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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 25 Jul 1974

Vol. 78 No. 17

Defence Forces (Pensions) (Amendment), (No. 3) Scheme: Motion.

I move:

That the Defence Forces (Pensions) (Amendment) (No. 3) Scheme, 1974, prepared by the Minister for Defence with the consent of the Minister for the Public Service under Sections 2, 3 and 5 of the Defence Forces (Pensions) Act, 1932 and Section 4 of the Defence Forces (Pensions) (Amendment) Act, 1938, and laid before the House on the 23rd day of July, 1974, be confirmed.

The scheme is designed to permit payment of a married officer's gratuity to an officer who marries at any time before his retirement and to provide improved death gratuities in respect of certain officers.

As the Defence Forces (pensions) schemes stand, an officer must have been in receipt of a married rate of pay for not less than two years before his retirement to qualify for payment of a married officer's gratuity. Article 5 provides that the gratuity will be payable if the officer was married at any time before retirement.

Under the existing schemes, a gratuity equal to one year's pay is payable in respect of an officer who dies while serving and who had more than five years service. Article 6 (1), paragraph (1) (a) (ii), provides that in the case of such an officer with more than 30 years service, the gratuity will be a year's pay plus one-thirtieth of his annual rate of pay at the date of death for each year of service in excess of 30 years but not exceeding 45 years. This is in line with the Civil Service code.

Where a married special service officer (that is, a medical, legal, engineer, etc. officer) dies at any time within two years of the retiring age prescribed for a line officer of similar rank a gratuity of one-and-a-half years' pay is payable. A special service officer may, however, in accordance with Defence Force regulations, continue to serve beyond the retiring age for a line officer of the same rank and up to 65 years. If he does so and dies while serving the gratuity of one-and-a-half years' pay is payable under the existing schemes only if his death takes place within two years of his revised retiring age, viz. 65 years. Otherwise a smaller gratuity is payable. Article 6 (1) paragraph (1) (b) provides in such a case for payment of the maximum gratuity in the event of death in service at any time during the extension.

As the improved benefits being provided do not stem from increases in service pay or from budgetary increases in public service pensions, a formal resolution of both Houses is necessary before the scheme can come into operation.

I commend the scheme to the sympathetic consideration of the Seanad.

This scheme is welcome and there is no question of any opposition to it. We, on this side of the House, have no particular view to offer. It appears to be in order and I join with the Minister in commending it to the House.

I should like to join with the Leader of the Opposition in welcoming this motion, which is another step taken by the Minister to remove anomalies which exist in Pensions Acts and goes some way towards removing injustices. From the brief look I have had at the scheme there are just a couple of things that disappoint me in it.

I am aware of this motion being introduced to take care of a couple of specific cases where injustice exists. There is disappointment in it especially for me in the fact that it applies only to officers. It still does nothing to take care of the fact that a single soldier, no matter what his service is, gets no gratuity.

A married soldier, with 21 to 31 years service, qualifies for a gratuity or a resettlement grant according to his rank, but there is no provision for a private soldier retiring after similar service except, of course, that he qualifies for something like 13 weeks' pay. I know that the Minister cannot do anything about it on this occasion but I hope he will take a look at cases like this.

With regard to the provisions which the Minister has now made for giving a gratuity to a married officer providing he was married at the time of his retirement, again, while welcoming this wholeheartedly, I do not know if it is possible for the Minister to take a look at injustices that occurred in the past in this respect. I understand that there are some difficulties for retrospective payment but there are cases that have occurred during the last 20 years or thereabouts. I would be happy to discuss them with the Minister at any time in private.

For instance, I know of a case where an officer, who was married and was entitled, as a married officer, to a gratuity suffered a misfortune and his wife died about three years before he retired. He was left in the situation where for the two years prior to his retirement he was unmarried within the terms of the Act and, despite the fact that he had a large family and needed his resettlement grant and gratuity as much as anything else, he was disqualified from obtaining his gratuity. I do not expect the Minister to do anything on this particular case but I hope he will take a note of cases such as this.

In general, on the whole question of army pensions, I say to the Minister that a layman and indeed, even a person with the benefit of some army service, finds this Act absolutely unintelligible.

It may come as a surprise to Senators to learn that there is a difference between the Defence Forces Pensions Act and Army pensions. It is difficult to explain. I suggest to the Minister that the time has come to consolidate all the Army Pensions Acts into an up-to-date Defence Forces Pensions Scheme which can be obtainable by people serving in the army. Apart from this, I do not wish anything I have stated to be taken as throwing cold water on the scheme being introduced by the Minister. I welcome this scheme and feel it will get support from this side of the House.

I should also like to welcome this step which has been taken to give justice to members of the Defence Forces. It is surprising, and a matter for regret, that so many schemes and amendments of this kind had to be introduced from time to time to bring the conditions of members of the Defence Forces in line with the Civil Service. In this respect I note the Minister stated this improvement is in line with Civil Service code. This could be interpreted as a slightly ambiguous statement although that may not be the intention. I should like to ask the Minister whether, in so far as the two services can be compared, this gives equal rights to an officer as it would give to an equivalent member of the Civil Service.

I agree with Senator Sanfey's suggestion that the pension scheme should be codified and put into one Act which would contain all the provisions for pensions and would be readily understandable by anyone wishing to consult them. If the Minister does that he will ensure that when this final codified pension scheme is produced, it will bring the conditions of the Defence Forces in line completely with the Civil Service.

Ba mhaith liom fosta cuidiú leis an méid atá ráite ag na Seanadóirí eile agus fáilte a chur roimh an Bhille seo. Measaim gur cheart dúinn gach rud is téidir linn a dhéanamh chun chuidiú leis na daoine a thug seirbhís dúinn ins na Forsaí Cosanta agus go háirithe na saighdiúirí féin. Níl sé ceart saighdiúir a fhanann san Airm ar feadh 35 bliain, saighdiúir nach bhfuil pósta, a chur amach gan deontas ar bith a thabhairt dó. Aontaím go mór leis an Seanadóir Sanfey ins an rud a dúirt sé ar an ábhar sin.

I welcome this Bill, The Houses of the Oireachtas should bend over backwards to ensure that they would have a proper codified regulation for dealing with army personnel in our Defence Forces. When we issue advertisements asking people to join up in our national forces, it is our duty to ensure that, after giving their best years in the service of their country, they are not victimised in later life. If the youth of our country could spend at least one year in the Defence Forces it would be a great help in later life.

We cannot achieve that aim if certain members who serve in our Defence Forces are not getting their just rights. If it was brought into line with the Civil Service there should not be any complaint. In future it should not be necessary to have individual complaints such as we have had. As stated by Senator Ryan and Senator Sanfey it should be codified in order that these people will know the conditions of their employment.

I should like to thank Senators for the way in which they have received me and in the way they have received this legislation. A soldier's vocation, his length of service and his conditions are different from those of a civil servant. From this stems much of the difficulty in codifying the various pension schemes and a great deal of the disappointment felt by both sides. There is a natural inclination on everybody's part, if they have a pension scheme in their vocation in life, to pick from it the bad things in relation to somebody else's scheme and, to some extent, to magnify those in their discussions with people, whereas the good aspects, if they are different, are inclined to be forgotten.

That is not a criticism of any soldier, the Army, of any Senator or of the Civil Service, but it is a fact that if there is a situation whereby soldiers are retiring—those who are on the ordinary line—a captain at 54 years of age, a commandant at 56, a lieutenant colonel at 58, a colonel at 60 and a major general at 63, and if you have, at the same time, all civil servants retiring normally at 65 years of age, of necessity you would have to have a different pension scheme if one were to be fair to both. From this stems all the difficulty which arises in trying even to understand the Army Pensions Act. I have been Minister for Defence for 18 months and it is only during the past few months that I am absorbing all the major intricacies.

The point was made about an unmarried soldier receiving no gratuity. Gratuities for single officers and soldiers, in addition to their pensions, will be introduced on a phased basis to correspond with the various stages in the equalisation of pay between single and married personnel. I do not wish to weary the Seanad with a detailed explanation. Single officers and men who left the Army on or after the 1st June, 1973, will receive 17½ per cent of the difference between the single and married rates of pension, and 17½ per cent of the gratuity payable to married personnel.

Subsequent stages of pay equalisation will follow. It is a matter for the Department of the Public Service, and the Department of Finance. It is to some extent outside my scope but I have every good will in this regard. The single soldier will move towards parity with his married counterpart.

One of the arguments, if one were to use an argument in relation to pensions, which should not have happened over the years was that the single soldier in relation to the married soldier received a greater percentage of his pay while serving as pension. This, to some extent, has inhibited thinking in this matter.

I should like to draw attention to the fact that pensions are quite good now. A private with 21 years' service receives £13.02. It is taken that when he leaves, he can earn money, if he is in good health, and on reaching 65 years because of the social welfare benefit he then receives, he goes up to £27.02 pension per week.

On the other end of the scale the sergeant major has a maximum weekly rate of pay from 1/6/1974 £50.46. After 21 years' service he will have £18.79 pension and on reaching 65 years of age he will have £32.79. After 31 years' service he would have £24.09 and on reaching 65 years of age he will have £33.29. Major improvements have been made and such changes as we are making are necessary. Anomalies did occur over the years which should be corrected. I thank the Senators for their reception of this order today and I hope the parliamentary draftsmen are in time to have it in the Dáil with a further order tomorrow in respect of pre-1968 pensioners. These are matters which have to be settled up. My desire was that they should be settled up before the Summer Recess, so that nobody would be left one day longer than necessary without the increases to which we felt they were entitled. If the parliamentary draftsmen can make it in time for the Minister for the Public Service and me to sign this evening, we will have a further Order in the other House, tomorrow.

Question put and agreed to.
Business suspended at 3.20 p.m. and resumed at 5.30 p.m.