Call to correct Ireland's Holocaust-era 'moral bankruptcy'

Alan Shatter

Alan Shatter

The Irish Justice Minister has issued an apology for his country's treatment of thousands of soldiers who deserted the Irish army to fight against the Nazis during the Second World War.

Alan Shatter, who is Jewish, suggested on Wednesday that a pardon was on the way for soldiers who left Ireland "to fight for freedom and who were subsequently dishonourably discharged from the defence forces".

Mr Shatter, the MP for Dublin South, said that for too long, the contribution of "many who fought in British uniforms during that war…in preserving European and Irish democracy" had been ignored.

Nearly 5,000 men deserted the politically neutral Irish forces to fight alongside the Allies, but on their return the Irish government refused to give them military pensions and blocked them from certain state roles. "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 the war, who returned to our State having fought for freedom and democracy," said Mr Shatter

The pardon must be officially approved by attorney General Máire Whelan but has overwhelming political support.

Mr Shatter, speaking just days before International Holocaust Memorial Day, also criticised the "moral bankruptcy" of Irish neutrality during the war, including a visit by the then president to the German ambassador in 1945 to express condolences on Hitler's death.

"This 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," he said. "At a time when neutrality should have ceased to be an issue the government...utterly lost its moral compass."

Last updated: 10:31am, January 26 2012