In Committee on Finance. - Vote 61—Unemployment Insurance and Unemployment Assistance (Resumed).

Wednesday, 30 May 1934

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 52 No. 16

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Debate resumed on the following motion:

Go ndeontar suim ná raghaidh thar £931,220 chun slánuithe na suime is gá chun íoctha an Mhurir a thiocfaidh chun bheith iníoctha i rith na bliana dar críoch an 31adh lá de Mhárta, 1935, chun Tuarastail agus Costaisí i dtaobh Arachais Díomhaointis agus Malartán Fostuíochta (maraon le síntiúisí do Chiste an Diomhaointis) agus i dtaobh Conganta Díomhaointis (9 Edw. 7, c. 7; 10 agus 11 Geo. 5, c. 30; 11 Geo. 5, c. 1; 11 agus 12 Geo. 5, c. 15; 12 Geo. 5, c. 7; Uimh. 17 de 1923; Uimh. 26 agus Uimh. 59 de 1924; Uimh. 21 de 1926; Uimh. 33 de 1930; agus Uimh. 44 agus Uimh. 46 de 1933).

That a sum not exceeding £931,220 be granted to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1935, for the Salaries and Expenses in connection with Unemployment Insurance and Employment Exchanges (including contributions to the Unemployment Fund) and Unemployment Assistance (9 Edw. 7, [2052] c. 7; 10 and 11 Geo. 5, c. 30; 11 Geo. 5, c. 1; 11 and 12 Geo. 5, c. 15; 12 Geo. 5, c. 7; No. 17 of 1923; Nos. 26 and 59 of 1924; No. 21 of 1926; No. 33 of 1930; and Nos. 44 and 46 of 1933).

Mr. Keyes: Information on Michael J. Keyes  Zoom on Michael J. Keyes  I was referring last night on this Estimate to the delay which takes place in dealing with workers' claims at the labour exchange where appeals have to be made for one reason or another. I suggested that by the application of commonsense methods to this matter, which has caused so much trouble for a number of years, it would be possible for the Minister at least to cut the red tape in half and prevent this round-robin sort of business taking place and thus get a speedier decision for the unfortunate people who are waiting for some benefits from the labour exchange. I am afraid the Department has been somnolent while the matter is in cold storage at headquarters in Dublin or in the respective branch offices. A system seems to have been adopted which cannot be altered. Unfortunately, the other side of it is that the workers are parading day after day outside the exchange and collecting in groups at the corners denouncing this slow motion, which seems to have little regard for their sufferings, while their wives are parading to the grocer's shop, perhaps, where their financial credit has been strained waiting for this long-delayed money from the exchange to which the applicants are justly entitled by their contributions. The matter ought to be looked into with a view to having an alteration made in the existing methods.

In dealing with that matter I should like to make special reference to the appeal cases with regard to small farmers which have to be dealt with by the Court of Referees and the Umpire. The functions of the Court of Referees, as I mentioned last night deal mainly with matters of fact. They have close contact and intimate relationship, in many instances, with the actual circumstances. They can see the actual value of the few acres of land that a man is credited with. If an appeal is taken, it is objected to perhaps by some officer in Dublin [2053] and eventually it goes to the Umpire. The Umpire's decisions are cryptic and never illuminating. The grounds are not stated or how the decisions have been arrived at. One would naturally be inclined to be suspicious that the official who first objected to, or overrode the decision of the Court of Referees, plays a very large part in determining the Umpire's eventual decision. This matter has been referred to year after year. The previous Minister called it a hardy annual. I need not, however, make any apology for introducing it again because it has not been remedied. The workers and the small farmers form a very large part of the framework of the country and it is nothing short of sharp practice to accept the contributions of these people with a few acres of stony ground who, when they come to collect the benefit, are repudiated and turned down without getting any satisfaction.

Let us take another example of the methods of this branch—a case where an employer fails to stamp the cards of his employee. When the employee wants to draw benefit the exchange endeavours to collect the arrears and if they fail to do so they report the matter to Dublin. The matter is taken up at the headquarters of the Local Government Department and they refer it to the inspector in the district. He makes an attempt and, perhaps, succeeds, and he reports back to his own Department. In due course it is reported back that the man is entitled to get benefit in respect of the stamps which have then been collected. We should bear in mind that these benefits are only payable to the applicant from the date of collection by the Department. Of course, if the worker suffered any loss he can bring the defaulting employer to court. I should like to inquire what is the necessity for this undue delay or why there is this persistent and incessant going up and down to Dublin. One would think that the local officer would be entitled, having failed to collect himself, to transfer the matter directly to the Local Government inspector in the district who eventually does the job.

[2054] I should also like if the Minister would give us some information on the question of reciprocity. This matter has been raised many times, but no progress seems to have been made in the matter. I should like to know if anything has been done, or if any hope can be held out of arriving at some form of arrangement with Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Many hundreds of Saorstát nationals are suffering because of the lack of reciprocity in connection with this matter. A former Minister told us that his officials attended a conference in London without any results accruing from it. If all the members of the House have the high admiration that I have for the higher officials of the Department I would not be surprised if we did get results. I suggest to the Minister that he ought not to be deterred by this failure and that he ought to apply himself to the matter. I feel sure that if the Minister would apply his fertile brain to the solution of the problem he would secure a signal triumph and wipe out what is undoubtedly a long-standing reproach. There is no reason why the British Government should continue to extract contributions from our nationals and refuse to pay them benefits when they come back to this country. I believe that with the application of some commonsense an arrangement could be arrived at which would remove this reproach and I will ask the Minister to give the matter his attention.

The Minister introduced a most praiseworthy idea with regard to the distribution of work in connection with relief schemes in order to ensure that the work would be given to those most in need of it. I want to pillory the Department for not giving effect to the Minister's intentions and in failing to provide suitable machinery for carrying out the objects he had in mind. Numerous complaints were heard in this House last year with regard to the manner in which the work was being allocated. It was indicated that farmers living in a big way were employed on relief schemes. Employment, it was stated, was given to well-off farmers and their sons and to pensioners and their sons [2055] and in some instances to the sons of people holding public positions, all to the detriment of labourers living in cottages and small farmers living on miserable holdings. These complaints were all attributable to the lack of suitable arrangements and the Department was largely responsible in that connection.

The system of registration was established and, if there was apathy in signing, that could not be described as the fault of the Department. I have known of cases, however, where men returned their cards by post and got nothing in return. We had cases of people who secured employment off their own bat. Some five or six weeks afterwards they were sent for by the exchange in order to be put to work. That indicates that they had been considered as unemployed in the exchange, thereby proving that the exchange is not a reliable source of information in the matter of statistics relating to unemployment or otherwise. Deputy Norton urged upon the Department the desirability of issuing a particular form which would help to clear up some of the chaos. That form was eventually issued. After a time the form was scrapped and an improved form was issued. The latest form makes a decent attempt to compel applicants to describe more closely and more approximately their true position. This has certainly resulted in an improvement, but the system is not by any means water-tight yet.

In conclusion, I would like to suggest that from the points I have made it is obvious there are a good many matters that require looking into in the Department. The Department was not giving satisfaction but, nevertheless, it was loaded with the administration of the Unemployment Assistance Act which is a glaring example from the point of view of its lack of order and planning. Notwithstanding whatever reports the Minister has got to the contrary, I may assure him that that Act is causing great aggravation throughout the country. I suggest that his Department particularly requires some looking into. I am not charging the minor officials, the rank and file of the [2056] staff. I have had close contact with labour exchanges during the last 20 years, both as an insured worker and as a representative of the insured workers, and I want to pay a tribute to the courtesy, efficiency and capability of the officials whom I met in labour exchanges in the various counties. They are the victims of a system; they act as the buffer between an almost impossible kind of legislation and the public. They do their very best in trying circumstances, and the Minister ought now to come to their assistance by holding a searching investigation into the methods obtaining.

Some brass-hatted, wooden-headed demi-god is controlling affairs somewhere, and the rank and file of the civil servants in that Department are being made the victims. Those officials are hard worked and underpaid. I know several officers who are doing responsible work for scandalously low wages. They are endeavouring to give satisfaction to the people under the most trying conditions. It is with the system and not with the officials that the fault lies. The Minister would do well if he would endeavour to infuse into his higher officials some of his well-known enthusiasm and energy, if he would try to galvanise into some form of activity some of the officials at the top in his Department and encourage them to introduce some machinery which will give a feeling of satisfaction such as the Department has not given so far.

Mr. T.J. Murphy: Information on Timothy J Murphy  Zoom on Timothy J Murphy  I want to support very fully all that has been said by Deputy Keyes in reference to the administration of the Unemployment Assistance Act. I want to join with him in complaining about the very great delay that has been experienced in the investigation of claims. I would like to have some comment on the statement that is frequently being made in the country that hundreds of cases are being held up in the Gárda Síochána stations in the absence of the appropriate forms for making a report. If that is the case, it is very hard to understand a situation that permits of a difficulty of that kind remaining in the way for any long period. I have met dozens of people who have been waiting for weeks for information in [2057] connection with this matter. In a great many cases they have been cut off public assistance. That has been the case in my own county, because the funds available for public assistance have been strained to the very maximum. In the case of two boards of health in County Cork of which I have some knowledge, they made provision on the basis of complete relief in respect of people to whom this Act would apply as from the appointed day mentioned in the Act. That is one aspect of the case, and it represents a very real grievance in the country. There is certainly bitter resentment and disappointment over the delay.

In connection with the assessment of means, it appears to me that the revenue officers in the country are in a great many cases completely running amok. The Minister can get very valuable information on this point if he inquires from the people in the Local Government Department who have had experience already of the assessment of means for old age pension purposes. Perhaps the best suggestion I could make is that he might ask the opinion of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Local Government, Deputy Ward. On more than one occasion Deputy Ward very properly complained in this House about the unfair and grossly exaggerated assessment of means and, when he had an opportunity of dealing with this matter officially, he introduced an amending Bill to the Old Age Pensions Act and removed a great many of the evils of which he had previously complained. The present means test in the case of unemployment assistance, in so far as one can get any information about it, seems to be on an entirely wrong and unfair basis. I have been told of people who were getting public assistance at the rate of 6/- or 7/- a week finding, when their cases came to be dealt with and when they got information as to the amount of unemployment assistance that they would receive, that that amount fell considerably short of the amount of public assistance they had been receiving.

This matter is terribly urgent, and bound up with it is the financial position [2058] of boards of assistance. We had a report before the meeting of the West Cork Board of Assistance from the superintendent home assistance officer indicating that the working of this Act in Bantry on the 19th May showed a saving of 5/- as regards public assistance. That would mean that probably only one case out of the number of applicants who were previously in receipt of public assistance had been dealt with. In one other town in West Cork the saving of 9/- was indicated. The board of health prepared an estimate based on relief to the extent of £80 a week. The amount of relief over the whole area up to the present would be nearer £20, about a quarter of the amount estimated. The Minister should recognise that conditions are quite different from what he described last night, when he said that this Act is working smoothly. As a matter of fact, the Act is a source of intense irritation, disappointment and bitterness to a very large number of people. I would like the Minister to give some assurance at the conclusion of this debate that an adequate supply of forms will be made available in different areas in the country, and that a special reminder will be sent out to expedite decisions on claims. Any indication that this vicious means test will be immediately revised with a view to giving some fairer estimate of whatever little means people who are applicants for public assistance possess, will also be very welcome.

I would like to associate myself with Deputy Keyes in referring to one matter, and that is the disability from which people with small patches of land suffer in the matter of applying for unemployment insurance benefit. I speak particularly with reference to the West Cork area, and this applies especially in the Berehaven Peninsula, the area between Glengarriff and Berehaven. It is an area that is quite as remote and desolate as even the poorest parts of Connemara. The man there with three or five acres of land is, at the very best, in a very poor position. He works on the roads, because he could not get a living for one month out of the 12 on his holding. [2059] Very large numbers of the people get work of some kind or other, and when they come to claim benefit by reason of the few stamps they have accumulated they are refused that benefit. I must ask the Minister to endeavour to remedy this state of affairs. I suppose we are precluded in this discussion from advocating a change in the law, but perhaps I might be permitted to ask the Minister to endeavour in some way to get over the difficulty, because the poor people concerned suffer tremendous hardships. What I have said applies particularly to the area from Glengarriff to Allihies Mines— the whole Berehaven Peninsula. The holdings of these poor people have a very low valuation, and it is really a pity that they cannot be given insurance benefit in respect of the stamps they have to their credit.

I realise that the Minister has taken on a very big job, and that in the circumstances he is doing his best. This is really a tremendous scheme, and it necessitates very considerable care in the matter of administration. I urge the Minister immediately to undertake the job of investigating the whole matter and introducing whatever changes are necessary in the way of administration. I ask him to hasten the time when we can dispense with legislation of this kind and be in a position to provide work for the people who are at the present moment forced to look for assistance. The sooner this scheme is abandoned in favour of a scheme providing work for several thousands of people the better for the country as a whole. I suggest that the Minister should take the earliest opportunity of consulting with Senator Connolly as to the possibilities of reafforestation on a large scale. Any work of that kind would be far preferable to any legislation such as this.

Mr. Hogan: Information on Patrick Hogan  Zoom on Patrick Hogan  (Clare): Whilst I am prepared to make every possible allowance for the fact that the Minister undertook a huge job in endeavouring to provide unemployment assistance for the unemployed and at the same time to carry on other forms of administration in his Department, I think there are many matters that he might well [2060] give his immediate attention to. First of all there is the important point about the delay in issuing qualification certificates. Let us take the case of two men in exactly the same position so far as means are concerned. Let us say A and B are married men with families. Both put in their applications for a qualification certificate on, say, the 20th April. One certificate is issued a month or six weeks before the other and the man who receives it is eligible for unemployment assistance a month before the other. Let us say that A is granted a certificate and B's certificate is issued a month afterwards. A is entitled to draw the money but B cannot draw it for at least a month afterwards, although both are in the same category so far as one can judge by the statements they make. Surely that is a case the Minister might consider with the object of seeing if B is not entitled to retrospective payment. If A is entitled to payment as from the 20th May and B, because his qualification certificate is not issued, does not receive payment until the 30th May, surely there are ten days payment due to B? At all events that seems to be the equity of the matter, the genuine solution.

The means test has been very clearly discussed. In regard to it there is a great deal of dissatisfaction. There seem to be accumulating a certain amount of stereotyped decisions regarding the value of certain things and they seem to have percolated through all the Departments from the Department of Finance, form which nobody expects anything very generous, to the Department of Industry and Commerce, where one would expect something more considerate, anyhow. As regards exchanges, some time ago I made the statement that in certain instances people are expected to deal with exchanges 20 to 22 miles apart. I indicated a case in my own country. I pointed out that Whitegate is 20 miles from Limerick and 22 miles from Ennis. Since I mentioned that matter the Minister has given it his consideration. In West Clare at the moment there is one area where there are 800 or 900 unemployed and the nearest exchange is over 20 miles away. I refer to the Peninsula running out from Kilkee and [2061] those people have to go to Kilrush from Carrigaholt and other districts.

I want to refer once more to what Deputy McGilligan used to call my hardy annual. It is the case of the small farmer who has possibly a couple of young cattle and who during the winter season has to give them hay. During the other portions of the year they simply are left on the grass. During that period the man finds work on the road and yet, because of the interpretation of the section which governs such cases, and which I believe is a wrong interpretation, such a man is not entitiled to receive unemployment insurance benefit. He is employed by a county council; the money is stopped for stamps, and at the very outset, when the money is being stopped, it is clearly understood that he is not entitled to any resulting benefit. The stamps are stopped, and yet because of previous decisions and because of the knowledge the officials have and the knowledge the Department officials have also, it is clearly understood that he is not entitled to any benefit. There is another matter to which the Minister referred here the other night. He said, and I was glad to hear the Minister say it—although I do not wish to hold him to it as I know what his difficulties are—that workers on arterial drainage schemes were entitled to have their cards stamped. If that is an ex cathedra statement I should be glad of it because I remember that when the Fergus arterial drainage was in progress I raised the matter here of men who had been working for very long periods under what, under no circumstances, could be considered as agricultural employment—they were wading waist high through water and working under conditions that by no stretch of imagination could be considered as conditions of agricultural work—and yet they were not given unemployment insurance stamps and, consequently, were denied the benefits that would accrue from the insurance stamps when they ceased working on the Fergus drainage.

I should like to know whether or not the Minister's attitude on that situation has altered and, if it has altered, I should like to know whether now we [2062] can have retrospective action in the matter of seeing that these men get unemployment benefit for their insurance stamps. I believe that the real trouble in the Minister's Department in that connection is that there is not a sufficient staff in his Department to carry on the work. I believe that the Minister is endeavouring to carry on with a staff that is not capable of dealing with all the work that has been put on them. The staff, as I know, are very conscientious regarding their work and give very great attention to it. They do the very best that that number of men can do under the circumstances, but when you increase legislation, as the Minister has, for a very considerable time, and when you put on the staff the burden of trying to deal with unemployment assistance as well as unemployment insurance along with all the other activities of the Department, unless there is a corresponding increase in the staff surely it cannot be expected that they will be able to carry on efficiently. The fact is that the Minister has not provided a sufficient staff to cope with the vastly increased work of his Department, and I think he should pay particular attention to this matter. I would suggest also that he should have a Parliamentary Secretary to deal with the whole work of unemployment.

Mr. Everett: Information on James Everett  Zoom on James Everett  I rise to ask the Minister to reconsider the question of valuation. I maintain that the present means test is most unfair. I have heard hints from various members as to the method that is adopted, but I should like to know from the Minister if it is a fact that the following document has been sent out to people in connection with the value of land. If that is so, Deputy Belton and the Farmers' Party have no complaint whatsoever in connection with the value of land in this country. I understand that a document has been sent out to advise the valuers as to what charge should be made per man, and that the valuation on the owner of a perch of land is at £1 per perch. In other words, if a man has an acre of land, it means a valuation of £160 for that acre and he is not entitled to [2063] benefit. Notwithstanding that high valuation by the Revenue Commissioners we have also had a purchase scheme for land for the building of houses in County Limerick, and the valuer there, to my own knowledge, gave a value of £5 and £10 an acre to the owners of land. Having given that value to land for building purposes, I cannot understand why the Minister should value it at £160 per acre.

That might be all right if it only ended with the land. The man, however, may be the owner of a couple of sheep. The investigator goes around and puts down the value of the sheep and, say, two lambs—as it is taken for granted that the sheep will have lambs —at 12/- each, and also the value of, say, 6 lbs. of wool. I am sorry that that gentleman does not have to go around to the markets to purchase either lambs or sheep. So much for sheep. Then there is the goat. The value of a goat is put down at 15/- a year. Capitalised, that would be over £20, and you could buy a cow at the present time for £7 10s. This is the document from the Minister's Department in connection with the valuation of perquisites. Although the principle involved may be all right, I would never support such an unfair means test as this, which means depriving men of unemployment benefit while they are idle.

I am quite certain that a number of applicants from all over the Saorstát will be denied benefit if this unfair test is to be applied, and if you are leaving it to the Revenue Commissioners— and we have had some sad experience of them from the operation of the old age pensions—there will be very few people, if any, who will be entitled to unemployment assistance. We all have our complaints with regard to unnecessary delay. Then there is the question of distance. There are the cases of men who have to travel five or six miles three times a week to register. In this connection I would suggest to the Minister that he should consider the question of South Wicklow. There are men in the area of Shillelagh who have to go to Arklow to register or else to Gorey. Some [2064] even have to go to Tullow, in County Carlow, and very often the county surveyor may only ask for the men from the labour exchange in Arklow, and certain men will then get it while men from Gorey and Shillelagh will not get it. I think that some arrangements should be made other than having men travel five and six miles three times a week in order to get a postal order for 6d. from the Minister's Department. I suggest to the Minister that it is a matter to which he should give his own special attention. It is a matter to be inquired into by his own Department. If this means test is going to be used in the way is has been up to the present the sooner it is changed so as to give unemployment benefit to those who are entitled to it the better.

Mr. O'Neill: Information on Eamonn O'Neill  Zoom on Eamonn O'Neill  Before the Minister concludes, there is one point to which I should like to draw his attention. It is a matter that has also been mentioned by Deputies on the Labour Benches. That is the question of reciprocity in the case of those men who have to seek employment abroad in Great Britain. I would stress that specially in the case of merchant sailors. I raised this question before in the House. It is not a question of seeking for new powers or instituting new legislation in regard to the matter. If my own town of Kinsale is any indication as to the numbers affected by it, I would say there would be a couple of thousand men affected in the country. These are men who have to seek their living abroad in the British Mercantile Marine. These men, while unemployment insurance is being deducted from their wages, are unable to get any benefit unless they are domiciled in England. Some of them are married men with their families living in Ireland, and some of them have no homes in England while waiting for ships. There is no such thing as permanent employment on sea-going vessels. A ship's voyage may last a couple of months or it may only last a couple of weeks. Between the time when the ships are discharged there is a wait of perhaps a month or two [2065] before they get another ship. During that time these men are idle and unable to draw any benefit whatever. I appeal to the Minister to consider this matter, which has a very important bearing on the conditions of these men. I appeal to him to do anything that is possible towards solving the problem. In doing so, he would be conferring a great benefit on a deserving body of men.

Mr. Lemass: Information on Seán F. Lemass  Zoom on Seán F. Lemass  The matter referred to by Deputy O'Neill was also referred to by Deputy Keyes—that is the making of arrangements with the British Government by which Irish sailors on British ships, and Irish workers employed in Great Britain, would be entitled to receive unemployment benefit while unemployed and resident in Ireland. I can hold out no hope whatever in that matter. All the attempts which were made during the past ten years to effect such an arrangement have failed. Deputy Keyes said if we put our minds to the matter we could devise a solution of the problem. I could offer right away a half a dozen solutions of the problem, but the only difficulty is that the British Government will not agree that they are solutions. It would be a mistake to leave anybody under the impression that there is any prospect of the British Government entering into any arrangement, because up to the present they have taken an attitude which precludes any such possibility.

In connection with the administration of the Unemployment Assistance Act there have been two main complaints voiced here to-day. The first is in relation to the delay in the issuing of qualification certificates, and secondly, as to the manner in which the yearly value of the means possessed by the applicant is assessed. The term “delay” is used in relation to the issue of unemployment certificates, but it is used by people who must have had a rather extraordinary idea concerning the manner in which the Act could have been brought into operation. It may be that some people consider that it is possible to devise a system by which a date could be fixed, and the Act would come automatically and completely into operation that day, [2066] and that everybody in the country who was entitled to a qualification certificate would get it by post next morning and be entitled to get unemployment assistance on the following day.

I could not devise any system or any organisation capable of bringing the Act into operation in that manner. We provided a period of six weeks between the date on which application for qualification certificates could first be made and the date upon which persons in receipt of these qualification certificates could commence to draw unemployment assistance if qualified. The fact was that very few persons applied for qualification certificates in the early portion of the period. It was not until within a week or ten days of the date on which the payment of home assistance was to start that applications for certificates were received in any number. Every person in the country who qualifies according to the terms of the Act, whether employed or unemployed, is entitled to apply for a certificate.

There were some 200,000 applications for certificates received, and it is a matter upon which the Department can claim credit that over 60,000 of these applications have been disposed of within four weeks. Bear in mind that the disposal of these applications meant investigations as to the facts stated in the application and the assessment of the value of the means of the persons who have received their qualification certificates. Less than half have applied for unemployment assistance. That is a fact the significance of which should not be lost, because it is not unreasonable to assume that in the case of those whose applications for certificates have not yet been disposed of, it will be found that a similar proportion are not entitled to unemployment assistance. In any event, whether unemployed or otherwise, it is a qualification for the receipt of unemployment assistance.

These qualification certificates have been issued by my Department at the rate of 2,000 a day. The whole number now outstanding will be disposed of in a very short period. There is, of course, no legal power to pay unemployment assistance as from the 18th [2067] April to any person who has not yet got a certificate. Any person who was entitled to receive unemployment assistance, that is, any person who got a certificate qualifying for unemployment assistance, has experienced no delay in receiving it. The matter of the issuing of the certificates and the making of the claims for unemployment assistance is something not peculiar to this period. It is something which will become a normal feature in the future.

The Department of Industry and Commerce is responsible mainly for seeing that persons who hold unemployment certificates get the unemployment assistance when they claim it and are qualified to receive it. The Department of Industry and Commerce is not directly responsible for a large part of the work in connection with the issuing of the certificates. A large part of that work rests with the Revenue Commissioners and is being exercised by the Gárda Síochána. The Gárda Síochána have not complained to my Department that they have experienced any shortage of the necessary forms. If there is any shortage of the necessary forms in any Gárda Síochána barracks the shortage can be made good without any delay on an intimation of that fact. If Deputies are aware of any district in which the operation of the Act is delayed because of the absence of the forms, I would be glad to have particulars. Any delay of that kind is delay due to the negligence on the part of the officers concerned and can very easily be remedied.

Neither is the Department of Industry and Commerce responsible for the principles adopted in the assessment of value of the means of the applicant. The Gárda Síochána are doing that work and they are doing it on the advice and instructions which they had from the pension officers and the same principles that operate in the assessment of the means in the case of old age pensioners operate in the case of the Unemployment Assistance Act. There is no doubt but the Guards have made mistakes. Some of them seem to have exaggerated the value of the land, the goats, the pigs and the [2068] hens which the applicant has. That was inevitable. There are cases where undue value is placed on the property. In such cases the person is entitled to appeal to the Appeals Committee and the Appeals Committee have already reversed a number of the assessments made in individual cases. In due course, when there will have been a number of decisions in typical cases made by the Appeals Committee there will be in existence a series of standards on which the permanent officers who will be engaged in that work in the future will be able to base their review. There would, of course, be little difficulty and not very much hardship occasioned by the fact that the Act could not be brought into complete operation overnight, if some of the boards of assistance in different parts of the country had been properly advised, both as to the effects of the Unemployment Assistance Act and their own responsibilities.

It was an astonishing thing that any board of assistance should have decided to make no provision for the assistance of able-bodied persons after 1st April this year. Any board which did that could not possibly have even taken the trouble to read the terms of the Act and they certainly did not take the trouble to address a letter of inquiry to the Department of Industry and Commerce as to the date on which the Act was going to be brought into operation and as to the manner in which it could be brought into operation. I at no time said that the Act was going to be in complete operation by 1st April. In response to a Parliamentary Question in February, I expressed the hope of being able to bring the Act into operation early in April, but it was not until the experience gained during the weeks in which the portion of the Act relating to qualification certificates was in operation, that it was possible to fix a definite date on which the payment of assistance could begin, and it should have been obvious to anybody that even when that date was definitely fixed, there was bound to be a period during which applications were being considered and during which persons receiving home assistance would be unable to obtain unemployment assistance. [2069] If the local authorities which did decide for themselves the manner in which this thing was going to be done, had addressed inquiries to my Department, they would have been given all the information available and they would have been advised as to the steps which should have been taken by them to ensure that no hardship would arise during the changeover period.

In any event, the Unemployment Assistance Act does not in the slightest way take away from any board of assistance whatever responsibility or whatever function it has in relation to the relief of destitution. When the Bill was before the Dáil, I explained fully, and at great length, that we could only lay down maximum rates of benefit as applying to what we considered to be typical cases; that it was inevitable that there would be, in every county and in every town, certain cases which could not be covered by any general schedule; and that we anticipated that the local authorities would, in such cases, still continue to exercise their functions of giving relief to these individual cases, where it was possible for them to carry out an investigation of the individual circumstances—an investigation which could not be undertaken properly by the Department of Industry and Commerce. I pointed to the fact that the maximum assistance obtainable under the Act was £1 per week whereas in many districts, and particularly in the City of Dublin, the outdoor assistance given in certain cases reached a maximum of 24/- a week and that if the board of assistance felt that 24/- per week was the amount required to prevent destitution arising, it would then, presumably, supplement the amount received in unemployment assistance in order to maintain the same maximum.

The operation of the Act will in due course relieve the boards of assistance in all parts of the country, but at the present time and for some weeks to come, it is inevitable that there will be cases which cannot be dealt with under the unemployment assistance scheme and in respect of which we anticipated that the local authorities would continue [2070] to give relief. I would urge these local authorities to do that and not to try to defend themselves on the plea that they have been in any way released from their liabilities in respect of the relief of destitution in their areas. I have been asked by Deputy Anthony if I will introduce legislation to abolish the waiting period. I do not propose to do that. The waiting period was deliberately inserted in the Act for a number of reasons. A similar waiting period is provided for under the Unemployment Insurance Acts, and the Unemployment Insurance Acts were framed a number of years ago on the basis of trade union practice at that period. The abolition of the waiting period would increase very considerably the cost of the scheme while at the same time it would give rise to a very large number of administrative difficulties.

I have also been asked if any person receiving unemployment assistance has been required to undergo a course of training under the powers taken by the Minister for Industry and Commerce in the Act. No person has yet been required to undergo a course of training. It is possible when the scheme is working smoothly that some action in that matter will be taken, but it will, of course, require the co-operation of the vocational education authorities. Before I leave the question of the period which has elapsed before bringing the Act into operation, I should like to urge the Deputies for the next few weeks not to table Parliamentary Questions relating to individual cases of persons who have applied for unemployment assistance and have not got it, because the work necessary in tracing up these cases and preparing answers to the Questions contributes very largely to the delay. It means that the attention of the local officers of the Department has got to be turned from the work of dealing with applications in order to trace records and have answers prepared. I do not want in the slightest to impair the right of a Deputy to ask any question relating to the administration of the Department and, ordinarily, such questions would be fully answered when tabled; but at the present time, [2071] when we are all anxious to go as far as possible to eliminate delay and deal with all pending applications, I would urge that these Questions might be held over for a little while. Deputies anxious to deal with individual cases could take them up with the local offices concerned.

Deputy Mulcahy asked who constituted the Unemployment Appeals Committee. The Unemployment Appeals Committee is constituted by a number of officers from the Department of Industry and Commerce, certain officers of the Revenue Commissioners and certain officers of the Department of Local Government associated with the administration of the Old Age Pension Acts. The Courts of Referees referred to in this connection are the Courts of Referees already in existence in connection with the administration of the Unemployment Insurance Acts. They consist of a number of representatives of employers and workers in the court district, presided over by a chairman appointed by the Minister for Industry and Commerce. The Umpire is also the Umpire who acts under the Unemployment Insurance Acts. The Court of Referees and the Umpire deal with cases relating to applications for assistance by persons who have already got their certificates, and the main questions which arise in that connection are whether a person is employed or unemployed, whether he left his employment through his own fault, and questions such as those which arise both in relation to the unemployment insurance scheme and the unemployment assistance scheme.

General Mulcahy: Information on Richard James Mulcahy  Zoom on Richard James Mulcahy  Would the Minister say if the Appeals Committee can be addressed directly by persons who have a grievance?

Mr. Lemass: Information on Seán F. Lemass  Zoom on Seán F. Lemass  The Appeals Committee deals with grievances arising out of applications for qualification certificates. The appeal is made direct to that Committee by any person who has been either refused a certificate, or who has been granted a certificate, but with an assessment of the value of his means higher than he thinks should have been placed on them.

[2072]General Mulcahy: Information on Richard James Mulcahy  Zoom on Richard James Mulcahy  Is the Minister's Department the postal address of that Committee?

Mr. Lemass: Information on Seán F. Lemass  Zoom on Seán F. Lemass  Yes. Deputy Mulcahy also asked about the publication of the weekly return of registered unemployed. I think when we have got the Unemployment Assistance Act into operation we will be able to publish weekly figures relating to employment and unemployment—figures of much greater value than the existing figures—but that is something which will have to wait over until all the existing applications for qualification certificates have been dealt with, and we are able to see what the position is and what weekly return is possible. Deputy Corish asked whether applications for qualification certificates were dealt with in rotation, or whether we were taking one district first and then another district. In so far as districts are concerned they are all dealt with simultaneously, but as between individual applicants first consideration was given to those in respect of whom it was obvious that there were no means. It was felt that these would be the most urgent cases.

Mr. Corish: Information on Richard Corish  Zoom on Richard Corish  So long as you take the districts simultaneously, that is all I want.

Mr. Lemass: Information on Seán F. Lemass  Zoom on Seán F. Lemass  It was felt that these were the most urgent cases, and that they could be dealt with more quickly. It is quite possible that a person who applied for a certificate later than another person would nevertheless get the certificate first on that account. Deputy Keyes made a number of very serious charges against the administration of the Department of Industry and Commerce, but he made them so lightheartedly that I do not think he meant us to take them altogether seriously. I have no knowledge that any of the branch employment offices or employment exchanges are so notoriously understaffed that they constitute an example of the sweated employment to which Deputy Keyes referred. There is no doubt that at the present time the work devolving on those exchanges and branch offices is very heavy, and overtime is being worked regularly. Where [2073] the clerical staff is concerned the overtime is paid for at overtime rates. So far as the senior officers are concerned, of course they have got to work so long as there is work to be done, and they get nothing extra. I am very glad to say that they have all responded very energetically to the additional tasks that have been given them, and the work is being done with a very good spirit everywhere.

Mr. Pattison: Information on James P. Pattison  Zoom on James P. Pattison  Might I ask the Minister whether, if a branch manager applies for additional clerical assistance, he will get it?

Mr. Lemass: Information on Seán F. Lemass  Zoom on Seán F. Lemass  The branch manager provides his own clerical assistance. The branch manager is paid a certain sum calculated in accordance with a definite scale, and out of that sum he provides his office and his clerical assistance. The exchange manager is in a different position. He is a civil servant, and he gets clerical assistance in the form of temporary clerical officers.

Mr. Pattison: Information on James P. Pattison  Zoom on James P. Pattison  I meant the exchange manager.

Mr. Lemass: Information on Seán F. Lemass  Zoom on Seán F. Lemass  There is a definite scale which is laid down indicating the number of clerical officers that may be employed in any exchange, in accordance with the number of applications pending at that exchange. It may not be a perfect system, but it has worked for a number of years, and, generally speaking, I think it is very satisfactory.

Mr. Pattison: Information on James P. Pattison  Zoom on James P. Pattison  Would the Minister say whether branch managers who ought to apply for additional assistance will not do so? Whether they are afraid to do so or not I do not know. They work very long hours.

Mr. Lemass: Information on Seán F. Lemass  Zoom on Seán F. Lemass  The reason why the branch manager might not get additional clerical assistance is because he would have to pay for it himself. The exchange managers are in a different position.

Mr. Corish: Information on Richard Corish  Zoom on Richard Corish  Those are the men he is talking about.

Mr. Pattison: Information on James P. Pattison  Zoom on James P. Pattison  I am referring to the exchange manager.

[2074]Mr. Lemass: Information on Seán F. Lemass  Zoom on Seán F. Lemass  I have never noticed any reluctance on the part of exchange managers to apply for additional staff.

Mr. Pattison: Information on James P. Pattison  Zoom on James P. Pattison  It is so.

Mr. Corish: Information on Richard Corish  Zoom on Richard Corish  Reluctance to apply it, perhaps, at the other end!

Mr. Lemass: Information on Seán F. Lemass  Zoom on Seán F. Lemass  Deputy Keyes spoke about what he called the extraordinary system by which a person entitled to unemployment insurance benefit applies for it. He said that a notification was sent to his former employer, asking for particulars of the circumstances under which he left his employment; that the whole business was sent up to Dublin, came back again after a period of time, and then went to the Board of Referees; that it went from the Board of Referees to the umpire, and that all this time the applicants were waiting for the unemployment insurance benefit. I do not know if any Deputy took it from Deputy Keyes that what he said related to the typical case. In 99.5 per cent. of the cases, claims for unemployment insurance benefit are disposed of straight away. In accordance with the statute, an inquiry has to be sent to the employer, asking for information as to the circumstances in which the applicant for unemployment insurance benefit lost his employment. Of course if he left it voluntarily, or lost it through his own fault, he is not entitled to benefit. In the vast majority of cases, of course, the applicant did not either leave his employment voluntarily, or lose it through his own fault. Where the employer delays in making a return, the benefit is in any event paid in anticipation of the person's being entitled to it. It is only where the Departmental officer has reason to believe that the applicant is disqualified to receive benefit, because of the statutory provisions, that the matter is referred to headquarters for decision. Whatever the decision of headquarters is the applicant has of course the right to appeal to the Court of Referees, and in certain cases to the umpire. I do not think there is anything chaotic or disorderly in that proceeding, which appears to be the [2075] natural one in the administration of a scheme of this kind.

We had, of course, the hardy annual of the small land-holders who work on the roads, contribute to the Unemployment Insurance Fund, and who are stated to be unable to get unemployment insurance benefit. No person is disqualified from getting unemployment insurance benefit because he is the owner of land. There is no means test whatever under the unemployment insurance scheme. A person might own the Phoenix Park, and still draw unemployment insurance benefit.

Mr. P. Hogan: Information on Patrick Hogan  Zoom on Patrick Hogan  (Clare): That is very interesting.

Mr. Lemass: Information on Seán F. Lemass  Zoom on Seán F. Lemass  Persons are deprived of benefit because they are deemed to be employed. It is not because of the property they own, but because of the fact that they are not deemed to be unemployed, that they are deprived of this benefit. A person who had been working on the roads, and who had got stamps to his credit, might be deprived of unemployment insurance benefit because the insurance officer held that, having regard to the amount of land which he owned, and the time of the year, it was not at all unlikely that he was fully occupied in working on the land. If the person who is denied benefit on that account feels that he has a case to make he is, of course, entitled to appeal from the decision of the insurance officer to the Court of Referees. The statistics show that very few of the persons who are holders of land and who work on the roads are in fact deprived of insurance benefit.

Mr. Hogan: Information on Patrick Hogan  Zoom on Patrick Hogan  (Clare): Is not the reason why they do not appeal because there have been so many unfavourable decisions before, and that they know it?

Mr. Lemass: Information on Seán F. Lemass  Zoom on Seán F. Lemass  No. The majority of them get the benefit.

Mr. Hogan:  No. It shows that they apply and the usual routine is that they are refused. Then they say “I applied last year, or Tom Sullivan or Mick Murphy applied before, and did not get any benefit.”

[2076]Mr. Lemass: Information on Seán F. Lemass  Zoom on Seán F. Lemass  Seventy-five per cent. of the persons who have appealed against disallowance on the ground that they were occupied on their own land have had their appeals granted and unemployment insurance benefit has been paid.

Mr. P. Hogan:  (Clare): That is one of the cases where figures will prove anything.

Mr. Lemass: Information on Seán F. Lemass  Zoom on Seán F. Lemass  They will prove a lot in this case.

Mr. Hogan:  Not a bit.

Mr. Lemass: Information on Seán F. Lemass  Zoom on Seán F. Lemass  Certain Deputies made reference to the need for additional branch offices in certain districts. It is obviously impossible to deal with these matters here, and if representations are made to me I will have the circumstances in each case investigated. On the matter of the insurability of a person employed on drainage works it is not possible to lay down a general rule, because of all those engaged in connection with a particular drainage works some may be insurable and some may not. An employer is released from the obligation of contributing on behalf of any person if the work is work in relation to agriculture. Certain minor relief works, drainage works, accommodation road works, etc., have been held to be work in relation to agriculture and the persons engaged in them are not insurable. In the case of the Fergus drainage scheme, to which Deputy Hogan referred, a number of typical cases were selected representing the various types of people engaged on the works, and they were submitted to me for decision under the Act as to whether they were insurable or not, and I decided they were not.

Mr. Hogan:  You were wrong.

Mr. Lemass: Information on Seán F. Lemass  Zoom on Seán F. Lemass  I came to the Dáil and informed the Deputy of my decision and intimated that I would welcome action by any person in the form of an appeal to the courts to determine whether my decision was right or not.

Mr. Hogan:  Who will pay for it?

Mr. Lemass: Information on Seán F. Lemass  Zoom on Seán F. Lemass  If that is the sole difficulty the Deputy might discuss it with [2077] me, because, possibly, we might get over that difficulty. I do not know that there are any other matters with which it is necessary that I should deal at length. Various Deputies referred to the desirability of giving unemployed persons work rather than assistance. A discussion upon that matter, of course, would be entirely out of place on the Estimate. I merely say that I am in complete agreement with that point of view. These are all the matters that were raised, and I merely say that it is rather difficult to discuss this particular matter at the present time, because nobody has any very wide experience of the administration of the unemployment assistance scheme, not even the officers of the Department of Industry and Commerce. It has only been in operation for a month and it will not be in complete operation for several weeks to come. At the end of that time we will have to see how it is working, to see if there are any difficulties which will have to be removed and, in particular, investigate the possibility of improving upon the Act by amending legislation.

When the Bill was before the Dáil I expressed the view that in the matter of legislation enshrining a big scheme of that kind it was inevitable that at some period, after experience of its operation had been secured, amending legislation would be required. The unemployment insurance scheme, which is comparable, has been amended on an average twice a year since it was first introduced. I think we have probably framed our legislation a lot better than those responsible for the original Unemployment Insurance Act. Nevertheless, I do contemplate that some amendment will be required when experience has shown the defects in the original scheme, if such defects there are. Deputies who are keeping themselves in touch with the manner of its working will render considerable assistance if they keep in communication with the Department and forward to the Department any observations which they wish to make or any suggestions which occur to them.

Mr. Corish: Information on Richard Corish  Zoom on Richard Corish  Is there any possibility of providing shelters for the men waiting at the labour exchanges? At the [2078] present moment there are so many people applying for unemployment assistance, as well as a good many people in receipt of it, that they form a large queue outside the exchanges. I have seen them drenched on very wet days. There could be facilities provided in the larger towns without any difficulty. These men are standing outside the exchanges for two or three hours at a time.

Mr. Lemass: Information on Seán F. Lemass  Zoom on Seán F. Lemass  The existing accommodation in a number of places is quite unsuitable, and that matter is being taken up with the Board of Works at present. The accommodation which has been accepted in many places is the only accommodation which could have been got early. If we had delayed in order to get more suitable accommodation there would have been a longer period before the Act could have been brought into operation. We hope in a number of places to improve the accommodation.

Mr. Corish: Information on Richard Corish  Zoom on Richard Corish  I have in mind Wexford town, where greater accommodation has been secured, but the men are left out in the yard in queues. There are large rooms there which could be settled if instructions were given.

General Mulcahy: Information on Richard James Mulcahy  Zoom on Richard James Mulcahy  I should like to ask whether under Section 4 of the Act any districts or any classes have been specified as classes or districts in respect of which all persons will be deemed to be employed. The Minister said that no such classes or districts had been specified. I should like to ask him whether he contemplates that, say, within the next three months it is likely that any classes or any districts will be so specified under that section of the Act.

Mr. Lemass: Information on Seán F. Lemass  Zoom on Seán F. Lemass  I would not like to offer any definite opinion. It was intended that, say, agricultural labourers should be specified as a class ineligible to receive unemployment assistance during the period when harvest work would be going on, or in other ways particular classes might be taken during the period of the year when they would, in ordinary circumstances, be employed, and where it might not be [2079] easy to check up whether they were employed or not. While it is likely that that will be done, I would not like to say definitely that it will until we have information as to the number of agricultural workers as a whole who are actually receiving unemployment assistance.

General Mulcahy: Information on Richard James Mulcahy  Zoom on Richard James Mulcahy  In view of the difficulties and disappointments likely to be created in case an order like that is issued, I should like if the Minister would give as long notice as possible of the intention to issue an order like that so as to avoid disappointment.

Mr. Lemass: Information on Seán F. Lemass  Zoom on Seán F. Lemass  Yes.

Vote put and agreed to.


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