In view of the fact that a large number of military service pensioners, who played a large part in the foundation of the State, receive exceedingly small pensions which are quite inadequate to meet the present cost of living, and in view of the fact that with the passing of time these pensioners are both decreasing in numbers and advancing in age, Dáil Éireann is of opinion that the past services of these people should be more generously recognised and calls on the Government both to increase the pensions paid to them and, in particular, to ensure that when such pensioners receive any increase in social welfare payments their pensions are not reduced by a corresponding amount.
One year ago a similar motion was tabled by Deputy Tierney and myself. As we made it clear then, I wish to make it clear now that neither he nor I expect, or can gain, any personal financial improvement, should this motion be recommended by this House and accepted by the Government. Neither is there any personal political motive. This is not an attempt, either, to cash in on the Jubilee Year of 1916, because this motion was placed on the Order Paper and indeed, in normal circumstances, would have been taken last year, were it not that the Government found it necessary to stop Private Members' Time for quite a considerable time before the Christmas recess. This motion is placed here with quite a genuine desire to draw the attention of the House to the inadequacy, and to glean from the members of all Parties in this House their wishes and views on that inadequacy, of both service pensions and special allowance pensions which, in many cases, are scarcely above existence rate for the people in receipt of them. I suggest to the Minister, as we suggested when a similar motion was before the House a year ago, that this should be left to a free vote of the House, as an expression of opinion of all sides and of all Parties, rather than that it should appear to be a political effort designed to embarrass the Government. I am quite sure the Minister as an individual, is as much, if not more, in sympathy with people who, when the country was in its hour of need, gave their services, be they little or great, without stint.
I hope that as a result of this motion and of the speeches which will be made during the debate, something will be done which will prevent people with small service pensions and, particularly, special allowance pensioners, being forced to depend on charity, home assistance or to have to avail of the limited comforts of a county home. Practically since 1932 onwards, past Ministers for Defence have been circularised by brigade organisations of the Old IRA, county organisations, and organisations throughout the whole country, appealing in the very same terms as this motion, that justice be done to those who, either by reason of old age or illness, are unable to provide an adequate income for themselves or their dependants. These people should be in receipt of a minimum pension; a relaxation of the means test should be brought about and a standard should be reached so that they would, at least, be able to have a modest existence in their declining years.
I speak mainly for those in receipt of special allowances, but anything I may say with regard to them could equally well be said of those who are in receipt of service pensions of a small amount.
There is a case in my constituency of a man from Waterford city who served from 1918 to 1922. Having taken part in the earlier days of the Civil War he was forced to flee the country. He went into exile and remained away for a considerable number of years. Dogged by ill health and perhaps by ill luck, he was forced to return some four or five years ago. He applied for a special allowance and received a full award for a single man but that award was completely inadequate to keep him and he has had to depend on the charity of relatives ever since. Otherwise, he would have to seek the cold comforts of a county home.
I suggest to the Minister and to this House that it is unreasonable to expect a man broken in health, advanced in years, although not yet 70, to exist on a weekly sum that would not keep him for two or three days. Unless he got the assistance of relatives, he would have to go into the county home. Surely, that is not adequate repayment for services rendered? This man does not seek much. All he asks—and he has repeatedly written to various Ministers for Defence—is sufficient on which to exist until such time as he reaches the qualifying age for old age pension.
I am aware that increases have been granted in special allowance cases within the past two years. An increase of £4 a year was granted in October, 1954. An increase of £4 a year in a pension itself a miserable pittance could not possibly be considered adequate. Again, in 1965, an increase of £8 a year was granted. An increase of 8/- a week on a pension well below subsistence level is totally inadequate.
Ministers in the past and perhaps the present Minister for Defence have been circularised by various Old IRA organisations throughout the country. The Kilkenny Brigade, in 1954, suggested to the then Minister that a single man's special allowance pension should be £4 10/- per week as a minimum and that a married man should have £6 10/- per week. In 1960, the Kilkenny Brigade suggested that in view of the increased cost of living since 1954 a single special allowance pensioner should receive a pension of £5 per week and a married pensioner on special allowance should receive £7 10/- per week.
In view of this and in view of the increase in the cost of living index figure that has occurred since 1960, I would reiterate what has been already proposed by organisations of Old IRA men, people who are interested and who cannot be accused of acting for political motives, comprised of all political Parties, that is, that there should be a special allowance pension of £6 per week for a single man and £8 10/- for a married man. In 1966, that is not asking too much.
In a circular issued by the Kilkenny Brigade of the Old IRA and signed by Patrick Walsh, sent to the Minister for Defence on 7th July, 1960, it was stated:
The sums paid in special allowances are, judged by present day standards, inadequate and should be increased to £7 10s. in the case of a married man and to £5 in the case of a single man, income from all sources to count in both cases.
To pin-point a specific case, may I cite the difficulty of men in the 60 to 70 age group obtaining employment against younger competitors in manual labour grades? The difficulties here can only be understood by those who experience them. Many of the hardships endured by the old IRA can be removed by granting the special allowance at 65 years of age, increasing the sums allocated and modifying the income calculations. Almost all recipients of special allowances have been subjected to irritating examinations by investigations by investigation officers relative to their income and the earning of an extra shilling per week by one holding an allowance or by a member of his family is taken as a reason for a reduction in the special allowance and, unfortunately, the Pension Board decision is final in all cases. There is no appeals tribunal.
The sums paid under the special allowance scheme are very low and in a memorandum sent to the Minister for Defence, Seán MacEoin, in 1954, by this Association, it was requested that the overall income of a single man be increased to £4 10s. per week and a married man's income in this grade increased to £6 10s., comparable to the lowest economic wage of the period.
That statement from a responsible organisation, a brigade organisation of Old IRA men, of all political opinions, should be taken seriously by a Minister of State charged with the responsibility of seeing to the defence of the country and to the welfare of those who have taken part and are taking part in the defence of the country.
I would suggest that if this Dáil recommends this motion to the Cabinet and if the Minister sees his way to support the motion if passed here, it will not impose an everlasting expense on the country. By the very nature of things, the number of these pensioners will decline. Anyone who is entitled to a medal, by which I mean anyone who got a medal worthily, must by reason of the fact that the latest date on which he could have served in the Old IRA would have been June, 1923, must now be over 60 years of age.
In answer to a question that I put to the Minister for Defence on last Tuesday, I was informed that between 1960 and 1965 some 2,000 pensioners had died. On that basis it is fairly easy to forecast that in the next ten to 20 years the number in receipt of special allowance or service pensions will not be counted in thousands but rather in hundreds. So that, if it is expensive at the moment to make provision for pensions of the figures I have suggested, that provision will be reducing gradually each year.
I do not desire to stress the need for acceptance of the motion or to make political capital in regard to it but I was surprised to hear the Minister saying in reply to a supplementary question today that this was never intended as an income. I beg the Minister's pardon if I have misquoted him. I have the quotation here:
These are special allowances which were brought in with the object of providing an allowance, not a means of livelihood.
Surely, if a man claiming a special allowance has no other means of any sort that fact must be taken into account and the allowance must be of such an amount as will enable him to exist outside a workhouse, of such amount as will enable him to live without having to appeal to a local authority for home assistance or to a charitable organisation for a subvention. Surely he is entitled to that?
In conclusion, I shall not use the fact that this is Jubilee Year to make a special appeal to the Minister. I shall use the fact that there are throughout the length and breadth of this country thousands of Old IRA who served their country in whatever way they were called upon to do so; they may not have been called upon to take part in ambushes or active engagements, but that was not their fault.
"They also serve who only stand and wait." Many of them were available if called upon and the fact that they were available has been recognised by granting them service medals. Attached to those medals is the right to an allowance if, through illness or old age, they are unable to provide for themselves. I appeal to the Minister and the House to make the increase asked for now a memorial in honour of the Jubilee.