Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 1 Feb 1966

Vol. 220 No. 4

Private Members' Business. - Increase in Military Service Pensions.

I move:

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.

I second the motion. I shall be very brief. A grave injustice has been done to these people all down through the years. For the past 45 years they have been sadly neglected. No doubt the Minister will say that their lot has been improved. It has been improved to some extent but the allowance was so small initially that even a meagre addition looks like an improvement. There is need for greater change now.

The vast majority of those drawing service pensions are in receipt of a sum of £16 10s. 4d. a year. When the original £10 per year was granted, the value of money was greater than it is today. The value of the £ today is about 8/4 to 8/9, though we were told recently it was roughly 10/-. I believe it is lower than that. As Deputy Kyne has pointed out, when we tabled the motion we momentarily forgot the Jubilee Year was approaching. However, this is a very appropriate year in which the Irish people and their Government should show their appreciation for the small body now left with us of those who made it possible for us to have our own parliament and our own government. The way in which to show our gratitude to them is by treating them generously in their declining years.

I believe the pension legislation needs drastic overhaul. There are two Acts, the 1924 and the 1934. Those who fought on the republican side got orders not to apply under the 1924 Act. The Minister will remember this because he himself was very high up at that particular time. In 1934, after the change of Government, a new Act was introduced. It reacted unfavourably against those who were loyal to the instructions they got not to apply under the 1924 Act. Under the 1924 Act things were easier; the mere fact that one wore a uniform counted for service. Up to a point the 1924 Act was generous to those who applied under it. The others applied under the 1934 Act and the strange thing is they never got any recommendation, good, bad, or indifferent. They never received anything. They lost 10 years pension by obeying instructions. They would have qualified had they applied under the 1924 Act. I believe the Minister would have some what the same outlook as I have in this matter. He knows the injustices. He should use his influence with the Cabinet now to see that these are rectified in realation to the very small number of Old IRA left.

Every nation treats its soldiers generously. Every nation respects and honours its soldiers. Every nation pays them a generous pension. Here we are content to pay tribute, but very little else. When they die we wrap the coffin in a flag and we fire three volleys over the grave; we go back to the house then and talk about the great man he was, what he did, all he saved. Ultimately we discover he was in receipt of £10 or £12 a year. I believe that governments in this country are of the opinion that the only good IRA man is a dead IRA man because it is only then we hear of how good the IRA man was. While he is alive there is no great appreciation for him.

Pensions should be increased substantially. As far as disability pension is concerned, I pay tribute to the Minister. I am sure he has used his influence, but I think the whole system is wrong. Disability pension should be paid to all over 65 who are no longer able to compete in the labour market. That disability pension should be granted without a medical certificate. At the moment an old IRA man under 70 years claiming disability pension must get a medical certificate from his doctor. He has to prove that he is incapable of work and almost has to prove that he has nowhere else to go except into the county home. If the applicant is able to prove that he is incapable of work at 65 years of age, he should be granted a special allowance. It is very degrading to have the social welfare officer going to the home of the applicant to find out the applicant's means, if any, if the applicant's sons or daughters are bringing money into the house, and so on, in order to qualify for the special allowance. Some change should be made in that.

The number of people in receipt of these special allowances is dwindling every year, even though, strange to relate, the figure for medal-holders has increased. It is easy, I suppose, to explain that because, in regard to the vast number of people who are applying for various things, the Minister is just notifying them that he has discovered that the medal has been unduly awarded. Medal holders do not necessarily qualify for a special allowance or a pension. What we propose will not cost the country a great deal of money. We can afford to neglect a great number of things but we cannot afford to neglect our Old IRA men. Some years ago the Federation of Old IRA made this proposal to the Minister: that anyone with a pension of £100 should receive a 50 per cent increase; anyone with a pension exceeding £100 but not exceeding £125 should receive an increase of 50 per cent; exceeding £125 a year but not exceeding £150, a 40 per cent increase; exceeding £150 but not exceeding £200, an increase of 40 per cent; exceeding £200 but not exceeding £346, a 30 per cent increase.

Our proposal is a moderate one. Many people hold medals but when they apply for either a special allowance or a service pension they are told the medal was unduly awarded, so, naturally, there would not be such a great number involved. If the Minister left it to a free vote of the House, I think all Parties would agree to give those people a substantial increase in their pensions. As Deputy Kyne said, it might be thought that because we are discussing this motion in 1966 we are taking advantage of the commemoration of 1916. That was not in our minds when this motion was tabled. As Deputy Kyne pointed out, this motion has been on the Order Paper for a long time but we could not move it. However, seeing that this is a year of commemoration, no better gesture could be made to that body of men than to increase their special allowances substantially. It would be a generous act on the Minister's part, and I am sure if the Minister had his own way he would do his best for these men.

I should like to support this motion by Deputy Tierney and Deputy Kyne. The Minister will recognise straight away that a considerable injustice is being done to these people. Most of them are in their latter days. They are elderly people and any of them I have come across are suffering from ill-health, and largely suffering from ill-health as a result of the privations they underwent in their youth. It is not always realised that people who do things in their youth have to pay for it in later life. Many of them suffer from rheumatism and other disabilities as a result of these privations, and they are unable to compete on the ordinary employment market. The majority of them probably have not very much longer left to them on account of the state of their health and their advanced years, to enjoy any benefits that the State may wish to give them.

I have always felt that the average IRA man has got a pretty raw deal in this country. Although I have served in Dáil Éireann for 12 or 14 years, only a very small number of those on whose behalf I made representations were granted the service allowance. They did not qualify according to the Minister's means test or else they did not comply with the necessary requirement that they had active service in the face of the enemy. As Deputy Kyne mentioned, many of them carried out their duties as they were ordered to carry them out and even though they did not come into active service, that is not their fault. Many of them spent long periods out in bad weather on the run or in the mountains, as a result of which they are suffering the physical disabilities of which I spoke.

I do not think it can be reasonably argued by the Minister that on account of the credit squeeze it is not possible to accept this proposal. I fully realise that every Minister has to go to the Department of Finance to get the requisite funds, but this motion is intended to cover only those who were on active service, which takes us away back to the early 1920s. For that reason there could not be a great many of them left. When the Minister is speaking, perhaps he will give us some idea what it would cost to meet the requirements of the motion. I believe it would be a very small amount. Perhaps he could also give us some idea of the number of pensioners who will be covered by this motion.

With a free conscience I can recommend this proposal. As everybody in this House knows, I am not a IRA man. At the same time I am of nationalist stock and I have always had sympathy for anybody who did what he could, according to his lights, to procure for us the right to arrange our own affairs in this country. The treatment we have meted out to this category of persons is nothing short of outrageous. Every other country, as has been mentioned by previous speakers, has looked after those who gave active service. They have looked after them well, seeing to it that they had the wherewithal to live.

In this country there are people in this category who have only a few pounds a year pension, with no other means of subsistence, relying on the State in their old age. The motion covers those in receipt of social welfare benefits and suggests that these benefits should not be reduced because of receipt of pensions. I am not sure whether the social welfare benefits are reduced because of pensions or whether special allowances are taken into consideration in this respect. It is a matter to which the Minister should give his earnest attention. I suggest that the Minister accept this motion and give a guarantee to the House that he will do all he can to get the small amount of money necessary from his colleague, the Minister for Finance.

I thought there might be more speakers on the motion at this stage but since there are not, I shall make my contribution now rather than later. Let me say at the outset that I am not accepting the motion. I have listened attentively to the proposer and the seconder, and to Deputy Esmonde. The motion deals with service pensions only. Service pensions, as I understand them, are pensions granted on the face of a military service certificate issued under the 1924 Act or the 1934 Act.

Under the 1924 Act, the certificates were awarded by the Board of Assessors and under the 1934 Act, by a Referee appointed under that Act. Service pensions are based on certain standards. The 1924 Military Service Pensions Act had written into it that to qualify a person had to have service in the Defence Forces, or whatever they were called at the time, subsequent to 1st July, 1922. The 1934 Act provided that a service certificate applicant qualified on the basis of service in the IRA prior to 11th July, 1921. Persons who had active service in 1916 qualified for pensions under the 1934 Act only, unless they had service in the Defence Forces as I have already indicated, and persons who had no service after 11th July, 1921, who, in other words, took no part in the Civil War, qualified only under the 1934 Act.

The service certificate was awarded on service calculated according to the rules laid down in the Acts, by the Board of Assessors or the Referee. There are no deductions made in respect of any other payment from public funds, social welfare or otherwise. Some of these service pensions were abated when the recipients enjoyed State employment but abatement of these pensions has long since been removed. As far as the motion is concerned, there is no such thing as a deduction from service pensions because of any other payment made by the State to people in receipt of these pensions.

There is another main code of pensions payable to men and women who had service with the forces as specified in the two Acts mentioned. That is known as the Army Pensions Code which provides for disability pensions. Disability pensions are payable to an applicant in respect of a wound received on service, or a disease contracted or aggravated by service or by the wound. These pensions have not been mentioned by speakers to this motion. As time passed, it was found that some people who had service in the 1916 Insurrection were in need of some support from the State to enable them to continue to support themselves and there was an extension of the Army Pensions Act which introduced what is known as a special allowance to help survivors of the 1916 Insurrection who were in need of assistance.

That provision was extended to cover members of organisations specifically named in the Army Pensions and the Military Service Pensions Acts. They are the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Citizen Army, the Hibernian Rifles, the IRA, Cumann na mBan and Fianna Éireann. People in these organisations are entitled to apply for medals. Having applied for medals and having the medals duly awarded to them, they can then apply for special allowances. Under the 1924 and 1934 Acts, 18,186 pensions were awarded and all those people were entitled to get a medal with bar with the pensions when the medals were struck.

It is true, of course, that some of the military service pensions were not at a very high rate. They were based, as I have said, on the service awarded by the Board of Assessors or the Referee and if a man could show he had the requisite service, they assessed him with a year's or one and a half years' service or whatever it was. That was applicable in the main to people with pre-Truce service. Men who served in the armed forces subsequent to the opening of the Civil War had their full number of years added, which meant three years, to the qualified service they had and that meant a fair pension which was based on rank as well as on the years of service awarded. Men graded as privates were paid £5 for each year of service and that was stepped up so that a captain had £10 for each year of service and a commandant had £15 for each year of service awarded, and so on.

The case has been made for a long number of years that we should have the lowest pensions at fixed rates assessed at a certain figure so that we would not have men paid at a very low rate per year. When you come to examine that question, you would find that the men who had been awarded pensions at a higher rate, for more years' service and who rendered exceptional service to the State, might not be too well satisfied to find they were not treated on the same basis as the rest of the members of those organisations. This aspect of the pensions code, and possible amendment of it, have often been brought to the notice of people like myself who are intimately acquainted with large numbers of the people who served in the movement. This has been brought to my notice on a number of occasions in view of the fact that some years ago there was a steeper increase in the lower paid service pensions than in the higher paid ones.

You will notice, if you look at this question of increases in military service pensions, the years in which they were increased, the percentage increases and the amounts by which they were increased, military service pensions have been increased on seven occasions since 1953. Pensions not exceeding £100 per annum were increased by 50 per cent and pensions exceeding £100 were increased on a diminishing scale with effect from the 1st January, 1953. All military service pensions were increased by 6 per cent with effect from 1st August, 1959, by 5 per cent with effect from 1st August, 1960, by 20 per cent with effect from the 1st August, 1962, by 5 per cent with effect from the 1st November, 1963, by 5 per cent with effect from the 1st October, 1964 and by a further 9 per cent with effect from 1st August, 1965. Those pensions not exceeding £100 per year, which would be the bulk of the pensions awarded, have been increased by 141 per cent since the 1st January, 1953. I would draw the Deputies' attention to the years in which those pensions were increased.

Many military service pensioners fitted themselves into the community after the end of hostilities in 1923 or 1924. It is true that a considerable number, who were very active men in the movement, emigrated at that time and went to America. Many of them came back from America. Many of them did very well in America and many of them did very well at home here in Ireland. The bulk of those pensioners belong to the small farming classes in this country. Many more of them are artisans and small business men. They were men who worked for their living serving other people as ordinary working men earning an honest living. They fitted themselves into the community in the course of time. Many of them got married and raised families the same as any other citizen in the State. They made their contributions to the social welfare funds in this country. As time passed they qualified to receive whatever social benefits were due to them as ordinary citizens of the State. Military service pensions were never intended to be a source of livelihood to the men and women who took part in the fight for freedom in the country. They were paid on the basis I have indicated to the House and in the manner in which I have indicated they were awarded under the two main Acts.

The other portion of the motion is mainly concerned with the special allowances. I have indicated how the special allowances were brought in in the first instance to deal with men who had taken part in the 1916 Insurrection. They were extended to cover people who were in the other organisations specified in the Acts. A person, to qualify for a special allowance, must have a certificate of military service under the Military Service Pensions Act, 1924, or a Service Certificate under the Military Service Pensions Act, 1934, in respect of service during any part of the period which commenced on 23rd day of April, 1916, and ended on the 11th day of July, 1921, or a wound or disability pension under the Army Pensions Acts in respect of a wound received or a disability contracted in the said period, or a medal in respect of service during any part of the week which commenced on the 23rd day of April, 1916, or a medal in respect of continuous membership of Óglaigh na hÉireann (Old IRA) or kindred organisation during the period of three months which ended on the 11th day of July, 1921, provided that medal was duly awarded, or a service, wound or disability pension or a gratuity under the Connaught Rangers (Pensions) Acts.

That is the first essential. The next item is that a special allowance may be granted to any eligible applicant who fulfils the conditions that his yearly means do not equal or exceed the appropriate annual sum. Therefore, it must be assumed the framers of the Act assumed the applicant had some means. It is found, on investigation, that there are a few people—not so many—who have not any means whatsoever other than what they obtain from the State under some other Act. The next condition is that the applicant is incapable of self-support by reason of age or permanent infirmity of body or mind. Persons over 70 years are regarded as incapable of self-support by reason of age.

The appropriate annual sum from the 1st August, 1965 is: in the case of a single man or woman, a widower or widow whose age is 70 years or more, £120 per year, and £146 per year in the case of a person whose age is less than 70 years. In the case of a married man or woman whose spouse is living and whose age is 70 years or more, the appropriate annual sum is £139 10s. in respect of a married couple and, where the age is less than 70 years £172 in respect of the married couple When the age is 70 years or more and the person is not in receipt of a contributory old age pension and his spouse is not in receipt of a pension under the Old Age Pensions Acts, the annual sum is £163 in respect of the married couple. There is something else in respect of each child under 18 years of age. It is very seldom, in the case of Old IRA men, that you will find children under that age at the moment. The special allowance is an annual sum of such amount as, when added to the applicant's yearly means, will not equal or exceed the appropriate annual sum. The means are investigated by the social welfare officers and we consider it a suitable method of investigating means because the social welfare officers in many cases have already investigated, or are in the process of investigating, means under the Old Age Pensions Acts, or in respect of other benefits under the social welfare code.

Means for the purpose of special allowances are assessed in accordance with the rules laid down. They are assessed in a liberal way that has been explained here in the House on many occasions. When a person applies for a special allowance there are certain incomes that are not taken into account as assessable. As I said already, a great number of these people are small farmers and when their means are being assessed by the social welfare officers the following are not taken into account: children's allowances under the Social Welfare Acts; public assistance; free maintenance which imposes a hardship on the provider; maintenance in a hospital, sanatorium, county home or like institution; old age pensions in whole or in part, and certain other social welfare benefits that affect so few cases that they are hardly worth mentioning; blind welfare grants——

Are national health benefits taken into account?

Half of disability benefit is taken into account. A number of other benefits under the Social Welfare Acts are not taken into account. Contributions excluding annuity, received from a recognised charitable institution and gifts of a bona fide kind are not taken into account.

In assessing the means of an applicant for a special allowance these are the broad items which are taken into account: the value of a house, plot or farm; the value of capital, the first £25 being disregarded, the next £375 taken at one-twentieth and the remainder at one-tenth; the amount of wages, profit from trade or business or other cash income; one half of the amount of disability benefit payable under the Social Welfare Acts; some portion of the old age pensions, widows' pensions, unemployment benefit and assistance; the amount exceeding £60 of a military service pension or a disability or wound pension or a Connaught Ranger's pension, or a combination of such pensions as at 1st October, 1964, where the applicant is under 70 years; the amount exceeding £30 where the applicant is over 70 years; the value of free maintenance to the extent to which it does not impose hardship on the provider and the value of earned maintenance; the value of free lodging, taken at £3.18.0 per annum in the case of an individual and at £7.16.0 in the case of a married couple.

The profit from the weekly contributions of members of the family over 18 years who are living at home is assessed on this scale in the urban areas. If the contribution is 40/- nothing is taken into account. If the contribution is 42/-, 1/- is taken into account, and if it goes up to 52/-, 6/- is taken into account. In the rural areas if the contribution from members of the family over 18 years living at home is 40/- nothing is taken into account. If it is 42/-, 1/- is taken into account, and it goes up to 50/-, when 5/- is taken into account. There are other items that might affect just a few cases: where the yearly value of the means of a child under 18 years exceeds £39.2 but does not exceed £50.16, the amount of the excess is assessed. Only half of a disability benefit is taken into account.

Might I intervene to tell the Minister that he has five minutes?

Is that all I have? I thought I had unlimited time.

No, I am sorry.

With regard to disability benefits a single person can have a weekly rate of £2. 2. 6 and £58. 8. 0 per year is assessable. On the question of the old age and blind pensions the amount that is assessable can be a great deal less than the actual amount of the blind or non-contributory pension. The contributory pension is now £3 for a single person and £2. 7. 6 is disregarded. For a married person it is £5. 7. 6 and the amount assessed is £1. 11. That will give Deputies a fair picture of the assessment of means. They are assessed on a liberal basis and there is no question of trying to assess an applicant's means to such an extent that he cannot get a special allowance.

I might say that the average special allowance payable stands at £84 per year. It is true that some are very low because of the fact that the assessable income comes close to the amount of the appropriate sum. I may add that 46,283 medals without bar were issued to people who had only to show that they were members of the specified organisations, that they were members for at least three months up to and before 11th July, 1921, of the organisations named.

Since I became Minister for Defence I heard different points of view expressed on a few occasions by Deputies in relation to these pensions and special allowances. It was thrown across the House at me that the assessment of the military service pensions was not in accordance with ordinary common justice, that it was a fraud, and that the fraud was perpetrated before the Boards of Assessors and the referees in the obtaining of certificates. That is absolutely untrue. Some Deputy mentioned the case of a boy who was 12 years at the time who has a service medal. If he joined Fianna Éireann at 12 years of age and had the requisite membership in 1921, he is entitled to a medal. I do not know which case that was, but expressions of opinion of that nature were hurled across the floor of the House criticising and throwing doubts on the evidence given by the verifying officers who, in their own time and out of their own funds, came before the referee or the Boards of Assessors, as the case may be, and went to all the trouble they did go to, to give honest and straightforward evidence in the cases with which they were dealing.

Here we are now dealing with this huge number of people. I have given the figures of the number of medal holders, the number of service pensions, and the number of people in receipt of special allowances. You can add to the figure of 8,500 approximately, who are now in receipt of special allowances, some 4,000 who have died since they were granted their special allowances. I do not want to delay the house and I think my time is finished.

The Minister has one minute.

I have already indicated that I am opposing the motion for the reasons I have stated.

I must confess that on this motion my first interest would be for those in receipt of special allowances because this is the type of person who, having given military service, is subject to a means test when he has occasion to apply for an allowance from the State. I know there may be many pensioners who would find it somewhat difficult to maintain a normal standard of living and that on the other hand there may be a number, even though a minority, of pensioners who have reasonably good pensions but also pretty good incomes from some other source. That is why I say that my first interest would be in respect of those who are to a large extent dependent on special allowances.

These people are recognised as having given service to the State and this service is recognised in the initial stage by reason of the issue of a Pre-Truce medal to them. Before I talk about the allowances, I think I should once again bring to the Minister's notice a practice that sprang up in the past ten or 15 years, a practice that is applied particularly when a member of the IRA decides to apply for a special allowance. The practice is that on reinvestigation, a man is told that he was not entitled to a Pre-Truce medal. I cannot understand that sort of behaviour. I know of cases of men who qualified many years ago for this service medal and who, when they applied for the special allowance, were told that they should not have got it in the first place. I do not know whether that was ever adequately explained or not——

I would have explained it.

I am sure the Minister did. The particular case I have in mind did not occur when he was Minister for Defence. Does the Minister not admit that it is a shocking thing, 45 years afterwards, to say to a man applying for a special allowance "We have to investigate you again" and in some cases to say "You were never entitled to a medal, please send it back"? That is an awful thing, particularly if the man's neighbours hear about it and more particularly if the medal which he received for service to the country and which is the pride of his family, perhaps a young family, is to be returned. What are these children to think if some day the father or mother reads out a letter to the effect that "Daddy has to send back his medal. Daddy is a fraud and did not deserve the medal"? I will give way to the Minister for 30 seconds or so if he wishes to say something.

I only want to say that the rolls of each Company or Battalion Brigade were supplied under the 1934 Act to the verifying officers and it is found on occasions that the name of the person did not appear on the roll which was supplied at the time, and that throws doubt on the man's case.

I am not saying that I do not accept what the Minister says.

That is the position.

Rolls are not available in every case.

The Minister's predecessor said that they were not available in Athboy.

If the roll is not available when the application is made, there is nothing to verify it and therefore it has to be looked up.

The Minister went to some pains to explain the procedure which is adopted in order to determine whether or not a man is entitled to a medal and he paid tribute, a deserved tribute I suppose, to the verifying officers who travelled to Dublin at their own expense to give evidence and so on. Surely the man's entitlement to the medal should have been copperfastened when he first applied for it. The few people I know of are somewhat ashamed, not to say disgusted, that the medals they wore on public parades going to Mass cannot be worn again because some board or person decided on reinvestigation that they were not entitled to them. This sort of practice should stop and if the Minister can do anything to restore the position of these men—whether they get special allowances or not does not make any difference I suppose—he should at least restore the medals to them. They believe that they gave service to a free and united Ireland and their neighbours and friends believe it and it is a terrible thing, 45 years later, to strip them of the honour conferred on them.

The Minister paid tribute, and well deserved tribute, to the majority of the verifying officers but there were some who did not behave very well and some who were influenced by political considerations. I am not saying they were Fianna Fáil, or Fine Gael, or Labour, but there were political considerations in the evidence given. I know of a man in my constituency who believed he was entitled to a medal and the verifying officer, either at his home or in the street, made a statement to him to the effect that the evidence he gave in Dublin in the Department of Defence was to the effect that the man had the proper service but it was discovered afterwards that he had done no such thing, that he had done the contrary and sold the man down the river, so to speak. That was merely because he had a different political opinion to the man. That does not speak too highly for certain of the verifying officers who were influenced by other considerations rather than the truth.

I regret I was not here for the opening part of the Minister's speech but I assume from some of the remarks I heard that there is not much hope that the special allowances will be increased in this the 50th anniversary of the Rising of 1916. I do not think that it would be premature if the Government were to make that decision now. Perhaps the Minister is inhibited by the fact that he cannot make statements which will commit the Exchequer to a certain amount of expense but I believe that the gesture should be made in 1966 before we start the anniversary celebrations. All of us agree that there should be celebrations and all of us agree that every single section of the community, irrespective of creed or politics or sporting affiliations, should be combined to give honour to those, whether alive or dead, who made sacrifices in the 1916 Rising and those who subsequently contributed to the struggle right up to 1921.

In the House last week it was unanimously agreed by all Parties that a special 10/- coin should be struck in order to ensure that the celebrations would be of such magnitude as to be worthy of the occasion. But all the celebrations, all the striking of special coins, all these gestures by the Government and by this House will ring very hollow in the ears of those who at present are living on very small special allowances. The Minister indicated the type of means test applied. For example, a single man under 70 qualified for a special allowance if he had less than £146 per annum, that is, less than £3 per week.

I do not say there should be extra special consideration for certain sections of the community, but this year the emphasis will be on the position Ireland has attained, due to the efforts of the people we commemorate. There were not so many of them in it. Anybody who has read anything about 1916, and particularly those of that generation now in the Dáil who participated in it, know there were not hoardes of Irishmen bursting to take up arms against the British Empire. As the Minister said in a Parliamentary reply, there are 8,500 in the special allowance class. I do not think this country will go broke if we made some sort of generous gesture towards these people. It would not cost us £1 million, £500,000 or anything like it. The Minister also stated that an increase had been given to these people, to operate from August, 1965, of about £8 per year and that in the previous October, there had been an increase of £4 per year. These increases were generally welcome.

We have to remember that most of these people are old. As the motion suggests, their number is decreasing gradually and year after year they are becoming fewer and fewer. They will not live to see the 75th anniversary of 1916. They are alive for the 50th anniversary. The House would gladly welcome and support any special measure of taxation to raise that sum of money not alone to do them honour but to assist them and see they are recognised. I know the Minister will say: "It is all very well for you people in the Opposition. You have merely to ask; we have to get the money." I remember the Minister on this side of the House; I remember the former Deputy Davern, the former Deputy MacEoin and Deputy Gilbride. Down through the years they have been the champions of those who served in the IRA, the IRB, Cumann na mBan and the other organisations formed to secure a measure of freedom. All due credit to Pearse, Connolly, Clarke, MacDiarmada, MacDonagh—all the leaders who are being commemorated in a special way. Those who participated actively have pensions. Some of them have not alone reasonably good pensions but good incomes as well. But the people about whom we are talking are the destitute of the Old IRA, or else they would not qualify for any allowance. In this year of 1966, the anniversary of the Rising, we should not turn our back on them. The cost to the State is small but the contribution they and their colleagues made 50 years ago was big indeed.

I should like to add to Deputy Corish's remarks concerning the reinvestiagtion of claims. Every man who got the medal had his case investigated. Most of those who verified for them have now gone to their reward. Who is doing the verifying now? On whom are we depending to take away the miserable little bit of honour given to men who risked their lives that we might be here? I had occasion to raise a case with the Minister recently concerning a man named William Finn of Doneraile. He is living outside at the foot of a mountain on a miserable 11 acres of land with a wife and family. The decision was to give him an increase of £9 per year. That was from a worker who came up by his bootstraps into a fat job because of the sacrifices made by these people. I had to take the matter up and have it reinvestigated to get him a few shillings more. This kind of thing is a disgrace and an insult to the House.

Another case I had to investigate concerned a man whose name, I was told, was not on the roll submitted. I knew the lad personally. He was a member of the Carrigtwohill Company. We used to call him by different names from his actual name. He was a very young lad, but he was prepared to do his bit every time he was asked and to go anywhere he was sent. That unfortunate lad was turned down and, I suppose, ordered to return his medal, because his name was not on the original roll submitted by that company. We all know what happened with rolls, the amount of trouble we had in endeavouring to see that the full number of men in any one company were put into the roll. The Brigade OC of that brigade and I were prepared to verify for that man. I do not know where the devil they found the verifying officer to say this man was not a member of the IRA for the three months preceding the Truce. I challenge them to bring that out into the open. Let us have a look at who those verifying officers are.

There are not so many of these Old IRA men left. We all know what little prevented them from being entitled to a service pension instead of the medal without bar, as they call it. If you took 20 men in the morning for an attack on a barracks and were able to use only eight of them in the actual attack and had the others half a mile out the road on each side to prevent reinforcements arriving, those unfortunate men, though they were in that attack, though they would be at the front of it if anything came, were not entitled to "actice service" of any name.

Debate adjourned.