Adjournment—Destitution in County Tipperary.

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.

I put down this question because it is only too clear to everyone that the inclination of Deputy Morrissey and his Party is to make political capital out of happenings of this sort rather than to assist in alleviating the hardships that they complain of. I am rather surprised at some of the statements that I have just heard from the Deputy. He said that a meeting of the county council, over which I presided, was held for the purpose of trying to secure weekly payments for the men. That is correct. That has been a grievance with casual workers as long as I have been associated with the county council: that they have to wait too long at the start of a working period before they get any payment. It would have been remedied but the staff did not find it convenient. However, a meeting was held. Deputy Morrissey has just stated that the county council instructed the assistance officer to relieve those people. The Deputy should have enough experience of public life and of local administration to know that the county council has no jurisdiction whatever over the assistance officer. He is an officer of the board of health and not of the county council.

I heard the statements that were made here in the House by Deputy Morrissey, and I saw reports of his speeches in the Press where he dangled those tickets from platforms at public meetings up and down the country. I made it my business when I went home last week-end to meet the assistance officer concerned. I questioned him about the circumstances of the case, and his statements to me were exactly in keeping with the statement supplied to the Parliamentary Secretary and quoted by him to-day in answer to my question. Deputy Morrissey now states that early that day a next door neighbour of one of the families came to him and told him that the children were crying because of hunger for more than 24 hours. The Deputy resides in the same town as the assistance officer, and it sounds very strange, from the information that I have, that he made no move to go to the assistance officer and point out to him the condition and the circumstances of that family, or to suggest to him that they were entitled to some assistance, but he availed of every opportunity that arose to refer to this matter at every public engagement in which he took part——

That is not true.

Mr. Ryan

——and to dangle those tickets before the public. It is evident and quite clear that the only concern of the Deputy was to make as much political capital as he possibly could out of this case.

I would advise the Deputy to go and interview those people himself. They will tell him all about it.

Mr. Ryan

The Deputy had his opportunity to make his speech, but if he was speaking here until morning he would not convince me, and I am certain he would not convince anybody in the country, but that his whole ambition is to make as much political capital for himself and his Party as he possibly can out of any sufferings or hardships that may be endured by unfortunate people in the country.

I need scarcely say that the reply to the question was strictly in accordance with the information at my disposal.

I said that.

I may point out at the same time that the authority to determine whether or not a person is entitled to home assistance is not the Dáil or the Minister for Local Government, but the home assistance officer, who affords provisional relief and reports to the superintendent assistance officer. The superintendent assistance officer has power to issue an order for relief pending the next meeting of the board of health, and the board of health, on consideration, finally determines who shall or shall not receive home assistance, as well as the amount to be given. The Minister is definitely precluded by law from interfering in matters of home assistance. According to the reports to hand, in the cases under discussion the board of health at their meeting on 29th April discontinued the provisional assistance given by the home assistance officer, and I suppose it is reasonable to assume that they satisfied themselves, before deciding to discontinue the relief, that the persons affected were not destitute. I have not been furnished with the names of the applicants under discussion who were alleged to have been destitute on the night of the 1st May, and hence they can only be identified by inference. I have no information at my disposal other than the report of the superintendent assistance officer to the secretary of the board of health. My reply has been based on that report. Perhaps it is as well, in the light of the divergence of opinion amongst the Tipperary Deputies as to what actually did take place, that I should read for the House the letter of the superintendent assistance officer to the secretary of the board of health, a copy of which I have here. The letter is dated 29th May, and reads as follows:

"District Hospital,

Roscrea.

"Dear Mr. Meagher,—

"I beg to acknowledge receipt of yours of the 28th inst., with communication from the Local Government Department attached.

"In connection with the latter I beg to say that the matter referred to occurred on the 1st May and not on the 8th, as stated. I was in Nenagh on that date, for the purpose of home assistance inspection. and while I was at Mr. McDonnell's office a number of able-bodied men who were employed by the county council at the time on a temporary relief scheme, approached me and demanded home assistance on the plea of destitution.

"In view of the fact that they were, at the time, working for and earning a living weekly wage and considering that they had been given provisional assistance the week previous so as to help them whilst awaiting payment from the county council, I could not consider them as ‘destitute persons,' and consequently I refused home assistance. After a consultation amongst themselves, in the course of which I heard one of them say, ‘we will torment him, anyway,' they demanded tickets for the county home. I also refused these, for the same reason. I, furthermore, explained that ‘if they had a reason for approaching anyone for help it should be the county council, who was employing them and who should in my opinion make provision for paying them weekly.' They were most insistent on getting county home tickets, and I was almost compelled to call in the Civic Guards to have them removed.

"I left the office about 6.30 p.m. and afterwards learned from Mr. McDonnell that at about 8 p.m. the same evening the wives of two of the men referred to above approached him and asked him for county home tickets. Mr. McDonnell, whilst not considering them destitute himself, issued two tickets for the home, his reason for so doing being that he thought he should do so on the person's own allegations of destitution. The tickets were accepted by the applicants on this understanding and neither asked for any mode of conveyance to Thurles.

"For the information of the Department, I would like to say that in the matter of home assistance administration, Nenagh area is unlike any other in my district. There is a section of people there who think they can get assistance on any plea, and who use any and every means to try to obtain it. Investigation of cases is most difficult because of the unreliability of statements made by applicants and the attempted interference of outside parties on behalf of applicants for apparent personal reasons. A fair indication of the type with whom Mr. McDonnell has to deal can be ascertained by the admission of the parties referred to by Mr. Morrissey, T.D., ‘that no grocer would give them a week's credit for goods.'"

That is all the information.

That is a nice statement from a public official

That is the information before me on the matter, and if that report is not accurate and in accordance with the facts, the interested Deputies ought to take the matter up with the board of health. The Minister has no functions in the matter at all.

I think that is a scandalous reflection on the people of the town of Nenagh.

The Dáil adjourned at 11 p.m. until Friday, 4th June, at 10.30 a.m.