Wednesday, 25 March 1925
Dáil Éireann Debate
Mr. HUGHES: I move the Second  Reading of this Bill. This Bill is to give the Executive Council power to revoke pensions that may be granted, and to revoke them for causes stated. It is felt that in the case of people getting pensions from the State the Executive Council should have some control over these pensions, and that they should be in the position to revoke the pension if the pensioner commits acts against the constitutional law of the country. The Bill, as it stands, will not affect any acts that have been committed up to the present. It is not retrospective in any way. It is based on Section 15 of the Army Act, which deals with the manner in which officers may be discharged from the Army. Full notice in writing must be given to the person whose pension it is proposed to revoke, so as to give him an opportunity of stating his side of the case, and it must be published in Iris Oifigiúil in the ordinary way so that the Dáil and the public will know what is taking place, and if anybody has any grievance whatever against the action taken by the Executive Council he can always have this House to fall back upon to have the grievance remedied. I ask the Dáil to give this Bill a Second Reading. Its passing will facilitate the granting of some pensions that at the present moment are held up.
Mr. JOHNSON: I do not intend to oppose the Second Reading, but I want to express my doubt as to the wisdom of this kind of measure. We have voted pensions to ex-soldiers under certain circumstances. The only reason for the revocation of these pensions is some act which would make the recipient amenable to the courts and that he would be convicted of some offence. The proposition now is that the pension may be revoked at the discretion of the Executive Council, subject, I acknowledge, to certain possible checks arising from the publication of the fact that such a revocation has been proposed. I feel it is a very doubtful procedure to leave the revocation of pensions in the hands of a political executive. The general procedure has been to consider Civil Service pensions, for instance, as deferred pay and revokable  possibly under the law by Ministerial action. But I think that is probably unheard of except there has been an indictable offence, or, at least, an offence proved in the courts. In the case of military service pensions, I think it is invariably the case that the pension shall be made irrevocable except in the case of an offence proved before a court. The principle we are now asked to adopt here is to make the pension revocable at the discretion of the Executive Council for the time being, subject only to the kind of supervision which is very thin and doubtful and which would require a definite motion in the Dáil.
I think that case has not been made, and it should be made before we are asked to pass this measure. I believe the reasons which may be in the mind of the Executive Council are not sufficiently strong. I think that any justification for revocation of pensions granted in the way we have legislated for in the Military Service Pensions Act would be possible after conviction, and if there is no conviction then the amount of damage the State might suffer would be very small. It would be better to lose that than to introduce this kind of principle, which leaves in the hands of a possibly unscrupulous Executive Council in the future the wielding of a power of this kind for patronage purposes, or, shall I say, that certain things may happen. It is a discretion which it is hardly desirable to give to any Executive. Once a pension is granted, unless there is a specific and proved offence I think it should be maintained. I will not oppose the Second Reading in view of the assurances that pensions of this kind are being held up because of the absence of such a Bill, but I think it is a bad principle and very doubtful wisdom.
The PRESIDENT: With much of what Deputy Johnson has said I am in agreement. I do not think that it is good administration to leave too much power of this kind in the hands of an Executive Council, but we cannot shut our eyes to the fact that commissions in the Army are controlled in no better and in no worse manner at present  than we propose to control pensions under this particular Act. In considering the question of commissioned officers in the Army it will, I think, be conceded that they ought not to be in any worse position than a person who gets a pension under the Military Service Pensions Act. They are the servants of the State at the present moment. Those who will get pensions under the Military Pensions Act are no longer servants of the State.
I admit at once, if the State needed the services of those who will be in receipt of those pensions, that possibly more than 90 per cent. of them would respond to the call, but the fact is that as the Military Service Pensions Act stands it is open to any agitator or conspirator to enlist the services of those in receipt of those pensions, and their possession of a right to a pension would not be affected by that. That is not advisable, nor is it desirable. I think the time when an executive council would unjustly, or for any political reason, revoke a pension granted under the Military Service Pension Act will not come. I think it is inconceivable that you would have a Dáil so subservient to an executive council that such action as that would be taken. It would have been much better, and I would have preferred it, that those pensions—which as I stated at the time of the introduction of the Act were rather compensation for the disturbance and interruption of the lives of the individuals—should have been accepted in the same good faith in which they had been given. Circumstances arose which satisfy the executive council that such a community of feeling or thought on this subject did not exist.
In the circumstances, reviewing the position as regards commissioned officers in the Army, and the position in which a person entitled to a pension under this Military Service Act was placed, I see no case for drawing a distinction in favour of a person who will have an advantage under the Military Service Pensions Act. In consequence, I support this Bill, agree with the principle, and regret that it should be necessary to introduce it in view of the statement we have heard that the people are now no longer taking any part in public  affairs. Satisfied as far as I can see or judge that the people of this country would not tolerate an executive council which would seek to utilise for their own ends the provisions of this Bill to the detriment of people entitled to pensions, and satisfied that some such corrective as this will put a stop to any conspiracies entered into by young persons who can easily be led astray by persons who introduce personal elements into what they have no right to meddle with, I support the motion. The State will be all the surer by reason of this Bill, and the persons getting the pensions will be in a safer position by the passing of this Bill.
Mr. ESMONDE: The President suggested that this Bill would be non-contentious. In the opinion of all the members of my party present in this House it is not only contentious but contemptible. A few days ago while we were discussing some supplementary estimates I drew attention to the fact that military pensions were not being paid, because of political reasons, to certain persons who should receive them. This was denied by the President and the Minister for Finance. When I left the Dáil the matter was further pressed by Deputy Johnson, and the Minister for Finance admitted that though those certificates had been granted by the Commission he himself was deliberately holding up certain of those pensions.
The PRESIDENT: The Deputy is mis-quoting what I said on that occasion. I dealt with what I believe to have been a charge made against the Secretary to the Board of Assessors. I concerned myself only in refuting that charge, and I think I established to the Deputy's satisfaction that the Secretary to the Board of Assessors was not prejudiced against those persons.
Mr. ESMONDE: I think the President is right in that instance. I was mistaken in thinking that the Secretary was in any way responsible. The Minister for Finance admitted he was responsible for holding up those pensions and he was acting quite illegally in doing so. There is nothing in the Military Service Pensions Act which  will entitle the Minister for Finance to refuse to grant a pension passed by the Commission. There is nothing whatever in the Act which gives him that permission. I thought first that perhaps this Bill was a clumsy attempt to rectify the illegality in which the Minister for Finance was indulging, but of course it does not affect his action, as it only refers to pensions already granted. It does not give him any power to withhold the granting of those pensions from the beginning. The reasons he gave at that time for holding up those pensions was that there were certain persons about whose present behaviour the Executive Council were not satisfied. This is a new principle in law, that the Executive Council if it is not satisfied with the behaviour of certain persons is entitled to over-rule the law and to withhold monies which are due to those persons. The Minister for Finance here to-day stated that the only reason why pensions could be withdrawn under this Act would be unconstitutional acts on the part of the persons concerned. There is nothing in the Act, as it stands, which mentions the fact, or which states for what reason the Executive Council would be entitled to revoke those pensions. While we were discussing the Treason Bill an amendment was put down by Deputy Davin dealing with secret societies in the Civil Service. The Minister for Justice expressed his willingness to have the matter considered on a general motion, in order that those who had most information on the subject should make a case for it, but he stated he would not accept this prohibition before a case was made and before proof was brought as to the necessity for such a measure. No proof was brought or no case whatever has been made either by the President or by the Minister for Defence as to the necessity for this. Apparently the necessity for proof and producing evidence only applies to the Labour Party. It does not apply to the Executive. The object of the Bill, as far as I can see, is to revoke pensions for political opinions, as distinct from offences. I think that will be admitted by the Executive Council.
Mr. ESMONDE: If it is not, then the other offences are guarded against in Section 6 of the principal Act, where anyone convicted in open trial of an offence or misdemeanour ipso facto loses his pension. That does not satisfy the Executive Council. They intend to conduct a secret trial behind closed doors, a kind of star chamber, on the result of those investigations. As a result they are to prohibit or to allow the continuance of those pensions. If those persons have committed any crimes it is the duty of the Executive Council and the Minister for Justice to have them arrested, tried and convicted. It would be interesting to see what reasons would be given in the Iris Oifigiúil for each separate revocation of a pension. Will the Executive Council dare to put in the Iris Oifigiúil a statement that such and such a person has had his pension revoked for committing an offence or crime, and yet that that person will not be prosecuted, imprisoned or brought to trial? Is that the intention of the Executive Council? It would be interesting if that is the case. That, apparently, is the reason for the Bill. To the average person the provisions of the Act are adequate. Once the Minister for Justice has passed his Treason Bill the offences suggested in the speeches we have had to-day will be amply covered by that measure. Once that Bill has been passed any man committing an offence will be tried. Ipso facto under Section 6 of the original Pensions Act he loses his pension, but the Executive Council wish to go further and stop the pension for political opinions. They wish to force the recantation of the political opinions of those persons who resigned a year ago because of a disagreement with the Executive Council. I think that is mean and petty persecution. It is prolonging this petty faction fight between members of the Executive Council and their former comrades, and I think it is dishonouring not only to the Executive Council but to the Dáil and the State. I oppose this Bill.
Mr. DAVIN: The Minister said that the necessity for the speedy passage of  this measure was due to the fact that certain pensions, passed by the Army Pension Board and stated to be held up by the Executive Council, would be paid when the Bill becomes an Act. On the Supplementary Estimate which was considered last week, I asked a question of the Minister for Finance as to whether the pensions granted by the Army Pensions Board, which he stated were held up by the Executive Council for the reasons mentioned by Deputy Esmonde, were pensions due to Army officers who had resigned or who were dismissed. I do not think it is right that it should go out from this House that pensions will be paid, if this Bill goes through, to people who had been dismissed from the National Army. The Minister stated he was not able to say what the actual state of affairs was when I asked him that question. Perhaps he will make it clear now, so that members of the House will know what is likely to be the effect of the speedy passage of this measure. Pensions under this Bill can be revoked for what the President referred to as unconstitutional acts. I think every member of the House will agree that when the Treason Bill becomes an Act it will be possible for the Executive Council at any time to bring to the bar of justice any man and have him tried without taking the trouble of publishing his name in the Iris Oifigiúil or adopting any other method mentioned in this Bill. I would like to hear from the Minister for Finance now the effect of this Bill on the type of case he mentioned last week and which he was not able to explain at that time.
Mr. CONNOR HOGAN: Like so many other Deputies that have spoken, I, while not going to vote against this Bill, cannot vote in favour of it, in view of the provisions of the Constitution. I admit that the times are extraordinary, that the circumstances are unique, and that there is, perhaps, need for something in the nature of this Bill. But if any pension is to be cut off, I hope that it will only be for something in the nature of an offence tending to the subversion of the Constitution, of which offence there is not  sufficient evidence to secure a conviction, but of which there is, nevertheless, a fair amount of certainly. I certainly do not think that the Executive Council, or any succeeding Executive Council, will attempt to abuse the extraordinary power we are now asked to give them. It is extraordinary power. There must be a complete separation between judicial and executive functions, but, in this case, we are making the Executive Council judge and jury——
Mr. CONNOR HOGAN: Quite so! I did not like to put it as crudely as the Deputy has done. We are giving the Executive this extraordinary power in respect of people who are to benefit by the Military Service Pensions Act of 1924. But I suggest that that power should not be exercised except in the case of something approaching disruption of the Constitution. Only for that should they be penalised and deprived of pension.
Mr. CONNOR HOGAN: Before you can employ the Treason Bill, you must obtain a conviction. This Bill is only intended to deal with a case where there is a fair amount of evidence, but still not sufficient to obtain a conviction. I would not have it go out that this is a mere matter of disagreement in the invidious sense in which Deputy Esmonde made reference to what took place between the Executive Council and certain mutinous officers last year. I wonder what kind of dispute was that. Was it a mere disagreement of opinion or was it a disagreement which bordered on physical force? As far as those officers of last year are concerned, I should regret very much to see them benefiting by the Military Service Pensions Act. Because it hits those people who went out in mutiny against this State, and who went as far as possible to subvert its Constitution. I favour this Bill. But I certainly hold that mere disagreement of opinion, or anything on which we can all agree to differ, that comes within the Constitution, should not come within the  scope of this measure or be dealt with by either the present or any succeeding Executive Council.
MINISTER for FINANCE (Mr. Blythe): I have not considered any further the question raised by Deputy Davin, but this Bill does not affect the matter in any way. I was not quite sure as to what Deputy Davin was referring. I did not know whether he was asking if persons concerned with the mutiny of last March were finally dismissed or allowed to resign. At the moment, I do not remember what happened. But this Bill has nothing to do with qualification for the pension. That is decided by previous Acts, which I have not at hand at the moment, and have not looked up since the Deputy spoke. All this Bill does is to provide a means of revoking pensions in the event of action being taken against the State by some of those officers who are or will be in receipt of pensions if the offence be such as could not be proven in court. It goes no further than that. The need for some action in connection with these pensions became clear last December, when undoubtedly there was an attempt to create further trouble, and when the Executive Council felt itself obliged to dismiss summarily certain civil servants, a couple of army officers and some 20 or 30 non-commissioned officers and privates.
Mr. DAVIN: The information I want, arising out of that point, is whether the passing of this Bill will mean that army officers dismissed for misconduct, or whatever they were dismissed for, will benefit by the receipt of army pensions?
Mr. BLYTHE: No. There was sufficient evidence for the Executive Council to act upon, but no such evidence as would have led to a conviction by court-martial. There was evidence that satisfied the Executive Council that the retention of those men in the Army  would be a danger. The Executive Council, in discharge of its duty to the public, would not be justified in permitting their retention in the Army, having regard to the danger that might follow from it.
Mr. T.J. O'CONNELL: I am not satisfied that the principle embodied in this Bill is a good one or a desirable one or one that the Dáil should give its approval to. I take it that in the Pension Act there is provision whereby if a man is convicted of an offence his pension is revoked. The Minister, in this Bill, seeks further power. As I understand it, he seeks power to revoke pensions at the discretion of the Executive Council. No matter how wisely that discretion may be exercised, it will always be open to grave objection —the objection that action will be motived by political reasons. It is undesirable that that should be so. I understood the Minister for Finance to say that no action would be taken until the fullest opportunity had been given to the Dáil to see what was being done and to hear the reasons. If the reasons are such that a conviction would not follow——
The PRESIDENT: Might I interrupt to set the Deputy right? I think what the Minister for Defence said was that a further opportunity would be given to the individual concerned to show why the pension should not be revoked.
Mr. T.J. O'CONNELL: The point I was going to make has been made by Deputy Johnson—that the Dáil would  not be in a position to say whether or not justice had been done, unless it had an opportunity of perusing all the evidence. The Minister for Finance has stated that the Executive found it necessary to dismiss certain officers from the Army and even from the Civil Service. I can quite see that a position might arise in which the Government would be satisfied that it was not desirable to retain certain individuals in their service. I understand that they are always free to do that. But the revocation of a pension is a different proposition altogether, and that should not be done except in accordance with provisions definitely set out in an Act of Parliament. It ought not to be in the discretion of the Executive Council to revoke a pension once it has been granted. That introduces a bad principle, and whether or not the discretion is wisely exercised, it will always be urged that it is not wisely exercised. I think that nothing short of an offence which would bring a conviction in court, under any one of the numerous Acts which are in force, should be used to deprive a person of his pension, once that pension is granted.
MINISTER for JUSTICE (Mr. O'Higgins): Deputy O'Connell says that it is a bad principle that pensions, once granted, should be revocable by the Executive Council or revocable on any other condition than a conviction by a court. One could name a great many bad principles. I wonder does the Deputy consider it a good principle that pensions should be capable of being used as a kind of war-chest for conspiracy against the State, and that persons drawing money from taxation, drawing money out of the people's pockets, should be free simply to pool that money as a war-chest against the people, and be in a position to defy the Dáil and the Government and everybody else, short of such evidence being adduced against them as would ensure six months' imprisonment and upwards?
Mr. O'HIGGINS: I am not talking to the Deputy. I am talking to the Ceann Comhairle with reference to Deputy O'Connell's remarks. That, as I say, is a principle I would very much like to have the Deputy's opinion upon. Pensions are ex gratia in the gift. The Act that was passed here does not simply impose an obligation to confer pensions on all who are eligible. They are ex gratia in the gift. The position was that, once they were given under this Act, they were revocable only on sentence of so many months' imprisonment. The present proposal is to make them revocable for cause stated by the Executive Council, with the condition of gazetting, to ensure full publicity. It is quite easy, and no doubt pleasant, for Deputy Esmonde and Deputy O'Connell to enlarge on the advisability and necessity of proving things in open court. “Bring up your evidence; table your evidence!” Both of these Deputies know as well as I do —more particularly Deputy Esmonde— that the class of offence which is endeavoured to be met and endeavoured to be guarded against by this Bill frequently does not admit of the production of the evidence. There are frequently very many and very serious reasons against such production. Last December 24 N.C.O.'s were dismissed from the Army. They were rightly dismissed. They were not dismissed on suspicion; they were dismissed with the full knowledge of every member of the Executive Council.
Mr. O'HIGGINS: None whatever. They were landed out. They were rightly landed out. As I say, the action was not taken on suspicion, any more than the other dismissals which took place at that time. It would be impossible, it would certainly be highly undesirable to adduce evidence on which that action was taken. It would also be highly dangerous for individuals. The principle of enabling the Executive Council, a body with the confidence of the Dáil prima facie, a body responsible to the Dáil, subject to criticism by the Dáil, to take particular action when they consider the  circumstances warrant it, is open to criticism, and has been criticised by Deputy O'Connell and Deputy Esmonde. You have got to consider the alternative. The alternative is that pensions may be pooled and simply used as a kind of conspiratorial war-chest against the State, and the conspirators can, short of this Bill, simply defy the people and their representatives and their Government, and say: “Prove your case; get me six months' imprisonment or upwards, but, in the meantime, I draw my pension, I pool it with my fellow-conspirators, and we stand together, a menace and a challenge to the State, and we will continue our activities, suborning your Army, undermining your civil service, and plotting generally against the welfare of the people; we will continue to square up to the State in an attitude of insolent challenge while we pocket the people's money, and when the people can prove an offence against us that will get us six months' imprisonment or upwards, then we will stop pocketing their money.”
Mr. HUGHES: The only criticism that has not been answered is that of Deputy Esmonde. As far as that goes, I can only say that he is backing the wrong horse when he states that this Bill is going to be used for political purposes. Any man or any body of men that like to join any constitutional political society, or take any constitutional action, are at liberty to do so. This Bill is only aimed at people who want to take unconstitutional action, and to try to suborn the servants of the State. As far as pensions are concerned, as the Minister for Justice has said, they are ex gratia in the gift. They are given with the consent of the Minister for Finance, and recommended by the Minister for Defence. If this Bill is not passed, my opinion is that the people, who would in the ordinary way get pensions under it, will be subject  to a certain amount of delay, which perhaps would cause more annoyance. If any man wants to get his pension, all he has to do is to conform to the Constitution as laid down.
Mr. JOHNSON: Would the Minister make the position clear? Are we to understand the position now is, that you are endeavouring to pass this Bill so that you may be enabled to pay pensions which otherwise you would not pay? Is that the position?
Mr. HUGHES: No. Any man entitled under the Act to get his pension will get it, provided he has the sanction of the Minister for Defence and the Minister for Finance. That is laid down in the Act. The pension is ex gratia. The board that gives the certificates have not the last word. They give the certificate of service. The pension is given by the Minister for Defence with the concurrence of the Minister for Finance. Pensions have been held up for some little time where certificates have been given. They have been held for the purpose of making inquiries. When inquiries were made, the Minister was not satisfied that the pensions should issue, and, consequently, they were held up. If power of revocation is given, as I said, the pensions will be paid immediately.
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