Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 17 May 2006

Vol. 183 No. 17

Military Medals and Awards.

I welcome the Minister for Defence, Deputy O'Dea, to the House and I thank him for addressing this matter. It was with great pride that I watched the Easter parade on Sunday, 16 April. I was delighted the Taoiseach took the initiative to reinstate this important event. The Minister can be justly proud of the members of the Defence Forces who took part in the parade on that historic day.

I welcome the announcement by the Minister to increase the War of Independence pensions by 50%, as part of the commemoration of the 90th anniversary of 1916 and that the Minister for Finance is preparing to sign off on the proposal, which will benefit a total of 730 pensioners and their dependants. This 50% increase in the pension is a fitting tribute to our veterans and their families.

In light of these celebrations, it has been brought to my attention by a number of family members of those who served during the 1916 Rising and the subsequent War of Independence, that there is no mechanism for the issuing of a replacement medal. It has been a long-standing policy of the Department of Defence to issue a standard letter to the family stating that no replacements can be provided. I am anxious to hear if the Minister has any proposals to review these arrangements.

I am glad to have the opportunity to address this matter and I thank Senator Wilson for raising it. It is not necessary for me to dwell on the importance to the nation of the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence. Together they led to the establishment of the State in which we live today and to the freedom we now enjoy. The importance of these events is also reflected in the fact that we have five military medals related to that period of our history.

For the information of the House I will give some brief background to each of the five medals. The 1916 medal was awarded to persons who participated in the Rising during the week commencing 23 April 1916. Some 2,000 of these medals were awarded. The 1917-1921 service medal with bar was awarded to persons who rendered active military service during the War of Independence. More than 15,000 medals were awarded in that category.

The 1917-1921 service medal without bar was awarded to persons whose service was not deemed active military service, but who were members of Oglaigh na hÉireann, Fianna Éireann, Cumann na mBan or the Irish Citizen Army continuously for the three months which ended with the Anglo-Irish truce on 11 July 1921. More than 50,000 medals were awarded in this class.

The 1916 survivor's medal was created in 1966 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Rising of Easter Week 1916. The medal was issued to those who had been awarded the 1916 medal and who were still alive at the time.

The 1921 truce commemoration medal was created to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the truce that ended the War of Independence. The medal was issued to veterans of the War of Independence who were alive on 11 July 1971 and who had been duly awarded the 1917-1921 service medal, whether with or without bar.

The Department receives requests from time to time for the replacement of lost, stolen or destroyed medals awarded to veterans of the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence. It has been the settled policy of the Department of Defence for many years that replacement medals were issued on a once only basis on receipt of a bona fide request from the veteran to whom the original medals were awarded. This policy was adopted in the interests of preserving the intrinsic value of the medals and to strictly limit the number of medals issued in any particular case. Although almost all the veterans are now deceased, the rationale for restricting the issue of replacement medals is still valid.

Apart from the intrinsic value of the medals, their monetary value on the open market is also a factor. Some indication of their value can be gleaned from the recent sale by auction of a posthumously awarded 1916 medal that achieved a price of €105,000 on 12 April 2006. Other 1916 and War of Independence medals, sold at the same auction, fetched amounts ranging from €3,200 to €14,000.

While this has been the long-standing Departmental policy, I can understand the feelings of the family members of veterans whose requests for replacement medals are refused. These families feel rightly proud of their respective ancestors' service and contribution to the birth of this State and would like some visible expression of it. With this in mind some weeks ago I initiated an examination in my Department of the possibility of issuing some form of official certificate for such cases.

I envisage that the certificates would confirm that one of the medals in question had been issued to the named veteran. If more than one medal had originally been issued, a separate certificate could be provided for each medal. Officials in my Department are currently examining a number of options, including possible designs and formats for these certificates. I am confident this initiative will go some way towards addressing this problem and I expect the examination in my Department will be completed very shortly.

On a related note, I was very pleased to be able to announce recently a substantial increase in the War of Independence pensions. The 90th anniversary of the 1916 Rising was an appropriate time to show the country's appreciation of the major part played by veterans in the foundation of the State. The pensions are being increased by 50% retrospectively to 1 April 2006. They were last increased in mid-2004 when a 50% increase was also applied. I trust this clarifies matters to the satisfaction of the House.