IN COMMITTEE ON FINANCE. - VOTE 7—OLD AGE PENSIONS.

Tuesday, 5 July 1927

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 20 No. 5

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Mr. BLYTHE: Information on Ernest Blythe  Zoom on Ernest Blythe  I move:

Go ndeontar suim ná raghaidh [388] thar £1,758,300 chun slánuithe na suime is gá chun íoctha an Mhuirir a thiocfidh chun bheith iníoctha i rith na bliana dar críoch an 31adh lá de Mhárta, 1928, chun íoc Pinsean, a Sean-Aoise fé Achtanna na bPinsean Sean-Aoise, 1908 go 1924, chun Costaisí Riaracháin áirithe a bhaincann leo san, agus chun Pinseana fén Blind Persons Act, 1920.

That a sum not exceeding £1,758,300 be granted to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1928, for the payment of Old Age Pensions under the Old Age Pensions Acts, 1908 to 1924, for certain Administrative Expenses in connection therewith, and for Pensions under the Blind Persons Act, 1920.

Deputies will observe that there is an increase in the Estimate as compared with last year. That is due to the fact that in the present year there will be 53 Fridays, and consequently 53 pay days, instead of 52, as in the normal year. But for that fact there would have been some decrease.

Mr. T. MURPHY: Information on Timothy J Murphy  Zoom on Timothy J Murphy  I regret the Minister has not made a more elaborate statement in connection with the administration of this very important service. So far as we are concerned, this subject is a hardy annual, and is likely to be so for some time. On the last occasion when it was discussed here we had a rather definite promise from the Minister that the regulations in connection with the administration of the Act would be relaxed to some extent. That was also the feeling we had when we discussed the report of the Committee set up by the Minister. It seems to me that the attitude of pensions officers is that of endeavouring to oust every possible claimant. I endeavoured on one occasion to persuade the Minister to put the House in possession of the instructions issued to these officers, but the Minister could not see his way to do so, and perhaps his reasons were very good. The Act is being administered by the officials in a manner entirely hostile to pension claimants. The manner in which the [389] question of means is dealt with is unsatisfactory, and the over-estimating that takes place puts claimants at a great disadvantage. I am not entitled to refer to the reduction in old age pensions, but when this matter was discussed some weeks ago in various parts of the country, the argument was advanced that no change for the better could be made, because it would be said if any change were made by the Government at that time, that it was merely playing for the support that they would get as a result of it. Now that there is no question of temporary popularity involved, I suggest that the Government might take up this question of the restrictions surrounding the administration of the Act, and have them relaxed in a reasonable and equitable way.

Small farmers in particular are hit very hard by the present method of administration. That point has been stressed here on two or three occasions. The Farmers Party will bear me out when I say that the difficulty of obtaining an old age pension for a person with a small patch of land is so great that it is almost impossible for such a man to get a pension. The estimate that is put upon a few pigs, or a few hens, or a cow in some cases, is such that it does not represent their actual value. Owing to the way in which the Act is administered, thrifty people who keep their houses clean are penalised for their thrift and cleanliness when the pension officer comes to investigate their claims.

Many Government candidates during the recent election promised the electors that their efforts would be directed towards an improvement in the administration of this Act, and that they would press for the introduction of legislation making other beneficial changes in connection with old age pensions. I should like to know what will be their contribution to this debate to-day. That will be a test of the sincerity of their promises to the old age pensioners, who proved rather awkward interrupters during the election. I think the Minister does not realise the manner in which the Act is being administered [390] and the difficulties that are thrown in the way of bona fide claimants. Even if we do not make much progress, we would not be doing our duty if we did not raise this matter at every available opportunity, because it constitutes one of the most unsatisfactory phases of the administration of the Minister's Department.

Mr. LAW: Information on Hugh Alexander Law  Zoom on Hugh Alexander Law  My withers are unwrung by the concluding words of the last speaker, because, so far as I recollect, I made no promises whatever during the elections. I do not imagine that any Deputy could have felt otherwise than sympathetic with the general tenor of the Deputy's speech, nor do I imagine there will be any disinclination on the part of any Deputy to oppose the increased estimate which the Minister has introduced. I do not propose to go into the larger question which the last Deputy touched upon. We are precluded on the Estimates from dealing with any question that requires legislation. Even if it were not so, I feel that matters of that kind must be left to Ministers who have the whole facts before them, and bear the whole responsibility. I suppose nothing has gained more praise for the Government, certainly nothing else has gained more for them the respect of people like myself, who were outside the movement when the Government came in, than their extraordinary courage in facing responsibility, and their willingness to incur unpopularity in a direction where they thought the good of the country demanded it. My own respect, particularly for the Minister for Finance, is very great. I have a special reason for that, because any man who can add up two or three columns of figures three times, and make them twice agree, is a person who appears to be endowed with absolutely miraculous gifts. In addition to that, he has shown such austerity of righteousness that I am afraid some of us would almost say, “These things are too high and excellent for me, I cannot attain unto them.”

It almost seems as if a Latin poet had foreseen his coming, as Virgil is supposed in the Middle ages to have seen another. I think it must have been the [391] present Minister for Finance about when Horace wrote:

Justum et tenacem propositi virum

Neque populum ardor prava jubentium

Mente quatit solida, neque Auster.

which might be translated: “The Minister for Finance, determining to re-establish the economy of his country, listens neither to the passionate but delusive pleadings of the Labour Party, nor the windy rhetoric of Mr. de Valera.”

Major COOPER: Information on Major Bryan Ricco Cooper  Zoom on Major Bryan Ricco Cooper  Is the Deputy aware that the individual of whom Horace wrote was put to death most painfully?

Mr. LAW: Information on Hugh Alexander Law  Zoom on Hugh Alexander Law  The Minister deserves too well of his country. Admiring him as I do, I do not plead for anything like lax administration of the Act. But there is a great difference between strict administration and unsympathetic administration, and even a further difference between strict administration and obstructive administration. I am quite sure that the very last thing the Minister for Finance desires is that any old person should be deprived of the benefits which the law allows him or her by any twisting of the regulations. I am quite certain that is the very last thing the Minister would desire. I wish I were quite assured that some of his officials understand the matter in the same way. I wish I were quite as sure that some of them do not feel, when they are putting difficulties in the way of some old person, refusing information, or doing their best to cut off portion of the pension already granted, that they are doing God and the Minister service. I doubt very much if the Minister is aware of the spirit in which the Act is sometimes administered, if my information is at all correct, in certain areas.

I only ask the Minister one little thing, and it is so small that it may seem almost superfluous. I ask that he shall make his own mind very clearly understood in the matter. I am sure he has done it, but I do not think repetition will do any harm. He should [392] make this perfectly clear to his subordinates, both publicly and privately. He is responsible for this Act, and he has to bear any odium that may be incurred. He is a loyal chief and bound to defend his staff. That is all the more reason why he has a right to see that they do his will. I am convinced that is not always done. In a small way I have some knowledge of public Departments, both from the outside and, for a little while, also from the inside, and I know that officials of all grades, both high and low, are exceedingly sensitive to what they believe to be the wish of their immediate chief. They take their cue always from the man immediately above them. The Minister occupies a very high position, and he is a very long way from the humble gauger in the country who comes into contact with the applicants for old age pensions. It should be thoroughly understood right down the whole hierarchy, from top to bottom, that a person who was unnecessarily obstructive and refused information which pensioners have a right to, or who signalises his zeal by having as few old age pensioners in the district as possible, was not acting in the interests of the country, or with the approval of the Minister. It is certainly in the power of a Minister, gifted with sympathy and imagination, without straining the law in the very least, endangering the public finances in any way or going outside the authority of the Dáil, to affect the administration of this Act in a very remarkable way, as well as, incidentally, to do a very charitable act to a great number of poor people.

Mr. O'DONOVAN: Information on Timothy Joseph O'Donovan  Zoom on Timothy Joseph O'Donovan  Before I raise any jarring note on this question, I would like to say that I appreciate the action of the Minister for Finance in meeting a difficulty that was brought up when this matter was being discussed last year. I refer to parties who were unable to obtain their baptismal certificate, and where there was extreme difficulty in securing pensions for such people. I must say that after the matter was referred to I found it much easier to obtain pensions for people concerned in such cases. Like Deputy Murphy, coming from a constituency [393] comprised mostly of farms of ten or twelve acres along the seaboard, I have a grievance, that the basis of assessment of income of the holders of these small farms, to my mind, is altogether wrong. The valuation of their holdings probably is high owing to their proximity to sand and seaweed, which is of no advantage to them now. I would like that the Minister would consider that the assessment of income that obtains in Northern Ireland under the Act of 1924 should apply here. If the assessment were brought to £26 5s., as is the case in Northern Ireland, I think it would be of great benefit to our small farmers. As Deputy Murphy stated, the pension officers at present are penalising thrift. When a pension officer sees a thrifty, well-put-together little homestead—when he sees a pig or a few fowl—he deprives poor people of the pension. On the other hand, when he sees a slovenly, badly-kept house he is inclined to minimise the income, and the claimants, as a result of their carelessness and neglect, get the pension.

There is another matter that I would like to refer to. It is the case of people who are being maintained by their friends. I have endeavoured to secure pensions for some of them—people who have nobody to care for them. I know of one case where the son of an old man married into a farm. He is in fairly good circumstances, having seven or eight cows. He took in his father, who was 70 or 72 years of age. The old man had been living in a small hovel and he had not a penny to buy a bit of tobacco or whatever little necessaries he required. Because he came to live with his son, who had seven or eight cows, he is deprived of the pension altogether. This is no isolated case. I hope that the Minister will see that these old people who have been taken in by their friends and who have not a penny to fall back on will get some consideration and perhaps more equitable treatment. I do not want to see any laxity in the administration of the Pensions Act, but I would be very keen on equitable and just administration.

Mr. M. BRENNAN: Information on Michael Brennan  Zoom on Michael Brennan  I feel that I would not be doing justice to the people [394] who sent me here if I did not register my protest against the manner in which the administration of the Old Age Pensions Act is carried out in parts of Roscommon, at all events, if not in all. As some other Deputies have said, no people suffer so much in this respect as the small farmers, and particularly in the county from which I come. Our county was largely composed of ranches. Some years ago the Congested Districts Board split up these ranches and brought people from the counties Mayo and Galway and settled them on the land. They brought them from very poor places and put them into good land. That land is of very high valuation. Some of these people were, as they say, “like ducks out of water.” The place was as strange to them as if they had been transported to Montana. They did not know the system of farming there. The result is that at present many of them have no stock on the land, and, on account of the bad prices that are prevailing at present for stock, there is nobody to take the grass. I know that many of these people let their land go into meadowing last year, but they could not get anybody to purchase the hay, with the result that many of them are in a very poor state. A case of one family in particular was brought to my attention. After these people had come on to the new land whatever stock they had died of the fluke. The family consists of a grandmother, her son, his wife, and three children. The grandmother is now 72 years of age. She applied for the pension, but because the valuation of the place is high the application was turned down. When the pension officer came there he found upon the land one cow, two calves, two yearlings, two sheep, a horse and a pig. I do not know on what basis he valued her support. In any case, he refused this poor woman the pension on the question of means. The man who lived in the house had to go to England to try and earn some money, leaving behind the two women and three children, with no stock on the land except what I have mentioned. I think that is a very hard case. To my mind, it is carrying the administration of the Act much too far.

I was one of those who were called [395] to give evidence before the Old Age Pensions Commission a few years ago. At that time I thought that certain regulations would, at least, be loosened, but I am afraid, as far as our county at any rate is concerned, that the same harshness—I can call it nothing else—is to be found everywhere in the administration of the Act by the pensions officers.

With regard to the question of baptismal certificates, I have not found, as Deputy O'Donovan has found, that everything is satisfactory. In the parish that I come from the register of 1856-1861 was destroyed, and we have considerable difficulty in getting evidence as to age. Affidavits have been made, time out of mind, by three or four people who were qualified to make them, and yet the claims have been turned down. It is only by constantly keeping at them that claimants have been able to get the pension. If we are to have a Pensions Act at all, I think it ought to be operated to the advantage of every person who is entitled to the pension. I hope that the Dáil will see that those restrictions and obstacles that are deliberately placed in the way of the fair administration of the Act will be removed as early as possible.

Mr. SHEEHY: Information on Timothy Sheehy  Zoom on Timothy Sheehy  During the last election campaign a ray of hope went to the hearts of the old age pensioners through the length and breadth of the Free State, because of the statement that the Minister for Finance would, as soon as he could see that the financial position of the State had improved, give back the cut to the old age pensioners. During that campaign a most frightful propaganda was raised against the Government in regard to the old age pensions cut. Every speaker who was against the Government and its candidates attacked them mercilessly on that point. They never had the manliness to say what, in the first instance, was the cause of the cut.

AN CEANN COMHAIRLE: Information on Michael Hayes  Zoom on Michael Hayes  The Deputy will have to defend the cut at some other time. We cannot discuss the cut in the old age pensions or the [396] need for putting the money back at this particular time. The Deputy is only free to discuss the administration of the law, as it is.

Mr. SHEEHY: Information on Timothy Sheehy  Zoom on Timothy Sheehy  As one sitting on an Old Age Pensions Committee for seventeen years, I must say that we always found the manner in which the means of the pensioners was estimated most unsatisfactory and unfair. There was no uniformity. You would have one case you thought was just as bad as another. The first case got the full pension of 9/-, while the other was cut down. Furthermore, the surveyors are stepping in, where the old age pensions officers are fair. I must say from my experience in Skibbereen that we have a fair and honest old age pensions officer there, but his estimates at times are cut down by the surveyors, those in authority over him. Consequently, the old age pensioners do not get the benefit of the estimate of the pensions officer in direct contact with them. Also, there is a great cause of complaint with regard to appeals coming up to Dublin. The appeals in almost every instance go against the committees, and as a result the committees. are almost in despair with regard to their administration. I hope the Minister for Finance will go deeply into this question—it affects many households through the Saorstát—and see that justice and fair play will be meted out to the veterans of the country.

I must certainly congratulate the Government in as far as they are anxious—I know it from the Minister's statement—to come to the rescue of the old age pensioners. I am sorry I cannot go into the thing and prove, as far as my experience and knowledge go, that the Government during the last campaign under this heading was grossly maligned and slandered.

Several Deputies rose.

AN CEANN COMHAIRLE: Information on Michael Hayes  Zoom on Michael Hayes  The Chair is confronted with an embarrassment of choice in regard to Cork Deputies. We will have to choose Cork men in the order which seems best at the moment. Deputy O'Gorman.

[397]Mr. O'GORMAN: Information on David Leo O'Gorman  Zoom on David Leo O'Gorman  In the County of Cork, which you just mentioned, subcommittees are very carefully constituted. The parish priest and ministers of all denominations have invariably been placed on them. The other members of the committees have also been very carefully considered when appointments are being made. Despite that fact, their recommendations are very often turned down, and I think more care should be exercised before recommendations, coming from such men, are turned down. I am a member of the Old Age Pensions Committee. I admit that I am a bad attendant, but I know some cases of very great hardship. Perhaps it may not be very desirable to discuss individual cases here, but I will mention one. It is a case of a woman who has not reached seventy years of age. Though not totally blind, she is so blind as to be unable to carry on her trade as a dressmaker. She is very old; as well as I can remember, she is well over sixty.

In addition she has lost a leg, is quite helpless and unable to support herself. The recommendation came from the local Committee which included the parish priest and the rector. It was turned down. A second recommendation was sent up which was again turned down, and in a very long experience I have come across very few persons who I thought were more deserving of receiving this pension. As I said, it is perhaps not desirable to discuss other individual oases more than to enunciate one case of very great hardship. I think it is regrettable that the pensions officer and the other higher officials who examined this woman were not more sympathetic. I hope the Minister will take a note of my remarks and perhaps some little benefit might be derived by this woman as a result.

Mr. JINKS: Information on John Jinks  Zoom on John Jinks  I agree with the previous speakers with regard to the tightness of the Department in granting pensions to the old. I happen to be the Chairman of the Old Age Pensions Committee in Sligo, and I find the pensions officers there more than strict with regard to the granting of old age pensions. Under the old regime if a clergyman of any denomination testified that to the best of his opinion and [398] belief a person was the age that pension was sanctioned. Nowadays, they have to get two old age pensioners to come in from the country perhaps; they have to bring them before a peace commissioner and swear solemnly before him that they are the age. He will not take it that to the best of their belief they are the age. They must swear solemnly and firmly that they are the age. Then after making this affidavit the person who is making the application for the pension has to pay for stamps for the affidavit. As a member of this Pensions Committee I would ask this Department to advise the pensions officers in the country to look into the cases more carefully before refusing a case. We have in the pensions officers young men perhaps of very little experience with regard to the value of the produce of a farm of land. They make an estimate perhaps at a figure which might be all right in the past, but which is not all right at present. I strongly advocate here that more care should be taken with regard to applications for old age pensions than is taken at present, and I, therefore, hope that the Minister will advise his pensions officers to be more lenient with the aged and infirm.

Mr. QUILL: Information on Timothy Quill  Zoom on Timothy Quill  Much as I would like to follow the trend of Deputy Sheehy's speech, I am afraid I also will have to keep to the question of the administration of the present Act. I would like to protest, with the other Deputies who have spoken on these lines, against the manner in which the cases have been dealt, with by the pensions officers. The present methods adopted by pensions officers are the methods of income tax collectors. I hold the methods of the present pensions officers show complete absence of any human considerations or human factors. We have many instances, as quoted here by different Deputies and by individuals throughout the country. Members of Pensions Committees could keep quoting individual cases. Owing to the manner in which pensions officers have dealt with cases there are extremely hard circumstances, and people have been turned down on the most trivial excuses.

[399] Deputy O'Gorman pointed out the position with regard to Pensions Committees. I would like to support him in that, and I go further and say that because of the methods of pensions officers in appealing against honest decisions of committees we have come to a pass in the country where we find it very hard to get people to attend on Pension Committees. When people like clergymen and others, who devote almost their whole attention, who are interested locally in their parishes and areas, who know the whole circumstances and position of the different families, find that their honest recommendations are turned down and believe that the spirit as well as the letter of the Old Age Pensions Act is not being carried out, it is no wonder that we cannot get people to attend the Old Age Pensions Committee. I would like that the Minister in his reply here to-day would concede the point that, at least for the future, we will not have the position that a pension officer will act in the spirit of the detective, or something in the spirit of people who believe that everybody is against them and that nobody is looking for a pension on honest or legal grounds, that every applicant is trying to get a pension by means that are not legal or honest. I would like that the Minister would make that position clear; and that, as a result, we would not have the regulations administered in a strict and harsh manner as they are at present, and that there would be some consideration and more leniency for the claimants who are entitled to a pension.

Mr. JOHN DALY: Information on John Daly  Zoom on John Daly  I find myself in full agreement with the other Cork Deputies who have spoken in this debate. When the pension officer goes to a small farmer and sees four or five cows he refuses a claim. In the majority of cases he can see about ten children, and he ought to allow for these large families. You will have the farmer with his wife in such a case, struggling, trying to rear those children. The pension officer will make no allowance for the big family. Still, he will make an allowance for the three or four hungry old cows. That is a matter [400] that the Minister for Finance should take into account. I agree with Deputy O'Gorman on the matter of blind pensions.

Mr. BAXTER: Information on Patrick Francis Baxter  Zoom on Patrick Francis Baxter  It is seldom you agree with him.

Mr. DALY: Information on John Daly  Zoom on John Daly  It is seldom I do, but still there are some things on which I agree with him. Now, in this matter of the blind pensions, we have the fact that the special doctor who examines the applicants only comes around annually or quarterly. I think that the local dispensary doctor or some other doctor should be in power to examine them pending the time when the Act suggested by Deputy Johnson to the Minister for Industry and Commerce is passed. I suggest that the local doctor's certificate should be taken in those cases and if the local doctor certifies that a man, owing to blindness or partial blindness, is unable to work or carry on his trade or business, that should be sufficient to get the claimant his pension. It has been pointed out that the pensions committees have very little say in the matter of granting the pensions, because, as a rule, they are flouted. When they recommend the full pension, it is reduced to 4/-, 3/-, or perhaps 2/-. The reason given is that the small farmers may have six or seven cows, and if he is a hard-working man he is penalised. I think all these things should be revolutionised by the Minister for Finance, and that a new rule for assessing pensions should obtain in the future, especially after all the promises made at the late election, and made even by the West Cork Deputies.

Mr. FALVEY: Information on Thomas Falvey  Zoom on Thomas Falvey  By all Cork Deputies?

Mr. DALY: Information on John Daly  Zoom on John Daly  Yes, by all Cork Deputies. I was successful when this matter of a reduction of the old age pensions was before the Dáil in touching the heart and evoking the sympathy of the Minister for Finance——

Mr. BLYTHE: Information on Ernest Blythe  Zoom on Ernest Blythe  I did not know the Deputy then.

Mr. SHAW: Information on Patrick Walter Shaw  Zoom on Patrick Walter Shaw  There is one grievance I would like to bring forward here, and that is with reference to applicants who cannot obtain their birth certificates. I [401] do not know if the people in the constituency which I represent have been more unfortunate than others in the matter of their inability to procure their birth certificates, but I know of my own personal knowledge that a very large number of applicants in my constituency failed to obtain their birth certificates. The next procedure then is that they get persons in their neighbourhood to come in and make a declaration before a Peace Commissioner to the effect that these people have reached the age of 70 years. I have myself taken innumerable affidavits from very respectable people who, I have no doubt whatever, were proving what they believed to be true. I am, however, very sorry to say that very few of these have been successful in obtaining the pension. I think that is a matter which deserves investigation. All these applications are sent on here to Dublin, and they are invariably turned down. I can verify that, because many of these affidavits have been taken before myself.

The other matter to which I wish to refer is a very important one. It is the objection on the ground of maintenance. In the constituency which I represent there is a considerable number of farmers with very small holdings, and in some cases where a man who is holding forty acres thirty acres are practically useless. A pensions officer, going out there and seeing that a man has a holding of 30 acres, is inclined to think that the man has a fine holding, and that it is one out of which he could make a good living. In nearly all these cases the claimants receive only three or four shillings a week. I feel that in these cases the pension officers ought really be directed to be more sympathetic. Unfortunately, as it happens, their sympathies are more with the Department of Finance than they are with the people who are claiming the pensions. These are two matters that I wish to stress very strongly, and which I urge should be investigated by the Minister. Undoubtedly, these two causes have been the means whereby many people who are entitled to their pensions have failed to receive them.

[402]Mr. KEYES: Information on Michael J. Keyes  Zoom on Michael J. Keyes  I think quite sufficient has been said to place on record the feelings of the country, generally as represented by the Deputies who have spoken here to-day as to the dissatisfaction that is felt throughout the length and breadth of the country, with the unsympathetic attitude to old age of the officials administering this Act. It does not need any further stressing from me to point out the hardships that have been inflicted on small farmers in connection with the old age pensions. That aspect of the question has been already dealt with fully. There is, however, one point that I would like to mention, and that is, the matter of the pension from the industrial workers' point of view. The administration of the Pensions Act has operated as a very definite preventive of thrift, that thrift which is sought to be encouraged by other Government Departments in the country to-day. The administration of this Act, so far as the industrial workers are concerned, is a sort of wet blanket and a damping down of the efforts of those who seek to provide for their declining years. The failure to make a fair valuation of the hungry cattle, or the hungry pigs is one thing. You are up against the difficulty of making a correct assessment in the case of the worker working for a weekly wage or who has any kind of an income. I am afraid I am getting on thin ice, but I think that this is one of the things that calls for the attention of the Minister. Those who are administering this Act should not act as a damper on habits of thrift amongst the industrial workers.

I am not going to say anything further, because sufficient, I think, has been said on the point of the administration. I hope the Minister will give his attention to these matters to which I have referred and that he will give some thought to the position of the industrial worker so far as claimants for old age pensions are concerned.

Mr. CARTER: Information on Michael Carter  Zoom on Michael Carter  As a Deputy representing one of the poorest constituencies in the Saorstát, I wish to join with the many speakers in condemnation of the manner in which the Old Age Pensions Act has been administered. [403] I have been a member of Old Age Pensions Committees for many years. In the earlier stages the pensions officers used to attend all the meetings. For a number of years the pensions officer does not attend the meetings. I would say that more mutual intercourse between the pensions officers and the Committees would be advisable. I would ask the Minister to instruct the officers to attend the meetings of the Committee with a view to more amicable agreement. In the County of Leitrim, at the present time, there are no such holdings as have been described here to-day. None of the farmers there has 40 or 50 acres. It is a case of 15 to 20-acre holdings and in many instances only l/-, 2/-, 3/-, or 4/-, is all that is granted to the applicant. Perhaps in the whole County Leitrim not one in a thousand persons is in receipt of the full pension.

Mr. J.T. WOLFE: Information on Jasper Travers Wolfe  Zoom on Jasper Travers Wolfe  In common with my fellow Deputies from all over County Cork I feel this is a subject in which we are vitally interested. I regret I cannot join with Deputy Sheehy in congratulating the Government on its treatment of this subject. He has mentioned that he sat on an Old Age Pensions Committee for seventeen years. My submission to the House is that that is an operation which might now cease and must cease if the Government wishes to regain its popularity. Old Age Pensions Committees have been too long sat upon. I join with Deputy Murphy and the Deputies who followed him; I endorse and confirm every word that he has said as to the manner in which the old age pensions regulations are being carried out. They are being carried out in a spirit of marked hostility towards the old age pensioners. That is not the spirit that should prevail. On the contrary, the regulations ought to be carried out in a spirit of friendliness and kindliness, in a charitable spirit, towards the old men and the old women who have reached a late stage, of life. I expect it is not open to discuss any reduction at this stage, but another time will come when that matter will be open to discussion. [404] Until it is open to discussion, and until the regulations are carried out in a far different spirit, the Government will remain, as it is to-day, in a minority.

Mr. T.J. O'CONNELL: Information on Tomas O'Connell  Zoom on Tomas O'Connell  When he is replying, I would like the Minister to indicate what amount of discretion is allowed to the local pensions officer in the matter of appeals. It seems to me that practically every case in which there is the slightest element of doubt is appealed against by the local pensions officer, and it would look as if the local pensions officer is anxious to shove on the responsibility to those above him, to throw the onus on the Department in deciding for or against a particular pension. Replying to me last December relative to the recommendations of the Committee set up to look into the administration of the Old Age Pensions Acts, the Minister stated that many of those recommendations were being substantially met by administrative Acts or modifications of procedure. I do not know if it is the experience of other Deputies, but so far as I have been able to discover there has not been very much of a change. Undoubtedly there was some change, but it is not very substantial. There is one recommendation which, if carried out fully, would be useful. It is that which states that when the Department are not satisfied with the replies sent up touching on evidence of age, the case should be referred back to the Pensions Committee with specific questions referring to matters upon which they are not satisfied. That is not generally done, and if it were it would help very considerably in the administration of these cases in which there is difficulty or an impossibility in providing definite documentary evidence of age. The Committee recommended certain alterations with regard to forms and this was one. Another was connected with cases where the Committee differed from the pension officer, and it was suggested that a detailed statement of the facts on which they based their decision should be submitted. They should specify the nature of the efforts made by the local Committee to procure evidence, and the nature of their general investigations. I do not know that that [405] has been carried out. It would be helpful if it were.

As regards blind pensions, the Minister might tell us what exactly are the statutory conditions. It seems to me that they are almost impossible of fulfilment. A case came under my notice recently where a person got a certificate from the Eye and Ear Hospital, Dublin, in which, after setting out in technical language the state in which he found the man's eyes, the doctor mentioned that glasses were no improvement and that eyesight was essential for the nature of the work in which the man was engaged. The local dispensary doctor examined the applicant and mentioned that he was totally unfit to earn a livelihood owing to defective vision and that he had only a bare perception of light in each eye. A month afterwards the man was again examined and the report then made was that he did not fulfil the statutory conditions as to blindness. I understood the statutory conditions were such that a person would not be able to earn his or her livelihood owing to blindness, and that particular condition was definitely stated in the certificates of two doctors in relation to the case I have mentioned. There has been a good deal of complaint in the country as to the administration of the Blind Pensions Act. One of the recommendations of the Old Age Pensions Committee had to do with this matter. I would like to hear from the Minister what progress has been made towards giving effect to that recommendation as contained in paragraph 50 of the Old Age Pension Committee's Report.

AN LEAS-CHEANN COMHAIRLE:  took the Chair.

Mr. MORRISSEY: Information on Daniel Morrissey  Zoom on Daniel Morrissey  I would like the Minister to let the House know—Deputies are entitled to know—exactly how much or how little of the report submitted by the Committee has been given effect to. From time to time the Minister has told us here that certain recommendations had been given effect to. We do not know what the recommendations were. One of the recommendations which to me, as a member of the Old Age Pensions Committee, was most important, was the recommendation [406] that the pension officer should attend the meetings of the Pensions Committee and give the Committee his reasons for allowing or disallowing a claim. The Committee recognised that if this were done it would facilitate the matter a great deal and bring about a better understanding between the pension officer and the Committee. So far as we could gather at the meetings of the Committee, there is practically no contact between the Pensions Committee and the pension officer. It seems to me the pension officer is more of an excise officer, and he looks on pensions as merely part-time work; he only gives his attention to it when he has time from his duties as excise officer. Most of the points that one could touch upon have already been mentioned. What has been said so well and often as regards the conditions in Cork would apply equally to most other counties. Will the Minister tell us how much of the Committee's report has been given effect to?

I would like if the Minister would also say when he proposes to honour a promise he made in the last Dáil with regard to introducing legislation to alter the law in regard to blind pensions. The Minister will recollect that he admitted here over twelve months ago that the regulations were unduly harsh, and he expressed the belief that they should be changed. He promised to do so, and I hope another twelve months will not elapse before that very desirable change is made. The Minister ought to be in a position to say when he will be able to introduce the necessary legislation.

Mr. W. DUFFY: Information on William Duffy  Zoom on William Duffy  I would like to add my voice to the statements of other Deputies in reference to the matter before the Dáil. No more beneficial Act was ever passed for the benefit of the poor people of this country than the Old Age Pensions Act, and the people are deeply grateful for the benefits conferred by it. Many poor persons are in their homes to-day who would be in the throes of great distress and misfortune were it not for the relief given to them by that Act. It is a pity that anything should mar its effect on the minds of the people. Undoubtedly [407] the way in which it has been administered by the local officials representing the Government of this country has to a great extent limited the benefits which it was supposed to bring into the homes of the people.

Local pensions committees have given deep and serious consideration to all that could be said in favour of applicants when they came before these committees. The members go to considerable pains in order to attend the meetings; they make a sacrifice of time to attend there; clergymen leave their ministerial duties, public men leave their shops, and farmers leave their farms on the appointed day to make a genuine investigation into the merits of the claims which come before them. It strikes me, as it must strike all people who have given thought to the matter, that it is extraordinary that so many decisions given in favour of applicants after careful consideration by the committees have been upset afterwards on the flimsiest grounds by the officers representing the Government. The grounds advanced by these officers in upsetting decisions of local committees have been dealt with here to-day, and I am not going to traverse that ground again.

There are many poor people whose places of residence have changed during the course of recent years from one part of the country to another, and, because in the transfer, the valuation of their holdings was considerably enlarged as compared with that of the land they previously occupied, they were disqualified to receive an old age pension. That is most unfair. The basis of these complaints has been dealt with, and I hope that the Minister at the head of that Department will give grave consideration to the matter. There are many poor people who have lost their eyesight and who have attained the age which would qualify them for a pension, but for some flimsy reason the local officer overrides the decision which the local committee had given after due consideration. I desire to protest against that.

Serious complaints reach all public men in regard to the way in which the decisions of local committees have been [408] treated. Things have reached such a pass that to my knowledge a number of people who have sacrificed their time to attend such committees, are considering whether it is worth while losing their time in that way, in view of the fact that their decisions are subsequently overruled. I take advantage of this opportunity to impress on the Minister the seriousness of this question. It is one of the most serious questions that could come before the Dáil. Large numbers are in enjoyment of the pension, and others in the same neighbourhood consider that their claims are equally worthy of consideration, yet, by reason of a small or technical point, their claims are frequently overruled. That creates a feeling of dissatisfaction, whereas I think it is desirable that a spirit of gratitude should reign in the minds of the people in regard to the benefits conferred by the Act.

Mr. A. BYRNE: Information on Alfred Byrne  Zoom on Alfred Byrne  Frequently during the last four years, when the Estimates have come before us, members in every part of the House have protested against the continuance of the method adopted by the local officers in estimating the income of claimants to old age pensions. The methods that have been adopted are the most unfair that have ever been put into operation by any Government or Government department. Everything that is humanly possible to do to whittle down the miserly allowance to three or four shillings is being done every day in the week in the case of almost every claim. I drew attention some time ago to a case in which a young man took an old man, a relative, out of an institution and gave him a bed in his house. When making a claim for an old age pension, in order to get that old man some little comfort, he found that a pension of five shillings a week was allotted, as the officer said that the claimant had four shillings a week income, owing to the fact that the bed which his relative gave him could not be secured under four shillings a week.

I do not think that the Dáil, the Minister, or his officials, when allowing these regulations to go through, thought for a moment that such [409] methods would be adopted to whittle down allowances. I will continue to protest against these methods at every available opportunity. Like other Deputies, I think that the time has arrived to alter the regulations and to see that some fairer treatment is given to our aged citizens than that meted out to them at present. Regarding blind pensions, I was informed some time ago that there is a rate for local authorities which it is at their option to fix for the upkeep of blind people. I understand that in different districts they adopt different rates.

That is very unfair to blind people. I think there should be a definite rate fixed by the Dáil or the Minister, and it should not be left optional to one Council to give a small sum, whereas an adjoining Council contributes a larger sum. That system encourages people to try and find a residence in the area in which the larger sum is paid. I think there should be a level rate, and I hope that the Minister, in the near future, will see that that level rate is put into operation. I also hope that he will take an early step to see that the grievances of blind persons are remedied. They have complained for many years, and the Minister admitted twelve months ago that they had grievances and that steps should be taken at an early date to remove them. The recommendations of the Commission are in the hands of the Minister for something over twelve months, and I think it is time he should put forward his proposals to deal with them. If he does, I am satisfied he will be supported by every Party in the House in putting them into operation. Quite recently the blind people made up their minds to draw attention to their grievances by nominating candidates to contest constituencies in the Saorstát. It was considered by many people that they were right in that action. The Minister, I understand, is aware of the grievances of the blind. Last year he was most sympathetic, and told us that at an early date he would have these grievances attended to. I hope he will speed up a settlement in the matter and see that further cause of complaint is removed.

Mr. M. DOYLE: Information on Michael Doyle  Zoom on Michael Doyle  So much has been [410] said on every phase of the administration of the old age pensions that there is no occasion for me to detain the House more than for a few moments. A great deal of stress has been laid on the high and erroneous assessment made by some pensions officers. I am not surprised at this, for these pensions officers are mostly from the towns and never had the opportunity of living in the country and so being enabled to place a proper value on the small farmsteads, cattle, etc. It may be said that in most cases inspectors follow with more knowledge, but an inspector does not follow in every case. In some instances, an applicant is turned down on the valuation of the pensions officer. In some cases that I know, I would say that the erroneous and unfair assessment made by the pensions officers is merely due to an incapacity to value. That is a phase of the question that has not been touched on. I hold that in nearly every case where there is an appeal on assessment some inspector should follow. I wish to emphasise the remarks of Deputy O'Donovan relative to unfortunate people who are taken in by friends to relieve them and to keep them from pauperism. Many of these people have followed trades and other occupations as long as they were able to. When they had spent their little earnings or savings and were practically on the verge of pauperism, they were taken in by some friend or relative who, perhaps, had no obligation whatever in regard to keeping them. The value of the assistance given to these people by their friends is sometimes valued to the full amount of the pension they would be entitled to, and in this way they are deprived of a pension.

I know cases where this has been done. I know people who were forced to take lodgings in some small hovel and keep away from their friends in order to get pensions. I do not think that is the spirit in which the Act should be administered. That is an aspect of the question that should be taken into consideration by the Minister. When people are maintained by friends who have no obligation to do so, but just in order to keep them from [411] the taint of pauperism, they should not be deprived of their right to a pension. It is extremely difficult to get the blind pension. We had a case in County Wexford that we could prove up to the hilt. Two dispensary doctors certified that the applicant could not do any work for which eyesight was required, and that was backed by an eye specialist. An inspector from the Department came along, but he would not agree that the person was entitled to the blind pension. I think a case such as that shows unfair treatment. A second attempt was made in the case of this person to secure the pension and the same evidence was again brought forward, but the pension was refused, although the person was on the verge of 70 years of age and, as a matter of fact, she is now drawing the old age pension. I hope the Minister will take into consideration the remarks I have made.

Mr. DAVIS: Information on Michael Davis  Zoom on Michael Davis  I desire to be associated with the other Deputies in the remarks they have made on this subject. I come from a county that does not claim to be very rich, and in which there are many poor and infirm people, but at the same time I do not want to parade our poverty or the poverty of the people generally. On behalf of the people who sent me here I join with the other Deputies in entering a protest against the administration of the Old Age Pensions Act. I wish to impress on the Minister the desirability of taking the earliest opportunity of effecting an improvement in the manner in which the Act is being administered. It is an excellent Act, but we have reason to complain of the manner of its administration, which is certainly not the kind one would desire. One can only conclude from the way it is administered by the pensions officers that they are sent around the country, not for the purpose of doing justice, but to deny to the people the rights to which they are entitled. That is my experience as a member of more than one Pensions Committee, and it is the feeling of those who have had experience of the Committees that they might as well not exist at all. As a [412] result of our experience from representations made to the Department and the different officials concerned we can only conclude that a deaf ear has been turned to our representations and that they have been treated almost with contempt. That is the reason why I stand up to enter my protest with the other Deputies who have spoken on this matter. Members of these Committees have had painful experiences indeed from time to time at their meetings. It is doubtless recognised that the Committees set up and selected are from the most representative and most respectable people in the community. The representations made by them should certainly carry weight with any department. From the experience we have had in the west of Ireland we can only come to one conclusion, that it is for the purposes of economy this is done. But it is at the expense of a most deserving section of the people that that economy is carried out, and carried out regardless of the consequences to these people. I hold in my hand a resolution which has been forwarded to me as a representative of that constituency, desiring me to take the earliest opportunity of entering my protest against the way the Act is administered. I do so this evening, and in joining with the other Deputies in the House in making that protest, I hope it will have the desired effect. We hope that when we appeal to the Minister for Finance that we shall not be appealing to him in vain, and that our appeal will not fall on deaf ears. Otherwise I fear that the experience of the Government in the future will be something that will teach them that the people cannot stand indifference all the time. On that point I might say that we are looking for nothing except for fair administration. We do look for that, and we appeal for it. I venture to say that if the public do not feel convinced that the Department is determined to receive its recommendations with consideration, then it would be better that the Old Age Pensions Act should be known by some other name.

Mr. ANTHONY: Information on Richard Sidney Anthony  Zoom on Richard Sidney Anthony  The methods in connection with the administration of [413] this Act have been criticised fairly generally. Personally, I am rather glad that that criticism has not been confined to these benches solely. The officers have been criticised, and it has been suggested that they are out of touch and sympathy with the spirit that animated the passing of this Act. It has also been suggested that the Minister himself would not stand over this kind of thing or this class of conduct on the part of certain people who are administering the Act. I do not want to throw doubt on that suggestion, but, at the same time, I feel that the officers of the Department would not continue to pursue a class of conduct which they believed would, in any way, warrant admonishment on the part of their superior officers. Now these methods have, by general agreement, been such as to negative much at least of the good in the Act. I do not want to take up the time of the House criticising, at further length, its administration, seeing that nearly all that could be said has been said. I would ask the Minister, however, to give the House an assurance that the point touched upon by Deputy Keyes will be borne in mind, namely, that some legislation will, at an early date, be introduced ensuring to a thrifty workman or woman full pension, irrespective of anything in the nature of superannuation that may have accrued to them through contributions to their trades union or other institutions, insurance offices, etc., for the rainy day. Can the Minister assure the House that at an early date he will see that legislation is introduced to that effect.

AN LEAS-CHEANN COMHAIRLE:  The Deputy must confine himself to the administration of the law as it stands.

Mr. ANTHONY: Information on Richard Sidney Anthony  Zoom on Richard Sidney Anthony  I have nothing further to add, except to say that I find myself in agreement with everything that has been said from these benches with regard to the administration of the Act.

Mr. M. CONLON: Information on Martin Conlon  Zoom on Martin Conlon  I cannot agree with everything that has been said by a number of Deputies with regard to the administration of the Old Age Pensions Act. A great complaint is that the pensions officers are very strict. I [414] would say that they are necessarily very strict, and that it is very essential that they should be very strict. We ought to be honest about this thing and realise that if you had not strict pensions officers the estimate we would be considering to-day would be one not for two and a half million pounds, but probably one for ten million pounds. All the people of the country are not as honest as some Deputies here would have us believe. A very considerable amount of deceit would be practised if the pension officers were found to be in any way soft. The same thing, I think, applies to the Pension Committees. Complaint is made that the recommendations of the Pension Committees are not given the consideration which they deserve. There may be some Pension Committees that act reasonably in connection with these claims, but I think it will be agreed that, taking them all round, if you had not a check on the recommendations of the Pension Committees, the Estimate we would be considering to-day would be even more than ten millions. I would not like that it should go forth that the pension officers should be encouraged to become lax in the duty which they have to perform. I agree, at the same time, that the question of estimating means is not exactly as I would like it in some cases. At the same time, I know that the desire of the Department is to be absolutely fair in connection with this matter. As regards some cases to which I drew attention myself, the Department sent down special inspectors, and in a number of these cases the result was satisfactory.

With regard to the proof of age, I know that affidavits have been sent up to myself in connection with cases that were not affidavits at all, but the people believed, and genuinely believed, that they would be of some use, whereas they really did not prove anything. Subsequently they were instructed how to draw up affidavits properly, and when these were forthcoming, wherever a proper case arose out of them, I never found any difficulty in having the cases thoroughly investigated and fair play given to particular applicants. It is only fair and just [415] that we should not allow it to go forth that the pensions officers are all that has been stated, and that they are all anxious to deprive claimants of what they are justly entitled to. If that were so no one would think of saying anything except in condemnation of it, but I think it is only fair that we should give them certain support in the Dáil in the very unpleasant work which they have to perform. A great many of them are not what they are painted. They really do their best in the interests of the people, but, of course, they have also to look to the interests of the State and to see that people who are not really entitled to pensions under the law do not get them.

Mr. O'DOHERTY: Information on Eugene Doherty  Zoom on Eugene Doherty  I hope that when the Minister comes to reply he will give the House some information with regard to the recommendations of the Committee that was appointed to deal with this old age pension question. There was one recommendation made by the Committee, which in my opinion, would largely solve many of the difficulties that now exist for claimants who are illiterate, and that is that the local Pensions Committee be compelled to state, in writing, the grounds upon which they give a pension, when it is given; and, secondly, that after correspondence when a decision is given that it should be sent to the Committee and not to the claimant. It is a fact in West Donegal, and I believe in some other places, that the question upon which most of these pensions are submitted on appeal, is on the ground of age. We all know the difficulties surrounding age, and I suggest that no person is in a better position than the members of the local Committee, to give the reasons which induced the Committee to say that the person claiming was the age. There is then another recommendation of the Committee; it may be that in some respects it is being carried out, but it would be well that it should be entirely carried out and that is that the pensions officer should attend meetings of the local Committees so that he should have definite knowledge of the grounds on which the claims are made and upon which the Committee acts. Outside of [416] these things the work during the last twelve months, so far as I know it, and I certainly have had wide experience., has been carried out efficiently by the pensions officers and by the decisions of the Department.

Mr. McMENAMIN: Information on Daniel McMenamin  Zoom on Daniel McMenamin  It is almost superfluous to add anything to what has been said by Deputies who have spoken. One has only to crystallise everything said to arrive substantially at three facts. The first is that apparently there is only one burning question at the moment in Cork, and that is the old age pension question; the second is that so far as any grave question for decision with regard to the local committees is concerned, they might as well not exist at all, because, apparently, when it comes to any sort of a grave issue of fact between the Committee and the pensions officer and the Department, the opinion of the Pension Committee is always turned down. I think it was Deputy Shaw said that in these appeals the general rule is that the appeal goes against the applicant. The next thing is that it is apparently clearly admitted from the discussion that there is conflict in the administration. We have heard a speech from Deputy Law that would make anyone blush, that, so far as the Minister was concerned, he might go to his subordinates and tell them to be more generous in the administration of the Act. From the same benches we had the speech of Deputy Sheehy, which was an energetic defence of the administration of the Act. You have only to take these two speeches to arrive at a clear conclusion that there is difference in the administration of this Act. I think it would be a good thing for the Committee and for the country to be assured by the Minister that there was a definite formula and programme of administration that was being applied by the officers carrying out the Act in the country.

It may well be that the complaints that were made by numerous Deputies this afternoon are due to the fact that there is no co-ordinate and uniform system of instruction given to the pensions officers as to how they should administer the Act—for example, how they should value certain farms and [417] certain stock. Is it that it is left to each officer to form his own opinion and form his own conclusion as to the question of means?

Now there is another matter; it was dealt with practically by every speaker, and I wish to deal with it lastly; that is the question of age. Apparently there are very numerous complaints upon this matter. I know that applies not only to certain counties, but apparently is general. I am not to be taken as stating that there should be wholesale admission of people to the pension about whose ages there is doubt, but surely it is a great hardship that persons who are clearly over the age of 70 are prohibited from getting the pension, because owing to, some technical defect they cannot produce the document or documents to prove their age. I think it would be very satisfactory and eminently desirable that we should know, and that the country should know, what precisely the decision of the Minister and the Department with regard to the administration of this part of the Act is. Further than that I have nothing to add.

Mr. T.J. LAWLOR: Information on Thomas Lawlor  Zoom on Thomas Lawlor  I should like to say one or two words in appreciation of the efforts made here to-day by Deputies to see if some improvement could be made in the future administration of the Old Age Pensions and the Blind Persons Acts. I should like to mention a very definite case, and I trust the Minister will reply and say what his intentions are in the matter I am about to mention. I take the case of persons who are engaged in an avocation, say, for forty or fifty years. The result of continuous labour in that avocation entails an extreme strain upon the sight so that after a long period they are unable to continue further in employment. Such a person seeking a pension because of blindness is refused by those in authority because of the fact that probably or possibly they could obtain employment in some other avocation. I think a more sympathetic view ought to be taken of a case of this kind. I have in mind now the industry of tailoring, where the continual strain on the eyes for a period of many years [418] renders them seriously defective. I think of all the statements made to-day in connection with pensions the one that seemed to me most hopeful was that made by Deputy Law. He exhorted the Minister to allow those in authority to understand that he was sensitive and very sensitive to have the Act administered in a sympathetic manner. While Deputy Law was cutting that new ground it was a great pity the Government benches were so empty, because if Deputies were present they might have taken courage and proved to the Minister that his party were of the same opinion as that expressed by Deputy Law which might have encouraged the Minister to convey to his officers the desires expressed by Deputy Law: I trust the Minister will take into consideration the hardships which have been briefly exposed here to-day. I have heard of only one Deputy in the House who finds no difficulty in the working of the Old Age Pensions Act. His case is not only unique in the House, but it is unique in the country. Up and down the country every person one meets has found difficulty in getting a proper administration of this Act with the exception of Deputy Conlon. I am quite sure the difficulties are appreciated. I hope that new ground is being broken by members of the Government party, and that in future the Government will arrange for a more reasonable and more sympathetic administration of the Act. I hope that the point of view will not always be that of the estimated cost, that the eyes of the Government will not always be fixed on the one-and-a-half millions to meet claims, but that a more generous treatment of claimants will result, because economy that has cost as its only consideration is mock economy.

Mr. J.J. BYRNE: Information on John Joseph Byrne  Zoom on John Joseph Byrne  I rise to speak very briefly to the Vote before the House. I do so mainly for one reason, and that is to suggest to Deputies on the opposite benches that we on the Government side of the House are as deeply sympathetic to the needs and wants of old age pensioners as they are. If there was one subject during the recent election on which there did [419] seem to be unanimity, it was that something should be done at the first available opportunity for the old age pensioners. We, on the Government side, express our sympathy with the old age pensioners, and each Deputy on this side whom I have met suggested at the earliest possible moment we should impress upon the Government the necessity of dealing with old age pensioners as sympathetically and as liberally as possible. I think that anybody who has listened to the various Deputies who have spoken on this subject must agree that there is an almost unanimous feeling that the Act has been too rigorously administered. I think I might join with my friends on the Labour benches in impressing on the Minister that that opinion is shared by many of the Deputies on the Government benches. We also join with our friends on the opposite side, in expressing the hope that when the Minister comes to reply the House will hear that there will be in future a less rigorous administration of the Act, and that where possible it will be administered with more sympathy than it has been administered in the past.

Mr. BLYTHE: Information on Ernest Blythe  Zoom on Ernest Blythe  There have been something like 26 speakers on this particular Estimate, only two of whom have had a good word for the administration of the Act. I do not think that practically any of the condemnation that has been heard of the administration is deserved. If Deputies condemn the administration, I think it is because they have not examined the matter sufficiently. A Committee of Inquiry was set up less than two years ago to examine the machinery for the determination of claims, questions, and appeals, regard being had especially to the desirability of the just and expeditious treatment of all applications. The different sides of the House were represented on the Committee, and there were also certain outsiders on it. The Committee, having heard witnesses, and having fully discussed the matter, reported that “the Committee are satisfied that pensions officers do their work with fairness, efficiency and consideration.” They added there was a certain feeling of dissatisfaction, but [420] that “the feeling mentioned cannot be ascribed to any default on their part.” I think that is not only the conclusion of the Committee, but it will be the conclusion of any Deputy who will really consider the matter.

One never gets complete satisfaction in matters of this kind. There will always be doubtful cases. There will always be a certain number of what might be described as border-line cases, but there is no desire either on the part of officials or on the part of the Government to administer the Act with undue rigour or with any harshness. So far as the appeals officer is concerned, as I explained to the previous Dáil on the Debate on the Old Age Pensions Act of 1924, which reduced the amount of the pensions, the Minister for Local Government and myself, jointly, saw the appeals officer, and the point we put to him was that consistent with the honest conscientious discharge of his duty, he should give the benefit of the doubt to the old-age pensioner. I have no reason to believe that our words did not have due weight with that officer. He had nothing to gain—either in reputation, in favour, or in money by being harsh in his treatment of the pensioners. The officer who is doing that work is paid a fixed salary and it does not matter whether he grants many pensions or grants few pensions. He has nothing to gain except by doing his duty with justice and absolute fairness.

Deputies have asked about the various recommendations of the Commission. We have not come to final conclusions with regard to every matter, but in regard to the matter which two or three Deputies have mentioned—the attendance of officers at Committees and Sub-Committees—we are carrying out the recommendations of the Committee, and an instruction has been issued to the officers to attend these Committees whenever the Committees desire them to do it, so that there may be actual verbal discussion of cases. As a matter of fact, the Committee dealt with this matter, and I might, perhaps, quote from their report:—“We have come to the conclusion that the main cause for such a feeling lies in the want of confidence and co-operation between [421] pensions officers and Committees. This want is mainly due to the non-attendance of pension officers at Committee meetings.” We are carrying out, as I have said, that recommendation of the Committee and we are instructing all pensions officers, where the Committees desire them, to attend meetings.

Mr. T.J. O'CONNELL: Information on Tomas O'Connell  Zoom on Tomas O'Connell  Would the Minister say whether Pension Committees have been informed that pension officers have been instructed to attend meetings when the Committees desire them to attend?

Mr. BLYTHE: Information on Ernest Blythe  Zoom on Ernest Blythe  Yes, that instruction has gone out. With regard to the improvement of the appeal system, we are accepting the recommendations in paragraph 30 of the report to which Deputy O'Connell has referred, and the alterations in the forms are being carried out. We do not think it is necessary actually to make new regulations for the carrying out of paragraphs 2 and 3 of recommendation 30, but what is suggested there will be done by administrative action. We have taken steps—and I do not know that anything more can be done—to secure expedition in the determination of appeals. With regard to the suggestions in paragraph 37 of the Committee's report, which dealt with the variety of ways in which claimants for pensions might be assisted, we have substantially accepted the recommendation and a leaflet of amended regulations and amended forms have been prepared. We are increasing the length of notice to a claimant from two days to five, not seven days, as suggested by the Committee.

Legislation will be introduced to enable points of law to be brought to the High Court for determination, as recommended by the Committee. We are taking steps to carry out the various recommendations of the Committee in regard to the selection and control of pensions sub-committees. A regulation is being prepared to enable the Central Authority to deal with clerks to pensions committees who are negligent, as was suggested by the Committee.

In regard to blind persons, the matter [422] has been further considered by the Department of Local Government and the Department of Finance. We hope it will be possible to introduce legislation at a very early date. We are not satisfied that we should adopt the wording suggested by the Committee. We agree the wording of the present Act is too narrow, but it is thought that the wording suggested by the Committee might, on the other hand, be too wide. The standard laid down in existing legislation is that the person must be so blind as to be unable to perform any work for which sight is essential. The suggestion of the Committee is that the Act should apply to persons who, owing to defective eyesight, are unable to follow their usual employment or any other employment for which they are fitted. That might enable a person to get a pension who, by a short course of training or without any great difficulty, might be fitted for some employment of a different nature from that which he is following. Consequently, we think the wording suggested by the Committee is somewhat too wide. However, we accept generally what we consider was the intention of the Committee—that persons should be entitled to get the blind pension if they are unable to follow either their usual occupation or some other occupation for which they might reasonably be expected to become fitted.

Mr. JOHNSON: Information on Thomas Johnson  Zoom on Thomas Johnson  The Minister will remember, when this question arises, that the applicants are fifty years of age?

Mr. BLYTHE: Information on Ernest Blythe  Zoom on Ernest Blythe  I am quite aware of that. I need not go over certain of the details that were referred to by the Commission. I think there are only about two recommendations that we will reject. The first is in regard to the publication of instructions to pensions officers. We do not reject that recommendation because there would be anything that we might hesitate to publish on account of its character. We reject it simply because the work of public officers would be made difficult if the instructions to those officers were to be published. In some cases, the work of officers would be made almost impossible. Our objection is grounded on a [423] question, of general administrative principle. The other recommendation is in regard to the retrospective effect which should be given a pension if admitted secondly, having been rejected in the first instance because age was not proven. We are trying, generally speaking, to carry out the recommendations of this Committee, with these exceptions—either in the form put forward by the Committee or in some modified form. In some cases, where the Committee suggested a regulation, we think the object could be effected simply by an administrative instruction. In general, we are trying to carry out the recommendations of the Committee.

Pensions officers have a great deal of freedom in regard to the estimation of means of applicants. They are expected to keep themselves in touch with the changes in prices. They have the power of consulting with their immediate superior, who is older and more experienced, and who is dealing with a number of pensions officers. I do not think it is possible to lay down any very rigid regulations that would guide them, because agricultural conditions differ so much in different districts. The quality of land, the productivity of land, the proximity of markets—all these things vary so much that it would be impossible to lay down any rigid regulations. The only thing that can be done is to instruct the pensions officers to be as careful as possible to make a just estimation, and to have their surveyors keep in touch with them and assist them in doing so. Nothing more occurs to me that could be done in regard to means. We cannot send out an instruction to officers that they are to estimate means at a lower figure than they have been estimating them at. We can send no other instruction to officers than to find out the facts as well as they possibly can, taking every care to be fair to the applicant. I do not see that we can do more than that. We cannot say, “Your estimates of means have been too high hitherto; you must estimate them lower in the future, and you must give more pensions.” It would be wrong for the Government to say that too few or too many pensions are being given. We [424] must take the law as we find it, and we must administer it as fairly as we possibly can and with reasonable sympathy. At the same time, we must not have the idea getting abroad amongst either the people or officials that public money may be splashed about.

In regard to proof of age there are also difficulties, but where reasonably definite affidavits are received I think they are generally accepted. In many cases I have personal knowledge of, reasonable affidavits have been accepted. There never was a time, except at the very beginning of the Act, when the word of a clergyman or of somebody like that, who believed the applicant was of age, was accepted. In the first year of the operation of the Act, that may have been the case, but it has not been the case since. It must be recognised that, in regard both to age and means, there are many people who will misrepresent the facts of the case in order to obtain pensions for themselves. We have in recent months been able to bring actions against people who had considerable sums in bank and who had obtained old age pensions. We took steps for the recovery of the pensions which had been paid.

To illustrate the need for being careful, I might mention a couple of cases that came to light in a certain part of the country quite recently. Two parish clerks had been, apparently, for a considerable number of years, in the habit of receiving bribes. They prepared false certificates, and these certificates, without investigation, were signed by clergymen, so that what the pensions officer got time after time was a certificate from a clergyman that the register showed the person to have been a particular age. As I say, these were false certificates, and in two adjoining parishes it was found that the Exchequer had been defrauded to the extent of £14,000, although every pension was given on the certificate of a clergyman, who, of course, did not take proper care to verify it. Another case in another part of the country is under investigation at present, where the same sort of thing has happened. That indicates that it is not all a one-sided business—that it is not altogether a matter of the pensions officer being [425] strict and careful in demanding proofs and keeping poor people who ought to get the pension from getting it. The pensions officer has no such instructions; he will get no credit for doing anything of the sort. But he is expected, as far as he can, to see that everybody who is entitled to get a pension gets it, and that persons who are not entitled to get a pension do not get it.

I am quite willing to do everything possible to see that the people are dealt with not only with civility and consideration, but with reasonable sympathy, but we cannot really go further than that. Some of the matters that Deputies complained of are necessary under the law. As I understand the case referred to by Deputy O'Gorman, it was undoubtedly one for very great sympathy, but I do not see that the pensions officer could have done anything else than he did. Apparently the person was not qualified for a blind pension as the law stands at present, either on account of age or on account of blindness, in spite of her need. I do not think that we can let the idea get out that officers might close the other eye, and because a case is a hard case allow the pension to go through, although it was not legal. If such an idea were allowed to go out, I believe it would spread corruption through the public service, and that is a thing we have to beware of. While we might desire that the law should be altered— and I agree in regard to blindness that the law does require alteration—as long as the law stands the officers must have regard to its provisions, and cannot be allowed to step outside it for reasons of sympathy or because of the hardness of a case. In regard to means, the same sort of thing arises. Undoubtedly, if a person is maintained, whether those maintaining him are legally bound to do so or not, the value of his maintenance must be taken into account. That is how the law stands, and no pension officer can be blamed for carrying out the law.

Mr. JOHNSON: Information on Thomas Johnson  Zoom on Thomas Johnson  Does the Minister propose to bring in any legislation to alter that provision?

Mr. BLYTHE: Information on Ernest Blythe  Zoom on Ernest Blythe  No. I think that is a [426] much more difficult matter, and the removal of the present provisions might be very costly. In regard to the discouragement of thrift, I think I might say the same thing. Undoubtedly, it may be justly argued that the present old age pensions code is to some extent a discouragement of thrift—that a person who has saved or who has been industrious may fail to get a pension, or have his pension reduced, because of his thrift or his industry. But if we removed the means disqualification, our old age pensions bill would be doubled, and perhaps trebled. I do not see that, on the whole, people would be so much better off if we had to raise anything from £3,000,000 upwards extra in taxation for the purpose of paying old age pensions. It might be even as high as £5,000,000. Undoubtedly, the removal of the thrift disqualification would increase the pensions bill enormously. Whatever may be our theories about the matter, I do not think that, as a matter of practical politics, we could contemplate doubling or trebling our old age pensions bill, and facing the increase in taxation which that would involve.

I should like to suggest to Deputies who are interested, and who may have been approached during the elections about the administration of old age pensions, that they should get a copy of this report—I could arrange to have copies made available—that they should examine it, and having examined it, I would be very glad to hear from any Deputy any suggestions that he thought fit to make. I am not anxious to keep anybody from getting the old age pension who should have it, and I am not likely to gain anything, any more than the appeals officer, to whom I have referred, by keeping the pension from anybody. I simply have the responsibility of seeing that the law is evenly administered, and that, as far as possible, fraud does not take place. I am not anxious to do any more than that—simply to prevent the taxpayer being imposed upon by the grant of pensions to people who are not entitled by law to receive them. If our code can be altered without increasing appreciably fraud or misrepresentation, then I would be glad to make the alteration [427] and to have suggestions from Deputies. I simply ask Deputies to realise that there are two sides to this question. There is the difficulty of the pensions officer in determining the good case from the bad; there is the difficulty sometimes of the genuine claimant proving his case. We try to meet the genuine claimant as far as we can. Even in cases where no affidavits can be obtained, we allow pensions to be granted on the opinion that the inspector forms after seeing the person. The only thing that I can think of that might be considered at the moment would be whether, in view of the fact that a great number of parish registers are defective and that some of the census returns have been destroyed, the number of inspectors who interview persons whose age cannot be proved might not be increased somewhat so that it might be possible for districts to be visited more frequently than at present.

AN CEANN COMHAIRLE: Information on Michael Hayes  Zoom on Michael Hayes  resumed the Chair.

Mr. BRENNAN: Information on Michael Brennan  Zoom on Michael Brennan  On the question of the assessment of means, does the Minister think that the case stated by me is a fair sample of the pensions officer's sympathy.

Mr. BLYTHE: Information on Ernest Blythe  Zoom on Ernest Blythe  I would not express any opinion like that. I would only express an opinion after hearing both sides of the case.

Mr. BRENNAN: Information on Michael Brennan  Zoom on Michael Brennan  I am prepared to stand behind the case, and several others of a similar kind.

Vote put and agreed to.


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