‘Justice delayed is still justice’: Exonerated Dónal de Róiste grateful to those who stood by him

Former Army lieutenant, forced to retire in 1969, wrongly lost ‘good name and character’ for over 50 years, sister says

Former Irish Army lieutenant Dónal de Róiste was forced to live with “a shadow in his life” for more than five decades before he was finally exonerated of any wrongdoing this week.

Mr de Róiste was retired in 1969 by then president Éamon de Valera, acting on the advice of the government, over alleged links with subversives. This week the State formally apologised and agreed to pay compensation to the 77-year-old after a review into his case found the decision to retire him was “made on foot of a fundamentally flawed and unfair process”.

Mr de Róiste for decades campaigned to clear his name, with assistance from prominent supporters including President Michael D Higgins.

Speaking on Friday outside Leinster House, Mr de Róiste said he was overcome and “speechless” at his vindication.

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“I’m so relieved. Justice delayed is still justice. I am grateful for everyone who stood by me over the years and believed me. Go raibh míle maith agat,” he said.

Good name lost

Adi Roche, his sister and founder of the Chernobyl Children International charity, said for 5½ decades her brother had lost his “good name and character”.

“Our brother’s innocence has finally been declared. All our family have ever wanted after 53 years was for Donal’s good name and character, and that of our family, to be restored,” she said. “There was no charge, there was no trial, there was no conviction for there was no evidence.”

Ms Roche recalled memories from her youth, of her mother bent over the kitchen table drafting “hundreds of letters” to taoisigh, presidents, to the Dáil, and the media about the case.

“Even in our mother’s 80s she was still sitting at the kitchen table writing letters,” she said. “While she did not live to see this day of justice done, she believed to her dying breath in the innocence of her son.”

‘Walk tall’

Among some of her last words to her children were to tell them to keep up the campaign for justice: “Carry on, carry on”.

“Today redresses and rebalances and recalibrates that terrible injustice. Because our brother Dónal can walk tall, can walk proud,” Ms Roche said.

The hope of clearing his name had been “battered out” of her brother, over many false starts over many decades, she said.

“Many people think that it is over today, but for Dónal, who has had to live with the shadow in his life for 53 years it will take time to adjust,” she said. “This noose around his neck is no longer there and he is a free man … Justice has been served”.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times