Irish Justice Minister: “a tribute to how far we have come as a society”

As promised by the Irish Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, in June last year, legislation has been passed by Dáil and Seanad providing for the granting of an amnesty and apology for the way the Irish State treated members of its Defence Forces who left to join the Allied Forces during World War II.  I’ve noted previously the historical debate in Dáil Éireann in 1945.  From the Irish Times report

In his closing statement on the Defence Forces (Second World War Amnesty and Immunity Bill 2012) to the Dáil, Mr Shatter said the Bill was an acknowledgement of the harsh treatment such individuals received after World War II and an acceptance of the special circumstances that existed at the time.

The Bill offers an immunity from prosecution to those who served on the Allied side and were subsequently found guilty of desertion by a military tribunal. The same applies to soldiers still liable to be prosecuted for desertion or being absent without leave and to those dismissed from the Defence Forces.

About 7,000 people were deemed to have deserted the Defence Forces during the war, with some 5,000 of those leaving to fight with the Allied forces. About 100 of these people are still alive.

Under legislation enacted in 1949 these people were considered to have deserted the Defence Forces and were dismissed without pension and barred from future State employment and welfare. The names of those who deserted were also published.

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

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  • socaire

    They were lucky. If they had deserted from the British Army they would have been shot.

  • John Ó Néill

    Heard a couple of people discussing this on the radio earlier (one the son of a soldier and the other an academic) and they seemed to be under the impression that there had been no issue with those who fought on Allied side with the US, Canadians, Australians or New Zealanders and there was no stigma or blacklisting of those. To that extent, the Bill is specifically with British formations and they claimed there are only five of those still alive. Neither quoted sources so I don’t know what those figures were based on.

    I think it was with Sean Moncrieff on Newstalk (just before 3pm) so its probably on the Newstalk player.

  • Pete Baker


    Apparently not.

    Never mind the difference between a state at war, and one which has self-declared as neutral.

    The UK seems to have abolished the death penalty for desertion in 1930.

    US Army, however…

    That distraction dealt with, back to the actual topic!

  • socaire

    Well,Pete, they would have suffered more than discrimination. After all, this island was in danger of Nazi invasion and they pulled out – better wages in the BA? How could the State trust them again – in any position?

  • Sp12

    “Irish State treated members of its Defence Forces who left”

    You mean deserted.

    Out of curiosity, did they receive pensions from the British Army? Did they expect to get two pensions?

  • Pete Baker

    I would, again, direct commenters to the historical debate in Dáil Éireann in 1945.

    And the contributions in that debate of Captain Patrick Giles and, the leader of Fine Gael at the time, General Richard Mulcahy.

  • Sp12

    Direct away.
    It’s a simple question, did they receive pensions for their service in the British army after deserting?

    I’m pretty sure the British Army did give out pensions to it’s soldiers, otherwise my grandfather mistakenly burned his credit union book in the Diamond in Derry with a load of other old soldiers after Bloody Sunday.

  • GavBelfast

    Oh that extremists, mis-informed or pig-ignorant, plastic or otherwise, would show even an ounce of the good sense and conciliatory attitude that the Government of the Irish State has done with this act.

    Well done, Mr Shatter, to the Government and indeed the Dail as a whole for dealing with this issue in a mature and, eventually, sympathetic and just manner, while some of those affected are still here to appreciate and benefit from it.

  • Pete Baker

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

  • JR

    As wrongs commited during the WW2 period go this in my view was a minor one. There isn’t a country in the world where desertion goes un punished and although the south was neutral it was under real threat of invasion. It must also be seen against the fear of ocupation in Ireland at the time, given the fact that the South had been an occupied territory for hundreds of years but for the previous 20. That said I think this is a positive move at this stage. What good could come of continuing to penalise a group of old men?

    It must also be asked though. What about the Irish men from the north who were conscripted when in Britain (as happened to my great Uncle) then deserted while on home leave in the north by crossing the border? My great uncle lived out the rest of his days just south of the border and never returned home, according to my grandmother he often said it ruined his life.

  • socaire

    Quite a number of cases like that. Some stayed this side of the border in South Armagh and changed their names. Living like criminals in their own country and effectively disbarred from all state employment. Were they publicly pardoned? Or is this a case of Dublin saying we really are sorry for all the acts of defiance and insurrection and ‘bad neighbourliness’ over the (800) years?

  • weidm7

    Dublin outdoes itself at Uncle Tom-ery. There was a very real threat of invasion from two great powers and these men deserted their country in its hour of need. But of course ideological revisionist history demands that we acknowledge Britain as the definition of good and the Nazis as the definition of evil. In reality, Britain wasn’t so great either and deserting your army isn’t a good thing at a time of world war. It’d be a different matter if those who deserted were quietly allowed live as free citizens, but heralding it as ‘a tribute to how far we’ve come’ is castle catholic nonsense, it’s a momument to how far back we’ve gone.

  • socaire

    Remember all the good citizenry of Dublin out waving their British flags at the start of the 20th century and then again at the start of the 21st century. They never went away, you know!

  • Mick Fealty

    ‘This country’ obviously does not include the good republican burghers of Slugger O’Toole.

    I’ve not heard one person suggest all day that any of these men did not desert nor that it was anything other than serious offence. But two things leap out from Mulcahy’s speech in the Dail:

    – one, these measures only applied to deserters who were not caught so that for instance:

    “…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.”

    And two, none of the proposed punishments applied to officers who deserted, only enlisted men… Seems to me to be nothing other than doing the decent thing by these men and their families…

  • Desmond Trellace

    You can say what you like about the old-stagers of long ago in the Dáil, but at least they would have had enough savvy to see through the agenda behind this bill and not to have allowed such a cheap stunt to be pulled on them.

    I have it on good authority from someone who witnessed it first han that a lot of these “heroes” were simply ordinary Jack-the-Lads who had gotten in trouble in the barracks and who deserted and skidaddled over the border to escape the consequences.

    And the Minister of Defence issues an official apology to them.
    This is obviously a state which no longer takes itself seriously (not a “rogue state” but a “joke state”).

    It is interesting to note that SF are on the same unhistoric, crummy bandwagon.

  • Sp12

    “I’ve not heard one person suggest all day that any of these men did not desert nor that it was anything other than serious offence.”

    Based on newspapers and web sites, it would seem you can desert from other armies, but only ‘desert’ when it comes to Ireland. That’s when they bother to use the word of course, a lot like Pete here prefer the word left.
    Apologising for what was the possibly the laxest punishment in Europe at the time for desertion doesn’t really suggest it was anything other than a serious offence?

    Weidm7 calls it right.
    It’s uncle tom-ery.
    And if you might want to look beyond slugger for opinions of people who are very much not republicans to see if the prevailing opinion here is out of step or not.

  • carl marks

    Yea they deserted they broke the law, but they fought Hitler, my father was in the British army during the second world war he was also a republican. Some things are bigger than country bigger than flags and this pardon is long overdue, that brave men were punished for fighting the greatest evil that the world has seen was ridiculous, Hitler would not have spared this island (despite his supporters in government north and south of the border) these men deserve a memorial erected to them.

  • Mick Fealty

    Des, et al,

    Have you guys actually taken time to read the story?

    The issue is NOT desertion. Desertion during the war was (if you were caught) punishable by a couple of weeks in the jug, then off with you me boy, back to the British to fight in the war. No punishment thereafter.

    State jobs council jobs, anything you like. All on the house. If you weren’t caught during the Emergency the punishment was no state jobs ever. Those of you familiar with the economy of the Republic know that that was in effect an order to leave the country.

    Even if you were on a British war pension you’re talking a max of £175-a-year – equivalent to £4,500 today. Cruel punishment for the crime of evading capture (by being buried in a Burmese jungle and unable to get home)..

    No independent army should stand pardon deserters. But that is NOT the issue here.

  • Alias

    It has been manufactured as an ‘injustice requiring urgent attention’ by a faction that never accepted the right of the Irish nation to be sovereign or to have its own army. To them the Irish nation should be a constituent nation of the UK and properly join the British army.

    These are the same folks who will use the term “the Dublin government” when upbraiding the Irish government for asserting its sovereignty during the war.
    Whatever about the utter waste of time of issuing a joke amnesty (for folks who are in no danger of prosecution), the apology is indicative of the mentality of eurogombeens and anglophiles within FG such as Enda Kenny who are really apologising for the nation having any remnant sovereignty.

  • Alias

    Mick, they deserted their country during a national emergency – hardly the most deserving ilk for plum state jobs.

  • Sp12

    “Those of you familiar with the economy of the Republic know that that was in effect an order to leave the country.”

    No it isn’t, it placed them in the same category as married women of the time. It would be an order to leave the country if the state was the sole (and not just the largest) employer.
    They had state jobs, a very special kind of state job and they walked on it, why should the state consider them for employment again when others were crying out for jobs?

    The apology should have been better worded.

    We’re sorry for calling you deserters for deserting.
    We’re sorry for not reemploying you after you walked out on the first job we gave you and instead gave preference to others who hadn’t proven themselves to be untrustworthy.
    We’re sorry for not giving you a second pension to top up the one you had from the British Army.
    We’re sorry we ever asked the English to leave.

  • Desmond Trellace

    A true war hero would hardly be perturbed by such mundane matters back on civvy street.

    But seriously, Mick, there is more to this issue than the mere dispensing of the milk of human kindness to a few poor oul’ sods.

    I believe that number of these deserters eventually got into trouble in the British army and were duly punished. Has Britain apologized yet to them?

  • socaire

    Yep! now it’s out. We are still part of the United Kingdom, it’s our right -nay,duty – to join our comrades in the British Army and we are truly sorry that we asked our oppressors for 800 years to go. Take it down from the mast ………….

  • @Mick,
    So how were Irish civilians or ex-soldiers who volunteered for the British army during World War II treated? Were they blacklisted for state employment after the war? Or was this only true of actual deserters.

  • ForkHandles

    “This country’ obviously does not include the good republican burghers of Slugger O’Toole. ”

    What on earth is a republican burger? And what is a burger doing reading a website? !

  • sonofstrongbow

    A “republican burger” is a popular menu choice in South Armagh.

    Flambé some horse and serve with a jus of laundered fuel, et voila Monsieur.