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An ‘Imperial Obligation’: The Ministry of Pensions and the rehabilitation of disabled Great War veterans in inter-war Ireland.

Institute of Irish Studies, University of Liverpool

Michael Robinson has just been awarded his PhD.  He previously completed an undergraduate History degree at the University Newcastle and an MRes degree in Modern History at the University of Northumbria. Having attained AHRC research funding to complete a doctorate at the University of Liverpool's Institute of Irish Studies in 2012, the advertised talk revolves around the subject of his thesis: the experience of disabled Irish Great War veterans who returned to Ireland after the Armistice of 1918. He submitted his thesis in September 2016, and he is awaiting his Viva with Professor Joanna Bourke. He has previously undertaken Research Fellowships at University College Dublin and University of Athens, Georgia, USA.

This conference paper will analyse the experiences of disabled First World War veterans who returned to Ireland and their experience during the tumultuous revolutionary period of the Anglo-Irish War and Irish Civil War, 1918-1923. Utilising a range of primary sources including Ministry of Pension local reports and the individual casefiles of Irish pensioners, this paper will demonstrate that the socio-political context of Revolutionary Ireland was critical in compromising attempts to rehabilitate the disabled Great War veteran. Ministry of Pensions officials, who helped to arrange treatment, medical and financial allowances for pensioners across Ireland, became targets for the I.R.A during the period.

Indeed, in addition to a lack of sympathy from wider society, disabled veterans themselves lived in fear of retribution from militant Republicans during the period. Unsurprisingly, the British Treasury proved reluctant to invest in the region during an ongoing conflict. This severely compromised the treatment, training and employability of disabled Great War veterans in Ireland with waiting-list figures for treatment for war-related ailments in Ireland far outweighing comparative figures in Britain. Yet, despite this phenomenon, this paper will also demonstrate that the Ministry of Pensions and the British Treasury provided crucial financial assistance to disabled Irish veterans in the form of monetary pensions. Like waiting-list figures, pension payments in Ireland were the highest in the United Kingdom. This generous monetary assistance would continue throughout the inter-war period. Ultimately, this Irish case study will be situated within the broader context of existing studies which has focused exclusively on the disabled Great War veteran in Britain.