Tuesday, 20 July 1971
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Cott: Could the Minister tell me the difference between a military service pension and a special allowance? It is quite obvious to me that some people who are financially well off, certainly in County Cork, are also drawing either pensions or allowances and can get quite hefty pensions. There are people with incomes of a minimum of £3,000 a year who are in receipt of pensions or allowances, as the case may be, of over £350. Some of those people gave very little service at the time they were supposed to be fighting for freedom, yet others who did the full time are now drawing nominal sums of £40, £50 and £60 a year. Could the Minister tell me the difference between the pension and the allowance and who qualifies for each?
Mr. Cronin: A military service pension is given for active service whereas a person who holds a service medal without bar, in respect of IRA membership or participation, is eligible to apply for a special allowance. Military Service Pensions have a medal with bar. This is something which is widely and generally known. Special allowances are still being awarded but the administration of military service pensions, as I indicated earlier, was wound up in 1955.
Mr. Cronin: Deputy Clinton raised the point that there are people who would be entitled to a military service pension but who did not apply in time and who are not in receipt of a special allowance. In our estimation adequate time and opportunity was given to qualified people to apply for military service pensions. As I indicated, the closing dates were extended on many occasions and the time limit finally expired in 1955. There may still be some cases outstanding but I do not think we could have gone any further.
Mr. Tully: Would the Minister not agree that the only reason they stopped in 1955 was to save the time of the Department's officials in investigating such cases? There could be just as many people applying in 1971 who could do with a pension now which  they did not think they would need in 1954. While somebody said it should have been stopped years earlier I think a mistake was made. If these people have the necessary qualifications, they should be able to apply for a pension right up until they die because eventually they die and this is a point which has been missed. Most of them are very old men, many of whom even though they knew they could apply for a pension either felt that they did not need it and were not, therefore, prepared to apply or would not apply because they felt they should not be paid for something which they did voluntarily as an act of patriotism. The years have changed many people. I know people who said things in 1921 who have, in fact, said very different things in 1971.
Mr. Tully: Because of that I feel it might not do one bit of harm if there was some arrangement made whereby those who would have qualified if they had the option of applying should be given a chance of doing so particularly because there is now a new element being introduced and that is the question of the pension for the widow. Very many of these widows are living in very straitened circumstances. This is a personal opinion and possibly the Minister or his officials would disagree with it but we cannot get away from the fact that there was only one period during which this occurred and that was 50 years ago. It does appear as if we are saying that those who, for one reason or another, maybe it was highmindedness, maybe it was another reason, did not apply for a pension will not get it now whether they need it or not. That is what we said in 1955 and that attitude is being written into this Bill because it is provided in the Bill that if the husband has not got the pension the wife will not get the pension whether she needs it or not.
I think a mistake has been made there. The Minister might agree to  have a look at this before it goes to the Seanad. We are not asking him to commit himself to anything, merely to look at it and see whether there is any way in which he can get around it. I think the Minister is as interested in doing this as I am or as any Member of the House is. It would be unfair to force him to do something now across the floor of the House without giving him an opportunity of looking at it.
Mr. Cronin: I strongly sympathise with Deputy Tully's viewpoint. If it were practicable I would be willing to meet his request. There would be many difficulties involved. I would be surprised if there are any persons who would have qualified had they made application for a pension within the prescribed time limit. I shall not make any promises on it but——
Mr. Clinton: The Minister now accepts that it is simple, basic justice to all the people who did their bit for this country that the widows of those who were entitled to a pension but did not seek it or who sought it late should be included. He accepts that that would be only ordinary, common justice and fair play to all. I should like to draw his attention to the fact that he gave us today, as the realistic figure in a full year, £92,000. It is quite obvious that the Minister budgeted for £110,000. There is leeway there.
Mr. Clinton: The Minister also mentioned a figure of £220,000 for  a full year; I see in the Budget a figure of £280,000, which gives considerable latitude to bring in the type of people we are referring to.
I do not accept that there was an insurmountable difficulty in the case of people who did not apply for a pension because of their pride and their independence and their decision that this was patriotism, that they did what they did for Ireland. They endured this as long as they could. Because of these people's sacrifices the State was saved a considerable amount of money. Their widows, who are now poor in many cases, are to be deprived because of the big heartedness and generosity of their husbands in their time. I would make a very strong plea that this is just not justice. I do not think the Minister has a problem here. He says that these are based on military pensions and that these are not established. Surely the fact that they are entitled people proves that they are entitled to the minimum at this stage? He has provided for a minimum of £52.20. This gives the Minister ample time to have their cases fully investigated.
As Deputy Tully says, a new element has been introduced in providing a pension for the widow. This in itself is a fresh circumstance. These people should now be given the chance of applying if their circumstances are such that they really require a pension. They did without this and deprived themselves for as long as it was possible. I would appeal very strongly to the Minister to see the Minister for Finance on this and see what is possible before bringing it to the Seanad. There is the difficulty that this is a Money Bill and it is very difficult to discuss improvements in the Bill. I hope the Minister's reaction to what we are saying is not one of antagonism—he has given that impression on and off since we started this discussion—but one of generosity to ensure that these people get ordinary justice.
Mr. Davern: I do not think anybody will deny what Deputy Clinton is saying but, if he looks at it from a practical point of view, from 1924 to 1956 these people had ample opportunity  to apply when the military boards were there, set up specifically, with members of the Old IRA——
Mr. Davern: ——and the lists were sent up from the local battalion areas. If those people did not apply in those years surely the Deputy would not ask for special legislation now to ensure that they will be granted a pension without even looking for it?
Mr. L'Estrange: There are many people in my county who are genuine republicans, who fought from 1917 on but who would not take a pension. It is well known that they fought. They are still genuine republicans in the Boland tradition, if you like, and they would not take a pension. I know of two cases. They are poor today. They went out to fight for this country. They did not look for pensions and they would not touch pensions until we would have, as they would tell you, what they went out to fight for, a 32-County Republic. They have refused to take a pension. It is very unfair that if they pass away today or tomorrow —people who have saved the Irish taxpayer money because of their generosity, because they were genuine republicans—and their widows are poor they cannot get a pension. I suppose there are not 50 of them in the whole country. As Deputy Clinton said, if they could even get the minimum it would be something.
Mr. Cott: Can we take it that there will not be a means test applied at all in the allocation of these widows' pensions? May I also ask the Minister, in view of what the other Deputies have said and which I was coming to myself, a simple question for clarification because his Department on numerous occasions failed to give me the information I requested? Would he agree  that there is definitely a grave injustice being done to people who, for one reason or another, did not wish to claim a pension before 1955, did not want to be associated with it at all, but who now find themselves in a desperate financial situation and who have been granted a medal and bar for active service during the full period, when these people are subjected to a low degrading means test? I do not know if the Minister is quite aware of this. I have known a social welfare officer who has gone around the back of a cottage to count the chickens and of one chap in particular who actually counted the eggs and wanted to know the income the lady had from eggs. This is a terribly degrading exercise. I would ask the Minister to see if anything can be done to do away with this demeaning means test for people who have since 1955 been allocated special allowances.
Mr. Clinton: The pension to the widow is dependent on her not remarrying. When she remarries she loses the pension. I have some doubt as to whether this is fair treatment. If it is decided that the widow is deserving of a pension because of the privations and anxieties she suffered in trying to cope with a family and all the other hardships that were entailed for her at this period, and if it is decided that she is a person who is entitled to recognition and reward from the State, why should she lose that on remarriage? To remarry, obviously, is now regarded as a crime. If the pension is a reward for past suffering, the widow should be free to do whatever she likes. The pension should not be tied up so that the widow loses her entitlement if she remarries. Is she getting the pension for remaining a widow? If that is the  case, it is a rather peculiar pension. How did the Minister decide that she should be deprived of pension if she should remarry?
Mr. Tully: I would not take subsection (3) as seriously as Deputy Clinton does because we must remember that most of these widows will be old ladies of 60 to 80 years of age and the possibility of their rushing off to remarry just because they get £1 a week pension is rather remote.
Mr. Tully: I assume that the reason is that a similar provision is included in other widows' pension regulations. It is a widow's pension and the lady is not a widow when she remarries. I am interested in subsection (4):
This is a non-means test pension. I object and have objected consistently in this House to prying into people's private affairs. It does appear that an applicant for any type of allowance will be asked 30 questions, 20 of which are entirely irrelevant, having nothing at all to do with the allowance in question, and the other ten questions may be important. Could I ask the Minister again to ensure that whatever application forms are being sent out will contain questions seeking the barest minimum of personal details and will not contain questions which have no relevance to the application? It is bad enough when a means test is involved but it is a great deal worse when there is no means test involved, to issue forms containing questions which are entirely unnecessary and which may cause acute embarrassment to the applicant. The older we get the more easily irritated we are. For instance, I do not think the age of the widow concerned is relevant. I bet anything that there will be a question asking for date of birth. That is a typical example. It irritates ladies, in particular, to be asked to put down in writing the date of birth. Such details should not be asked for.
Mr. Tully: It was as well to clear that point because in the case of a person who is a widow and who is earning an income of £7, £8 or £9 a week it means that if she gets a pension of £3 a week, the State will give her £3 and collect £1 back in tax. No further comment.
Mr. O'Sullivan: I would appeal to the Minister on behalf of these widows. There will not be too many of them on the matrimonial market from this on. They are getting on in years. If a woman has the pluck to remarry, I do not see why the Minister should deny her the subvention. I would ask him to give every one of these women a pension whether they remarry or not. They are all entitled to it. The numbers must be very small.
Mr. Cott: Could I ask the Minister if this might be amended at some later stage to give an allowance to hardship cases? There is definitely a possibility that in the event of widow pensioners remarrying they might find themselves worse off financially after marriage. Would he, therefore, give consideration to such persons? SECTION 3.
Mr. Cronin: I have dealt with that point already. This scheme has a minimum of qualifying conditions. The question of a means test was raised by Deputy Cott and in explanation I said that, in fact, there are no strings attached to this allowance— even if the applicant has already qualified for an allowance or pension under any other scheme, it would not affect the granting of an allowance under this scheme.
Mr. Clinton: I should like at this stage to know where we are. Has the Minister given the House an undertaking—I assume he has—that he will, in fact, look into the couple of matters that we raised, before bringing the Bill to the Seanad, in the hope of including the provisions which we appealed to him to have included?
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