Committee on Finance. - Vote 33—Gárda Síochána.

I move:—

Go ndeontar suim ná raghaidh thar £1,217,478 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, 1936, chun Tuarastail agus Costaisí an Ghárda Síochána (Uimh. 7 de 1925).

That a sum not exceeding £1,217,478 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, 1936, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Gárda Síochána (No. 7 of 1925).

I wish to draw the attention of the House to the part of this Vote that comes under Sub-head J in regard to medical attendance on the Gárda Síochána. I think most Deputies and the public generally believe that the Vote for medical attendance on the Gárda covers full system of medical attendance for members of the Gárda Síochána; that a man entering the Gárda comes under the care of the authorities as regards any medical attendance he may need during his service, in the same sense and to the same degree as a soldier entering the National Army comes under the care of the Army authorities as regards whatever medical attendance he may require. I must confess that it was a considerable surprise to me when I found that that is not the case, but that a member of the Gárda is granted only a limited degree of medical attendance and that any special medical attendance he may require he has to provide at his own expense.

I submit that it is against the interests of the force that this medical attention should be insufficient and inadequate as it is; that it would be to the interest of the force and for the good of the country that the health of the Gárda should be safeguarded as adequately as it would be in the power of the authorities to safeguard it; that care should be taken to prevent illness occurring in the force; and that when illness does occur, the member of the force who suffers should be given a full degree of medical attendance with any special attention that is required. The position is that a member of the force who falls ill is entitled to what may be called the attention of a general medical practitioner, but he is not entitled to anything further unless the illness from which he suffers is due definitely to his service in the force, and not merely to his service in the force, but to the fact of injury being received in the course of his duty. Where a member of the Gárda requires further attention which cannot be given by the ordinary medical attendant, he has to provide it at his own expense or to accept it as an act of charity from a public hospital.

That is the position at the moment. If he enters a public hospital and some contribution towards his maintenance in the hospital is paid, it is deducted from his pay. No payment is made for his treatment in the public hospital. There is, I understand, a contribution towards the cost of his maintenance but nothing further. The suggestion has been made by the Gárda authorities that a Gárda is a suitable subject for the charity of a hospital in the same sense as a scavenger on the streets of Dublin. That is the exact parallel used by the Gárda authorities in reference to this particular question when the point was raised with them some months ago. I submit that it is not for the good of the force, for the good of the contentment of the force, or for the good of the health of the force that they should be treated in that way and put in the undignified position of seeking public charity for the necessary hospital attendance they may require as a result of illness.

It is necessary to go further and to ask what is the nature of, and in what way is the ordinary medical attendance provided for members of the Gárda? For a considerable time, from the foundation of the force until comparatively recently, the custom followed previously in regard to the Royal Irish Constabulary was followed in the country districts. A reputable medical man, very commonly the dispensary doctor of the district in which the Gárda station was situated, was invited to give medical attention to the men of the station and he was paid by means of a capitation fee. It was part of his duty not only to attend the men when sick but to exercise a general surveillance over the sanitary condition of the station, and, in that way, endeavour to prevent the occurrence of sickness in the station and in every way possible to preserve the health of the men before falling sick, and not merely endeavour to give them necessary attention when sick.

A different system has been adopted in recent years which is very inferior to the old system. In the last few years, when a vacancy occurs, a different system is adopted. The officers of the Gárda, acting, no doubt, on local advice, used to choose a medical man of repute to look after the health of the station generally, but what is done now is to invite all the medical men within a radius of several miles of the station to tender for attendance on the men when sick, and to state what fees they will charge per visit. The position is put up for auction and the man who values his services most cheaply is given the appointment. The man who values his services very cheaply is not likely to be mistaken in his estimate of his own value. We have the principle now being adopted by the Gárda authorities that the cheapest attendance is what they will give to the Gárda—the attendance which is valued most cheaply by the person who gives it.

I submit that the change of policy is mischievous and is unfair to the Gárda who deserve the best attention that can be given them in regard to sickness; and that it has substituted a much inferior system for a system which, on the whole, worked very well in the past. I would urge the Minister for Justice, who, I am quite certain, is very interested in the welfare of the individual men of the Gárda, as, I believe, we all are, to give his personal attention to this alteration of the system in regard to the attendance given to the Gárda, and to return to the old system as regards choice of medical attendant in country districts and consider the propriety of providing full medical attendance for the men of the Gárda in regard to the sickness they may encounter in the ordinary course of nature, and not merely limit that attendance to what is given in the case of injuries received in the course of duty.

Might I make one or two points before the Minister replies? The first has to do with some confusion that has arisen in the Department of Justice about the proper fund into which fees paid in respect of stamping bottles and checking weights by Civic Guards should be paid. I remember that this matter arose at the Committee of Public Accounts and I think the Minister will find it referred to in the last report of that body that some confusion does exist. What exactly the nature of that confusion is, I now forget, but I remember making a note at the time that the matter should be raised in Dáil Eireann and the Minister's attention directed to it, in order that the position might be regularised by whatever inter-departmental agreements may be necessary to put it to rights.

The other detail to which I wish to refer is the question of the administration of the hackney-car and carriage licences. I recognise that, under existing circumstances, it would be a hardship out of proportion to the public advantage to demand too high a standard of existing cab owners which would operate to scrap the cabs with which men are making their living at the present time, but I do think the time has come to set a higher standard for future licences than has been set heretofore; to give notice to all and sundry that, in future, it will not be permissible to purchase any old wreck of a secondhand car, paint it up and set up as a taxi-driver in the city; and that if people desire to go into the business of taxi-drivers in the future, they must make arrangements to purchase a reasonably serviceable vehicle and in due time put on the roads a vehicle primarily designed as a hackney-carriage and not a discarded private car 15 or 20 years old. It is a gross inconvenience to the citizens to have such services placed at their disposal and to have to pay for such services, and it is also a very material reflection on the city to visitors who may come here and find the cab-ranks of the city populated with nothing but vehicles that would be more at home on the junk heap. I recognise it will take some little time to put that reform into effect, but it is a reform to which the Minister should direct attention without delay.

I should like to direct attention to the necessity for the regulation of traffic at certain periods of the day by the Gárda Síochána on arterial roads which are contiguous to school buildings. At the present time children have to go to school across busy thoroughfares and they manage to cross safely without any assistance in most cases from the Gárda authorities. The protection and guidance of youngsters of school-going age would be mainly necessary between the hours of nine and 10 o'clock in the morning and 2 and 3.30 in the evening. I think it should be possible for the Gárda so to adjust their organisation as to provide policemen for point duty on main roads which have to be traversed by children going to or coming from school. The control of traffic arteries during these hours would not inflict any great burden on the existing personnel of the Gárda. I hope the Minister will see that the Gárda authorities will make some provision in this respect in the near future. In any city in Great Britain you will find that form of protection is given to children. It is a notable feature also of police organisation on the Continent. This is one of the few countries where that protection is not afforded to young children going to or coming from school. The Minister must be aware of the needs in this respect and I hope he will be able to tell us that the Gárda authorities propose to make regulations immediately to safeguard the lives of the children.

I think Deputy Dillon's youthful imagination plays tricks with him occasionally. I listened to him when he was speaking about the taxi cabs in Dublin. That is just the matter that I intended to raise on this Estimate.

The majority of the taxis on the streets of Dublin are only bandboxes.

Mr. Kelly

They seem to be very substantial bandboxes, so far as I can judge, and I have a pair of eyes the same as yourself, ears to hear, and probably the same amount of brains as you have. I have not heard a complaint about the Guards this year. No citizen crossed my doorstep to make a complaint about the police in Dublin. Citizens did come to complain about the way Ministers are doing their jobs and citizens came to complain about the way the members of the Dáil perform their duty to their country. A few citizens very vigorously complained of the manner in which I do my job. They are not satisfied that I am getting sufficient work for Dublin men. They state that Deputies from the country, when their fellow-countrymen come to town, take them by the hand, bring them to the Ministers and they are placed in a job within five minutes.

Hear, hear! Another cat out of the bag!

Mr. Kelly

My job in future is to take every Dublin man by the hand and bring him over to a Minister. They tell me that Cork men especially take only a one-way ticket; they know they will never have to go back. I have here a statement sent to me by the Dublin Owners' and Drivers' Street Taxi Association. I propose to send it later to the Minister, so that he can peruse it at his convenience. There are statements in it concerning the very matter which Deputy Dillon has raised. They are complaining of the numerous inspections by the police. In the course of their statement they say:

"You are aware that the old practice of a general inspection of hackney vehicles held in the month of May applies to taxi cabs; there are a number of other inspections held during the year for the latter; as a result of a protest from us some time ago as to the frequency of these inspections, they were described by the assistant commissioners as ‘necessary quarterly inspections.'

"Inspections in general are held in the Barrack Yard in Kevin Street. Cabs get a very exhaustive examination over a pit. If found wanting in any detail, the owner is supplied with a list of repairs, on completion of which he brings his cab to the carriage office to satisfy the officials that their orders had been conformed with."

The complaint is that the inspections are too frequent and it is not necessary to have so many. They also say that on every occasion it is necessary for them to carry out repairs according to order, these repairs are carried out conscientiously and they wish that the Minister would set up amongst Gárda officers a sort of appeal court so that a taxi man can appeal from the verdict of one officer to two or three other officers and be able to get satisfactory reasons why his taxi should be removed from the streets. When this comes about, and unfortunately it happens too often, it means the deprivation of a man's livelihood, in all probability bringing his wife and children to a state of destitution. That ought not to be done without great justification, and such justification does not exist in general amongst the taxi cab-owners in Dublin. They sent me also a list of names of those who have got orders quite recently not to pay their licence fee. That means that their cabs are to be withdrawn and their work as taximen must cease. I was struck by two of the names, the very first ones on the list. They are the names of men whom I remember driving cabs since I was six years old.

The same cabs?

Mr. Kelly

Not the same cabs, but the same men, the same family, the same blood. The members of that family have earned their bread through three generations and here they are, the first names on the list to be deprived of their livelihood and their taxis withdrawn from duty on the streets of Dublin. I hope the Minister will agree to set up this appeal court which I suggest, and let the men go there and satisfy two or three officers of experience, men who are trained in the engineering department necessary for the purpose of inspecting taxi-cabs. Give them an opportunity of presenting their case, and give them a good opportunity of being able to continue their work.

I do not know whether Deputy Kelly knows much about some of the taxis plying between Kingsbridge and the city. If he has not travelled in a taxi-cab or a hackney-cab I will invite him to come with me for a drive in one of them around the Phoenix Park, and I am sure he will change his mind about some of the vehicles. My view, and the view of many others, is that the authorities are quite right and that they should keep up the present pressure so as to see that only proper vehicles are kept on the streets of Dublin.

Mr. Kelly

It is not fair to deprive men of their livelihood.

I think that Deputy Kelly more or less balances and answers the questions raised by Deputy Dillon. On looking into the matter I think there has been adequate inspection, though Deputy Kelly represents that there has been more than adequate inspection. However, I will have inquiries made, and see if there is anything else needed. With regard to the point that was made by Deputy Dillon about some matter that had arisen at the Public Accounts Committee, I am informed that that has been settled.

Yes, that is all right now.

On the matter that was raised by Deputy Rowlette I wish to say that the position is as he stated. At present, if a Garda meets with an accident in the course of his duty the State pays for it. If he meets with the accident when he is not on duty the State does not pay. That accident has arisen in the ordinary way and has not arisen in the course of his duty. In that case the State does not pay. This, however, has to be pointed out, that when a Gárda is in hospital or ill he is paid full pay for six months and half-pay for another six months. Last year, on the suggestion of the Representative Body of the Gárda, a sum of £10,000 from the reward fund was applied to forming a nucleus of a medical aid fund. The Gárda are making a contribution themselves to that fund. With the development of the fund the point in which the Deputy is interested will solve itself. We will be in a position to make contributions from the fund to Gárdaí who meet with accidents not arising out of the course of their duty.

There is no change in the system as regards the payment of medical officers in the country. The doctors are paid various fees. When a vacancy occurs doctors apply and they state that their fee will be so much per man. It does not follow that the lowest will be accepted. The Department does not invite the lowest tender.

May I point out to the Minister that payment is now made to new appointments at per visit and not per head?

Could we have any information from the Minister on that matter?

The Gárda are doing that in some instances. So far as it is possible we will try to deal with that matter.

Vote put and agreed to.