Mick has already pointed to the Irish Times article at the weekend by Joseph Quinn on the post-World War II treatment in Ireland of around 5,000 Irish soldiers who deserted their own neutral army to join the British army and fought in Europe and elsewhere. The “confidential” list of those affected is still available from Ireland’s National Army Museum.
But, via the Irish Soldiers Pardon (WW2) Campaign website, there are a couple of items to highlight.
Firstly, the instrument at issue – the Emergency Powers (no. 362) Order, 1945.
As the campaign website notes,
By the 2 April 1946 Emergency Powers Order 362 had been subsumed as a temporary provision into mainstream defence force acts as Section 13 of the Defence Force (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1946. Following a 1948 Debate in Dail Eireann, Fine Gael managed to reduce the effects of the Orderand on the 29 February 1949 Emergency Powers Order 362 was amended.
And this lengthy extract from the end of the Dáil Éireann Debate in 1945 on a Fine Gael Motion to Annul the Emergency Powers Order 362 is worth reading. As is the whole debate… [added emphasis throughout]
General Mulcahy: When the Minister tells us that the number of deserters who did not surrender and were not caught is 4,000, out of the 40,000 who, he says, served in the emergency, we are in the position that we are dealing with 10 per cent. of the total number of men who over, say, five years, were in the Army or entered the Army. We are, therefore, dealing with very many different types of characters and with men operating in very different kinds of circumstances. I do not think that the problem that is suggested by what is implied in those figures can be dismissed by any kind of rule of thumb. The Minister indicated that he told the House earlier that he was going to deal, in some way, with this matter by legislation. It may be fortunate that the Minister has made this emergency Order and that we have had a discussion on it—that is, if the Minister will think over the problem before he introduces his permanent legislation to deal with the general question of deserters.
Deputy M. O’Reilly told us that what is in this Emergency Order is a warning to future generations, while Deputy Moran told us that now is the time to lay down a stern rule for the future. Therefore, we are in the position that we are having a warning for future generations and a stern rule for the future to deal with desertion. We are having it promulgated by Emergency Order without publicity of any kind, or a statement of any kind, that, as far back as the 8th August of this year, every aspect of the emergency, from the military point of view, was completely over, and that the future of armies, the future of wars and the future of defence services of every kind was absolutely in  the melting pot and that no General Staff in the world would sit down and say what kind of army, or what kind of disciplined organisation, they wanted to meet the next world war. What we principally object to is that this problem should be dealt with on the 8th August of this year by an Emergency Order.
I submit to the Minister that, as soon as the emergency is over—and I take it that he is not going to put the date of the ending of the emergency, from a military point of view, later than 1st January next—from a legal point of view the provisions of that Order will completely go; it will have no continuing effect. That is a matter which he might have intended to deal with by legislation. As this Order stands there is tremendous discrimination. In the first place, there is discrimination between officers and men; the Order is intended to apply only to men. Then there is discrimination between men who were not caught or did not surrender before the date of the Order, and men who did. Various speakers on the other side have indicated that this is mild treatment to give to people who deserted the Irish Army and joined an army which, as Deputy Colley said, might possibly be in conflict with those men’s own country. Do not let us talk awful nonsense when we are dealing with these matters. What did happen before the issue of this Order in relation to deserters? The Minister suggests that it was possible under the legislation which existed to impose very severe penalties. It was possible, and rightly possible, but the cases that were tried by court-martial before the issue of this Order were dealt with on their merits, both on the circumstances of the time and on the merits of the men. I have seen many people smiling at the tolerance of the British Army authorities, and saying that, when a deserter from the Irish Army joined the British Army, and then came back here on leave and was caught, got six or eight weeks’ imprisonment, and then was ignominiously discharged out of the  Army, he went back to the British Army and got his back pay and his separation allowance for the period of his unavoidable absence. That was as well known to the members of the Army and to the officers of the Army as it was to anybody outside who was discussing the matter. The Minister must know that while a very severe frame of mind was adopted by the Army authorities with regard to desertion from the Army during the emergency, and we all would adopt the same attitude——
Mr. Traynor: I do not know what the Deputy is referring to now. I do know that the British Army would not tolerate desertion from this Army to their army.
General Mulcahy: I am quite aware of that, but there were in the actual facts of the position all kinds of ways of shutting people’s eyes to things. I must say the Minister came before the House very badly equipped to speak on this Order when he did not go to the trouble of seeing how desertion cases were dealt with by courts-martial before this emergency Order was made.
Mr. Traynor: I have explained how they were dealt with.
General Mulcahy: In the early part of this war, when the Ministers were, in my opinion, for purely political purposes, suggesting that this country was likely to be invaded by Great Britain, if the attitude of the Government were really serious they would have been very severe on desertions. But the sentences passed on such deserters were very light. In the latter part of the war it was quite clear to everybody on the street that there was a complete understanding, co-ordination and exchange of views between the Government here and the British Government on military matters, and it was at that particular time that this Order was made. I suggest that all kinds of interpretations can be placed on this Order. The outstanding interpretation that can be placed upon it is that the small amount of employment which is available will be distributed in a way  that will be dictated by the Government or by the Minister. I quite agree that in the giving of employment under the local authorities, under the statutory authorities, under the Government, preference should be given to National Army men. That was the system which we adopted from the time of the formation of the National Army, when an army of 50,000 men had to be recruited and then were demobilised. It is that type of administration that Deputies on the far side have been criticising here this afternoon, but it is the natural thing to do, and it would be natural that the Minister and the Government would do it. But I submit that that could very well be done without creating a class of 4,000 people in this country who will have to be blacklisted. A list will have to be kept by every employment exchange, by every county council, by every Government Department, and by every body that has any statutory position in the country.
Again, I think there is a grave injustice under clause 4 (b), which says that: “No pension, gratuity or allowance in respect of his service in the Defence Forces shall be payable under the Army Pensions Acts 1923/43 to or in respect of any such member.” The Order as it stands allows no alternative to depriving a man of a pension which he might have earned by a service of from 15 to 16 years. He must lose that. There is no provision for giving a man the option of taking a court-martial on his particular circumstances or taking what is set out here. I remember, when the Spanish Civil War was on, having great difficulty when it came to my notice that a number of men in the National Army of that time, with perhaps something like 14 or 15 years’ pensionable service, were intending to desert from the Army and to go to fight in Spain on the Franco side. Some of them did go. When we look back on the circumstances of the last 5 or 6 years it is very unjust and very unwise to think that anyone could estimate the motives of men who, having joined our Army here for the defence of the country, many of them very young men,  then made up their minds—with the impact of very many circumstances in this country and very many circumstances outside—that they were serving even national interests better by deserting from the Army and going outside, whether into another Army or to work elsewhere. It is all very well for Deputies on the far side to say that we must have discipline in this country. I remember being in an internment camp when the officers of the camp were paraded by the Colonel in charge of the camp and told that he was going to have discipline or dead bodies. Well, from his point of view he never got discipline—not the discipline that he wanted—but there was in that camp the strong discipline of intelligent men working and acting together.
I think the Army authorities, if left to themselves, would have dealt with this matter in a very different way. At any rate we have gone through an extraordinary period, during which a large number of young men in this country who could not, in the world circumstances, get work of any kind, found themselves tempted and distracted in very many ways. The fact that 10 per cent. of the whole of the Army that the Minister had are involved in the number of unfound deserters should show the Minister that he is dealing with a very difficult but a very human problem. He should realise that he is at the end of a very extraordinary period and at the beginning of another. If we are to have an army code of discipline that is going to be respected and if we are to ensure that every soldier going into the Army, taking the oath, will not take it merely as a formality, then we had better leave the framing of the code until such time as we face the discussion of what our new Army will be, its organisation, its equipment and the kind of defence policy for which we will want it.
I submit to the Minister that he is doing the Army damage by introducing a new disciplinary code for deserters in this way, by an emergency Order, applying it as an absolute rule of thumb, with no alternative and no  option, applying it in that particular way to an extraordinary variety of cases. We, therefore, object to this Order in that it is an emergency Order issued at the tail-end of an emergency; in that it is in its attitude in conflict with the attitude of the Army authorities to desertion when they were dealing with the question of desertion in the most serious part of the emergency, in that it discriminates in the punishment that will have to be suffered by people who are not caught, who did not surrender and people who were caught; in that it discriminates between Army officers and men and that it does not leave to the ordinary military code of law—the law of this House—the decision as to whether or not the circumstances are so grave that a man, because of his desertion, should lose a pension earned by service over a large number of years.
I submit that these are matters that the Minister should very well consider and that, whatever the House may decide, in respect of this Order, the Minister should think over these things and a number of other matters that I am sure the Army authorities will be able to bring very clearly to his mind before he endeavours to enshrine a new disciplinary code for deserters in our laws.
Arising out of some of the remarks that have been passed here, there is no way of objecting to one item in this emergency Order without objecting to the whole of it. The only type of criticism and the only type of opposition that can be given to the making of this Order in the House is to vote for its annulment. There is no way of amending it. There are sections of the Order that everybody in the House would allow to stand but there are other sections, to which we have pointed, that are of such a kind that nobody ought to be prepared to support them as an emergency Order, particularly an emergency Order issued after the emergency if the date of the military emergency were properly fixed. There would be many others that we would not be prepared to support as part of our legislation.
Captain Giles: I also think the Minister  would be well advised to withdraw this Order and to leave well enough alone, because what we want in this country is a spirit of peace and harmony. Those who deserted and joined other armies did not desert to the enemy. They deserted to an army which they thought was fighting our battle. The experience of these men in that army was sentence enough for them. They have come home with their lives and they have been lucky. I think we should close the books and leave it at that. We have not much tradition in the Army, because for 700 years we were struggling for freedom. We have had the Army for only 25 years and there is not much tradition behind it yet and our people do not know where they stand in respect of it. We are a partitioned country. We are not a free country. The men in the Army have different ideas and different views. Some joined the army from patriotic motives. Others had different ideas. Some joined to disrupt the Army from the inside when they could not do it from the outside. I know men—some of them have high positions in the Army—who joined for the purpose of disrupting the Army. We had not such loyal service from all our people after all. Some of the Government speakers to-day were very high-falutin and spoke about tradition and honour. When they were upsetting the Irish Army was it not known that one of their chief objects was to get every man they could to desert, not only to desert, but to bring all the equipment he possibly could with him and to sell it? They even took the lives of young men who would not leave the Army. Now they come along and talk about what we should do to-day. We have our memory that takes us back that far. We know the men who are talking to-day in this House are hypocrites and impostors and nothing more. They ought to drown themselves and keep quiet for evermore.
Donnchadh O Briain: Who were the deserters?
Captain Giles: It is the mercy of God and the strength of our right arm that saved us, in spite of de Valera and his henchmen.
 An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Taoiseach.
Captain Giles: The Taoiseach. The Government set no headline. There is too much codology, even about the emergency. Every second word out of the Taoiseach’s mouth is, “the emergency and the dangers to this country.” Who saved us during the emergency? It was not our little army and our Government. It was the might of the British navy that saved us and if that had not been there, Hitler or Stalin would not have been long about taking us over.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I think the Deputy is going outside the terms of the motion.
Captain Giles: Not very much. What kept us neutral? What equipped our Army, from the very smallest rifle to the biggest gun, to our motor torpedo boats? Where did we get them? Where did we get the machinery for our Tattoo? From our nearest country across the water, that is supposed to be our traditional enemy. I want to tell the Minister that the country is not one bit deluded. The people know definitely that there was a pact between the British and the Taoiseach during the war. There is not the slightest doubt about it. I want to say also, and I do not care who is listening: Is not it a fact that a member of the Imperial Staff inspected our Army and that a member of our Army inspected the army across the Border?
Mr. Traynor: I think the Deputy ought to produce the proof.
Captain Giles: I want facts and history will show the facts. This country was bamboozled for the last five years. We were neutral for one purpose and that is that we were Britain’s home defence, and you cannot deny it.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy ought to stick to the terms of the motion.
Captain Giles: I am sticking to the motion. This is the place I want to say it.
 An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy must do it within the terms of the motion before the House.
Mr. Traynor: I deny everything the Deputy has said.
Captain Giles: Of the thousands of men who went away, some of them believed they were fighting for their lives; others went to earn money for their people; others went for adventure. These men were doing in faroff lands what we were not doing at home. I am one of those who served in the Old I.R.A. I am an I.R.A. man and I want to face facts. I say that 99 per cent. of Fianna Fáil men wanted Britain and America to win but they were too cowardly to admit it. When they read about the Belsen camp they remained silent. They were pro-German when they thought Hitler was going to win. Now they hang their heads in shame. It is time that all this nonsense was stopped and that the farmers got a chance.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy is out of order.
Captain Giles: I am finished.
Dr. O’Higgins: If this debate has served no other useful purpose, at least in putting down the motion, I worked a miracle and made the dumb speak. The first miracle that was worked was to produce a speech from a Deputy who has been 15 years silent in this House. A number of minor miracles were subsequently worked. Unfortunately, though I was capable of making them speak, I was not capable of making them or the Minister think. I never listened in my Parliamentary experience to so many exhibitions of muddled thinking, not only from the back benches opposite but from the Front Bench. The Minister’s speech was an outstanding example of muddled thinking. Let us hark back and examine his speech. What was the great offence we were punishing? According to the Minister, the offence was the breaking of a solemn oath, and a contract between the soldier and the State. I did attempt to correct the Minister. The breaking of a solemn oath concerns any soldier who deserts, and yet the  Minister seemed to forget that we had thousands who deserted, who broke that solemn oath and no penalties whatever were inflicted.
Mr. Traynor: That is not so.
Dr. O’Higgins: They were brought into barracks, discharged from the Army and turned out—hundreds of them. Others got a week or two weeks’ detention. They all broke a solemn oath. There is a certain section of soldiers that broke a solemn oath and fought in this war, and the Order is designed to punish these men and no others.
Mr. Traynor: Only a small fraction of those involved went out of this country.
Dr. O’Higgins: The Minister confesses now that there is such inefficient government and such an inefficient service, that soldiers can desert in this little sod of turf—this tiny island—and can remain at liberty undetected for 180 days. That is a terrible indictment of State services. I have more respect for the police, Army and other services of the State than to think that it is possible for men to desert, and to remain at home undetected for 180 days, with no ration cards or anything else, and no way of getting a pinch of tea.
In the main, the Order applies to men who went abroad and not to those who remained at home. The Deputies’ speeches, and the Minister’s line of action, were an example of the product of Fianna Fáil political tactics—when you cannot meet a case, abuse your opponent; if he can make a case, distort it. The Minister has always the final word, and he got the opportunity to suggest that everybody on these benches was condoning desertion; that we were standing for desertion. I made it quite clear in my opening remarks that the main reason why I objected to this Order was that it was a case of the Army washing its hands of its own responsibilities; that if the Army Act, which is there over a long period, was availed of in the ordinary way to mete out punishment according  to the offence, no voice would be raised here.
After 20 years operating the Army Act we have the Army and the Minister for Defence washing their hands of their own responsibilities, and asking public boards to punish Army deserters. That is a complete departure from every traditional military precedent and we get no explanation from the Minister. He threw up his hands and said that there were 4,000 men out of 40,000 still undealt with, who were absent for 180 days. I wonder how many were dealt with? If we assume even that only one out of four deserted, what kind of an Army have we had for the last five years, what kind of control and what kind of Minister? If it was a case of fly-by-night, it is time we knew it. We are told that 4,000 men were absent more than 180 days. How many more thousands left and were captured out of a tiny Army of 40,000? I think that is something to investigate other than the Order, if there was such lack of control that apparently tens of thousands out of 40,000 could hook it, and 4,000 remain uncaptured. At the end we have the Army authorities saying: “We are unable to control the situation; we must leave it to the public boards, the town commissioners, the Turf Development Board,” boards that should not be concerned with cases of Army indiscipline.
Mr. Traynor: I told the Deputy that 4,000 men were affected by this Order.
Dr. O’Higgins: How many were 180 days absent?
Mr. Traynor: It must be assumed that they have not returned and are described as having deserted. That is the position. All told, the total number of desertions is round the 7,000 mark, and of these the balance would have been dealt with in the ordinary way in the course of the emergency. There are 4,000 men affected by the Order.
Dr. O’Higgins: Very well; leave it at that.
Mr. Traynor: I do not want the Deputy to exaggerate by saying that tens of thousands are affected.
 Dr. O’Higgins: The Deputy was left guessing. I may be a doctor, but I am not a dentist and I cannot draw teeth. The process of getting information from the benches opposite is something equivalent to a dentist’s job. The Minister makes statements regarding desertions, but withholds from the Dáil the number of desertions, until a Deputy has finished his statement, and then by interruption he tells us that there were 7,000 desertions. I shall not, therefore, say tens of thousands. There are 7,000 deserters. They all broke the solemn oath which the Minister spoke about so extensively. They all committed the crime of breaking this solemn oath, but 4,000 of those 7,000 are to be penalised for the next seven years and the other 3,000 are not. Presumably, in the 4,000 we have all those who gave service in other armies and the Minister has proven up to the hilt the case I made, that the punishments are not provided because a solemn oath was broken, because those men deserted, but because they served elsewhere.
Mr. Traynor: That is your own imagination.
Dr. O’Higgins: If we operate in the ordinary way, soldiers should be dealt with by soldiers. Military courts should deal with offences by soldiers. Those are the courts which understand best the necessity for discipline, for severe and speedy penalties and for making an example of an individual before his comrades so as to deter them from committing the same offence. I think that this is the only case in history where an army has so reneged its duties, where a Minister has so run away from his responsibilities, where a Minister for War or a Minister for Defence asked various town commissioners and urban councils to do his job for him. Instances were cited of how unjust this Order was. The Minister promised Deputy O’Leary that he would deal with this question by legislation. If he had done that, we should not have the same complaint. Legislation can be discussed, altered, amended, reduced or extended but an emergency Order cannot be altered and cannot be amended. One may like  some of it and dislike the rest of it. All one can do is swallow the whole lot or annul the whole lot. That is the position into which the Dáil was forced. There was no option but to move the annulment of the Order. People over here in this Assembly have shown in the past, are showing in the present, and I hope will show in the future as great a sense of responsibility towards the State as any of the self-reputed heroes opposite. They have shown more regard for the sanctity of the Army than a great number of those sitting opposite. Many of us over here served for many years in that Army. We know the necessity for discipline better than the Minister does. We never preached indiscipline and we never opposed the Army. Discipline is absolutely essential but military discipline must be maintained and ensured by military men. Never in our time in the Army, and never in the time of any reasonable men in the Army, were military delinquencies passed over to be dealt with by various urban councils and town commissioners. When an offence was committed by military men, it was dealt with by military men and punishment was meted out to fit the crime. Here we have a general, slap-dash Order that applies equally to all, without examining the merits of particular cases, without examining the excellent record which a soldier may have had over a number of years, without having regard to whether or not a man may have given years of pre-Truce service in the Anglo-Irish War and have helped to establish this State and without making any allowance as to whether a man had four days or four years’ Army service. The service of the soldier cannot be taken into account. The emergency Order, passed after the emergency was clearly over, deals with all those common victims by a common method. There is no sense and there is no justice in that. As Deputies saw when the Minister stood up, there is no defence for it. If what the Minister said was the best case that could be put forward, then any person who listened will admit that no defence was made for the Order.
Motion put and negatived.
The campaign was the subject of a written answer from the Irish Minister for Defence, Alan Shatter, on 12 January this year.
Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter): This is a very complicated issue and covers a wider range of individuals other than those who deserted to join the British Army during World War II. Having regard to the wider dimensions of the issue, including for those who were actually tried by Court Martial for desertion during the Emergency and thereafter, the matter has been referred to the Attorney General’s Office for advice. The matter will require some further research by that office and detailed consideration of the wider implications of any proposed course of action. I am awaiting the advice of the Attorney General and will consider the matter further at that stage. I expect to receive that advice shortly.
Topic: Government, Politics, Society and Culture
Region: Ireland, UK
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