Thousands of Irish soldiers who were labelled traitors for deserting to join the British Army during World War II are going to get an official state pardon.
Most of the soldiers who fought against the Nazis have since died and the estimated 100 of them who are still alive are in their 90s with many suffering from memory problems.
But the move by the Republic’s Justice Minister Alan Shatter (right) in the Dail yesterday was warmly welcomed by the soldiers’ relatives as a way of reducing the stigma over their actions.
Paddy Reilly (62) said that his father, who died many years ago, had been persecuted for leaving the Defence Forces to join the British Army during the Second World War.
“My dad was one of those who thought it was the right thing to do. He never complained about it, but I don’t think he expected to be ostracised and the high price that the family paid and continued to pay for many years,” he said.
Former Taoiseach Eamon de Valera’s government passed an emergency order in 1945 to dismiss around 4,500 Irish soldiers who had deserted — and to ban them from state employment for seven years. But a former Dublin bus driver, Peter Mulvany, began a campaign last year to get them pardoned after reading an article by Irish Independent columnist Kevin Myers.
“For me, the campaign is over. It was a wise and compassionate decision and I’m very happy with it,” he said.
In the Dail yesterday, Mr Shatter delivered an apology on behalf of the government for the way the Irish soldiers who deserted were treated by the State after World War II. And he said that he would bring in legislation to pardon them.
“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,” he said.
Mr Shatter had to engage in a delicate balancing act because some former members of the Defence Forces had complained that pardoning the former soldiers was endorsing desertion.
He pointed out that there was were “grave and exceptional” circumstances in the Second World War.
It is a second success for Mr Mulvany, who was also involved back in 2004 when the UK Government pardoned 26 Irish soldiers who were executed during the First World War.