Pardon for WWII Allies deserters

Minister for Defence Alan Shatter has today announced there will be a pardon and amnesty for soldiers who deserted the Irish …

Minister for Defence Alan Shatter has today announced there will be a pardon and amnesty for soldiers who deserted the Irish Army to fight for the Allies during the second World War.

In a statement to the Dáil, Mr Shatter said the Government apologised for the manner in which these soldiers were treated after the war by the State.

"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."

Mr Shatter said the Government "recognises the value and importance to the State of the essential service given by all those who served in the Defence Forces throughout the period of World War II".


"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."

However, the Minister said that in addressing question of desertion during this period, the Government acknowledged the second World War gave rise to "circumstances that were grave and exceptional".

"Members of the Defence Forces left their posts at that time to fight on the Allied side against tyranny and, together with many thousands of other Irish men and women, 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."

He noted that in August 1945, the government, through an Emergency Powers Order, dealt with those who absented themselves during the war by summarily dismissing them from the Defence Forces and disqualifying them for seven years from holding employment or office remunerated from the State's Central Fund.

Pointing out individuals were not given a chance to explain their absence, Mr Shatter added: "No distinction was made between those who fought on the Allied side for freedom and democracy and those who absented themselves for other reasons.

Mr Shatter said that in the time since the outbreak of the second World War "our understanding of history has matured".

"We can re-evaluate actions taken long ago, free from the constraints that bound those directly involved and without questioning or revisiting their motivations. It is time for understanding and forgiveness."

The Minister said, at a time of greater 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".

"To that end, this Government has now resolved to provide a legal mechanism that will provide an amnesty to those who absented themselves from our Defence Forces and fought with the Allied Forces in World War II and to provide a pardon to those who were individually court-martialled.

"This will be achieved without undermining the general principle regarding desertion. The proposed legislation, which I intend to introduce later this year, will provide that the pardon and amnesty does not give rise to any right or entitlement or to any liability on the part of the State."

However, Mr Shatter emphasised the Government does not condone desertion and "fully recognises, values and respects the contribution of all those who stood by their post with the Defence Forces".

At its peak during the second World War, the Defence Forces had some 42,000 serving personnel. During the second war, 4,983 people deserted from the Defence Forces to join the Allied armies fighting Germany and Japan.

Jason Michael

Jason Michael

Jason Michael is a journalist with The Irish Times