Irish government promises action on WWII deserters

First Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland Eamon de Valera inspects a guard of honour at O'Connell Street in Dublin
Image caption The then Taoiseach, Eamon de Valera, inspects his country's neutral army

The Irish government is to take action over the soldiers who were punished for fighting with the British during World War II, the BBC understands.

Ireland was neutral during the conflict, but around 10% of its armed forces deserted to join the fight against fascism.

On their return many were placed on an official blacklist, banning them from getting jobs, benefits or pensions.

There has been growing pressure on Dublin to issue the men with a pardon.

Now Senator Mary Ann O'Brien says Ireland's minister of justice, Alan Shatter, is actively working on the matter.

She said: "I'm glad to say that it is very much foremost on his agenda and he said that we will hear from him at the end of the first quarter of 2012."

Around 5,000 soldiers were formally dismissed from the Irish army for serving with the British.

"Starvation order"

They were stripped of all pay and pension rights, and prevented from finding work by being banned for seven years from any employment paid for by state or government funds.

Image caption John Stout fought in the Battle of the Bulge but was treated as a pariah back home in Cork.

Many also had their children taken into care.

John Stout served with the Irish Guards armoured division which raced to Arnhem to capture a key bridge.

He also fought in the Battle of the Bulge, ending the war as a commando.

On his return home to Cork, however, he says he was treated as a pariah.

"What they did to us was wrong," he says.

"I know that in my heart. They cold-shouldered you. They didn't speak to you.

"A lot of Irish people wanted Germany to win the war - they were dead up against the British."

A special "list" was drawn up containing their names and addresses, and circulated to every government department, town hall and railway station - anywhere the men might look for a job.

It was referred to in the Irish parliament - the Dail - at the time as a "starvation order".

Senator O'Brien described the list as a stain on the nation's history.

She said: "I just think it would be such a wonderful gift to those people and it's such a small gift to make sure that they're properly pardoned and recognised for what they did."

Face the Facts - Deserters Deserted will be on BBC Radio 4 at 12.30 GMT on Wednesday 4 January 2012 and will be available to listen to afterwards online.

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