Committee on Finance. - Adjournment Debate—Board of Works Employees.

Thursday, 6 July 1950

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 122 No. 5

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[1039]Mr. Fitzpatrick: Information on Michael Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Michael Fitzpatrick  I put down the following question for answer to-day:—

“To ask the Minister for Finance if he will state (a) the number of men who were dismissed from the Board of Works in the week preceding Christmas, 1949; (b) the number of those men who were since re-employed; (c) the average period of employment, prior to dismissal, of those who were re-employed; (d) the average period of employment, prior to dismissal, of those who were not re-employed; and (e) whether some men were refused re-employment who were members of the I.R.A. and had not National Army discharge papers.”

I put down that question for answer principally to find out what was the position of men who served in the Republican Army from 1916-1949 as regards employment in Government or semi-Government institutions. The Parliamentary Secretary, in his reply, as far as I am concerned, made it perfectly clear that the only people who get preferential treatment are men who have had certain service in the Defence Forces and men with military service in the period 1916-1923. Consequently, I am entitled to assume, as far as the present Government is concerned, that men who took up arms in 1916, who helped to proclaim the Republic in 1916, who accepted and swore allegiance in 1919 to the first Dáil which was elected by the people, who remained loyal to the Republic and their oath of allegiance throughout the years that followed right up to 1949, when all Parties in the Twenty-Six Counties accepted the position and the political principles that those men stood for—that, in the Republic which is now generally accepted by all Parties in this country and all Governments outside the country—whose loyalty and steadfast determination was responsible throughout those years for maintaining a republican position, are to be deprived of earning their livelihood in what is generally accepted now as the Republic of Ireland. I am not [1040] satisfied with that. I believe that the people who were responsible for maintaining that position should at least get the same recognition as the men who served from 1916 to 1923.

In the first instance, I want to make it perfectly clear that I am not raising this matter on the Adjournment because I have any objection at all to men who served in the Defence Forces in any period being offered and accepting special treatment or getting employment in the Republic of Ireland. I have no objection to the men who are described in the answer to-day as men who served from 1916 to 1923, who have military service medals or who are getting pensions or employment in this country. I would point out, however, that in every country of Europe —with the possible exception of Ireland—the people who were steadfast to an ideal and who lived to see that ideal coming to be accepted were not pushed aside. My complaint to-day was that certain men who were employed in the Board of Works for a number of years lost that employment. I had in mind one case in particular of which the Parliamentary Secretary is well aware—that of a man named Kirwan who was never a member of the Regular Army in this country. All his life, from the time he left school, he was a member of the Republican Army. As a member of that army, he served terms of imprisonment in England for what he believed was the best method of bringing home to the British Government the knowledge that while Ireland was unfree she would never be at rest. When he returned to this country he found himself again arrested and interned under a native Government in a native prison camp. On release from prison he applied for and secured employment in the Board of Works. He was there, I understand, for a period of one and a half years. Last Christmas, with a number of other men—some of whom were in a similar position to himself—he was dismissed. The Parliamentary Secretary does not accept the word “dismissed”; he said he was “let go” because of redundancy. It was all the same to Mr. Kirwan and those other men who found themselves idle on [1041] Christmas Eve, whether they were “dismissed” or “let go”. I cannot see any difference in it. To them there was no difference. The fact of the matter was that on Christmas Eve they had no jobs. In the ordinary course of my duties as a public representative I made representations in writing to the Parliamentary Secretary in connection with some of these men. One of them possessed some of the qualifications that were specified by this Government or the previous Government in respect of 1916 to 1923 service. I understand that he was re-employed about six months later. The other man, in whom I am particularly interested, was sent for last February and told to report to the labour exchange for work. When he went there he was asked for his discharge papers. He explained that the only discharge papers he had were discharge papers from Brixton Prison and the Curragh. He was told there was no employment for him. It was not pointed out to him that if he had a military service medal in respect of the period 1916 to 1923 he might be considered.

I want the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us what the actual attitude of the present Government is towards men who continued loyally in the Republican Army and towards men who possibly dropped out of the Republican Army and took no part in any political organisation outside that during the years 1916 to 1950. Some of them—in fact, quite a number of them—have no medals and no pensions. They did not apply for them. They volunteered and gave service to Ireland when it was needed. They are satisfied that a genuine attempt is made in the Twenty-Six Counties to establish the republican position, having broken the last link which bound this part of the country to Britain. The men who remained on and who still remain on in the Republican Army are not asking for any special favours. They do not want pensions or medals, but they feel, and I feel, that they are entitled to the ordinary privilege which every Irishman should be entitled to, namely, the right to secure employment in his own country, wherever employment is offered.

[1042] One field of employment which is sometimes temporary, but which very often becomes permanent, is through the Board of Works, a Department that comes under the jurisdiction of the Parliamentary Secretary. In this Department, as I have already pointed out, some of these people secured employment. During a period of 18 months it is only reasonable to expect that if there was not some vendetta against them they might have been appointed to permanent positions. As my information would tend to indicate, other people who went into the Department afterwards were appointed to permanent positions. If it is the policy of the Government that these men should be accepted on the same terms as other Irishmen, then, when opportunities of permanent employment in the Board of Works present themselves, it is only reasonable to expect that they would have been pushed forward for that employment.

I have made inquiries into this matter and I have challenged the Parliamentary Secretary to make inquiries also as to their suitability as workmen, their character, and their ability to carry out all the duties that were imposed on them during their period of employment there. I think that the Parliamentary Secretary will have to admit that the foremen or supervisors, or whoever would be over those men, have no complaint, good, bad or indifferent, to offer in regard to them.

The position is that we who were colleagues of theirs through that quarter of a century feel that a great advance was made here when all Parties accepted the republican position. We did not want to shout or boast, as we might have, that we won, because naturally, while we were defeated in arms in 1923, those of us who survived to keep the fight going on and who saw the republican position accepted by everyone in 1949, could honestly say: “Well, we have won that round, even though we know there is another one yet to come.” But, in winning that round, we feel that we have created a position in which all the forces of the Twenty-Six Counties can be and should be directed together for the purpose of completing the job that was taken in hand in 1916.

[1043] It is, however, a deplorable position to see that, far from that, the men who created, through their steadfast loyalty to the republican position, the enmity of their political opponents during those years, should now be deprived of the ordinary privilege of securing work, especially work that is offered in Government or semi-Government institutions.

So far as I am personally concerned, I am taking this opportunity to draw the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary and the House to this position. I want the Parliamentary Secretary to convey my views to the Government, that I believe this vendetta is unjust. I am not quite sure whether it is this Government, the previous Government or the Government before, that was responsible for making this regulation, but in answer to a supplementary question to-day the Parliamentary Secretary said that this was a Government regulation. I put it to him, is the present Government responsible for making this regulation, and I want him to tell the present Government that if that is so, and that if this regulation continues to deprive the men who fought for the Republic throughout the last quarter of a century from getting ordinary employment in that Republic, I will seriously have to consider what loyalty I can continue to give to the Government while that regulation remains on their books.

Mr. Briscoe: Information on Robert Briscoe  Zoom on Robert Briscoe  I rise in connection with the answer of the Parliamentary Secretary to-day to the question which has been referred to now, because I do not think that I quite understood it or that members of the House are quite clear on it. I understand that in 1946 a circular was issued to all Departments of State with regard to employment, whether direct Government employment or where the Government could, if you like, make recommendations that there should be certain priorities (a) priority to members of the 1916 forces; (b) priority to persons who served from 1917 to 1923, irrespective of the side they were on in the civil war, and (c) priority for those who served in the forces during the emergency occasioned by the last [1044] war. The Parliamentary Secretary's answer gave me to understand that priority was now going to apply only to those who served from 1916 or 1917 up to 1923.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance (Mr. Donnellan): Information on Michael Donnellan  Zoom on Michael Donnellan  That is not so.

Mr. Briscoe: Information on Robert Briscoe  Zoom on Robert Briscoe  I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to answer this question if he has the time: is it not a fact that where contractors are given contracts by the Board of Works every employee has to go through the Parliamentary Secretary's office; in other words, they are sent from the labour exchange and that the vetting is done in the Parliamentary Secretary's office?

Mr. Donnellan: Information on Michael Donnellan  Zoom on Michael Donnellan  It is the other way; the vetting is done by the Department.

Mr. Briscoe: Information on Robert Briscoe  Zoom on Robert Briscoe  What I want to make clear is that the contractor himself has not full responsibility, as in ordinary cases. I have yet to know a contractor who, having had a man in his employment for a considerable period and having to lay him off for lack of work, would then employ for another scheme a completely new person, leaving aside the person who had previously worked for him, unless there was some direction given to him. This is rather an important matter, and I feel that the Parliamentary Secretary should answer my query about the regulation of 1946 —if it is still in existence and is being adhered to. I am not going to say I go all the way with the Deputy with regard to what he states now as to members of an existing republican force outside of State forces.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Patrick Hogan  Zoom on Patrick Hogan  I hope the Deputy is time-conscious.

Mr. Briscoe: Information on Robert Briscoe  Zoom on Robert Briscoe  I think I have another minute. As I say, I do not want to go that distance, but I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to clarify the position. If it is not clarified now, perhaps we will have an opportunity to deal with this matter in detail on the Estimate.

Mr. Donnellan: Information on Michael Donnellan  Zoom on Michael Donnellan  I am sure Deputy [1045] Fitzpatrick will not mind if I take Deputy Briscoe's questions first. I said to-day plainly, in reply to the question—and I am sure Deputy Briscoe should not have got mixed up about it—that preference in employment is given to men who had certain service in the Defence Forces and men with military service in the period 1916-1923 who had been granted active or general service medals.

Mr. Briscoe: Information on Robert Briscoe  Zoom on Robert Briscoe  What about the emergency period?

Mr. Donnellan: Information on Michael Donnellan  Zoom on Michael Donnellan  Yes. Preference for employment is given to men who have had certain service in the Defence Forces—that was during the emergency.

Mr. Briscoe: Information on Robert Briscoe  Zoom on Robert Briscoe  That is all right. I thought the mention of 1923 limited it.

Mr. Donnellan: Information on Michael Donnellan  Zoom on Michael Donnellan  I want to tell the House and Deputy Fitzpatrick that I know his case fairly well. He has named a certain individual, a man named Kirwan. I never met him in my lifetime, but surely he should examine his conscience, when he himself has admitted that on one occasion he was set on after he had been left off, not dismissed, as Deputy Fitzpatrick says, because work ceased at Christmas. He was one of four at that time.

The House will agree that, as far as I am concerned, I was not to be blamed, as apparently I recommended him again, and when he went to the job he was not accepted. I want to make it plain that I have not the employment of men. When certain positions are vacant. I have the recommendation of men to the Department of Social Welfare, to the local labour exchange. If there are five vacancies, I nominate five men. If they are not suitable, within the regulations—that is to say, unemployed and within this certain Government regulation that I am about to speak of—they are not set on. Then I have to nominate five more, or five more again, until such time as they will qualify according to the regulations, and then they are set on.

[1046] On the 28th December, 1946, there was a Government regulation, as I stated here to-day—I stated the truth to the Deputy and surely the Deputy does not blame me for telling the truth.

Mr. Fitzpatrick: Information on Michael Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Michael Fitzpatrick  I do not blame the Parliamentary Secretary, but I blame whoever is responsible for making that regulation.

Mr. Donnellan: Information on Michael Donnellan  Zoom on Michael Donnellan  The regulation was made on the 28th December, 1946. Surely I did not make it. I may have my own views about it being right or wrong, as the case may be. All I can say to the Deputy and to the House is that I will bring the views expressed here to-night before the Government— the Deputy's views especially—and it is a matter for the Government to decide. As for this House to hold me responsible for men who are employed or not employed, I am not responsible for certain regulations at the moment, for the regulation of December 28th, 1946. It is a Government regulation that has to be complied with. As regards service from 1916 to 1923 and again service in the Defence Forces, they get preference, provided they are registered unemployed men. That is the regulation. Some people may agree with that and some may disagree.

As far as I am concerned myself, there is one class of man that, if ever they do come to me—they have to, I regret to say it—I would do anything I could for, that is, the 1916 men. As far as I can, they get first preference, whether I am to be blamed for that or not. I would make it plain that there are always certain people that—I do not know why; probably there is a good reason for it—when they come along to me at the present time, I always see that their names go forward, and probably I do give some preference in that direction, but it is the only preference I do give. The House may blame me for that or not. I will bring before the Government the views expressed by Deputy Fitzpatrick, but I would say to him that if anyone is to be blamed I think I am one who should not be blamed.

Mr. Fitzpatrick: Information on Michael Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Michael Fitzpatrick  I hope it is clear that I did not at any time hold the [1047] Parliamentary Secretary responsible. I merely pointed out that this is 1950 and that this is the Republic of Ireland, and things that happened before that should be changed.

Mr. Briscoe: Information on Robert Briscoe  Zoom on Robert Briscoe  What is the Parliamentary Secretary going to bring before the Government for consideration? What view is he going to bring? [1048] That there shall be included now members of the existing Republícan Army as distinct from the ordinary forces?

Mr. Donnellan: Information on Michael Donnellan  Zoom on Michael Donnellan  I am going to bring exactly the views as expressed by Deputy Fitzpatrick.

The Dáil adjourned at 11.30 p.m. to 10.30 a.m. on Friday, 7th July, 1950.

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