Garda Pensions: Discussion

In this session we are meeting a representative group of former members of An Garda Síochána who wish to address the joint committee on the denial of Garda pension entitlements. They left the service before 1 October 1976, having had the required five years of service. Owing to the fact that an agreement was reached without their knowledge and without consultation with them, they are now denied pension payments. I welcome each of our three guests - Mr. Anthony Morris, Mr. Oliver Shanley who I believe will act as spokesperson initially and make the presentation and Mr. Pat Hynes. I thank them for their attendance.

Witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. If, however, they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or an entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

Members are aware of the rules on privilege that apply to them. I invite Mr. Shanley to make his opening statement.

Mr. Oliver Shanley

I thank the Chairman. I am a former member of An Garda Síochána, at garda rank. I am making this presentation on behalf of a group of former gardaí who left the Garda force for various reasons before 1 October 1976, having had the required five years of service or more, and who are being denied a Garda pension. I thank the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality for affording us this opportunity to present our case on our entitlement to receive a Garda pension.

With me are ex-gardaí Mr. Anthony Morris and Mr. Pat Hynes.

In 1978 the Garda representative body reached an agreement with the Department of Justice and Equality and the Department of Finance that members of garda rank who had resigned from the force on or after 1 October 1976 would have their pensions preserved from the age of 60 years. I refer to agreed report 218 of the Garda Conciliation Council which has been circulated. It was followed by agreed report 530 in 1997 and agreed report 543 in 1999 which provided for the preservation of pension entitlements for members of garda rank who had left the force for any reason after 1 October 1976. The details of the aforementioned agreements only came to light when members of our pre-1 October 1976 group of ex-gardaí of garda rank were approaching the age of 60 years and began to make inquiries with the Department of Justice and Equality about their entitlement to their Garda pension. They were informed by letter by the Department of Justice and Equality that, on foot of agreed reports 218, 530 and 543, they were not entitled to their Garda pensions as they had left the force before 1 October 1976.

I emphasise that the members of our group knew absolutely nothing about the agreements made between the Garda representative body and the Departments of Justice and Equality and Finance which excluded us without our knowledge from the Garda superannuation scheme and attempted to deprive us of our constitutional right to a Garda pension, despite the fact that we had the required five years service or more. Following these disclosures by the Department of Justice and Equality, we engaged in correspondence with it on whether agreed reports 218, 530 and 543 were underpinned by a statutory instrument. The Department replied that the agreed reports operated on an administrative basis only and were not incorporated into a statutory instrument but that it was intended that they would be in the future.

The Garda superannuation scheme was introduced by way of Statutory Instrument 63/1925. The Police Force Amalgamation Act 1925, section 13, is the primary legislation on which it is based. The statutory instrument was amended by several subsequent statutory instruments but agreed reports 218, 530 and 543 operate, as stated, on an administrative basis only. We sought legal opinions and were advised that we had a justified grievance, according to the Cox and Lovett case law cited and the Michael Woods case, and had been wrongfully deprived of our Garda pension, which is a property right under the Constitution. The legal advice also stated our right to sue in respect of this injustice was beyond the capacity of the legal system to redress owing to the lapse of time and could only be resolved by the Oireachtas by means of legislation.

If our group had known about the negotiations conducted between the Garda representative body and the Departments of Justice and Equality and Finance, we would have endeavoured to be included in the negotiations at the time. Failing that, we would have commenced, or considered commencing, legal proceedings. We place our case in the hands of members and thank each and every one of them for his or her courtesy in listening to our presentation and reading our submission.

A number of other Members are present and I will try to accommodate them, as well as committee members. I will call members in the order in which they indicated.

I thank Mr. Shanley and his colleagues for attending and outlining what seems to be a miscarriage of justice. How does the Garda Representative Association work? Does someone become a de facto member of the GRA once he or she becomes a member of An Garda Síochána or is there an opt-out clause, as is the case in other unions?

Any of the delegates can respond to the questions as he sees fit.

Mr. Oliver Shanley

Once someone leaves the Garda, it appears that he or she is forgotten about. The Garda Representative Association is for serving members and I have never been contacted by it Last Friday I wrote to Mr. Pat Ennis, secretary to the GRA, asking for the body's support, but I have not received a reply, although I appreciate that it was not very long ago.

I am trying to establish whether the representative body had the authority to negotiate on the delegates behalf. If 10% of gardaí had opted out of membership of the GRA, one would question whether it had the authority to enter into this agreement in the first place. Was the Department of Justice and Equality negligent in negotiating with the body?

Mr. Shanley said he had not been informed. Is that completely watertight? Is it absolutely correct that no member of the group received any correspondence informing him or her of the change in circumstances?

Mr. Oliver Shanley

I am told that we never received any communication whatsoever about it. On the question of whether the body had the right to represent us, the then Minister for Education in 1997 said the fundamental right of citizens could not be negotiated away by unions or any representative association. Property rights are protected by the Constitution and nobody has the right to do away with our rights under the Constitution.

I agree. Has the group calculated what the liability to the State would be if its property rights under the Constitution were recognised?

Mr. Oliver Shanley

We have endeavoured to do so and made inquiries of the Department of Justice and Equality. The matter has been passed to the Commissioner to determine how many are concerned, from which we will be able to assess how much money is involved. In our view, there may be 30 or 40 people involved in the case.

Is there any other group in the public sector the rights and pension entitlements of which were written away in such a cavalier manner?

Mr. Oliver Shanley

Civil servants were also involved in the negotiations. The cut-off date for the Garda was 1 October 1976 but for civil servants it was 1 June 1973. I do not know why there was a difference. Why were we not all put together? We were all civil servants.

It appears that while the members of the group were in the force, part of their salaries went in tax towards a pension. Did they ever get that money back, given the fact that they did not receive a pension?

Mr. Oliver Shanley

Yes. I recall getting it back.

Mr. Oliver Shanley

We were given an option when we resigned, and maybe it was an excuse. Someone might have been setting off to get another job or so on and the money was put in front of him or her to be paid back, but it was not explained to me at the time that taking that option would do away with my pension rights and that I could not look forward to having them in future.

I propose that the committee undertake a report or write to the Minister. This is more of the type of issue in respect of which we have been engaging with the Garda Síochána. Trying to find out what is happening in that organisation is like peeling an onion. It is scandalous that the pension rights of these gentlemen and their colleagues have been written away with the stroke of a pen as the result of a cosy arrangement between the Garda Representative Association and the Departments of Justice and Equality, and Finance. It is not good enough.

I thank the Senator. When we enter private session after our guests have left, we will determine what steps the committee may wish to take.

Prior to inviting Deputy Brophy to contribute, I will indicate that I will then invite Senator Craughwell, who had indicated at the outset. I hope that members will understand that I am trying to juggle members and non-members being fairly accommodated.

I thank the witnesses for attending and making their case. On a human level, what they are saying is understandable. On that basis, I see the validity of their case. Legally, though, there are problems. The refunding of payment at the time of departure is a major obstacle to what the witnesses are requesting. On a decency basis, I would support them. The State needs to examine their case. The current way that schemes operate, including the new one, works on a similar basis, in that one contributes up to two years in certain cases and if one is even a day short of that, one is refunded the contribution, told "Thank you" and no longer has an entitlement to a pension. One day over two years and the same person becomes entitled to a pension based on what he or she contributes. As such, a number of legal aspects of this issue could be problematic.

Unfortunately, something happens constantly in this country. I do not mean to have a go at anyone, only to make an observation. Representative bodies, particularly trade unions, represent the interests of their current members, as was rightly stated. That is good, but some of the victims of that are often former or retired members or, as in this instance, members who might be due a pension after it has been deferred for a certain period. In the Garda and several other places in recent years, deferred pensioners and former union members have been poorly represented by their unions when reaching a final agreement with an employer.

The committee should examine this matter on the witnesses' behalf. Were they an exclusive group that could be dealt with in an isolated way, the situation would probably have been resolved by now. Having regard to the Chairman's comments, I do not doubt that, if we decide to pursue the matter, the 1973 cut-off date in the general public sector and the implications of that on the State's finances will be raised with us. There is still a road to travel but, in terms of the principle of an entitlement for people who served, particularly if it can be shown that what would happen to their pension entitlements was not made clear by the actions of the State when they were leaving, they will have a strong case.

This is sad on a human level. People who served in the Garda are in a different category from other people regardless of whether they served for a day or a lifetime, as they put their lives at risk for the State. The State has a special duty of care to people who served in the Garda and Defence Forces. I hope that the committee can do something for them.

Mr. Oliver Shanley

I wish to reply.

Please.

Mr. Oliver Shanley

I am talking about myself and expect that the other ex-members will do the same. I got a letter referring to the option of taking the money or having it held on to. I was never advised to seek legal advice on that. It was left to me. At that stage, I had five children. I left a job and was seeking another. I was apprenticed, which meant that I got little pay. The option was placed in front of me, so what would I do?

As to the people covered after 1 October 1976, the amount that was given to them was assessed later and deducted from whatever payout they were allowed.

Mr. Pat Hynes

Regarding Deputy Brophy's point about when my superannuation contributions were refunded to me, I must emphasise that, to the best of my knowledge and speaking in a personal capacity as a former member, there was no covering letter and no explanation of possible future pension entitlements. Absolutely none. The Deputy made a good point. The money was refunded and - I am repeating myself - there was no letter stating that this would be the position in the future. The first time that we became aware of our current predicament was, as Mr. Shanley said, when we commenced inquiries with the Department of Justice and Equality as regards our pension entitlements and Garda service. To our dismay, when we received the reply from the Department, it stated that we were not entitled to Garda pensions, the reason being that we had left the force before 1 October 1976.

We made further inquiries by way of correspondence with the Department. What emerged were the agreed reports Nos. 218, 530 and 543. We wondered what these agreed reports were all about. We probed the matter, made further inquiries and made a discovery. We were approaching 60 years of age. The first agreed report was made in 1978 between the then Department of Justice and the Department of Finance. The next report - No. 530 - was agreed in 1997 and No. 545 was agreed in 1999.

Under the agreed reports, our Garda representative body - it was not ours, as we had left the force by then - entered into negotiations and reached an agreement without our knowledge - that must be said, as it is important - to the effect that, because we had left for various reasons before 1 October 1976, we had no pension entitlements.

A number of legal opinions were sought as regards the legality of the agreements between the Department of Justice and the Garda representative body and the general opinion of the legal profession was that we had been done a wrong and had a justified grievance. They understood that because of the remove in time we were out of time for a High Court challenge. As has been said in the presentation, had we known when those negotiations were being engaged in between the Garda representative body and the Departments of Justice and Finance, we would have gone to the table straight away and argued our case, but we did not know. Ten to 15 years had lapsed and that put us in another difficulty. We were too late to mount a legal challenge.

We are here today after all the letters, the representations and the parliamentary questions over the years. I have to say we got great support from Members of the Oireachtas over the years. We have put our case before the committee. We are convinced of our right to get our pensions. I have no pension. I am just managing like every other individual. We have made our case. It is valid. It is just. The legal opinion is that with the lapse of time, only the Oireachtas can rectify the wrong against our property rights, which are constitutional rights. This is a wonderful day for us in the sense that we are here putting our case before the committee. We will leave it with the members. Go raibh míle maith agaibh.

Cead fáilte. I thank Deputy Brophy.

I thank the members of the committee for allowing me to speak out of turn. The first thing I want to establish for the committee because I will not be here when the members go into private session is that pensions are an established property right going back to 1992 when, in Cox v. Ireland, Mr. Justice Finlay underwrote the property right of a pension. Again, in Lovett v. the Minister for Education, a case dealing with matters dating back to 1977, Mr. Justice Kelly held that the right to a statutory pension was a property right protected by the Constitution. During the collapse of the economy, when the then Minister, Deputy Howlin, was asked about pensions that were being paid to senior politicians and various other members of the public service, he stated that under the Constitution, pensions are preserved property rights. He further stated that he can no more take someone's pension than he can arbitrarily decide to take their house. He said that on 24 July 2015.

On the issue before the committee today, and I have huge sympathy for these people, the Garda representative body, with the Department of Justice, negotiated a deal which dated back to 1 October 1976. I would argue before the committee that the Garda representative body did not represent this group and, as such, it did not enter into any deal on behalf of these people. There is no deal between the Department of Justice and anybody else with respect to people who served in An Garda Síochána prior to 1 October 1976. The agreed reports referred to serving gardaí at the time or those who were represented by the Garda Representative Association, GRA, and these people had left the GRA, as Senator Conway has already established.

With respect to legal opinions, they all say this is a matter that could go before the courts. Realistically, what individual could afford to mount a High Court case in order to establish what is a property right, yet the Houses of the Oireachtas found it necessary to write special legislation to defend the property right of a retired Minister? That is a matter of public record. If we are prepared to do that for a retired Member of the Oireachtas, we should be walking over hot coals for members of the public service who were entitled to pensions but who had them arbitrarily argued away.

With respect to the return of superannuation contributions, my superannuation contributions were returned to me in 1980 when I left the Defence Forces. I got a cheque and just as Mr. Hynes and Mr. Shanley have pointed out, there was no covering letter other than a note to say, "Please find enclosed your superannuation contributions". However, 40 years later I was able to purchase back my pension entitlement from my time in the Defence Forces for the amount of money I had refunded to me in 1980. It was for the exact amount of money plus interest that I had refunded to me. I was able to re-acquire my five years of Defence Forces pension entitlement. The issue as to whether these men got their superannuation refunded to them is irrelevant. The only question the State can ask is that they would repay any refund they got with interest if that applies.

Ordinarily, I would come to question witnesses. I have questioned these men at length. I have brought the matter to the Department and to the Minister. As Members of the Oireachtas, we are the custodians of the Constitution and the Constitution has been used to protect the property rights of those who robbed this country blind. It has been used to protect the property rights of those who have served in the Oireachtas and walked out of here with massive pensions. What we are talking about for these men and any other member of the public service who had their pension property right negotiated away behind their backs, or perceived to be negotiated - I do not believe these men were included in the 1976 deal - is that nobody has the right to negotiate a property right in this country other than the owner of that property right. I ask that the committee examine that. The members should not be blinded by the cost to the State for the State has an obligation to defend the property rights of its citizens, regardless of what it costs. I ask that when the members go into private session they do not examine the issue from the point of view of what it will cost the State or the fact that there was an agreement for there was no agreement with these men. There is no agreement with anyone who had their rights negotiated unless they were balloted at the time by the trade union making that agreement. These men were not balloted. I thank the Chairman for allowing me to contribute.

I thank Senator Craughwell. I will not return to the panel because as he said, that was a statement of Senator Craughwell's position and it mirrors that of the witnesses.

I thank the three men for coming in today. Deputy Jack Chambers and I have had an opportunity to speak to them previously and it was very beneficial. Looking at this from a first principles aspect, Mr. Morris worked in the Garda for 11 years, Mr. Shanley worked for ten years and Mr. Hynes worked for 14 years. It is very unfair that people who worked in the public sector for those periods of time end up with no pension whatsoever. There is a history to this dating back to negotiations that took place very many years ago, but we need to ask what we can practically do for the witnesses. I am not making a party political point but the reality is that it is impossible for us, as Oireachtas Members, to change the law on this issue without Government support because there will be a money Bill and we need the support of Government in order to do that.

What we need to do, and I have said this to the gentlemen previously, is identify the number of people who are affected by this at present. Unfortunately, because of the length of time this has gone on for, the numbers must be quite low. I note what Senator Craughwell said about the cost being irrelevant.

However, there is still a benefit in trying to identify what would be the cost, even for the three witnesses present, if their pension entitlements were returned to them. It may be the case that we do not achieve a change in the law - we can discuss afterwards what approach we wish to take - but it seems as though the State has previously operated ex gratia payment schemes for individuals deserving of having money refunded to them by the State. The State might consider the option that a payment should be made to the small number of individuals who, through no agreement on their own part, ended up having their pensions taken away from them.

I do not have questions because we spoke previously. I got thorough answers from the witnesses previously.

I commend them on their attendance. I thank them for their years of service to An Garda Síochána. We are conscious that other members who are not before us here are in a similar position. If we could identify the numbers and the cost and then seek an ex gratia payment scheme from the State, I would have thought this would be a unanswerable cause.

I thank Deputy O'Callaghan. I welcome that the Deputy shone a light on the fact that we are talking in five-year terms. We are talking about more than double that in each one of their cases. It puts another veneer on the matter.

I will not speak for too long as I met the three witnesses last week. I commend them on coming before the committee.

To update the witnesses, as I said I would last week, I contacted the Department of Justice and Equality, which has referred the matter to the Garda Commissioner to get the detailed information to which Deputy O'Callaghan is referring in order that we get the cost and the numbers and hopefully, present a case that delivers something for them. The principle of a social contract that underpins the model in the State is that when one pays into something, there should be reciprocity in return. The State is failing to honour its side, as Senator Craughwell mentioned, and it is important that we try to vindicate their situation. I will continue to represent the witnesses' concern and will work with them over the summer to get the detailed information and hopefully will forward and progress their case in order that they see some return in the future.

It is unfair that they have been failed by all, by the body that previously was meant to represent them and the Department of Justice and Equality. Given they are being wrangled by statute and the property rights, as seen in precedent, and they have been limited in a legal context, it is important that the Oireachtas and politics should respond in a fair manner. This committee will do so.

I thank the witnesses for coming before us. We will try to continue to help them.

Senator Craughwell answered the main question I had intended to ask. The principle of nothing about us without us is one that rings clear here. Unfortunately, it is not isolated to this group of former gardaí. Obviously, the rights of many retired citizens have been given away without their knowledge or without their agreement by an organisation, albeit the GRA. In this instance, it was very much behind closed doors but we had recent examples of thousands of workers, for example, airport workers, seeing their current pensions or deferred pensioners' rights eroded by others who sat around the table. It is utterly scandalous. It shows there must be a right of representation for retired members in any situation that affects their livelihood. This example brings it forward clearly.

I have two points. It is not for the first time that what Senator Conway called a cosy agreement was made by the GRA against its own members behind closed doors. It seems to be pretty good at that but it is unfortunate that these witnesses are paying the price of it.

The only aspect I want to bring out, which is important, is it seems the refund is a bit of a red herring. Are they basically saying that had one retired on 2 October 1976, for example, and had one got one's superannuation back, one still would have no problem in applying for and getting a pension, albeit that a refund of any contribution there might have been needed? In that sense, it is neither here nor there. If that is what is blocking it, then presumably that can be organised. The main point is the disgracefulness of any people paying in and meeting all of the requirements of a scheme to which they were parties only for that to change years later without their knowledge and for them to find out subsequently.

What I do not understand - maybe it is a legal question - is whether the Statute of Limitation kicks in when one gets knowledge of something. It is a live problem the airport workers are looking at. Does the clock of the Statute of Limitations kick in when one becomes aware of something? I am not saying one should have to go through litigation but I am curious about it.

Would Mr. Shanley or any of his colleagues like to take that point?

Mr. Oliver Shanley

The Statute of Limitations is the statutory period from when it happened or when one became aware it happened. That was when we were reaching the age of 60. It has gone by now and it is too late to do anything.

All right, it is a fair point. I accept that.

I thank the witnesses for their attendance and presentation to members. I also thank them for all the service they have given to their country and to the people within the communities in which they worked.

I agree with Senator Conway that this is a significant miscarriage of justice for them. We are the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality and this needs to be addressed. I hope the witnesses will get the support they need in private session.

I commend them. It must be so frustrating for them to have had no choice in what they would have liked to have happen. I can imagine that must be the most difficult part of this issue. Their choice was taken away. I cannot even imagine what it must have been like to think they were getting a pension when they got to the age of 60 only to realise there was nothing there for them.

I will do everything in my power to support them in their endeavours in the future. I thank them for everything they have done.

I thank the Chairman and the committee for permitting me to come here to say a few words.

I am conscious I am looking at three senior gentlemen who served in An Garda Síochána. In their service of 11, ten and 14 years, respectively, they have combined service of 35 years. It is a sad reflection on the State that men who put their lives on the line to defend and secure the State and its citizens are now here publicly having to make a case for what should be a legitimate expectation to have some benefits of pension.

Clearly, the members of the committee in private session will make decisions. I am mindful of what Deputy O'Callaghan said. It is important that out of all this there are solutions. One can continue discussing this issue but this is about fairness. This is the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality and this is about fairness and justice. I met each of the three individuals in the past few weeks. The witnesses have clearly and ably demonstrated in their presentations before the committee there has been an injustice and an unfairness. It is clear they have been obliged to come here and unburden and share their personal financial situation and experiences to drive this case forward. They have had a denial of their pension rights. I believe they had a legitimate expectation to the benefits of that.

I appeal to the committee - it is ultimately a matter for members - but there is a real need for redress here. This is clearly statute-barred but if there is good will in the State in terms of its support for members of An Garda Síochána, past, present or retired, it should be acknowledged. I will raise two or three questions. Deputy O'Callaghan made the point on quantifying issues. My understanding is there are fewer than 80 persons involved and we are not talking about a large amount of people. The witnesses might confirm that.

Second, Mr. Shanley refers in his submission to Dr. Michael Woods, I presume, the former Minister for Education and Science, who inadvertently missed applying for a pension entitlement by the due date and had his pension rights retrospectively restored under section 16 of the Markets in Financial Instruments and Miscellaneous Provisions Act 2007. Clearly, if one had read that, as I read it today, one would have been encouraged at the idea that one could have some sort of retrospection. The witnesses might just confirm that.

It might be helpful for the committee at some stage were the witnesses to share their legal opinion. It is my understanding, I am open to correction by them, that they sought a legal opinion from then senior counsel, Mr. Justice Gerard Hogan, now of the Court of Appeal.

He stated that because of the lapse of time, the Members of the Oireachtas ought in justice to rectify this wrong by means of enactment of legislation to cater for the very discrete category of pre-1976 members of An Garda Síochána. I ask the witnesses to confirm this is correct. It might be helpful for their case if the witnesses shared as much legal advice as possible.

This is important because it is about fairness and justice. I appeal to the committee to make a case for an ex gratia payment, and perhaps an interim payment if this will be a long drawn out process. These are men in their retired years. They need to put this case to bed. They have made a very good case, and I appeal to the committee to give it consideration and make a recommendation for a redress scheme because it has to be short. If the Minister for Justice and Equality needs a little more time to take advice I would go so far as to call on the committee to ask that he would consider an interim payment to these men and other people involved in the campaign. I thank the Chairman, and I particularly thank the three former members of An Garda Síochána for sharing their personal stories and experiences with the Oireachtas today.

Mr. Oliver Shanley

Mr. Justice Hogan, who was a senior counsel at the time, gave us his opinion, and it is correct that he said this wrong should be rectified by means of enactment of legislation. That was very clear. I thank everyone for their support and the interest they have shown. I thank the Chairman for allowing us to speak.

We have several more contributors and we are not at the end. Senator Boyhan made several other points and I ask him to remind the witnesses of them.

I spoke about the numbers involved.

A figure of fewer than 80 was mentioned.

Mr. Oliver Shanley

We had a discussion and have been endeavouring to find out. Deputy Chambers has inquired. Given the time that has elapsed over the past eight to ten years, we expect deaths to have occurred and perhaps the number has been reduced to half the figure of 80. We estimate it is 30 to 40 people.

I mentioned former Deputy Michael Woods, whom the witnesses mentioned in their submission. Did the witnesses or their advisers consider his case generally and how he rectified his situation?

Mr. Oliver Shanley

He encouraged legislation to be introduced by the Government to allow him to be included retrospectively in the pension.

This is a degree of precedent, perhaps.

That is what I suggest.

Mr. Oliver Shanley

I understand other people jumped on the bandwagon and they were included, but this can be checked.

I welcome the witnesses. There is no doubt they have not been treated fairly, and if they were looking for a whole lot more money, they might have got more fairness by now. It is all very well to speak about fairness and justice, and the witnesses have been denied both, but they can be assured they are not alone in this. Many people have been denied fairness and justice in this country over the years. The truth is the amount does matter to the State and the Government of the day. Before any legislation can come to a committee for amendment, a money message, which is a financial resolution, must be delivered, which states more or less the Government is okay with the fact it will cost a certain amount of money and it has an estimate of what this would be. Do the witnesses have the potential to be able to tell the State how much it could cost as a minimum and maximum? Can they put a figure on it, because the State will want to know? To say this should not be the case is true, and I agree. The witnesses should not have to do it, but to get it past the Government of the day it would be helpful if a maximum figure could be put on it as to how much it would cost the State, because it wants to know. We can ask ourselves whether a price can be put on a drug that will give someone an opportunity who has problems to live with dignity. The State will only pay so much, and there will be a figure above which it will not go, and this is the sad reality of life. Do witnesses have the wherewithal to be able to tell the State it will not cost any more than a particular amount?

Mr. Oliver Shanley

We are inquiring into this. Deputy Chambers has applied to ascertain the number of people concerned and it has been referred to the Commissioner. From this we would be able to assess how much would be involved, but we cannot do this until we know the number of people in a position to claim. Most of these people would be in their 70s now. It might not be that many people, depending on how many have survived.

Does the Garda Síochána have accurate access to these figures?

Mr. Oliver Shanley

It does, but the question is whether it is prepared to give them to us. Is it prepared to look into it and see what the number is? This is what we want to find out.

It has not been very good at counting of late.

Do not bring it down that road.

I thank Mr. Shanley and his colleagues for making their presentation. It certainly has given me a greater understanding of the case they have put forward. In his contribution Deputy Chambers told us the Commissioner is trying to ascertain the number of individuals affected. Has the group had any engagement with the Garda Representative Association, GRA, in recent times on this issue? Has anyone ever explained to the witnesses how this came about in the negotiations? Has the GRA given the witnesses any support as former members to try to get redress with regard to their pensions?

Mr. Oliver Shanley

I understand the GRA stated it was only interested in its current members and not former members. At the time the agreement was set out it was interested in former members. I was brought into this recently by Mr. Morris and Mr. Hynes, and we are trying to put together as much as we can to help the committee. I have written to Mr. Pat Ennis, the general secretary of the GRA, requesting him to let us know whether the GRA is prepared to support us in our application and endeavours. I understand he may not be able to reply to me because of the short notice.

Mr. Pat Hynes

Eight, nine or ten years ago, I telephoned the GRA headquarters in Dublin and gave a brief résumé of the problem. The people there were quite polite but simply said they only represented serving members. The story ended there.

It is clear the GRA may only represent serving members, but it was negotiating on behalf of former members. It cannot have its cake and eat it. The GRA needs to step up and answer these questions.

The witnesses are aware of a number of other former colleagues. I know there are differences of opinion on the number. As a group, how many other former members would the witnesses be in contact with?

Mr. Pat Hynes

In 2011, when our pension issue was highlighted and published in The Irish Times and the Irish Independent, inviting expressions of interest from gardaí who left the force for any reason before 1 October 1976, the solicitor who, at our behest, published the advertisements, got quite a number of phone calls from retired members. Some were widowers as well. Some letters were received but I do not think there were many. I kept in touch with that solicitor who initiated that inquiry through the national newspapers and she told me that, as the years went by, she had the telephone numbers of the people making the inquiries and they did not reply. We are all over 70 here. The solicitor said to me that presumably those people have gone to their eternal reward. If members of the committee want to ask me more questions, I will take them.

With regard to Deputy Jonathan O'Brien's question, are there others of that number that the witnesses are currently engaging with, speaking with, have met with or are aware of, rather than the speculated number?

Mr. Pat Hynes

No. We were dealing through the solicitor. For instance, we did not come into the possession of the contact details of those people that made the queries to the solicitor.

Mr. Oliver Shanley

The short answer to that is that, as far as we are concerned, there are three of us but we have to find out more. It is very difficult to find out.

Mr. Pat Hynes

I will not say it is totally impossible, but when we do not have their contact details and there have been no more phone calls to the solicitor, she speaks on the presumption that they are not around any more.

I know the Commissioner has the number. The witnesses confirmed that she would have those details. I also presume that the Garda Representative Association, GRA, would have the names and former details of members represented. Maybe that is an option for the witnesses as well, beyond the Commissioner, because the Commissioner is pretty busy right now with various other things, and that is not being flippant because time is of the essence in this case. I imagine the GRA would have a record of former members who would be similar to the witnesses. Maybe that is a quicker way of getting the numbers that we are talking about.

Mr. Oliver Shanley

We will consider putting in a note in the national newspapers as has been done before to get the people who can respond at this stage. There is a Garda retirement-----

Mr. Pat Hynes

Garda Síochána Retired Members Association?

Mr. Oliver Shanley

There is also the Garda Review. We might contact the editor and see if he can put a note in the paper. In his official document, it would say that many people have survived and that they could contact us. That is something that we will do.

I have one final question. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan will probably know the answer to this through his legal experience. I am not putting him on the spot. If a member has passed away, are there any entitlements for his or her spouse with regard to access to that pension?

Mr. Oliver Shanley

A spouse is always entitled to benefit from a pension scheme. I cannot see it being any different now. I do not know whether Deputy O'Callaghan would.

It would be an asset of the estate of the deceased member. If his wife was still alive, she would have an entitlement to get 50% of the pension.

It is inconceivable that there is not a record of the number of gardaí and their names, and who retired before that particular date. That is available and the witnesses have not got it yet. It has to be available. It is unthinkable that there is no record. It is crucial to the witnesses' case that they get that information.

As we speak here, we are in public session and this is being televised. It would be reasonable for me to reflect to anyone at all who wishes to be in contact that he or she should do so. Is that fair enough? I would say that if there are such people watching or people who are aware of others, they should please contact Mr. Anthony Morris, Mr. Oliver Shanley and Mr. Pat Hynes so that the cases can be expedited. That is important. Would Mr. Anthony Morris like to add any words at this point in time to what his colleagues have already said before we bring it to a close?

Mr. Anthony Morris

Mr. Pat Hynes and Mr. Oliver Shanley have put the case well. I retired in 1972 and my friend that joined with me on the same day retired in 1979, and he got his full pension. I think that was an injustice to me and to the rest of the fellows there. That is all.

I believe I am reflecting the views of the members of the committee and visiting Members of both Houses when I say that we concur with Mr. Morris that this was an injustice. I believe that is a view that is universally shared by all our number. I thank Mr. Anthony Morris, Mr. Oliver Shanley and Mr. Pat Hynes for coming before us here this morning. I thank members of the committee for their engagement with our three guests, and the visiting Members from the Seanad as well.

On behalf of the committee, I thank the all witnesses. I can advise that we will address what steps we can take. I have to underscore for the witnesses that we only have the power of recommendation. We do not have the power of deciding what will or will not happen. That ultimately rests with the Minister of the day. The power of recommendation is within our gift and we will consider the case that the witnesses have presented here today when we go into private session.

I thank all three witnesses. We wish them all the best in the hopefully many years that they have before them.

The joint committee went into private session at 10.30 a.m. and adjourned at 11.40 a.m. sine die.