Wednesday, 27 June 1945
Dáil Éireann Debate
That a Supplementary Sum not exceeding £250 be granted to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending 31st March, 1946, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Minister for Justice.
The Government consider it desirable that the State should recognise acts of outstanding bravery in saving or endeavouring to save human life, and  they propose to arrange for the grant of medals and certificates in suitable cases. A committee will be set up to advise as to the cases in which awards should be made, and the President will be asked to make the awards. It is proposed that the committee should consist of the Ceann Comhairle, the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, the Lord Mayors of Dublin and Cork, the Chairman of the General Council of County Councils, the Chairman of the Red Cross Society and the Commissioner of the Gárda Síochána. It is proposed that recognition should be granted in respect of all efforts to save human life which involve serious personal risk and which are performed in the State or at sea by members of the crews of Irish ships or by other persons giving assistance to members of the crews of Irish ships, excluding deeds performed by members of the Defence Forces on active service. It is proposed that only deeds performed after the date of the introduction of this Estimate should be considered for recognition.
It is intended that recipients of awards should be invited to Arus an Uachtaráin to receive their awards, travelling and incidental expenses being paid by the State. A competition will be instituted for designs for medals and certificates. It is impossible to estimate the number of awards which are likely to be made annually, but it is expected that the sum of £250 mentioned in the Estimate will be ample to provide awards for this year and to cover non-recurrent expenses such as the cost of dies for medals, etc.
Mr. Norton: I should like to ask the Minister for some little information in regard to this Estimate. Does he consider that £250 is sufficient to cover the expenses which will fall to be paid during this year for this purpose? Has the Minister anything definite in mind as to the benefits it is intended to confer on a person who is adjudged to have performed an act worthy of recognition by this committee? Is it intended for instance that the award will only be a certificate or a medal or is it intended that there shall be a cash award?
Mr. Norton: On that point I want to put this consideration to the Minister. The Minister knows this very well. It is nothing new to people who know the city well to come across the case of an ordinary working lad, going along the Quay side or the Canal side and jumping into the Liffey or into the Canal, in probably the only suit of clothes he has, to rescue an old man, an old woman or a young boy who has fallen into the water. The poor unfortunate comes out of the water in the long run and suffers more loss than the person who actually got into the water in the first instance. He gets home some way or other but he has only got one suit that is in a serviceable condition to clothe him, with the result that his act in jumping in to save life has probably exposed him to an expenditure which he is not able to meet out of his income if, in fact, he has any income at all. Cases have come to light in which unfortunate unemployed men have been exposed to many of these risks. I think it is a rather empty kind of recognition to bring a lad of that kind up to Árus an Uachtaráin to give him a medal when, in fact, the poor lad had to sit in his room waiting two or three days for his clothes to dry or waiting until he got the mud of the Canal or of the Liffey out of his boots or socks. I suggest to the Minister that recognition should take not merely the form of a medal or a parchment certificate; that he should also equip the committee with sufficient funds so that in cases of hardship the committee will have power to make grants immediately to relieve whatever distress may arise as a result of a person being involved in a rescue operation which exposes him to personal loss which he is not able to meet out of his own resources. The Minister suggests a rather sober, prudent and cautious committee to administer these awards.
Mr. Norton: I am not quarrelling with the personnel of the committee which is selected. It is a prudent, sober and cautious committee and it.  is not likely to engage in any extravagance in the matter of administering any funds which may be available, but I think it should have power to compensate for any article of clothing which might be damaged, articles of clothing belonging to persons suffering from inevitable impecuniosity from the nature of their avocations or lack of them. I would suggest to the Minister that the committee should have power to make an ex-gratia payment where a person's clothes are in urgent need of repair as a result of his being concerned in a rescue.
Mr. Dillon: It is generally on a small Estimate of this kind that some very important points arise. With Deputy Norton's general sentiment, every normal person will find himself in complete sympathy but then, on reflection, you begin to ask yourself if the State gives notice that everyone who pulls an old gentleman out of the canal is going to get £10 for a new suit of clothes, will not old men be falling into the canal like ninepins? Queues will be formed there and you will see old gentlemen walking about proclaiming: “I will fall in for a shilling”, with rival firms starting up prepared to go in for 10½d. to accommodate somebody who is prepared to stage a rescue in exchange for fiduciary recognition.
Mr. Dillon: Deputy Norton spoke of the sobriety and prudence of the committee chosen to administer this fund. It takes a bad mind to see evil where the ordinary charitable mind would not detect it. I think Deputy Norton would find from experience that, unhappily, in this world the best-laid plans are made to gang agley by unscrupulous chizzlers and gangsters who take advantage of them; but I agree with Deputy Norton in his solicitude for the average decent chap who does, at great personal risk, jump into the canal or the Liffey and suffers serious loss that he is not able to bear. i have great sympathy with that person, but I think Deputy Norton will agree with me that usually in cases of that kind  the Lord Mayor of Dublin, or some public officer who is deemed to speak for the whole people, need only mention the matter either to a restricted company or to the citizens at large to secure an ample fund wherewith to repair a minor loss of that kind.
I think to associate an attempt effectively to compensate a person who has suffered loss in the service of his fellow-man with this particular form of tribute would be an error of judgment. That does not mean that I do not sympathise with Deputy Norton's view that such necessity should be kept in mind, but I think that he will agree with me that if any recipient of this award had suffered any serious loss of the kind he described, it would not take very long for the Lord Mayor of Dublin to raise amongst a limited number of people or from the citizens at large an ample fund to redress the financial loss the recipient of such an award as is envisaged here had suffered. What is this award going to be called?
Mr. Dillon: That is the kind of awkward thing that arises. It is wise, if you are going to institute a decoration of this kind, to get it off on the right foot. Bear this in mind: there are only two decorations in the gift of our Government.
One is the 1916 Medal and one is the 1922 Medal. We have no protocol controlling such matters, and as we create awards of this character the protocol is taking form. It is, therefore, necessary in these very early stages to be more rigid than it is necessary to be in a country where there is a whole mass of precedent into which projects of this kind automatically fall for the guidance of those who have to administer them. The first thing is: what will it be  called? The next thing is: are there going to be various decorations, or is there going to be one medal which you earn or do not earn?
Mr. Boland: My idea was that this committee would consider that matter. We are going to look for designs for the medals. There will be a competition for designs, and the committee will decide that, I imagine, or make recommendations as to what the name should be and what should be done.
Mr. Dillon: But in the Gárda you have this peculiar thing associated with it, that every year the Commissioner examines all the acts of gallantry that have taken place; he picks out the first three acts of gallantry, and the most striking instance of devotion to duty gets the gold medal. That is no reflection on the intrinsic gallantry of the man who gets the silver medal. It just means that in that particular year some unprecedented incident arose which resulted in the gold medal being awarded to another man.
Mr. Dillon: Suppose an act of gallantry is submitted to this prudent and discriminating committee, and they announce that they have awarded a bronze medal, the recipient may say: “It is a pity you did not make it leather. You gave so-and-so a gold medal and he only jumped into the Royal Canal, whereas I jumped into the Shannon and all I get is a copper one.” These are things that require to be foreseen, so that our purpose will be achieved.
If we make up our minds to make this a worth while award, then there is a good deal to be said for the argument that there ought not to be any gradation in it, that it ought to be for us what the George medal is in civilian life in England. It has to be borne in mind,  I think, that the George medal and the Victoria Cross in the sphere of military gallantry carry with them a modest pension. It is not intended and, I think, rightly not intended, to attach any such addendum to this award, but we cannot foresee that we will be distributing buckets of them in the course of 12 months. My reading of the thing is that a year might easily pass without any medals being awarded. Therefore, I think there is a good deal to be said for giving it considerable intrinsic worth, and I do not think I would falter at giving a man a gold medal. I remember my indignation when I won two gold medals and, having worn them three or four times, discovered the gold plate was coming off the back of them. If you are going to give a man a gold medal, it ought to be a gold medal, and if it is going to be the highest award in the State, to be awarded by the President, I think the story about Alexander applies that, whereas the recipient might be willing to receive a silver medal, Alexander is not content to give less than gold. It may be all very well for the Taoiseach if the Minister has to be distributing copper and silver but, if the President of the State is going to present someone with a Presidential medal, I think it would be no harm if he gave a good one.
These are the things that make life worth living. Another question arises: Does this medal carry a ribbon? For instance, if a soldier wins it or if a fireman wins it, and he is entitled to wear Army ribbons, does this medal carry a ribbon and, if it does, what priority does it stand in to the other awards that are made? All those questions arise. All those questions should be forthwith referred to the Department of External Affairs and the Department of Defence because we have got no protocol to regulate these things and we have to establish it as we go along.
If a man gets an award of that kind and, in perfect good faith, believing that out of respect to the President he ought to put it on a ribbon, turns out on a ceremonial occasion wearing it, it would be a monstrous thing if, in the presence of all his fellows, perhaps on an Army parade or a 1916 Commemoration, or something of that  kind, some prominent steward were to come up and pull the ribbon off his coat and say, “You have no business to have that beside the military medals you are wearing.” He is entitled to be told, when he gets the medal, that it carries with it a ribbon which stands in priority or inferiority to the medals he already holds and should be worn in such a position on State or ceremonial occasions when he would ordinarily expose his medals. Many people think it is old-maidish to be talking about matters of that kind.
Mr. Dillon: Many people believe that it is undignified to ask, on occasions of ceremony and so forth, “What ought I to do?” Everybody imagines that everybody else knows. I very well remember on one occasion attending a reception in connection with a Parliamentary delegation that went from here, at Buckingham Palace, and I remember his late Majesty, George V, whispering hoarsely to his gentlemen-in-waiting, “What do we do now?” and suddenly it dawned upon me that I was not the only one at a loss in that exalted company. The same is true of the fellow who gets the Presidential medal. A day dawns when he says to himself, “What do I do now?” but, unlike His Majesty, he has nobody to instruct him. All I want is to ensure that if a gentleman living in the Coombe gets this medal and wants to turn out on an Easter Sunday parade to be reviewed by the Taoiseach, or whoever reviews him, there will be somebody to whom he can go and say, “What do I do now? Do I put it up or do I put it down? I do not want to vex the President, and I do not want to get my ear chawed off by Commandant Lawlor who fought beside me 20 years ago.”
The last question I want to ask is this: It is important, because it is one of the things that are going to regulate the protocol in time to come. During the tenancy of the Presidency by Dr. Hyde, circumstances were such that his health interfered with his minor activities, and so it fell out that  a great many formal acts were done by other officers of the State rather than burden him with an unnecessary amount of detailed work. But now that President O Ceallaigh is in full vigour, we may anticipate that a great many of those details of ceremonial matter will be attended to by the President's department and household. Here is the first of them. Instead of this medal being presented by the Government or the Oireachtas its presentation is going to be made part of the Presidential duties. Now, there was attached to the person of the President under the Constitution a body whose function was to advise the President in all cases set out in the Constitution when he had a discretion. They were very few. In 99 per cent. of cases, the acts of the President are done on the advice of the Taoiseach, but two or three functions were reserved where he acted on his own discretion and in which he was either invited or directed to take counsel with the Council of State, and the Council was designed for him. Here is the first occasion upon which a new function, albeit detailed and ceremonial, is being prescribed for the President, or at least which he is being asked to undertake, and our purpose is to relieve him of the necessity personally to determine the merits of each case submitted. But is the personnel of the committee drawn from his Council of State? Not at all. The usual practice is followed—the existence of the Council of State is not even acknowledged. I can speak freely, because with the passing of the seal of office from Dr. Hyde to Mr. O Ceallaigh I fell like an autumn leaf in Vallombrosa and ceased to adorn the Presidential tree. But the House will remember—Deputy Norton will remember—that in every State ceremonial up to the Mass of the Holy Ghost last Monday no acknowledgment was made of the existence of the Council of State as a separate entity.
Mr. Dillon: On that occasion, the Council of State for the first time was acknowledged as an entity. All I want to know is this: Is it going to be the practice hereafter that the advisers of the President in relation to functions where he is not required by the Constitution to act on the advice of the Government are to be drawn from casually chosen bodies or is it going to be the practice to advise the President to consult his own Council of State in matters of that kind? Mind you, in accordance with the course set at this initial stage, the general trend is going to be—all of us are aware of Civil Service procedure—that the moment an analogous problem arises some skilled public servant is going to say: “Oh, well, we have a precedent for that in the Presidential Medal. In that case it was the Ceann Comhairle, the Chairman of the Seanad, the Chief Justice, and so forth.” Are you going to set that precedent, or are you going to set the precedent that when the President is acting on his own discretion he draws his advisers from the Council of State? Whatever you are going to do, do it with your eyes open. Do not just stumble into something and then say: “Begob, that was a pity now. We should have thought of that.” You observe that in dealing with the Presidential office a great number of points arise where consultation should be taken with the Taoiseach's Department, the Department of External Affairs and, if necessary, the Department of Defence, so that due respect will be shown to medals by the recipients of medals awarded by the President personally and, at the same time, no incongruous preference will be given to such medals over medals awarded for valour by the military authorities of the State.
Mr. Boland: With regard to that last question, I am not able to answer it, anyway. I should not think it would be a matter for the Council of State. The Council of State should be confined to functions definitely assigned to it by the Constitution. That is what I think.
Mr. Boland: On this matter, it never occurred to us, because we looked upon the Council of State as having definite functions which are laid down in the Constitution, and we thought it the proper thing to confine them to that, as the Council of State, and not to be asking them to undertake other work which they might very well decline to do. They might say: “That is not the sort of work we expected to do”. It never occurred to us, I must confess, to ask them to make a recommendation as to who should get a medal or anything of that kind. As to the medal itself, the committee, of course, were asked to make recommendations, and in the case of persons who risked their lives my own personal idea would be to provide one medal—a good one. I felt the same about the Gárdaí. When handing out a bronze medal, I certainly did not like it. There is no doubt about it, there were some outstanding deeds of gallantry, and others may not have been quite the same, but I always thought it was hard luck on the man who got the bronze medal. That was my personal view. On this matter, I feel the same way, but there are other circumstances which the committee will go into. My personal view is that there should be one medal, a gold one. As to the ribbon, I am sure that will be decided upon. We expect the committee to make recommendations about that. As I said in my opening statement, we are going to have a competition for the design and I imagine the medal will have a ribbon attached. It is unlikely that it will not be a medal with a ribbon. As to the question of priority, it is too much for me. Do not ask me that. I am not an authority. That did not occur to me, I must say. It never occurred to me to come to the question of the compensation for  people who lost their clothing. I do not suppose there would be many cases, but I am sure that on reflection Deputy Norton will agree that there are people of the type who would take a dive in—I am not going to say it is very general—
Mr. Boland: I have known many people who did deeds of valour, and if they got a medal they would be delighted because they could hand it down to their families and take pride in it, whereas the £10 would be spent.
Mr. Norton: Let us be clear on this. I am by all means standing for the medal. But if a fellow breaks the only set of artificial debentures he has, or breaks his glasses, it ought not to be necessary for the Lord Mayor to get him new dentures or glasses; he ought to be able to go, in an unostentatious way, and get whatever he lost fixed up for him.
Mr. Boland: As to that, I do not think we should associate the two things. I think it is a sound thing not to do it. I believe that what Deputy Dillon stated would happen. A long time ago, a relation of mine jumped into the Liffey to save a boy and, after he came out, he found that his watch was gone. Some one gave him a watch which we have in the house still. You will always come across “rowdies”; you will find them everywhere. The people who receive a medal are very proud of it, and even poor people do not mind if they lose something. They are very proud of any honour conferred on them like that. I do not know whether it is proper for me to refer to this but, where there is loss of life or health, there is an international fund, the Carnegie Hero Fund, for dealing with these cases. I do not think it is any disgrace for a person to make an application to that fund. The object of that fund is to make such people a little better off  than they were before the occurrence that involved loss of health or something of that kind. If the persons die, their dependents are looked after. If there is any deserving case of that kind, I am sure the Irish public would be very quick to come to the rescue of the person concerned. I think there is a good case of keeping the two things separate—that the award of a medal or a certificate should not be associated with a money grant. Even in one case, we would not like a “chancer” to come along and bring disgrace on the whole thing.
Mr. Norton: Take the case of a person who dives into the Liffey to pick out some old lady and, in the course of the operation, his dentures fall out. The following morning he is in the position that he gets a complimentary notice in the newspapers and has the prospect of getting a medal, but he has no teeth with which to chew his meals.
Mr. Dillon: Unless it would inconvenience the Minister, I would be very grateful if he would collate the specific inquiries I made and reserve his reply to the later stages of the Bill after he has had an opportunity of consulting the appropriate Department.
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