The family of former Irish Army officer Donal de Róiste have welcomed the news that the Government is to hold a review into the circumstances surrounding his forced retirement from the Defence Forces more than 50 years ago.
Mr de Róiste's sister Adi Roche said that confirmation by the Minister with Responsibility for Defence, Paul Kehoe, that he has asked the Attorney General to nominate someone to carry out a review is most welcome.
“I rang Donal to tell him the news and it’s very heartening for us as a family. We really are encouraged and quietly elated we are by this news – it’s the strongest sign of light at the end of the tunnel for us in over 50 years.
“Donal is just too emotional today to talk about what it means to him, but for us as a family, it’s the biggest move in the case in 50 years and now we are just praying and hoping for a good outcome in Donal’s favour.”
A former lieutenant in the Irish Army, Mr de Róiste, now aged 75, was retired by then president Éamon de Valera, acting on the advice of the government with effect from June 27th, 1969 in accordance with the Defence Acts 1954,
Mr de Róiste was never officially told the grounds for his forced retirement but his maternal uncle, Patrick Murphy, who was an assistant secretary in the Department of Defence in 1969, told him it was because of links with subversives.
After I was retired, I became a pariah . . . my potential as a human being was destroyed
Patrick Murphy told Mr de Róiste that “they have a picture of you on the firing party for an IRA funeral”, but when Mr de Róiste asked his uncle if he had seen such a photograph, his uncle told him that he had not.
In 2010, minister of State at the Department of Defence Pat Carey told the Seanad that in 1969 a report had been received by the director of military intelligence that Lt de Róiste had been seen in the company of an IRA splinter group.
The group included a man who was on remand for offences related to an incident in which gardaí were fired upon, and Lt de Róiste was later seen talking to this man at an auction of surplus military vehicles in Dublin in April 1969.
Mr de Róiste, who has always protested his innocence, moved to the United States in 1971 where he married Leah Martin, with whom he had two children, Dara and Sinead, but he returned to Ireland in 1987 after they divorced.
“After I was retired, I became a pariah . . . my potential as a human being was destroyed during the course of interrogation and by the false labelling of me as a terrorist,” he told the Sunday Independent in 2010.
Some eight years earlier, then minister for defence Michael Smith ordered a review of documentation in Mr de Róiste's case by the judge advocate general, who is the principal judicial officer in the Irish Defence Forces.
However, the report of the judge advocate general was quashed by the High Court in 2005 after Mr de Róiste took legal action over the report and the court found that he had not been afforded fair procedures in the review.
In 2010, Seanad Éireann adopted a resolution which included a provision that the government would ask the judge advocate general to select a nominee to carry out another review of the documentation on Mr de Róiste’s file.
According to a statement from the Department of Defence, the terms of reference were not acceptable to Mr de Róiste but now, after several attempts, revised terms of reference have been agreed that are acceptable to all parties.
On foot of agreement, the Government has now authorised a review of the circumstances of Mr de Róiste’s retirement to be carried out by a nominee of the Attorney General and completed within three months of their appointment.
Ms Roche, who saw the matter of her brother's forced retirement from the Defence Forces become an issue during her presidential bid in 1997, said the family had never given up lobbying various governments and presidents.
We want Donal to be able to live his life as a free man with his good character restored
She paid special tribute to President Michael D Higgins for his support and said she and her siblings hoped her brother's name will be finally cleared as it had caused deep hurt to the family, including her late parents, Sean and Christina.
“We have received support from so many people over the years and we have never given up hope, and we are doing this in honour of our parents who sadly didn’t live to see the day that their son will hopefully finally get justice.
“We want Donal to be able to live his life as a free man with his good character restored so he can live as a person of integrity, great intellect and wonderful humanity, free of the shackles which have marred his life for 51 years.”