Nearly 5,000 Irish soldiers, who deserted the Irish Defence Forces in order to enlist with the British Army, Navy or Air Force during the Second World War, are to be offered an amnesty and pardoned.
In an announcement made in the Dail yesterday, the Minister for Justice and Defence Alan Shatter apologised for the way these men were treated on their return when they were summarily dismissed from the Defence Forces and disqualified from holding state employment or receiving any form of pension for seven years. Rejected by the state, and to a considerable degree by society, many men and their families suffered extreme hardship.
This amnesty will remove the last vestiges of stigma.
Mr Shatter's statement said it was 'time for understanding and forgiveness' but added that the government did not condone desertion. '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.'
Legislation to provide an amnesty will be enacted later this year.
Judging by comments on some forums, blogs and websites today, the amnesty is not welcomed by all. Comments on Journal.ie provide a good example of how the debate continues.