The surviving spouses of deceased War of Independence veterans have received almost €8 million in pension payments from the State in the past 10 years, new figures have revealed.
The last surviving combatant of the war that took place between 1919 and 1921 died in 2006, but 41 widows were still receiving pensions in respect of their husbands’ army service during the conflict at the end of last year.
The recipients, whose average age is around 92, were paid a total of €262,507 in tax-free pensions during 2018. This reflected a 50% increase that was implemented in 2016 to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising.
Pension amounts paid to the veterans’ widows vary depending on a number of factors, such as whether their husbands were medal holders or if they had been in receipt of a special allowance before they died.
However, the average payment was around €6,300 last year. The pensions are historically tax-free, and are paid in addition to other benefits such as state or private pensions.
The number of living spouses of War of Independence veterans has fallen sharply in recent years. In 2009, a total of 383 beneficiaries received over €1.7m in pension payments. The number had fallen to 121 in 2014.
Some seven of the remaining War of Independence widows died last year, leaving just 41 in receipt of the pension.
The last surviving veteran of the war, Lieutenant Colonel Sean Clancy, died in September 2006 at the age of 105. The Clare-born soldier had been a commanding officer with the Fifth Infantry Battalion, and had served alongside Michael Collins. He was in Dublin Castle when Britain handed power to the new Irish Government in 1922.
The 50% increase that was introduced in 2016 to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Rising saw the average annual payment rise from €4,200 to €6,300.
Recipients had last seen an increase in 2006, when rates were boosted by 50 percent to mark the 90th anniversary of the Easter Rising.
“The timing of the increase was considered appropriate given the importance of the occasion, and was intended as a small gesture by the State to show its appreciation to these surviving widows,” a spokesperson for the Department of Defence explained.
Last year, the cost of paying pensions to former military personnel and their dependants increased by almost €4m to €225.4m, as 159 soldiers joined the ranks of retired veterans.
Nearly €2.1bn has been paid out under the pension scheme since 2009, according to official figures provided by the Department of Defence.