Irish Republic pardons wartime deserters

Irish parliament
Image caption Defence Minister Alan Shatter made the apology during a speech in the Dail

The Irish government is to pardon more than 4,500 former soldiers who deserted the Defence Forces during World War II to fight with the Allied Forces.

Irish Defence Minister Alan Shatter said the government apologised for the manner in which the deserters were treated by the state after the war.

Mr Shatter said the government recognised the importance of their contribution to the Allied victory.

He said the war gave rise to grave and exceptional circumstances.

Mr Shatter said the government would 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".

In his statement to Dail Eireann, he said that in August 1945, the government of the day summarily dismissed soldiers who had absented themselves during the war and disqualified them for seven years from holding employment or office remunerated from the state's central fund.

Individuals were not given a chance to explain their absence.

'Grave and exceptional circumstances'

No distinction was made between those who fought on the Allied side for freedom and democracy and those who absented themselves for other reasons.

"In addressing the question of desertion during World War II, the government acknowledges that the war gave rise to circumstances that were grave and exceptional," Mr Shatter said.

"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.

"On behalf of the state, the government apologises for the manner in which those members of the Defence Forces... were treated after the war by the state."

During World War II the Irish Defence Forces had approximately 42,000 serving personnel.

Over the course of the war, it was estimated that more than 7,000 members deserted.

Of these, about 2,500 personnel returned to their units or were apprehended and were tried by military tribunal.

More than 4,500 deserters were the subject of dismissal under the Emergency Powers (No. 362) Order, 1945.