COMMITTEE ON FINANCE. - VOTE 58.—ARMY PENSIONS.

I move:—

Go ndeontar suim ná raghaidh thar £211,000 chun slánuithe na suime is gá chun íoctha an Mhuirir a thiocfidh chun bheith iníoctha i rith na bliana dar críoch chun Pinsin Chréachta, Liuntaisí Acht Arm-Phinsean, 1923, agus chun síntiúisí iolardha mar gheall ar a Riara san agus chun Pinsin d'íoc fé Acht na bPinsean Seirbhíse Mileata, 1924.

That a sum not exceeding £211,000 be granted to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1926, for Wound Pensions, Allowances and Gratuities under the Army Pensions Act, 1923, and for sundry contributions in respect of the Administration thereof and to pay Pensions under the Military Service Pensions Act, 1924.

With regard to this Vote for pensions under the Army pensions Act and the Military Service Pensions Act, I think the best thing I can do is to go through the sub-heads and give the Dáil the views of my Department. This Vote is purely for statutory obligations that we have to meet. I propose to start with the last financial year under sub-head (a). The total number of pensions awarded during that year was 624, and gratuities 395, at an approximate total cost of £72,000. In the current financial year a total of 750 pensions is provided for at a cost of £45,000. That includes payment of arrears on new pensions. Provision is also made for the estimated payment of 250 gratuities in cases not eligible on medical assessment for pensions at an average figure of £40, amounting to £10,000. Where the disablement, as assessed on medical grounds, is less in degree than twenty per cent., the case is met by payment of a gratuity as set out in section 1, sub-section (3) of the Act. These figures indicate that, roughly, five-sixths of the work of first assessment of pension cases has been already completed, but there is a reassessment in most of these cases, so that, roughly, two-thirds has still to be continued until the final and statutory condition is reached, when the assessment is made final. Medical treatment, though not specifically within the Act, is being afforded in all such non-final cases, because it is felt that it is necessary in some cases to reduce disability and consequently there will be a corresponding reduction in the pensions. As regards gratuity cases, as I stated, two-thirds of the work of assessment has been already gone through. The total amount of the Vote under this sub-head is £55,000.

As to sub-head (b) —allowance and gratuities granted under sections 7 and 8 of the Act to widows, children, dependents and partial dependents of deceased officers and soldiers of the forces, and of the Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army—the total number of awards under this sub-head during the last financial year was: allowances 194, gratuities 587. The total approximate cost last year was £60,000. In the current estimate provision is made for 200 allowances and 200 gratuities. The cost of the allowances is estimated at £17,000 and the cost of the gratuities at £16,000, so that the total estimate under this sub-head would be £33,000.

Coming to sub-head (c) —expenditure in connection with the provision of artificial appliances for officers and soldiers in receipt of wound pensions, the cost last year was approximately £2,000. In the estimate for the current year that is reduced by £1,000, to cover the cost of upkeep of limbs, to replace worn limbs, and, perhaps, supply a small number of new ones where needed.

Under sub-head (d) vocational training is given to officers and soldiers who are in receipt of wound pensions. Under sub-head (e) which touches on travelling and incidental expenses of discharged soldiers attending medical boards, etc., pay warrants are issued to those men, and their travelling expenses are paid backwards and forwards to Dublin while they are attending those medical boards. The estimate for the current year is £2,000, as against £2,900 spent under that sub-head last year.

We now come to sub-head (f)—military service pensions under the Act of 1924. There is a very big amount set out under this sub-head—£224,000. That is estimated for 3,784 men of all ranks. The total number was arrived at after very close consultation with the Secretary of the Board of Assessors and the Chairman of that Board. When we come to the figure of 3,784, it is the opinion of the Chairman of the Board that the number of persons to whom certificates will be issued will come approximately to 5,000. That will mean an addition of 1,216 to the above estimate. The majority of the latter will come within the lower grades, noncommissioned officers and men. I might say that this estimate is based absolutely on the experience we have gained up to date of the rate of progress we are able to maintain. Sometimes it is very difficult to arrive at a proper conclusion on account of the evidence submitted, and the way in which it is submitted. Very often the referees do not come up in time, and the people getting pensions very often give information which is misleading. Therefore, the work of this Board must necessarily be very slow. We want to see that every person who is entitled to get a pension under the Military Service Pensions Act will get one, but we also want to see that the people who are not entitled, and who seek, perhaps, to get a pension it was never intended they should get, will be properly dealt with, and that the State shall not give a pension unless it can be proved that a person is entitled to get one.

The amount in this estimate is an exceptionally large one. The probability is that, under existing circumstances, there will be an increase in this estimate for next year. While the amount may seem very large at the present time, we have given the matter every consideration, and we have taken all the data that we could get up to date, together with the rate of progress that has been made by the Board in assessing claims, and we have come to the conclusion that £224,000 will carry us through for the coming year. I will be glad to give you any further information that may be required under this Vote. I think I went through it fairly accurately. These estimates are all, I think, on the conservative side. We did not want to ask for money that will not be expended within the year. We went very carefully into it, and had the assistance of people who know what they were doing up to the present, and the progress they can make for the months that are to come.

Under sub-head (d) what is the kind of vocational training that is given? A little information on that would be interesting, I am sure.

It is only fair that I should answer that question, as I think I had a longer service as Minister for Defence than the present occupant of the office. I was not able to solve that particular matter. It is put down, I suppose, this year in the hope that some wiser person would come along with some incentive or inspiration as to how the money could be best utilised. There were many suggestions, but none were found to be practicable. It was simply put in with a view to seeing whether there might not be some useful purpose to which the money could be devoted. So far we have not found that, but it may arise during the year. I do not think it will though.

I take it the Ministry, in considering this, had in mind the experience of the wounded soldiers in the British army and the training that was given to them. I would have thought the information that surely would be available in respect to the kind of training that has been taken advantage of, and that has brought forth very good results in many cases, would have been made the basis of this Vote. I am surprised that the President, in answer to my leading question, should explain that there is really no vocational training in operation. I did not know that, and I was rather hopeful I would get a very interesting statement of the kind of training and the results that had been achieved. I am very sorry that the money voted last year apparently has not been spent, and that no training has, in fact, been given. I think there is a number of men who were wounded and rendered unable to follow their old occupations, who would be quite willing to undergo a special training and who would show good returns for any money expended on them. I am rather disappointed and surprised there has been nothing of that kind put into operation.

There were no applications made during the period for vocational training, but I will undertake that if any applications come from people whom it is proposed to give this treatment to, we will see if anything can be done and we will see if proper scheme can be put up so as to give people the benefit of this Vote.

I am afraid that is rather too vague. If there are wounded men whose disability is on record, whose present state of life is on record, then there would be a duty imposed on the Ministry of finding out a group of occupations in which men might be trained. It is to the men who are disabled that the offer should be made that you are prepared to train them for a particular trade or group of trades; whichever they may be suited for. If you advertise the fact, as you are now doing, that you are prepared to give vocational training to wounded men, when you get applications you will consider then what they are fitted for and how you will proceed to organise your scheme. I am sure you will get applications, but I am afraid if you have not got your scheme already organised you will cause another disappointment.

The Minister will realise that for about a year a large number of exArmy men have been waiting for the fulfilment of a promise in respect of disease contracted on service and as a result of service. On many occasions there has been a Bill promised to deal with the case of those men, and a very great deal of disappointment, anger, and utter desperation in some cases, has been created by the non-fulfilment of the promise. If the Minister invites another set of men to send in their applications for training under this scheme, and it is found there is no scheme, I am afraid you will find a great increase in the number of disappointed and dissatisfied men. It would be a better thing to say that there are certain occupations you are prepared to train men for and ask the applicants to come forward for training in those occupations.

I would just like to stress the point raised by Deputy Johnson with regard to the amending Bill, promised by the Minister quite a long time ago, to deal with men discharged as medically unfit from the Army. A large number of men were discharged as medically unfit and some of them are in an extremely bad way. A pretty good percentage of them happen to be married men with families. There is no provision being made for them. I know a few of those men who, as a result of disease contracted during Army service, are unable to resume their pre-Army occupation and are in an exceedingly bad way.

Further, they are in this position that they are not entitled to unemployment benefit because of the fact that they were discharged from the Army as being medically unfit. If they applied for unemployment benefit in respect of the stamps which they had to their credit before joining the Army, they were told: "You were discharged from the Army as medically unfit, and as you are medically unfit at present you are not in a position to take up employment, therefore you are not entitled to benefit." The Dáil will see that the position of these men is very far from pleasant, to say the least of it, and I think the Minister should bring in a Bill to deal with this matter as soon as possible. I think the President, when acting as Minister for Defence, promised to bring in a measure or to look for some further powers with regard to gratuities or pensions to the dependents of soldiers who were killed during the period of the civil war. That has not been forthcoming either. We have numerous cases of mothers and fathers—whose sons served in the National Army and were shot—being put off with a gratuity of anything from £10 to £70. I think £100 is the maximum, but the gratuities generally ranged from £40 to £75. I know myself, and there are several Deputies also aware, that there is quite a number of people whose sons were practically their only support who have been put off with gratuities of £40, £50 and £60. I think these people deserve better of the Government and of the country. I would certainly urge that the Minister should see about bringing in this promised amending Bill as soon as possible.

When the Minister is replying would he tell us whether the sum of £224,000 expected to be called on during this year is in excess and to what degree it is in excess of the estimate which was made when the Bill was being considered by the Dáil? I have a kind of dim recollection that a figure was quoted as the Ministry's expectation. Still I think they realised it was not based on actuarial calculation. I wonder whether the Minister can help us in forming an opinion as to the total amount that will be required when all the pensions, say 5,000 pensions, are fixed and how many years it will take for that to be wiped out— that is to say, how long are we likely to be paying, say, £300,000 a year in respect of these pensions, and what will be the rate of decrease in the annual sum required?

I am afraid that is a poser.

I suppose that is a matter on which the Minister has had some advice from the actuaries.

Deputy Johnson more or less anticipated what I wanted to say, but Deputy Johnson forgets that under sub-head (a) we are committed to an annuity of £55,000. Calculating, as he has calculated, on one-third more for the 1,216 men of the lower grade, who will receive a pension, the probable amount of pensions would be in the neighbourhood of £355,000. That is a serious amount. It means more than the interest on the sum required for the Shannon scheme. I dare say we have got better value for it than the Shannon scheme will give. One cannot grumble very much at it. When the Minister for Agriculture spoke of £1,600,000 a year for policemen we can hardly cavil at £355,000 a year for soldiers, but it tends to show that we will have to try to make up this expenditure by retrenchments as far as possible in order that this big pension fund which has to be met yearly will be within our means.

I should like to get a statement of policy from the Minister—I think this sub-head (f) presents a very opportune occasion—as to the position of certain persons who sent an ultimatum last year to the Executive Council. I want to know definitely if these people are coming under this Pension Act and if it is proposed by the Government to award them pensions.

With reference to sub-head (e), I would like to know what is the procedure in regard to these medical boards. Are they all held in the city or are any of them held in the country? If they are held in the city, would it not be more economical if the members of the board were sent to the different districts in the country instead of bringing all these applicants for pensions or unfit people up to the city?

In connection with sub-head (f), will the Minister say the number of military service pensions withheld by the Ministry of Finance at present?

I cannot give the Deputy the exact number that are withheld, but I can assure him as soon as this Bill has passed its final stages that none of these pensions will be withheld unless where persons infringe the law, as laid down in that Act—that is, where they have been imprisoned or are guilty of acts that debar them from getting a pension. These pensions will be paid forthwith. As regards Deputy Doyle's question, medical boards are held here in the city. The people who come before these boards are asked to come up to the city and their expenses are paid both backwards and forwards. I think that is the only way you can have the medical board to function. If you were to send the medical board to districts where there are only two or three people to be examined, it would be a very cumbersome and a very difficult way of getting at people who have to come up before these boards, perhaps not once but two or three times. In regard to the question of dependents, raised by Deputy Morrissey, partial dependency of course is paid by gratuity. Where full dependency has been established, pensions have been awarded and in fact have been paid. When it is only a question of partial dependency the people get a lump sum and that finishes it.

Deputy Johnson raised a question regarding the amount it was estimated that this Bill would cost, and I think the estimate made then was between £50,000 and £100,000. We find that has been exceeded this year by over £100,000, and probably next year it will be another £100,000. I can give the Deputy the information he desires, but it would take some little time. If the Deputy is very anxious I will try to have it for him on another occasion.

Will the Minister answer the question put to him with regard to the position of men who are discharged medically unfit, and will he also say when he hopes to be in a position to introduce the amending Bill?

The amending Bill is in draft, and, as I think I told the House before, it is at present being considered by the Ministry of Finance. If the Minister for Finance had been here he would have made a statement on the matter, because I believe, from the examination it is getting, there will be no less than eighteen new heads of expenditure under the Bill, and of necessity it must get close examination. That examination is being given to it at the moment. I cannot give the exact date of its introduction, but as soon as the Finance Department have gone through the various items and have seen what the cost to the State will be, it will be introduced.

Can the Minister say if it will be introduced before the Recess?

I am in the hands of the Finance Ministry at the moment. I would be glad to give the date if I could.

I think it is due to the Dáil to be informed as to when this Bill will be introduced. We raised this matter on several occasions and we were put off by answers of this kind, that it is in the hands of the Ministry of Finance. Does the Minister realise in what hands the poor people are who have been waiting for this Bill for the past three or four years? Does he realise that there are specific cases which I brought before the Ministry and which have not yet been dealt with? There are cases where people lost their health, but where they were not wounded, which cannot be dealt with under the present Act. There is one case that I venture to suggest is known to the President; it was brought to his notice by some very influential persons, and he promised to give consideration to it. That was the case of a man who left the British Forces, joined a flying column and died in action, but not from wounds, actually died as a result of the fight as much as if he had been shot. The dependents of such people are still waiting for consideration. I think it is only due to them, to the country and to the Dáil that some definite statement should be made as to the introduction of this Bill. These people have waited long enough.

The Bill will be introduced, but the ramifications of the measure are so great and the amount of money that will be involved is so enormous that it requires very close examination in the Ministry of Finance. I know that it is getting that examination at the moment from inquiries that have been addressed to officers in my Department. But I am not in a position now to announce the date on which it will be introduced. It all depends on the progress made in the Department of Finance. If the Minister for Finance were here he might be able to give an approximate date, but I cannot give it.

I do not want to press the Minister too much on this matter, but I would like to remind him that we were promised that this Bill would have been introduced by the end of last year, and we were told that the draft was ready for sending to the Ministry of Finance. Are we to understand that the Ministry of Finance has been considering this for the last six months and has not yet come to a decision that would enable the Bill to be introduced?

Is there any possibility that the Bill will come from the Ministry of Finance and be introduced and passed before Christmas of this year?

I should say that there is a possibility of that.

Will the Minister say whether there is a probability?

I think the Deputy knows that sometimes it is not easy to get documents of that nature from the Ministry of Finance. They have their own duties to perform in connection with these matters, and all I can say is that as soon as they come to a conclusion on it the Bill will not rest in my Department for one week before it is introduced.

Might I draw the attention of the Minister to the statement made earlier in the afternoon, by two Ministers, chiefly by the President, that the Executive Council was a unit and every Minister was equally responsible for the acts of any other Minister who is a member of the Executive Council. The Minister for Defence is blaming the Minister for Finance, but the Minister for Defence is responsible for the failure to introduce this Bill, at least he is responsible for the non-receipt of pensions or allowances by people who are admittedly incapacitated by virtue of their service in the Army, just as incapacitated by virtue of their service as though they had been wounded by bullets. There may be very many difficulties; I have no doubt there are, but the point is that this Bill has been promised on many occasions on the authority of the Ministry, and if it had never been promised people would not have been looking forward to it, would not have been disappointed at not receiving the pensions which they were promised on the authority of the Minister on several occasions. A very definite promise was made to introduce the Bill before last Christmas. We are now into the middle of May, and it is hoped that there will be an adjournment at the end of June. If the Bill is not presented and passed before the end of June the chances of having it introduced and passed before Christmas, I am afraid, are not very bright, and in that case we shall be discussing this question again on next year's Estimates.

I hope not.

I want to remind the Minister that he is just as much responsible for this matter as the Minister for Finance.

I certainly do not agree with placing the blame for delay in this connection, or in any other connection, upon the Minister for Finance, nor do I accept, even from a Minister of the Executive Council, that it depends on the Minister for Finance as to whether or not he is to get any money. I do not agree with that; it is not good business; it is not right. I have had some experience of this measure, and I do not think it would have been possible for me to have spent a longer time than I did during my period as Minister for Defence in reading over the applications, either from dependents, or cases where claims had been made for pensions other than for wounds, and not be impressed. But I do not believe that I made a promise about the introduction of this measure at a date earlier than last summer. We have now got into this summer, so that it is only twelve months. It took, in the first place, a fairly long time to decide upon the particular body we would call together with a view to finding out what were the various disorders for which the State might reasonably be supposed to accept responsibility, and I certainly did not accept, and never did make the statement which Deputy Morrissey, I think, endeavoured to get the Minister to accept, that the liability was in respect of all the persons who had been discharged from the Army as medically unfit.

On a point of personal explanation, if I said that I did not intend to say it. I would not make such a foolish statement.

We are getting on somewhat. I repeat that a large number were discharged as medically unfit. Our responsibility is in respect of those who came in fit and went out medically unfit, and who deteriorated by reason of the services they rendered, and for which a reasonable personal responsibility against the man, such as abuse and so on, could not be urged by the State. We had first to discover the number of disorders, and medical men only could express opinions on those. Having expressed opinions, it was for other people to form judgment on the opinions expressed. The question then arose as to the large number so discharged and gradually we are getting down to the point where we could arrive at a figure for which we might reasonably accept moral liability, and where in equity responsibility for these people rested upon the State.

I heard here within the last week or fortnight the number of queries the Ministry of Finance have addressed on this subject. They have not exhausted their list. I should say that the queries I have seen are those one would anticipate from an intelligent criticism of the proposals put up. Even in the matter of the conference there was, I understand, a difference of opinion between medical men. It would be rather a peculiar position for the Minister if he were to introduce a Bill which would reflect the opinion of one medical school as against another, and any delay that has taken place, although it may have been rather difficult to give an explanation of it here, and although it may be difficult for members to accept the explanation, is a delay which has been unavoidable. We are impressed by, and we know of the sufferings and the wants of the people whom we intend to relieve by this measure. I do not anticipate that it is possible to have the measure introduced before the adjournment. I believe it will be possible to introduce it in the autumn. I hope it will, and I believe that every possible facility will be given by the Government to have it passed into law when introduced. I I do not place the responsibility for delay either personally on the Minister for Finance or on his Department.

Can the President say how many genuine cases are likely to come forward?

Last year I was rather unfortunate in my estimate of those pensions under (a). I calculated that the sum would not have exceeded £100,000. I find the Estimate now is £224,000. At one time I had a fairly reliable estimate furnished to me stating that it would be about £60,000, which I estimated at £100,000. I got the figures under certain heads. I think that at one time we had a figure of something like 500 persons suffering from some form of phthisis. I am certain 500 people did not get that disease from the services they rendered. They must have brought it in with them to the Army. That view, too, is held by some eminent medical men. Taking it that way there would be a couple of hundred suffering from some form of rheumatism and a lesser number from some other of those disorders. Altogether I would say there would be at least 1,000, but I could not give that estimate with any degree of reliability, speaking as one who has been away from the Ministry for some months, and having in mind only some of the earlier figures.

Approximately how many persons are in receipt of one form of pension or another?

That is out of order.

I wonder would I be in order in asking whether the President could not devise some way whereby he could bring the rest of the population under some pension scheme? There are not many remaining.

Might I enquire if the Deputy has the support of his Party?

We will consider the Bill on its merits when you propose it.

Vote put and agreed to.

I move to report progress.