I want to bring to the notice of the Minister and the House the fashion in which the means test is being applied.
Committee on Finance. - Vóta 48—Arm-Phinsin (Atógáil).
There is not a House present, Sir.
There is a House.
There is not— count it.
There is a House present. I hope the Deputy is counting me.
I beg your pardon, Sir; I was overlooking the most important person.
You will get no sun tan between now and the end of July.
It took Deputy Meaney 14 years to come in here. He should not try to shorten his stay.
Order. Deputy Jones, on the Estimate.
I want to draw attention to the fact that the means test is being operated in a most unfair fashion. I want to refer in particular to several cases which came to my notice and about which I made representations to the Minister's Department. In referring to them again, I do not want to attach any blame to the Minister as such for the manner in which the means test is being operated but at present the regulations are being interpreted in a most arbitrary fashion by the officers down the country who are concerned. If the State decides that those who rendered service in the past are entitled to an allowance or pension and if this House so framed legislation as to enable these people to obtain some modicum of help from the State in their declining years or in years of illhealth, it ill becomes whoever is responsible so to frame the regulations as to deprive them of the pensions.
I want to refer to the case of DP-36109. This is a case of a man who, having received a special allowance of a moderate amount, now finds the amount reduced by the sum of £39 a year because his son, who is working ten to twelve miles away from home, comes home in the evening.
Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted, and 20 Members being present,
This man's son stayed at home and was contributing £2 a week on a previous occasion. Because he stayed at home and secured employment, he now contributes £3 a week. By some strange calculation under these regulations, it is made out that the profit to the father on that is 15/-a week. This is calculated under Section 7 of the Army Pensions Act of 1943, so it means that an Army Act of 1943 is being applied in 1962. Am I to take it that regulations framed so long ago are still applicable or that the standards by which the social welfare officers carry out their work have not changed since that time and that no recognition is given to the rise in cost of living since then? That person is being penalised to the extent of having his allowance reduced by £39 a year. That means that what is left to him is absolutely useless to afford him any measure of even frugal comfort at the end of his days.
I have heard it calculated that this State will have completed its debt to the people who helped to found it in 1970 and here we are operating a scheme at the present time under which we are depriving these people of whatever measure of help we should give them in their declining years. It is not possible that there could be a profit of 15/- a week to a father on a sum of £3 a week which a healthy, able-bodied lad contributes to his home. It is for that reason that I cannot feel that the State is being just, not to say generous, to the people it proposes to serve. It is time that the House registered its protest against that type of arbitrary implementation of regulations.
There is another aspect of this matter to which I should like to refer. This case also occurred in my constituency and, at the time, I brought to the notice of the Minister's Department that the applicant was in a very precarious state of health and I urged that the case be dealt with speedily. I pointed out that if something were not done in a hurry, this man would die and die he did, without the State having settled its side of the case.
Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted, and 20 Members being present,
I believe the Minister has the interests of these people at heart as any Minister for Defence must have, but it is time it was impressed on the people who administer these Acts that two things are necessary. The first is that there ought to be the greatest expedition in dealing with these cases and no undue delay in assessing whether these people are entitled to a special allowance or not. The second is that there is a very urgent need for a review of the means test as it is applied to them. I do not believe the case I have quoted is unique. On another occasion and at another time I shall have something to say about the means test applied in the case of old age pensioners.
I would impress upon the Minister that if the State is to discharge its debt to the people who gave this service in the past it ought to do so in a ready and a speedy fashion and it ought not use any device—because device I think it is—to slow down or prevent these people from obtaining what is due to them for whatever service they rendered in the past.
There is a further matter to which I should like to draw the Minister's attention. It concerns the case of a person who had a special allowance. This special allowance was given to him first because of his service——
It is the country Deputies who are in the House.
That is always the way.
——and also because of the fact that his son was permanently disabled. The lad was examined in the military hospital, St. Bricin's. The father died leaving this lad unable to care for himself. The Act, as framed, shows the weakness that the lad is now left to the care of the local authority. He will have to be looked after by way of home assistance or otherwise. That certainly is something which must leave the declining years of the recipients of this type of allowance or pension from the State tinged with sorrow and regret. When they die, unwittingly and unwarrantably, a cruel wrong is inflicted on their dependants.
I would urge the Minister to be somewhat more liberal with those who now remain of the men who won freedom for this country. Although many of them may not have medals they gave good and faithful service throughout. Those of us who had the honour to be officers know their worth and know that they contributed to the freedom of the country in no small way.
Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted, and 20 Members being present,
I thought that Deputy MacEoin would be the last to interrupt an appeal for the Old IRA.
Do not go on that line.
Leave the bit of overtime to Deputy MacEoin.
You can get Deputy de Valera to take time off and let the city Deputies make the country Deputies come into the House. That is all you got. Parliamentary procedure will be observed.
I want the Minister to be somewhat more liberal. When the investigation officers are dealing with those soldiers of ours, they are dealing with men of a very high standard, who are not medicants and who do not like to be brought down to that level. Very often because, perhaps, of pecuniary circumstances, the people on whose behalf I speak find themselves in difficulties. Therefore, the Minister, in co-operation with the Minister for Social Welfare, should issue instructions to have them treated from the point of view of a very high standard. On many occasions these people fail to disclose their true circumstances. That is through pride, perhaps, but it is a good thing that there is plenty of pride left in us. That section of the community look for very little. They got very little but they deserve a great deal.
I want to appeal to the Minister to make provision for the funeral expenses of men who die in poor circumstances and whose relatives are unable to meet the expense. It is a shame —and I have seen this happen on many occasions—that we should have to go round with the hat on behalf of men who rendered splendid service. That position should not obtain in this country. I hope our memories will not be so short that we will forget the services rendered by the men who obtained freedom for us.
Again, I say there are old soldiers still left who, perhaps, through no fault of their own, were unable to make a strong case in the beginning for a military service pension. Many of them are what could be described as marginal cases. Jealousies in the case of many of them played no small part in depriving them of their just recognition. Since I came to this House I have urged—and I will continue to do so—that men with that good service to the nation should at least be given in the winter of their lives superannuation. They do not ask for a great deal but the just recognition to which they are so fully entitled. A sum of even £20 for each year of service would be acceptable and would be a very fitting gesture in the winter of their lives. There are not so many left, and were it not for the special allowance, the pensions bill would be very considerably reduced.
Every day of the week, many of those men are going to their eternal reward and I would make a special plea that in future there should be no necessity for charitable contributions towards the funeral expenses of Old IRA men. We do not want any lavish parades at their funerals. All we ask is that a small fund be set up by the Government for that purpose and that this degrading practice of trying to find the curial expenses of old soldiers will cease. The British look after their exsoldiers in this country when the need arises and I would strongly urge the Minister to see that we do the same.
There are complaints also of long delays in arriving at decisions on applications for special allowances. Perhaps during the interim period between the application and the decision, the applicant may die and the dependants are then not entitled to any allowances. That is most unfair. Why can we not have some retrospective payment of allowances in such cases?
Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted, and 20 Members being present,
I would make that appeal very strongly to the Minister. Nowadays also there are difficulties about certification of service and I would suggest that some new method be devised for this purpose. Under no circumstances am I advocating that medals should be given to those who are not entitled to them— indeed, I think that would be unpardonable—but it is just as unfair to see people who are entitled to medals not receiving them. There are people flaunting medals on their chests who should be ashamed, while, at the same time, old soldiers who suffered illhealth, loss of positions and other hardships to serve their country have been denied them.
I do not know what increase in pensions the Minister has in mind but I would say that in any case, old soldiers who suffered total disablement as a result of wounds should be far more generously treated. There are very few of them left now. Even in this House we can see the evidence of that—young men are coming in and the older men are going out. In this context, I would appeal to the younger men in this House never to forget the debt of gratitude they owe to those soldiers who were responsible for the situation we now have in which these young men can sit in this House.
I would open my remarks by suggesting to the Minister that the means test should be completely abolished in relation to any allowance or pension granted to a person for services rendered. It has been difficult at times this morning to get a quorum in the House and that reminds me of the fact that we have now so many younger men here. In fact, they are in the majority in this House. There are one or two specific cases which I would like to stress but I do not think I need do so to a Minister with the background of the present Minister. I would, however, point out that it seems wrong to have in many cases younger civil servants adjudicating on who should be paid what under this Estimate.
The Minister, with his association with Galway, will know all about the Fianna, recognised as the principal militant organisation in this country to march in columns of four under the late Countess Markievicz. Liam Mellows went to Galway on his bicycle; Heuston and Colbert gave their lives for Ireland; and the Fianna became a training camp for cadets to fill the ranks of the Volunteers. Even though that happened, there are not more than 36 pensions awarded for Fianna service.
We have to look at this picture in its proper light and hope that the younger men will take cognisance of it. Members of the Fianna and the Volunteers were split asunder and some of them would not even take a drink with their former comrades for years afterwards. It was natural therefore that some of them would not like to ask for verification. I have permission to say what happened to Major General Hugo MacNeill. He received credit for half a year in respect of his Fianna service when learning signalling, but the man who instructed him, an ex-British Army soldier, got no pension. Yet Major General MacNeill got his pension on the verification of the man teaching him signalling.
We know there are difficulties in the definition of active service, but we could learn from the United States Army. No matter in what branch of the Services a man served in the first World War, his beneficiaries were entitled to 10,000 dollars in the event of his death while in the services. Deputy Barron felt disgusted that the question of providing funds for the burial of an Old IRA man should have to be raised in the House. Of course, it is pathetic.
Much money has been spent on the Military History Bureau. Representatives were sent out to get the story from all sides. I can safely say that, when the 50 years have elapsed, these documents can be published because there will be nobody alive to contradict them. I was very much impressed by the action of Deputy MacEoin when, as Minister for Defence, he promised to take up the case of a person in whom I am interested. I do not know whether that person could be classified as having been on active service or not —he was a solicitor—but he was certainly risking his life. The Minister may feel that I should not bring this matter up again. That is the attitude generally now. People do not want to hear any more about the Old IRA and the Fianna now. Even my wife is satirical and refers to the old Fenians rather than the Fianna.
I am given to understand that medals without bars were issued ad lib. Then we come to the question of the bar. It is on record that where there was an anticipated ambush at forked roads and the truck went to the left instead of the right as expected, those lying in wait on the right were not considered to be on active service. Well, just how far can we go? I mentioned the case of another man on three occasions in this House. He was a member of the RIC, who took off his coat, joined the IRA, had service with them, joined the National Army, had service with them, went into Dublin Fire Brigade and retired some years ago because of arthritis. Just because he had £4 1s. a week pension, he could not get anything. The ceiling for the means test was set in 1952. Since then, there have been all kinds of increases, the salaries of the judges and of Deputies have been increased, but that ceiling has never been touched. As a result, there is no equity.
There is also the question of retired officers of the Army and particularly those who accepted the offer made by the previous Minister to take two years' pay and retire. I am not prepared to enter into the rights and wrongs of that now. But within three months one officer found he had cancer. Hospitalisation has cost him over £250. If that man had remained on, he would have gone from Lieutenant-Colonel to Colonel and, at the same time, would have had his hospitalisation free. I am sure no Deputy would question the Minister if he deviated to the right or the left, so long as he was doing so for the betterment of an individual. As Deputy Davern says, there are very few of these people left. There would be no opposition to any form of gratuity, even at this late stage, or to our adopting something on the lines followed for the American forces. When I was entitled to a disability pension because of a lung collapse, I did not ask for it. I was young and I did not want to ask for verification from a person on the other side. I said it did not matter. I am glad I did so because I can now speak without anybody suggesting I am looking for anything for myself.
I wish to refer again to the General and the other Fianna boy who got nine months in 1917. Imprisonment is accepted as active service; yet he never got a penny. I was lucky to get the Fianna boy a night watchman's job with Dublin Corporation recently. The Minister will have the complete support of the House for any proposal to give recognition to these people, whether rich or poor. There was no means test when you tried to recruit them in 1918 and 1919. It is sad to think that politics can enter into a matter such as this.
Last year on the occasion of this Estimate, I stated we had a repetition of what happened in the last war when the American private came to England and was receiving more money, apart from the difference in the dollar and the pound, than the English officer. There are officers in the Congo who are under embarrassment because they are receiving less money than the Swedish privates. If their services are good enough they should be paid.
The problem of Old IRA pensions is one of "service" and it is a good job we are not faced with an emergency because it might only be the old national spirit that would come to the fore. There is one of the last of the 1916 men dying within 200 yards of where we fought. These are the matters I hope and feel confident the Minister will examine and not look on as many cases were looked on by his predecessor.
As one of the junior Deputies in this House, I should like to join with Deputy MacEoin, Deputy Davern and other members of the Old IRA in appealing for more generous pensions for their comrades. In 1962, when we have freedom in this part of the State, a freedom achieved as a result of the glorious fight put up by the few over 40 years ago, it is really a sad thing to see those men who then fought and who since fought against each other, having to come in here with a united appeal on behalf of their old comrades. I had a Question down yesterday to the Minister requesting him to give me a list of those in my native county in receipt of military pensions, with the amounts. I am not personally aware of the activities of the recipients of the pensions but I do know——
Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted, and 20 Members being present,
I am not personally aware of the activities of the Old I.R.A. men in my county but I know they made a very substantial contribution to the fight for the Irish freedom. When I persued the list of names and considered the amount of pension awarded to those veterans, I really felt ashamed. In one case, an Old IRA veteran has a pension of £9 15s. per annum. I know dole men who would refuse to accept it as unemployment assistance; they would not accept it per month, never mind per year. The majority of these annual pensions are small, between £20 and £25 per year— mere tokens.
Do we consider it fair to the survivors of the few that we should recompense them in this miserable manner? They are dying off and let us in their old age give them a reasonable pension. Some of them, though poor, are still proud. They do not wish to have their means investigated by junior civil servants. If we want to find out the economic position of a veteran, let us consult his former colleagues who will know best what his financial position is and let us not have his means pried into by junior civil servants to whom he does not wish to disclose the poverty into which he has fallen.
It is a bad thing to find a proud Old IRA veteran being quizzed and questioned about what he did with moneys he may have received some 20, 30 or 40 years ago. I would appeal to the Minister to find some other way of investigating the means of applicants for these pensions. I have heard about Old IRA men from all sides of the House. I have listened to Deputy Carroll, Deputy Davern and Deputy MacEoin making an appeal for old comrades in arms that generous pensions be given to them. On behalf of a different generation, I wish to add my voice to that appeal.
Year after year, the numbers of the Old IRA are growing less. Therefore, we should not have to add to the Vote. Instead of reducing the amount we vote for pensions, when Old IRA pensioners die off, let us divide the pension they get among their survivors and leave the global allocation the same at least, if we cannot add generously to it.
Having appealed for the Old IRA men, I make a further appeal on behalf of the officers and men of the National Army. I wonder do we treat them in the manner in which they should be treated? I wonder have we given retired officers a pension on which they can live in comfort? Have we made an effort to rehabilitate in civilian life the soldiers who have given 10, 15 or 20 years' service to the State? I do not believe we have and, if we have not made provision to rehabilitate them in life, then let us see that they get a decent pension. The Army have proved that they are capable when danger threatens of emulating today the deeds of their predecessors in the Old IRA. In the last war, in a state of emergency in this country, when they were called upon, they manned the bearna baoil. Later, when asked to go to far foreign fields, they emulated the feats of the old Irish Brigade. Let us ensure that they are properly recompensed for the sacrifice and the offering they have made.
We sometimes hear grouses and grumbles that we do not receive enough remuneration for what we do. We grumble and grouse correctly, but have we any thought for the men who made it possible for us to be here? We should not overlook them. I understand the Minister is himself one of them. He should not forget his old comrades. He should keep badgering and pestering his Government and his Minister for Finance until he can siphon off from them sufficient moneys to keep these veterans, be they veterans of the Old IRA or of the National Army, in comfort in the latter days of their lives.
If I were to draw up any balance sheet on the basis of the appeals made on this Estimate, I wonder what the net result would be. I am more inclined to hearken to those who made a plea for leniency in the matter of assessing means and in the laying down of the rules for verification, etc., rather than to those who have taken the opposite viewpoint and who have stated that people have been given medals and pensions which they did not deserve.
The balance sheet I am referring to is a comparison between these two points of view. Each has been put very vigorously. Cases have been cited to show—I have no doubt they are within the personal knowledge of the Deputies who mentioned them—a niggardly approach in the matter of means, a too rigid interpretation of "service". On the basis of these individual cases, in relation to which I am accepting that those who raised them have personal knowledge, these Deputies have proceeded to build a general case. We all know that exceptions make bad law. Where it can be said by those who make the case that medals and pensions have been given to people who have not earned them, it is possible that there may be certain individual cases within the personal knowledge of those who make these statements, but it would be quite illusory to build a general case on these individual cases.
We do our best in the Department to ensure that only those who merit what the State provides will, in fact, get it. On the other hand, there is equal diligence on the part of the officials to ensure that nobody gets that something which he has not, in fact, merited. It is not an easy task to perform conscientiously and well. I can assure the House that no unfavourable decision is given in any case without full examination. The time for applying for military service pensions, and disability pensions arising out of that service, passed some years back and we are dealing now only with special allowances. On all applications for special allowances, verification is a necessary prerequisite.
Let us consider now the case of an applicant in respect of whom there are divided opinions as to the service rendered. Verification is necessary. Certain verification may be forthcoming. If the weight of the evidence is in favour of the applicant, the officers adjudicating will give a decision in favour of the applicant. On inquiry, I have been told that, in all cases of doubt, the benefit of the doubt is given to the applicant. If we go beyond that practical rule of procedure in this matter, we shall be falling into the error emphasised here by those Deputies who said we have handed out these benefits without due consideration.
The net result of what I have heard on this Estimate leads me to the conclusion that errors on the one side cancel out those on the other and, in neither case, are they of any considerable proportions. It would be quite impossible to produce a perfect scheme, and we do not pretend that we have produced perfection in the administration of the military service pensions and special allowances code.
A number of cases were mentioned. Some of them were identifiable. Particulars of identification have been noted for further examination. Deputy MacEoin, in particular, had fairly accurate information at his disposal in a number of cases. It is not desirable in a debate of this kind to take a series of individual cases and reply to them, but, in so far as they are samples, the remarks which I have already made apply to them.
Let us take one type of complaint —it is a case with which I have very great sympathy—the question of widows' pensions. It is a fundamental feature of the Army pensions code, and it always has been, that where a disabled pensioner dies, it must be established that his death was due solely, or mainly, to his pensionable disability before an allowance can be paid to his widow and children. Establishing the cause of death is a function of the Army Pensions Board. The findings of the Board are statutorily binding. The Minister has no function in the matter.
Deputy MacEoin gave particulars of a case we were able to identify. I have ascertained that the man in question did not die from the effect of gunshot wounds, as was suggested by Deputy MacEoin, but from a different disability altogether. I know that, on sentiment, one can appeal to a Minister who was a comrade of these people to ignore the fact that death was not caused by wounds, and to be generous. That is the way my sentiment would run, but, after all, it would hardly be fair to take such a facile view of the matter. If a man has survived the activities of 40 years ago for a period of 40 years, it is very difficult to establish that his experiences in service have caused his death.
With regard to special allowances, cases have been mentioned in which, on an examination of the means, only a very small allowance is payable. Some of these have been mentioned as being as low as £3 a year. I have to sign most of the letters that go out in this connection. I get a great deal of correspondence from Deputies. I do my best to write to each Deputy and to sign the letter myself. I see all the letters, in any case. I should be as well pleased to write to a Deputy saying that an allowance had been refused as to say that a sum of £3 a year was granted.
I do not decide the amount. Last year, the calculation of means was eased in favour of applicants. The Minister for Finance indicated in the Budget that there will be a still further improvement in special allowances. I am not yet in a position to say how that improvement will be applied. I assure the House that it will be applied in the way calculated best to benefit the largest number of applicants for and recipients of special allowances.
Complaint is often made that the average amount of military service pension is so miserable as to be hardly worth taking. That seemed to be the burden of Deputy P. O'Donnell's speech. Military service pensions were never intended to be a means of livelihood. They are nothing more than a measure of the service rendered by the applicant. The military service pensions, whether of 1924 or 1934, are a product of the unfortunate Civil War.
Admitted that the average military service pension is small, if one is to judge the approach to it at this late stage, but that was not the approach when it was granted. The Government are aware that that is so—judging the pension from the point of view of purchasing power. We recognise that to be so because we recognise that, in spite of the granting of these pensions, considerable hardship can still be experienced by Old IRA men. The scheme of special allowances was introduced. At present, there are 6,700 special allowances on pay, averaging £75. I think I can claim that the Government have gone a very considerable way towards meeting the fault found in military service pensions.
As regards the evaluation of means for special allowance purposes, Deputy Jones complained that an allowance of £3 contributed by a son to his household was assessed against the father, an applicant, as equal to 15/- a week. That is the figure decided upon by all the authorities in the evaluation of means and it has been accepted by the Department of Defence. Easement in the matter of means took place last year and, again, improvement has been foreshadowed in this year's Budget and will be applied in the near future.
Complaints were made about verification of applications for medals. When these medals were first introduced, the investigation was not as tight as it became later. There was no pecuniary advantage attached to them at that time. As a result of the campaign against the smallness of military service pensions the special allowances were introduced. The medal scheme was made a basis for them. That was a fair enough way of approaching the question.
Because the investigation of the original medal applications was not as rigid as might reasonably be expected, because it was quite an honorary matter, when medal-holders subsequently applied for special allowances, their entitlement to the medal was re-examined. The same care in establishing the entitlement was taken as if the applicant were applying for a military service pension. In a great many of these cases, the entitlement was very seriously questioned and in a great many cases the decisions were reversed.
If the surviving officers of the battalion and the company to which the applicant claims to have belonged during the critical period can so certify and, at the same time, if all the records available in connection with the Military Service Pensions Acts, that is, military service pension applications, the Referee's records, unit rolls, etc., support the application, there is no hesitation on the part of the Department in granting it. If it is found on examination of the company roll sent up in 1934 that the man's name is not included, if it is not on the roll prepared by the company officers, and if there is also a roll prepared by the battalion or brigade officers and neither roll contains the applicant's name, it is very difficult 20 or 25 years afterwards to say that the man's name was left off the roll by error. As I say, it is very difficult to establish that.
I want to stress that particularly because of the case mentioned by Deputy MacEoin. He said that officers who resided seven miles away from the place of residence of the applicant had come forward and offered to verify in this case. The fact is that in that case both the surviving company officers—there are two of them —said that the applicant was not a member, and the three surviving battalion officers disclaimed knowledge of him. That is his own company and his own battalion, and his name is not on the company roll. The Deputy indicated that certain other members are prepared to certify, but they were not officers of the battalion or the company and under the system of investigation their evidence is not admissible. In any event, it would be outweighed by the evidence of the surviving officers.
Deputy MacEoin and Deputy Davern asked me to indicate what the increases mentioned in the Budget were likely to be. I am not in a position to give that information. The Minister for Finance will introduce a Supplementary Estimate to cover the increases, and it will subsequently be necessary for me to introduce legislation to give effect to them.
Deputy MacEoin mentioned late applications and the case of an officer who applied for a pension in respect of a wound received in 1922. The time limit for these applications has long since expired. Deputy MacEoin suggested that I had power by administrative order to remedy this complaint. That is not so. Amending legislation is necessary to increase the amount of the pensions, or the method of calculation and to alter any other conditions laid down in the legislation. I am bound by existing legislation until it is amended. That is my reply to Deputy MacEoin in that case. He enabled me to identify it and that is the answer to it.
Deputy MacEoin also inquired about amending the Defence Forces Pensions Scheme to enable an increase of pensions to be given proportionate to the increase in service pay granted on 1st February of last year. There is no automatic increase in Defence Forces pensions when an increase of service pay is granted. This matter is somewhat different from the practice in the Civil Service. When an increase of service pay is granted, it is necessary to amend the scheme to give a corresponding pension increase to those who retired after that increase. We shall be bringing in that amendment soon, I hope, and the officers and men who retired since 1st February, 1961, will get in their pensions the benefit of that increase in pay. There was a further increase in Army pay in November last and there will have to be a still further amendment of the Pensions Scheme to give effect to that increase for the benefit of the officers and men who retired since that second increase was granted.
I was also asked whether the United Nations accept responsibility for the repayment of the Congo pensions and allowances. That is the position. The United Nations accept responsibility for the repayment of pensions, allowances and lump sum compensations awarded by us to the Congo victims and their dependants. The pensions and allowances are capitalised actuarially and a claim is made on the United Nations for the capital sum. Already a claim for £53,000 odd has been met by the United Nations and another claim is in course of preparation.
I think I have dealt with the subject matter of Deputy Tully's complaint in regard to the delays in awarding medals. I want to emphasise that these delays are not due to any lack of diligence on the part of the officers of the Department. In practically all cases, they are caused by the inability of the Department to get the necessary verification. In 900 out of 1,000 cases, it can be taken that that is the cause of the delay.
There are still 5,000 applications on hands. It is of interest to those who have been stressing the fact that the amount of military service pensions is reducing each year — and that is so: the Estimate shows that it is so: it is down by £18,000 — that as against that there are still 5,000 medal applications on hands and new applications are coming in at the rate of 500 to 1,000 per year. It is inevitable that there should be a falling off in the total of military service pensions which are a comparatively confined category, but it is obvious that for some time the number of special allowances will continue to increase before you reach the peak and then start on the downward trend, the reason being that, as time passes, an increasing number of recipients of military service pensions become entitled to special allowances and they add to the other categories who can get special allowances when no other type of benefit is open to them.
Deputy MacEoin made a plea for an increase in the remuneration of the civil medical member of the Army Pensions Board. He is about to get an increase relative to the increase which has been given to the Civil Service in general.
I am trying, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, to deal with the major points that have been made and I am sorry if I am delaying the House in trying to sort out the more important ones. I would say to Deputies that whatever changes will take place in these various matters which have been the subject of this debate, the tendency will always be towards improving the position rather than the reverse. Nobody can justify the claim that has been made by at least two Deputies that there should be no reduction in the global amount — I think that is the word one of them used — of military service pensions, that no matter how the number of recipients reduces by death, the total amount should always be paid out to the remaining numbers. One can see if that were pursued to its logical conclusion, it would be very difficult to justify after a couple of years' operation.
Give some of it, anyway.
Deputy Sherwin talked about a particular type of case. The Department are not forgetting that particular type of case and I hope we shall be able to deal with it to the satisfaction of the Deputy and of those others who are interested in it.
There is one matter which has received more attention than anything else. It was the subject of speeches made both on the Estimate for Defence and on this Estimate for Pensions. Deputy Booth dealt with it on the Estimate for Defence and Deputy de Valera dealt with it on this Estimate. On the question of the source of authority for the action taken by the Department, I want to tell Deputy de Valera that we are quite satisfied that the authority for our action is unimpeachable.
I think I replied pretty fully to it on the Defence Estimate and I do not wish to go back on it now, but I should like to repeat that I have the fulles sympathy with the officer who has been caught out in the matter. As I said, I have been hopeful that it would be possible to settle the matter reasonably satisfactorily for all concerned but there is a duty and an obligation on me to ensure that public funds are safeguarded to the best of my ability, without doing any undue injury to anyone. It is obvious that if you have defalcations which have accumulated over a long period and have been carried out by a person of very junior rank, there surely must have been something wrong with the supervision. If the peculation was allowed to go on for the better part of a year, it is hardly true to say that no blame is attaching to the supervision. I feel that it could not have happened, or could not have persisted for so long, if the supervision had been reasonably good. It is hardly any answer to say that shortage of staff was the cause.
I do not think that there are any other points falling to be dealt with. When the case is made that we are niggardly in dealing with those who gave service in the past, the obvious answer to make is to ask the Deputies to look at the total sum which I am now asking the Dáil to provide. That is the simplest and easiest answer. The method by which that is distributed, of course, was the burden of most of the speeches made here and we are giving attention to ensure that the distribution is the fairest possible.