At Question Time to-day, Deputy Martin Ryan addressed the following question to the Minister for Local Government and Public Health:—
"If his attention has been called to statements made to the effect that in the town of Nenagh on Saturday, May 8th, two families, one a man, his wife and seven children, the other a man, his wife and five children, found themselves at 9 p.m. destitute; that they were refused assistance by the relieving officer, but were given tickets for the county home 25 miles away; if he has made any investigations in the matter; were the facts in accordance with the statements; and, if so, what steps he proposes to take to prevent a recurrence of such a thing and to ensure that such cases are not left unprovided for."
I should say, with regard to the question, that the statements referred to were statements made by me in this House. I should also explain that the date, May 8, was not the date given by me, but May 1. Therefore, the error referred to in the reply was not mine. The Parliamentary Secretary, in reply, said:—
"My attention has been called to the statements referred to by the Deputy. I called for a report on the matter and I find that the statements do not accurately represent the facts, and that the persons applying for assistance were not genuine cases of destitution. The facts are as follows:—
"1.—The incident took place at Nenagh on the 1st May, not on the 8th May.
"2.—The superintendent assistance officer was approached by a number of able-bodied men who were at the time employed by the county council on a temporary employment scheme. The men demanded home assistance on the plea of destitution. In view of the fact that the men were working at the time and considering that they were given provisional assistance during the previous week while awaiting payment from the county council, the superintendent assistance officer could not regard them as destitute persons and, consequently, he refused assistance, explaining to them that they should approach the county council who was employing them.
"3.—After consultation amongst themselves, in the course of which one of the men remarked ‘we will torment him, anyway,' the men demanded tickets for admission to the county home. This, the superintendent assistance officer also refused for the same reason. Later in the day, the wives of two of the men approached the local assistance officer and asked for tickets for admission to the county home. The assistance officer did not consider the applicants destitute, but he issued the tickets applied for as he considered he should do so when the applicants themselves alleged destitution. Neither of the women asked to be conveyed to the county home."
If that answer is read and studied by any member of the House I think he will admit that, on the face of it, it shows that the information supplied to the Minister was, to say the least, contradictory. Of course, the Parliamentary Secretary's answer was based on the information supplied to him. I stated to-day that the information was inaccurate and untrue. I want to repeat that. The Parliamentary Secretary, on the information supplied to him, said he was perfectly satisfied that my version was not in accordance with the facts. In reply to Deputy Mulcahy, he said that assistance "was refused for the reason that payments by the county council are fortnightly payments. The home assistance the applicants got was in respect of the first week of their employment, when no payment was made by the county council. The incident referred to in the question occurred on the night they had been paid for this fortnight's employment." The men to whom I referred were not paid on that Saturday night by the county council. They had received no payment whatever from the county council. Certain men, taken into employment by the county council the week prior to that in which the men to whom I referred were taken into employment, did receive, in respect of ten days' work, four days' pay. The men to whom I referred and to whom these tickets were issued by the home assistance officer received, although they had worked periods from five to eight days for the county council, no payment whatever, and they were absolutely destitute.
"The men demanded tickets for admission to the county home." Does the Parliamentary Secretary believe that? Can the Parliamentary Secretary imagine men who were destitute, who had not even the price of a loaf, demanding tickets for admission to the county home 25 miles away? The fact is that this officer refused to give that assistance—notwithstanding that he was instructed by the county council to give provisional assistance to men employed by the county council and, subsequently, deduct the amounts of the advances from the paying orders issued to them—and told them he would give them tickets for the county home. One man replied: "If I had what would take myself, my wife and family to the county home at Thurles, 25 miles away, I would not have to come here to look for assistance." They were refused assistance on the plea that they were not destitute. The ticket issued to a man, his wife and seven children says: "Pat So-and-So is a person in the county eligible for relief, and cannot be effectively relieved at less cost to the rates otherwise than in the above-mentioned institution." If the assistance officer was satisfied that he was not a destitute person entitled to assistance, why did he issue these tickets?
The Parliamentary Secretary was informed—from whatever source he got his information—that one of the men was overheard to say: "We will torment him, anyway." I saw these men on Saturday night, when they came to me with their wives, and I can assure the Parliamentary Secretary that, whoever got the tormenting, it was not the assistance officer. The men and women who were with the assistance officer from 12 o'clock on Saturday until 9 o'clock on Saturday night got, in my opinion, the tormenting. I do not want to go fully into this matter. I am not going to weary the House by giving all the details which I could give regarding these happenings. This question was asked by a Deputy who is chairman of the county council—a body which cannot make arrangements which will enable them to pay this money weekly. Let it be said to their credit that the county council, under the chairmanship of the Deputy who asked the question and who was present at the meeting, were anxious to pay these men weekly if the machinery could be so worked as to enable that to be done. When they failed to get from the officials an assurance that that could be done, they issued instructions to the assistance officer that he was to advance a certain amount—I think 10/- —to men in this position pending the receipt of their wages. The Deputy who asked this question could have got all the information he sought without coming to the Parliamentary Secretary or to this House at all. The question was asked for one reason, and one reason only. That was to attempt to discredit the statement I made in this House. The effect of the answer will not be as it was hoped it would be.
The statements contained in the reply are inaccurate and untrue. I am satisfied that the Parliamentary Secretary based his answer on the information which he received. These men were destitute, and at 9 o'clock at night, having failed to secure either wages in respect of the work they had performed or assistance from the assistance officer, they went, on my suggestion, to the president of the local St. Vincent de Paul Society—a gentleman who has been connected with that society for over 25 years, who knows every person in the town and who is as conversant as anybody could possibly be with the conditions of these poor people. He issued to the four families orders on a local grocery establishment for 4/- worth of groceries to tide them over from Saturday night until Monday morning. Those orders would not have been issued unless the president of the society was satisfied that those persons were destitute and, in fact, were not issued by him until he had so satisfied himself—all the more so because, during the past winter, there has been a greater drain on the resources of that society than there has been at any time within the memory of the members.
I want to make this quite clear: that those men to whom I refer, and to whom those tickets were issued, were not paid on that day by the county council. Other men were offered tickets for the county home and refused them. Those men did not ask for tickets for the county home, but they were offered to them and given to them by the assistance officer. The county council had issued instructions to that assistance officer that, pending the receipt of their wages, he was to make certain advances to those men, the advances to be afterwards deducted from their wages. As to the destitution, if the Deputy who put down the question has any doubt on that matter, I am prepared to supply him with the names and addresses of the persons affected, and I suggest to him that he should go and interview them himself and find out from them what exactly happened on that date. I do not ask him to accept my word for it, but I ask him to go to those persons and ascertain from them what happened on that date.
Let me say in conclusion that if I had any doubts as to the destitution and hunger, they were removed by a widow who lives next door one of these men, who has a wife and seven children. She came down to me early on that day, many hours before I saw any of those people. She asked if I could possibly do anything to get some support for them. She said: "There are seven children in that house and they are crying with the hunger since yesterday evening." I can give that lady's name to the Deputy if he wants it, and if he wishes he can go and interview her himself. I did not want to go into this matter in this way at all. I can only see one reason for raising it in this way, and I hope the Deputy who did so has got full satisfaction out of it, but I am afraid he has not. All the information could have been got locally. Accurate information could have been got. I say that the information supplied to the Parliamentary Secretary is inaccurate and untrue, and the persons affected as well as many others know that quite well. I do not propose to detain the House any longer on the matter.