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07 MAY, 2013

Ceann Chomhairle, in marking the passage of this legislation through the Dáil, I would like to thank all Deputies, from the various sides of the House, who contributed to the debate on the Bill. I think it is a tribute to how far we have come, as a society, that a Bill on such a sensitive issue could get practically unanimous support from all sides in both Houses of the Oireachtas.

The Government’s rationale for introducing this Bill was twofold. Firstly, to put to rest the concerns of those individuals still alive who had deserted from the Defence Forces to fight with the allied side during the Second World War. Secondly, to lift a veil for the families of those that have already died. The provisions of the Bill are an acknowledgement of the harsh treatment such individuals received and an acceptance of the special circumstances that existed at the time. For this reason, it is important to acknowledge the courage that these individuals showed at what must have been extremely difficult times, not just for them, but in the majority of cases, the families they left behind here in Ireland.

These individuals contributed in no small part to the allied victory against tyranny and totalitarianism. Their efforts, in an indirect way, also contributed to the safety of their home country. If the United Kingdom had fallen to the forces of Nazi Germany, the same fate would almost certainly have been visited on this island, with all of the consequences that would have gone with it.

In seeking to grant the amnesty to these individuals, the Government has been very careful to uphold the vital contribution made by members of the Defence Forces who didn’t desert during the Second World War. In this context I wish to again acknowledge the tremendous work that was undertaken by those individuals who stayed loyal to the Defence Forces during the period of the Second World War.

Loyalty is an extremely important aspect of any military force and the Irish Defence Forces are no different in this regard. Those who remained loyal during the period known as the Emergency performed a crucial duty for the State at a key time in the history of the State. The loyalty of these members of the Defence Forces to the State was indispensable. It is always essential to the national interest that members of the Defence Forces do not abandon their duties at any time and no responsible Government could ever depart from this principle.

As I said at the outset, it is good that this House has united behind this Bill. It is important to a substantial number of families in the State, a fact that a number of Deputies acknowledged during the second stage debate. For example, Deputy Ó Ríordáin made particular mention of the late Con Murphy, a former RAF man, who died in Cork recently. There are countless others like Mr. Murphy who did not live to see the day that this State finally acknowledged the role that they played in seeking to ensure a free and safe Europe.

The enactment of this Bill sends an important message to those people surviving, and the relatives of those that have since passed on. That message is “you can be proud of your contribution, or your relative’s contribution, in the fight against tyranny and that this contribution is now being acknowledged by this State”. It is important as we look to the commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of the commencement of the Great War and the 75th anniversary of the Second World War, in 2014. It is important to the memory of all those who served and who died in these conflicts, those surviving, and the relatives of those that have since passed on.
This Bill is bringing out of the shadows and into the daylight a crucial part of the complex history of our State, of families in the State and of individual citizens. It is estimated that over 60,000 citizens of the then Free State and in the region of 100,000 who resided on this Island fought against Nazi tyranny during the Second World War. For too long in this State we failed to acknowledge their courage and their sacrifice and for too long their contribution was airbrushed out of official Irish history as taught in our schools and at third level. In recent years this has changed and the role played by them has been documented and written about. That is as it should be. I hope this Bill provides a statutory foundation to ensure they are never again ignored or forgotten in narratives covering the Ireland of 1939 to 1945.

I am very pleased that this Bill has met with the approval of all sides in this House. I want to once again thank the members for their constructive and supportive engagement with the Bill in the course of its passage through the House.


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