“Those who fought on the Allied side also contributed to protecting this State’s sovereignty and independence and our democratic values.”

Success, then, for the Irish Soldiers Pardon (WW2) Campaign.  I’ve noted previously the historical debate in Dáil Éireann in 1945.  Now, as the BBC reports, Defence Minister Alan Shatter has told the Dáil that the Irish government 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” [added link].

The Irish Times report has more from the Irish Defence Minister’s statement

Pointing out individuals were not given a chance to explain their absence, Mr Shatter added: “No distinction was made between those who fought on the Allied side for freedom and democracy and those who absented themselves for other reasons.

Mr Shatter said that in the time since the outbreak of the second World War “our understanding of history has matured”.

“We can re-evaluate actions taken long ago, free from the constraints that bound those directly involved and without questioning or revisiting their motivations. It is time for understanding and forgiveness.”

The Minister said, at a time of greater understanding of the shared history and experiences of Ireland and Britain, “it is right that the role played by Irish veterans who fought on the Allied side be recognised and the rejection they experienced be understood”.

“To that end, this Government has now resolved to provide a legal mechanism that will provide an amnesty to those who absented themselves from our Defence Forces and fought with the Allied Forces in World War II and to provide a pardon to those who were individually court-martialled.

“This will be achieved without undermining the general principle regarding desertion. The proposed legislation, which I intend to introduce later this year, will provide that the pardon and amnesty does not give rise to any right or entitlement or to any liability on the part of the State.”

The full statement by Irish Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Alan Shatter TD, is available here.

Adds  As Stephen Fry pointed out, “history is not abstraction, it is the enemy of abstraction.”

, , , , , , , , , , ,

  • SK

    I do not question their bravery, nor do I deny that they fought for a noble cause, but the fact remains that they deserted their posts at a time of national emergency. You simply cannot do that without expecting some kind of censure.

    The government apology is wrong.

  • Pete Baker

    Adds As Stephen Fry pointed out, “history is not abstraction, it is the enemy of abstraction.”

  • ranger1640

    Nasty work fighting them there Nazi’s. A very honourable 5000 Irish men.

    These men I can only speculate, recognised it was better to fight with the British and defeat the Nazi’s fascists. Than see the British and allies defeated, and the republic of Ireland become the inevitable a puppet Nazi state.

  • Desmond Trellace

    I read a letter in the Irish Times a few months ago from a man whose father had served in the Irish army during the emergency and in which he related the matter-of-fact manner in which his father had told him about those who deserted from the Irish army to join the British amy and their almost exclusively banal and non-heroic motives (more money, adventure, escape from boredom etc).

    The letter echoed in detail and tone almost exactly what my father – who also served in the Irish army during the Emergency – had told me when he was still alive.

    Even though the majority of those Irish army servicemen who remained loyal to their oath would not have made a big deal about the desertion issue after the war, I think they would (have) strenuously object(ed) to granting the deserters (many of whom – if events had dictated – might have been ordered to invade the Irish state and kill their former comrades) a pardon and even an apology.

    OK, so maybe the Irish have lost all sense of self-respect and will allow those who remained loyal to their country in a time of peril to be demeaned by the false heroization of deserters, the majority of whom absconded at the time for more or less jack-the-lad motives – and that is the unprettified reality – and only in hindsight, perhaps, glorified those same motives.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Desmond to paraphrase….I read a letter in a paper, from a man, who was told by a man, that a man told him he signed up for money & adventure… your fathers account of course holds more weight, but young men are notorious for telling thier listeners what they want to hear, few if any would have boasted about fighting the huns or whatever.

    It is debatable if Churchill ever seriously considered invading Ireland, for certain Hitler was close to invading the UK, and Ireland would certainly have followed, therfore those who “deserted” certainly did more to defend Ireland than those who sat at home, or even worse the IRA co-laborators.

  • Pete Baker

    Guys

    It’s not about the “heroization” of those who left to fight elsewhere.

    Nor is it about the denigration of those who stayed at their posts.

    It’s about recognising the extra-ordinary circumstances of the time.

    And the inappropriateness of the Irish state’s response after the fact.

  • BluesJazz

    “from a man whose father had served in the Irish army during the emergency ”

    Who no doubt supported De Valera’s consolations to the Nazis on Hitlers death. After the liberation of Belsen etc had been broadcast worldwide.

    And what a brave Irish army soldier he must have been, guarding Phoenix Park against the allies or axis forces.

    Knowing that others were fighting for their lives and those of the rest of Europe. Yep Desmond, the guys father, like you , deserve a medal. I would suggest an image of Muttley, Dick Dastardly’s iconic dog, to be the image on it. The Irish Army ‘veterans’ during ‘the emergency’ deserve such a medal.

  • Comrade Stalin

    SK :

    It was correct, and to be expected, for soldiers in a standing army to be disciplined/censured for abandoning their posts. It was, however, not appropriate for such soldiers to be treated as common skivers or shirkers; it was also not appropriate to fail to take any kind of account of the specific circumstances.

    I note your story, Desmond, where there are accounts reporting that those who went to join the British Army were seeking more money or a relief from boredom. But nonetheless, those who did so knew that they would almost certainly be sent straight into combat. That takes bravery and the Irish government at the time did not account for this; nor did they account for the fact that these men played a role in ensuring “the emergency” was brought to an end.

    I feel the Irish government is right with this apology. It is particularly timely given that it helps to address the possible perception that the government of the day acted against these deserters out of malice connected with the specific army they chose to desert to.

  • Desmond Trellace

    Drumlins Rock, I have no problems at all with Irish WWII veterans, many of whom were courageous and honourable.

    I believe, however, that issuing an general apology and granting a general pardon is going too far. Do you know of any other countries who would belittle their own institutions in this manner? Even the Germans were always very reluctant to pardon deserters.

    And don’t fool yourself, this is just another one of these faux-politicizations of history that has more to do with some current political agenda than the rather remote reality of that now far-off era.

  • Pete Baker

    Desmond

    Which “current political agenda” would that be then?

    But it doesn’t seem that “rather remote” and “far-off” an era to you. You’ve just been quoting your father…

  • GavBelfast

    A good decision, and excellent comments of context and explanation from the country’s Defence Minister.

    Another example where the view that things could/should have been done differently, or not at all, seems fitting.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Desmond:

    Do you know of any other countries who would belittle their own institutions in this manner?

    It sounds a bit like for you this is not a matter of whether the deserters were right or wrong, but that an apology in any circumstances impinges upon some sort of national pride. I do hope you reconsider this false patriotism in the same way that the British government did when it (rightly) apologized for Bloody Sunday and even the Famine.

    Even the Germans were always very reluctant to pardon deserters.

    In Germany you can get yourself arrested for practically mentioning the Nazis in the wrong tone of voice. I think that very much takes “belittling their own institutions” well beyond the point of apologizing for a bad decision in the past.

    And don’t fool yourself, this is just another one of these faux-politicizations of history that has more to do with some current political agenda than the rather remote reality of that now far-off era.

    That far-off era is very current given the ongoing advances being made in North-South and British-Irish relations. That this matter could be seen as a form of outreach to unionists is a pleasant side effect of correcting a historic wrong.

  • aquifer

    The strategic reality was that the island of Ireland, with lots of coast and a tiny ill-equipped army, could not defend itself against a Nazi invasion on its own, so neutrality was the means to avoid provoking an invasion from either side.

    Thousands of Irish people helping the Allied war effort was the best way to defend democracy freedom and the sovereignty of small nations, whatever the motives of the individuals.

    With big beasts like the Nazis and Soviets about, National selfish determination did not really cut it.

    Those that fought to fight fascism did the right thing, and the rest effectively defended their nation’s interests.

    Soldiers should not usually be expected to defend fiction.

    A pardon is appropriate.

  • Rory Carr

    “A pardon is appropriate'” I’m inclined to agree. But then so were the charges of desertion at the time.

    These men did after all desert their posts in their own national army at a time of national emergency, whatever their motives. No army could countenance such behaviour without a complete breakdown of discipline, hence the cagey terms of reference in which the general pardon is couched.

  • Evolve

    The fact is that these men deserted their post in an emergency situation.

    Given the scale of the second world war they could not have reasonably expected to have influenced the outcome. A wider analysis of the then political situation to the extent that it occurred to them, or was informed, cannot be offered as a defense. Any action taken subsequent to the act of desertion is not a defense.

    However, it is true that they were never given the opportunity to defend themselves in a court martial. If they had been given this opportunity,it is likely that penalties imposed against them would have been much harsher since they had indisputably abandoned their post for a period of more than 21 days.

  • sonofstrongbow

    “Given the scale of the second world war they could not have reasonably expected to have influenced the outcome.”

    Thank God the many millions of individuals fighting the Nazis did not apply that logic.

  • OneNI

    I think those who ‘stayed loyal’ during the ‘Emergency’ are bound to denigrate those who volunteered to put themselves in harms way. Those who deserted and fought with the Allies were truly brave. How many of use would have done the same? The idea that they were simply bored or adventurers is nonsense.

    Also I think it is easy to forget the context. Nowadays when tend to assume everyone in the 26 counties was hugely supportive of independence. We know from the way the rebels were treated immediately after the Rising that many were hostile.

    Many of these soldiers will have had parents who might well have been hostile to independence – remember they were born in the UK. The soldiers themselves therefore may well have had a residual sympathy for the UK.

    Things are rarely black and white.

    The way they were treated however reveals Irish nationalism at its petty insular worst

  • Evolve

    “Thank God the many millions of individuals fighting the Nazis did not apply that logic.”

    Each individual had to apply the logic of their situation. In the cataclysm of the second world war, we cannot easily assume the existence of a universal logic.

  • Mick Fealty

    Desmond (welcome!)

    Remember that everyone who deserted was treated equally. What’s being rescinded is the harsh (beyond harsh) treatment of these men and their families. It was little short of a very native (and very nasty) form of McCarthyism.

    As to the circumstances in which such Irishmen who had deserted to join the British Army might find themselves fighting their former colleagues in Oglaigh na hEireann… the only obvious case would be one in which the Irish state was siding with the Nazis.

    In which case, some of us might conclude (as they did across occupied Europe) that the call of the nation has some respectable and defensible limits.

    In reality, Dev was only playing at being neutral. Allied airmen and other forces were generally returned across the border whilst Germans were interned.

    These men took their lead from a creatively duplicitous public foreign policy and were pretty badly punished by the Irish state for their bravery.

    If it had been finessed as Dev finessed his politics, there would be no question of a pardon seventy years later.

  • innis

    Richard Doherty “Irish Volunteers in the Second World War”

    Nuff sed

  • Desmond Trellace

    Mick,

    (thanks for the welcome)

    I have been living outside Ireland – in Germany(!!!), as a matter of fact – for over thirty years, so maybe I am a bit out of touch.

    As I remember, there was always a very Irish Catholic type of Mick-Wallace-“logic” in vogue – as there still is – among a sizeable proportion of the Irish population so it’s hard to engage that at the best of times!

    OK, a number of these guys who deserted became heroes in their new context but a large proportion of them had fairly menial and innocuous duties behind the front. A veteran once told me that you could always tell the ex-combat soldiers because they were mostly the silent, non-ostentatious ones.

    I have no problem with the British cultivating their war legends culture. Why do the Irish have to join in on the act?

    After all, the whole business of the war was more complicated than the usual simplistic heroic war-film version embraced by too many Irish people.

  • Mister Joe

    Desmond Trellace,

    Just curious. Do any German people talk much about the war?”

  • andnowwhat

    Mick;

    Great points. The state was described as something like having stretched neutrality to it’s limits. There’s an episode of the BBC’s coast that refers to the official comment and shows the massive markers painted on cliffs to guide allied planes.

    I do not agree with the degree of the punishment these men had but like some others on here, I believe something had to be done. There ca be no accusation of cowardice on behalf of the Irish, the record before and after WWII shows it to be a foolish idea.

    The state was young, with many problems and with a population greatly reduced by events that any ignorance of would be inconceivable on such a blog as this. As a frequenter of southern based boards, there is a wide variety of opinions voiced there but there are also serious issues with Shatter as there has been for some time

  • andnowwhat

    Mister Joe;

    Take it you’re not a Fawlty Towers fan

  • Mister Joe

    andnowwhat,

    I won’t mention that.

  • Desmond Trellace

    Mister Joe,

    I have seen very many documentaries about the war on TV down through the years but people don’t really talk about it very much at all – nowadays in any case. And it is completely irrelevant to 99% of the younger generation.

    When I was here first some of my older colleagues were war veterans. Because I came from neutral Ireland people – both Jews and Germans – would confide in me and tell me about things you would not find in the official history books.

    I found the accounts of events to be objective and unglorified. Obviously, this was due in part to the fact that they “lost” the war.

    One encounters very little of this maudlin hero-worship culture.

  • Pete Baker

    “One encounters very little of this maudlin hero-worship culture.”

    Desmond

    You’re barking at a straw-man.

  • Mac

    “What’s being rescinded is the harsh (beyond harsh) treatment of these men and their families. It was little short of a very native (and very nasty) form of McCarthyism.”

    I’m not seeing the parallels with McCarthyism, no-one was being blacklisted for perceived political views with scant regard for evidence. They signed up for a very specific job with a specific employer, a job with an employment contract that to this day, in any part of the world, cannot be nullified by handing in 4 weeks notice even when there is no threat of invasion. Upon their return their erstwhile employer refused to employ them again for 7 years. Additionally they forfeited their pension, which I don’t see the problem with as they would have been entitled to one from the British Army would they not?

  • Evolve

    “These men took their lead from a creatively duplicitous public foreign policy and were pretty badly punished by the Irish state for their bravery.”

    I hope the Belfast Telegraph surveyed them to determine this. I expect a Pie chart with pullout sectors.

  • Desmond Trellace

    Peter,

    I find the whole business rather pathetic, to be quite honest.