Wednesday, 16 November 1955
Dáil Éireann Debate
That Dáil Eireann is of opinion that legislation should be introduced as soon as possible to amend the Army Pensions Act, 1953, so as to enable all recipients of service medals to be eligible for the special allowance if their means are sufficiently low and thereby put an end to the present unsatisfactory position which renders ineligible all holders of medals whose applications for medals were not received prior to the 5th day of August, 1954.
I move this motion because, in the course of making representations on behalf of I.R.A. applicants over the last two years, I was surprised to find that, although a man had made an application for a service certificate, it was necessary in certain cases that the applicant should make application for a medal as well. These are the people in whom I am mainly interested in this motion. Take the case of a man who applies for a service certificate. He is awarded a pension and automatically receives a medal. If his case is turned down he has to make application again for the medal and if that application was not lodged before August 5th, 1954, he is not entitled to a special allowance.
This special allowance is a very important item and has become more important down the years. I think it was introduced first in 1946 and was improved in 1951, and again in 1953. This special allowance was one of the best things done for the I.R.A. since this House was established. This flaw in the Act is a hardship on a lot of people. Take a borderline case where a man applied for a pension as far back as 1946. I know cases where men applied as far back as 1934 after the first Act was introduced and who reapplied at different times and still no  decision was given until after the 5th August, 1954. How are such men to know they would have to apply secondly? I think the House will agree with me that the man who had an application in for a pension would feel that he was worsening his case by application for the medal. I suppose it would have been an oversight by the Minister at the time, Deputy Traynor, that he did not allow that to happen.
When I found this out, I went to the present Minister and drew his attention to it. He told me that he was in complete agreement and that he himself, when the 1953 Bill was going through, asked the then Minister to leave it an open date. I have here what he said on that occasion. It is reported in Volume 140 of the Official Debates, column 1350, as follows:—
“General MacEoin: I think the Minister is to be congratulated for the effort he has made on behalf of the Old I.R.A. and their dependents. He has at the outset, in my opinion, taken steps that will expedite and speed up decisions.”
“As Deputy MacBride has pointed out, I hate this type of legislation by reference. It is impossible for any Deputy to know exactly what cases will be covered fully and then, of course, as usual, we will always have the borderline cases. I would ask the Minister two things before going into the Bill itself: first, for goodness' sake to take out the line or date limit—that you must apply on or before such a date. There is no necessity for that, and you are simply tying your hand again worse than the Minister for Finance could ever tie it, because you are tying yourself by statute. Take it out. If a person is entitled to it in June, then he is entitled to it in the following January just as well. I do not like it.”
The Minister now has it in his own hands and I hope he will not tie his  hands again. I asked the Minister to look into it and he promised he would. I pointed out to him what he said at the time the 1953 Act was going through. He can remedy that now and I hope he will do so at the first opportunity.
“We are glad also to note that the date for application for medals is being extended by a further year after the passing of this Bill. I said here on a previous occasion—the Minister did not appreciate it very much at the time, I am sure—that I thought there should be no time limit to applications for service or disability pensions because, even in 1953, applicants are coming along for pensions that they were entitled to under the 1924 Act and the 1934 Act, that is, 29 years afterwards. It would be a pity if one of our soldiers, one of our great men, turns up from New Zealand or Australia in ten years' time and finds that he is precluded from obtaining a service pension, a service medal, a disability pension or a special allowance. Will not that be just too bad?”
Deputy MacEoin and Deputy Ted O'Sullivan advocated that. I remark that they did not press the point. The then Minister, in winding up the debate, said he had a very open mind on it. He is reported at column 1417 as follows:—
“Several Deputies spoke on the question of an open date for applications. I, personally, have no very strong convictions about it for the simple reason that, in the course of time, these applications will disappear anyhow. Time will solve that difficulty. The fact of the matter is that, as regards medals, for instance, we fixed a closing date under a particular Act. We advertised in the newspapers; we broadcast on the radio and we made every possible endeavour to ensure that everybody who was entitled to apply for a service medal, would apply before the closing date. If they did not apply  before the closing date, it was not the fault of the State. In spite of that I am again extending, in this particular Bill, the date for another 12 months.”
That was the Minister's attitude. There was nothing done in Committee or elsewhere to insert an amendment to have the date fixed up and everyone seems to have given the Bill a blessing. I do not believe the Minister foresaw at that time what might happen, that these cases might hang on without a decision for that length of time and that it would deprive these men of a special allowance now. Anyone who knows the I.R.A. will remember that it is not the men who went out on different jobs—to attack barracks and so on—who were the mainstay of the I.R.A. Oftentimes the fellows who were at home, who did the raiding and the outpost duty, were the men who helped to keep the I.R.A. at that particular time, oftentimes watching for them and spending weeks and weeks without going to bed. Under the terms in the different Acts, these men would not qualify for a pension and I think the least that could be done for them would be to ensure that they would come under this now. They have not so many years to live in most cases and the least we should do is to ensure that they come under this Special Allowances Bill.
In regard to what Deputy Ted O'Sullivan said at that time, I would like to give the Minister an instance. I know an I.R.A. man who was born outside the State. After the war was over, he emigrated and took up a position under a Government in the country he was born in. Because of that position, that man could not apply for a pension. If anything were to happen—and none of us knows what might happen—through an upheaval in that State or through his losing his health or through anything else and if that man were compelled to come back, I think we would all be sorry if we were not able to do something for him. Under the present conditions, that man would have no claim. I think that men like him and the men who did heavy work in the I.R.A.  should benefit now under this Special Allowances Bill. The Special Allowances Act never got very much publication. It is only very lately that a lot of people got to know the benefits that accrue under it.
Mr. Gilbride: The Minister might be surprised at the number of people who do not realise it. Even to-night, I was told of benefits under that Act that I did not realise were there, with regard to men in hospitals. There are benefits under it that very few people know about. For that reason I would ask the Minister to accept this motion and to make sure that these people get a chance. When I found out these flaws in the Bill, I went to the Minister and then to my own Party and got their consent and instruction to introduce this motion. As I have endeavoured to point out, it would not cost the State very much. I do not think there will be very many people involved because most of the I.R.A. have been dealt with. I do not think it will involve a very lengthy Bill. If the Minister wishes to improve the conditions of the I.R.A. he has a way to do it by the issue of the general directions. He could widen the scope of the Bill a good deal by changing the general directions.
There is not very much more I wish to say on this motion. I would ask the Minister and the House to accept it. I believe it is a necessary motion and that these people are wronged. If I had known at the time I was bringing this motion that there was a by-election in the offing I probably would not have brought it in. I would appeal to the Minister not to put the I.R.A. up for sale. Anything that is done for them, let it be done in a quiet way. If he does that, he will be doing a very good day's work for a lot of men who deserve it.
Minister for Defence (General MacEoin): I have heard a good many reasons as to why I should accept it, anyway. I presume some of the best reasons were part of the argument I put myself to my predecessor. I have stated in answer to a parliamentary question to-day that I do propose to amend the Military Service Pensions Act and I hope to have proposals before the House at an early date. I hope that before Christmas, anyway, the Dáil may have a look at the Bill, but I am not exactly in the position to say that now.
Broadly speaking, there is no difficulty in accepting this proposed amendment. It only refers to the date for application for the medal and that owners of the medal, when it is allotted, should be eligible for the special allowance under the Act. That is a very restricted amendment.
General MacEoin: I do not know that there is any point in amending the Act if that were the only aspect, because, while Deputy Gilbride says there are not many people or much money involved, I do not think he is correct in that. Since the 5th August, 1954, 1,500 applications have come in. That is a substantial number. Why they waited until after the 5th August, 1954, I do not know. The Deputy knows thoroughly well that it was publicised up and down. Dear knows, I thought that the mere fact of my drawing attention, when I was in opposition, to the fact that it was going to close on the 5th August, 1954, would in itself be ample notification to everybody that they should apply and that I could reasonably assume so. The Minister and Government of the day then put in the date. I said: “Do not put in any date. If you are entitled to it in June, you are entitled to it in January.” The Minister answered me by saying: “We have announced it on the radio, we have put it in advertisements, we have done everything.” He said to me: “You cannot assume that there is anybody left. Anyway, I am extending it to the 5th August, 1954, and that  ought to be ample time to get finality.” Would you not think it was?
The strange thing about it is, of course, that Deputy Gilbride does forget that the applications for medals were closed down completely in 1947. All was closed, a closed book. The Minister and the Government then took the view that everybody who ever served or did anything must have applied at that stage for the medal or was in receipt of the certificate. The 1949 Act was brought in by one of my predecessors. I do not want to go into that now, except to point out again that it opened the date and it was thought that that opening of the date would be sufficient. Then my immediate predecessor found that it was not, and he extended it, as I say, to August, 1954. However, I am not going to argue the point as to whether they were right or wrong.
I had thought that the major included the lesser but the law officers of the Department held against me, and I presume advised my predecessor in the same way, that the application for the major did not include the lesser. I held that it did. I held that when you applied for a certificate of service, put the case, went up before the board and the Referee and there was verification or evidence of some sort given on behalf of the applicant, even if it was found that he had not qualifying service as required under the Act, he had at least established membership between 1st April, 1921, and the 11th July, 1921, which entitled him to the medal. I am told that that is not so. Why it is I do not know, but that is the position.
The Deputy said that the medal conferred greater benefits than he was aware of. I think that that is a slight exaggeration. I do not think there is anybody who was a member of the Old I.R.A., or associated with anybody who was attached to it, who did not know every benefit that went with the medal. There is very little my colleagues on the far side and on this side of the House do not know, but there are one or two aspects of the case to which I have referred here before. They do not come within the terms of the motion, although I think it is no  harm to mention them but on the question of special allowances, a very significant fact has emerged—that the total number in receipt of a special allowance on 31st March last—I am not going to give the present day figures, but they are substantially greater— was 4,321. Of that number, 80 per cent. were people who held medals only. The 20 per cent. refers to people who had certificates of service. In other words, those who had not as much service as would qualify them for a certificate of service were getting more than the people who had certified service.
Mr. Traynor: That is what Deputy Gilbride was referring to, that the benefits accruing under the special allowance, against the military service pension, were in favour of the applicant for the special allowance.
General MacEoin: The Deputy knows himself, as well as I do, that it was a rather disturbing fact and that some things emerged and are emerging every day. That does not come under this motion and, therefore, we will not go into it.
Mr. Traynor: As a matter of interest, I should like to know from the Minister if he is going to amend the Act to bring in the open date to which he referred in a previous debate. The open date, of course, means that people could apply in any particular period, that there would be no restriction, good, bad or indifferent. As far as my recollection goes, I was circumscribed, not by my own law officers or anyone in the Department of Defence, but by reason of the fact that, while I was an  advocate, like the Minister, of the open date, I could never get financial approval of it.
Mr. Traynor: The main thing is that you are accepting the motion. That is very pleasant to know. It is not very often that a motion by Opposition Deputies can be accepted, but on this occasion, I suppose, we are all of the one mind. I would like to make a confession now, despite what the Minister has said about having been advised by his own law officers. I was not aware, and as far as my recollection goes I am not going to be dogmatic about it—I was never advised at any period that the application for the major did not affect the minor. As far as I was concerned, I did believe, in view of the fact that all applications for service certificates went before the Referee, that the Referee in his wisdom, or otherwise, decided “A is entitled to a pension; B is not.” A then automatically got a medal and B was ruled out, but I always concluded that, in view of the fact that B had to put in his application all the necessary information that would have, in his opinion, entitled him to a certificate, that would have sufficed to satisfy the authorities examining the claim that this man was a member of the forces, because that is the deciding factor. The individual must be a member of the forces to get the ordinary medal.
I think that when Deputy Gilbride was making his reference to the fact that, under the special allowances, individual members of the I.R.A. were getting much better conditions than even some of the persons who were in receipt of a pension, he was rather surprised, and some of my colleagues  behind me seem to have doubts as to why it should be so. It seems rather surprising that a man who was out in Easter Week, who was one of the pioneers of the Volunteer movement, who gave service later on and who was awarded a service certificate valued at about, say, £35, had, because of the fact that he remained in good health and had not reached the age of 70 years, to be satisfied with that amount, whilst an individual who was not proved to have had any active service, good, bad, or indifferent, was entitled to a sum of £104, if he was single and to £130, if he was married. Those are the benefits to which Deputy Gilbride was referring.
Now, I am not objecting to that, because as long as a Volunteer gets the service to which he is entitled and as long as he retains his health, I would say he ought to be satisfied. An individual who is entitled to the greater amount under the special allowance is entitled only because his circumstances are so different from those of the other individual, but I think that the fact that the Minister has informed us that he is accepting this, and I am assuming that that means that he will amend the Act——
Mr. Traynor: The only thing the Minister must do is to amend the Act. He cannot, automatically of his own, do it as he can in other cases. He must amend the Act and I take it the Minister is giving that undertaking. That should shorten the debate.
Mr. MacCarthy: I would like to express satisfaction with the decision which the Minister has given and the attitude that he has taken up with regard to the points in the motion. There is, however, a sentence here which I think deserves comment, at least, that is: “so as to enable all recipients of service medals to be eligible for the special allowance”. Everybody knows, I think, that, in the early stages, many of the Volunteers  themselves knew, or were advised, that application for the major award of a service certificate entitling them to a service pension did not include the minor award of a badge of membership and service, that is, the service medal. They were definitely advised that they would depress their own case for the award of a service certificate, if they asked for the medal, that that was an admission by them that the medal was all they considered themselves, and that their officer considered them, entitled to.
General MacEoin: I am afraid the Deputy is widening the debate, which is to enable all recipients of service medals to be eligible, that is, people who have been awarded medals since August, 1954. They are not entitled to a special allowance and that is the type of case that Deputy Gilbride was arguing, that the person who applied for and was granted a medal subsequent to the 5th August, 1954, should be entitled to a medal also. As the law stands, he is not. That is the case that Deputy Gilbride——
Mr. MacCarthy: My point is that people with medals—some awarded before August and some after August— are having the merits of those awards reinvestigated when they apply for special allowances. Consequently, every member holding a medal is not considered eligible for a special allowance until the award of that medal is verified, so to speak.
Mr. MacCarthy: Perhaps not in all cases, but in a wide number of cases. That re-examination has delayed the making of awards of special allowances to men and women who have given  very good services and whose commanding officers, or those who had the best knowledge of their services, are now dead. Consequently, verification is very difficult. I am just mentioning that so that the Minister, when amending the Act, can take these matters into consideration and ensure that, when the investigation of an award of a medal takes place, the severity of the investigation will not be such as to debar people from the benefits accruing from the medals awarded to them.
Mr. James Tully: I should like to add the voice of our Party to the voice of the people who have already spoken and suggested that the Minister should leave an open date. As one who was far too young to be involved in the “Trouble” and whose only recollection is that of the “Tans” raiding the house, I think we in this House are dealing in a manner a little too niggardly with a group of people which is getting smaller day by day and which will eventually die out, whether we like it or not. I think it is a reflection on the House and everybody in it to find that there are so many obstacles put in the way of people who would not apply for allowances until the stage when they needed them very badly. That they did not apply up to the 5th August, 1954, might be explained by the fact that they were in good circumstances at that time and that, through no fault of their own, their circumstances might have deteriorated since then, but, because they did not apply for the allowance until they could not do without it, they are turned down, no matter what their services were because they did not apply before that date. I think that consideration should be borne in mind by the Minister. I know two cases myself where people were affected in that way.
Mr. James Tully: Many of the people who did what they could to have the State founded have received very little thanks; many of them ask for no thanks, and only when they found that they could not exist in any other way did they apply for this allowance. Because of the date which was put in haphazardly—the Minister said it was moved from year to year, but I wonder why was August 5th, 1954, chosen?—these people who would not apply until they needed the allowance were debarred from getting it. I think the date should be an open date.
Mr. Hilliard: I want to ask the Minister a question. I do not want to speak on this as I have spoken on these matters before in regard to applications for medals that have to be reinvestigated to see if they were duly awarded according to the terms of the Acts—that is why reinvestigation takes place. Before a man can get a special allowance, the Department must be satisfied that the medals were duly awarded. Applications for medals were made before that Act was passed. They were investigated and certified, or had previous certificates from the board of assessors or certified by officials in the Department of Defence, on the evidence then before them. The medals were then awarded. After the passage of the Act that provides for special allowances, the Department had to see that the medals were duly awarded, and in many cases had to have a reinvestigation.
This reinvestigation takes place when a man applies for a special allowance, and what I want to know is this: Will that reinvestigation take place in all cases, whether the individual who has the medal now applies for a special allowance or does not? If it does not take place in all cases, it does not make any great difference to these people who have already applied for medals whether the date is extended or not because they are eligible to apply for a special allowance at any time of their lives, say, when their circumstances are such that their means qualify them,  or their health qualifies them, or when old age comes and they reach the age of 70. If, in ten or 15 or 20 years' time, a man who served in the I.R.A. who has a service medal applies for a special allowance and if the medal was not duly awarded, how is it to be duly awarded then? It will have to be investigated now. All those applications will have to be investigated now. I ask the Minister if that will be done when the date is extended?
I am precluded under the terms of the motion from asking the Minister whether or not he intends to extend the date for applications from sisters of men who fell in action or died otherwise, or from other classes of people who are precluded from applying under the Act, as it now stands.
General MacEoin: Before the Deputy concludes—under the Act, the Minister must be satisfied that the medals have been duly awarded. As Deputies are aware—I informed them of this before —since numbers of medals were awarded, reports were sent in that were found to be well-founded, that medals had been awarded to people not entitled to them. That has been well established. The result was and is that something has to be done about it. There were numbers who were certified by two or three people and these people afterwards withdrew their certification, which makes the matter very annoying. Let me say in reply to Deputy Hilliard that my intention is— if I succeed, and I hope I will—that, when this amendment of mine to extend the dates goes through the House, steps will be taken to see to it now that every medal awarded will be duly awarded. Whatever investigation is necessary will be done now and not in ten or 15 years' time.
Mr. J. Flynn: I appreciate the Minister's acceptance of this motion and his statement that he will introduce legislation at an early date. Arising out of  the Minister's statement in regard to the allocation of medals, I appreciate the difficulties, but I should like the machinery, when set up, after the Minister has introduced the new legislation in regard to medals, special allowances and service pensions, to be machinery which will make it possible to go into the matter in more detail. In other words, at the moment the Department—I am sorry if I am going outside the motion, but this arises indirectly on the motion-communicates with officers down the country in regard to applicants who may or may not be eligible for medals. I am aware that in certain cases junior officers have been approached in the absence of the senior officer, who may have left the country or died in the meantime. I am aware that in some of those cases these junior officers have not the full knowledge of the applicant. That is why I would like the Minister—I know that he is sympathetic—to ensure when he is introducing legislation or setting up whatever machinery is necessary that evidence will be taken over the widest field before a decision is given either for or against the applicant.
Mr. Gilbride: I am grateful to the Minister for the manner in which he has received the motion and for his acceptance of it. He made the point that 80 per cent. of the special allowances is given to men who have no pensions. I am glad of that, because neither the special allowance nor the pension was ever intended as a livelihood and both the Department and the board are to be congratulated in spreading out the pensions and the allowances as far as possible.
I know the open date is a very big question but I would appeal to the Minister to try to get the Department  of Finance to agree, if not to an open date, at least to giving the Minister descretion in special cases. I instanced a case, when I was speaking earlier, where a prospective applicant is now serving with a foreign Government and, because of that, is precluded from applying for a pension. No one knows what may happen. Some day that man might be glad to come back here and, having come back, he might be in need of a pension. I think we would all feel badly if the door was closed against him. If the Minister succeeds in getting an open date we will all congratulate him. If he does not succeed in that, I hope he will at least get discretionary powers.
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