Pardon to fighters who deserted for Allies
THE GOVERNMENT has apologised for the way soldiers who deserted the Defence Forces to serve with the Allied Forces were treated after the second World War.
Apologising on behalf of the State, Minister for Defence Alan Shatter formally announced a pardon and amnesty for those personnel. He told the Dáil the Government “recognises the value and importance of their military contribution to the Allied victory and will introduce legislation to grant a pardon and amnesty to those who absented themselves from the Defence Forces without leave or permission to fight on the Allied side”.
Legislation will be introduced later this year to provide for a pardon and amnesty, including for those who were individually court-martialled.
“This will be achieved without undermining the general principle regarding desertion,” Mr Shatter said. The legislation will “not give rise to any right or entitlement or to any liability on the part of the State”.
About 100 personnel who deserted to serve with Allied forces are still alive. More than 7,000 personnel were estimated to have deserted, of whom just under 5,000 personnel left to serve with Allied forces in the war against Germany and Japan.
At the time there were 42,000 personnel in the Defence Forces.
After the war the names of those who deserted were published; they were summarily dismissed from the Defence Forces and they were refused jobs in the public service for seven years and were not given a chance to explain their absence.
About 60,000 Irish people served with the British forces during the war.
Mr Shatter said “no distinction was made between those who fought on the Allied side for freedom and democracy and those who absented themselves for other reasons”.
He said the loyalty of the Defence Forces to the State “is indispensable. It is essential to the national interest that members of the Defence Forces do not abandon their duties at any time, especially at a time of crisis, and no responsible government could ever depart from this principle”. But the Government “acknowledged that the war gave rise to circumstances that were grave and exceptional”.
Those who left their posts to fight on the Allied side “played an important role in defending freedom and democracy. Those who fought on the Allied side also contributed to protecting this State’s sovereignty and independence and our democratic values.”
Mr Shatter pointed out that it was almost 73 years since the outbreak of the second World War and since then “our understanding of history has matured”.
Actions taken long ago could be re-evaluated “free form the constraints that bound those directly involved and without questioning or revisiting their motivations”.
He said: “It is time for understanding and forgiveness. Also at a time of greater insight and understanding of the shared history and experiences of Ireland and Britain, it is right that the role played by Irish veterans who fought on the Allied side be recognised and the rejection they experienced be understood.”