Thursday, 5 February 2004

Ceisteanna (6)

Joe Sherlock


5 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Defence if he has plans to review the position of widows of those who lost their lives serving with the United Nations in the Congo in view of the very small sums that they received in compensation and pensions at the time; if he will consider making an ex gratia payment to those involved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3484/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (5 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

No amount of money could compensate for the loss of a husband, father and breadwinner. However, the levels of benefits granted by way of pensions and lump sum to the widows of soldiers who were killed in the early 1960s while serving with the United Nations in the Congo were regarded as appropriate and reasonable in the circumstances prevailing at the time.

A new Army Pensions Act was enacted in 1960 to provide, among other things, enhanced pension benefits for the dependants of military personnel who died in the course of UN service abroad. Furthermore, the Government of the day authorised the introduction of a new scheme of extra-statutory lump sum payments for such dependants. Under the scheme, a lump sum equivalent to €4,444 was payable to the widow of a soldier killed on UN service. This was a relatively substantial sum of money at that time.

Pensions granted at the time have been increased over the years in accordance with the standard method of increasing public service pensions. Additionally, the method of computing the widow's pension under the Army Pensions Acts in the case of personnel killed in the course of duty was specially enhanced from 1975. The benefit of this enhancement was extended to pensions already in payment. All such pensions are now increased in line with increases in pay granted to serving military personnel.

In addition to benefits under legislation and schemes specific to the Defence Forces, the widows of soldiers killed on UN service in the Congo would have been eligible for pensions under the social welfare legislation applicable at the time. All things considered, it is not appropriate to re-open this matter as suggested by the Deputy.

How many members of the Defence Forces lost their lives during the Congo mission of the early 1960s? Does the Minister accept that the people of Ireland were enormously proud of the role played in that country by the troops, who made a huge sacrifice? The amount of compensation provided to the widows of those who lost their lives in the Congo was as little as £3,400. Did the Minister read a recent report inThe Sunday Tribune which suggested that a woman and her child were left destitute when the woman's husband was killed in the Congo? Will the Minister address these questions? Does he think it is appropriate that a more reasonable amount of money should be provided?

The Irish people are immensely proud of the role played by the soldiers who went to the Congo and participated in subsequent missions. Eleven of the soldiers who were killed in the Congo were married. Four of their widows have died and three have remarried. The current value of the lump sum given to the widows at that time is €77,000. The lump sum that is payable in similar circumstances at present is €81,000. I think most of what I have said demonstrates that the schemes are generous. If Deputy Sherlock wishes, I will consider any specific case where there is a need for greater compassion. It seems the overall scheme is reasonably generous and does not need to be reopened, but I am perfectly happy to examine any individual case of obvious hardship.

Does the Minister not think it would be reasonable to provide for a modestex gratia payment? If this was provided for across the board, it would not break the Exchequer.

As I have said, I have no such intention. I have outlined the terms of the scheme, which covers pensions, lump sums etc. I do not intend to reopen the scheme. The best I can offer the Deputy is a re-examination of an individual case on compassionate grounds.