Thursday, 1 May 1947
Dáil Éireann Debate
The list given in the sub-section is the same as the list which appears in the Military Service Pensions Acts, but it  was felt that there might have been some people who had served in Sinn Féin on, as I said on a previous occasion, the civil side of the national activities, such as justices and so on, who might have suffered severely and as a result of their services might be in needy circumstances. It was suggested that in a case like this—the case of these funds—it would not be right to leave them out.
The Taoiseach: It is simply this: that if this board were to get a gift for the purposes for which the board is, in the main, set up, that is, to deal with people in needy circumstances in the classes indicated, it could receive the gift for that purpose and apply it in accordance with the Act.
General Mulcahy: Earlier in this Bill it provides that the board shall be a body corporate with perpetual succession. Here the board is being put into the position that it can accept gifts, in addition to the Sinn Féin funds which it is proposed to take in the way set out in the Bill; that it can acquire property and subscriptions in order to build up a fund and keep it going. I think that is a most undesirable proposal. Here and there throughout the country, close down to the circumstances in which men and women came together to do the work that is referred to generally in Section 13, organisations of one kind or  another have been set up—organisations of a purely voluntary kind—to collect subscriptions on a voluntary basis for the assistance of people in the classes mentioned in the section. Their circumstances are well and intimately known to these voluntary associations, and the collection and the distribution of these funds have been fairly well established.
Now the Taoiseach proposes that this board shall be set up with a fund that can attract to itself the type of voluntary subscriptions that have been given to these other bodies. I entirely oppose this proposal here. I think it will be a blow directed against the voluntary associations that have been carrying on a very necessary and a very intimate work and it will have the result of taking away to a certain extent certain income from the bodies that are already doing this close and intimate work and, instead of having the general and scattered voluntary bodies attending to this work, we would have the political body that it is proposed to set up in this Bill. I object to that.
Mr. Dillon: The board here will be disposing of the old Sinn Féin Fund and the persons eligible for assistance are ex-members of Oglaigh na hÉireann, the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Citizen Army, Fianna Éireann, the Hibernian Rifles, Cumann na mBan. Now, of course, I, and all those belonging to me, were never associated with the organisations referred to.
Mr. Dillon: On the contrary, within the sphere of nationalist activity we belonged to the Party opposed to them. But their efforts and our efforts of those days are now part of the history of the country and, just as the veterans of the movement to which I have the honour to belong have been recognised as men who served their country to the best of their ability by those who came after them, so I  believe there would be very few in the nationalist ranks of the country who would not now gladly recognise that the persons referred to in this Bill, whether we agreed or disagreed in the past, served their country to the best of their ability in the time they were called upon. I share Deputy Mulcahy's feeling of distaste for a proposal that people who served their country and who as a result of that service missed opportunities for material advancement that they might otherwise have enjoyed and thus have come upon hard times in their older age, should have their financial embarrassment or their difficulties made the subject of the kind of impersonal inquisition which a statutory board may undertake. I speak with a certain feeling in this matter.
Mr. Dillon: You see, Sir, Section 14 envisages the maintenance of this board, not only for the disposition of the actual sum of money that would come into their hands, but for the purpose of receiving gifts. So that it may remain as a permanent feature, as a body to which these veterans might be referred if they came forward with a claim that they were entitled to something as of right rather than as an eleemosynary relief.
Mr. Dillon: That envisages that some day it may come to an end, but you observe that this enables it to carry on so long as gifts are given to it. What I am afraid of is this, that in future some outstanding figure of those days might be in difficulties. As things stand at present, a group of old comrades or admirers would then ordinarily come together and choose out a number of persons whom they might approach, and prepare a little tribute for that individual person. In that way, an embarrassment that everyone wanted to avoid is overcome without unduly trespassing on the intimate  affairs of the individual who requires help. I speak of this because I had personal experience of it and I have no hesitation in saying——
Mr. Dillon: My fear is this: Suppose when I had occasion to deal with a situation of that kind this board existed and had funds and endowments at its disposal, I could very well understand the persons to whom I did naturally turn, saying: “After all, Mr. Dillon. there is a board there with resources at its disposal, designed to do this very job. Why do you ask us, in addition to whatever we have done by way of endowing the board, to come forward again and undertake responsibility for this individual”? Do ye want—now I am speaking to the members of Sinn Féin and its associate bodies—do ye want to have a statutory board of this kind to undertake this kind of job? I know that so far as my old friends were concerned, where an exceptional case arose, I never was unable to find a group of individuals to undertake the job. They were not all old Nationalists. I will name no names. Some of the first I approached were people sitting in very prominent places on the Front Benches of both sides of this House. I offered them the opportunity and what I deemed to be the privilege of sharing a tribute to an old friend and I was not mistaken.
Mr. Dillon: If this board is in existence as a permanent feature, could any member bespeak the kind of tribute I bespoke and got for an old veteran of the campaign? Every time he received that annual tribute he was not only relieved of his embarrassment but he was gratified and flattered by the remembrance of the 20 or 30 people who took part in it. Can you imagine anyone being very much flattered or gratified by becoming a pensioner of this board?
Mr. Dillon: I do not want to intervene in what really is not my business because it is not my business to deal with the classes of persons mentioned here. I am only telling my experience when I was dealing with persons in analogous situations of an older day. I thought Section 14 envisaged the survival of this board. If it does not, my anxiety falls to the ground. If it does, then I think you ought to consider carefully what you are doing because, if you make this a permanent institution, you will be providing against a contingency that does not require provision, because you will always find a group of people who will be able to undertake an individual case and, in the event of such cases arising, the persons concerned would infinitely prefer to have their difficulty dealt with in that way than to become the dependents of a statutory body such as is envisaged in this Bill.
The Taoiseach: I may say a word or two, perhaps. The intention there to permit of the body taking a gift is simply that some individual may wish to make available a sum of money, or what can be turned rapidly into money, for this body to distribute in accordance with the terms of this Bill. I do not think it would be right to forbid that. I had hoped that this might be regarded, for the time being anyhow, as a benevolent fund to deal with whatever sums of money might be made available and, of course, everything would depend on how the scheme works out in practice.
If it works satisfactorily it is quite possible that in a very short time some individuals who might like to make a sum of money available might do it. Leaving aside the argument of making  the board permanent, every argument against the making of gifts would be against any benevolent fund of any kind. The existence of these funds will not prevent a group of individuals who may be interested in a particular case in their neighbourhood from coming together and giving such personal assistance as they might deem desirable. I do not think that will in any way dry up any funds which might be made available in the sense suggested by Deputy Dillon. It is sometimes useful to say: “Very well, if you cannot investigate the case, why do you not try that fund?” If, for instance, Deputy Dillon found in a particular case, that, because such a fund was in existence, personal contributions were not readily available, I do not think that he would put up the argument that he put up here. He would say: “I know that there is such a fund but, after all, the person concerned would appreciate it very much more if a number of friends came together and made this gift.” They could do that. There is nothing to prevent them. I think it would be undesirable to rule out gifts to the board.
Perhaps I should say, with regard to the permanency of the board, that I do not think the sum is sufficiently large or that it is likely that it would last over a considerable period. I am afraid that the costs will leave only a relatively small sum. The only point in that, as far as the Government is concerned, is whether that money should be spent in law costs or whether it should be used for a better purpose.
The Taoiseach: Consequently, I am afraid that the sum is too small to suggest that it would last. If, notwithstanding all the suggestions that have come from the Opposition, the board was found to function well and was performing a useful public service, the distrust that was expressed for it here might in time disappear when the  public saw it functioning and it might not be an unwise thing if, having been tried and proved reasonably successful, it might be regarded as a body which would serve something of a wider purpose than the mere distribution of the original funds.
There is another purpose which this provision could serve. It might happen —I know that it has happened in other cases—that a person in distressed circumstances might say: “Look here, I would be entitled to get a grant from this fund. I could ask you to consider me for a grant but I would prefer if you would give me a loan.” He might be told: “There is no provision here to give you a loan” and he might say: “All right, if I am granted this money I propose to do certain things with it and I propose paying it back to the fund if I can”. Suppose, after a few years that the circumstances of the person who was in needy circumstances changed and that he was in a position to pay back to the fund the money he had got, the only way in which it could be received would be as a gift. We are making no provision for loans. You would not like to deprive him of the personal satisfaction of being able to repay and say: “Fortunately, I did not need to become a complete beneficiary of the fund in the sense of getting a complete grant and I have the personal satisfaction of being able to pay it back”. That would have to be purely voluntary and the section would enable that to be done. That is an aspect of it. I am not making very much of that aspect of it though it could happen. I do not think there is any likelihood that it will make, in any way, for the permanency of this body. I think that all Deputies will agree that if it proved itself in practice as having value the objection on grounds of permanency might disappear.
General Mulcahy: If the problem the Taoiseach speaks about exists and if a body to deal with it is necessary that is another day's work. If this Bill ever becomes law then the trust fund that is here investigated is an ill-begotten fund and the sooner any moneys in it are disposed of to meet whatever proposals the Taoiseach has in mind, the  better. I have no intention of discussing on this Bill either the problem that is suggested by Section 13 or the extended proposals that the Taoiseach seems to have in mind in connection with Section 14. I oppose Section 14 as I opposed the other sections of the Bill. I want to say with regard to Section 14 that Section 14 is an attack in fact on a large and varied number of voluntary associations that are dealing with the problem the Taoiseach speaks about now. It could easily be part of the unhappy results of this Bill that through the operation of Section 14 some of the funds that are going into the smaller bodies now would dry up and that they would look vainly to the larger and more pretentiously set up trust fund to deal with the particular types of wants and assistance that they have been getting for years through the smaller societies.
Mr. Dillon: I propose to the Taoiseach that Section 14 is a matter of substance. I never can be quite sure when I am dealing with the Taoiseach whether he has stumbled upon something with the best intentions in the world, not realising its implications, or whether he is burning the midnight oil for the purpose of providing something well calculated to make us stumble upon it. Section 14 alters the whole purpose of this body. The case made for this Bill up to Section 14 is that there is a sum of money in the court; that we want to take it out of the court and we want to dispose of it in accordance with the presumed wishes of those who subscribed to it. Now that is a finite purpose. You can see the end of that and the primary purpose there is to ensure that the fund which is now in existence will be disposed of with propriety.
Section 14 means something quite different. It means the setting up of a statutory body which may receive gifts, bequests or devises for the general purpose of relieving members of the organisations named who, in the judgment of the board, may deserve and require assistance of one kind or another. I do not know how ye people feel about that, but I know I would not have liked to send my old colleagues in the evening of their days to  strangers. Remember, this body is under a statutory obligation to keep books of accounts and to have them audited by an auditor appointed by the board with the approval of the Government. That means a certain amount of filling of forms and receipts and justifications to an auditor that the funds distributed were distributed in accordance with the purposes of the Act. It could mean a means test.
I do not believe that any section of the House wants to approach needy veterans of the national movement on that basis. You may get eccentric old persons, the best in the world, who have in fact a nest egg somewhere but, in their senility, they have the delusion that they are threatened with fearful poverty. They come to their friends and a few of these friends put up a little money, but discover afterwards when they die that they left £500. We can afford to laugh at that, although we imagined that they had not a farthing. But there is no more about it. We understand that many an old person gets odd in that way. But, suppose you have a board which has to satisfy an auditor that it only distributed the funds to needy persons, must it not make some inquiries to satisfy itself?
Mr. Dillon: Up to this we were presented with a picture of a board which was to deal with the remains of what was in court and that finished it. But now, under Section 14, the board is given the means of perpetuating itself as a permanent feature of our life by accepting gifts. If that is what you want, well and good. But, if any of my old friends were involved, I would not want that.
An Ceann Comhairle: Does not that refer to the whole Bill? How are the Deputy's references confined to Section 14, which deals with gifts or devises? The Deputy is discussing the ordinary administration of the board.
Mr. Dillon: This is a permanent institution. Do you want this to be a permanent feature of our life, a eleemosynary board for broken-down patriots? I do not. I do not want to shuffle off on a board the personal inconvenience and the annoyance of going round amongst my friends, or going round with a few friends and looking after the thing in a personal way and in a confidential way. I do not want a permanent system under which you say to such a person: “I tell you what I will do; I will drop a line to the board set up under the Bill and let them deal with it.” I am amazed that the Taoiseach wants it. I can see the method of reasoning which wants to establish a board to distribute a fund which we know of and that sees the board finishing altogether when that job is done. Surely the Taoiseach, if he will not admit that we were bonafide in expressing our anxiety on grounds of principle in regard to this Bill, at least will admit that the Bill was distasteful to a lot of people in this House who are most unquestionably entitled to speak as much as he is for Oglaigh na hEireann, The Irish Volunteers, The Irish Citizen Army, Fianna Eireann, The Hibernian Rifles and Cumann na mBan? If that is true, surely it is not desirable to promote the perpetuation of that body and to carry into it the seed of dissension and resentment and bitterness.
Mr. Dillon: From those who think the whole thing is a mistake and wrong. You do not want to make it permanent. If you cannot see that yourselves, I cannot make you. But, if it were a plan that I thought was becoming or desirable, I would remind the House that in setting up this board which is capable of receiving gifts from the State as well as from private individuals, it would be very wrong to confine its activities to the veterans of one particular period of the national  struggle. There are veterans of an older day than any referred to here who have met with adversity and who want that adversity ameliorated from time to time. Were this a becoming scheme, I would stipulate that there should be scope therein to deal with their cases as well. But I do not want to put any such scheme into operation in respect of your veterans, because I venerate them too much as men who, for principle and belief, sacrificed much. I do not seek to impose upon your veterans that which I would not wish for my own. I would not accept that provision for the veterans of the movements with which I had the honour to be associated prior to the Treaty. I think you are gravely mistaken if you accept that for yours. Quite apart from this measure, I would be happy to think that something might be devised which would make provision for all on a common ground upon which all of us would agree.
Mr. Dillon: Yes. Instead of a section designed to perpetuate this, I would be prepared to co-operate in a joint association to pay tribute to the veterans of the national movements to which we severally and our fathers before us belonged. I think we could find some means of doing substantial justice to them all. It will never occur out of Section 14, and I think you are making a terrible mistake in dealing with it in that way.
Mr. L.J. Walsh: I approve of Section 14 and I have my reasons for doing so, due to my association with the organisation for a long number of years. Every member of this House has, I am sure, heard tell of conscience money at one time or another and this section gives people who were once associated with the Sinn Féin organisation an opportunity to make restitution. That is one of the reasons why I support Section 14. Reference was made, when Section 13 was under consideration,  to another fund that was dissipated in the course of law actions. I have in mind still another fund in the same locality. A very substantial amount of the Sinn Féin funds there fell into the hands of one person, who still retains it.
Mr. Moran: I welcome this section because it provides an opportunity to many of the people mentioned in Section 13, who have been more fortunate than their colleagues, to make some contribution to a fund or a trust of this kind. I have had some experience of cases, at least two, of Old I.R.A. men who left bequests in their wills for some such purpose as this, but nobody looked after the matter and through the lapse of time the bequests were not made operative; for one reason or another those bequests failed to achieve their object. I have no doubt that if there was a body, such as is contemplated in this Bill, prepared to administer a fund of a national kind like this, many people who are now better endowed with the world's goods than some of their old colleagues would welcome the opportunity to make some contribution.
I think that if this section is accepted it will fill a gap that has existed for some time and it will enable people to help their colleagues of former days, through a body which, they will be assured, by its composition, will administer the fund impartially. It will give them an opportunity of helping those old colleagues. I think a body prepared to accept the implications of Section 14 will do a very useful work in the country and will provide a means of helping those in needy circumstances who were formerly associated with one or other of these different organisations.
General Mulcahy: Deputy Moran must be living far from the situation if he thinks that there are large numbers  of people who have had to wait for a fund, such as is contemplated now under Section 14, to be assisted. We now hear the canvass going on against the smaller voluntary bodies that, in a localised way, have for years been and are now dealing with this matter. All I can say with regard to Deputy Walsh's point is that if people have restitution to make, and if they realise the amount of the restitution they have to make, this will be an awfully big fund.
Mr. Hilliard: I do not think the administration of this fund by the body proposed in the Bill would interfere with the work that is being done and that has been done by local benevolent associations for the distressed members of the organisations that are named and those who may be associated with them. I have had a long experience of dealing with funds in the locality from which I come. I have contributed to them and I have helped to administer them. As a result of the superhuman effort needed to secure the freedom of this country, a large number of people suffered financially, and the result of their suffering is still apparent. It has devolved on the more fortunate of us to come together occasionally and assist the less fortunate ones. That has continued down the years since 1921, and even before that time such assistance was necessary and it will continue as long as the survivors of the movement live in any large numbers in the country. These funds will not in any way interfere with local efforts to relieve distress among persons who have been associated with the national movement.
Mr. Dillon: A “qualified person” must be a person in certain circumstances and then there are a lot of sub-paragraphs, but in each case the person must be in needy circumstances. Now, under Section 15, the board must publish in Iris Oifigiúil
Any auditor going in there and finding a list of persons to whom payments have been made must make a statement  like this before he prepares his certificate: “I require to be assured that each of these persons is a qualified person within the meaning of Section 13.”
When you turn to the definition of “qualified person”, you immediately discover that such a person must be a needy person. At some stage the board, for their own protection, will have to make an arbitrary rule to define a needy person, conscious of the fact that at any time they might be sued by an interested party on the ground that they had given some of the funds to a person who was not needy while denying them to an applicant who was particularly needy. The board would have to be able to go into court and say: “We considered that general question and came to the conclusion that a person who had an income of less than so much could be regarded as a needy person.” Suppose they said a person who has an income of 30/- a week for each member of the household is a needy person and taking that as a foot rule, they make an award to an individual——
Mr. Dillon: Exactly. Suppose I sue the board on the ground that I am a needy person and qualified under some other heading, that I had applied for a grant and that the reason I was refused was that they had already disbursed all the available income amongst other qualified persons, I may say that A.B. is getting a grant although he has an income of £7 a week from America. Now the board at some stage must say what in their opinion is a needy person.
Mr. Dillon: I am afraid I am out of it altogether. I was directing your attention to something that I thought might prove awkward. The obligation to publish audited accounts every year, I think, should put the Taoiseach on his guard against this definition of qualified person and, if needs be, he should remove the word “needy” and say that the expression “qualified person” means any person, being, in the opinion of the board, a person who requires help. The moment you get an adjective like “needy”, a mischievous person can start litigation on that word to get it defined by the courts and make himself troublesome.
The Taoiseach: The object of the amendment is to get uniformity between the definition and the remainder of the text of the Bill. In one place the word is “deposited” and in the remainder of the Bill the words are “on deposit”. For the sake of uniformity, it is better to insert the words “on deposit” instead of “deposited”, to make it accord with the definition.
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