Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 25 Mar 1947

Vol. 33 No. 16

Deeds of Bravery Bill, 1947—Second Stage

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

This is a very simple Bill. In July, 1945, a Supplementary Estimate was passed in the other House which authorised the Minister for Justice to set up a committee to award medals and certificates for deeds of bravery involving risk to a person's life. The committee was to consist of the Ceann Comhairle, the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, the Lord Mayors of Dublin and Cork, the chairman of the General Council of County Councils, the chairman of the Red Cross, and the Commissioner of the Garda Síochána. A meeting of the committee was held shortly after the Estimate had been passed and the members were unanimous that that was not a satisfactory way to proceed. They thought that an informal committee of that kind, with no guarantee of continuity and with nothing to prevent some Minister at some time from interfering with their proceedings, was unsatisfactory and that the committee should be established on a statutory basis. That is why this Bill was introduced.

There is a provision in the Bill which did not represent our intention when the Estimate was before the other House. I resisted the proposal at the time—that compensation should be paid in proper cases. On reconsideration, however, we made provision for compensation. If a person loses, say, a suit, as a result of jumping into the canal or the Liffey, the Minister for Justice may, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, make an award of compensation. Medals—one of bronze and one of gold—as well as certificates, are provided for. That will be a matter for the committee but the question of the award will be a matter for the Minister for Justice, with the consent of the Minister for Finance. The question was raised in the other House whether we intended to interfere with the operations of the Royal Humane Society or with the Carnegie Trust Fund. We do not intend to interfere with them but we thought it proper that we should have an Irish award. That is what we are providing for in the Bill.

The objects of the Bill are quite sound. There is a case, as the Minister said, for official recognition of a deed of bravery performed in this country. The proposal for a committee is a rather elaborate one. Perhaps, it could not be made any more compact. As a Dublin man, the Minister may have been afraid not to include the Mayor of Cork. There can be no doubt that the second view the Minister took — that compensation should be paid or that some sum should be awarded—is perfectly sound in certain cases. That would apply not only in the simple case of the loss of a suit; these deeds of bravery are, perhaps, most frequently performed by people whose livelihood depends on their earnings. A man who incapacitates himself in this way should receive compensation. I notice in the Bill that the only power the committee has is to make an award of a medal or a certificate, but the question of a sum of money by way of compensation is entirely a matter for the Minister for Finance, in consultation with the Minister for Justice. One would imagine that the committee should have power to make a recommendation. I can understand that, no matter what efforts the Minister for Justice might make, the Minister for Finance will stand on his own final power to veto expenditure. That runs right through the whole scheme. One would imagine, however, that the committee, which is composed of very responsible people and which will hear all the facts of the case and who make the award of the medal or certificate or both, should have something to do with the amount of money which might be given to the person who performs the deed.

It is done by way of compensation— that is the actual word used—and it is not a question of reward in the financial sense. However, one has to be thankful for small mercies. It might be possible to put in an amendment, giving power to the committee to make a recommendation. I do not think the committee should have power to make a payment—far from it—but it seems to me that it is the committee which should initiate the compensation idea. Apart from that, the Bill is an admirable one, and if I were asked to form a committee I might not make a better hand of it.

We tried to make it as representative as we could.

I would like to support the point made by Senator Hayes. The committee will have considered the case and can make the award of a medal or certificate, so it is only right that they should have power to recommend or even to award the compensation. It should not be left entirely to the consideration of the Minister for Finance.

Éigcinnteacht bheag atá ann, measaimse. An bhfuil i gceist aon ghníomh gaisce ach gníomh go mbeadh sé mar chuspóir aige anam nó beatha duine do tharrtháil? Deireann an Bille in alt a 3 (2) (c) gur ar son cabhair do thabhairt d'fhoirne loinge nó eitealláin, gur leis an tír seo iad, a dhéanfaí an comhartha gaisce a bhronnadh. Ach ins an dá chuid eile taobh amuich d'alt a 1, níl sé luaite go cinnte gur tarrtháil beatha duine ar bhaol báis is aon-chuspóir i gcóir bronnta na míre gaile. An mar sin go cinnte atá?

Is amhlaidh é. Téann sé go léir do réir alt 1.

An féidir go dtuigfí ón mír sin gur ar son gníomh gaisce ina mbeidh baol beatha duine atá an bronnadh i gceist?

Is dóigh liomsa go mb'fhiú don Aire machtnamh a dhéanamh ar an mír gaile a bhronnadh i gcásaibh eile seachas cás go mbeadh sábháil beatha i gceist.

It seems to me that there should be some connection between the work of this committee and the question of compensation. I can quite understand that it would not be desirable either, from the point of view of the State or of the committee, that the committee should actually make the award of compensation, but there should be an onus on the committee to draw the attention of the Minister to cases where they consider compensation should be paid. It should not be left to the person whose bravery is being recognised to ask for compensation. That would be highly undesirable. It is difficult, though I do not say it would be impossible, to visualise the Minister for Finance looking for people in order to compensate them. It would be a new principle.

People can write letters to him.

No doubt they can, but I do not want it placed on the person himself or on his relatives to do it, when there is a committee to examine the circumstances. Although the committee cannot award the compensation, the onus or duty should be placed on it to draw the Minister's attention to cases where it seems to them it would be desirable to pay compensation, apart altogether from the award of a medal of decoration.

The whole object of this Bill would be negatived if there were not some such provision. It would be a tragic thing if there were a laudable effort to give public tribute to a brave man or a brave woman, by this award of a medal or a certificate, and the person who performed the act of bravery and lost his or her life, left behind dependent persons who were left to suffer as a result of that brave act.

The award of a medal or certificate would be cold comfort in such cases. We would all like to see provision for the award of a medal or certificate, and in those cases where a family was deprived of a breadwinner this representative committee should be in a position to recommend suitable compensation or to award it. To my mind, the Bill would be worthless if in such cases a breadwinner lost his life in performing an act of bravery and his family were left to suffer as a result.

I agree with the last speaker. If such a man loses his life, compensation should be payable to his next-of-kin. There seems to be that omission in the Bill, and there ought to be an addition to Section 5 empowering the Minister to decide.

That is in it already.

Mr. Hawkins

I would quite agree with the views put forward by other speakers if I were not satisfied already that the procedure would be on those lines, that the committee would make an award of a medal and then would communicate their recommendation regarding compensation in cases where losses were sustained, either loss of life or the loss of a suit of clothes, in the case of a man going into the Liffey to rescue someone. If it is suggested that it should be the function of this committee not alone to recommend the award of compensation but to fix the amount, I think that would be most undesirable.

That was not suggested.

Mr. Hawkins

As the Bill stands, it is quite understandable that neither the Minister for Justice, even in his most generous mood, nor the Minister for Finance will make any kind of award unless it comes as a recommendation from the committee.

Would it not be well to have maximum and minimum amounts fixed?

No, that would be dreadful.

Supposing a deed of bravery is performed and the Minister were to say that he would give a certain amount of money, a number of people might be inclined to think that it was ridiculously small for such a brave deed. The Minister could then reply that that was the maximum sum that he was enabled to give. I think there should be some maximum fixed.

I think it would be unwise to put in a maximum.

The sky is the limit.

As I understand the procedure, it will be automatic, I imagine, for a committee that wants to give recognition for a brave deed in the form of a medal or certificate to recommend to the Minister that he should compensate the hero for any loss that he may have incurred. I know that if I were a member of the committee and thought that a person was deserving of honour for some brave deed, I would not hesitate to recommend the payment of compensation by the Minister for Justice.

If such a person suffers any financial loss through his act of bravery he is surely entitled to compensation. Such a person may develop rheumatism or some other serious ailment and may be incapacitated for a long time. During that period of incapacity it is surely the duty of the State to look after him.

There was a long debate on this in the other House. I resisted strongly any attempt to link the two things together—the recognition for bravery and the payment of compensation. I think the two should be kept separate. We had a humorous contribution from Deputy Dillon on that. He said he could visualise, if the two things were linked together, a queue of old gentlemen on the canal bank waiting to dive in and be pulled out again, at a 1/- a time. I am not saying that if abuses did occur they would be anything as bad as that. I do not think that the two things should be linked together. No doubt people will do brave acts without any thought of compensation. There ought not to be any idea of putting a cash value on brave acts. I do not want to be niggardly about this, but I think it would be unwise to have a mercenary idea linked up with any decoration for bravery. We know, of course, that the Carnegie Trust does give money. I thought that might have been sufficient, but at the same time we do not want to depend on an outside body.

After due consideration, we brought in this Bill. We did not ask that the committee should make recommendations. They might make fantastic recommendations, although I do not think they would. Senators, of course, are aware that the Minister for Finance has responsibility for all payments in this State. If the suggestion made here were to be acted upon, the Minister for Justice would have to be an advocate looking for money for the persons concerned. I do not think it is necessary for the committee to make a recommendation because the person who suffers a loss, or his relatives, will probably take plenty of opportunities of bringing the matter to the notice of the Minister for Justice. In fact, you might have public meetings held for the purpose. In the Dáil Deputy Norton talked about a person losing his teeth or his glasses. If we had to wait until the committee met and made a recommendation, nothing could be done for some time. I think the section is all right as it stands. Senators may be quite certain that plenty of opportunities will be availed of to bring to the notice of the Minister for Justice the desirability of providing for the person who has performed a brave deed if he has suffered any loss by so doing.

Am I to understand that the Minister for Justice can recognise bravery, whether the committee does so or not?

Only as far as compensation is concerned.

That is recognising it.

But whether a person ought to get a gold medal or a bronze medal, or no medal at all, will be a matter for the committee.

The intention of Section 5 seems to me to be hardly what the Minister says. It appears to me that, when the council have made a recommendation, the Minister for Justice may then make a recommendation to the Minister for Finance for the award of compensation. I do not think the Minister for Justice can do what he suggests—that is, that he can first get the Minister for Finance to make a sum of money available, and subsequently have the council consider the award of the medal or certificate. I think that the award of a medal or of a certificate comes first, and the compensation afterwards.

We had the other intention in mind when drafting the Bill in order to expedite the thing.

Would it not be very strange if a man got compensation first and was then refused a medal?

It might not.

I do not think anybody would insist on the council making a definite recommendation with regard to money. What I think many had in mind was that the council should investigate the circumstances in particular cases and report to the Minister as to whether any losses had been sustained, and as to whom awards should be made. That would leave it optional. I am quite clear that the amount to be awarded must be at the option of the Minister rather than of an outside committee.

Has the Minister in mind this possibility that donations might be presented to this committee which they would have in their hands and might hand over to the Government?

That never entered our heads. We all know that it does happen very often that donations are made to persons who perform brave deeds. I have known that to happen myself in many cases.

Perhaps it would be better not to take the Committee Stage of this Bill until to-morrow, when we can deal with this point.

I agree.

Did the Minister consider it necessary to bring in a clause making regulations regarding meetings of the council?

I will leave that to themselves. I want to leave them as free as possible.

Question—"That the Bill be now read a Second Time"—put and agreed to.

May I ask the Minister if he intends to draft any amendments himself?

I can consult with Senators later. It may be that I will be engaged in the Dáil to-morrow on the Estimate for my Department. If I am not able to attend for the Committee Stage to-morrow, Senators will understand.