In Committee on Finance. - Vote No. 66—Army Pensions.

I move:—

Go ndeontar suim ná raghaidh thar £185,976 chun slánuithe na suime is gá chun íoctha an Mhuirir a thiocfaidh chun bheith iníoctha i rith na bliana dar críoch an 31adh lá de Mhárta, 1935, chun Pinsean Créachta agus Ní-ábaltachta, Pinsean Breise agus Pinsean Fear Pósta, Liúntaisí agus Aiscí (Uimh. 26 de 1923, Uimh. 12 de 1927, agus Uimh. 24 de 1932) agus chun síntiúisí agus costaisí iolardha ina dtaobh san agus chun Pinsean Seirbhíse Mileata (Uimh. 48 de 1924), etc.

That a sum not exceeding £185,976 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, 1935, for Wound and Disability Pensions, Further Pensions, and Married Pensions, Allowances and Gratuities (No. 26 of 1923, No. 12 of 1927, and No. 24 of 1932), and for sundry contributions and expenses in respect thereof and for Military Service Pensions (No. 48 of 1924), etc.

Provision is made in this Estimate for the payment of pensions and allowances under the Army Pensions (Would and Disease) Acts, 1923 to 1932 and the Military Service Pensions Act, 1924. The total amount estimated for is £288,476.

The amount of the Vote (including Supplementary Vote of £32,000) for the year 1933-34 was £268,184. There is, therefore, an increase of £20,292 on the previous year's Estimate. The increase is principally under the head of wound and disability pensions and gratuities, and is due to the provision for further pensions under the Act of 1932, which it is anticipated will be awarded in the current financial year. These pensions date from 1st April, 1932, so that it will be seen that each new pension awarded this year involves payment of two years' arrears as well as payment for the current year.

Over 6,000 applications on the prescribed form under the 1932 Act have been received. A considerable number of these are cases which have been adjudicated upon under the Army Pensions Acts, 1923 and 1927. Upwards of 4,000 applications, after preliminary examination, have been referred to the Military Service Registration Board for investigation and report. This Board has reported in about 1,100 cases. These have been referred to the Army Pensions Board, which has disposed of about 900 cases, following which awards of pensions, allowances and gratuities have been made in over 400 cases. Awards have been refused in upwards of 400 cases, following investigation thereof. The remaining 100 cases, which have been reported on by the Army Pensions Board, are still under consideration.

Sub-head "K" Extra Statutory Grant.—Provision has been made under this sub-head for the grant in exceptional circumstances to a person who, being the son of a signatory to the Proclamation published on Easter Monday, 1916, has passed the statutory age limit for the receipt of allowances under the Army Pensions Acts. Similar provision was made in the Estimates for 1931-32, 1932-33 and 1933-34.

We have an Army Pensions Board and a Military Service Registration Board, the Chairman of each body receiving £700 per year. Each of these offices appears to be whole-time. Are they established for all time?

I am simply looking for information. Are these offices temporary? It appears to me that there is a lot of duplication with regard to the two Boards.

The Boards are temporary, and are similar to the Boards which were in operation some time ago.

The two Boards are necessary?

They are necessary under the Act.

Are the two Boards whole-time?

Would the Minister say when it is proposed to introduce legislation to abolish military service pensions? At the Ard-Fheis it was announced that military service pensions were to be abolished. Will the Minister say when the necessary legislation will be introduced?

It is not going to be introduced.

There is a change of policy.

Will the Minister be good enough to explain what has caused the Government to change its mind?

That will be explained in detail when further legislation is brought in.

I desire to refer to the case of an officer named Hiney, who was tried by court-martial as far back as December. I understand that he was dismissed by court-martial decision at the end of February for conduct unbecoming an officer and for behaving in a discreditable manner, or something of that sort. Two months is a long time for a court-martial to make up its mind on a question of that kind. I understand that notice of the withdrawal of the pension to which he was entitled has been served on this officer. I do not know how many cases of withdrawal of pensions have come before the Executive Council. If my recollection is correct, withdrawals of pensions should follow a conviction in which some sentence of imprisonment or punishment of that sort was imposed or it should be the consequence of some offence which would indicate that the person was engaged in anti-State activities. I do not know whether there is an alteration in connection with the consideration of these matters. It is a very serious and heavy penalty to deprive of his pension an officer who has been found guilty by court-martial but who has not been sentenced to any term of imprisonment. I think that the Executive Council would be well advised in cases of that sort to weigh all the circumstances carefully and to consider whether the punishment fits the crime. The case was published at great length in the Press. It was not a very serious case, if the whole of the evidence was published. If this man's pension amounted to £50 a year, at 20 years' purchase that would amount to a fine of £1,000, which is a very heavy penalty.

There may be indignation at the action that the officer took. I presume the Minister has considered all the circumstances. It must have been on his recommendation that the pension was withdrawn. The allowance, as was indicated at the time of the introduction of the Military Service Pensions Bill, is not a pension in the ordinary acceptation of the term. It is a sort of compensation for the interruption of young men's lives. They were taken away either from their university or school or from their profession or calling in life at the most critical stage in their career. In 1924, the State gave them that compensation for the services they had rendered or the years they had sacrificed in the public interest. The withdrawal or suspension of a pension of that sort is very serious for young men.

Let us not get into the position where we shall have one Minister taking away pensions and another Minister coming along and giving them back. Let whatever administrative act is performed be one that will not require review. If, in the judgement of the Executive Council, a case is established for withdrawal, let it be done without political partiality. The Executive Council would be well advised in those cases to let some period elapse between the time at which the charge is made and the consideration of the withdrawal or interruption of the pension. A short time ago, I had occasion to speak of the withholding for 12 months of a pension awarded to another officer by an Act passed through the Oireachtas. I understand that that pension has been paid since. I regret to have to introduce this matter but I do not regard the Military Service Pensions Act of 1924 as being really a Pensions Act. It provides rather for compensation. It is a debt the State owes rather than an ex gratia allowance. I know that these men did not enter into the service of the State or take part in public activities with the intention of obtaining future reward. In some cases these payments by no means provide adequate compensation. In other cases they may exceed any losses sustained. In any event, they were intended as compensation and they ought not to be withdrawn without very sound reason.

I agree with Deputy Cosgrave that the withdrawal of the pension in ex-Lieutenant Hiney's case constitutes very severe punishment. As the Deputy surmised, it was on my recommendation the pension was withdrawn. I made the recommendation, because the offence of which he was found guilty by a court of Army officers was a desperately serious one— an offence which no Government and no Minister for Defence could over look. If Deputy Cosgrave means that we, in charge of the Army, when dealing with a man who has been found guilty of an offence similar to that committed by Lieutenant Hiney, should not take drastic action against that officer for that offence, I think he is mistaken. Lieutenant Hiney was found guilty of having tried to extract nine hand grenades from military custody and also some rounds of ammunition. If that offence were committed by an ordinary private soldier, who tried to keep back hand grenades and took them out of barracks, one might say the case would be severely dealt with if he got one month in prison. If the offence was committed by an officer, a man responsible for giving good example to the men, it would deserve very much more severe punishment. I grant that the removal of a man's pension is a very severe punishment, amounting to more than 12 months in jail, but the offence was a very great one. It would be a great one at any time, but, particularly, in the present circumstances, the Government had to take a grave view of the matter, and that was the reason for the refusal to withdraw the punishment.

The Minister said that if this were a private soldier the sentence would be one month's imprisonment. Would that sentence of one month's imprisonment disqualify a soldier from getting his pension? If the offence were as serious as the Minister said, and that one month's imprisonment followed, that, to my mind, would look like the equivalent of a fine of £5. The Minister for Justice will correct me, if I am wrong, but I think in the police courts a fine of £2 would be equivalent to one month's imprisonment. If, as the Minister says, this offence was committed by a private soldier, and that he was sentenced to one month's imprisonment, the equivalent of £2 or £5, there is a very great difference between either of those figures and £1,000. I do not know what pension this man had. I do not know the man at all. I may have met him once. Whatever sentence might be passed on a private soldier, whether it was a sentence of one month's imprisonment or a fine, the fine in this particular case is entirely too heavy. I take the Minister's statement that he was found guilty of abstracting nine hand grenades. What a man like that would want nine hand grenades for I do not know from Adam. There is no person of authority in association with this lieutenant, in the Blue Shirts, who would tolerate anything of that sort— nobody. The Blue Shirts are a long time in existence. Have they committed any overt act against anybody? I advise the Minister to reconsider this case. He should have allowed some time to elapse between the court-martial and his decision. I speak advisedly on that matter. If the Minister looks up the files he will see I am not addressing myself to this matter lightly. Once before this kind of case occurred, and it took months to vindicate the men who were condemned, when a hasty decision was arrived at and these men were deprived of their pensions. They were then after further investigation restored. If the Minister would read some books on naval courtsmartial he would find one naval officer, at least, said he would never try a man except after a certain time, because otherwise his mind would tend towards a partial decision. In six months' time, if the Minister would reconsider the case he would arrive at a different conclusion. I have experience of that, as I have said, and that is the reason that I press this matter here to-day.

Question put and agreed to.