Bill granting pardon for deserters who fought with Allies passed
‘You can be proud of your contribution or your relative’s contribution in the fight against tyranny,’ says Shatter
Minister for Justice and Equality Alan Shatter: “If the UK had fallen to the forces of Nazi Germany, the same fate would almost certainly have been visited on this island with all of the consequences that would have gone with it.” Photograph: Eric Luke
Legislation to grant a pardon and apology to some 5,000 Defence Forces personnel who deserted to fight with the Allies in the second World War has passed all stages in the Dáil.
Welcomed by all sides in the House, the Defence Forces (Second World War Amnesty and Immunity) Bill now goes to the President for signature.
About 100 personnel are still alive. It is estimated that about 7,000 of the 42,000 members of the Defence Forces deserted and 5,000 jointed the Allies.
Following the war they were dismissed, publicly named and refused public service jobs for seven years.
Minister for Defence Alan Shatter said the Bill’s enactment sent an important message to the survivors and the families of those who had since died. “You can be proud of your contribution or your relative’s contribution in the fight against tyranny and this contribution is now fully acknowledged by this State.”
Mr Shatter said those soldiers and about 60,000 others who joined the British forces “also contributed to the safety of their home country. If the UK had fallen to the forces of Nazi Germany, the same fate would almost certainly have been visited on this island with all of the consequences that would have gone with it.”
The Minister also paid tribute to those personnel who did not desert. “We should not underestimate at any stage the importance of their loyalty and their continuing engagement in this State at a time of global difficulty and of particular chaos within Europe.”
Stressing the importance of loyalty, he said those who remained loyal “performed a crucial duty for the State at a key time in the history of the State”.
Fianna Fáil defence spokesman Seán Ó Fearghail said he hoped the broader membership of those who fought against tyranny and the “horrendous regime of the Nazis” would take some consolation in the words of support and recognition from all sides of the House during the debate.
He said the penalties were understandable at the time “and with the benefit of hindsight more than 70 years on we realise the need to take action”.
He hoped the survivors and their relatives “take some consolation” from the Minister’s initiative.
Sinn Féin defence spokesman Pádraig Mac Lochlainn welcomed the Bill and said it was right that the soldiers were pardoned. He said fascism did not just emerge with Hitler’s rise to power. It was already evident in Mussolini’s Italy and Franco’s Spain.
He pointed out that many men who went to fight fascism in Spain “were excommunicated from the Catholic church”.