Wednesday, 31 March 1937
Dáil Éireann Debate
Go ndeontar suim ná raghaidh thar £1,219,725 chun slánuithe na suime is gá chun íoctha an Mhuirir a thiocfaidh chun bheith iníoctha i rith na bliana dar críoch an 31adh lá de Mhárta, 1938, chun Tuarastail agus Costaisí an Ghárda Síochána (Uimh. 7 de 1925 agus Uimh. 10 de 1926).
That a sum not exceeding £1,219,725 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, 1938, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Gárda Síochána (No. 7 of 1925 and No. 10 of 1926).
Mr. Ruttledge: That is spread over about four years. Arms were lent from time to time by the Defence Department to the Gárda. They were regarded perhaps as on loan at the time, but the Department of Finance insisted that we must put this definitely in an Estimate.
Dr. Rowlette: I wish to call the attention of the House to certain criticisms which I made two years ago on this Vote for the Gárda Síochána, and to ask the Minister if he is able to report any progress in regard to two matters in particular that I brought before him in regard to the lack of completeness in the arrangement for medical attendance on the members of the force. I pointed out to the House then that there was not any system of attendance on the Gárda beyond what might be called a general practitioner attendance. If a Gárda required any further attendance, he had to provide it at his own expense. If he had to seek admission to hospital, it was also at his own expense. I suggested that such an arrangement was thoroughly unsatisfactory as regards the proper degree of efficiency and of attendance and was not likely to promote the health or contentment of the individual guard. The Minister in reply stated that there was about to be established, or had been just established a certain fund to assist the Gárda in paying these extra expenses. He said that a sum of £10,000 from the Reward Fund was to be applied to form the nucleus of a Medical Aid Fund, and the Gárda were to make a contribution to that fund.
I should like very much if the Minister would tell us what has been the development of that scheme of which he announced the initiation two years ago, and whether the members of the Gárda are now in a more satisfactory position than they were then as regards payment for illness. I should like to say that, whatever arrangement may be made for such a medical fund, it is an entirely insufficient substitute for a proper system of attendance for which the responsibility should be on the Gárda authorities and the State. A Guard should not be in a worse position for the care of his health than a soldier of the State. No application of a medical fund or benefit of that sort can take the place of a thoroughly efficient medical service provided by the State for their own servants.
The other point to which I drew  the Minister's attention and with which I know he is very familiar is the unsatisfactory method of appointing the ordinary medical attendants to the Gárda stations through the country. I pointed out that years ago the system was that the Gárda authorities, acting on local advice, invited a reputable medical practitioner in the convenient neighbourhood of a station—ordinarily, as a matter of fact, the dispensary doctor of the district—to undertake attendance on the men who might be in that station during the year at a fixed charge per head. That covered not only attendance on the men while ill, but general supervision of the station, supervision of the health of the men generally, and an assurance that the station was kept in a satisfactory and healthy condition. The medical officer was not merely a man called in to attend the Gárda when sick, but a man whose constant duty it was to supervise the health and conditions of living of the Gárda in the district.
Some years ago—not in the time of the present Government—but a bad legacy from its predecessors, a worse and a meaner system was adopted for the appointment of medical officers. The authorities, instead of making a choice after consideration, adopted the curious system of inviting all or a large number of medical practitioners in the neighbourhood of a Gárda station to state the fee for which they would give personal attendance there. A local officer of the Guards then interviewed them and asked certain queries, the answers to which were reported to the authorities. Though the Minister assured me last year that the lowest tender did not always get the contract, I think it was the custom that the lowest tender always got it; that the medical practitioner who valued his services cheapest got the work of attendance on officers of the State who are members of the Gárda. I do not say that they got the worst medical attendance, but possibly they got worse than they could have got, and that members of the medical profession who put the lowest value on their services were likely to be mistaken in that respect. When a vacancy occurred medical officers were  asked the fee for attendance on members of the Guards who were sick, and the fee for visiting if more than one member was sick, presumably suggesting a reduction for quantities; and the fee for inspecting the station. As a result of the replies to the questionnaire the appointments were made. When I drew the attention of the Minister to that matter two years ago he said that, as far as possible, they would try to deal with it. I know that representations have been made to him in the meantime, so that I hope he is in a position to-night to tell us whether he has been able to make any advance towards a return to what was a reasonably satisfactory method of appointment, or, at any rate, to substitute some method for the one in vogue for the last half-dozen years. No doubt, it would mean some additional expense, but I do not think the House is likely to grudge the slight addition necessary, if it is going to ensure a more efficient service for officers whose services we all value.
On looking at the Estimate, I see that there is no increase provided for that purpose, but I hope the Minister will be in a position to say that he will be able, as I am sure he would like to be, to improve the service by having more money available than is actually provided here. I cannot but think that the present system of attendance is faulty, incomplete and lacking in efficiency, and that it would be good business of the State to undertake the thorough care of members of the Gárda, just as it undertakes the thorough care of members of the National Army, so long as they are serving in the forces concerned.
Mr. Ruttledge: The medical service to which the Deputy referred is dealt with in the grant of £10,000 which was made available. It is administered by themselves through the benevolent society. The second matter to which the Deputy referred is one on which I met a deputation, and it is at present the subject of communication and correspondence between my Department and the Department of Finance. I hope there will be a satisfactory result.
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