Army Pensions Legislation—Motion.

Friday, 14 January 1944

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 28 No. 8

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General Mulcahy: Information on Richard James Mulcahy  Zoom on Richard James Mulcahy  I move:—

That Seanad Eireann is of opinion that the Government should take steps immediately to amend with retrospective effect Section 7 of the Army Pensions Act, 1943 (No.14 of 1943) so that sums payable in accordance with the terms of Section 7 by way of Special Allowance in respect of a wife or children and because of the needy circumstances of the family while the husband pensioner is living, shall not be discontinued on the death of the husband when inevitably the general family needs and financial difficulties have become greater.

The case I have to put before the Seanad is a very brief and a very simple one.

The section of the Act of 1943 was spoken of by the Minister when introducing the Bill on the 4th March, 1943, in the following terms (column 959):—

[532]“...the fifth purpose of the Bill is to deal with the very special problem created by the passage of time and by economic circumstances of men and women who fought during Easter Week, 1916, and who are now incapable of self-support by reason of age or permanent infirmity. Section 7 applies to every person who is in possession of a military service certificate in respect of service during Easter Week, 1916, or who is in receipt of a disability pension in respect of a wound or injury received or a disability contracted during that week, provided that the person is incapable of self-support by reason of age or permanent infirmity of mind or body and that his or her yearly means from all sources do not exceed a certain sum. For a single man or woman that sum will be £78 a year; if married, £97 10/- a year, and for each child the sum is raised by £10 8/- a year. In other words, if a single person be totally destitute he or she will be entitled to £78 a year, or if married of £97 10/- a year and £10 8/- a year will be added in respect of each child. On the other hand, if the person be not totally destitute, but be in receipt of a service or disability pension, his means will be brought up to the scales of allowances mentioned. It will thus be seen that every person qualifying under this section will be entitled from all sources, if single, to 30/- a week, if married, 37/6 a week, and to an additional sum of 4/- a week in respect of each child.”

The Minister took this action because, as he indicated, a very special problem arose with regard to a limited number of people who are entitled to recognition for service during 1916 and whose means were inadequate. Now, the Bill was introduced on the 3rd March, 1943, and it became law on the 27th April, 1943. Normally, it might be thought that no very special difficulty would arise under it but, in actual practice, a very serious defect has been shown up. I submitted an amending Bill to deal with the matter in a systematic and clear way, but the decision was given the other day that that Bill could not be introduced [533] because it was a Money Bill. I am now asking the Seanad, after hearing the details I am going to put before them, to ask the Minister to amend the Bill so that grants which the Minister considered should be provided even while the father was living, should not be discontinued simply because the father dies. Since the passage of the Bill one particular case has come to my notice. This was the case of a man who, about 1941, met with such an accident that he became permanently disabled for life. Under the Work-men's Compensation Acts he got a sum of £300 or something less than £300, and after two years maintaining himself and a wife and seven children under 15 years of age, there was very little of that money left. He had a pension of £35 a year and, in fact, immediately before he died his pension was being supplemented by a payment of 25/- a week from the home assistance authorities in the City of Dublin.

If he lived until the Act was passed, he would have been entitled to have his money increased so that he would have a total income himself of 30/- a week. Actually, his pension amounted to about 13/- a week, but in addition to that 30/- from the pension and supplementary pension he would have been getting 7/6, as well as seven times 4/-, or 28/- a week for his family. Between the additional allowance for himself and his wife of 7/6 and his allowance of 28/- he would have received in respect of his wife and children 35/- a week and that income would be coming into the house because of his wife and children as well as his basic income of 30/- a week. The family were looking forward to this measure and to the additional income they would obtain, but about three weeks before the Bill was passed, the man died, and even if he had been in receipt of a pension at the time of his death, the whole pension in respect of himself and his children would have stopped. The proposal made in the Pensions Act was deliberately put forward for a special class and special circumstances and it dealt with the case of a man himself, his wife and children. It meant that there was nothing coming into the house.

Under a non-contributory pension [534] scheme the widow would be able to get 7/6, the same amount as is contemplated in the Army Pensions Bill, but, in respect of the first child, she would receive only 3/6 and in respect of the other children only 1/6. Under the widows' scheme she would only receive 20/- a week, and contributions will be paid only up to 14 years of age or to 16 if her children were going to school. Under the Army Pensions Act they would be paid up to 18 years of age. Again, under the non-contributory widows' scheme that 20/- would be reducible by 1/- a week for every 1/- the family was able to earn in any kind of way up to 12/6. If the man had been a little longer disabled, the widow would have come in under that scheme, but due to the particular length of the period he was disabled, and, I think, due to the friendly ingenuity of Senator Foran, who has considerable experience of national health insurance and widows' pension matters, it was decided that the widow was entitled to a contributory widows' pension. Under the contributory widows' pension she was entitled to 10/- a week, for the first child 5/- a week, and for each of the six others 3/- a week, so that actually by the chance of the husband not having been too long disabled and the friendly advice of Senator Foran she was getting 33/- a week.

Under the Army Pensions Bill she would have got 35/6 a week, but children's allowances under the contributory widows' pensions scheme are payable only for children under 14 years of age, or under 16 if they are going to school. In fact she was able to get one of these boys employed as a telegraph messenger. He is just 15 years of age, and inside the next 12 months he will be entitled to sit for an examination that may make his employment permanent, but if he does not pass the examination, he will be affected by the Post Office rule not to keep on young fellows over 16 who are not eligible for continuous employment by the Post Office. There is just a chance that the boy may find himself disemployed at the end of the year and, instead of 4/- a week paid to the [535] widow in respect of the boy, the boy will be able to get nothing. In a very special way, the Minister makes provision that the children's allowances should cease completely because the man is dead. That is both unreasonable and unsound. If it was considered under the Act that, when the man was living, the seven children should be entitled to 28/- a week for their maintenance with his basic of 30/- a week to keep the house over them, it is wrong that the widow should now be reduced to 23/- a week with the man dead and the basic 30/- that would keep the roof over their heads gone. There is the additional disability that the grants will relate only to children under 14 years of age or 16 years of age if going to school. The Act contemplated that, if the man were alive, the increased grants would be continued up to 18 years of age. I think it is a great weakness when we consider the small number of cases—I doubt if there can be a single other case in which actual payments are made. I do submit that the Seanad should urge on the Minister to make the amendment I suggest to the Act, and to allow that the children should get the allowances contemplated after the man's death and so long as his children are under the age of 18.

Mr. M. Hayes: Information on Michael Hayes  Zoom on Michael Hayes  I second the motion.

Leas-Chathaoirleach:  The Minister.

Minister for Defence (Mr. Traynor): Information on Oscar Traynor  Zoom on Oscar Traynor  I thought I might hear what Senators had to say before making my reply.

Mr. M. Hayes: Information on Michael Hayes  Zoom on Michael Hayes  The whole purpose of the motion is to hear the Minister. There is nothing controversial or difficult about it.

Mr. Traynor: Information on Oscar Traynor  Zoom on Oscar Traynor  I would like very much to have heard the case for the motion, and it may be that it is better tactics to hear what I have to say than to allow me to listen to what I would like to hear. However, the position is something like this. First of all, I would like to say that Senators should try to appreciate the intent and purport of Section 7 of the Army Pensions Act of [536] 1943. In order to do that it is necessary to understand the reasons why it was introduced.

For a considerable time before its introduction, it was represented to the Government by various organisations that a number of men who had fought during Easter Week, 1916, were in distress because on the one hand they were incapable of self-support by reason of age or permanent infirmity of mind or body, and because on the other hand their military service pensions were in themselves inadequate. Certain specific cases, mainly of pensioners resident in Dublin, were brought forward, and after due investigation it was decided that the complaints were reasonably well founded, and that something should be done to relieve the distress of the persons concerned.

The question then arose as to the best means of dealing with the problem. The obvious way to do it was by amending the Military Service Pensions Acts of 1924 and 1934 so as to increase the pensions payable to all persons who were in possession of military service certificates in respect of Easter Week, 1916, but on investigation it was found that this solution though simple was open to grave objections. For one thing it might easily have led to the belief that all pensioners were equally entitled to have their grants increased, and for another, even in the restricted category of 1916 men, it would give increased pensions to men who were in comfortable circumstances. At this stage it became apparent that if the problem was to be solved with due consideration for public funds some form of means test would have to be introduced, and as the introduction of any such test would be repugnant to the spirit and tenor of the military service code, it was deliberately decided not to touch that code, but to increase the military service pension by means of a special allowance under the Army Pensions Code. That code already provided for a means test in certain cases, so that by dealing with the 1916 problem under it there was no danger of introducing undesirable precedents.

[537] It is quite clear, therefore, that the special allowance provided in Section 7 of the Army Pensions Act, 1943, is in effect an increase of military service pension in certain cases of distress, for the military service certificate is the basis of the allowance. If the increased pension had been given by amendment of the Military Service Pensions Acts, it would not have been possible, therefore, I think, to bring forward this motion because the question of passing it on to the widow could not have been put forward, for it is a principle inherent in those Acts and in all similar service Acts, whether military or otherwise, that the pension is personal and dies with the recipient.

Even from the point of view of the Army Pensions Acts, this motion, if accepted, would introduce a new and undesirable precedent. Under these Acts the pension cases on the death of the pensioner, but another pension, technically called an allowance, becomes payable provided that the pensioner has died from a disease or injury attributable to service. That principle obtains in the case of a 1916 man in receipt of a disability or wound pension even though he may also because of his needy circumstances be in receipt of a special allowance under Section 7 of the 1943 Act. This motion, however, would grant such pensions or allowances to the dependents of 1916 men even though the death of the latter had no connection whatsoever with his military service, and it thus cuts across the principles not only of the Military Service Acts, but also of the Army Pensions Acts, and would introduce a new and unprecedented principle into both codes.

For the reasons outlined, I am unable to recommend to the Government the terms of the motion. If the principle be conceded that a military service pension does not cease with the death of the pensioner, then we may have to face the contingency of continuing of pensions to the dependents of deceased pensioners and it would be impossible to measure the financial implications of such proposals and I would seriously suggest that Senators should, therefore, hesitate before accepting the motion under discussion.

[538]Mr. M. Hayes: Information on Michael Hayes  Zoom on Michael Hayes  I want to give the Minister every possible credit for Section 7 of the Army Pensions Act, 1943. When he introduced it, I am sure he was running absolutely counter to Civil Service advice and had fought and won a hard battle with the Department of Finance. That Section 7 is meant to meet a very difficult and, presumably, unique situation. There is a particular flaw in it, which is disclosed by the terms of the motion before the House. The Minister's answer is that the motion involves the breaking of a principle under which pensions are granted and paid. In other words, having, in that Section 7, brought in something which was not a Civil Service idea, having done something entirely creditable to himself, to his colleagues and to all of us, the Minister is now proceeding to argue on the basis of “keeping the file right.” The whole basis of his argument is that, if he did this for a very small and diminishing group of people, the file would not be right in the Civil Service Office. I have had that kind of argument put up to me before and I understand it perfectly. I suggest that the Minister is not only doing an injustice to a small number of people, but is also doing an injustice to himself and to the line he took when he put Section 7 into the Act of 1943.

Let us see how much and, indeed, how little the Minister is being asked to do by this particular motion. The number of people who were out in the Rising was very small—not more than 1,000 men and women in Dublin. It is 28 years ago, and many of them are dead. Quite a number, like the Minister and myself, are in quite good circumstances. The Minister brought in a provision in the Act of 1943 to deal with a small number who were in bad circumstances. We received that warmly and thought it a credit to the Minister. He broke a principle, because he augmented the pension instead of amending the Army Pensions Act. He provided for a small number of people. He is now asked to deal with the children of those people who are in bad circumstances and who are under 18—or, if he likes, under 16. He is only asked to deal with the children, as the Widows' and Orphans' Pensions [539] Act deals as well with the widow as if she were dealt with under the Army Pensions Act, 1943. Therefore, this narrows it down to the orphans, who get the special allowance provided for in Section 7. There is only a small number: perhaps the Minister could say how many there are. I know quite a number of 1916 men, and very few have children under 16.

The Minister is doing himself a wrong by refusing to seek the very small amount of money which would be required to make this Section 7 absolutely flawless. He refuses simply by quoting a Civil Service principle in the Pensions Act. The only difference between this Act and the Widows' and Orphans' Pensions Act would be with regard to the provision for the orphans. The Seanad cannot make this change, and it is quite clear that, if the Minister does not agree to do so, there is no use in passing the motion, so we must try to convince the Minister rather than force him. Section 7 says that you can calculate the means of the person and then add to the means. The Widows' and Orphans' Pensions Act payments would be means. What Senator Mulcahy and myself ask is that the means should be supplemented for the children under 18, if they are in needy circumstances. That was not our own idea: it was put into legislation for the first time by the Minister himself. We merely ask him to go a short step further. This request is to deal only with the children of 1916 men, to deal only with the children of needy 1916 men, to deal only with the children of needy 1916 men who die, and to deal only with those orphans who are under 18 years of age.

I do not suppose any motion ever asked for a smaller amount of money, but this is for a special class of people whom the Minister has at heart as much as I have. I am not arguing about that at all: the Minister has shown his interest and, I think, from his own point of view and from that of legislation, it is worth while bringing in this very small amendment to make this right. It deals with such a small number of people that, if I were Minister, instead of arguing against this on [540] a Civil Service principle, I would argue that there are so few cases that they would not be worth dealing with. The Minister argues on a principle which he has broken already—the Minister is a sinner who has committed mortal sin against the Civil Service, but the more sins committed against the Civil Service from that point of view, the better. It is in the national interest that these few people in needy circumstances should be dealt with and I suggest that the Minister, having inserted Section 7 in the Act of 1943, should make it absolutely right and thus do credit to himself and show that he is able to act on his own, as I am sure he did when he brought in that section.

Mr. Colgan: Information on Michael Colgan  Zoom on Michael Colgan  As an old 1916 man, I think it will be agreed—without taking from anyone who took part in that historic fight—that, as in all cases of fights and revolutions, a large proportion of the people involved were men and women of no property— Fintan Lalor's “men of no property”. Many of them lost their employment after the Rising and were hit very hard from the economic standpoint.

I want to pay tribute to the Minister. I am supporting this motion and I believe that, if it is at all possible for the Minister to put it into force, he will do so. I know his sympathies have been with the 1916 men and with Old I.R.A. men generally: they have much to be thankful for since he became Minister for Defence. Many of these men have been in poor circumstances and, when they die, there is always the problem of the children left behind. I will not elaborate the point, as I know that, if the Minister can do anything to meet the wishes of the mover and seconder of the motion, he will do so.

General Mulcahy: Information on Richard James Mulcahy  Zoom on Richard James Mulcahy  The Minister speaks of a principle and, in talking of principle, I would not be even too hard on the Civil Service. I think it is an atmosphere rather than any particular person or class that is involved in this matter. What will the cost of it be? I know only of an amount to the extent of about £13 a year. If the Minister has had the representations he speaks about, I imagine he would know how [541] many cases are involved. I know of one case where a little woman of 40 years of age is left with seven children, whose ages are 15, 13, 11, 8, 6, 4 and one year.

Mr. Traynor: Information on Oscar Traynor  Zoom on Oscar Traynor  Is she the widow of a 1916 man?

General Mulcahy: Information on Richard James Mulcahy  Zoom on Richard James Mulcahy  Yes: he died after this Bill was introduced and before the Bill was passed.

Mr. Traynor: Information on Oscar Traynor  Zoom on Oscar Traynor  Then his dependents could not benefit in these circumstances.

General Mulcahy: Information on Richard James Mulcahy  Zoom on Richard James Mulcahy  He was one of those expecting such a Bill to come along and the Minister was taking his case, with others, into consideration. To these people, in effect, he says: “You are unfortunately incapable of earning a living; you met with an accident which makes it impossible for you to earn your living. I am going to see that your income is raised to 30/- by a special allowance for yourself, with an additional 7/6 for your wife and 28/- a week for your children, and I am going to guarantee that the children will have that 28/- a week until they are 18 years of age.” Then this particular man dies and, instead of all these things coming to the people for whom the Minister was preparing them—and I take it the Minister was preparing them for these people under the special conditions—the position that I have already indicated came about. The family for whom this man was working are deprived of benefit because the man dies.

I think the principle involved in the Minister's speech and in the section ought to be made wide enough to include the children of a man in that position, a man for whom the allowance was going to be made. By so amending the Bill, the children of 1916 men who would be qualified under the section, and who have died, will be provided for until they are 18 years of age. I think that is merely keeping in touch with the spirit intended in the section.

So far as this case is concerned, I know it will cost for the one family— and I doubt if there is another—£13 a year. Such action as is suggested will indicate to that little woman who has [542] that family around her that she will not be cut off in her allowance, her widow's pension, when the children are 14 or 16 years old. It will tell her, if her boy is not able to pass the examination that will qualify him to remain in the employment of the Post Office after 16, that her income will be assured. There may be one or two cases of that sort, but I submit that this particular case is really deserving of earnest consideration. Anybody who walks into a house of that kind cannot but realise how humane was the provision as originally intended. Apparently, now the flaw is that the head of the house dies, the basic income of 30/- a week is gone——

Mr. Traynor: Information on Oscar Traynor  Zoom on Oscar Traynor  I feel I am at a grave disadvantage now. Apparently I will be unable to reply to the Senator's observations.

Mr. M. Hayes: Information on Michael Hayes  Zoom on Michael Hayes  There will be no difficulty of that sort.

Cathaoirleach: Information on Seán Goulding  Zoom on Seán Goulding  The Minister may speak again, with the consent of the House.

General Mulcahy: Information on Richard James Mulcahy  Zoom on Richard James Mulcahy  I leave this matter entirely to the decision of the House. Perhaps there are other Senators who feel keenly about it and who may wish to express their opinions. I do not want to press this to a division, but I feel it is necessary that I should draw attention to the situation.

Mr. Traynor: Information on Oscar Traynor  Zoom on Oscar Traynor  I want to make it clear, as regards everything that Senators Hayes, Colgan and Mulcahy have said about these individuals, that I feel all these sentiments myself but, however lightly we may talk of principles, we have to recognise that the principles are there and they must be guarded. There are approximately 15,000 people drawing pensions in this State for military service, and of that number there are possibly 2,000 who are 1916 men.

Mr. M. Hayes: Information on Michael Hayes  Zoom on Michael Hayes  Are the 2,000 still alive?

Mr. Traynor: Information on Oscar Traynor  Zoom on Oscar Traynor  I would not say they are all still alive. There are some among the 15,000 who may not be alive. I could not indicate the number alive [543] at the present time, but the figures I have given represent the numbers who were originally granted pensions.

I could not possibly recommend the terms of this motion to the Government for the simple reason that every individual who is drawing a pension may, when he dies, leave behind him a widow and orphans, and the dependents concerned would feel as justly entitled to have a continuing pension as would the individuals whom this motion covers. That is one of the things that I, as a Minister, however my sentiments may run, must recognise. However this particular situation might be met, in my opinion it cannot be met by establishing a precedent the results of which none of us could foresee.

It is admitted the sum of money that would be involved is almost negligible. If it were merely a question of the money involved in this case the simplest and easiest method for me to adopt would be to accept the motion. It might be a dishonest way of doing it, but it would be the easiest way. However the case covered by the motion may be settled, in my opinion it cannot be settled in the way Senator Mulcahy suggests. I am not going to be too dogmatic in this statement, but I believe there is no nation in the world to-day that grants a service pension to the widow of a soldier, and why this nation, which has so often been described in our own Legislature as being in an impoverished condition, should be asked to do it baffles me. There may be other ways of doing it, out at the moment I cannot suggest what they are. I cannot see it being settled through the method that has been suggested.

Mr. Hayes: Information on Michael Hayes  Zoom on Michael Hayes  Does the Minister not see a method by which the matter can [544] be dealt with? Has he not broken the principle already in the Act?

Mr. Traynor: Information on Oscar Traynor  Zoom on Oscar Traynor  I have not broken the principle. I have certainly done something that I suppose has not been done before. It was a situation that created so much difficulty in the minds of myself and the officials of the Department of Defence, that that was the only way we could see to deal with it. We took advantage of the Army Pensions Act of 1943 to do it.

Leas-Chathaoirleach:  Is this motion being withdrawn?

General Mulcahy: Information on Richard James Mulcahy  Zoom on Richard James Mulcahy  I hate to put the Seanad in the position that it would negative the idea contained in my motion. I would be prepared to withdraw the motion if the Seanad were not prepared to accept it unanimously. If the House accepts it unanimously, I shall let it go to the House.

Leas-Chathaoirleach:  I take it that that means the motion is withdrawn?

Mr. O'Donnell: Information on Frank Hugh ODonnell  Zoom on Frank Hugh ODonnell  Would the difficulty not be solved if the Minister would give an undertaking, because it is evident that he is just as sympathetic to the point of view involved in the motion as the movers are, to give the matter some consideration at some future date?

Mr. Traynor: Information on Oscar Traynor  Zoom on Oscar Traynor  I, unfortunately, can give no undertaking. At all times when it is possible to do something, I try to do it, but I cannot give any undertaking.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

The Seanad adjourned at 5.40 p.m. until 3 p.m., Wednesday, 26th January.

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