Taoiseach Eamon De Valera, who would later dismiss soldiers for desertion, and his cabinet with Irish soldiers in 1938. Associated Press Photo
World War II

Pardon for Irish deserters who fought in WWII likely in new year

Thousands of Defence Forces personnel who were persecuted by the Irish government for fighting with the Allies in World War II will receive a formal pardon in the new year.

JUSTICE AND DEFENCE Minister Alan Shatter has published a Bill which will provide for a pardon and apology for Irish soldiers who deserted the Defence Forces to fight for the Allies in World War II.

An estimated 5,000 Irish soldiers joined the Allies in fighting Nazi Germany during World War II but were persecuted upon their return to Ireland for having deserted the Defence Forces.

They were denied all pay and pension rights and prevented from working for the State for a period of seven years.

In June, Shatter apologised on behalf of the government for the manner in which members of the Defence Forces were persecuted on their return to Ireland after the war.

In a statement today, the Minister said: “I hope that the action we have taken on this issue will put to rest the concerns of those individuals still alive, who fought for freedom and against tyranny with the allied forces. I also hope it lifts a veil for the families of those who have already died.

They can be proud of their relatives contribution in the fight for freedom and commemorate the sacrifices they made as we look to the commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of the commencement of the Great War and the 75th anniversary of World War II, in 2014, and the remembrance of all those who served and who died in these conflicts.

The Defence Forces (Second World War Amnesty and Immunity) Bill 2012 will grant an amnesty and apology to those who served in World War II and were subsequently found guilty by a military tribunal or who were dismissed from the Defence Forces.

Under Emergency Power Order 362, the then government of Eamon de Valera dismissed the soldiers immediately from the Defence Forces, denying them all pay and pension rights and banning them from any employment paid for by the State for seven years.

The so-called ‘starvation orders’ were issued at a time when anti-British sentiment was high in Ireland and the government feared civil unrest unless action was taken against the men, analysts have previously said.

The Department of Defence also said that legislation will provide immunity from prosecution those who were or are still liable to be prosecuted for, desertion or being absent without leave.

Today’s announcement was welcomed by the Labour TD for Louth Gerald Nash who has long campaigned on the issue. He said it was a “brave and courageous move”.

“Of the 5,000 who left their posts to fight with the Allies and who will be subject to the pardon/amnesty, only a small few remain with us,” he said.

“I am pleased that they have lived to see the day that there is a cross party and cross community consensus in this State that the way in which many of them were treated on their return from the theatres of war was unacceptable and that we are now prepared to apologise for that.”

Revealed: Ireland’s surveillance activities during World War Two

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