The Irish government is to pardon the thousands of soldiers who deserted their own army to fight for the British in the Second World War.
Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has confirmed that the 5,000 troops will be officially pardoned by the State after fighting for the Allies. He has also criticised the war-time government’s attitude towards German Jews.
Campaigners are now hopeful that the Irish parliament will issue an apology to the men as well, many of whom were blacklisted and denied state jobs when they returned home.
Attorney General Maire Whelan is to advise Minister Shatter on how to proceed with the pardon.
The Fine Gael deputy has told the Irish Times that he regards the dishonourable discharge of soldiers who left to fight for the Allies as ‘untenable’.
Shatter also acknowledged that the soldiers who died have been honored in Ireland for the past decade for their War efforts despite their lack of state recognition.
He said: “Many who fought in British uniforms during that war returned to Ireland. For too many years, their contribution in preserving European and Irish democracy was ignored.
“Some of those include members of our Defence Forces who left this island during that time to fight for freedom and who were subsequently dishonourably discharged from the Defence Forces.”
Minister Shatter told the Irish Times that is now ‘appropriate’ to review their treatment while also acknowledging that those who served in the Defence Forces throughout that time performed a crucial national duty.
He added: “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.”
A total of 4,983 Irish soldiers deserted from the Defence Forces to join the Allied armies during the Second World War.
Many of those who returned home were refused military pensions and were debarred from a range of State employment on the basis of an Emergency Powers Order passed by the Irish parliament in 1945.
Northern Ireland’s Assembly, including Sinn Fein members, voted on Monday to back the campaign for pardons.
Speaking at the opening of The Shoah in Europe exhibition in Dublin, Shatter also said: “It is of vital importance that this and future generations remember and learn from the horrors of the past.
“In the 1930s practically all visa requests from German Jews were refused by the Irish authorities.
“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 and also by the visit of President de Valera to then German ambassador Edouard Hempel 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 utterly lost its moral compass.”