When dealing with this Estimate last evening, I was dealing, as far as I recollect, with the lack of arrangements for finding employment for discharged Army men. The only evidence of any consideration for the ex-soldier is a slight preference mark given for military service in vacancies in public employment and that is outweighed by another section which gives an overriding preference to a knowledge of Irish. I pointed out the case of a person who had continued his studies or gone to a Gaelic League class, who failed to respond to the national call and had continued his studies instead of serving the country. This particular clause throws the vacancy wide open, not to the ex-Army man but to the person who continued his studies, not only in the Gaelic language but in other subjects.
The same evidence of lack of any serious consideration for the ex-Army man in finding employment is shown by the fact that the old and well-established precedent of insisting that Government contracts and public contracts and all works into which public money goes be carried out with a certain percentage of labour recruited from the ex-Army men. That precedent is deliberately omitted from this scheme for the re-establishment of Army men in civilian life. In other words, beyond the giving away of money there is no evidence of any serious attempt to consider the position of an Army man on discharge. There is not even any evidence of consideration for the position of the ex-Army man who is broken down in health. As things are at the moment, and as things evidently will continue to be in the future, I say—without mincing words and with a very, very close knowledge of the position—that the position of an ex-Army man broken down from tuberculosis or some other wasting disease of a chronic nature is that the moment he is discharged from the Army he is treated by the Army authorities as a kind of pariah dog, as an outcast, a being for whom the Army has no further use and for whom it has no further responsibility. Every one of us gets those little chits to the effect that they are compelled to discharge such a man on such a date as medically unfit and stating: "Please, if possible, make arrangements for his further treatment".
There again, if the Minister got in touch with his colleague, he would know that that man is put hopelessly at the end of a queue, that there are hundreds waiting for a vacant bed from amongst the civilian population already in that administrative area and that this unfortunate ex-Army man has to go to the end of the queue and take his turn in the ordinary course of events. This man, reeking with tuberculosis, is merely pitchforked out of a military hospital and left to rot in a hut or a hovel at a time when the Minister has within his control the biggest and grandest mansions in the country. Every army, when about to be reduced and when demobilisation is undertaken, makes provision for the continued treatment of soldiers whose health is wrecked in the service of their country. Special hospitals are opened up at home and abroad. Nowhere in the whole world, so far as I know, have we that casual reference to "chance your lot with what the local authority can do for you." Not only that, but when these men claim pensions we have all that parsing of words—"Is the disease attributable to army service, or aggravated by it?"
No known process can prove how an invisible article, a microbe, gets into the human body. The dice is always loaded against the applicant. You cannot prove that the germ of T.B. got into the soldier's body through his army service. It might have got in at a time when he was off duty. There may have been some tubercular history in the family. The tubercular family history merely indicates, possibly, a pre-disposition to that disease. Family records and health sheets should have been studied before the State took that man into its service and put him swimming rivers in uniform and sleeping out afterwards during the night.
Now, in the past the applicant, completely broken in health and facing death slowly, never did get fair or reasonable justice under our Army Pensions Act, because of the wording. Is there any suggestion that that matter will be reconsidered after 20 years of dismal failure? A man who is fit will get his few pounds, will get to the end of the labour queue, and in six months time he will be in a hopeless position. The ex-army man looking for a house can qualify for one in his area by living for two years with his family in a condemned hut. The man broken in health will remain there while his health deteriorates. He infects the rest of his family and there is no provision for treatment in a military hospital or in any of the great buildings in the custody of the Minister, and buildings that are now idle and empty.
In the demobilisation White Paper we see serious omissions, omissions that are unjustifiable by any standard of fair play, justice or equity. The first and most obvious thing, a thing that is absolutely indefensible, is the omission from any consideration or any gratuity of the members of the Army Nursing Service. A question was asked in the House recently as to why the Army Nursing Service was excluded from this Order, and the reply of the Minister was that the Army Nursing Service was not a component part of the Army. I am not an authority on the English language, but I think there is something confusing about that particular sentence. I think the phraseology is a little bit mixed and misleading. So far as I understand the meaning of the word "component," it is that it is an element within a whole; the word "component," in fact, means part of. If the Minister's intention is to indicate that the Army Nursing Service is not part of the Army, then I think again we have evidence of the mind that dates back to the Crimea when army nurses, military nurses, were just voluntarily attached civilians serving the troops but not part of the machine.
The Minister's regulations, not over the signature of any officer of the Army, the Ministerial regulations governing the Army medical services, lay down the duties, responsibilities, pay and functions of Army medical officers, Army dentists, Army chemists and Army nurses. Every one of them is in the same Ministerial regulation. Not only that, but that particular regulation lays down the line of command and makes it imperative on every noncommissioned officer and soldier to obey any order given by Army nursing sisters and ranks them in the Army rank of priority, immediately next to the commissioned officers.
I do not know if the Minister, before he replied to that question, looked up the Ministerial regulations. I do not know, when the Minister decided to exclude those patriotic ladies, if he considered that they are, from the point of view of re-settlement or from the point of view of sacrifices made, exactly on a par with any temporary officer or soldier and that they have a distinct claim in advance of many of those who are getting substantial gratuities. There was a call for soldiers, for officers, for nurses. Good men and good women responded. There is the same problem facing each of them on demobilisation, the problem of fitting themselves into civilian life.
You took your civil servants into the Army. You guaranteed them their civil service pay, unless their Army pay was higher. You guaranteed them their jobs when they were demobilised, and you give them a substantial gratuity. You took men from the bigger financial corporations, from the banks, from the bigger business houses. They were guaranteed their civilian pay as long as they were in the Army, unless the Army pay was higher, and they were guaranteed their jobs when they were demobilised, and they get substantial resettlement gratuities. You took your doctors out of the public service. Their appointments were held open, and they were guaranteed an immediate return to those appointments. You give them a substantial gratuity. You took the odd hundred temporary nurses without any such guarantee of payment or reinstatement. You took them into the Army, and now you say they have no claim on you the same as the others have. Is there any defence for that decision? Under your regulations you lay down in black and white everything they can and shall wear, down to the very colour of their stockings, and yet you say they are not a component part of the Army.
Since before the Boer war, nursing sisters were a component part of every army in the world. Here you went so far as to put them into uniforms, but when it comes to considering services rendered, you "turf" them out, you completely ignore them and exclude them from the benefits granted to other members of the armed forces. There is no justification for such a course, and, if I were asked my opinion, I would say in fairness to the Minister and the Department that the only reason they are left out of that Order is that it did not occur to them to include them. If the matter came up for reasonable consideration, and there was a mind stimulated by any sense of justice and fair play, it would be found that, on any basis, their claim was at least equal to the strongest claim in the Army, and was far stronger than the claim of many of those who are getting gratuities.
If the Minister understands the subject he is dealing with, he will understand that, in this country at all events, there is no avenue of employment open to the private nurse. Any nurses who secure a livelihood in this country are employed by the big general and clinical hospitals, the attached private hospitals or the big nursing corporations, and the way employment is got with these bodies is that the probationer becomes a nurse and remains as a junior nurse and later a staff nurse. When they leave that employment, there are others coming along and filling the vacancies all the time, and the chance or prospect of any nurse who has broken that connection for a period of five years and then returns is next to hopeless. If, on no other ground than that further consideration would be given to that very serious and tragic omission, I would justify the motion to refer back this Estimate.
Another force was brought into being by the emergency, a force of rather pathetic cases, composed mainly of the best type of ex-officers and ex-Army men who found themselves in the ranks of the unemployed. Because of their excellent records and their service to the country in the past, because of their capacity and their ability, when the auxiliary fire service was being built up, the first people looked for were these men. They were exactly on a par with the temporary soldier. They were there in a war emergency, giving whole-time service on a temporary basis. They were paid men, whole-time in the service of the State, and last month or this month they were paid off and sent back to take their places at the end of the unemployed queue, with no gratuity, being nobody's responsibility and no consideration being given to refitting them in civilian life.
The answer given by the Minister's pocket Ministry, the Minister hidden away in this Estimate, was that they had no claim to a gratuity and that he would not sanction it, because they were unemployed men at the time they got the appointments. Either that is a fair rule or it is an unjust rule. If it is a fair rule, it should be universal. If it is a fair rule, it should apply to the man in the soldier's green uniform as strongly as it does to the man in the fireman's blue uniform. Would the Minister think it reasonable if I stood up here to argue that no gratuity should be given to a soldier who was an unemployed man at the time he joined? Would he think it fair if I claimed that no gratuity should be given to a temporary officer who was an unemployed young man, fresh from school or college, at the time he joined? Would it be fair if I argued that no member of the Army Construction Corps should get a gratuity because he was an unemployed man at the time he joined?
Of course, it would be grossly unfair and grossly ungrateful to the people who came forward and gave valuable service; but these poor fellows, because their numbers are few, are to be thrown on the mud-heap and turned down by that arrogant note of the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defensive Measures.
The days, the weeks and the months that are coming, are going to show the inhumanity running through this document, covered for a period by a few pound notes. You had nobody to fight for the last five years; you had nothing to do for the last five years but make arrangements for the day of demobilisation. You had nothing to do but give consideration to these soldiers and others when you "turfed" them out, and you have nothing to produce at the end of it all but a financial grant from money already voted for other purposes. In other words, whatever is to be done for the ex-soldier is to be done by others, by the taxpayer. Nothing is to be done by the Department or by the general staff— not even the amount of labour entailed in getting in touch with colleagues on the same Front Bench and seeing to what extent preference could be given to the ex-soldier with regard to hospital treatment, housing, employment or anything else.
There is another matter which I should like to bring up, because I am sure, quite unintentionally, the Minister misled the House and the public outside in connection with it, with very serious consequences to some people. A couple of months ago the Minister was asked if any action of a punitive kind would be taken against soldiers who left this Army and joined other armies if they returned here on leave. So far as I remember, the Minister's reply was to the effect that no punitive action would be taken, because it would be too much trouble, but that consideration would be given to penalising them in such a way as striking them off the register. The impression left on the minds of Deputies, rightly or wrongly, was that if such men returned they would not be arrested and courtmartialled.