It was stated in the course of the debate on the last section that where A B accepts an office, one of the terms of the holding of which is compulsory retirement at the age of 65, when he is in point of fact retired having attained the age of 65, A B can have no grievance. That, of course, is transparently obvious. It is not that that I have attempted to attack on the Second Reading. I attempt now to utilise the facilities of this House to draw public attention to a wrong system. The system of superannuation merely by age is what I hold and submit, with all respect, is irrational, considering that the Minister himself declared to the House that the sole consideration, or the main consideration, or the consideration—I will not bind myself to giving the exact words—was efficiency. Efficiency is the central requirement, but efficiency at a price. Everyone who talks about superannuation of public officers proceeds to discuss the question as if there was nothing more than personalities. A B holds an office; he has held it for so many years. C D is a promising subordinate. Why should not the senior make way for him? What about the interests of the taxpayer that I have tried to stress? Is the taxpayer to bear the burden of superannuation for A B and also pay the salary to C D? I think that is the chief thing, for the moment at any rate.
The Minister told me, on the occasion of the Second Reading, that, after all, if you calculate how much it costs, it is not so much. I must confess I do not like to hear the Minister, even though he is not the Minister for Finance, talking contemptuously about surpluses and excesses of expenditure, because we are getting very near to breaking point with regard to the burden of taxation and, as our Scottish friends would say, "Every mickle makes a muckle". These little things of which Ministers dispose add up to huge amounts.
With regard to the question of superannuation, I would be satisfied to spare the House and the Minister if he would promise, or even promise a promise, that at some date, not too far distant, the Government would go into this whole question, because it is a very important question, with regard to the filling of offices, either with regard to the national Civil Service or to local services. What I, meanwhile, protest against is evasion of the real question by telling us what we know, that every human institution, every work of man, has incident to it drawbacks, short-comings, defects. We know all that and we know that it defies the wit of man to frame a system against which an acute critic can urge no objection. But apparently what we cannot do is to exercise foresight, to try to make the opportunities for deficiencies as few as possible.
Taking my own occupation, I may say that so far as the reform of education is concerned, the chief difficulty in this country is the lack of serious interest in education. The Minister put his finger on that evil incidentally. Until we have got a conscience into those who appear before the public and ask for their votes to occupy positions of responibility and authority in public administration, until we have also got a conscience into those who seek and obtain office, such as under a local authority or under a national authority —until we have done that, we have not really created a proper State, and all these reforms are still in the offing. What we have to consider is, are we by legislation consciously and deliberately to continue what we must know in our hearts or, at any rate, on reflection, is a vicious system, to continue it and to make bad worse by giving to the central authority an arbitrary power to do the things that are set out in Section 23:—
"The appropriate Minister may declare any specified age to be the age limit for all the offices in relation to which he is the appropriate Minister or for such of those offices as belong to a specified class, description, or grade...."
It is putting too much upon the Minister. There should be some division of labour and the division between the central authority and the Local Government Department and the various local authorities was intended, in theory that is, to have efficiency among those on the spot dealing with what they were familiar with, were in actual touch with. But the encroachment of the central power on the local authorities is an abuse. I do not care what Minister or what Government is in office; it is one of the risks we have to take and to guard against.
I am not asking that there should not be an age limit in the sense of asking you to disregard it. Everyone knows that as men grow older they are physically feebler. It does not follow, however, if mind is the chief agent in the discharge of their peculiar work, that their minds have grown feebler. I have seen men, and recall the fact with regret, suffering from paralysis agitans, so that while in point of body they were practically dead, their intellects were absolutely keen, bright and flexible. There are such cases, but the Minister can, and probably will, cite as against that men who, at a comparatively early age, are unfit. I would retort to that contention that there are men who are unfit from the very beginning and who should never have been appointed at all. There are those variations in individual cases, but can you make a class rule that will even approximate to justice?
The actuaries of insurance companies are able to estimate, not altogether as a gamble, what the expectation of life is, say, with regard to a healthy man of 30 years of age. As well as I remember, they calculate 35 years of life at any rate and on that average they compute what annual premium he shall pay, with that expectation of life, for the purposes of endowment insurance. That is done mathematically, but it is in regard to a wholly different set of circumstances that these other calculations are made. We might like an actuary to compute what are the chances of a man at the age of 65 being competent to do the work which he was appointed to do at 40, but no sane actuary would undertake that task. He could not calculate the mathematics of probability, although he can fairly estimate the expectation of life and a company takes the risks of his calculation being accurate.
There must be some rule, the Minister will tell me. I admit there must be and I suggest he has provided us with a statement of the rule. In the sections we have passed the qualifications are laid down. It is not beyond the capacity of the central authority to discover, from reports they receive from the locality in which the official is engaged, or through inspectors from the central office, whether the efficiency is preserved. Surely it is better to avoid, no matter how difficult may be the task of avoiding it, doing what is wrong to the taxpayer? Let me take the case of a man who has filled an office continuously for a certain number of years without serious complaint being made against him on the ground of inefficiency, negligence or irresponsibility. Presumably, he is highly competent. Why should he be called upon, when competent on 30th July, to go out of office on 31st July, merely because it is 31st July and the significance of that date is that he has reached the age for superannuation? It is absolutely foolish. It imposes a burden on the taxpayer, and then it ceases to be merely foolish and becomes criminal.
I submit that it is easy enough in the case of certain officers, if you consider merely the public advantage, to decide whether or not a man's term of usefulness is at an end. There are different occupations, as the Minister has told us, which would require different retiring ages. A few years ago, as a member of the Committee of Inquiry into the Civil Service, I heard two representatives of the Post Office engineers giving evidence on this very point. One of the witnesses demanded a retiring age of 55. They were opposed to the 65 years' rule, and, in answer to questions by members of the Committee of Inquiry, the reason given for demanding the earlier retiring age was that they wanted to make room for other men who had become tired of waiting for advancement. There was not one thought for the public or for what the public would have to pay. Later, under cross-examination, the same witness who contended for the age of 55 was heard to raise a growl against the retiring age of 65, so that he was contending, at one sitting, both for an age limit of 55 when his mind was concentrated upon the promotion of officials lower down and for no age limit when his mind was directed to the other side of the question.
I can very well understand that members of the public who are fathers of families, who have growing sons and daughters looking for posts, will be all heartily convinced that men must be old fogeys at 65 and should go, because they want the vacancies to occur. Naturally, a man at 65 objects to being regarded as an old fogey, because, if he is pronounced an old fogey and goes out compulsorily, to what is he to turn, having been publicly branded as inefficient? I have no doubt that the Minister will say that that is a coinage of my brain and that there is no ground for the suggestion that he is inefficient on account of his years, but Section 23 (4) sets out:—
Any person who ceases under the immediately preceding sub-section of this section to hold an office shall, where necessary for the purposes of sub-section (1) of Section 44 of the Act of 1925 or of any other enactment relating to the superannuation of officers of local authorities, be deemed to have become incapable of discharging the duties of such office with efficiency by reason of old age ...
I ask the Minister's special attention to the following words:—
...shall be deemed to have become incapable of discharging the duties of such office with efficiency by reason of old age.
The two Houses of the Oireachtas are to inform the world that when a Minister declares that A.B. has to quit his office by reason of his age, that makes him inefficient. Surely that could not be defended? As a matter of fact, if we had time—I know that we have not—we should suspend this whole Bill—and I contended for that before—and think it out more fully, because, with all respect and making all due allowance for the conditions of the time, there are features in this Bill which point to hasty workmanship, which are ill-digested, but this, to my mind, is the worst example of it. The whole question of superannuation and the method of dealing with it is, I frankly confess, too big to be dealt with on an amendment to one section, and I repeat what I said in the beginning that, if the Minister would undertake that the Government would deal with it as a special problem, my purpose in moving the amendment would be served.