Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 12 Feb 1941

Vol. 25 No. 4

Army Pensions Bill, 1940 (Certified Money Bill)—Second and Subsequent Stages.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The object of the present Bill is mainly to extend the date of application for pensions and allowances under the Army Pensions Acts, 1923-1937. These Acts award compensation for injuries and disease attributable to or aggravated by service, or compensation to dependents in respect of deceased members of the various Forces as defined by the Acts. The extension of the date has been necessitated by the fact that there are about 515 persons whose applications could not be dealt with because they had not applied within the statutory time limits, and as many of these cases seem to constitute a genuine hardship, it has been decided to extend that limit so as to be able to deal with the cases on their merits. The present Bill extends the date of application to 12 months after the passing of the Act, so that it will be possible under it to deal not only with the late applications already mentioned, but also with any fresh applications made within the new statutory period.

The Bill, as first introduced, only extended the date for applications under the 1932 and the 1937 Acts, but as a result of certain representations it was amended in Committee to cover also applications under the 1927 Act. It therefore puts ex-members of the National Army on the same footing as ex-members of the I.R.A. as regards the time limit of application.

Another amendment introduced on the Committee Stage in the Dáil to meet the views of members of the Oireachtas gives applicants for dependents' allowances under Part VII of the 1937 Act two years from the passing of this Bill in which they could appeal against an adverse decision by the Army Pensions Board. The right of appeal within two years from the passing of the 1937 Act was already conceded in that Act, but in a number of cases the two years had elapsed before the report was made by the board, so that in effect the right of appeal was frustrated. This defect has now been rectified by giving applicants the right to appeal within two years from the passing of the present Bill.

The necessity of extending the date of application by means of this Bill has also been utilised to solve certain difficulties which have arisen in administering the Acts. Some applicants, for instance, have failed to attend for examination when called by the board and as the Acts stand at present there is no power to compel attendance or, failing attendance, to determine the claim. Power is now taken in this Bill to determine any such application, if the person fails to attend after a second notice given after an interval of three months.

Power is also taken to reduce the allowance given under the Army Pensions Acts where the person affected receives simultaneously a pension under the Widows and Orphans Pensions Acts. Finally it is made clear that, for a widow to qualify for a gratuity under Section 19 (3) of the 1937 Act, her husband must have been actually in receipt of a pension under the 1932 Act at the date of his death.

This Bill does not make any new class of person eligible for a pension. As the Minister has said, it merely remedies certain defects in previous Acts with regard to dates for the making of applications and the hearing of evidence. It must be said, I think, that the Minister for Defence, when the Bill was before the other House, met very fairly amendments which were put up to him. The Bill as it emerged from the Dáil does, I think, cover all the cases with which the members of the other House were conversant. Therefore, there is nothing in it about which there can be very much opposition. I understand the Minister wants all stages of this Bill, which is a Money Bill, to-day. Perhaps I might ask whether any consideration has been given by him to a case that was mentioned in the Dáil in which a member of the Opposition front bench and the Minister for Agriculture were said to be interested. I think the Minister said that he might deal with it in the Seanad. I have no personal knowledge of the case myself. It was mentioned that something in relation to it might arise in the Seanad. In all the circumstances, I think the Bill ought to be passed through all stages to-day.

I was not in for the opening of the Minister's statement, but, taking the original Act, it seems to me that if one has to decide whether disability is due to service or not, the decision has to be almost an arbitrary one. A time limit was fixed for the Act. It was obvious that, as time went by, it would be almost impossible to say whether or not the disability that a man admittedly suffered from was specifically due to service given to the State in warlike activities. In arriving at a decision it seems to me that some consideration must be given to the question as to whether or not the disability was due to such origins. It is now a good number of years since the potential beneficiaries received their disabilities. Suppose, say, that in 1920-1921 12 men went out and had to lie in ambush in wet weather. If one of them, some years later, develops phthisis, how is one to say that it is exclusively due to his experiences on that night. It must really have been due to a certain weakness in the man himself since the other 11 men, who had the same experience, did not show any ill-effects from it.

I feel that this Bill ought to pass because I am certain that a great number of people have not received the justice that was meant to be given to them in the original Act. At the same time we must remember that we are now in the year 1941, and that this measure will cover cases going back to 1920-1921. In my opinion, any doctor who would affirm that a given disability, other than say a bullet would which is covered by the Wounds Pensions Act, was due to a given experience 20 or more years ago, is obviously not speaking in a purely scientific way. He has, of course, to bring a certain amount of commonsense to bear on the case. You cannot have any definite code of rules for dealing with these cases. I would like to know from the Minister whether there is any rule of thumb method for deciding that such disability is due to warlike activity. I admit that if anyone were to ask me to lay down rules I would find it very hard to do so. I would, I imagine, have to trust largely to commonsense and to the integrity of the applicant making the statement and of the doctor who examined him. I should like to think that the Minister has given some consideration to that matter.

A period of 20 years leaves its mark on all of us. We develop all sorts of troubles that were not foreseeable 20 years ago, and we complain now of pains and aches. I know I suffer from them myself. If anybody were to say to me that these were due to what one went through at that time, I would say it was all humbug. I do not know what my pains and aches were due to originally, no more than anybody else does. Your neighbour may say they are due to the sins of your youth. Physical illness is, of course, quite distinct from being riddled by machine-gun bullets or from falling off a lorry and getting your spine broken, so that really nobody can say that a given percentage of disability is due to a specific thing that happened 20 years ago. I could not say it, nor do I know anybody who could, so that in the end, I think, you must rely on the medical examination and on the integrity and probity of the applicants. At the same time, when one has reached the age that a good many of us here have reached, I suggest that our child-like faith in human probity has suffered quite a good number of shocks, possibly as a result of painful experience. For these reasons, I think the Minister ought to be able to tell us that some sort of precautions will be taken to see that we do not all come along and blame the fight for freedom for disabilities that we suffer from—and try to cash in on that—when, in fact, they are really due to quite extraneous, and perhaps hereditary, causes.

May I take advantage of the discussion on this Bill to bring to the notice of the Minister the cases of a good many women who served in the Cumann na mBan and who have made claims for military service pensions? Their applications do not seem to have made much progress. A difficulty in their case is to prove that they gave military service. They usually did not take part in major engagements, but I think some means should be found to help them to prove their claims. A number of them have been able to establish their claims. The number able to do that is very small. I understand that a great many claims are pending. One difficulty is the getting of evidence from the brigade leaders who do not seem to bother about the women. For that reason, I would like to say a word on their behalf.

Section 12 deals with people who refuse or fail to make application. I have nothing to say with regard to those who refuse to make application, but, as regards the others, their failure to make application may be due to this, that when they got notice to attend to submit evidence in support of their claims they were not physically fit to do so. I should like to see provision made in such cases, whereby, if an applicant, notified to attend, produces a doctor's certificate showing that he is unable to attend, his case could be deferred until such time as he was fit to attend.

Under Section 13, a widow may receive a pension, provided her husband was in receipt of a pension before his death. We know that it takes a very long time to deal with these applications, and it is quite possible that a man who had made application for a pension might die before his claim was decided, and his wife, in that event, would not be entitled to a pension, even though, if his case had been investigated, it would have been found that he was, in justice, entitled to it. In such cases, provided the application had been made, provision should be made whereby, if there was sufficient evidence to prove that he suffered from a disease or disability and that such was the cause of his death, his widow and children would be provided for.

It is rather a pity, to my mind, that the Government should burden themselves with this further Bill before the cases already under consideration have been dealt with. There are cases of men who were called before the board 12, 18 months and two years ago and who are still in darkness as to whether their cases have been dealt with negatively or affirmatively. I suggest that the cases already before them should be completely disposed of before new cases are taken up, because there is not a public representative in the country but knows of various cases of hardship in respect of which the chief complaint is as to why they are not told the decision one way or another. I know cases of real hardship which should have been favourably considered and which have not been considered. My main point is that claims already sent in and which are properly certified should be dealt with and completed, before taking up the consideration of an altogether new set of cases.

I agree with the last Senator. I know that this section is absolutely necessary, and I do not want to introduce any extraneous matter whatever in regard to it, although, before I finish, I shall probably have done so.

Not intentionally.

The truth of the matter is that while this is necessary, having received the approbation of those responsible and the question of codifying and clarifying the position being very important, I feel that the existing arrangements should be speeded up, and I am at one with the last Senator in saying that a little more speed should be shown. We have the regrettable spectacle of cases of the 1916 veterans not yet being decided. It is not a question of some of these men dying because some of them have died, but a little more speed should be shown and a little more grease put on the machine. I know that it is an extremely complicated process and that the difficulties have been long and almost interminable, but, nevertheless, I think I am right in saying that the board has been sitting for six years and the cases of the 1916 veterans in particular, because, after all, they were the nucleus of the whole movement, should have been decided long ago on the principle of first things first. We are coming near the end of the pension period when old Father Time will decide one way or another, but it is perhaps not yet too late to ask that the allotment of pensions to those of the 1916 men who yet survive should be decided as soon as possible.

Taking the Bill generally, I am not very clear, I am sorry to say, as to exactly what Acts are covered by it, but I should like to draw the Minister's attention to the amendment of the Disability Pensions Act which allowed applications in respect of aggravation of disease to be made under the disability pensions scheme. So far as I understand, the only time-space allowed, when it was passed, was a period of six months, and the cases of many of those who had previously applied under the 1932 Act had not been brought to a conclusion when that six months' period elapsed. Later, when they tried to apply under that scheme, they were told that their applications were too late. I wonder if the Minister would consider an amendment to this Bill, or even further legislation, to allow an extension of the time for application whose cases were not decided within the period.

In reply to Senator Hayes, I discussed the matter immediately after the debate in the Dáil with Deputy Fionán Lynch. I explained the position in respect of the particular case he had in mind and in which he mentioned the Minister for Agriculture was also interested. The position actually is that, if the individual in question can produce additional evidence which was not available at the time of the previous hearing, his case can be reopened. I think that all I can say in respect of the points raised by Senator Fitzgerald is that we all recognise the frailty of human ingenuity in regard to dealing with the particular type of case he had in mind, but we have done everything possible to meet it. For instance, the bringing in of the aggravation clause in 1937 was an effort to deal with it. There were numerous cases in which men could not prove that disability was due to service, but, as a result of the 1937 amendment, they were enabled to prove that disability had at least been aggravated by service and, in that way, they came within the Act. I think that that was as far as we were able to go at that time, with the exception of a man whose disease, designated as a certain percentage, was diminishing, and who, by reason of that diminution found himself again outside the Act. Another amendment was brought in in 1937 which made it possible for that individual to opt for a flat rate pension. In the case of an individual whose disability was diminishing from 80 per cent. down to as low as perhaps 50 per cent., he was entitled to opt for a flat rate pension. If he did not do that, his pension ceased when his disability went below 80 per cent. He could, of course, come up for examination at a later period, but, as against that, there was the possibility that, by reason of treatment he had got in hospital, he might be recovering and would possibly make a complete recovery. Therefore, that individual was given the right to opt for a flat rate pension, or take the chance that his disability would become worse, that he would go again to the 80 per cent. and be entitled to the higher pension.

With regard to the remarks of Senator Hawkins and Senator Kehoe, I am afraid that they are mixing up service pensions with disability pensions.

I think that every case has been dealt with under the 1932 Disability Pensions Act and only a few are left under the amending Act of 1937. Accordingly, I have come to the conclusion that what Senator Hawkins and Senator Kehoe were referring to were service pensions under the 1934 Act. As regards Section 13, I have no control. That is a section which runs through most Acts into which finance enters. In answer to Senator Kennedy, the aggravatory clause of this Bill extends the right to come in by 12 months.

As mentioned at the beginning of this debate, this is a non-controversial Bill. Most of the Senators who spoke believed it should go through and, beyond saying that I would be very grateful if the House would consider the question of giving me all stages to-day, so that the measure may be got into operation, I have nothing to add.

Senators would like to be assured that you have finished the job in hands before starting a new job.

I think I mentioned that all cases under the 1932 Act—and this is an amendment of the 1927, 1932 and 1937 Acts—have been completed. A few have to be completed under the amending Act of 1937, but these will, probably, be dealt with by the end of March.

Question put and agreed to.

I propose that we take the Committee Stage of the Bill now.


Bill put through Committee, without recommendation, received for final consideration and ordered to be returned to the Dáil.