The Government has decided to formally exonerate Dónal de Róiste, who was forced to retire from the Defence Forces more than 50 years ago, from any wrongdoing, to apologise and to pay him compensation.
The decision at Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting comes after a review which began more than two years ago into the circumstances of his forced retirement.
The review concluded that Mr de Róiste’s retirement was “made on foot of a fundamentally flawed and unfair process and was not in accordance with law”, the Government said on Wednesday afternoon.
In a statement, Minister for Defence Simon Coveney said: “Clearly, the security situation in Ireland in 1969 was far different than what it is today. However, whilst a decision to retire Mr de Róiste from the Defence Forces in these circumstances, and on the basis of the documentation considered at the time, was found by the reviewer to be reasonable, the review has determined that no national security concerns should have prevented Mr de Róiste from being afforded the most basic procedures of natural justice and the right to defend himself and his good name.
“In this regard, the review has concluded that Mr de Róiste’s dismissal was not in accordance with law.”
Mr Coveney apologised to Mr de Róiste. He also acknowledged the interest taken in the case over the years by President Michael D Higgins.
Mr de Róiste has always denied any wrongdoing and has campaigned for decades to clear his name.
A former lieutenant in the Irish Army, Mr de Róiste was retired by then president Éamon de Valera, acting on the advice of the government in 1969.
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.
Preview reviews of the case established that military intelligence had linked him to an IRA splinter group at the time called Saor Éire, but no charges were ever brought against him and no opportunity to answer the allegations was given to him.
Mr de Róiste subsequently emigrated to the US after he left the Defence Forces but returned to Ireland in the 1980s and has been trying to clear his name since, an effort that has included legal challenges.
His sister is the founder of the Chernobyl children’s charity, Adi Roche, and questions about Mr de Róiste’s case were raised when she ran for the presidency for the Labour Party in 1997.
Mr de Róiste’s family welcomed the findings of the the review and expressed “profound gratitude” for the apology. They also expressed their gratitude to investigative journalist Don Mullan whose work was central to securing the review.
“All our family have ever wanted was for Dónal’s good name and character, and the good name of our family, to be restored. As the review report has found, our brother was denied a fair process in 1969, there was no charge, no trial, no conviction and for 53 years we have fought for justice to be done. Our parents, and our mother Christine in particular, fought tirelessly over many years for Dónal’s innocence to be declared,” they said.
In the same statement, Mr de Róiste said he was happy to see his good name restored.
“I want to thank my family, friends and my legal team, Eamonn Carroll solicitor and Gerard Humphreys barrister and Don Mullan who never gave up, who always believed in my innocence and who supported me for many years. I had never dared to hope that this day would ever come and now that it has, I feel a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. Sincerest gratitude to our President, Michael D Higgins, who believed me when others didn’t and for his help with calling for the establishing of this review.”
His sister Adi Roche said that the life of her brother had been shattered by a wrongful decision made by the government in 1969.
“Our family were left with years of pain and incomprehension by that decision; that took away his integrity, his good character, his good name, and that of our family. We have suffered over all these years without any redress of justice until now,” she said.
“Dónal is now free to walk tall and walk proud as he is now, finally, free of that dark shadow of blame and wrongful arrest and dismissal from the Army. I want to echo our gratitude to everyone who stood with us over the years in Ireland, the United States and many other countries, friends, activists, public representatives, journalists and fellow campaigners who believed Dónal, believed us as a family.”