Thursday, 9 April 1964
Dáil Eireann Debate
Go ndeonófar suim nach mó ná £6,343,700 chun slánaithe na suime is gá chun íoctha an mhuirir a thiocfaidh chun bheith iníoctha i rith na bliana dar críoch an 31ú lá de Mhárta, 1965, le haghaidh Tuarastail agus Costais Oifig an Aire Cosanta, lena n-áirítear Seirbhísí áirithe atá faoi riaradh na hOifige sin; le haghaidh Pá agus Costais Óglaigh na hÉireann; agus chun Deontas-i-gCabhair a íoc.—(Minister for Finance.)
Minister for Defence (Mr. Bartley): Na pointí ba mhó tábhacht nó ba mhinice luaite sa díospóireacht chuireas dhá gcíoradh iad le linn an aitill idir chéad-thógáil an Mheastacháin agus a  athógáil inniu. Le h-am a shábháil, léifidh mé nótaí a chuireas dhá n-ullmhú ar chinn áirithe acu. Tabharfaidh mé tús luaite dóibh siúd acu a bhaineas le leas na Sean-Óglach. Roimhe sin, áfach, tagróidh mé do na heleceaptair agus do na coirbhéid.
h-Iarradh orm suíomh na heleceaptair a dhílárú. Deirtear liom gur gléasanna iad na heleceaptair atá sochurtha as cóir; gur gá trí cinn acu a bheith buil a chéile san aon áit amháin má táthar chun a bheith cinnte go mbeidh ceann amháin i gcónaí intseirbhíse. Tá sé soiléir nach dteastóidh ach an t-aon fhoireann amháin cothabhála má áitítear na heleceaptair le chéile. Sé mo thuairim gur cóir claoi le comhairle na n-eolaithe. Ligimis leo faoi láthair; má iarrann muid an iomarca in éineacht ró-luath ar an seirbhís seo ba dhóighde gur lúide a fóintiúlacht. Coinneofar súil uirthi mar sheirbhís.
Maidir leis na corbhéid, deirtear go bhfuil said ró-mhall agus ró-so-fheicthe. Bíodh sin mar atá—má táthar chun cosaint iascaigh a bheith ar fáil i ngach saghas aimsire gur féidir le h-eachtrannaigh iascaigh, ansin, deir mo chuid comhairleoirí liom gur soitheach de shórt an chorbhéid a theastaíonns. Na corbhéid atá againn, níl siad caite; agus ní h-iad ná a sórt faoi ndear don ísliú i líon na mairnéalach le deireannas. Séard is dóighde faoi ndear sin obair is fostaíocht ar thalamh tirim a bheith níos fairsinge acu siúd a théadh ar an bhfairrge roimhe seo. Feabhsaíodh a bpá fairrge ach ba bheag an difir a rinne sé.
I should like to deal, first, with the question of medals and special allowances, although the Pensions Estimate will not be moved until we have disposed of the Estimate on Defence. Perhaps I should give some figures for the benefit of Deputy MacEoin who dealt at some length with this question. I prepared a note and I think it will save time if I read it out, with the permission of the House.
 Several Deputies spoke about what they regarded as the over-strict standards applied to the award of the Service (1917-1921) Medal. Figures have been given before to show that the standards are far from being as severe as they are often represented to be, and I will now repeat them. To date, more than 55,000 medals without bar have been awarded and fewer than 5,000 applications have been refused. That certainly does not indicate a severe standard. Indeed, as Deputy MacEoin knows, it became clear some years ago that, at the outset, when no financial benefit attached to the medal, it was often awarded too easily, and that it why a system of re-investigation had to be introduced in 1957 where persons who had already been awarded medals applied for special allowances. But even here, figures show that there is no excessive severity. In a recent 12 month period, more than 1,100 cases were re-investigated, and only in 50 of these was the medal held not to have been duly awarded. I am sure that Deputy MacEoin would be the last to hold that special allowances should be awarded to persons whose entitlement to the medal was not reasonably established.
I say “reasonably established” because, contrary to what has been suggested, every effort is made to ensure that no arbitrary or capricious decision is taken against an applicant. All surviving battalion and company officers are approached, and if there are no company officers still alive, then any surviving Volunteer pensioners of the company are invited to verify. As well, all available records are examined, such as the battalion and company rolls and the applicant's military service pensions file, if he applied for a pension.
Where there is conflicting evidence, it is meticulously put to all the officers, and an effort is then made to reach the fairest decision possible. It is absolutely wrong to say that applications are refused just because an applicant  is not listed on the company roll. All the time, medals are being awarded where there is substantial verification by the officers, even though the name is not on the roll. It was suggested that verification forms are sent out to deceased officers. That may happen in isolated instances, but once it is ascertained that an officer is dead, his name is taken off the list of those available for verification purposes.
It is doubtful if any better system of investigation of medal applications can be devised. I cannot see how a system such as Deputy MacEoin suggests would work—that the applicant should go before a district justice or judge to establish his entitlement. Even if it were possible for the courts to handle work of this kind, how could they investigate cases satisfactorily or how could uniform standards be achieved? Neither do I see any merit in Deputy Tully's suggestion about local liaison officers to help secure verification. The Department has no difficulty in approaching the verifying officers. The difficulty is more often in getting replies—possibly because the officer is not prepared to verify but at the same time, because of local considerations, unwilling to say “No”. I can only assure Deputies that the Department does its best to come to fair decisions, and appeals usually reach the Minister in the end. The fact of the matter is that only cases in which applications are refused reach Deputies, and as I have shown, these represent only a very small minority of the cases. The same applies to applications for special allowances.
It may interest Deputies to know that, of 18,500 applications dealt with since the special allowances scheme was introduced in 1943, allowances were granted in nearly 13,000 cases— in other words, somewhat more than two out of three applicants over the years received special allowances. In recent times, the proportion has been as high as four out of five. When it is considered that applications may be refused on any of three grounds— health, means and eligibility for the medal—that again disposes of any suggestion of over-strict standards. Again,  allowances are being awarded all the time, and it is only the small minority of cases in which the application is refused or the person is not satisfied with the allowance awarded that come to the notice of Deputies. Short of granting every application, there is no way of satisfying everybody.
I have dealt in detail with this matter and have had this note prepared in order to clarify once more the history of our dealing with this type of benefit to old IRA men. I want to assure Deputy MacEoin and all the other Deputies who gave it priority in their remarks, that the benefit of any doubt that may exist is given to the applicant. The approach to all available pensioners in a district who are not verifying officers, as a last resort, is very fair in all the circumstances.
With regard to the Reserve of Officers, appeals have been made frequently for an improvement of their position. I have recently had the regulations governing promotions to the Reserve of Officers (First Line) amended so as to facilitate promotion from the rank of lieutenant to captain. A number of lieutenants have since been promoted to the higher rank.
With regard to prescribed ages for relinquishment of their commissions by officers of the Reserve of Officers (First Line), I have had the regulations amended so as to bring the ages into line with the retirement ages for serving officers.
Mr. Dillon: If I may ask the Minister a question before he departs from the matter he has just been dealing with, has he had time to consider the case of giving captains in the Regular Army an automatic promotion to commandant where their period of service is approaching its conclusion, on the ground that if a man is deemed to be good enough to be a captain for a long number of years in the Army service, seniority itself should indicate that at a certain stage of his career he should be given the rank, emoluments and pension rights of a com-  mandant, as is the practice, I think, in most other armies?
Mr. Bartley: I assume the Deputy's information is correct when he speaks about other armies but I have been informed that it is not quite as simple a matter to promote captains automatically to a higher rank as it is to promote lieutenants to the rank of captain. There are some special financial provisions for captains of long service and these have been made in recognition of the case made by Deputy Dillon and others. I would not care to commit myself to any more positive statement at this stage.
Mr. Bartley: I will consider it. It has been brought to my notice and there has been considerable letter writing in the public press about it by the captains themselves. They apparently think that they should use means to impress upon the Minister for Defence and the authorities what they regard as their claim to special promotion.
I do think that every Deputy will agree with me when I say that where it comes to ranks of higher responsibility, the General Staff should be allowed some discretion and that it is necessary to ensure, particularly in these times, that we have top-class officers available for foreign service. There are considerations to be taken into account in relation to service such as we are called on to give under the United Nations apart from ability to fight.
I was referring to Deputy MacEoin's remarks about civilian employees. In their case, as in the case of other such employees, the labour exchange is requested to submit names, and it is from names so submitted that the men are recruited.
Deputy Booth complained of the system whereby an officer's retired pay is rebated if his employment is remunerated from public moneys. I feel sure the Deputy is aware that this is an arrangement of long standing and  that it applies to public servants other than ex-Army officers—for instance, Civil Service pensioners. I feel sure he is also aware that the Minister for Finance has indicated in reply to a question by Deputy Cosgrave that he is considering this matter.
With regard to the vexed question of conciliation and arbitration procedure for the Army, referred to during the debate by Deputies MacEoin, Tully, McQuillan and Booth, the position has been, of course, that the General Staff have in fact acted in this capacity on behalf of the Army and I do not think the Army has suffered in any way through any lack of enthusiasm or effort on the part of the General Staff. It is not clear that the Army would be better served by the suggested system of arbitration. However, I am having an examination made of the methods by which such problems are dealt with in other countries and if it becomes necessary to amend our thinking on the matter, that will be done. I wish to assure the House that every genuine complaint from Army personnel receives the fullest sympathy and consideration.
Deputies MacEoin and Tully mentioned the matter of automatic promotion. I have dealt with that arising out of the remarks of Deputy Dillon and I do not think there is anything else I should say on it.
A question of topical interest, the selection of personnel for United Nations service, was referred to by Deputy MacEoin and others. I dealt with this pretty fully last year and there is hardly anything new I can say about it. At that time, I indicated that suggestions of favouritism in regard to these selections were not well founded. I should like now to stress that these selections are exclusively a purely military matter and as Minister for Defence, I do not interfere with the discretion of Headquarters Staff in choosing personnel for such service.
I know one cause of complaint is the fact that some members have had more than one trip abroad. This apparently has given rise to the suggestion of favouritism in the selections. I have inquired why some men have gone  more than once while others, who have sought inclusion, have not yet been selected. Apparently the purpose is to maintain the practical liaison that has been established since the beginning of overseas service. The purpose is to ensure that there will not be a completely new unit, with no link with its predecessors.
That entails the sending of a small number of men a second or third time. On the whole, the principle of sending out new personnel and spreading the experience over as large a number of men as possible, is followed. Perhaps I should say that the selection of soldiers for overseas service is influenced by various factors of which the principal are willingness to serve, recommendation of immediate superiors, age, standard of training and efficiency, physical fitness, medical record, disciplinary record, period of engagement remaining to be served, general suitability of temperament and physique.
I feel sure every Deputy will agree it is desirable that personnel selected for overseas service should measure up to a reasonable standard under each of these heads. That is what is done and if it seems to work out in a discriminatory manner, that is not in fact so. There are no means whereby members of the Army can operate any influence to have themselves selected against their suitability under these heads. There are certain types of qualifications that possibly make it more difficult to get suitable personnel. I have a list of such qualifications here—radio technicians, fitters, drivers, medical orderlies, cooks, storemen, clerks with ability to type. Men with these qualifications, I am told, have a better chance of being selected more than mere line soldiers.
Regarding the complaints about the severity of punishment awarded by courtsmartial, I do not think there is any substance in them because the number of petitions is very small. In nearly all cases of detention, if it is of any length, even before the case comes to the Minister, I find the term has been greatly reduced by the military authorities and that it is hardly necessary for the Minister to  interfere at all. It seems to me in this connection that if the offence is of such a character that the punishment takes the form of a long term of detention, it would be better to dispose altogether of that soldier's services and get rid of him rather than keep him. I have expressed that view to the military authorities and I think they accept it. In this matter we must be careful not to play in with men who want to get out of the Army and who ordinarily would have to buy themselves out. If they found an easy way out by committing an offence and getting a punishment, that would create an abuse of another kind and so we had better leave this to the good judgment of the military who have handled it reasonably well.
Deputy Booth referred to variations in rates of pay for professional officers. Rates of professional pay in the Army are influenced by various factors such as rates of remuneration in corresponding civilian employment and particularly in corresponding appointments in other sectors of the public service. Various rates of professional pay are therefore inevitable and to attempt to treat all professional officers equally in regard to remuneration would be unfair and unrealistic. The question of revised rates for officers, other than medical and dental officers who have received increased rates, is under active consideration.
Deputy MacEoin referred to the case of soldiers transferred to the First Battalion as punishment. I did not like the tenor of Deputy MacEoin's remarks in regard to this matter. He seemed to think we were using the First Battalion as a place or state of punishment where some soldiers suffered for a time before getting back to their original station. Continuous complaints about the conduct of certain families in the Athlone married quarters facing the public road made it necessary for the command OC to take strong action. Recent incidents involved two soldiers who are brothers and a third who is their brother-in-law, all three living in the quarters with their families. It was decided the only thing to do was to break them up and the two brothers were detached to  Galway in addition to being fined and the brother-in-law to Mullingar, in addition to detention. I understand this will be reconsidered in due course. I appreciate what Deputy MacEoin said regarding the First Battalion and I also would deprecate any wrong use of that battalion.
Mr. Bartley: As in the case of many other public service activities, we base our priorities on the need as we have assessed it. Galway is not top priority in need. There are places in greater need. That is how we deal with the question. I do not think Deputy Coogan had occasion to make very many representations.
Mr. Coogan: I have made very many. In fact, I pointed out to the Minister that the responsibility of the Department to provide housing is being foisted on Galway Corporation. I am aware of that as a member of Galway Corporation.
Mr. Bartley: As a general answer, I should say it is desirable that every branch of the public service should do all it can to provide houses. The corporation is a housing authority and from the point of view of avoiding dislocation when soldiers come to the end of their service, it is desirable, in view of the number of overholders we have in military houses, that as many as possible should be housed in local authority houses. A considerable number of ex-service men are over-holders in Dublin and unless we throw them out—and then we would be the worst in the world—what can we do? If they were accommodated in local authority houses, that question would not arise. I take it if the Department removes the acuteness from the particular need where it exists and leaves the rest to the local housing authorities, that is the wisest course to pursue.
Mr. Coogan: I think the Minister may have misunderstood. We have no objection to the Army as Army personnel but where the Army should provide housing, we would like them to co-operate with the Galway Corporation.
Mr. Bartley: We are not very high up. Deputy MacEoin asked about the full cost of the pay increases. I gave the annual cost for the Defence Forces. It is approximately £615,000; for civilian employees, it is approximately £105,000; and the approximate annual cost for Civil Service staff in the Department is £40,000.
Another matter of importance which was raised by Deputy MacEoin was the question of receipts from the United Nations. To date we have received sums of approximately £1,478,000 in respect of allowances paid to officers and men, stores specially purchased, stores destroyed, lost or damaged, etc. In some instances the sums received were credited to a suspense account to which the original expenditure had been charged; in others the sums received were credited to the Appropriations in Aid. The Department's appropriation accounts show what is done in respect of the different items. As well, sums amounting to £136,000, approximately, have been received from the United Nations in respect of pensions, allowances, lump sums, etc., paid as a result of the death or disablement of members of the Defence Forces who served in the Congo. These sums are shown in the Department's appropriation accounts as extra receipts payable to the Exchequer.
Deputy Tully complained about the reluctance of the Department to discuss with the Organisation of National Ex-Servicemen matters affecting general Army conditions. I want to make it quite clear that I, as Minister for Defence, and the Department, hold the Organisation in the highest respect. There never has been and there will  not be, any objection to discussing with them matters affecting ex-servicemen.
Mr. Tully: Is it not correct that the Minister has not in effect arranged the interview which has been sought on more than two or three occasions for the purpose of discussing matters affecting ex-servicemen? Is it not a fact that the Minister simply sent a long letter explaining that there was no necessity for such interview, and asking about further points, until the Organisation got tired of writing? Or have they taken the wrong impression from the Minister's letter?
Mr. Bartley: I do not think I could agree to discuss even with a body of the importance of ONE matters which are entirely and exclusively the responsibility of the Department of Defence. One of the items on the Organisation's list was the provision of helicopters. While I would be prepared to receive representations from any group of citizens on matters dealing with defence, I do not think I should concede an interview to ONE on a matter of that sort.
Mr. Bartley: I asked for further detailed information and so far as I recollect—I am speaking subject to correction—I did not get any reply. Apparently the Organisation were a bit huffed because I did not receive them immediately.
Mr. Bartley: Certainly the Deputy can take that as being so. Of course I  would not like it to go abroad that I am at the beck and call of anyone who feels he has a specific standing in relation to defence. I can assure the Deputy I have many other matters to occupy my time. I admit freely that ONE as an ex-servicemen's organisation would have a better claim than most. I know Deputy Tully is a member of the Organisation, and I understand he was President at one time, and I would ask him to apply his good judgment in the selection of matters about which he would ask to be heard.
Deputy Coogan referred me to the question of houses. The matter was also dealt with by Deputy Sherwin, Deputy Davern and Deputy Tully. I do not think I have anything new to add except to say that 190 houses have been provided in recent years. As I told Deputy Coogan a while ago, that policy of providing houses is being pursued. I would ask Deputies again —it is no harm to repeat this because it is important—to keep in mind the number of over-holders we have in military houses at present. Very often we receive representations from Deputies to stay action in the matter. If we withhold payment of pensions in respect of over-holders, we get representations from Deputies to forego such action.
Mr. Bartley: A member of the Deputy's Party asked me to relax it in a particular case, and said the man could not get a house. I discovered on inquiring that the man had a choice of two or three houses from Dublin Corporation and would not accept one.
Mr. Bartley: Information was sought in relation to the sum of £5,375 in Subhead X in respect of medals. The bulk of this amount, £5,000, is for service medals for members of An Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil and An Slua Muirí. Only £300 is for pre-Truce service and other medals.
 A point was made about a specialist's fee in respect of a visit to the Curragh and I consider that the matter is of sufficient importance for me to deal with it specifically. It was Deputy Booth who raised the matter. He referred to the case of a medical specialist brought to the Curragh and from what he said, the Deputy apparently got a garbled and inaccurate account of what happened in the case. While some obvious questions relating to the necessity for the consultation and to the amount of the fee were asked by the Department, authority was given for the employment of the specialist on the day on which it was sought, two days before the consultation actually took place. The specialist was not approached by the Department for a reduction of his fee, as might be suggested by what the Deputy said.
With regard to the question of the new uniform, Deputies Esmonde and Booth criticised what they regarded as delay in its introduction. I did not say in my opening statement that delay by the contractors was holding the matter up. Supplies are already beginning to come through but when approval for the new uniform was announced at the end of January, it was also stated that stocks of the present uniform must be used up before the new uniform became a general issue. I think it reasonable enough that we should use up existing stocks of material.
Many matters of detail were mentioned in the debate. Some of them have already been dealt with in replies to Parliamentary questions during the year and no doubt several of them will come up again in that way. One Deputy—I think, Deputy Booth—complained that there seemed to be a marked omission in the statements of Ministers for Defence on this annual Estimate—a lack of policy statements. He said that we should create a United Nations Force and have it ready at a moment's notice but he qualified that by saying that it should be done at the expense of the United Nations.
I do not think that any Minister or Deputy would object to such a suggestion. I am quite satisfied that we would get more than one battalion of good soldiers here in such circumstances  but the difficulty is that the United Nations are not in a position to guarantee any such payments. Some of the most important members have been defaulting in relation to the expenses of the Congo operation, as the Minister for External Affairs has pointed out. I understand that similar default is taking place in relation to Cyprus and I do not think any Deputy would put forward the suggestion that this small country should provide a strong force as ready as a fire brigade to go to any trouble spot to which United Nations might direct it unless the condition advanced by Deputy Booth is fulfilled, that the entire cost is going to be carried by United Nations. If that can be constructed as a declaration of policy, no Deputy in this House need have any hesitation in making it. We have been dealing with these matters in an ad hoc way. United Nations make the request and the Dáil makes a decision on that request. That is our ad hoc policy.
Outside of these United Nations commitments I may be asked what is the view of the Minister for Defence in relation to our Army, assuming that there were no outside assignments for it. If I were asked to give an opinion I would say that we ought to extend as much as possible the educational activities of the Army. There is a fair amount being done in that direction at the present time. We have, for instance, the apprenticeship school at Naas which is doing very good work and turning out very good tradesmen. I am glad to note that the trade unions recognise the qualifications gained by these boys in the apprenticeship school. They sign on usually for six or nine years but it is not easy to retain them for that period as, because of their training, they get offers of good employment and it is not easy to stand between them and these career offers.
I would not mind that if we could have a continuous turnover. It is all to the good provided the trained personnel remain in Ireland. We also have very good training by the Air Corps, the training of pilots. Again, we had the experience in the past of Aer Lingus taking the best of them as they became available. Now we have  a special agreement with Aer Lingus whereby we train their own personnel at Gormanston. That has lessened the drain from the Air Corps. These are two examples of the educational policy being pursued by the Army. It is our wish to extend that type of activity and the Army could and should become one of our principal educational establishments.
I am most disappointed that the Gaeltacht is not keeping the 1st Battalion supplied with Irish speakers. They come out of Connemara and pass Renmore and go over to England. I cannot see why a young fellow of 17 years of age—and we will take them into the Army at 17, with the parents' consent—would not sign on at Renmore at least for three years. He is still only a boy at 20 and he will have been better prepared for emigration, if he must emigrate, by spending his three years in the Army.
Under the new scales of pay, a trained soldier has a clear £5 18s. a week in his pocket with his uniform, his food and his accommodation. If we could fill up that battalion and if we could reduce the roster of duty which is too frequent now because of the small numbers there, much more time could be made available for the members of that battalion to attend the local technical school and to advance themselves. Indeed, if we had sufficient numbers in the barracks we could arrange for special vocational classes with the local vocational education committee.
This is the sort of thinking I have about our Army, its employment and its use. I do not think the time has come when we can be so trusting as to abolish it altogether, as some well-disposed people seem to think it might be. I do not suppose I have dealt with every point made by Deputies but if there are any specific questions I have not dealt with and which any Deputy would like to put to me I shall do my best to answer them.
Mr. Tully: I think the Minister said they found extreme difficulty in getting replies from the verifying officers in many cases and it was assumed it was a reluctance on the part of those people to say they had  the service they were claiming. Is it not a fact that quite a number of the original verifying officers have become incapacitated or have died? Would the Minister not consider my suggestion that those people should all be written to and asked, as of now, if they are prepared to continue to act as verifying officers? I believe the Minister will find that so many of these people are no longer able to do it, because they have got seriously ill or old or have died, that he will decide to change the system.
Mr. Tully: Would the Minister not consider putting the definite question: Are you prepared to continue? Quite a number of people from post offices have told me they have received letters for people who have died and for people who accept them but who they know well are unable to answer the letters. It is most unfair to people if that is the position. If the Minister would consider that again, I should be very grateful.
Mr. Tully: They should. Furthermore, take a person in receipt of a special allowance but who because of illness requires a member of the family to look after him or her. A daughter or somebody has to leave off work to look after those people. Is there any way in which allowances can be made to provide for such persons? I had a letter yesterday from a lady in Northern Ireland who is looking after her husband, an Old IRA man, in Fermanagh. The husband has £3 10s. and she has £3 to look after him. Her brother in Cavan, an Old IRA man, has £78 a year special allowance and his daughter has had to leave employment to look after him. She has nothing and therefore the old man must go into the county home. It is a comparison that would not bear looking into too clearly. If people have to look after them, could they not receive  an extra amount of money? I do not know if it is possible.
Mr. Bartley: We have done what I think is the most effective thing. There was a recruitment bonus payable to soldiers who secured recruits. It used to be only £1. Now we have cut out ordinary advertising expenses and have diverted the money for a trial period by increasing the bonus from £1 to £5. I think the personal contact between a soldier and his friends outside should be more effective than any other form of advertising and we think the £5 bonus should be attractive enough to produce results. It is too soon yet to say whether or not the scheme will succeed. It is being tried out on an experimental basis.
Mr. Carroll: Has there been a change in the Minister's attitude about an applicant who applied for a 1917-1921 service medal, and who has verification in writing from two former accredited verifying officers and yet, despite that, has failed to get it? I understand he is considered too young by the Minister's Department. The Minister's Secretary is quite  aware of the particular case. I could not add anything to his verification— he is not a Dublin man—but it seems to be one of the most blatant cases that has caused such dissatisfaction regarding the issue of medals without bars.
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