Committee on Finance. - Vote 64—Army Pensions.

I move:—

Go ndeontar suim ná raghaidh thar £434,434 chun slánuithe na suime is gá chun íoctha a Mhuirir a thiocfaidh chun bheith iníoctha i rith na bliana dar críoch an 31adh lá de Mhárta, 1942, chun Pinsean Créachta agus Mí-ábaltachta, Pinsean Breise agus Pinsean Fear Pósta, Liúntaisí agus Aiscí (Uimh. 26 de 1923, Uimh. 12 de 1927, Uimh. 24 de 1932, Uimh. 15 de 1937 agus Uimh. 2 de 1941), Pinsean, Liúntaisí agus Aiscí Seirbhíse Mileata (Uimh. 48 de 1924, Uimh. 26 de 1932, Uimh. 43 de 1934, agus Uimh. 33 de 1938), Pinsean, Liúntaisí agus Aiscí (Uimh. 37 de 1936), agus chun síntiúisí agus costaisí iolardha ina dtaobh san, etc.

That a sum not exceeding £434,434 be granted to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending the 31st day of March, 1942, for Wound and Disability Pensions, Further Pensions and Married Pensions, Allowances and Gratuities (No. 26 of 1923. No. 12 of 1927, No. 24 of 1932, No. 15 of 1937 and No. 2 of 1941). Military Service Pensions, Allowances and Gratuities (No. 48 of 1924, No. 26 of 1932, No. 43 of 1934 and No. 33 of 1938), Pensions. Allowances and Gratuities (No. 37 of 1936), and for sundry Contributions and Expenses in respect thereof, etc.

The Estimate for the Army Pensions Vote for the financial year 1941/42 shows a net increase of £68,044, and the Estimate, as printed and circulated to the House, shows that the increase is mainly due to increasing liability under the Military Service Pensions Act, 1934, and under the Defence Forces Pensions Schemes, 1937 and 1940—an increase which is partly offset by diminishing liabilities under the Army Pensions Acts in respect of wound and disease pensions.

The reduction in the amount required under sub-head G for wound and disability pensions is mainly attributable to the fact that applications for pensions under the 1932 Act proper have been disposed of so that there now only remain applications under the Acts of 1937 and 1941.

The decrease in the amount asked for under sub-head H for dependents' allowances is principally due to the fact that applications for special dependents' allowances under Part VII of the 1937 Act proper have been dealt with, so that now we have only to deal with those under the Act of 1941.

The increase under sub-head K for military service pensions is entirely due to the increased number of applicants who have qualified and are likely to qualify for pensions under the Act of 1934. On March 31st, 1940, the number who had qualified was 7,346, but on March 31st, 1941, that number had increased to 7,905.

A somewhat similar position exists regarding pensions payable under the Defence Forces Pensions Schemes, 1937 and 1941. During the year there has been an increase of 17 pensions, and during the coming year provision has been made for a further increase of about 16 pensions.

Last year Deputies inquired regarding the work done by the three statutory boards which have been set up to administer the Military Service and Army Pensions Acts. Here, briefly, is the position for the past financial year:—The Military Service Registration Board completed its work under the 1932 and 1937 Acts about the end of December, 1940, and thereafter was placed on a part-time basis to deal with appeals. It will now have to deal with applicants under the 1941 Act.

The Army Pensions Board during the year completed its work under the 1932 Act proper, and boarded practically all claims under the 1932 Act, as amended by the 1937 Act. It also concluded its investigations into applications for special dependents' allowances under Part VII of the 1937 Act. It dealt with all applications under Section 26 of the 1937 Act which prima facie appeared likely to succeed, and for some time past it has concentrated attention on claims for aggravation under Sections 28 and 29 of the 1937 Act. Claims under Section 41 of the same Act for special gratuities have also been finished. The position indeed of the board's work may be said broadly to be that they are dealing with claims in respect of aggravation and are completing their examinations and findings under the different sections and different forms of claims under the 1937 Act. They should, therefore, be in a position within a reasonable period to deal with applications under the new Army Pensions Act, 1941.

The work done by the Referee with the Advisory Committee and interviewing officers throughout the year may be best gauged by comparing statistically under a few headings the work covered during the past financial year. The number of applications received under the Act by the Referee on April 1st, 1941, was 59,594. On April 1st, 1940, 19,534 applicants had been interviewed, but 12 months later the figure was 27,160, an increase over the period of 7,626. At the beginning of the period, the Referee had made 7,346 favourable reports, and at the end 7,905, an increase of 559. During the same period the number of unfavourable reports made was 28,639 and 43,015 respectively, an increase of 14,376 over the period. From these figures it will be seen that substantial progress has been made during the year, and that there are now only 8,674 in which reports remain to be made. If the same rate of progress can be maintained we should be able to record next year that reports have been made covering all applications under the Act.

Mr. Byrne

I wonder if this is the proper place to raise a particular point with regard to the questions which have been raised in the last few months regarding soldiers' allowances and so on. We have learned of the Minister's sincere sympathy in cases where soldiers have lost their lives through accidents, and where questions were raised about an increase in marriage allowances. May I ask the Minister if it is possible that between this and the introduction of the next Army Estimate new legislation will be introduced or found necessary?

The Deputy may not advocate legislation on an Estimate.

Mr. Byrne

Well, will the Minister give consideration to the point of providing compensation or pensions for dependents of soldiers who lose their lives through accidents? I have in mind the Corporal Cooney case. I am perfectly aware that the Minister is most anxious to do everything possible to see that the dependents of soldiers do not suffer any great hardship; but the Army is very large now and the greater the number the greater the risk of accident to our men. It will be appalling if, through lack of measures here, their dependents are deprived of pensions or compensation. As I have said, I have in mind at the moment the Corporal Cooney case— that of a very brave man who lost his life at Portobello Harbour in an attempt to save others, during the Christmas season. I am perfectly aware of the Minister's sympathy and anxiety to help in cases such as this. I may mention—though perhaps I should have raised it on a previous Estimate—that the Minister also has promised that consideration would be given to the question of an increase in marriage allowances.

That refers to the previous Vote.

Like almost every other Deputy in the House I suppose I have made repeated representations to the Minister's Department concerning the delay in the case of the Pensions Board or the Referee or whoever is responsible, and regarding the failure to dispose within a reasonable time of claims for pensions which were before the board as far back as 1936, 1937 and 1938. I have scarcely ever been given any good reason, from a Departmental point of view or in writing, as to why cases of claims heard by the board in those years should still be awaiting a decision, whether favourable or otherwise.

Here in the House some time ago, I asked the Minister to give the number of cases which had been deferred over the years mentioned. If he would turn up his reply he would agree that the number of such cases is unreasonably high. Now that the Vote is before the House, I would like to ask him to say what steps have been or will be taken in the immediate future to clear the decks of all these claims. If the fault is due mainly to the failure of the brigade representatives in the different areas to answer questions addressed to them by or on behalf of the Service Pensions Board, the machinery for getting the required information should be tightened up. Why not bring those brigade officers together on a particular day to deal with questions which have been referred to them and which cannot be decided until they give some answers to the innumerable questions addressed to them?

If a brigade officer in any particular area fails or refuses to give to the Military Service Pensions Board the required information, surely either the Minister or the members of the board or the members in the brigade area should take steps to terminate the services of such an individual and find someone who will carry out the work in accordance with the requirements of the Department. The very fact that some of those claims are still held up is, in my opinion, holding up the claims of other persons who have been before the board after them or who have not yet been called before the board. That in itself is a very good reason why the Minister should concentrate on a clearance of these outstanding claims. I do not know at the moment how many there are but, probably, the Minister has the figures at his elbow and I would be very interested to know what progress, if any, has been made during the last three months in clearing up outstanding claims.

I would now appeal to the Minister to make a very definite request to the Board or the Referee or whatever Departmental officials are concerned, to concentrate for as long as is necessary on this clearance work. If he does that it will give general satisfaction, even to those who may not get a favourable decision. It is unfair to men who have been before the board in 1936, 1937 and 1938 that their claims should still be waiting for a decision and that they should be hoping—and hoping, perhaps, vainly—for a favourable decision. I have come across cases of applicants for pensions who believe that their own claims cannot be dealt with satisfactorily until the deferred cases have been cleared off. I hope it will not be necessary for me or for any other Deputy to raise again this aspect of the Military Service Pensions Act of 1934. I join with the Minister in hoping that all those cases which have been under consideration and concerning which so many promises have been made will be disposed of in their entirety by the time that we are asked to pass another Estimate of this kind in the House in 12 months' time.

Year after year when this Estimate is being considered in the Dáil, numerous complaints are made by different Deputies. In the statement which he has delivered just now, the Minister seems to think that these claims are being disposed of with great efficiency. Does he seriously think that a genuine effort is being made by the Pensions Board to clear off the cases of applicants who have been waiting for a decision for the past six or seven years? If he does, certainly the people in the country who have made the applications do not. I have in mind cases of people who made applications for pensions under the 1934 Pensions Act. It is obvious to everybody in their particular district that they are eligible for the pensions laid down in that Act. However, notwithstanding the fact that their claims have been before the Pensions Board for the past five or six years, they have not received any intimation as to when their claims will be disposed of, or whether they ever will be disposed of. I agree with Deputy Davin when he says that some intimation should be sent to these people as to when it is proposed to deal with their claim or, if their claim has been dealt with and has been turned down, surely the proper thing would be to let these people know. Everybody knows that in a town in my constituency, the town of Enniscorthy, there was a definite rising during Easter Week, 1916, and many people who took part in that rising are still waiting for some word from the Minister as to when their claims will be disposed of. I have in mind not alone male members of the Volunteers or the Republican Army of that time, but I know female members who were active members of Cumann na mBan in 1916 who have made applications for pensions. Not alone have they not been dealt with, but they have not received any intimation as to whether their claims were received or not. I suggest to the Minister that is not the way to treat people who have served this country well as far back as 1916.

Deputy Byrne has referred to the question of accidents occurring in the Army. He referred to one particular case which has been receiving a good deal of prominence recently in the newspapers. But, apart from that case, there have been accidents in the Army in which young men have lost their lives and there appears to be no machinery to enable the Minister to deal with cases of that kind. I do not know that it is necessary to have special legislation introduced in order to enable the Minister to dispose of cases of that kind, but I do suggest that cases of that kind should be dealt with. After all, if a person is working for an ordinary employer and he meets with an accident in the course of his employment compensation is paid. I suggest that the Army should be a model employer in that respect and that when an accident occurs whereby a young man loses his life some compensation should be forthcoming to his relatives. There have been such cases recently. One particular case I know of happened in my county and definite hardship could be proved because of the fact that this young man lost his life through an accident in the Army.

Deputy Davin has also referred to the question of certain Old I.R.A. officers in certain districts who have been asked to supply information and in a great many cases they have not supplied the information for various reasons, some of them very obvious to the Minister and to everybody in this country. But I do not think the Minister ought to let it rest there. It appears to me that when a brigade officer of the Old I.R.A. is asked to supply information, if he does not supply it at the particular time the Minister wants it, the Minister is content to leave the matter at that. Surely there should be other means of getting information which will enable the Minister to arrive at a decision in connection with any particular case.

There is another matter to which I would like the Minister to give his attention and to make representations to the other Departments. I refer to the case of men who are in receipt of small pensions and, because of that fact, they do not get their turn when relief work is being done in certain areas. I suggest that these men are in the same degree of need, if not a greater degree of need, as many of the people who are drawing a larger sum from the labour exchanges. This is not specifically a matter for the Minister; it is a matter for another Department, but I think the Minister ought to make representations in connection with it and try to secure that in the case of a man who has served his country and who may have a pension, that pension is not to stand between him and his right to work to obtain a living for himself and his family.

I agree with the last speaker with regard to the delay in dealing with pension claims. I know a number of claimants to pensions whose cases have been held up from year to year since 1934. I do not know why. They seem to be as far off now as they were when they first made their application. Not only that, but the reply they get from the Department is most unsatisfactory. The Department gives no satisfaction to anybody. They send out a stereotyped reply stating that the claimants were not on active service during certain critical periods. Most of these applicants claim they were on active service, that they were always ready and available and that they actively took part. I have a good many cases in mind. I wrote to the Department to get a definition as to what they meant by "active" military service, pointing out these people and what they did and were prepared to do; that they were always ready and available and did take part. No satisfactory reply was ever given to them and there is real suspicion down the country that the whole thing is shady and that the Department are not administering the Act fairly, as it was intended to be administered, I think the Minister should meet these cases fairly. When Deputies apply for an explanation they are entitled to get an explanation as to what is meant by these statements that are sent out to applicants. I hope the Minister will clean up these arrears of claims in the shortest possible time and, in any case, give satisfaction one way or the other by showing why they are not entitled to have their claims allowed.

Previous speakers referred to the delay in operating the Military Service Pensions Act. If these speakers were conversant with the magnitude of the task that confronted the Referee and his board, and the task which confronted the various brigade officers through the country, they would then realise that this delay was unavoidable. I had a very small experience myself in connection with the board. Owing to the fact that brigade officers were asked to compile a record of events that took place close on 20 years previously, there was naturally great delay in preparing anything like an accurate record. I dare say that probably in some brigade areas these records may not yet be finished. I can also sympathise with the Referee's board in this matter. In order to help men who qualified for pensions, they had to try to regularise an irregular army, which is quite a different matter from giving pensions to ex-members of regular armies. The only adverse criticism I have to make is not directed so much towards the Referee or his board, as at all times I found the board and the Referee willing and helpful to meet any case fairly, within the regulations laid down by the Minister.

Within what period?

Within the regulations as laid down by the Minister.

Within a lifetime.

The impression which I got, in dealing with the board as a verifying officer, and from subsequent results, is that there is one little point which strikes one as not being equitable, and that is that in order to prove active service an applicant must have been in a major engagement in the pre-Truce period, and, in addition, as far as I know, it seems that not alone must he have been in a major engagement, but he must have exchanged shots with the enemy.

I think that that, really, is a hardship. I know of some cases myself where men took part in major engagements and, just because of the simple fact that certain of these men, taking part in these engagements, had not had occasion to fire a shot and did not want to waste ammunition, they are not getting the benefits of the Act. I think that is very unfair, and I want to bring such cases to the attention of the Minister. I know of cases where men were in position in a certain yard and went into action, while other men were kept in reserve with only a wall of a few inches separating them from the men who were in action outside. Now, the men who did fire some shots—without any effect, to be quite candid—are evidently entitled to some reward while the men who were only a few inches away, and only separated by a wall, are not entitled to pension rights for that particular engagement. I do not think that is fair, and I suggest that the Minister should go into that whole question again with a view to administering the Act so as to deal out justice as far as it is possible to do so. I know that it is very hard to give equal justice in all cases, but I suggest that the Minister should do his best to see that justice is administered, so far as is humanly possible, to all men who have taken part, at least, in major engagements.

The first thing I should like the House to understand is that there were 59,594 pension applications received and that, of these—almost 60,000 applications—practically all have been dealt with, and only 8,674 remain to be reported upon. Now, it stands to reason that some numbers in that 60,000 must be first and that some must be last: that they cannot all be dealt with as if you were to drop them into a machine, press a button, and have the whole thing finished. Every one of these cases, in the first instance, has to be carefully scrutinised. Those cases, in which the scrutineers deem that service has been proved, are notified to attend for interview, and, in the course of the interview, the applicant is allowed to make his case as thoroughly as he possibly can; in fact, he is encouraged to do so, and I know, from my own personal experience, that he is generally helped to make his case. It is true, as Deputy Meaney and other Deputies have said, and have referred to from time to time, that the interpretation of the words "active service" rules out a number of men who appear to have given excellent service in the Volunteer movement; but there, again, we must have someone who is to be the sole judge. We cannot have a whole group of people intervening and saying that this, in their opinion, constitutes "active service", as against the decision of the Referee, who should be the final authority on the question. I do not see that I can interfere. My predecessor did not interfere, either, because, to have done so, possibly, would have led to charges of intimidation or of using influence, or something else, on the Referee. The Referee is, solely, the judge as to whether a man was or was not on active service, and if, in the opinion of the Referee, the service which the individual has given cannot be termed by him "active service," then that decision must be accepted.

With regard to the matter Deputy Byrne raised, I feel that there is a definite hardship there. Representations have been made from time to time with a view to changing the situation, but it was found very difficult, and we find it much more difficult to change it now than heretofore. I might mention that married soldiers, in every case where they meet with accidents on military service, come within the Army Pensions Act and, accordingly, are compensated in respect of the injuries received.

Only married soldiers?

Yes. I think that the House will agree, in view of the figures which I have mentioned here, to the effect that 8,674 cases remain to be reported upon, that considerable progress—in fact, very excellent progress—has been made since we were discussing this Estimate last year. I remember that, at the conclusion of the debate on that occasion, I mentioned that I hoped that when we were discussing the Estimate in the following year a considerable hole would have been made in the number of cases to be dealt with. I think I can say, without any fear of contradiction, that that has been so and that considerable progress has been made, and if that rate of progress is continued I feel almost certain that every case will have been completely dealt with next year, either from the point of view of deciding whether an individual is entitled to a pension, or going back to the cases where individuals will appeal. Of course, that is one of the things we shall have to face. There will be a considerable number of applicants, whose cases have been dealt with, who will appeal against the decision, and these cases will have to be heard. The Referee has stated to me that in every case where an appeal is made, and a man desires to appear before the board, he will give him every facility to appear before him and make his case on his own behalf, and if the Referee is satisfied that his former decision was wrong, he informs me that he will only be too pleased to right it. In respect of Deputy Corish's complaint about the 1916 cases, I know that some years ago precedence was given in the case of 1916 applicants.

That is not my information.

Well, I happen to know this, personally, because I conveyed the information to the board when I was acting as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence, away back in 1936, and it was done, as a matter of fact, at the express request of the Taoiseach who was anxious that these particular men should not be thrown into a list, so to speak, and come out, perhaps, last. He was anxious that their cases should be dealt with as expeditiously as possible. Now, what has happened in a considerable number of cases is this: that the later service of these men has become entangled in some kind of dispute as to whether they had or had not the later service they claimed, and as a result, the final decision cannot be arrived at, either in respect of their 1916 service or of the later period for which they claimed service. In practically every case, however, where these men have made claims for service, and where their claim for 1916 service has not been disputed, they have had forwarded to them the medal which was recently presented for 1916 service. So that, although the decision on a claim for some other service, about which there was a doubt, was delayed, we did not allow that to prevent us from presenting the medal which was a recognition of the 1916 service of these men.

When does the Minister expect a decision to be come to on these cases?

The real difficulty in these cases is the matter of verification. I think it was Deputy Davin who mentioned the question of verification from brigade units. There is no doubt whatever that the greatest amount of delay which we have been experiencing has been due to the fact that brigade committees are not functioning in the way they should. We have had that experience in a large number of cases. In some cases where the verifying officers were not giving that sort of attention to cases that the board felt they should give, we had them replaced, but the great difficulty about replacing these persons is that they are regarded locally as being the only persons who can give personal and intimate evidence on behalf of the applicants. From that point of view, we often find it difficult to depose or replace them, but there is a system in operation, if it is found that brigade committees are delaying in dealing with cases, whereby they are written to periodically and the necessity for having evidence brought forward at the earliest possible moment is impressed upon them.

I do not think that would account for all the delay in the cases to which I referred, because the Secretary of the Old I.R.A. is a man who was an officer in 1916.

We experience the highest possible form of efficiency in some districts but in other districts our experience is the reverse. Even in the very efficient districts delay is sometimes inevitable because it may happen that where the verifying officer comes along and informs the board that the applicant has the service which he claims, arising out of evidence given in some other applicant's form, the board has evidence that that is not so. When that happens, naturally delay follows, because the board, dealing as they are with public money, must be certain that the money will reach the people who are entitled to it. In conclusion, I can assure the House that, as far as I am concerned, I have done everything that I have found it reasonably possible to do with the board to expedite decisions. I have found the board itself to be exceedingly reasonable. The members of it are most anxious to meet the representatives of these brigade councils and to interview them so as to arrive at the best possible means of dealing expeditiously with difficult cases where there are difficult cases. The board has on several occasions at my own request, and at the request of Deputies, met deputations from the brigades who were putting forward some of the claims that have been mentioned in the House. They have heard them with a great amount of sympathy and have in every case given consideration to the representations made. I think I can assure the House that by this time next year all cases, other than those which will have to be dealt with on appeal, will have been dealt with Of course, I have no idea at the moment as to what the percentage of unfavourable reports is likely to be.

Can the Minister give an assurance that within a given time, say three months, or even six months, all these deferred cases between 1936 and 1940 will be disposed of? I think he is empowered as a matter of administration to give a direction to his administrative officers, or to request the board to have these cases dealt with speedily. It is most unreasonable to have cases in which the evidence was heard in 1936, 1937 and 1938 still awaiting a decision. No matter who is responsible they should be brought to finality. The Minister should issue an order to have them decided one way or another within a reasonable time.

Would the Minister pay special attention to the cases I have mentioned, the cases of those who were out in Easter Week and urge upon the board the necessity for dealing with them quickly?

Fortified with the views which have been expressed here, I shall bring these matters to the attention of the board. I feel pretty certain myself that, as I said a few moments ago, with the exception of the cases which will have to be heard on appeal, all these cases will be dealt with within a reasonable time.

I am not referring to appeal cases at all. I am referring to cases in which the evidence has been heard already a few years ago.

They are being dealt with at the moment. I should not like to fix a definite period within which all these cases will be disposed of but I am pretty certain that they will be finished within 12 months.

Could the Minister make a request to the Departmental officers to clear off all outstanding cases as soon as possible?

I shall, certainly.

Vote put and agreed to.