Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 25 Mar 1969

Vol. 239 No. 6

Committee on Finance. - Vote 12: Superannuation and Retired Allowances.

I move:

That a supplementary sum not exceeding £10 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1969, for Pensions, Superannuation, Compensation (including Workmen's Compensation), and Additional and other Allowances and Gratuities under the Superannuation Acts, 1834 to 1963, and sundry other Statutes; Extra-Statutory Pensions, Allowances and Gratuities awarded by the Minister for Finance; fees to Medical Referees and occasional fees to Doctors; Compensation and other Payments in respect of Personal Injuries; etc.

This is a token estimate for £10 and it is to enable us to bring into operation the new scheme for widows and orphans of civil servants. The House is fully familiar with this new scheme. It came into operation on 23rd July last. I shall have to come to the House with legislation in due course but in the meantime there are some payments which require to be made under the scheme. The purpose of this token Estimate is to enable me to make these payments pending the introduction of the legislation.

The second Supplementary Estimate is in respect of Miscellaneous Expenses. This Estimate is for a total of £70,000. £1,000 of this arises out of the commemoration of the First Dáil. About half of that arises out of the distribution to the schools of a special edition of The Young Citizen by the Institute of Public Administration. The other half of it roughly is incidental expenses arising out of the commemoration.

The main part of the Supplementary Estimate is £69,000 which is required to pay the bills arising out of the measures we took to offset the British special import deposit scheme. The cost, up to the end of February, is about £69,000. Deputies will recall that when the British introduced this special import deposit scheme we took action to ensure that our exporters would not be——


Yes. This is to meet the cost of that offset up to the end of February of this year.

I should like to say in relation to the token Estimate which applies to pensions for widows and children of certain civil servants that we recognise very fully the need for this adjustment in the scheme announced last summer. Of course legislation has to be introduced but the position of pensioners has been growing considerably more difficult. I hope it will be possible for the Minister to deal more generously with the pensioners as a category who have been going through a very difficult time. I know that what is proposed here applies only to a limited number and I suppose it would be broadening the debate outside the Rules of Order if I mentioned anything more general. I merely want to indicate that there would be considerable sympathy from these benches for whatever the Minister may be able to do in the near future in a more extensive way.

The Minister mentioned the question of the scheme to deal with the export problems that arose from the British Government's action recently. I suppose the Minister cannot give an answer now but we still have the decision to make as to whether, in respect of what I regard as having been a clear breach of the Free Trade Area Agreement between this country and Britain, we are going to apply the one sanction we can, that is, not to enforce the reduction in tariffs due for next July. It seems to be the one step open to us. I have no doubt that the possibility may have been mentioned in recent meetings between Ministers of the two Governments, but I hope that will be borne in mind.

Many people feel that if we are to operate consistently and honourably the terms of an Agreement which has been repudiated openly by the British in recent times—and certainly this was not their first breach of an arrangement made with us—it should clearly be understood that there is a limit to our patience and that we reserve the right to take appropriate action next July in relation to this matter.

In relation to the Estimate for Superannuation and Retired Allowances, it seems to be going home to workers who are employed by the State — and I hope it goes home to those in outside employment — that the worker of today is the pensioner of tomorrow, and that it is a good idea that widows and other pensioners should be looked after by those who are in a position to put on the necessary pressure. Unfortunately, as Deputy Tom O'Higgins said, those who are on pension now and who could have taken some action many years ago did not do it for one reason or another. However, the Minister should redeem the promise of one of his predecessors, the then Minister for Finance, now Senator Ryan, that the pensions of those who retired some years ago would be brought into parity. If the Minister looks at the matter he will agree there is a great deal in the claim for parity. I do not wish to transgress the rules of order, but I would ask the Minister to take some steps to relieve the situation of those people who are being treated shamefully, particularly those who retired a long time ago.

In regard to the Miscellaneous Expenses Estimate the British Special Import Deposit Scheme at £69,000 makes me wonder, and it did at the time, if Britain wanted to prevent imports into their country from outside, why they should say: "We are putting on this levy to prevent imports, but if you can pay the levy that is all right." It did look, big as they are, as if the British Government were looking for interest-free money from this country. It may not be an enormous amount but, at the same time, we are giving it to them for nothing.

The Minister will know that from these Benches we have been all the time objecting to the terms of agreements with Britain and particularly this one. No matter what the British do we continue to carry out the terms of our agreement. It may be the gentlemanly thing to do, but I do not think it is good business, and we have very definitely reached the stage where the Minister and the Government would be very well advised to consider strongly not alone a refusal to reduce tariffs by ten per cent in July but to review the situation with regard to previous reductions. Going through shops in this city and in small towns and villages throughout the country, one finds it almost impossible to buy articles which are not made in Britain. This is exactly what we warned this House would happen under this Free Trade Area Agreement. These goods are pouring in through the supermarkets and from the supermarkets into the small shops. Household goods are being poured in, and apparently the British chain stores are insisting on British goods being sent in here. If one goes into a shop to buy shoes or clothes I will guarantee that if there is no special request for Irish goods, four articles of British manufacture will be offered before the Irish article is put up. This is killing Irish industry and the Minister would be well advised to prevent any further reductions in tariffs at least until the British are prepared to meet their part of the bargain.

This Estimate for Superannuation and Retired Allowances is a very precious one to me. It refers to widows and orphans. I have told the story in this House of a colleague of mine who, when he came in here as a very young man, was met by the late Deputy Alfie Byrne who gave him certain hints on how any TD should act, and concluded the advice by saying: "Remember, you will be approached from time to time by widows and you will be asked to do unreasonable things. Never give them a short answer. Never refuse to listen to their stories. They suffered enough the day they lost their breadwinner to justify them in expecting a patient hearing from anyone whom they ask to share their burden."

I approve entirely of the scheme envisaged in respect of pensions for widows and children, but there is an anomaly. This scheme operates ex post facto from the time this Estimate is adopted by the House and the legislation which the Minister may hereafter bring in. However, we are leaving out of consideration a very moderate number of civil servants' widows who were bereaved before this scheme was thought up. I know that the deceased husbands of these ladies could have, under existing arrangements, compounded a part of their own pensions and converted their pensions into a pension extending to the life of themselves and their widows, but certain of them did not do it. We may deplore the improvidence of their decision, but in that we might not be altogether well advised.

Surely it would not tax the resources of the State to say to whatever surviving widows there are for whom no provision is made: "If you are prepared to pay into the fund a sum equivalent to what your husbands would have paid had they been subscribers to such a fund from the time they entered the Civil Service we will see that you get the same pension as the widows of men with equal periods of service will get under the new pensions scheme"? Mark you, when this matter was first brought to my attention, I said: "I do not believe we will need to bring to the attention of the Minister for Finance the fact that there is a relatively small number of women whose husbands died. The Minister will make no difficulty about asking the House for a Supplementary Estimate to cover these few cases." This will be a nonrecurring charge. It can be written off over the years because widows, in the ordinary course of time, will themselves tend to die off, contrary to what Deputy Andrews thinks; he said here during the Health Estimate that he was greatly shocked by the rising death rate amongst our aged citizens.

It is not entirely odd that our aged citizens should show a higher death rate than the juveniles amongst us, but that, apparently, had not occurred to Deputy Andrews' mind. The number of widows will diminish over the years. Hereafter, every civil servant will have this scheme available to him. If the widows are prepared to pay the subscriptions which would have been collected from their husbands, will the Minister consider accepting them? I think he would be justified in accepting them for smaller sums than the total required because circumstances might not permit them to pay the full sum.

I should be glad if the Minister could see his way to bringing the widows of civil servants who died, prior to the emergence of this scheme, within the ambit of the new plan. Every Deputy would be much happier if he could feel that all widows of public servants were covered and that we were not leaving out of consideration a microscopic and diminishing number of widows, already in great difficulties, who could be made very modestly comfortable for the remainder of their days by a very slight effort on our part.

I heard with interest and sympathy what Deputy O'Higgins had to say about invoking sanctions against Britain for her failure to carry out here undertakings under the Free Trade Area Agreement. First, it never was a free trade agreement and that was made perfectly clear from this side of the House at the time it was implemented. It was a trade agreement and, so far as I was concerned, I was in favour of it because it protected agricultural exports, exports without which we could not survive. Thanks be to God, as a result of the principle established in the 1948 Trade Agreement, and carried over into this trade agreement, the good old bullock will pull us out of a great deal of trouble. Bullocks will be worth £12 a cwt. before the end of April, the highest price ever recorded in this country, and that entirely because he has linked them to the price paid for fat cattle in Britain. Thanks be to God.

We may see some of St. Michael's products floating about but, thanks be to God, we see Kerrygold butter appearing in the shops in London, Yorkshire and elsewhere. We hope to sell our cheese in Britain.

There is no comparison.

Deputy Tully says there is no comparison. I do not think it is irrelevant to bear in mind that, according to Mr. Mansholt, at the end of this year there will be 460,000 tons of surplus butter in store in the six countries of the EEC after their entire requirements of butter have been supplied and that, as of 31st December, there will be no buildings left on the Continent of Europe in which to store any additional butter, which additional butter will have to be thrown into the sea.

The EEC may become very like the proverbial Irish cattle in this respect.

Much as I revere the reverend Général, I think we are just as well out of it at the present time as in. I would be all for the Atlantic partnership envisaged by President Kennedy outside Independence Hall in Philadelphia the year before he was murdered, but I am now talking about the special import scheme. I am happy to think that our agricultural products are safe under the Agreement to which I referred. That was why I voted for it. It was an important thing. Let us bear in mind the fact that a trade agreement is not an dictat. A trade agreement is something in which you give something to get something. We have to give something in order to get something. I never over-estimated what we got, but we got things for which the groundwork was laid in 1948 and I was despertately afraid we night lose some of that ground. It made possible the employment of countless thousands of our people and paid for raw materials. It made possible the achievement of many things which could never have been achieved if that market were not there constantly available and secure. In 1948 we wanted certain quantities of coal and they said they had not got any coal. We could have got tough and rough. We could have jumped on their faces and kicked them in the stomach, but I think we were wise in saying: "They are in difficulties and what we lose on the swings we may get back on the roundabouts." I do not know how far the Minister will claim to have recovered something on the roundabouts for the £69,000 that he did pay but I imagine, if one puts one against the other, the net loss by Ireland would be difficult to discern.

Vote No. 12—Superannuation and Retired Allowances— deals, of course, only with the scheme which came into operation on 23rd July last. Again, may I point out that this is a contributory scheme and the basis of all contributory schemes is that, if you pay, you are in and, if you do not pay, you are out. The scheme had to start at some point of time.

Suppose they contribute retrospectively? Suppose they pay in now what their husbands would have paid had the scheme been in operation in their lifetime?

They have put that proposition very persuasively to me. I do not suppose there is any single matter in which I am so well briefed as I am in this.

More power to the ladies' elbows.

There is no matter upon which I have received such comprehensive and constant representations. I keep saying that I am sympathetic but there are difficulties.

Sympathy is one of those rare things that is not worth a damn to anybody financially.

I think that is going too far because I think the Minister is slowly slithering over to the position in which he will say he agrees.

Do not forget that before my time there was no such agreement.

We give the Minister all credit.

One way or another, if we were to bring in the unfortunate widows about whom so many Deputies are concerned, it would cost us money. If it would not cost us money there would be no real point in their coming in: obviously they would come in only because they would gain out of it, and it would cost us money.

Does the Minister know how much?

I gave a figure of £1 million.

It is no use saying "nonsense". If this were to be done it would have to be done comprehensively for the whole public service. The cost would be £1 million. I gave this figure to Deputy Dillon in reply to a question.

One million pounds per annum?

It would include all the widows who are already widowed. The figure could not be that because it must be a diminishing figure.

I am not attempting to give the figure of £1 million as a firm estimate. It is tentative, on the basis that this would have to be done for the whole public service. Whether it is £1 million, £2 million, or £½ million, it is a sum of money and here is the question I must ask myself, Deputy Dillon, Deputy Tully and others: there are many widows in our community; this is only one section of them; there are other widows who are, I am certain, worse off than this section and, if I have any sum of money, £½ million, £1 million, or £2 million, would I be justified in selecting this one group of widows and giving it to them without reference to other widows, some probably a great deal worse off? To some extent, that is my mind on the matter apart from the fact that it has budgetary implications which make it difficult in any event. I do not wish to say any more about that at the moment except that it is a problem of which I am fully apprised.

With regard to the Free Trade Area Agreement, I fully agree with Deputy Dillon that in any agreement there must be give and take. It is no good our looking myopically, if there is such a word, at the British special deposit scheme under the terms of the Agreement without looking at the Agreement as a whole. Since the Agreement came into operation our exports of agricultural produce to the UK have gone up by £37½ million. Our exports of industrial products have increased very considerably but I am sorry I have not got the exact figure. As our tariff barriers come down, it is only natural, it is only to be expected, that the exports of British industrial products to this country will increase.

How much have they increased? Does the Minister know the percentage?

There has been a sudden increase in recent months but I could not give in clear terms the exact picture. It is too soon to try to learn what exactly this current trend will level off at. I wish to assure the House that my colleagues and I have been in the closest touch with British Ministers about the working of the Agreement. We have impressed on them, and they accept it, that there must be a balance preserved—that the Agreement cannot be let to run wild in either direction. If either side has a valid complaint, we will consult about it and see what we can do. My colleague, Deputy Colley, will confirm that where he has had difficulties in specific cases he has been met very fairly by British Ministers in regard to those cases.

We have had a very comprehensive review of the entire Agreement in recent months and we intend to keep up these discussions. We intend to keep every aspect of the Agreement under review and we will see as best we can that the Agreement fulfils the intention we all had when it was signed—to make a substantial contribution to the expansion of trade between both countries to both our advantage.

We could have got very irate with the British Government about the special deposit scheme but the British Government, with a certain degree of justification, replied to us in this way: "Every international trade agreement in the world makes an exception for balance of payments difficulties and, no matter what any international agreement says, the provisions of the agreement can always be overridden in the interests of a balance of payments crisis." The British took this action of the special import deposits for balance of payments reasons and, strictly speaking on the legality of the system, it is entirely within the terms of the Agreement.

It is outside its terms. I thought there was specific mention of quotas.

Balance of payments difficulties override the Agreement in this respect. The British Government's attitude is: "You have a vested interest in the preservation of sterling as a currency just as we have."

If that was their problem why did they allow us to subsidise our exports? Was it not to give them free money?

We should not talk too much about that. The British Government can say to us, with a considerable amount of wisdom: "You have perhaps just as big an interest in sterling as we have. We are doing a great deal to try to preserve sterling, to try to make it strong and stable again, and you have a similar interest. As long as we have to take measures to protect and build up sterling you have a very real interest in seeing that those measures are successful." There is validity and truth in that. We must say to the British Government: "We agree we are interested in your efforts to make sterling strong and stable again as a currency but we want you to do that without injuring our vital interests."

I think we have an understanding that in so far as measures have to be taken by the British Government from time to time in the vital interest of protecting their currency, the British are never unmindful of our interests when taking these measures. I have to say that about them in all fairness: they are never unmindful of our position and our special trading relationship. They do not like taking these tough balance of payments measures any more than we like them to take them. They are pursuing a consistent policy of endeavouring to put their balance of payments right, and we hope they will succeed. We hope that when they have to take measures of this sort they will see what they can do to ensure that our interests are not adversely affected.

Vote put and agreed to.