I should like to hear the Minister on the section.
Committee on Finance. - Army Pensions Bill, 1968: Committee and Final Stages.
Subsection (1) of this section provides that the sole requirement for the grant of a further pension or a married pension shall be that the pensioner be a married man for the purposes of the Acts. Subsection (2) defines the relevant provisions of the Acts. These are the provisions of the various Acts under which the further pension or married pension is payable. A person is a married man for the purposes of the Acts from the date of his marriage until his own death, the death of his wife or the lawful dissolution of his marriage. He continues to be a married man for the purposes of the Acts for so long after the death of his wife or the dissolution of his marriage as he has a qualified child. A married pension is payable at present only where the marriage took place before a specified date, that is, the date of the wound or, in the case of a disease pensioner, the date of discharge or 5th August, 1953, in the case of pensioners who had pre-Truce military service. Under this section, a marriage contracted at any time will qualify for payment of a married pension.
Question agreed to.
It deals merely with children's allowances?
Subsection (1) provides for the grant of allowances to the widow and children of a pensioner who died before the passing of the Act (a) whose degree of pensionable disablement was less than 50 per cent, (b) who would have been entitled to a married pension immediately before his death if the sole condition had been that he was at that time a married man for the purposes of the Acts, and (c) whose death is found to have been due solely to his pensionable disability. Subsection (2) provides a time limit for applications.
The object of this section is to provide for the case of a married pensioner who had a disablement of less than 50 per cent, who died before the passing of the Act but who was not in receipt of a married pension because his mariage had taken place outside the specified date.
This section will deem him to have been in receipt of a married pension, and if his death is found to have been due solely to his pensionable disability, allowances will be payable to his widow and children. This admits a number of cases that were previously disallowed because the man was not married——
It is applicable to men who died before the passage of the Act but there will not be retrospection in the payments. Payments under this measure will be made from a date not earlier than the date of the passage of the Bill.
May I suggest to the Minister that subsection (2) of section 4, fixing the limit during which application may be made, is too rigid? My long experience of legislation of this kind has always shown that one odd case will turn up where the application, for some reason, was not made within the statutory period. You are then left with a category of persons receiving a benefit which the Oireachtas intended them to have, with one excepted person and no discretion left to the Minister to admit a claim after the statutory limit provided for in the Act. I suggest the Minister should provide for himself a discretion to admit a claim under subsection (2) where he is satisfied that there is reasonable ground for oversight on the part of the claimant in not making a claim within the statutory 12 month period. This will avoid the possibility of anomalies arising which will inevitably make necessary amending legislation in the future.
This section applies only to a limited number of people. Their particulars are with the Department of Defence already and we know their names and addresses. We shall communicate with them, drawing attention to the provisions of the section, giving them the opportunity to make application.
Would the Minister remember that it has happened on previous occasions, particularly in regard to special allowances, that people have changed addresses and for some reason very often letters sent out have either been delivered to the wrong person or are returned to the Department, with the result that people who would be normally entitled to certain information do not get it? Would the Minister bear that in mind? Would he consider having the letter sent out registered so that he would be sure that it reached the addressee?
Can he not take discretionary power in the Seanad where he is satisfied that there is good reason for the delay?
This has been the practice in all——
Would the Minister say why they are limited to a year? There is a number of persons who are no longer resident in Europe—some in Australia and some, I understand, in America.
This is applicable to widows.
Yes, but their widows are also resident there.
We know those concerned.
All we are doing is trying to help the Minister.
I know that, but this is the practice.
Let us get away from practice.
Surely the Minister will appreciate that where an established difficulty in the experience of the Dail grows up, the prudent thing to do is to provide a remedy on the first available occasion? Everybody in the House wants the Minister to have dis-creation to admit a claim where he is satisfied that there is reasonable ground for delay in making the claim. The alternative to accepting that proposal is, if past experience is any guide, that you will get one or two cases of somebody living in the outback of Australia, or somebody who has gone to the Yukon, not receiving the letter which the Minister has sent out informing him of his statutory right.
If ultimately he hears of the new provision and makes application, the Minister is in a position in which nobody wants him to be, in which he is obliged to say: "The section says that every application for an allowance under this section shall be made not later than 12 months after the passage of this Act." He is obliged to admit that the person never got the letter and could not possibly have heard of the new provision made for him and that his or her application should be admitted but that by our own Act we have made it impossible to do so. I do not mind whether the Minister submits this amendment on Report Stage or not. I think everybody will agree with it if he does so, or if he puts it down in the Seanad and brings it back, we will pass it in five minutes, but surely he should not tie himself up in a situation in which he cannot admit a claim which he knows the Oireachtas wants him to admit? That is all I am asking and it seems to be a most reasonable and sensible provision.
I shall have a look at the list of persons affected by this section if it is passed, and see if there are any of them living in the Yukon or in Australia, or any such place where it will not be possible to contact them inside 12 months, but if I am satisfied that they can be contacted, there is no necessity for an amendment.
We are dealing here with wound pensions and gratuities. For many years veterans of the British Army have received free hospitalisation and treatment but I understand we have no such thing in this country at present. This matter may not be appropriate to the section but it is the only section I see that it would appear to have some relation to. I understand that some years ago there was set up a liaison between what might be described as the Old IRA, the Veterans Association and the Department and that as a result there was a suggestion at the time that free hospitalisation should be provided for veterans who suffered from war wounds. Unfortunately, that arrangement has fallen through and we now find some of our veterans, for the want of free hospitalisation, housed in county homes throughout the State. Perhaps the Minister, in view of the dwindling number of veterans of the Old IRA, could see his way to ensure that they will have free hospitalisation just as their friends and neighbours have who joined the British Forces.
I must point out to the Deputy that we are dealing with a Pensions Bill.
Yes, but this could be something of much more value. It has a monetary value that could be worth a considerable amount to a veteran.
This section 5 deals with members of the Reserve of Officers (First Line) and the Reserve of Men (First Line). Some of them could possibly belong to some of the pre-Truce organisations, but I do not think that what Deputy O'Donnell is raising is relevant to this section at all. I dealt already with this question of hospitalisation for ex-soldiers, pre-Truce personnel and ex-members of the National Army, 1922-1924, and I pointed out that the State was providing in the general health services fairly adequate hospital services for all citizens, including ex-soldiers. It would not be at all appropriate to have military hospitals catering for outside personnel.
They would not be outside personnel. They would be ex-members.
Only for those fellows there would not be any necessity at all for an Army now.
This is a section which enables increases in allowances to be made to pensioners without requiring special ad hoc legislation of the House. I should like to suggest that this would be an appropriate time to fix a minimum allowance for ex-servicemen, particularly those of the pre-Truce period. We all know there has been a very big increase in the cost of living and a very big depreciation in the pound sterling, and a minimum pension should be fixed for these persons of not less than the amount paid to a contributory old age pensioner. The other day I was going through a list of recipients of pre-Truce IRA pensions in my constituency, and I was amazed to find that some of them were paid allowances of £25 and £26 per year. That is not right, and there should be a minimum, say, of £150 per year paid to these veterans. We welcome this section because, without coming before the House, whatever increases are decided on can be added.
I think also that the Minister should use his good offices with his colleague, the Minister for Finance, to ensure that all military service pension schemes are exempt from income tax. Those in receipt of these military service pensions are no longer capable of earning their livelihood. Most of them are advanced in years, and whatever pension is payable should be paid to them net, without any deduction for income tax. Furthermore, where a military service pensioner dies, his widow should receive the amount of his pension instead of a widow's allowance. I would also suggest that the special allowance should no longer be subject to a means test.
Now that the disability allowance and the special allowance are payable to recipients of pre-Truce medals, I wonder would it be appropriate to suggest to the Minister at this stage that we are far enough from the Civil War to consider awarding medals to all those who were engaged in active service during the Civil War, irrespective of which side they were on. Many men may not have joined the Defence Forces or the offence forces until after the Truce—it may have been that they were too young—but they may have played a very prominent and active part on one side or the other during the Civil War. The Minister did suggest some time ago that he hoped a memorial would be erected over the graves of those who died during the Civil War, irrespective of which side they fought on. Perhaps it would be possible to consider now the awarding of a medal to participants in the Civil War, irrespective of which side they fought on.
Again, I understand that many soldiers of long service who, on retirement, have entered the Civil Service and who are not established as such, receive no credit whatsoever for their service in the Defence Forces. Perhaps it would be possible for the Minister to ensure that their service would be recognised, whether they are established or not.
Since we are dealing here with pensions, allowances and gratuities, would the Minister endeavour to give some gratuity to NCOs on their retirement? I understand that while commissioned officers, irrespective of the length of time they have served in the Defence Forces, receive a gratuity, none is given to NCOs. Would the Minister have another look at that between now and Report Stage?
I would not be inclined to agree with Deputy O'Donnell that medals should be awarded to all and sundry. All sorts of people would be applying for them and saying they were entitled to get them.
Provided they could prove it.
Proof is something we can all talk about here, but the one thing about medals is that if too many of them are issued, they lose their value. People treasure them because they are rare; those who did take part in the fight for freedom were rare enough. Those who have these medals complain that they are too big. They are like a wheel on a donkey cart. I do not know whether or not the jeweller felt it was a great idea to sell these huge blobs of medals. Would it not be better to issue a medal of a reasonable size that people could wear in comfort?
Deputy O'Donnell referred to the question of minimum pensions. This has been brought to my notice, and presumably to the notice of Deputy O'Donnell and the Minister, by the Old IRA Federation. They feel, and I think we must all agree with them, that if a pension is to be given, it should be of a reasonable amount. To issue a miserly pension does not seem to be the thing to do. It is unfair to say it, perhaps, but these people are a dying race. Many of them have already gone, and in ten years time, whoever is here in this House will see very few of them left. We do not seem to be prepared —I am not blaming the Minister; he is only one—to face up to the fact that this is so, that money values have changed so much, that what we are giving these people now is only a fraction of what they should be getting, and in fact only a fraction of what was intended when military service pensions were introduced. Nobody can suggest that anybody could live on what is given to these pensioners at present.
£15 14s per year.
It is sheer nonsense to call it a pension at all. My second point is in relation to income tax. People feel sore about this. It is like the position of the old age pensioner who, if he has a small income and a small pension, it is taxed. We brought a measure before this House to ensure that American pensioners would be free of income tax but yet we cannot do the same for our own pensioners. It is a ridiculous situation and should be altered.
Finally, there is the question of the special allowance. Can we ever get down to the stage where we will stop this snooping on the unfortunates who are depending on special allowances? Social welfare officers are still doing this. They had some unkind things to say recently about me in one of their documents. Anybody who goes to the house of an unfortunate old age pensioner and tries to trick him into saying that he has more money or property than he has is no credit to his profession. I can prove that this is being done.
The officers of the Department of Social Welfare have to carry out their duty.
Would the Department of Defence not consider that it would be a good job if they divorced themselves from the Department of Social Welfare and had a small number of people themselves who would do the job in a humanitarian way? We have the position that somebody goes to an old man and asks him if it is true that he gets a meal from somebody else for patching clothes and then decides that this is an income and takes away the special allowance. That is ridiculous. The Minister is aware of the case I have in mind because we have had correspondence about it and he himself, before he became Minister, made representations to get this poor old fellow a fair deal. As far as my information goes, this old man is now slowly starving to death.
Why does the Minister employ the social welfare officers?
That is the system. It is in accord with the joint directions of the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Defence. Leaving all that aside, we are dealing with section 7 which I do not think applies to anything that has been raised here.
It was a great opportunity for raising them.
The Ceann Comhairle was very lenient with his fellow Donegalman on the Fine Gael benches. I have dealt with all these things before and they are more appropriate to the Estimates. Even though this Bill is called an Army Pensions Bill it deals with disability pensions and has nothing to do with military service pensions. The question of entitlement to a military service pension and the amount are governed by the two main Acts, the 1924 Act and the 1934 Act. The assessment of service was made by a board of assessors under the 1924 Act and by a referee and a committee under the 1934 Act. The length of service was set out in the certificate, as well as the rank or notional rank and the pension was calculated accordingly. I have no authority to pay any higher pensions than those provided in the Acts and it would mean amending the Military Service Pensions Acts to meet the point raised by Deputy O'Donnell. As far as medals are concerned, I presume that if we issued medals we would also have to face up to the consequential benefits that would be sought.
I do not think so.
Not until you issued the medals and then you would see. Deputy O'Donnell quoted the lowest pension of £15 but the highest is, I think, about £800. As far as withdrawing military service pensions from the income tax net is concerned, I would not wish to see that happening. I would not wish to see my own military service pension taken out of the income tax net.
All the recipients are not Ministers.
There are those who pay income tax and large amounts of income tax. There are a large number of men whom I could name and Deputies know them themselves. If you admitted that the military service pension should be taken out of the income tax net, it would not be fair to others who pay income tax and who are called upon to pay military service pensions, special allowances and the rest from their taxable incomes.
I do not think anyone would begrudge them.
This section however deals with something entirely different. Another point was raised in relation to the Scheme pensions, as they are called, pensions and gratuities payable to ex-members of the Permanent Defence Force. They are not provided for in this section——
Nor in any section.
——which simply deals with pensions subject to budgetary or suchlike increases and provides the mechanics for doing so and getting the authority to pay.
In regard to this paragraph which it is proposed to insert, for many reasons it may not be possible for a serving soldier to make a voluntary allotment to a relative or friend. The relative or friend may not require it at the time, but later on it may become patent to everybody that the means of that particular relative or friend have deteriorated to such an extent that a pension would be most essential to his economy. Why ensure that a soldier must make a voluntary allotment to his relative before that relative can qualify for a pension after the death of the soldier? Many of us know soldiers who financially are less well off than their relatives but circumstances may change and an unfortunate relative may find herself in very poor circumstances. Why should she be debarred from the pension merely because of the fact that her soldier relative did not make a voluntary allotment to her?
Again I find myself at variance with Deputy O'Donnell because I can visualise the person who would not want to say that she had a relative a soldier, but if the soldier died, then perhaps the memory should be kept green. The Minister might be able to insert a section which would allow a soldier to make an allotment to a dependent relative. If that could be done, and I do not know how it could be done, it would be preferable to the suggestion that everybody who applied and claimed he or she was a relative should, in fact, get a pension.
What Deputy O'Donnell is advocating is a change in principle from that already applicable in the case of a soldier who is killed or dies from wounds. This applies to a man who dies from disease and it generally concerns unmarried soldiers. Such a soldier, when he enters the Army, has the right to make an allotment to his mother, or to some other relative; some deliberately refrain from doing so. When such a man dies from disease, it is very difficult to establish dependency. Dependency is the cardinal principle in this connection.
But single men may contribute without making an allotment. It may be that a soldier contributes each week, or each month, and possibly makes a generous contribution, without making an allotment. It is for these, who do not make allotments but who contribute, that I would ask the Minister to legislate.
I could not do it.
This is certified as a Money Bill in accordance with Article 22 of the Constitution.