Ireland to pardon thousands of WWII deserters

Ireland is pardoning thousands of soldiers who deserted the neutral nation's military to fight with the Allies in World War II, Justice and Defence Minister Alan Shatter told parliament on Tuesday.

Ireland passed an emergency powers order in 1945 dishonourably discharging more than 4,500 deserters from the country's defence forces, most of whom joined the Allies to fight the Nazis.

Known as the "starvation" order, the move meant they were refused military pensions and were blacklisted from state jobs for seven years.

Shatter delivered a government apology to the Dail (lower house of parliament) for the way the deserters were treated after the war.

"The government recognises the value and importance of their military contribution to the Allied victory and will introduce legislation to grant a pardon and amnesty to those who absented themselves from the Defence Forces without leave or permission to fight on the Allied side," he said.

In granting an amnesty and pardon, Shatter said the government acknowledges that the war gave rise to grave and exceptional circumstances.

"Members of the Defence Forces left their posts at that time to fight on the Allied side against tyranny and, together with many thousands of other Irish men and women, played an important role in defending freedom and democracy.

"In the almost 73 years since the outbreak of World War II, our understanding of history has matured. It is time for understanding and forgiveness," Shatter said.

"At a time of greater insight and understanding of the shared history and experiences of Ireland and Britain, it is right that the role played by Irish veterans who fought on the Allied side be recognised and the rejection they experienced be understood," he added.

It is estimated that approximately 60,000 people from the Republic fought in the British army, navy or air force during World War II.

During her visit to Ireland last year Britain's Queen Elizabeth II laid a wreath at a Dublin memorial to those who died in the two world wars.

For decades, Irish soldiers who had fought in the two wars were virtually forgotten in the Republic of Ireland.

But since the landmark 1998 Good Friday peace deal in British-ruled Northern Ireland, recognition of their role has become a powerful symbol of reconciliation between London and Dublin.

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