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Announcement in the Dáil by Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Alan Shatter T.D., on behalf of the Government,
in relation to the matter of personnel who deserted the Defence Forces during World War II to serve with the Allied Forces.

On behalf of the State, the Government apologises for the manner in which those members of the Defence Forces who left to fight on the Allied side during World War II, 1939 to 1945, were treated after the War by the State. The Government recognises the value and importance of their military contribution to the Allied victory and 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.

The Government recognises the value and importance to the State of the essential service given by all those who served in the Defence Forces throughout the period of World War II. They performed a crucial duty for the State at a time of national emergency and enormous difficulty. The loyalty of the Defence Forces to the State is indispensable. It is essential to the national interest that members of the Defence Forces do not abandon their duties at any time, especially at a time of crisis, and no responsible Government could ever depart from this principle.

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

When, in August 1945, the Government of the day, through an Emergency Powers Order, addressed the question of members of the Defence Forces who had absented themselves during World War II by summarily dismissing them from the Defence Forces and disqualifying 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. This remained the position following the transposition of the Emergency Powers Order into an Act of the Oireachtas in 1946. 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 the almost 73 years since the outbreak of World War II, 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. Also, at a time of greater insight and 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.

In extending this amnesty and pardon, the Government would like to emphasise that it does not condone desertion and fully recognises, values and respects the contribution of all those who stood by their post with the Defence Forces and pledged their lives to defend this State’s integrity and sovereignty against any and all aggressors.

12 June 2012

Background Note:

At its peak during World War II (or what was known as “The Emergency” in Ireland), the Irish Defence Forces had approximately 42,000 serving personnel. Over the course of the war, it was estimated that over 7,000 members of the Defence Forces deserted. Of these, circa 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. The provisions of this Order were subsequently transposed into the Defence Forces (Temporary Provisions) Act 1946. It is accepted that many of those who deserted the Irish Defence Forces and were subject to dismissal under the Order joined the British Forces and fought with the Allies in World War II. In total, it is estimated that approximately 60,000 people from the Republic of Ireland fought in the British Forces (i.e., Army, Navy or Air Force) during World War II.

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