It has taken more than a half-century but Dónal de Róiste has finally been vindicated with an apology from the Government over his forced retirement from the Army in 1969.
The former lieutenant, now aged 77, said he was made “a pariah” and that his “potential as a human being was destroyed” when, 53 years ago, he was retired by then president Éamon de Valera, acting on the advice of the government, under the Defence Acts 1954.
Mr de Róiste, brother of former presidential candidate Adi Roche, was 24 at the time, and was never officially told the reasons for his retirement, though it was suggested to him that his dismissal was because of his alleged association with republican militants.
He has always vehemently protested his innocence and fought hard over the past five decades to try to his clear his name. Now the Co Tipperary man has, at last, achieved that.
Six years after joining the Army Cadets aged 18, Mr de Róiste was suddenly and without warning placed under armed guard and driven to Dublin from his base in Athlone. He was interrogated without being told the basis for his detention. When he asked for a court-martial, in which specific charges would have to be put to him, he was refused. Instead he was retired on June 27th, 1969, and given 12 hours to leave his barracks.
“It was awful. Straight away, I went from someone who had status in the community to being literally homeless. I had no income. I had no references. I couldn’t go home. I was disgraced,” he told The Irish Times in an interview published 20 years ago.
Seeing himself “unemployed and unemployable”, Mr de Róiste left for the US in 1971, where he found work in a steel mill in Pennsylvania. He married a US citizen with whom he had two children. He later divorced and returned to Ireland, moving to Ballincollig, Co Cork, and found a part-time job driving a schoolbus.
It was during his sister’s 1997 presidential election campaign that the issue of his dismissal from the Army resurfaced, with news reports alleging a connection with the IRA. “I was being labelled a Provo, a terrorist. I was accused on the doorstep of criminal and subversive activity. It was an awful feeling,” he said in 2002.
Mr de Róiste’s maternal uncle, Patrick Murphy, an assistant secretary in the Department of Defence in 1969, once told him that the Army had a photograph of him “on the firing party for an IRA funeral”, though Murphy also admitted to having never seen the photo.
In 2010 then minister of State for Defence Pat Carey told the Seanad that in 1969 the director of military intelligence had received a report saying that Lieut de Róiste had been seen in the company of republican militant splinter group Saor Éire.
He was later seen talking to a man, who was on remand for offences related to an incident in which gardaí were fired upon. The two spoke at an auction of surplus military vehicles at Clancy Barracks in Dublin in April 1969, the day before his arrest.
Mr de Róiste maintained that he was dismissed because of “guilt by association”. He insisted that if he ever spoke to suspected militants it was only ever unwittingly, and that through his interest in traditional music he came into contact with people he did not know, at music sessions in bars such as O’Donoghue’s on Merrion Row in Dublin. Mr de Róiste said he had only known the man at the auction as a “boozing buddy” of a prominent musician, and they may have only exchanged a brief hello.
A review of his case, completed this year, concluded that his retirement was made “on foot of a fundamentally flawed and unfair process and was not in accordance with the law”.
Minister for Defence Simon Coveney has now apologised for “the distress and upset suffered over many years by Mr de Róiste”.