President of Royal British Legion in Republic suspended

‘Quiet diplomacy’ of David O’Morchoe seen as key to bolstering legion’s image in South

Queen Elizabeth with major general David O’Morchoe: He has been widely praised for helping to ensure that Irish soldiers who fought with the British army, especially those who lost their lives in the two world wars, were remembered properly. Photograph: David Sleator

Queen Elizabeth with major general David O’Morchoe: He has been widely praised for helping to ensure that Irish soldiers who fought with the British army, especially those who lost their lives in the two world wars, were remembered properly. Photograph: David Sleator

 

The Royal British Legion has become embroiled in an internal dispute after its Republic of Ireland district president, who accompanied Queen Elizabeth during her visit to Islandbridge in Dublin in 2011, was suspended from the organisation.

Retired British army major general David O’Morchoe from Gorey, Co Wexford, who through “quiet diplomacy” is credited with helping to improve the image of the legion among people in the Republic, was suspended from his post in August.

Neither Mr O’Morchoe nor the Royal British Legion would specify why he had been suspended. However, a resignation email from Mr O’Morchoe that The Irish Times has seen states it followed complaints made against him by the legion’s area manager for the island of Ireland, Brian Maguire.

‘Soldierly complaints’

One senior source said that Mr O’Morchoe (86), who is also known as The O’Morchoe as hereditary chief of the O’Morchoe or Murphy clan, took exception to organisational changes that he believed adversely affected members in the Republic.

“I understand there were some robust soldierly complaints from The O’Morchoe which, in normal circumstances, might have blown over but in this instance resulted in the complaints against him and then his suspension,” said one source.

His suspension pending the outcome of a three-month investigation, which is still continuing, caused considerable anger among members both North and South, according to a number of legion sources.

After his suspension, Mr O’Morchoe wrote an email to the legion’s 600 members in the South saying he was tendering his resignation as Southern president. He said he had been suspended “as a result of various complaints made against me by the area manager” Mr Maguire.

Resignation withdrawn

He explained he was suspended for 90 days to enable the allegations to be investigated, adding, “I consider that this has left me in a position such that whatever the result of any investigations I could not with honour recover my position as president and continue as if nothing had happened. Hence my decision to resign as president now.”

He thanked members for helping achieve the “honourable position” in which the legion is now held in the Republic. “This is most evident in the way that remembrance by the Legion of those who were swept under the carpet and are now being remembered, and about whom books are being written and memorials are being erected, is flourishing,” he added.

Such was the degree of support for Mr O’Morchoe, however, that he decided to withdraw his resignation and to contest the decision to suspend him from duties. Legion headquarters permitted him to withdraw the resignation.

Mr O’Morchoe has been widely praised for helping advance the cause of the legion in the Republic and ensuring that Irish soldiers who fought with the British army, especially those who lost their lives in the two world wars, were properly remembered.

He showed the queen around the Irish National War Memorial Gardens at Islandbridge in Dublin during her State visit.

Mervyn Elder, president of the legion in Northern Ireland, expressed his regret at the suspension and controversy. “I would say that major general David O’Morchoe is held in the highest esteem by all legionnaires, North and South,” he said.

“Through his quiet diplomacy the Royal British Legion has prospered at all levels, from government down, in the South. I do feel sorry that this situation has arisen,” added Mr Elder.

Support services

A spokeswoman for the legion, confirming the suspension, said: “The O’Morchoe is a highly respected senior member of the legion, and his work for the charity is greatly valued.

“However, all complaints must be carefully examined and we are grateful to The O’Morchoe and the staff members for their patience while this process is completed.”

The Royal British Legion is the UK’s leading British army charity. It has a total of 304,000 members, 13,000 in Northern Ireland and 600 in the Republic. It provides support services for people who have served in the British armed forces and for their dependents and carers.