I think every Deputy welcomes this Bill. I have the honour to come from Enniscorthy. In 1916, a band of men from that town took part in the Rising in the City of Dublin. Very few towns outside Dublin, Galway and Enniscorthy took part in the 1916 Rising.
I know men in my own town whose pension claims were turned down by the Referee while other men who fought with them were awarded pensions. I may say, in passing, that a pension of 3/6 a week to a man with 1916 service is an insult—and when he becomes unemployed that pension is used against him in the labour exchange. I am glad to see that these restrictions are being discontinued.
Like Deputy Donnellan and other Deputies, I should like to see the pension of men in the lower pension group increased. The ordinary workingman is the one who suffers most. He lost his employment through imprisonment, whereas business people had their own ways and means of getting on when they came out of prison. The unfortunate workingman was thrown out of employment. He became unpopular. At that time the majority of such men had to seek employment across the water. Here we have well-to-do people drawing big pensions, while other men, who did the same work, draw only 3/6, 6/- and 8/-. Now, we are told, they are going to get an increase in pension—an increase, as Deputy Donnellan pointed out, of from £6 to £9. Any man who served in 1916 must be approaching 60 years of age now.
I find that special allowances are reviewed every year. From time to time, I have to get in touch with the Department of Defence on behalf of men who were granted a special allowance. Thatallowance is granted only from year to year. In order to get an allowance in the first instance, a man must submit to very severe medical examination, and if he is not a deserving case the allowance will not be awarded to him. In these circumstances, I feel that that severe examination in St. Bricin's Hospital should be regarded as sufficient and that the case should not have to be reviewed every year.
Every Deputy has received correspondence from the Mansion House Committee in regard to this amending Act. I have a letter here from the North Wexford Brigade. Those pensioners in my constituency who are in the lower pension group are not satisfied with the provisions of this amending Bill. It is just another case of the more you have the more you get.
According to the Mansion House Committee circular, there are 17,000 claims still waiting to be dealt with. At the rate the Referee is hearing claims, I suppose the lifetime of this Government will have ended before they are all dealt with. The inter-Party Government opened the door to the Old I.R.A. That door was closed in 1945 by the then Fianna Fáil Government and no more claims were to be heard after that. When the inter-Party Government came into office they brought pressure to bear on the Department of Defence and on the Minister for Defence to reopen the claims of Old I.R.A. men. I am glad that, as a result of that action, some people received a pension.
I was talking to a man who was a member of the firing party at Deputy Brennan's funeral. He was one of our leaders in 1916 and he was sentenced to death. When I met him at the funeral I told him that I had received the Bill that morning, that I had not had time to read it but that I thought that an improvement was coming. His reply to me was: "Jack, it is not much of an advantage to me." That man, who was one of our leaders in 1916, is in the lower pension group.
A man who died recently was awarded a pension only during the term of office of the inter-Party Government. That man went on hunger strike and, further, he was one of thefirst men in County Wexford to go into Volunteer uniform. The Fianna Fáil Government rejected his claim and he was not awarded a pension until 1949: he did not live long to enjoy it. There are a lot of grievances throughout the country.
I consider that there should be no hesitation whatsoever about giving a pension to a man who has had 1916 service. I do not agree that any man who took part in the civil war, no matter on which side, should be granted a pension.
I never agreed with that, but I certainly agree that the 1916 men, and the men who served up to the time of the Truce and during the Black and Tan struggle, should be compensated because they risked their lives, and a good many of them lost their lives. I have found, on a few occasions, that when an Old I.R.A. man died and his pension came down, that the widow who received it had to send it back. She was not even allowed to keep it to meet the funeral expenses. Some Old I.R.A. men who died in Britain had to be buried there because their people could not afford to bring them home. That is a sad state of affairs.
I think the Minister should have gone further in this Bill. Some people may ask, where is the money to come from? My answer is that if there was a world war in the morning the money would be found as it was found in this country during the emergency—£7,000,000 for the Army. If there was a war there would be no question as to where the money was to come from. Surely to goodness, the people who by their sacrifices made the setting up of this House possible and gave us the liberty to come here as the elected representatives of the people, should get some compensation. It should not be necessary for us in these days to be making these appeals for the 1916 men and those who served up to 1921. I remember putting a question to the Minister in 1945 with regard to men in receipt of medals. The medals were given without a pension. The Minister, however, at that time brought in the special allowance so that 1916 men who had lost their health or were getting on inyears, were able to get it. That is a thing that was welcomed. It was something which those men deserved to get.
I have been a member of the House for ten years, and during all that time I have spoken on this matter on the Estimates and on other occasions. I come from a town where the men there took part in the 1916 Rising. I know them, and I know their position as well as anyone. I know the hardships they went through, of how they lost their employment and how they were despised by some people during that period. I think that if the Minister were to improve the Bill by giving a decent pension to the few who remain now—those who served during 1916 and up to 1921—everyone in this House and outside of it would be pleased.
Everyone honours and salutes the 1916 men. I hope that the Minister will be able to improve this Bill on the Committee Stage, even if he has to fight his colleague, the Minister for Finance, to get the money. The increase proposed in the Bill is very small. It is miserable when one has regard to the present cost of living. What use is £9 a year to a man who has no other means, who may be unemployed or who may be invalided and cannot work? That man will still have to go to the home assistance officer to seek some help. That is a degrading thing. I think the Minister must understand now, after hearing the views of some of his own Party, that this Bill is not as satisfactory as the House would like it to be. I agree it is an improvement. Everyone welcomes any Bill that is brought in for the betterment of the people, whether they be old age pensioners, military pensioners or others. Deputy Donnellan spoke about the £140,000 that was given back to the dance hall proprietors. If that tax was put on again, that amount of money, if made available, would satisfy for all time the Old I.R.A., and there would be no grumbling. If that tax were put on again in order to raise £140,000 to supplement the pensions of the Old I.R.A. men, the Minister would get the support of the House. I hope that the remaining stages of this Bill will go through quickly.
I do not like the present Pensions Board. If a man was turned downby the Referee in 1934 or 1936, how is that Referee going to alter his decision if the same man comes before him again? He is a man who probably should not be there at all. He was not a very popular man with the I.R.A. I think it would be very hard for him to change his mind. Therefore, I think a new board should be set up. The Old I.R.A. organisations have suggested that the board should consist of former officers who had served in their own areas. They know the companies and battalions that these men belonged to, and they know what they did. If someone in Dublin Castle is sent down to hold a sitting in the courthouse in Enniscorthy, what does he know about the men I speak of? The local officers are the men who can speak on behalf of these men. At present when a man goes before the board he may be told that he is not a person to whom the Act applies, and so he is finished with.
I think that something should be done with regard to the constitution of the board because there is such a thing as spite. I said here before, although the present Minister disagreed with me, that if you did not see eye to eye with some officers, even though you had a genuine case, they would not give you a reference. I know that has happened in my own town. I think it would be much better to have a board composed of the local officers of the area. They are in a position to vouch for Old I.R.A. men whose claims are still outstanding.
I hope that this Bill will be improved, especially in the case of those men who are in the lower pension groups. There are men getting £40, £50 or £60 a year, but then you have other men who are going to get only £9 under this Bill. That is going to mean no improvement for them, and these are men who, probably, have no other means. These are the men we should be anxious to look after. I know well-to-do people who have big I.R.A. pensions, while men who served in the ranks have only 3/6 or 5/- a week. That is not fair. I have met a lot of those men and they were disgusted when they saw the increases they were going to get on the smallmeagre pensions which they have at present. If the Minister improves the Bill and decides to get more money to meet the cases that I have mentioned he will have the full support of the Labour Party and of all Parties in this House. If he comes forward with a Supplementary Estimate to improve the financial provisions in this Bill I am sure he will get it through the House without any opposition.