On the 24th May 2011 the Irish Independent newspaper published an article by Kevin Myers who raised the issue of two processes used post war by the Irish Government to dismiss service personnel who had (allegedly) deserted the Irish defence force during world war two, and which seemed to me to be legally flawed. Consequently, the Irish Soldiers Pardons Campaign (WW2) was initiated to try and obtain some form of redress from the Irish government for the survivors and their families.
During world war two approximately 5000 service personnel from the Irish defence forces who (allegedly) deserted, including those who had joined the allied war effort to fight fascism, were subsequently dismissed from the defence forces on the 8th of August 1945, en masse, unheard, and in absentia by Irish government decree. It is a basic tenet of Irish constitutional law that citizens have a right to defend themselves, and defendants subject to military law, even when on active service, have the same rights to adduce a defence in any proceedings. The Emergency Powers Order introduced by the post war Irish government to deal with alleged deserters was a vindictive act of injustice, arbitrary in application, and by disregarding their fundamental rights as citizens denied Irish defence force personnel the right to defend themselves before an Irish military tribunal. Irish defence force personnel accused of desertion were treated differently depending on whether they stayed in Ireland or went abroad to fight with the allies. The exclusion of officers from the Order’s terms of reference should have raised concerns as to class bias.
By August 1945, the Irish government had constructed a unique political instrument to deal with the military offence of desertion in such a way that the rights of individuals were abrogated for the sake of political expediency. Oscar Traynor TD, then Minister for Defence, opined during passage of the Order through Dail Eireann (Irish Parliament), that these men, both survivors and those who had lost their lives, were worthy of very little consideration, and yet some years later when SS-Obersturmbannführer Otto Skorzeny wanted to come to Ireland the same Oscar Traynor TD had no difficulty in permitting this committed Nazi to legally enter Ireland. Former SS-Obersturmbannführer Otto Skorzeny was the coordinator of ODESSA, the Organization of Former SS Members (‘Organization Der Ehemaligen SS-Angehörigen’), in Spain, and it was ODESSA, and their sympathisers who managed to route Dr Josef Mengele to South America and away from the Nazi Hunters, thus evading justice for his war crimes. In contrast, Irish defence force personnel some of whom rest in eternal silence on the various battlefields throughout the world were still regarded with dishonour by the Irish government. Post 1945, one of the most repugnant instruments of printed injustice directed at service personnel, Emergency Powers (No. 362) Order 1945, was placed on the Irish statute book which resulted in the compilation of a list of those who had (allegedly) deserted the Irish defence force during the Emergency which included men who had lost their lives fighting against the Nazis and the Japanese during world war two. The blacklist was then distributed on a confidential basis by the Irish government to all state authorities barring their employment and various entitlements from state sources for seven years. On the 6th June 2011, this argument formed part of our campaign submission to the Irish government.
To resolve the issue, the Defence Forces (Second World War Amnesty and Immunity) Act (No 12) 2013, was initiated by the Minister for Defence Mr Allan Shatter TD, on behalf of the Irish government, and is an unprecedented, and historically significant piece of legislation, which exonerates members of the Irish defence forces who went AWOL (absent without leave) and joined UK or allied forces during world war two, and at the same time provides immunity from prosecution for others. Accompanied by an apology, this legislation comprehensively and unambiguously obliterates the imputation of guilt imposed by the post war Irish government on former blacklisted Irish defence force personnel. On Saturday the 15th June 2013, a private family commemorative event was held at the Irish National War Memorial, Islandbridge, Dublin, to mark the passing of the Amnesty and Immunity Bill, and it’s signing into Irish law on the 14th May 2013 by the President of Ireland. Simultaneously with the Dublin event, poppy wreaths/crosses/flowers were placed in remembrance at the war graves of known former Irish defence force personnel and at war memorials in various countries worldwide.
Although the Irish Amnesty and Immunity Act will address and resolve insofar as possible historical issues, the memory of family experience will always be in the background and will take time to heal. At least this generation of Irish politicians are making an honourable attempt to rectify questionable past political decisions and have conducted their debates constructively and sympathetically with due regard for all concerns. Some have said the Amnesty legislation is perhaps too little to late. However, there were political obstacles which bedevilled British Irish relationships over the years and which arguably would have made it very difficult for any Irish government to act on the issue prior to May 2011. Irrespective, the Amnesty accompanied by an apology will remove the stigma from those who were blacklisted and should also be seen as an act of reconciliation. Yes, 68 years on from the end of world war two might seem to little to late…but better late than never.
The Irish Minister for Defence Mr Allan Shatter TD supported by his staff and members of Dail and Seanad Eireann (Irish Parliament and Irish Senate) are to be congratulated for having the political courage and integrity in bringing the Amnesty and Immunity Act to a successful conclusion, and is an occasion of historical significance. In the full knowledge that they have now been formally recognised and honoured as part of the collective remembrance of the island of Ireland, the last of our old soldiers, and their families, can live out the rest of their lives with some semblance of honour restored. Consequently, the Irish Soldiers Pardons Campaign (WW2) was stood down on the 15th June 2013.
IN DECEMBER 2013, STUDENTS IN THE USA EMAILED THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS:
1: What was the Irish Soldiers Pardon Campaign?
ANS: The Irish Soldiers Pardons Campaign (WW2) was a campaign effort put together to obtain some form of redress for servicemen who allegedly deserted the Irish Defence forces during world war two to fight against the Nazis and Japanese, and whom in August 1945 were dismissed en masse and in absentia by the Irish government pursuant to Emergency Powers Order (No 362) 1945, which included dismissing those who had already been killed in action.
2: What was your involvement in the 2013 Irish Soldiers Pardon Campaign?
ANS: I initiated the campaign in May 2011 and managed the campaign effort as a team project from the outset until its conclusion in June 2013.
3: Why did you initiate 2013 Irish Soldiers Pardon Campaign?
ANS: It was the right thing to do. The cordial response from the Irish public to the Queens visit to Ireland in May 2011, suggested that there would be a chance of success to seek redress from the Irish government for these blacklisted soldiers and their families. There was a legacy of hurt within family history which was still extant and needed to be resolved. One had previous experience organising a campaign for pardons for executed Irish born British world war one soldiers and was confident that the current Irish Government (Fine Gael/Labour coalition) would be open to resolving historical and sensitive issues within the context of the ongoing peace process.
4: How did you participate?
ANS: Made the submission, funded the project throughout, designed the website, the leaflets, constructed the legal arguments and organised the petition online and on the streets outside the general post office in Dublin etc. Managing the campaign from the outset in May 2011, until its successful conclusion in June 2013.
5: Did you meet any resistance in the campaign?
ANS: Yes. Initially there were vociferous objections through the letters page of the press and argument was proffered that the defence of the state and loyalty to their oath was paramount. Some of these contributors who objected to any resolution to the pardons issue lacked an understanding of Irish military law. Irrespective of various moral force arguments being promulgated as to whether individuals joined UK forces or not Irish defence force personnel alleged to be deserters post war were subject to Irish military law and as such a court-martial had jurisdiction in which to try and punish any person for an offence against military law, committed by such person while subject to military law, and was the appropriate legal forum to adjudicate in each case. Dail Eireann/Irish Parliament cannot stand as judge, jury and executioner, is not a military court of law and no amount of side stepping or obfuscation of the English language on the part of these objectors could have changed that fact. The enactment of an Emergency Powers Order on the 8 August 1945 by the de Valera government to deal with the military offence of desertion was a cynical political exercise which deprived a military court of its jurisdiction, demonstrating an utter contempt for any rights that defence force personnel may have had pursuant to the Irish constitution. The issue has always been about political interference in dealing with the military offence of desertion which inevitably led to an injustice because the due process inherent in a court-martial and which is a distinct feature and judicial attribute of an Irish military court of law was not observed by the de Valera government post war. There were on street threats during the petition signing but they were only made by a handful of individuals. The majority of people were in support.
6: What was the outcome?
ANS: The introduction of the Irish Defence Forces (Second World War Amnesty and Immunity) Act (No 12) 2013 initiated by Minister for Defence Mr Allan Shatter TD on behalf of the Irish Government is an unprecedented and historically significant legislative act which exonerates members of the Irish defence forces who went AWOL (absent without leave) and joined UK or allied forces during world war two, and vindicates the campaign strategy.
7: What were the attitudes towards the soldiers during World War II?
ANS: There was a general anti-British view in Ireland and those that joine d UK forces would have been viewed by many as traitors.
8: What were the attitudes towards the soldiers after World War II?
ANS: They would have been regarded as traitors. Survivors and their families post war would have kept a low profile and got on as best they could. Many had to emigrate back to the UK and other parts of the commonwealth as they could not get a job in post war Ireland because of the barring order.
9: Have the attitudes of Irish citizens changed since the campaign?
ANS: Yes. The campaign prompted a debate which contributed to a better understanding of the history of these men and their families and the conditions they had to undergo in post war Ireland.
10: In your opinion, were the soldiers justified in joining the British Army?
ANS: The legal issues as to the rights or responsibilities of defence force personnel who went absent without leave to join allied forces in the fight against the axis powers should have been adjudicated by the military courts and not by politicians. However desertion in any army is a serious offence and such offences are determined by the military courts/tribunals. During world war two, the threats to international peace presented by the Nazis and Japanese would suggest that a greater good was served by men joining UK or allied forces in the fight against fascism. Although these men went absent without leave to join in the fight they did not go absent to run away.
11: In your opinion, was Ireland justified in its desire to remain neutral?
ANS: Yes, absolutely. De Valera had no choice. However Irish neutrality was benevolent in support of the allied war effort.
12: In your opinion, was the government justified in its treatment of these soldiers?
ANS: No it was not justified. There were other constitutional ways to deal with the issue. Irrespective of the emergency legislation that was introduced in 1939, those accused of desertion had a right in law to adduce evidence in their defence. The Emergency Powers Order introduced by the Irish Government in 1945 to dismiss and punish personnel was not an adjudication by military tribunal. In fact the post war Irish Government had for the sake of political expediency subverted the function of the military courts to deal with allegations of desertion which denied servicemen their constitutional right to due process in a military court.
13: Is there anything else you feel is important for us to know about this topic?
ANS: Please Note: In 1977 President Jimmy Carter, issued a broad amnesty to draft evaders and argued that their crimes were forgotten, not forgiven. This qualification made clear that the purpose of his amnesty was not to erase a criminal act, nor to condone or forgive it, but simply to facilitate political reconciliation. In contrast, the Irish Defence Forces (Second World War Amnesty and Immunity) Act (No 12) 2013 initiated by Minister for Defence Mr Allan Shatter TD on behalf of the Irish Government, is an unprecedented and historically significant legislative act which exonerates members of the Irish defence forces who went AWOL (absent without leave) and joined UK or allied forces during world war two, and at the same time provides immunity from prosecution for others. By excluding compensation the Act also alleviates any financial burden that might have been levied upon the state, and accompanied by an apology, comprehensively and unambiguously obliterates the imputation of guilt imposed by the introduction of Emergency Powers Order 362 on the 8th of August 1945. The Defence Forces (Second World War Amnesty and Immunity) Act (No 12) 2013 is an Amnesty and not a Pardon. A Pardon is the forgiveness of an offence, whereas the construct and effect of this amnesty and immunity legislation is to exculpate all concerned from allegations of desertion thereby removing the stigma of dishonour associated with being blacklisted. The Minister for Defence, Mr Allan Shatter TD, supported by his staff and members of Dail and Seanad Eireann, are to be congratulated for having the political courage and integrity in bringing the Amnesty and Immunity Act to a successful conclusion and is an occasion of historical significance. In the full knowledge that they have now been formally recognised and honoured as part of the collective remembrance of the island of Ireland the last of our old soldiers and their families can live out the rest of their lives with some semblance of honour restored.
IRISH SOLDIERS CAMPAIGN (WW2) – TELEVISION/RADIO BROADCASTS: 2011-2013
● Pardon For The Disowned Army – BBC Radio 4 – August 2012: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EBS0mM-tryA&feature=youtu.be
● BBC One Show – 28 August 2012 – Britain’s Irish Soldiers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rUHLBfy04Vw&feature=youtu.be
● NDR Fernsehen Hamburg: The Long Road To Rehabilitation: November 2012: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GVBNIgo6kHQ&feature=youtu.be
● British Forces TV: Pardon for Irish Troops Dubbed Deserters 07.05.13: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hJeZ1I-Vc40
● TV News Compilation – 7 May 2013: Announcement of Amnesty and Immunity Legislation re Irish Defence Force Personnel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBttXQETqIA&feature=youtu.be
● Voice of Russia UK: 08 May 2013: Irish Deserters Finally Forgiven: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fnNdiF5IAIg&feature=youtu.be
● BBC News-Europe: May 2013: WWII Irish ‘deserters’ finally get pardons: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-22425684
● CBS TV: Forgotten Irish Soldiers – 24 May 2013: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cspyo4Zju-U
● RTE News: Saturday 15 June 2013: Conclusion of the Irish Soldiers Pardons Campaign (WW2): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_A4azvahxpw&feature=youtu.be
Peter Mulvany B.C.L., HDip Arts Admin, Coordinator, Irish Soldiers Pardons Campaign (WW2):