that it may be amended from time to time by Resolution of each House; and I would ask whether it is not possible to amend the original scheme so as to provide that it may be consolidated from time to time and when it gets into this state of confusion an appropriate resolution for consolidation should be introduced and the scheme formulated in a proper fashion. It is quite hopeless to have to read this and for Members of the Oireachtas to try to make out what they or their widows are entitled to.

It is reasonable to reduce the period for eligibility from ten to eight years for the reason that the longest period fixed by law for the duration of the Dáil is five years. The normal span of any Dáil on an average has been something from three to four years—from 1922 to the present time. I think four years probably means that a person must be elected three times either to the Dáil or to the Seanad. If people have undergone that gruelling test—I have tried it unsuccessfully on one occasion and Senator Sheehy Skeffington would sympathise—

Is the Senator not encouraging more frequent elections?

Frequency of elections can only come from the demand of public opinion and the exigencies of the Government's position. I think it is fair and reasonable to say that if a person has served for eight years he should get a pension commensurate with that, seeing that they get it from moneys contributed by themselves. Senator Sheehy Skeffington as a committed socialist is, perhaps, well provided for as regards his widow and orphans—God forbid—and he may see no difficulty about a ten of 15 year period.

How do the Social Democrats feel about it?

Speaking as one committed to social justice, I would think that the period of eight years for the reason I have given, which probably involves three elections, is a reasonable period and it is a period that has been accepted and agreed to by all political Parties.

There is only one further thing I want to say. The time is long since past for the introduction of a comprehensive scheme for widows and orphans who do not come within the Social Welfare Acts. There are shopkeepers, small farmers, small contractors, professional men, businessmen, accountants, and people of that kind, who cannot afford to take out the necessary insurance to provide themselves with the kind of pension scheme that Senator Sheehy Skeffington wants the Minister to be given a year to consider. I am talking now about the motion.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

I was getting a little worried about whether you were talking on the motion or the amendment or on either.

I will return now to the amendment. I think that the time has long since passed when the Government should busy itself about introducing such a scheme. Certainly we in the Fine Gael Party have long since indicated that we wanted to do that, but it involves a fair amount of investigation and actuarial calculation, and political Parties have not the opportunity, the finance, or the facilities to do more than to recommend that the existing Government should undertake a scheme of this kind. This is a matter for the Minister and his colleagues in the Government to undertake without any delay.

It may not be good political practice for a member of the Opposition to stand up and defend a Minister, but I want to defend the Minister, and, indeed, to thank him for bringing in this motion today. We have for a long time been troubled about the financial difficulties of widows and orphans of Members of both Houses of the Oireachtas, because we all know circumstances where Members have died and because of their involvement with the political life of the country have left their widows and orphans in a position which might not otherwise be the case. Indeed, I can recollect three members of my own union who were Members of the Dáil and who died, and I can say with a good conscience that their families would have been better off financially if they had stayed in their jobs in the particular employment that they had. It could well be, of course, that they would not have done as much good for the community as they did as Members of the Oireachtas.

We have now finally persuaded the Minister to accept on behalf of the Government the responsibility of providing benefits for widows and orphans of Members of the Oireachtas. It might be no harm to remind ourselves that we are ourselves contributing to the pension fund. Pension funds are a normal feature in many good employments. Whether a Member of the Oireachtas can be regarded as in an employment is a question, but pension funds are pretty common, and the usual situation is that the employee contributes to the fund and so does the employer.

The same position can be said to obtain in the Civil Service even if there is no actual deduction made from the salary of the civil servant account being taken of the value of what is called his free pension or superannuation benefits in determining the level of his salary. It is recognised that, in fact, the nominal salary attached to the job is five or six per cent higher than the amount that is actually paid because of this fact that no deduction is made at source for the superannuation benefit. But in the pension provisions we have made for ourselves as Members of the Oireachtas there is no contribution from any other quarter. It is contributed fully by Members of the Oireachtas. We pay 25/- a week, I think, towards the provision of a pension for people who have formerly been Members of the Oireachtas. Up to now I think you had to have a qualifying period of ten years. Now it is proposed to reduce it to eight years. Again, it might be no harm to remind ourselves that people who contribute up to ten years to that fund and then lose their seat as a Member of the Oireachtas get no benefit whatever. The fund was in benefit and the money was left there and helped to pay the benefits for other people. Equally, and this would still obtain despite the amendment, if a person dies and he is not married the 25/- which has been paid by that Member to the pension fund remains in the pension fund. I do not think, therefore, that we should have any bad conscience at all in getting up and defending what is provided for here.

All that is provided for here is that the other part—for want of a better word—the employer is not coming in to pay half the benefits to the fund even, but only going in to provide a benefit for the widows and orphans at half what the pension would be for the Minister himself.

I want to say that I am grateful to the Minister for undertaking this responsibility. I hope that he will not mind me saying that when he was introducing the Bill recently which gave him power to make this order I pressed him to have the benefits for the widows and orphans applied not from 1st April, 1968, but from the date of death of the Member. I said that it might easily be arranged that it could be applied from the date of death for a Member who was elected to the current Dáil. Unfortunately, he has not seen his way to do this but, nevertheless, I am grateful on behalf of those people for what the Minister is doing in this motion.

With regard to the amendment, I have every sympathy with and support fully the argument that members of the Civil Service should equally be provided with widows and orphans pension benefits, and, indeed, as the Minister well knows, this has been advocated by the associations representing the Civil Service over many years. I have also been interested in it from a trade union point of view in respect of the members I represent. Quite frankly, the difficulty up to now has largely been the fact that there was no precedent for this. There was no recognised arrangement. I know that the provisions we made here for widows and orphans of Members of the Oireachtas are welcomed by the Civil Service organisations and by my organisation as providing a precedent to press further the claims for similar benefits for civil servants. In thanking the Minister I am giving him due warning that he will have a lot of pressure on him now to provide similar benefits for members of the Civil Service and equally for people in other semi-State employments where at the moment there is no such provision.

To say that the scheme should be postponed for a year, of course, cuts right across the plea I made to the Minister when we were dealing with the Bill recently to have it back-dated. I understandably oppose the amendment, though I fully support Senator Sheehy Skeffington's plea that civil servants should be dealt with equally as quickly as possible.

May I repeat myself by thanking the Minister for bringing forward this motion, by welcoming it and by thanking him particularly on behalf of the people who will benefit — the widows and orphans of some of our colleagues who served in politics and the public service of this country.

I wish to support quite strongly the principle enshrined in the motion, that is, that we are about to make certain provision for the widows and dependants of former Members of the Oireachtas. That is an excellent principle, one to which we can all subscribe not alone here but in every section of the community. However, I think we should have done a little better. We should expect a headline from the Houses of the Oireachtas and I urge the Minister that after this year, when he has made a grant of £12,000 to provide for increases to cover this scheme, the scheme will be returned to its original form of being self-supporting.

The amount involved is rather trivial. At present the levy on Members is £60 a year. A doubling of that levy would make full and adequate provision for each case. It is an amount that no Member would hesitate about or grudge for a moment and it would set a real headline in pensions for the country at large. I am in favour of pensions for widows and dependent children but the primary onus for the provision rests on the individual group themselves. Therefore, I think the Minister should, if possible, get this scheme back again to a type of scheme like the original one — one that is self-supporting.

Another point I should like to raise is that I do not think a change from eight years to ten years is a necessary one. There could have been a provision of ten years or of three elections. To my mind, the original period of ten years could have been allowed to stand. I do not think any period should have been applied to the case of widows. A widow should qualify if her husband had been in the House six months or a year. Such a widow is much more deserving of our charity and our concern than the widow of a Member who has served 40 years in the service of the Oireachtas. It might be something which would not be favoured actuarially because of calculation circumstances, but it is certainly in accordance with Christian charity and a Christian approach to the needs of widows and orphans that we should deal generously with the dependants of a man who has been cut off after six months in the job as much as of the man who had served a lifetime in it.

Perhaps the Minister might be able to give consideration to removing any limitation in respect of a widow drawing the minimum pension of £250 a year together with £50 per child. The amount involved would be trivial. I do not think I know any Member who died leaving a dependent family after having served four or five years in the House. However, such a case could occur in the future and in our charity as a group we should see that all widows are included right from the start. We should ensure that a widow has a right to a pension as some recompense for having had her husband cut off in early life. With those suggestions, I commend the scheme which I consider to be one that we can take pride in introducing, providing we make it self-financing.

I should like to support the motion but not the amendment. I feel, with Senator O'Quigley, that the fact that we should like to do something for other pensioners should not delay the cases of the few people who may get pensions under this motion and who need such pensions. As Senator Murphy has said, we all know of people who would have benefited themselves a great deal better if they had stuck to their jobs instead of deciding to give service to the public, sometimes in local government, sometimes in these Houses. I know one former Member of the House who was not a Member for very long but who gave an enormous amount of service to public life, first in local spheres, and who is now receiving benefit from the county council. He was a Member of the Dáil for only a few years. He was then defeated and in very bad health. He is the one instance I know of. Senator Quinlan said he did not know of anybody of that kind.

There comes a time, even in local government, when a man who has married and has a family must look to his own conscience and perhaps ask himself: "Am I giving too much time to public life and neglecting my own family or the future prospects of my own family?" To the extent that this motion helps that situation and relieves that worry a little, I fully support it. There is one other point, however, and I am sorry I did not put down an amendment. It might be worth mentioning that somebody examining the scheme later may consider the definition of a widow. This is strictly confined to widows but in certain cases a sister might live on with a brother who is in public life, and give her whole life to him in order that at the same time he can give service to the public. I know cases of it. There might be cases of single females totally dependent on Members of the House —female dependants who served the Members to the best of their ability thus allowing the Members to devote more of their time to public life. Such people would be completely dependent on the Members' earnings, people who had no lives of their own apart from that, and there might be a case to look into this in relation to this scheme.

The amendment moved by Senator Sheehy Skeffington gives an opportunity to Members of the House to tell the Minister what their views are on the whole question of pensions and the necessity as soon as possible for making provision for dependants of people in the various services—the Civil Service, the local authorities and other State and semi-State concerns. Some Senators have criticised the amendment on the grounds that if we hold up this legislation we shall deprive a limited number of persons of benefits. I do not know if that is the position and I should like to know from the Minister if it is—that there are people in such circumstances of hardship.

To me one of the most important features of all this is the fact that both Houses of the Oireachtas decide through the Government what the Civil Service are paid and what their conditions are. The one thing we should be most careful of is not to leave this House open to the criticism that priority is given to Members of the House rather than to those whom it is the duty of the Members of the House to look after first. That is the reason I allowed my name to go to the amendment. The question of timing in these matters is all important. I am in full favour of the scheme and would like to commend the Minister for his outlook in these matters and for a certain amount of courage he has shown in the face of opposition from many quarters. I welcome his courage in matters which need attention much more urgently than do the rights of Members of the Oireachtas.

I am probably one of the longest serving Members of both Houses and I make no bones about the fact that I think it is necessary to have improved conditions for Members. But that is no reason to say that because we are giving improvements to Members of the Oireachtas it should be an encouragement to Civil Service organisations and others to seek improvements for the conditions of their members. If the same enthusiasm was shown to give civil servants and other public servants a similar scheme they would have it now. To concentrate on ourselves first is a poor answer to public criticism of the conditions of these people.

The purpose of the amendment is to give the Minister an opportunity of hearing the views of the House on the question of widows and other pensioners in other sections of the community. I have run across tragic examples in the teaching profession and in the Garda Síochána where husbands died suddenly and left large families. The usual procedure in Civil Service circles is that 12 months' salary in the form of a gratuity is paid to the widow and after that she can look out for herself and her family. A widow with responsibility for a family who may previously have had a profession or occupation may be unfit to resume that occupation or may be unable to do so because of her family. That example can be quoted by every Member of this House and it is a big problem.

The suggestion in the amendment is to postpone the operation of this scheme until the Minister has had an opportunity of bringing in, at the same time as he brings in this scheme, a scheme that would cover such persons. These are urgent cases and there is an equal urgency to make provision for them as there is as far as Members of the Oireachtas are concerned. We are now faced with the question of whether we should first make provision for ourselves rather than for those who cannot help themselves. That is the point at issue.

On the measure itself, I should like the Minister to clarify the provision that where a widow was married to a Member less than a year prior to the date of his death and where there are no children the trustees may at their discretion decide that no pension be paid to her. What is the purpose of that? A case can be made that there is more hardship involved on the widow in such circumstances than if she had been married for ten or 15 years. Or do the people who thought up this scheme not want to encourage a gold-digger to get her claws into some unfortunate member who is likely to depart shortly from this world? I do not think it would be a great attraction to any gold-digger to put her claws into a dying Member of this House, or the other one, at that stage.

The only other point I wish to make is with regard to the ten year period. When the scheme was first mooted in the other House the idea was that a Member should go through three general elections. If a Deputy goes through the torment and hardship of three elections and is re-elected each time he must have worked for the public during that period and he must, to a great extent, have neglected his own private business. There is every justification for the ten year period. I have listened to the reasons put forward for the eight year period and they are not very weighty. It has been said that we have had elections fairly frequently over the last 40 years. That is true but the period for which the House is elected is five years and we should envisage when engaging in legislation that the House will run its full term.

If we do not base our legislation for pensions on that idea we will give rise to the impression that we are expecting the Dáil to fall every 12 months or two years and I do not think anyone wants to see that situation arising. It is not a big point but I would ask the Minister to clarify the reasons for which the period was changed from ten years to eight. If a person is a Member of the Oireachtas for seven and a half years does it mean that if he does not make the statutory period of eight years he or his widow gets nothing?

It would appear to me that under most pension schemes which are in operation, a refund is made to the person who is subscribing of the contributions made and I do not see why it is not possible in this case. To my knowledge, Members of the other House have been affected in this way, and if it applies to the individual himself who is beaten or retires, the same applies as far as the pension to the widow is concerned. It is out. Some arrangement should be made whereby a refund will be made of what the husband had paid in, if the widow does not qualify for the pension.

I do not think any comment is necessary on most of the speeches that were made, nor do I think any defence of this proposed amendment of the Houses of the Oireachtas Pension Scheme is required. It speaks for itself and it certainly is long overdue. However, I do think that this suggestion of Senator McQuillan's about the Houses of the Oireachtas giving priority to themselves in regard to pension matters over what he described as other equally pressing claims is nonsense, and the Senator knows it. The Senator is quite well aware that the Dáil has existed in one form or another for almost 50 years now, and for almost 50 years men have come and gone and have served this country to the best of their ability, with very poor recompense, by and large, and with no provision for their dependants. Until this pension scheme, which is contributory, was introduced, they could just take pot luck. If they were defeated and if they had spent many years in the service of the public, they could be thrown on the scrapheap and possibly become an object of private or public collections to keep their wives and children or to keep the wolf from the door. That has been the experience of many former Members of the Dáil during the past 50 years and to talk about priority now being given is so absurd that I think the Senator should take a tumble to himself——

——and realise that if it were possible for the Members of this Oireachtas to join the modern cult, to join the new religion of the picketeers, long ago there would have been groups all around this place of members of the Oireachtas picketing the Government or whoever was responsible for the time being to ensure that justice would be done to the dependants of Members of these Houses who had worked in the public interest.

A very good suggestion.

That is an idea.

There is no doubt that Members of the Oireachtas would long ago have picketed these buildings.

Senator Quinlan, to my amazement, did not seem to understand what this scheme is all about when he talked about charity. It is not a question of charity and that is a most reprehensible word to use in this connection. There is no charity in it. This is a contributory pension scheme.

A contribution of £12,000 by the State.

It is contributed by members of the Oireachtas whose dependants will receive the benefits and there is no reason for anybody to apologise for it.

I did not say——

You sit down. I listened to you and now you listen to me, and take that Cork stuff back to your College down there. As I said, there is no reason why anybody should have to apologise for this scheme or the amendment. It is a good scheme and there is no reason in the world as far as I can see why anybody from the side which made these speeches should feel half ashamed in explaining to the public that they are taking part in this pension scheme. There should be no reason for that.

State servants are ignored.

There should be no reason whatever for any apology for a scheme of this nature, which is contributory, and there should be no attempt by Senator Sheehy Skeffington, Senator Quinlan, Senator McQuillan or anyone else to pull the wool over the people's eyes as to its being anything but contributory.

As regards the State grant or subvention which is now being made, Senator Murphy mentioned the position with regard to pensions in private employment in which the employee contributes something, the employer contributes something and the State contributes something. Very good. I see no reason in the world, and I make no apology for putting it forward either, why there should not be a pension scheme here in which the employer, being the State, contributes something. After all, if this is the social democratic society which the new tigers are aiming at, they should have social democratic concepts. Naturally, the Socialist Party will have them and we have had them since our foundation. Therefore we are making converts.

As far as the suggestion contained in the amendment is concerned, I would remind Senator Sheehy Skeffington that every addition and every new social service that operates in this country at the present moment was introduced by various Fianna Fáil Governments and there is no need for him to point out to the Minister for Finance, to the Government or to anyone else their duty in regard to the people who require assistance. At the present moment, as was announced recently in the Dáil, the whole question of our social service code is under minute examination and in due course the proposals will be announced in regard to it. I have no doubt that in compliance with the Fianna Fáil policy of social justice, these new proposals will continue the humane policy which has been adopted by various Fianna Fáil Governments since the establishment of the organisation.

I welcome this amendment of the pension scheme, and I hope that Senator Sheehy Skeffington will not feel unduly depressed by the fact that in spite of himself, he will be compelled to help dependents of Oireachtas members, even though all the other people in this country who could be helped and need to be helped and maybe will be helped in due course cannot at the present moment be helped. You cannot pull down a skyscraper with a little trowel. You need more than that to do it and money is a very big consideration, as the Senator knows.

I think the Seanad itself has dealt with this motion and the amendment very fully and I think the more responsible members of the Seanad have dealt with the amendment more adequately than I could but there are a couple of points I want to make about this whole situation.

First of all, I cannot understand how any alleged humanitarian, for what seem to be purely tactical purposes, would deprive necessitous widows and children of benefits which we are trying to give them through this motion. You can argue with all the clever wordy logic at your disposal but you cannot deny that what is involved in the amendment is simply to delay giving a number of widows and children benefits which the rest of us are anxious they should have as soon as possible. I fully agree with Senator Murphy that what perhaps we should have been doing was making these benefits payable from the date of death rather than from 1st April, 1968, as is proposed, but, however, we cannot do everything. I do not think the amendment could stand up if there were no other considerations involved, but I would have thought it fairly well-known by now that some considerable time ago I directed that the question of pensions for widows and orphans of State servants should be taken up by the conciliation and arbitration machinery and an effort made to devise an acceptable scheme. That work has actually been in progress for some considerable time. I would have thought Senator Sheehy Skeffington was so concerned with this question that he might have known that and he would not have been forced to the disreputable tactic of introducing this tawdry amendment. I am hopeful that the conciliation and arbitration machinery will be able to come up with an acceptable scheme of pensions for widows and orphans of State servants.

I have accepted in principle that such a scheme should be introduced and will be introduced. The only thing remaining now is to settle the terms of it. I have a feeling Senator Murphy was probably aware of this from his own experiences as a trade union official but was honourable enough not to refer to it because he possibly felt it was not to be disclosed as yet, so for that reason alone this amendment is quite silly and irrelevant. It is true that this State, by and large, is supporting a pension scheme but I think this particular generation of parliamentarians, those who are in the Dáil and those in the Seanad now, and have been for the last few years, are carrying the brunt of the neglect of our predecessors. We have to contribute to the scheme a great deal more than would normally be required because for many years our predecessors did not have any such scheme and the fund now is carrying a load inherited from the past.

The scheme does not provide for refund of contributions to a Member who retires without qualifying for a pension. It could not at present. The fund is still young. It is in a very weak condition and to attempt to provide that where a Member retires, without qualifying for a pension, he would get a refund of his contributions would weaken it still further. In order to bring in this very necessary proposal I am bringing in now we have to top up the fund very slightly from the Exchequer. I do not know what the situation will be in the future.

This is a very difficult sort of fund to bring in because of the nature of membership of the Oireachtas. A Dáil or Seanad which lasts for a long time can change the situation radically. On the other hand, a series of general elections could change it equally radically in the other direction, so we can only at this stage introduce those amendments, make sure the fund has sufficient funds to pay them and then see what happens in future years.

It is entirely a question for Members of the Oireachtas themselves, whether they would take the view of Senator Ó Maoláin and say that the employer being of the State should pay half or whether they would go the other way with Senator Quinlan and say that this should become a fully self-supporting scheme. This is a decision we do not have to take at the moment for the simple reason that we cannot take it but it is something on which I would not have any dogmatic views when this comes. Senator Quinlan raised the point about the length of time. You must have some length of time, you must have some limitation, you must have some qualification. I think it is reasonable to suggest that the finances of a Member, who has been here for a considerable time, eight years, 10 years or 12 years, will be that more seriously disrupted. A man who is in here for only one year or two years presumably would not suffer so greatly in regard to his job, his business or his farm but if a man or woman serves here for a period of eight or 10 years, then I think it is almost inevitable that either his job prospects or his financial situation must deteriorate all the more the longer he is in here. That is why the qualifying period of eight years has been inserted in this though, indeed, it is possibly true that there will be cases of hardship.

I am aware of cases of difficulty already—Members who have been in this House for seven years and 300 days and that sort of thing who will not qualify even with those amending provisions. In all those matters a line has to be drawn somewhere and it seems to me that eight years is a reasonable qualification. Different Members and different Parties have pressed me to reduce the period but at this stage I do not feel I could do so.

Finally, I want to say in all those matters, as Senator Ó Maoláin has said, in this House at any rate we try to be as humane and as progressive as our circumstances will permit. I do not think we can reach for the moon over night but if our resources and our circumstances permit we will continue to improve all those matters. I hope I will not be misunderstood when I say I have a soft spot for widows because I was reared and educated by a widow.

I think I would be in order in replying on the amendment.

No. You may ask a question.

Could I have a ruling on that? I proposed an amendment. I understood, under the rules of procedure, the mover of an amendment has the right to reply.

Acting Chairman

The Minister has concluded.

I would claim on a point of order that the Minister has made a reply to my proposal and the debate but that the reply of the proposer comes after what the Minister has said. This is what applies to motions and I suggest it would apply to an amendment. The Minister has replied to the amendment and I should now have the right to wind up on the amendment.

Acting Chairman

No, Senator, the Minister has concluded.

I suggest, with respect, that it would not really be possible for me to speak finally on the amendment before the Minister said what he has to say. Therefore, with respect, I would be in order in winding up on the amendment.

Acting Chairman

No, the rules would not permit it.

May I ask a question?

Acting Chairman

Yes, you may.

What proportion of the £12,000 subsidy now being paid will be due to the reduction on the qualifying period from ten years to eight years? The Minister told us that the question of widows' pensions has been "for some considerable time under review". Could he give us any idea how long?

Not under review. Under active examination in the preparation of the scheme.

I accept the amendment though I do not think it makes much difference to widows. I should like to ask the Minister when, after active consideration, does he intend to take action?

The reply to the first part of the question about the proportion of this money which is attributable to the reduction from 10 years to eight years is very difficult. It would be, I think, impossible to say with any degree of accuracy but I believe it has been very slight. A part of the £12,000 will be required to meet the widows' and orphans' obligations. The position about the pensions for widows and orphans of State servants is as I said some time ago—I do not know whether I used the word "considerable"; if I did I would modify it to "some time ago"—that this matter was taken up in connection with conciliation and arbitration machinery. It is not a question of it being under review. It is a question of work going on, a drawing up of an acceptable scheme by the people concerned. As soon as that scheme can be hammered out, there will be no delay on my part in introducing it.

I thank the Minister for that reply, from which I feel most encouraged.

Could the Minister give favourable consideration to my suggestion of having no period attached to widows? In other words, from the moment a widow comes in, she is covered, even though the Member is not entitled?

That would give rise to an absurd situation where the widow would be entitled to a pension and where her husband would not, if he were still alive. In that connection, the same consideration would accrue to the widow as to the Member. Again, we have a qualifying period of eight years, and so on. In that time his circumstances would have changed by being a Member of this House and devoting his time to public service. Presumably his affairs, in so far as they would affect his widow's circumstances, would be the same. He would leave her much worse off the longer he was in here and it is reasonable to say that the first thing that must happen is that the husband must qualify, and if he qualifies at all—and this is a significant thing we are providing in the scheme—his widow qualifies.

It is not operating in the United States that widows' pensions come up and are not linked.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

This is an argumentative question. Is amendment No. 2 withdrawn?

I should like to press it.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Motion put and agreed to.