Ireland’s Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, has apologized for the way the 10,000 Irishmen who fought Hitler were treated after World War II. The minister also said Ireland’s stance of “neutrality” during the war was morally bankrupt.
Shatter, who is Jewish, gave a landmark speech just days before the Holocaust Memorial Day (Friday, 27th January). His speech was part of the launch of “The Shoah in Europe” exhibition in the Department of Justice and Equality, in Dublin.
He admitted that the Irish regime in the 1930s denied visas to Jews desperately trying to flee Nazi occupied Europe.
Shatter said, “the doors to this state were kept firmly closed to German Jewish families trying to flee” commenting on the anti-Semitic Berlin ambassador Charles Bewley.
He explained “The advice of the anti-Semitic then Irish Ambassador in Berlin, Charles Bewley, that Ireland should be protected from the contamination that would result from granting residential visas to Jewish refugees resulted in practically all visa requests being refused.”
He also apologized for how the Irish soldiers who returned from fighting in World War II were treated. He suggested that as many as 10,000 were barred from getting jobs and state pensions. They were condemned to poverty and stigma. It is likely that these men will now receive a full pardon.
“I believe it is also appropriate that we revisit the manner in which they were treated whilst also remembering that those who served in our Defence Forces throughout that time performed a crucial national duty. It is untenable that we commemorate those who died whilst continuing to ignore the manner in which our State treated the living, in the period immediately after World War II, who returned to our State having fought for freedom and democracy. This is an issue to which I hope to return in my role as Minister for Defence later this year,” the Minister said.”
The Minister stated that the administration at the time, led by Eamon de Valera, has “lost its moral compass”.
He said, “This position was maintained from 1939 to 1945 and we should no longer be in denial that, in the context of the Holocaust, Irish neutrality was a principle of moral bankruptcy. This moral bankruptcy was compounded by the then Irish Government who, after the war, only allowed an indefensibly small number who survived the concentration camps to settle permanently in Ireland whilst refusing entry and permanent residence to many more and also by the visit of President De Valera to then German Ambassador Edouard Hemple in 1945 to express his condolences on the death of Hitler. At a time when neutrality should have ceased to be an issue the Government of this State utterly lost it’s moral compass.”
Shatter added that their decisions were continuing to affect the Irish today. The Dublin South MP said that Ireland needed to break away from this past.
He continued, “In the midst of the ongoing fiscal and banking crisis that currently impacts on the nations of Europe, including our State, we should never lose sight of the extraordinary contribution of the European Union in providing the political architecture for peace and stability in Europe. As Europeans we must all ensure that in addressing vital issues of immediate concern that affect the lives of tens of millions, it is the European ideals of peace, cooperation and solidarity and not extreme nationalism nor narrow domestic political concerns which motivate our actions.”
According to reports in the Daily Mail, the minister will now be advised by the Attorney General of Ireland, Máire Whelan, on how to proceed with pardoning those Irish soldiers from World War II. It is thought that only 100 of these men are still alive.
Although many families of these men look forward to, and welcome, the pardon, some believe it’s too little too late. Speaking to the Irish Independent, Paddy Reid, the son of one of these men, said this pardon comes too late for his father.
His father, Paddy Snr, joined the Allied Forces in 1941, aged 17, along with his uncle Freddie.
Paddy Snr wanted to make money so that he could start a family but he also felt that he should stand up against the Nazis having heard of the bombing of Guernica, Spain.
He was blacklisted in Dublin when he returned from the war. He was prevented from working from 1946 to 1961.
"The man fought bravely, he was well respected in his community, but he wasn't allowed to work, to make a living or recover from the mental trauma that such a war had on a young man.
"There is no comfort in a pardon for these men, most of them died a long time ago.
"I always knew he was a good man, they didn't have to write a law to tell me that. These men fought to protect us from the Nazis. We'd all be speaking German if these men hadn't gone out to fight".
Read Minister Alan Shatter’s full speech here.