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Shatter considers pardon for Irish soldiers persecuted for fighting Hitler

The matter has been referred to the Attorney General ahead of a BBC documentary which will outline the plight of many Irish soldiers who fought against fascism in World War II.

De Valera and his cabinet with Irish soldiers in 1938 prior to the outbreak of World War II
De Valera and his cabinet with Irish soldiers in 1938 prior to the outbreak of World War II
Image: AP Photo

THE MINISTER FOR Defence Alan Shatter is actively considering a pardon for soldiers who were persecuted for deserting the Irish Defence Forces during World War II to fight against Hitler.

Shatter has sought the advice of the Attorney General amid a campaign for the pardoning of an estimated 5,000 Irish soldiers who deserted the Defence Forces during World War II to join the Allies in the fight against the advances of Hitler’s Nazi Germany.

Some of the men took part in the D-Day landings and the liberation of Nazi death camps but were persecuted upon their return to Ireland for desertion.

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.

According to a BBC Radio 4 documentary that will air tomorrow, the soldiers were also put on a special list with their names and addresses circulated to every government department, town hall and train station – anywhere where they may have looked for a job.

This was referred to at the time as a “starvation order” which was effectively the reality for many of the soldiers and their family interviewed for the ‘Face the Facts’ documentary which notes also the considerable opposition to the idea of Irish people fighting for the British.

Though Ireland was officially neutral, Trinity College professor Gerald Morgan said that as many as 60 per cent of the population hoped the Germans would win the war.


Morgan believes that De Valera’s fears over civil unrest led to the imposition of the “starvation orders” on those Irish soldiers who had deserted.

Now a number of TDs and Senators are leading a campaign to have these men pardoned. Among them is Labour TD Gerald Nash who told the programme: “What happened to them was vindictive and not only a stain on their honour but on the honour of Ireland”.

A spokesperson for Nash said the Labour Party is behind the campaign and said there was “general sympathy” from many Oireachtas members to the plight of these men.

In a statement to TheJournal.ie today the Department of Defence confirmed that the matter was under active consideration.

“The Minister has sought legal advice from the Attorney General in respect of a number of matters that arise in the context of considering the issue. The Minister will consider the matter further when a response is received from the AG’s Office,” the statement said.

In response to a parliamentary question tabled by Nash in July, Shatter said at the time:

I accept that many of those who deserted, went on to fight against facism in World War II and did so out of a sense of idealism and with a commitment to protect democracies from tyranny and totalitarianism.

“Had there been a different outcome to World War II there is no reason to believe that this State would have been immune to invasion. I am giving active consideration to the matter raised by the Deputy.”

Face the Facts – Deserters Deserted airs on BBC Radio 4 at 12.30pm this Wednesday, 4 January.

About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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