Defence Forces members who joined Allies during wartime to be pardoned
ALMOST 5,000 members of the Defence Forces who deserted their posts during the second World War and joined the British army are to be offered an amnesty and pardoned.
The Government has also formally apologised to them for the way they were treated at the time.
In making the apology yesterday and announcing the pardon and amnesty, Minister for Justice and Defence Alan Shatter said the Government recognised the importance of the deserters’ contribution to the Allied victory.
He said while the Government did not condone desertion, “the war gave rise to circumstances that were grave and exceptional”.
“Members of the Defence Forces left their posts at that time to fight on the Allied side against tyranny and, together with many thousands of other Irish men and women, played an important role in defending freedom and democracy,” he said in an address to the Dáil.
“Those who fought on the Allied side also contributed to protecting this State’s sovereignty and independence and our democratic values.”
Legislation will be enacted later in the year providing an amnesty to those who absented themselves from the Defence Forces during war. It will also pardon those who were court-martialled.
In August 1945, the Irish government used an Emergency Powers Order to dismiss those members of the Defence Forces who had absented themselves during the war years.
Those covered by the order were also banned for seven years from any post or payment based on State remuneration, including pensions.
No distinction was made between those who had gone to fight for the Allies and those who had left their posts for other reasons.
Mr Shatter said almost 73 years on from the outbreak of the second World War there was a greater understanding of why people had acted as they had. He also said it was time to understand the rejection experienced by those who returned to Ireland after having fought for the British army in the war.
Those who campaigned for the pardon, including the families of some of the men, yesterday welcomed Mr Shatter’s announcement.
Paddy Reid (63), who lives in Balbriggan in north Co Dublin and whose father and uncle were among those who left the Defence Forces to fight in the British army during the war, said yesterday’s news was a great relief for his and other families.
He said his father, also called Paddy and a father of eight, was blocked from gaining employment when he came back to Dublin from Burma.
“He got the odd bit here and there, maybe mucking out pigs for farmers down the country; he had to wait for 16 years after he got home before he got a job driving a horse and cart down at the docks. That was a steady income, it was a big deal.”
His abiding memory of his childhood was “moving from place to place, never having proper accommodation”.
His mother died young at age 40, and he believed the stigma and hardship brought on by his father having been labelled a deserter had taken its toll on her.
“Psychologically, it was very difficult for the families.”
Mr Reid’s father had fought against the Japanese at the battle of Kohima in India.
Peter Mulvaney, the main organiser of the campaign that has resulted in the amnesty and pardon, did not believe it was too late for the Government to act on the issue. He said while all but “a handful” of the men were dead, the Government’s decision would be beneficial for their families.
“It removes the stigma for them,” he said.
During the second World War, 4,983 people deserted from the Defence Forces to join the Allied armies fighting Germany and Japan. Those who returned to Ireland were refused military pensions and were debarred from a range of State employment on the basis of the Emergency Powers Order passed by the Dáil in 1945.
Many were then blocked from gaining other employment by a society that generally took a dim view of Irishmen who joined the British army.