Government apologises to WWII veterans

Some 5,000 who deserted the Defence Forces to join the fight against Nazism get pardon

 Troops pour ashore at one of the Normandy beaches during the D Day invasion. Photograph:  Popperfoto/Getty

Troops pour ashore at one of the Normandy beaches during the D Day invasion. Photograph: Popperfoto/Getty

Tue, May 7, 2013, 20:10

The passing of legislation providing an apology for the way the State treated members of the Defence Forces who deserted to join the fight against Nazi Germany is “a tribute to how far we have come as a society”, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has said.

In his closing statement on the Defence Forces (Second World War Amnesty and Immunity Bill 2012) to the Dáil, Mr Shatter said the Bill was an acknowledgement of the harsh treatment such individuals received after World War II and an acceptance of the special circumstances that existed at the time.

The Bill offers an immunity from prosecution to those who served on the Allied side and were subsequently found guilty of desertion by a military tribunal. The same applies to soldiers still liable to be prosecuted for desertion or being absent without leave and to those dismissed from the Defence Forces.

About 7,000 people were deemed to have deserted the Defence Forces during the war, with some 5,000 of those leaving to fight with the Allied forces. About 100 of these people are still alive.

Under legislation enacted in 1949 these poeple were considered to have deserted the Defence Forces and were dismissed without pension and barred from future State employment and welfare. The names of those who deserted were also published.

“These individuals contributed in no small part to the allied victory against tyranny and totalitarianism,” Mr Shatter said.

“Their efforts, in an indirect way, also contributed to the safety of their home country. If the United Kingdom had fallen to the forces of Nazi Germany, the same fate would almost certainly have been visited on this island, with all of the consequences that would have gone with it.”