Belfast Telegraph

Soldiers branded deserters pardoned

The Irish Government will pardon 5,000 soldiers branded deserters and blacklisted for fighting for Britain against Nazi Germany.

Justice and Defence Minister Alan Shatter apologised to the former troops, who were dismissed en masse under special powers introduced during the Second World War.

Officials were concerned a blanket pardon for desertion between 1939-45 would cause major issues for other soldiers court martialled for going awol.

Mr Shatter, who regarded the soldiers as idealists, told the Dail in Dublin that people's understanding of history has matured and that it was time for understanding and forgiveness.

"On behalf of the State, the Government apologises for the manner in which those members of the Defence Forces who left to fight on the Allied side during World War II, 1939 to 1945, were treated after the war by the State," said Mr Shatter.

"The Government recognises the value and importance of their military contribution to the Allied victory and will introduce legislation to grant a pardon and amnesty to those who absented themselves from the Defence Forces without leave or permission to fight on the Allied side."

Paddy Reid - whose father Paddy signed up under age to fight for Britain and was one of the first to desert - said the decision was a relief.

The young soldier had fought the Japanese in 1944 at Kohima ridge as they tried to invade India. Mr Reid, 62, said he had finally cleared his father's name some 25 years after his death.

The 4,983 deserters were dismissed under the Emergency Powers (No 362) Order 194, as the wartime was known as the Emergency in neutral Ireland.

Deserters were blacklisted through the order - what became known as the starvation order - and were barred from state jobs, refused military pensions and faced widespread discrimination.

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