Thursday, 7 November 1929
Dáil Éireann Debate
Minister for Finance (Mr. Blythe): I move the Second Reading of the Bill. The matter with which it deals has been the subject of discussion, I think, on several occasions in the Dáil, and has been the subject of discussion on a couple of occasions by the Public Accounts Committee. Military service pensions are awarded following an investigation by a committee which was set up under the Military Service Pensions Act to determine the services of the applicant. The Comptroller and Auditor-General reported that he had not been allowed to examine the documents on which the decisions of the Board of Assessors were based. As I said, the Public Accounts Committee discussed it, and finally it was promised by the Government that the matter would be regularised and the dispute brought to an end by legislation. The Bill deals with one or two subsidiary matters, such as defining rank and the question of double pensions, but the main subject-matter of the Bill is this question of the proceedings and the awards of the Board of Assessors. In my view, it was never intended that the Comptroller and Auditor-General should examine the evidence on which the awards of the Board of Assessors were based. The Minister was given by the Act really no discretion in respect of this matter. It was not intended that the Minister who finally gave the pension should himself examine the evidence on which years of service were based, nor should he have any access to the evidence. The applicants who came forward were promised that the evidence submitted by them would be kept secret. I think that was necessary and that it was proper that that matter should be confidential. It relates to times of disturbance and of ill-feeling, and a great deal of damage might be done if it were possible at this time of day to have publicity given to statements that are to be found in the evidence submitted by people in  support of their claims for military service pensions.
It would be quite impossible for the Comptroller and Auditor-General to come to any conclusions on the files merely because the Board of Assessors was in fact a court. It heard oral evidence and examined written evidence. It had particular qualifications and knowledge. It weighed the credibility of witnesses in the way in which it could only be weighed by a court which had actually heard them. The object of this Bill is to put those awards of military service pensions by the Board of Assessors on the same basis. vis-á-vis the Comptroller and Auditor-General, as awards of the court. If money is paid out following an award by a court—a high court or a circuit court—the Comptroller and Auditor-General cannot examine the merits. He cannot go behind the award of the court. The intention of the Act—I have not any shadow of doubt, nor I do not know whether any doubt is felt in any quarter—was that this Board, of which a District Justice was made chairman, should hear verbal evidence, examine the written evidence submitted, and take into account all the factors of the case, form their own views of the credibility of any witness and the admissibility of any testimony, and then come to their finding. It was intended that that finding should not be reviewed by any person but the Board of Assessors, and that there should be no submission of the documents to any person outside.
This Bill will prevent further references to the Public Accounts Committee and discussions and disagreements that may take place in the Dáil. One can quite admit that it is not desirable that special committees like this should be set up and should be given, vis-á-vis the Comptroller and Auditor-General, the position that the ordinary courts have. But the work it did arose out of an abnormal and difficult period. It was a kind of work that we all hope will not have to be repeated. The need for such investigations will  not arise again. It was the only sort of tribunal, in my opinion, and in the opinion of the other members of the Government, that could have been set up and that could have satisfactorily decided the issues that were put before it to decide.
Mr. Aiken: The Minister for Finance certainly gave no good reasons to the Dáil why it should pass this Bill. If we pass this Bill we are certainly setting up a new principle in ordinary administration. According to the laws as they stand, the Comptroller and Auditor-General is supposed to audit the accounts of the Departments of the Government. That has been the case up to now, and the Minister is asking us to agree to his proposal that the Comptroller and Auditor-General should not examine the accounts of one of these Departments. This particular Department is subject, and the Minister must know it, to great suspicion throughout the country. Everything that they have done in connection with it creates more and more suspicion. When we asked for a list of the names and addresses of the pensioners, we were given a list of the names, but no addresses. We were given several hundred names for each of the counties, and, as anyone knows, there are several Paddy Murphys and Johnny Murphys, and it is impossible for anyone to find out who exactly the pensioner is who is getting the money. We got a list of names, and we tried to find out who the people were whose names were given, and very few of the people who went through the Volunteer movement in the different counties knew them. There were some names that were known throughout the country, and when we started to question ourselves as to whether or not these people deserved a pension we found in a great number of cases that they were awarded pensions for service that they had never given, and that Ministers must have known perfectly well they had never given.  Take, for instance, one name—Seán O Muirthille——
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy cannot discuss names here. That cannot be done under this Bill. If you discuss one name you can go into the whole work of the tribunal. The question at issue is whether the Comptroller and Auditor-General is to have access to the files, not whether we are now to do the work which the Comptroller and Auditor-General might do in certain circumstances.
Mr. Aiken: I submit that this is an important matter. I believe that the Comptroller and Auditor-General should have the right to examine the records. I believe that he has the right to examine the records, and if he is an honest man he certainly will turn down a lot of pensions that were awarded by the Board of Assessors. I only want to give the Dáil one or two instances which we have to prove that assertion. Otherwise, how is the Dáil to know? We make a general statement and we want to prove it.
An Ceann Comhairle: What does the Deputy think the limit should  be, therefore? How many cases should we discuss? What the Comptroller and Auditor-General does in the case of an audit is to check the accounts, but he does not turn down anybody. He brings to the attention of the Committee of Public Accounts such things as he deems ought to be brought to their attention. When the point is put to the Committee of Public Accounts, the Committee have power to go into the whole question and make a report to the House. I take it what Deputy Aiken is desirous to do now is to do here, with regard to certain persons, the work which, if the Comptroller and Auditor-General had made a report to the Committee of Public Accounts, the Committee of Public Accounts might do. If this debate is going to be a debate in which every Deputy who has an opinion with regard to a pension is going to state his views of the pensioner's rights under the Act, then the House will be asked to decide questions which it is not fitted to decide.
Mr. MacEntee: I do not think that you stated the position of the Comptroller and Auditor-General quite correctly in relation to military pensions. I think the one point that was at issue between the Public Accounts Committee and the Tribunal was the fact that the Comptroller and Auditor-General was denied access to the papers upon which the Tribunal had made its awards and that, consequently, he could not bring before the Public Accounts Committee any individual case in which he thought that the award had not been made in accordance with the Act.
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy is not saying that the Ceann Comhairle has made any statement different from what he has stated himself now. The Deputy has not indicated that what the Chair has said is different from what he said himself. The Deputy began by saying that the Ceann Comhairle did not  correctly represent the position of the Comptroller and Auditor-General.
Mr. MacEntee: I understood you to say that it was not only within the competence but the capacity of the Comptroller and Auditor-General to bring these individual cases before the notice of the Committee of Public Accounts.
An Ceann Comhairle: The Ceann Comhairle stated with reference to something said about the Comptroller and Auditor-General turning down particular cases that it is the duty of the Comptroller and Auditor-General, when he examines files or evidence of any kind which he gets or seeks for, to bring matters which he considers necessary to the notice of the Public Accounts Committee, but that he does not himself disallow pensions. Of course, I am aware that the whole point in this Bill is whether or not the Comptroller and Auditor-General ought to have access to the files. If the House decides that the Comptroller and Auditor-General ought to have access, then the particular investigation may begin. But the point would appear to me to be that the House cannot carry out the investigation which, in certain circumstances, in a particular state of the law, the Public Accounts Committee might carry out. That is the point.
Mr. MacEntee: Is not the whole purport of the Bill to prevent the Public Accounts Committee carrying out any investigation—to make absolute the findings of this Tribunal? If that is the case, surely in fairness to those who believe that such finality should not be given to these findings, we ought to be able to cite cases where the findings have not been made in accordance with the Act, or where the awards have not been justified by the facts.
Mr. Davin: I submit that the introduction of the Bill is in itself  proof that it is brought in for the purpose of regularising and legalising payments already made and proposed to be made in future.
Mr. Boland: If that is so it is all right—I agree with that. If we are not allowed to refer to particular cases, I do not know what can be said at all. We can prove, according to the Act, that pensions have been granted to people who are not entitled to them. We can also say that this is brought in in order to regularise that and to prevent any inquiry by anybody into the administration of the Act.
Mr. Flinn: I thought we got as far as that. Suppose for a moment that it was necessary in order to prove a case against this Bill that cases should be brought forward. The particulars of these cases can be given from the personal knowledge of members of the House, but unless the name to which that case refers is disclosed to somebody it is impossible that this case can be tested and, therefore, there must be  somebody to whom that name can be given. Now whether this name is to be given to the Minister for Defence, to the Ceann Comhairle, or to somebody else, if the cases are to be decided the name must be disclosed to somebody, and if we are not allowed to disclose the name to somebody we are inhibited from putting forward the only absolute proof that can be put forward against the Bill. That is the difficulty.
Mr. Carney: I would like to point out, bearing out what Deputy Flinn has just said, that we cannot give the addresses because we have not been provided with them. We are not allowed to use the names; we have merely a number of names of men and amounts in bulk, and there are so many pensions of the same amount that it would be impossible even to specify any particular case by the amount, so that we have neither the names nor the addresses nor the amounts.
An Ceann Comhairle: That there should be a number of cases clearly identified and discussed in the House? I want to get this quite clearly, because I have made up my mind as to what I think would be reasonable on the Bill. I know the difficulty there is and I want to meet the difficulty to the fullest possible extent. Deputy Carney's point is that the name and particulars may be given by any Deputy regarding a particular person enjoying a pension?
Mr. Briscoe: The point I want to make is: Pensions are paid as a result of a certain Act. The amount of the pensions paid to certain  individuals is based upon certain specific service. Now there is nothing in the Act which suggested when it was passed through this House that in the awarding of these pensions the Comptroller and Auditor-General would be precluded from examining into the cases to make sure that they came within the Act, as he does in the other pensions Acts. The Comptroller and Auditor-General demanded the records; they were refused to him. It has come to the knowledge of many members of this House that there are numerous cases of individuals receiving pensions for services not provided for by the Act, and also individuals receiving pensions in excess of what they are entitled to under the Act according to their service. The giving of the names of individuals is one difficulty, but could not the Ceann Comhairle suggest that a Committee of this House should be set up to examine the names that would be submitted, and if it was then found that our contention is correct, something could be done. The difficulty is that if Deputies are precluded from proving cases they have in mind, how is the House to know whether their contention is correct or not?
Mr. Flinn: Say you take a specific case, that some Deputy from his own knowledge put forward, where a man is in possession of a pension that he is not entitled to. Unless the Deputy is in a position to disclose the name of that man, then every other man receiving a pension in circumstances merely analogous to that is likely to be branded for that particular fault. I think that is a perfectly serious and definite cause of complaint.
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy's case is that if a Deputy is of opinion that a particular individual should not have a pension he should have an opportunity of naming that individual and stating his opinion on the matter.
Mr. Flinn: No. But that a member should be in a position to state from his own knowledge the actual circumstances existing in relation to any man whose name is on the list of pensioners in reference to this Bill.
Mr. Corry: I applied some time ago to the Minister for Defence, through a question in this House, and I got a written reply, but in the reply it was stated that So-and-so received a pension of so much, and that he resided in Cork. Cork is a very big county, and it did not state whether he resided in North Cork or South Cork or East Cork or West Cork, or Cork City. The information given was deliberately misleading. It is very hard to find out whether the individuals of whom we are suspicious are in the list or not. We have a very definite knowledge that a number of individuals are getting pensions although not entitled to them by any stretch of the imagination. We can give definite cases if the Minister wishes. I think we are at least entitled when we ask for information in this House to get correct information.
Mr. Davin: I submit it is quite clear that the view of the Public Accounts Committee was that the payments made up to the Comptroller and Auditor-General's reports  were issued were not properly made in law under the interpretation of the Act that made it possible to pay pensions. If, therefore, this Bill is brought in for the purpose of legalising payments already made under that Act, it is proof clear that this House is now asked to regularise that position. Therefore, I contend it is open to any Deputy—although I do not intend to do it—to cite a particular case in reference to A or B, or Murphy or McCarthy, as the case may be, to show that the Act was not interpreted in accordance with the intentions of those who voted for it at the time.
Mr. MacEntee: I put it this way: This Bill is to make binding upon all persons and tribunals whatsoever certain findings of the Board of Assessors. Now, since not only members of the Fianna Fáil Party but other Deputies in this House feel that that power should not be given to the Board of Assessors, and in order to prove that it should not be given to the Board, as many members as care to cite cases where the findings have not been in accordance with the facts ought to be able to cite them—that is to say, as many cases as are necessary to prove the contention that the findings of the Board of Assessors should not be final and conclusive should be cited to this House.
Mr. Flinn: May I emphasise the point put up by Deputy Davin, that the Public Accounts Committee  have, in relation to the pensions which the Committee considered, come to the opinion that a considerable number of them were illegal, and that this is a Bill to condone or make legal what the Public Accounts Committee, as far as their information would allow, regard as illegal.
The Committee is therefore of the opinion that immediate steps should be taken to remove this anomalous position and to regularise the audit of expenditure, amounting in a normal year to about £147,000, arising from the Military Service Pensions Act, 1924 and 1925.
An Ceann Comhairle: The points of order put to the Chair have been confused by various statements. There is no statement in the Report of the Committee of Public Accounts that certain payments were illegal.
An Ceann Comhairle: First and foremost, there is no statement in the Report of the Public Accounts Committee that certain payments were illegal. That is to say, the House is not confronted with the  position in which a Committee of the House has stated that it is the opinion of the Committee that of a number of payments made, some payments were illegal. That is not the position. Nor did the Committee of Public Accounts say that all the payments were illegal.
An Ceann Comhairle: I am aware of all that. What I want to get clear on is that the House is not confronted with that position. I want in the first place, during the debate, to keep the position of the Comptroller and Auditor-General and of the Public Accounts Committee absolutely clear, because the Comptroller and Auditor-General and the Public Accounts Committee are two institutions. I do not want them to be brought into the discussion so that they would in any way be injured. The functions of the Comptroller and Auditor-General, therefore, are to be kept quite clear, and statements must not be attributed to the Public Accounts Committee which that Committee did not make.
Mr. Davin: The Committee stated quite clearly to anybody who has read the Report that the moneys already expended were not properly payable unless the Comptroller and Auditor-General had access to such information as would enable him to satisfy himself that the pensions were properly awarded.
An Ceann Comhairle: If the Public Accounts Committee is going to be implicated in this manner it should be done by a quotation from the Report. The Committee said that the audit ought to be regularised.
An Ceann Comhairle: Unfortunately, it is not all the same. I gave some consideration to this question before. The Military Service Pensions Act was passed by the Oireachtas for the purpose of awarding pensions to certain persons fulfilling certain conditions. It was apparently considered, when the Act was passed, that it would be difficult to determine what persons were eligible for pensions under the provisions set out in the Act. The point at issue in practically every case was pre-Truce service. It is well-known to everybody that to determine the question of pre-Truce service is, to say the least of it, difficult.
An Ceann Comhairle: The Oireachtas, therefore, passed an Act, and under that Act set up a tribunal for the purpose of making these investigations. Thus apparently neither House of the Oireachtas was regarded as the best body to conduct these investigations. Points of order have been made this evening which included statements such as that Deputies could prove particular things. From the point of view of the Chair, all that means is that a particular Deputy thinks that he knows facts, and thinks that when he has stated his view of the facts that they will be clear to all reasonable people. All our experience disproves that. One Deputy said that the cases could be tested here in the House. That is precisely what the House cannot do. It cannot test cases in any way, nor can we have—it was stated that we could—persons, particulars  and facts. Particulars and facts simply mean that a Deputy will rise in his place and, taking the case of an individual, will make a number of statements which may include accusations against that individual which nobody in the House may be in a position to rebut. Even if any person in the House endeavoured to rebut them it would lead to no conclusion.
The whole question of Military Service Pensions rests entirely upon the existing Act under which a tribunal was set up to decide the vexed and difficult question of whether a person had service and, if he had, what was the extent of that service. That is the whole point at issue. The tribunal made certain recommendations and pensions were paid. The Comptroller and Auditor-General, without making any reflection whatever on the findings of that tribunal, simply stated the fact that he was not in a position to audit these accounts because he had not received the evidence which the tribunal had before it. That is the sum total of the Comptroller and Auditor-General's intervention in the matter. It has been contended, or perhaps it has been established, that there is, in fact, a doubt under the terms of the 1924 Act as to whether or not the Comptroller and Auditor-General has the right to inspect these files. This Bill is for the purpose of establishing that he has no such right.
Mr. MacEntee: The Bill goes further than the Comptroller and Auditor-General. It makes the findings of the Board of Assessors final, conclusive and binding on all persons whatsoever. It makes the Board of Assessors the absolute authority in this matter. The point for the House to decide, and the point upon which the House, I think, is entitled to have evidence, is as to whether the Board of Assessors, constituted as this Board was, is a proper authority to be vested with that power.
An Ceann Comhairle: It was  contended that the tribunal had powers to come to final decisions. The position of a Deputy opposing this Bill has to be considered. He has to make the case that the files, in fact, ought to go to another authority. The only other authority is the Comptroller and Auditor-General. In making his case, the Deputy naturally desires to tell the House that in his view the pensions have been awarded under circumstances which merit review. That is the point Deputy Aiken and other Deputies want to make. Looking at it from that point of view I think Deputies must be allowed to say that within their knowledge there are people receiving pensions who ought not to have them, but I do think that I must adhere to the ruling I have given on a great many occasions. namely, that the case of an individual should not be put, by name, before the House. If that were allowed, Deputies might state in the House, under cover of the privilege of the House, anything that they chose about an individual. That, I think, would be a grave injustice to the individual concerned, and I do not propose to allow it.
I think it ought to be possible for those who are opposing the Bill and who desire to make that argument, which I consider a relevant argument, to select one, or, at most, two responsible Deputies to make a case and put to the House a number of instances, without mentioning names, where they say they have evidence and where they know that the circumstances are different from what appeared in the awards of the tribunal. That is what, in my judgment, ought to be done, but it is impossible to conceive of a debate here in which every Deputy would be free to get up and say what he considered to be the facts about individuals. That would be unprecedented. A Deputy making a case will call it a statement of facts, and another Deputy will call it quite a different thing. I do think that those who are opposing the Bill should have an opportunity of putting before  the House in some coherent and related fashion their views as to groups of cases or of particular cases. But not with regard to named individuals, and not by the process that has been quite clearly suggested, that every Deputy will rise in his place and give the House his view of a certain set of facts.
That would lead us nowhere only into an enternal wrangle and which might result in grave injustice to the individuals concerned. We must decide the question without doing that. I do not know anything better that what I have suggested—that the case should be put by one or two Deputies in as clear a fashion as may be and without naming the persons concerned, although some of the cases will be clearly identified. I do not think that sitting here to-night we are able to decide whether a particular individual took part in an ambush or not, which is the point in many of the cases. I do not think we could decide that, and I think it would be foolish for us to endeavour to decide it.
Mr. Briscoe: I am not going to mention any particular name. According to the Act, a person who has taken part in the 1916 Insurrection gets a certain calculation for service. If it is within the knowledge of a member of the House that a person is in receipt of the maximum pension for service which includes insurrection service, and that it is within the knowledge of that member of the House that the individual in receipt of the pension was not in fact in the country at that period, what is the position?
An Ceann Comhairle: The position is that a Deputy may state what the Deputy has said now. I have no objection to that being said in the debate. I am as well aware myself as any Deputy of the difficulties of the situation. Every single event of pre-Truce period has been debated and disputed. I suggest that if Deputy Briscoe wants to make that  kind of case he may make it but that we cannot have instanced a number of cases with regard to individuals, and particularly the naming of individuals.
Mr. Blythe: I would suggest with regard to the case Deputy Briscoe makes that he would give us information, and if he can support it we will prosecute the person for making false representations. We have prosecuted and sent to jail persons for making false claims.
Mr. G. Boland: Did they ever look for evidence? In what proportion of cases did they look for evidence from the people who could give it? I was quite prepared at any time to give evidence first-hand. I know people who got pensions who were not entitled to them. I was never asked to give information. I would like to know what steps, if any, were taken to corroborate the evidence in any particular case.
Mr. Briscoe: With reference to the Minister's reply, the position that we are in now is that we cannot enter into circumstances and name an individual even to illustrate a particular case. Would the Minister consider withdrawing the Bill for a time and circulating the names and addresses of people in receipt of pensions, and make it possible for us to put to him cases that we know do not come within the Act? If we cannot prove our cases we will have to withdraw our opposition to the Bill.
Mr. T.J. O'Connell: Arising out of the statement made by the Minister with regard to prosecutions, I would like to know from him how he would be in a position to prosecute people if, as I understand it, he is not in possession of the necessary  papers himself. How would he get the papers from the Board of Assessors?
Mr. Blythe: I do not want to go into legal details. If a person, for instance, alleged that he was out in 1916 and there was clear proof that he was not, and if he made an affidavit that he had been out, he could be prosecuted for making false representations. If any fresh matter came out the Board could be reconstituted if necessary. If we have an award showing that an individual got a full pension for 1916 service and it could be proved that he could not possibly have given 1916 service, then we have material for taking the matter up.
An Ceann Comhairle: It is a very difficult position. Some of the other Deputies who have raised points of order may be under the impression that it is the business of the House to decide whether an individual had pre-Truce service or not. It is not the business of the House to do that. It is impossible for the House to do it, and the only way in which I can suggest that the case can be made is by having a case presented, not seriatim by each Deputy but by cases being collated in a particular way and presented by a particular number of Deputies up to a certain point. I do not wish to prevent the particular argument being made that pensions have been awarded to people who should not have got them, because that argument is relevant, but I do wish to prevent our having an inquest on particular cases.
The scheme which I have devised is, it seems to me, the only one by which we could satisfactorily deal with the matter. If Deputies are prepared to deal with it in that particular way, I think they could  get some time to enable them to do so. The same point arises in regard to the Board. It is not competent at this time of day to discuss the personnel of the Board. That should have been done when the Board was appointed.
Mr. Blythe: The question of availability has only arisen in connection with the Comptroller and Auditor-General. It would be possible to call the Board together again. They could examine the files and bring them out.
An Ceann Comhairle: I do not know whether Deputies have the impression that the Chair wishes to embarrass them from making any case that they wish to make. If that is the impression, perhaps, in the circumstances, the debate could be adjourned. I am prepared to hear anything that can be said to enable Deputies to make the best case they can against the Bill. It is the business of the Chair to see that Deputies get the best facilities possible but not on the basis of mentioning a limitless number of cases. They must be brought within a reasonable compass. If delay is necessary for  that to be done, I take it that there will be no objections to delay.
Mr. Aiken: If you remember, it was I who was speaking. You said something about trying to give members an opportunity of making a case in a coherent way. I now find, when I try to do so, that I bump up against a point of order. If anyone asked me to define what is a point of order——
Mr. Aiken: Yes, I withdraw it. I do not see how anyone can make a case against this Bill unless he can say here in this House that the Board of Assessors have not acted in the way in which honest men would be supposed to act, and can bring forward cases to prove that that is so. Here we are asked not only to give legal sanction in the future, but to give legal sanction to actions which the Board have already done in regard to these pensions. We do not for a moment agree that the Board of Assessors was a board that should command confidence. Definitely on that Board there were two men who were simply toadies of the Government, men who would do anything they were told, and who had been known to do whatever they were told by the prime movers in  the Government before. The whole atmosphere about the Bill goes to prove that these pensions are not given as a reward for past military service, but rather in the hope of future political service for the Cummann na nGaedheal Party. When they wanted to examine who were supposed to get pensions, who should get pensions for military service in the past, they put on two political hacks.
An Ceann Comhairle: It is too late. The Board was appointed by an Executive act and it could then have been discussed. There must be some finality. It was not discussed then and it cannot be discussed now.
Mr. Aiken: At present we have a Board which, I suppose, if the Government lasts long enough, will give pensions in future. I, for one, am not convinced that that Board is going to come to its decisions strictly on the grounds as to whether men gave sufficient military service or not. I believe that the Board will be influenced by considerations as to whether or not a man would in the future give political service to the Cumann na nGaedheal Party. I am convinced of that. So far as we can make out, the list of people who receive pensions bears out that statement. You have men who were terribly, desperately wounded turned down because they were opposed to Cumann na nGaedheal, and men who we know did not give the service that they were supposed to have given got fine fat pensions and fine fat jobs. The Ceann Comhairle has ruled that we are not to give names.  Really I cannot see for the life of me the justification for that ruling, but we have got to accept it. It is one of the obstacles that we have got to get round or got to get over as best we can.
Mr. Aiken: There is one gentleman I know on the list of pensioners, and I am absolutely certain that he did not give the service he is supposed to have given. If a Committee of this House were set up to hear evidence we could bring evidence and convince the Committee, if they were men who could be convinced, that is, if they were not men of one political view who were determined to act in accordance with the instructions of Ministers, no matter what evidence came before them. Not only has this House been refused an opportunity of hearing these cases, but the people throughout the country who have to pay the piper are not allowed to know for what money is being spent. Surely the people who pay rates and taxes have a right to know how their money is being spent. Here we have a sum of money, £159,000 a year, spent on military pensions alone and being distributed throughout the country by agents of the Cumann na nGaedheal Party, while the people of the country do not know who they are. We asked for their names and addresses. We were refused their addresses. We know that a number of Paddy Murphys in County Cork and a number of Johnny So-and-Sos are getting sums ranging from £10 to £350. We do not know who they are and we are not allowed to find out. It is almost impossible to make a case against this Bill if we are precluded from bringing forward concrete evidence as to the illegal payments which the Board of Assessors made.
The Government have the impudence to come along here and ask  the Dáil to legalise what could really be termed fraudulent payments up to this date. Why on earth should the Comptroller and Auditor-General be refused admission to see the evidence upon which these pensions were assessed? Surely to goodness the Comptroller and Auditor-General ought to be a man who could be trusted to see the evidence. If the people as a whole are not allowed to know who are getting pensions, surely to goodness the man appointed by the Parliament selected by the people ought to be allowed to examine them on their behalf. It is a most dangerous principle for members to agree to, that the Comptroller and Auditor-General should not have power to examine all the records and the accounts of a Department of the State. All the Comptroller and Auditor-General can do is to look down the list he gets from the Board of Assessors and see that the payments made are in accordance with the list. He is not allowed to go further and see whether that list has been duly drawn up in accordance with the Acts passed by this House. We believe that he has a legal right to do that and that the exercise of that right was illegally refused to him up to now. The Dáil is here being asked to legalise illegalities that the Government have practised up to now.
I suppose that when we cannot discuss what is in the Bill very well, we will have to go ahead and discuss what is not in the Bill. If there is one thing that I would like to see in this Bill, it would be a clause prohibiting the payment of pensions to people who are resident outside Ireland. There is no other Government in the world that would allow such a thing. I do not see why we, a poor country, should be paying pensions to people who are earning money all over the world. The American Government, which has so much money at its back, refuses to do it, and a person receiving a pension out of public funds there has to  reside in American and spend the money that he receives there. It is absolutely ridiculous that we should be paying such an enormous number of pensioners and have them spending their money outside. The Lord knows it is bad enough to be paying people money that they never really earned or that they were never promised. It is bad enough to be paying men who are going round idle, or only doing political work for Cumann na nGaedheal, but it is even worse to be paying them and allowing them to spend their money outside the country.
Mr. Aiken: I simply cannot make a coherent case against the Bill. I was interrupted for about an hour anyway. We are not allowed to state what we know to be true. I challenge the Minister to set up a committee of this House and to hear the evidence that we can bring forward as to his fine list of pensioners.
Mr. G. Boland: Deputies on this side of the House, I admit, are at a disadvantage, because we were the losers, and what is being decided now is the division of the spoils. It is a well-recognised fact that the spoils go to the victors. I do not personally complain about that, but I think that the rules the House has drawn up for the division of the spoils should at least be kept. I asked the Minister whether he has made any effort to get evidence as to the statements made in claiming pensions under the Military Service Pensions Act. I do not remember what answer he gave, but I understood that there was no determined effort ever made. I know that I have been available for the last five years since I got out of jail, and people who were in the battalion to which I belonged have got pensions. I was quite prepared to give first-hand evidence as to whether these people belonged to it or not. As a matter  of fact, I believe that in a few cases I did. Deputy Aiken referred to a particular case. I am going to state the details of a certain case without mentioning the name. It may enlighten members as to what is being done, and as to the efforts made by this tribunal to get evidence corrobo rative of the statements made by these people, or to see if they are true. These details concern one particular individual. I can give the dates too.
I happened to be in charge of a battalion in Co. Dublin, and an effort was being made to extend the organisation of the I.R.A. in that particular area. In one part of that area, very near the city, we were hard up for men who would be capable of taking charge of a company. There was one particular man whose name now appears on the list of pensioners. I will give you the amount he received, but I will not mention his name. He had a sum of £836 9s. 2d. handed into his fist, and a pension of £78 15s. awarded to him. I found it very hard to get a company working in that area, probably due to the fact that we had not men really capable of taking charge. This man had been arrested on suspicion by a Sergeant Dunney in the Tallaght area. Anyone who was active in the Dublin area knew him. I found there was nothing wrong with this individual after he was let out, and I went down to interview him. I knew he was a pretty able man. I am sure of the date, because it was on the Friday that Macready went to the Mansion House to discuss terms. An ambush took place on the Naas road that very day, and the shots were being fired while I was speaking to him. I asked him if he would take charge of the company. He hesitated, and finally I could not get any good out of him. He told me to come back the next week and he would give me an answer. On the following Monday the Truce was signed.
Before I went back to him I went to the O.C., Dublin, to see if it was advisable to take people of that sort  into the I.R.A. He said: “Oh, yes. We can put them on the run anyway if the Truce is broken.” That man was very near the statutory date at any rate. The 11th July was the date. He might say it might have slipped his memory, and that it was only a few days afterwards, but a few days made all the difference in the world in that case. I was not in jail when that man's case was decided, and I was quite prepared to give evidence. I would not have given evidence while in jail, but I was quite prepared to give it after I came out. He is a fairly young man, and is getting a pension of £78 15s., and he has already got £836. However, that has been given to people who have no pensions, and I suppose I have no growl about that. That is only one case. If my word will not be taken I believe that I could get evidence to corroborate what I say. I think when I happen to know one case of that sort there must be numerous others.
I cannot say how many people are getting pensions. We have not got the exact number. I really believe that there would not be more than 50 per cent. who could properly prove their claim, even under this Act, for a division of the spoils. That is a serious position. When I am able to state that, and I state it absolutely on my own knowledge, i am sure that there are many other such cases all over the country where people, who dodged the issue when there was trouble, sneaked in afterwards when they could get into an armoured car in order to attack and beat us. Not only were they paid for doing that, but they got something that they were not entitled to at all—they got money for fighting against the British.
I know something about the case that Deputy Aiken wished to raise. That particular gentleman is getting the maximum pension. That means that he must have given the maximum service. It means that he must have taken part in the 1916 Insurrection. For one week's service then they got five years added. I happened to be in Belfast jail at one  time and a man who is still a very high-placed officer in the Free State Army was there too. Maybe I am wrong about him and I had better not say what I was going to say, because the I.R.B. is still in existence. I am not quite certain about that case and I will not say anything further on that line. Anyway, at the time I could not speak to him without reference being made to the efforts of that particular individual in stopping the County Limerick Brigade from taking action in Easter Week. How can it be contended that that individual is entitled to a maximum pension? There are two cases which it would be well to investigate and I suggest that 50 per cent. of all the cases are on the same basis.
The Minister made an important admission when he stated that he had not access to the files. Seeing that there is no advertisement issued indicating that certain men are applying for military service pensions, I would like to know how are the public to be protected, particularly when the Minister's officials, and especially the Comptroller and Auditor-General, have not the right to inspect necessary documents? I believe that the information should be made public that certain people are about to apply for pensions and this will give an opportunity for objections to be made. I do not see how it is possible to control this thing at all under present circumstances.
As regards publicity and the giving of persons' names, there is nothing in that, because many names have been published in the Press all over the country. Again, I presume that those gentlemen are proud of their records. They have nothing to be ashamed of, and I do not see that there should be any objection to publishing their names. If they are promoted in any service the fact is usually disclosed, and if they get a pension I do not think they have anything to be ashamed of. I cannot see why there should not be an arrangement for an advertisement in Iris Oifigiúil indicating that Major So-and-So or Sergeant So-and-So  was about to claim a pension for his services. Anyone who would have an objection to that could come forward. I think that would be a very desirable practice. We are told here that the Minister has no power to look at records, and the man who should check all public expenditure has been precluded from looking up essential documents; he has been precluded by the Act that is still in operation. What hope have we for the future when conditions will be made more drastic? The decision of the Board of Assessors is going to be made binding on everybody.
Deputy Aiken referred to this Bill as one means of subsidising Cumann na nGaedheal, and I think there is no doubt whatever about that. It is simply a device of the Government to keep in this country a well paid organisation so that they can call up the members of it whenever they want them. They have them in every constituency and they actually have them in this House. There are people here who are getting military service pensions. Some of their services could be called in question too, but we will leave that alone. They are here, anyhow. There are army pensioners who decide very often what the policy of the Government is going to be. On many occasions two or three votes decided what steps should be taken by the Government and on the majority side there have been as many as six army pensioners. Is there any country in the world that would pension people for the amount of service that has been given in this country? They would in other countries give a lump sum and finish at that, but here the men are given pensions. These people, for a start-off, were supposed to be volunteers, imbued with the spirit of patriotism and determined to risk everything, even life, for the sake of the country. We find them now trying to bleed the country white. Is there any country that would give pensions to people who have actually improved their stations in life since they started in this Army?
 I understood that the principle behind a pension was that on entering the public service, either in the army, the police force, or anywhere else, a man more or less handicaps himself for engaging in any commercial work or business or trade, and it is only right, when he has given the best years of his life in a specialised service, that the State would recompense him by giving him a pension. What do we find occurring? We find that people who started as dust-bin men—and I respect dust-bin men, because I would not like a week to go by without my dust-bin being emptied—drawing pensions of twice the amount that they were able to earn in private life. In addition to that, I see them getting about £2,000, and that is an absolute outrage.
Mr. Boland: I am sorry I have been stopped, because I could have said a lot about these people who have waxed fat while in the service, and who have come out of the Army in a far better state in life than they had when they went in. Some actually got professions.
Mr. Boland: I will leave that side of the question. I do not think I can say a great lot more on the matter, but before the House is asked to agree to this amendment of the Pensions Act the Minister, or someone on his behalf, ought to make a case for it. The Minister for Finance made no case when introducing the Bill. It is up to him to tell us why he is willing to tie his hands in this case, and why he is not going to insist that his officer will have the right to see that all public money is spent in the way that it was intended by law to be spent.
Mr. Boland: I did not know that. Thank you very much. If he is the officer of the whole House it is better still. I hope that we are not going to have the usual argument in this case. It is up to the Independent Deputies to do something, and particularly Deputy Good, who always complains of having to foot the bill. It is up to people of Deputy Good's sort to insist, before they march blindly into the Division Lobby, that there should be a saving of public money. After all, if Deputy Good and people like him were saved by these gentlemen, they have been well paid for it. They were well paid by the Government for any work they did for them. Deputy Good should say, “We paid quite enough for them, and before I follow the Government Whip into the Government Lobby the Government ought at least to put up a good case.”
I wonder would the Minister explain to us what he means by the word “national” in line 11 of Section 4 (2)? I do not know what he means by the word “national” at all. I hope he will explain that. I have been trying to follow the details of this Bill but I could not make them out at all. Deputy Aiken said he would like to have something in this Bill dealing with people outside the country who were drawing pensions. I must object totally to any person getting a pension for the short period of service they have given. It is simply unprecedented and a scandal. It is all well and good if you want to divide the spoils to give them a lump sum, but it is a different thing to fasten them on to the community for ever. I hope there will be a provision in some Bill which will be brought in here preventing Army pensioners from sitting in the Dáil.
Mr. Davin: The members of this Party who voted for the passage of the Military Service Pensions Act have not, as far as I know, any intention of expressing their regret  for having done so at the time. Our complaint against the Government is that in pushing that Bill through the House they did so under false pretences. When that Bill was being pushed through this House by the Minister responsible at the time, it should have been made clear that the money that was being voted to pay pensions to those entitled to them would be free from the ordinary inquiries which should be made by the Comptroller and Auditor-General who is answerable to this House for all the moneys expended under the operations of Acts passed by the House. I challenge the Minister for Finance to quote any speech by him or by any Minister or supporter of the measure which would go to show that it was the intention of the Government at the time not to allow the Comptroller and Auditor-General to have access to any information on his files and any evidence which would satisfy him on behalf of this House that the pensions that were being paid were properly payable under the Act. Further if that was the intention it should have been indicated when the Estimates were being brought in here for moneys voted from year to year; a footnote should have appeared on those Estimates to the effect that the moneys covering the expenditure under the Act were to be free from inspection by the Comptroller and Auditor-General. Neither of these things was done.
Therefore I claim that it is right to suggest that when we voted for the Military Service Pensions Act, and for the moneys subsequently brought forward in the Estimates for payment under that Act, it was clear to us at the time, and until quite recently, that the Comptroller and Auditor-General had the same powers under that Act as he has under every other Act passed by this House. I suggest, as a result of that, that this Bill is nothing short of a deliberate attempt to limit the constitutional right of the Comptroller and Auditor-General and the powers given to him by this House and by the Constitution. That is a very  serious issue, and that is the reason why we intend to oppose the passage of this Bill. Coming to the question of the rights of the Comptroller and Auditor-General, and the reason why he should have access to the files in the same way as he has access to the files dealing with pensions under other Acts, I suggest that it would be quite right for this House to see that the Comptroller and Auditor-General should have these powers of inquiry. I believe that complaints have been made under this head— that So-and-so, who is in receipt of a pension under the rank of captain, is not entitled to that grant. In these circumstances is it not right for the Comptroller and Auditor-General to have access to the files and papers and all the information which he could get at to satisfy himself that Murphy or McCarthy was entitled to receive a pension at the rate of so much per year, and that his rank was so and so under the terms of the Act. That was certainly in the minds of every Deputy of this House—even in the minds of members of the Government who voted for that measure.
Mr. Davin: I challenge the Minister to quote any sentence or any speech made by a Minister or supporter of the measure which would go to show that the Comptroller and Auditor-General was not to have the powers under this Act that he has under every other Act. If he had, why did the Minister for Finance not put the usual note at the foot of the Estimate to make that clear to the members of this House when asking them to pass these Estimates?
Mr. Blythe: I suggest that everybody in the House, when the Bill setting up the tribunal to determine the military service was discussed, believed that there would be no questioning of that board or that the Comptroller and Auditor-General  would go into these matters. He audits the accounts, of course, but I suggest to the Deputy that when that Bill was passed nobody thought he would examine these files and papers on which the Board of Assessors came to a decision. I would like the Deputy to quote anything that would suggest the contrary.
Mr. Davin: The Minister is putting upon me the onus that lies upon himself. The very fact that the Comptroller and Auditor-General, who is directly responsible to this House, feels that he is entitled to the files and evidence proves that there must be something in the case. At any rate, that is the basis of our opposition. I am not going to make a case in this House that So-and-so who has received a pension is not entitled to it. But the Comptroller and Auditor-General is the guardian of the taxpayers of this country, responsible to this House and to the country for seeing that the money voted by this House is properly expended. On this matter, he is entitled to the same information as he is in the cases of pensions to R.I.C. men or in the case of pensions granted to ex-R.I.C. men under the Superannuation and Pensions Act. As an ex-member of the Committee of Public Accounts, I am aware that the Comptroller and Auditor-General, by bringing to the Minister's notice certain facts and evidence in connection with pensions paid under the Superannuation and Pensions Act, has led to the cancellation of certain pensions. It was subsequently proved they were not entitled to them. The same arguments apply with the same force to the case I am now making against this Bill. Our opposition is a little different from the opposition of the chief Opposition Party, to this extent, that we say that this Bill is an uncalled-for interference by the Government after the passage of three or four years, and is an attempt to limit the right of the Comptroller and Auditor-General under the Constitution. It is for these reasons that we are opposing this Bill.
Mr. Lemass: I would like to make a case against the Bill which, I think, would hold valid even if every single award of the Board of Assessors was beyond question. There is no doubt that Deputy Aiken is correct when he says that the administration of the Military Service Pensions Act is the subject of a considerable amount of suspicion throughout the country. That suspicion has been increased by the fact that the Government have introduced this Bill in order to preserve the secrecy of the proceedings of the Board, and to conceal the information upon which their various awards were based. It is also increased by the fact that they have gone to considerable trouble to conceal the identity of the persons who are in receipt of pensions. As Deputies are aware, when a question was tabled in the House to the Minister for Defence asking for information concerning the various persons in receipt of military service pensions, a list was supplied that was so compiled as to make it impossible, or almost impossible, to identify any person named in it. The suspicion is further increased by the fact that the Government have shown that they are anxious to secure that a considerable number of their adherents in this House will be in receipt of military service pensions. As Deputies are aware, at all the recent by-elections the candidates nominated by the Government Party were Army pensioners; in fact it has been asserted that the policy of Cumann na nGaedheal is becoming, to paraphrase a sentence in a famous speech by a famous statesman, “to secure that government of pensioners by pensioners for pensioners shall not pass from the earth.”
Deputy Davin has stated that this Act was passed on false pretences. Now, the Minister for Finance stated that it was never intended that the Comptroller and Auditor-General should examine the evidence upon which years of service were based or pensions awarded. Deputy Davin has invited him to quote from  any speech made by any member of the Government Party during the debates upon the Military Service Pensions Act when it was going through the House to indicate that that was the intention of the Government. Surely if the Minister for Finance had at that time the idea in his head that the expenditure of the money involved under that Act should not be subject to the ordinary procedure, he would have made that fact clear to the House, or, at least, he would have done as Deputy Davin suggested—he would have inserted a note in the Estimates every year to the effect that the amount indicated in the particular sub-head dealing with this matter would not be subject to examination by the Comptroller and Auditor-General. The Minister for Finance shakes his head. It is easy enough for him to stand up here now and say that it was not his intention three or four years ago that this thing should be as it was. But he did not say so then.
Mr. Blythe: It was not contended, and it is not suggested now, that these should not be subject to the audit of the Comptroller and Auditor-General. It is, in fact, intended that they shall always be subject to audit, but it is intended to provide quite a different thing—that the findings of this Board shall be the same as the findings of a court. It would have been contrary to any intention we ever had to put in a footnote to say that they were not to be subject to audit.
Mr. Lemass: If the findings of this tribunal were arrived at in the same way as the findings of a court are arrived at this question would not arise. But the Minister must know that the suspicion concerning the administration of the Act is due to the secrecy that surrounds it. Deputy Aiken's statement that the desire of the Government was not so much to reward services given in the fight against the British as to ensure the allegiance of a number of useful persons throughout the country to their Party, is generally believed, and if the Government are anxious  to remove that suspicion they will withdraw this Bill and at least provide that some administrative check upon the actions of the Board will exist.
I do not think that the case which the Minister made for removing the administration of these moneys from the purview of the Comptroller and Auditor-General is sound. He said, of course, that damage might be done if information supplied by applicants to the Board were published. Is it necessary that the information should be published? If the Comptroller and Auditor-General has authority to examine the data upon which the service was awarded and the pension paid he would not bring to the notice of the Committee of Public Accounts any case except one in which he was satisfied that the pension was improperly awarded. If there are grounds for believing that a particular pension has been improperly awarded, then there is also a case for publishing the fact. But there seems to be an idea—I think it is also held by the Ceann Comhairle, judging by a remark he made in the debate on the point of order—that these pensions are given because an individual here or an individual there took part in a particular operation. As far as I have been able to understand the Act, the intention was to give service pensions, pensions based upon the years of service, that if a particular individual fought upon the roof of the Post Office in Easter Week he does not get any more years added to his period of service on that account than an individual who fought during Easter Week in the cellars of Jacob's biscuit factory. It does not necessarily follow that one individual gave better service than the other, provided that each did the duty he was told to do by those who had the right to order. The same applies to the whole period of the Black-and-Tan war. It is not the number of nicks on the butt of a man's gun that should entitle him to a pension; it is the service he gave,  and if his commanding officer told him to stand two miles away to watch a certain bridge while an ambush was going on, that man took part in that ambush just as much as if he were working a machine gun. If the pension were properly calculated on the period of service given, then there should be no necessity to have statements lodged with the Board of Assessors as to the nature of the service. If that procedure were followed there should be no difficulty whatever in having the whole procedure made public and all the information relating to the period of service made available for public examination.
The Board of Assessors which examined into the various applications for pensions was, as we all know, a partisan Board; it could not be anything else, considering the time and nature of its appointment. It was undoubtedly interested in keeping in the country, and in keeping loyal to the Government, individuals with exceptional influence in particular districts. The men who constituted the Board must have found themselves subject to considerations of that nature, in spite of themselves. The very nature of the Board was in itself sufficient to arouse suspicion as to the work done by it. I have looked over the list of pensioners supplied, and although I knew a very large number of those who were engaged in the Dublin Brigade during the Black-and-Tan period I could not identify, from the information supplied, more than one per cent. of those in receipt of service pensions from the Dublin area. I was also struck by the fact that the number of pensioners in such counties as Meath is as great as, if not greater than, the number of pensioners in such counties as Cork. That seems to indicate that some influence must have been at work, either to prevent those who are entitled to pensions from receiving them, or for the purpose of securing pensions for those who are not entitled to them. We all know the history of the Black-and-Tan period; we know  where the fight was hottest, and I do not think that anybody, not even the Parliamentary Secretary to the President, will claim that the Meath Division gave exceptional service at that time. And yet, because, perhaps, the individual who was in command of the Meath area was also a very prominent member of the I.R.B., we find that a very large list of pensioners comes from that county, much larger than in the case of counties where military service was given to a much greater extent.
I would like also to press strongly upon the Government the advisability of taking steps to ensure that pensions are awarded only to persons resident in the country. In the present condition of affairs in this part of Ireland, I do not think that we can afford to be increasing our net adverse trade balance by sending pensions to individuals to spend abroad. There may be some administrative difficulties in the way of providing that all such pensioners shall reside within the country, but if these difficulties cannot be got over in any other way, I would suggest to the Minister that the pensions be paid weekly at the post offices, and that the people in receipt of them get them in the same way as the old women get their old age pensions. If the pensions were given out in that way those desirous of receiving them would, at least, have to live within the country.
It is, perhaps, not relevant to this Bill—I do not know—but I think also that it is bad nationally that there should be any considerable number of persons in receipt of such pensions members of the Dáil. I think it is not at all unlikely that this particular Bill will pass through this House with a majority smaller than the actual number of such pensioners in the Dáil, and that is obviously a most undesirable state of affairs. If there is any truth in the reports which have appeared in the Press that the Government are contemplating making it impossible for national school teachers and dispensary doctors to become members  of this House, there is a much stronger case for making it impossible for army pensioners to be members of this House.
I think that the Government's own interests and the interests of the persons in receipt of such pensions would be best served by the withdrawal of this Bill, and the giving of a much greater amount of publicity than was given in the past to the operations of the Board of Assessors so that we would know whether there was, in fact, any service justification for the pensions awarded by it.
I want to make it clear that I do not favour the giving of service pensions at all. I think the giving of service pensions to ex-members of the I.R.A. is undesirable. I think the placing of a cash value on that service is degrading the whole I.R.A. tradition. I think the Government would have done a much better thing nationally if they had taken the view that the service was given voluntarily, and that no attempt should be made to reckon it in terms of money, for the purpose of rewarding those who gave it. I know that there are a large number of people who would refuse to accept such pensions. I said before that adequate provision should be made for those incapacitated or wounded, and for the dependents of those who were killed. I think that should be done, not merely in respect of those wounded and killed in the Black-and-Tan period, but also those wounded or killed in the National Army, or fighting against the National Army in the Civil War period. But service pensions are undesirable and should not be given. If we are going to give service pensions we should give them in the open. My case against this Bill, and against the attitude of the Government, is that they are doing this thing in secret, and doing it unnecessarily in secret.
Mr. Briscoe: I would like to try to stress the point of view that, as a member of the Public Accounts Committee, I hold on this, as distinct and apart from the view I hold as a  member of this party on this Bill. The Public Accounts Committee view this matter, as I understand it, from the Public Accounts Committee point of view. The first point I would like to make clear to Deputies is this, that if this Bill is accepted and passed by this House the country will be committed, for at least 40 years, to an annual expenditure of well over £100,000, without knowing whether they are getting a return for the money, even in the shape of compliance with the Act which originally brought about the introduction of military service pensions. I would like to stress that point for this reason, that first of all we are faced at the present time with a serious situation as regards the expenditure of Government money where it is necessary. We want to see money spent for the relief of unemployment. It cannot be done because the Government have not got the funds. On the other hand we should be careful, when we are not in a position to meet a demand like that, that we do not throw away money that we need not throw away. The bulk of these pensioners are very young men. Their length of life will mean that we will be faced with the payment of these pensions for a great number of years. If we cannot succeed in abolishing pensions altogether for voluntary service, where people were not even maimed and have lost nothing, we should, at least, see that only those deserving of them in accordance with the Act get pensions. That is from the point of view of the Public Accounts Committee. I oppose the payment of these pensions because Volunteers were members of the I.R.A.; no conditions were laid down as to future remuneration for past services, and the country is not committed to the payment of these pensions.
With regard to the position of the Comptroller and Auditor-General in the matter, we are asked by this Bill to say that it has been correct all along for the Department of Defence or for the assessors to refuse to give to the Comptroller and Auditor-General  the files containing details of all the cases in question. From these benches we have offered to give details of cases that are being paid pensions outside the terms of the Act. I say they are getting more than they should under the Act, and I appeal to Deputies in good common sense to insist on forcing the Government to see that these accounts are audited and checked. If the position is regularised in that way we will only be paying pensions to those who come within the ambit of the Act.
Mr. Carney: I wish to endorse what has been already stated by my colleagues in opposition to this Bill. From my knowledge of the Military Service Pensions Act, I am aware that certain irregularities have taken place, and I have been able to identify, beneath all the camouflage, what has actually taken place. As one who held a position as a responsible officer in the I.R.A., I say that there were men who, when we parted from those who had taken up the position of the Free State, when they found the responsible officers gone, made it up amongst themselves to send in declarations, one declaring that the other had been so-and-so, that he had been in the Volunteers or the I.R.A. from 1916, when in reality he had been there only since 1921. Two officers had to vouch for a certain officer or man, and I have known instances where officers signed a form stating that a man had been responsible for certain things, that he had been in the Volunteers since 1916, when in reality the man had not any service prior to the Truce. I wish to record my opposition to this Bill.
Regarding vouching for people who were supposed to give service to the I.R.A., it has come to my knowledge that there is one kind of service put down in these documents as a guarantee that they are entitled to pensions, and anybody in this House who has any common sense will know how widely the term can be used. That is intelligence work. It has come to my knowledge that  people who were not, or could not be proved to be members of volunteer companies or to have given any active service to the I.R.A. during that period, applied for pensions, and when the people who vouched for them were obtained they fell back on the word “intelligence.” Of course, I will admit that the Minister or any other body practically is helpless in the matter when you get a man who is willing to tell a deliberate lie, and state that a man was giving information to him in that period, and was acting as an intelligence officer. The Minister should pay particular attention to that word “intelligence.” Anybody who has had any knowledge of the I.R.A. and of the people who are now getting pensions under that head will come to the conclusion that they must have had the greatest intelligence system in the world.
Mr. T.J. O'Connell: I would like to support the view expressed by Deputy Davin, namely, that there was no intention in the minds of those who supported this measure that they were handing over to a tribunal the absolute right to determine, without any further investigation of any kind whatsoever, and to decide without any check whatsoever who should get pensions and who should not get them. The Minister, in reply to Deputy Davin, by way of interruption, said of course they must know that as they were setting up a tribunal, they were giving to that tribunal the powers which he now claims for it. But we have had experience of other tribunals; we have had various tribunals set up to determine the amounts to be awarded under the Malicious Injuries Acts and Personal Injuries Act, and various other tribunals of that kind, and in all those cases the Minister reserves to himself the right to examine the files, although these tribunals were in the nature of courts to decide and make recommendations as to a certain amount that ought to be paid. The Minister reserves the right to reduce the amount or to refuse in his discretion  any payment whatsoever in the case. He had full right of access to the files and to the evidence, and he could act as he thought fit in the interests of the general taxpayer.
Deputy Davin made the point and I wish to emphasise it, that even on the assumption that every single one of these pensions was properly paid we would object to the procedure, that was sought to be imposed on the House. I am not in a position to say whether any single one of these pensions is wrongly paid or not, but so far as my position is concerned that does not enter into it. It is the principle which is sought to be introduced into this Bill which I object to. The Minister himself has no access to the files. Even he must take the word of these three. He has no way of checking or satisfying himself even that the award is a correct one. That is what I understand from him. He has no right of access to the files except through the Board. The Board are to say this man AB, is entitled to a pension and the Minister must accept the word of the Board. Even the Minister himself may have considerable doubt as to whether or not the person concerned is entitled to a pension. The person who is appointed by this House whose duty it is to see in the interests of the taxpayer that all moneys are properly paid has no right of access to the files, and he will not be allowed to say whether or not a certain person is entitled to a pension. I have heard the Minister on previous occasions put up the reasons which he thinks are good and valid reasons why there should be no access either on his part or on the part of the Comptroller and Auditor-General to those files, and to a certain extent I appreciate that, first of all that evidence was given that would not be advisable in the interests of the person concerned or perhaps the public interest to have disclosed, but there is nothing which the Minister has said that has satisfied me it is right to keep that information from the one officer who was appointed  by this House and in whom this House has the utmost confidence.
He might be very well trusted by the House not to disclose or publish anything that should not be disclosed or published, and as Deputy Lemass rightly said, and I thoroughly agree with him, if the Comptroller and Auditor-General is satisfied that evidence has been produced in accordance with the terms of the Act to justify the payment of a pension that case will not be mentioned or brought before the Public Accounts Committee in any way. If on the other hand he finds a case which is not justified, is there any good reason why that case should not be mentioned to the Public Accounts Committee and the fraud, if there has been a fraud, exposed? I think that there is a principle being sought to be established here that the House ought to oppose and to protest against in the strongest possible way. I think the House would be wrong to do anything that would hand over not only to a Board set up in the circumstances in which they were set up but to any board set up in this way the absolute right and power to do just whatever they liked, without any check being provided either by the Minister himself and his Department or by the officer appointed specially by this House.
It was said that this was a court. It bears no analogy to a court. There is no public hearing of the case, no person allowed who may be able to give evidence against the applicant; no notice given as somebody has already stated, of the fact that a certain person is an applicant for a pension. It bears no analogy whatsoever to a court in the ordinarily accepted sense of that term. It is a secret tribunal which can come to a decision, awarding a pension to a person, and that award is never to be questioned hereafter. I think members of this House would be doing something that would be very wrong indeed and against all constitutional principles if they willingly agreed to give the Minister the  powers which he seeks to establish in this Bill, and I certainly will vote against it.
Major Cooper: There is one point in Deputy O'Connell's speech with which I am in entire agreement, but I am afraid there is only one point, that is, that the Dáil has complete confidence in the Comptroller and Auditor-General. When he went on to say that the Comptroller and Auditor-General might be trusted not to disclose or publish any information which he received I think he misinterpreted the functions of the Comptroller and Auditor-General. It is his duty to publish information he receives. Moreover, even if he does not publish it in the first instance in his Report on the Public Accounts which is presented to the Public Accounts Committee, he is liable to be cross-questioned by any member of that Committee as to the basis on which he put forward his reports, and therefore it is not a case of giving the Comptroller and Auditor-General information in confidence; information given to him confidentially is valueless. He must be in a position to produce detailed facts.
Major Cooper: Deputy Aiken has not been, as far as I know, a member of the Public Accounts Committee. The Comptroller and Auditor-General publishes any fact that seems to him worthy of reference, any fact whatever, not merely illegal. He publishes numerous facts.
Mr. MacEntee: I do not think that that is a correct statement of the Comptroller and Auditor-General's position. The Comptroller and Auditor-General is bound to bring to the notice of the Dáil, in his Report upon the Appropriation Accounts, those instances in which he thinks public moneys are being expended otherwise than in accordance with the authorisation of the  Dáil and in accordance with the law. Therefore, he can only bring before the notice of the Dáil those cases in which public moneys have been wrongfully expended.
Major Cooper: I would accept Deputy MacEntee's definition with one word, that I think, contrary to the intention of the Oireachtas, is what the Comptroller and Auditor-General should report on. That brings me to the second point of my disagreement with Deputy O'Connell. That is, what was the intention of the Oireachtas at the time the earlier Military Service Pensions Acts were passed? Deputy O'Connell apparently visualises that these particulars should be made available to the Comptroller and Auditor-General, and, if necessary, to the members of the Dáil. I confess I do not remember him or any of his Party saying so when the Bill was going through the Dáil.
Major Cooper: I do not think the contrary was said. At that time I was an Independent, and I was scrutinising these matters with a good deal of care. I think the Labour Deputies who were then in the Dáil will bear me out.
Major Cooper: I confess that when this matter came before the Public Accounts Committee in 1927, I was rather amazed to see that we had not raised this matter. Deputy O'Connell apparently thinks we condoned it by the fact that we did not raise it. I was inclined to think mea culpa that we ought to have made clear what the intention of the  Dáil was, and we failed to do so. I felt a certain responsibility for the first report of the Public Accounts Committee referring to this matter, because in the absence of the then chairman, through illness, I had to sign it. Deputy Davin was chairman at that time. That report, dated 24th February, 1928, recommended that the position should be regularised. What did we mean by that? I, personally, taking into account all the circumstances, taking into account the fact that we were told that the Board of Assessors, possibly somewhat exceeding their function, had sought information from private individuals, whose names were given as references, people not in the service of the State, and had assured them that any information they would give would be regarded as confidential, came to the conclusion that it would not be advisable to allow these things to be published, and if they were open to the Comptroller and Auditor-General they were liable to be published. It was obviously somewhat difficult to establish a man's pre-Truce service. For instance, they might have given as reference persons outside this State, and who might be made amenable for any information that they gave. I came to the conclusion that it was impossible that this information should be given, but that that would have to be regularised, so that no precedent should be established, and that it should not be possible for any other public department in future to say to the Comptroller and Auditor-General “under the Military Service Pensions Act no particulars were given, and we are not going to give them.” This Bill that we are now discussing makes it clear that it applies only to these past transactions under the previous Military Service Pensions Act. It does not apply to the Board of Works, Fisheries, or any other department. They will not be able to say: “We are not going to let the Comptroller and Auditor-General see our accounts.”
I think Deputies will agree that I have never approached the work of  the Public Accounts Committee from a party point of view. Our utility in this Dáil is very limited, particularly limited in the case of private Deputies, but the one thing in this Dáil that I may have done of some lasting value was work on the Public Accounts Committee. I did not approach it from a party point of view, and I do not share the view expressed by Deputy Davin that it is absolutely necessary, from the point of accurate public accountancy, to have these particulars. I think if you gave them you would have much more difficulty in future, because if people are assured by a State Department that their evidence will be regarded as confidential and if that evidence is subsequently published you will never be able to get any evidence to investigate any claim in the future. At least, it will be very much more difficult to do so. What I am still concerned with is that other Departments should not take this omission of the Dáil to make provision in this sense under the Military Service Pensions Act of 1924 as a precedent. That is met by this Bill. I can quite understand that Deputies opposite feel bound to oppose it, but I do feel that it is in the best interests of national accounts. I think Deputy Corry has never studied national accounts.
Mr. Byrne: This is a Bill to make the findings made or to be made by the Board of Assessors, constituted under the Military Service Pensions Act 1924, final and conclusive and binding on all persons and tribunals. The Opposition have taken certain objections to the passage of the Bill. Of course, it was to be expected that the official Opposition would naturally object to a Bill of this kind. On the hustings they have pledged that when returned to  office—which perhaps may occur in the millennium—one of their first acts will be the abolition of military service pensions that are paid under this Bill. I cannot see why, if this Dáil set up a certain tribunal to decide certain matters under this Bill, the findings of that tribunal should not be carried out and made final.
Mr. Byrne: What I want to know from the Opposition is: if we set up a tribunal to deal with military service pensions which has certain rights and privileges and give it the right to come to certain findings and conclusions, what in the name of Providence do we want to go and reopen that for if the Act has been sanctioned by the Dáil? I can quite understand the official Opposition objecting to the Bill. They are perfectly reasonable and logical in the attitude they take up. They are going to sweep everything that this Dáil has created out of existence when they come in, and the first thing they are going to sweep out of existence is the military service pensions paid to these unfortunate men who saved the country in its hour of need. We, on this side of the House, feel that we owe a certain debt to these men and we are paying them that debt of obligation by means of this Bill. As I have said, I have sat on the Public Accounts Committee along with Deputy Davin, and I have come up against the question of the intrusion of the Comptroller and Auditor-General as  to the investigation of findings that have been already reached under a statute passed by this House. What is the necessity, from the point of view of public finance, for the Comptroller and Auditor-General to inquire into matters made final and conclusive under statute? What was the object of setting up the tribunal if we do not mean to honour the findings of that tribunal? As I have said, I can quite understand the official Opposition objecting to the passage of the Bill. That has been their policy from start to finish and they are perfectly logical in their attitude. But, the Labour Party, who voted for the passage of this Act, and who agreed to the setting up of this tribunal, want to turn down the following day the thing they voted for yesterday. This is a face-saving dodge. What the Labour Party are going to gain by refusing these unfortunate men the pittance they are entitled to, I fail to see. The Labour Party know as well as I do that these men are entitled to anything they get under the Act—they know they have earned it and deserve it. The attempt of the Labour Party to justify their attitude in this House on this matter is one that the country in my opinion will accept at its true face value.
Deputy Boland tells us that these men should not have received pensions. That was a perfectly legitimate statement on his part, and I respect him for the logical attitude he has adopted. He and his Party have all along taken up that attitude. I have met Deputy Boland on the hustings, and heard him time and again dealing with this matter. As I say, he is perfectly justified in taking up the standpoint that he has taken. But I listened to what Deputy MacEntee had to say on the Bill. The Deputy, I understand, is the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee at present, but he did not give the House a single valid reason why this Bill should not be passed.
Mr. Byrne: I heard Deputy MacEntee interrupt Deputy Cooper to explain the functions of the Comptroller and Auditor-General. Of course, we all recognise that Deputy MacEntee is an authority in the realms of finance, in which I regret to say I am not a very great authority. I would have liked Deputy MacEntee as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, to tell the House why the power that he seeks should be entrusted to the Comptroller and Auditor-General contrary to the provisions of this Bill. If we give the Comptroller and Auditor-General these powers, what useful purpose will be accomplished?
Mr. Byrne: The Comptroller and Auditor-General gets his salary for seeing that things are carried out in a regular manner. As an ex-member of the Public Accounts Committee, I say, as far as military service pensions are concerned, that everything has been properly and formally carried out, and I can see no reason why the powers that the Opposition want given to him should be placed in the hands of the Comptroller and Auditor-General. We all know that the Comptroller and Auditor-General is a very able and efficient servant. He is a man that we all agree is one of the best and most valuable servants in the State.
Mr. Byrne: I have already answered that. Why should we set up a tribunal to carry out certain things and then give to one man power to upset all the findings that have been arrived at according to law? That is the whole thing in a nutshell, and the Labour Party cannot get away from it. I never  heard the Labour Party put up a poorer or more indefensible case since I came into this House. I certainly did expect something from Deputy Davin, because I always find him to be sensible and generally fair. He knows as well as I do that if you gave the powers sought to the Comptroller and Auditor-General it would not make one bit of difference, except that you give him certain formal powers that would have no real effect. Objection is made to the findings of the Board of Assessors being made final. If you gave these powers to the Comptroller and Auditor-General, could he upset what has been carried out by statute under the Act?
Mr. Fahy: Would the Deputy inform us, as some of us are anxious to know how a Deputy, who was not present in the House, could find out within an hour of the delivery of a speech what was said in that speech?
Mr. Byrne: I should like to inform Deputy Fahy that, although not occupying a seat down here, which perhaps is a more prominent place than the gallery at the back, I have listened with very great interest to the speeches delivered, and especially to the speech that Deputy Boland delivered, and I presume that Deputy Boland was speaking on behalf of his Party. I also had the pleasure of hearing the interruptions of Deputy MacEntee during the speech of Deputy Cooper.
Mr. Byrne: Now that I have assured them on that point I think we can come to the conclusion that the attitude of the Opposition here this evening really means nothing. It is an endeavour on their part to carry out election promises and election promises, we all know——
Mr. Byrne: We say many things in the heat of the moment at elections and perhaps we are sorry for some of them afterwards. I should like to join issue with Deputy Boland on one point in his speech. He said that these men should not have received pensions, but he did not tell us why these men should not receive pensions. These men stood up and defended the nation in the hour of its trial and they are entitled to the pensions they are in receipt of for the services which they rendered to the State. The few thousands included in this Bill possibly saved this nation many millions of money. The Labour Party know that as well as I do. As I say, I can quite agree with some of the remarks of Deputy Boland, but the attitude of the Labour Party upon this matter appears to me to be absolutely incomprehensible. I would like now to turn to Section 3 of the Bill, and I should be glad if the Minister when he speaks would give me some information in regard to sub-section (1) of Section 3, which reads: “In sub-section (3) of Section 4 of the Principal Act the word `rank' shall mean and be deemed always to have meant, substantive rank only and not to have included acting rank and the said sub-section shall be construed and shall have and be deemed always to have had effect accordingly.” I should like if the Minister would explain exactly what the word “rank” means there. With regard to sub-section (2) which reads: “Every reference in the Second Schedule to the Principal Act to the  rank or capacity in which a person was serving at a particular time shall be construed as referring to the substantive rank held by such person at such time and the said Second Schedule shall have effect and be deemed always to have had effect accordingly.” I ask the Minister to explain and to make more clear than the draughtsman has set out, the meaning of this sub-section.
Minister for Agriculture (Mr. Hogan): I presume I am entitled to examine the alternative put up to this Bill by Deputies opposite, and, if I may say so, I think the Deputy who has just sat down has asked a very proper question of the leader of the Labour Party, Deputy O'Connell. As I understood Deputy O'Connell's objections to this Bill, they were mainly what I might call legal objections to the form of the tribunal and to the method of carryout the purposes of the Bill. I did not hear any objection, and did not expect to hear any objection, from the Labour Party to the paying of pensions to people entitled to have them.
Mr. Hogan: It is to the methods and form of the Bill that the Deputy objects. I listened very carefully to Deputy O'Connell, and the only alternative he had to put forward to the procedure that has been adopted and is being legalised by this Bill really comes to this on examination —that the Comptroller and Auditor-General should inquire into the merits of each case, and say whether in each case the pensions should or should not be granted. That is what the alternative comes to. It is said that all the files in connection with each of these cases should be available to the Comptroller and Auditor-General. For what purpose? We ought to have some clear thinking upon this matter. For what purpose? For the purpose of examining. I assume, the evidence contained in these files; for the purpose  of seeing that the certificates brought forward are correct. Does not that in fact amount to this— if the Comptroller and Auditor-General is to do any real work, is to be nothing more than a camouflage, does it not mean going into the merits of each case and doing over again the work that a semi-judicial body has already done? If the Comptroller and Auditor-General is not to go into the merits of each case and to examine each certificate, and to weigh up the evidence pro and con given by each person, what is the use of calling for the files? Has he any function to call for the files?
Mr. Hogan: And for what purpose are they to be called for? This is to prevent him from getting that right —I am on the merits of the case. Why give that right? What is he to do if he is not to try the case all over again?
Mr. O'Connell: May I ask a question? Has not a civil servant applying for disablement pension to submit a certificate showing the state of his health, and all that sort of thing, to show that the pension is properly payable to him? And are not these files available to the Comptroller and Auditor-General? And also in the case of every national teacher?
Mr. Hogan: Of course. Is the case of a civil servant applying for a pension analogous to the applications for pensions referred to here— are the considerations that arise when a civil servant is applying for a pension analogous to the applications here? They are all fixed definitely by a certificate, and the Comptroller and Auditor-General in that respect is in exactly the same position as the Minister. But in the considerations that arise here the certificates are the least important part. Oral evidence, which must be given on oath, and given by persons who have been promised that their evidence was confidential, is really the important evidence.
Mr. Hogan: I shall deal with that, I have a note of it, and I will come to it later and see whether it is right or not. But there is no analogy whatever between the application of a civil servant, whose right to a pension is established by a simple rule, and applications of this sort, which are governed by no rules of any kind, and must be decided on the merits of each case by oral evidence, and in which certificates of various parties are of no importance whatever.
Mr. Hogan: Deputies opposite will have to realise that if they attempt to hit, they will be hit back here in this House and elsewhere. This sort of “Hit me now with the Republic in my arms” will not do here.
Mr. Hogan: Deputy MacEntee ought to endeavour to grow up; he is the boy who will not grow up. A lot of humbug has been introduced into this debate. I am not paying any compliments to anybody—I am not used to doing that—but I wish to say that I know the Labour Party are approaching this on the merits. I know that, though I do not agree with their formalism on a  great many occasions. As I have said a great deal of humbug has been introduced into this debate from the other side of the House. We are making no excuse for paying pensions to these people for they are entitled to them. Some Deputy said that we in this Party wanted to see them paid pensions. That is not the position. The position is that the country wants to see them rewarded for the good value that they gave to the country, and I say that we are expressing the point of view of the people of the country when we give them pensions.
Mr. Hogan: I ask Deputies to approach this thing dispassionately, impartially and judicially and not to allow themselves to be oppressed, let me say, by the atmosphere that has been generated here with regard to these pensions. I am not getting any pension because I was not entitled to one, but if I were I would make no excuse to anybody for taking it—none whatever. To come back to the point I was dealing with. I want seriously to put this to the Labour Party. Am I right in saying that the Comptroller and Auditor-General has no functions worth anything in respect to these pensions, or in respect to access to the files connected with the pensions if he is not to go into the merits of each case and examine the evidence on which the pensions are based. I honestly cannot see that he has.
Mr. Fahy: Might I intervene to put a question to the Minister? Suppose a definite case is put up by me or by some other Deputy in the House in which there is evidence that a man getting a pension is not entitled to it, and that the Comptroller and Auditor-General goes through the files and finds that that case is correct, would not the exposure of one or two such cases of fraud be very useful in the public interest?
Mr. Hogan: Am I not right in saying that the Comptroller and Auditor-General has no function  worth twopence in the matter if he is not to examine the files, and really to do over again what this semi-judicial body has already done. What I want to put to the House is this, was it really contemplated, when that Act was being passed, that the Comptroller and Auditor-General was to duplicate the work of this committee? That is the whole question and it is the real question As to Deputy Fahy's question, that in my opinion is really a question of procedure. I confess that I do not know the procedure of the House very well, but on this I am perfectly satisfied that while I do not know the procedure there is some method of raising a question with regard to any pension. As I have said, I do not know what that procedure is.
Mr. Fahy: I do not want to have the matter raised in the House, but I think if power were put into the hands of the Comptroller and Auditor-General and that through the Public Accounts Committee or in some other way we were enabled to put before it one or two such cases as I have mentioned, it would serve a very useful purpose, even supposing that the Comptroller and Auditor-General did not examine all the files.
Mr. Hogan: That is a totally irrelevant point. I am not prepared to deal with the point as to what the procedure should be in such cases. I am more familiar with the procedure, say, of the Circuit Court than I am with the procedure of the House. But in regard to the point put by the Deputy I have not the slightest doubt but that procedure could be outlined for dealing with it. At the moment I am on the specific point which appears to weigh very heavily with the Labour Party. I put it to the Labour Party that if the Comptroller  and Auditor-General is to have the right to go into one case then he should have the right to go into all cases, and the only way in which he can in any sense examine any case under this Act that has been decided by this tribunal is to go into the merits of the case in exactly the same way as the tribunal itself did.
Mr. T.J. O'Connell: That is what the Comptroller and Auditor-General does in the general course of his work. In hundreds of individual cases decided by departments the files relating to them must be available for the Comptroller and Auditor-General.
Mr. Hogan: As I have said in the sense that I am legally advised, he has not the right. I go further and say that I doubt that it was ever contemplated by any member of the Labour Party when we were passing this Act that he should have the right to re-try any or all the cases, and that is really what is demanded. When it is all boiled down, that is what it comes to.
|Last Updated: 16/05/2011 16:00:20||Page of 31|