Committee on Finance. - Adjournment Debate: Dublin Widow's Pension.

Thursday, 27 May 1971

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 254 No. 3

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Mr. Fox: Information on Billy Fox  Zoom on Billy Fox  In reply to a question of mine of the 26th May, the Minister for Finance said:

It is an essential qualification for the receipt of benefit under the Civil Service ex-gratia and contributory widows' and children's pensions schemes that marriage takes place [566] before retirement. I do not propose to alter this requirement.

I should like briefly to let the Minister know what was the purpose of the question and why I asked for permission to raise the matter on the Adjournment. I might state at the outset that I realise fully what the Minister said in his reply yesterday and that he might be creating a precedent or a responsibility for somebody who was not married to a particular person at the time of his retirement. Nevertheless, I would ask the Minister as the Minister responsible for this important Minister and, above all, I ask him on human grounds to reconsider his views in this particular matter.

The case to which I am referring is a unique case. It is the case of a widow of a retired civil servant, a man who was deputy chief inspector of the Department of Education. He became an inspector in 1919, I understand, and retired in 1952. This man gave his life's service to education in this country. There were exceptional circumstances attaching to his life by reason of which he did not marry until after he had left the Civil Service. On the death of his two brothers, he assumed responsibility for their widows and families. Consequently, he was not in a position to marry until both families were self-supporting. He looked after them so that they were no expense to the State.

We find now that this man's widow and one child are in the situation of not being able to get any support from the State. This woman is living on a widow's pension of £5 per week. The flat in which she resides with her child is costing that amount in rent. The pension officer has informed her that after her child has reached leaving certificate age, there will be a reduction of 50p per week in the pension, so that she will then be receiving 50p per week less than what her flat is costing in rent alone. If it were not for her brothers, her circumstances would be very bad indeed. Some weeks before her late husband died she herself underwent a serious operation from which she has not recovered fully so that she is not in a position to go [567] to work and earn an income that would provide for herself and her daughter.

This is the only case of its kind so far as the Department of Education are concerned. It is the only case of an officer having married for the first time or even for the second time after he had left the Department. This woman is the only school inspector's widow who is not in receipt of a pension. At the time her husband retired in 1952, this particular scheme was not in operation so that women whose husbands died before the introduction of the present scheme were in similar circumstances. However, the scheme was amended in 1968 and this change allowed for the payment of a pension to civil servants' widows.

The woman to whom I am referring is the only one who was discriminated against. This was not done intentionally but it is because of the provisions of the particular scheme. Therefore I appeal to the Minister to reconsider this case. It is not as if legislation had to be amended in order to do this. I understand that it is only a matter of changing a ministerial order. Therefore, it is within the power of the Minister either to deny this woman and her child a life that would be tolerable, or else to ensure that they have a situation in which they can manage to exist. It would be a sad reflection on any private company, not to mention a State body, in the case of a man who gave the services this man obviously gave, that his widow should be treated as this widow is and be forced to live as she lives at present. I fully appreciate that, as the Minister said, at the time of his retirement this woman was not the responsibility of the Department but that argument is not sufficient. If the Minister were to see the situation that exists where this widow lives and the conditions in which she is forced to exist he would have no hesitation in amending the law or making a ministerial order to allow the woman to be treated as the wives of other inspectors and civil servants are treated. It is not too presumptuous of this woman to expect that at this stage the Minister and the House generally would support the payment [568] to her of a pension. Any normal human being would welcome such a move by the Minister. In putting forward this case I am not asking too much. I ask the Minister to reconsider the case and provide this widow with a living.

Minister for Finance (Mr. Colley): Information on George Colley  Zoom on George Colley  I have a great deal of sympathy with this case and I acknowledge what the Deputy said regarding the service rendered by the late husband of this woman. However, the Deputy is mistaken in thinking that this is a unique case. There are known to us about half-a-dozen such cases and there may be others of which we do not know. Certainly, others can arise in the future.

Mr. Fox: Information on Billy Fox  Zoom on Billy Fox  In what Department?

Mr. Colley: Information on George Colley  Zoom on George Colley  In the Civil Service as a whole. I must deal with this on the basis of the Civil Service as a whole and not merely in relation to the Department of Education because these regulations apply to the Civil Service as a whole. I think what Deputy Fox said in describing the position is correct but one should see it in perspective. When this man retired, as Deputy Fox said, there was no provision for a pension for widows of civil servants and when the change was made in 1968 whereby pensions were provided for widows of civil servants there was also a provision for additional contributions from civil servants to finance the scheme. But a special arrangement was made whereby an ex gratia payment of half of what would normally be payable to the widow of a civil servant was paid to widows of civil servants who had died before the operative date. Therefore, for quite a number of years this particular woman was in the same position as widows of all other civil servants and it is only because of the introduction of the ex gratia scheme that this matter has become an issue at all. The fact that she has not been able to benefit under the ex gratia scheme is what is really at stake here.

Mr. Fox: Information on Billy Fox  Zoom on Billy Fox  Her husband was able to provide for her until a short time before he died. Her husband is dead only a short time.

[569]Mr. Colley: Information on George Colley  Zoom on George Colley  Yes, but her position was exactly the same as the position of all other Civil Service widows and if the ex gratia scheme had not been introduced this problem would not arise at all. Simply because it was introduced and she is not included, it has arisen. There are other people in the same position.

However, there is a principle here which must be considered. It is not merely the money that is involved. It has certain implications. For instance, the principle on which the whole superannuation scheme works is, as I explained yesterday in replying to the Deputy's question, that the status of the civil servant at the date of his retirement is what determines his pension and what happens after that is not the responsibility of his employer.

Let me illustrate it in this way: as the Deputy knows, in the Civil Service pay structure there is provision for allowances for children. The normal case is that the allowances are paid and before the man retires in many cases his children have passed the age at which allowances are paid. But in some cases he retires while the children are still eligible and allowances continue to be paid as long as they are eligible. But if the principle being advocated by the Deputy is accepted then it would be possible for a man to retire, marry and have children who would then become entitled to children allowances: they are not at the moment. If the principle advocated by the Deputy is accepted, a perfectly good case could be made for this. Further, it could be argued if this principle is accepted that all men who [570] marry after retirement from the Civil Service, retiring with a pension based on the single scale would, on marrying after retirement, be entitled to demand that their pensions should be adjusted to the married scale.

There are other implications but what I am trying to illustrate is that it is not merely a simple case of one woman in difficult circumstances and that it merely requires a stroke of the pen for the Minister to remedy it. It is not as simple as that. There are implications involved which go far beyond this case and it is for this reason that I have been obliged to resist the claim. I have a great deal of sympathy with the particular case but I also have a responsibility. The principle on which we must operate does not envisage the kind of thing I have mentioned developing. Whether this concept would be accepted some time in the future is another question. It is a concept which certainly is not accepted in this country, as far as I know. I know it is not accepted in the public service and I am almost certain that it is not accepted in the private sector either. I have never heard of any such case and any research I have done indicates that it is not so accepted. It is conceivable that the principle might be accepted in the future but, if it is, it will have to be accepted in the full knowledge of what is involved, that it is raising the kind of questions I have indicated and that it is not merely dealing with one particular case of hardship. For that reason I must still resist it.

The Dáil adjourned at 5.20 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 1st June, 1971.


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