Officer fights to clear his name, 40 years on
Soldier's life was ruined when he was discharged by the President on suspicion of involvement with splinter group
Published 14/03/2010 | 05:00
For 40 years former Irish army lieutenant Donal de Roiste has challenged the decision by then President Eamon deValera to forcibly retire him from the Defence Forces. Now his name may be cleared by a new inquiry.
Mr de Roiste, who is now 65, of Ballincollig, Co Cork, was forced from the army "in the interests of the service" on grounds that he was suspected of associating with persons engaged in subversive activities -- an allegation he has vehemently denied for four decades.
Even though his removal from the defence forces happened 28 years earlier, it hit the headlines again during the presidential election campaign in 1997 when his sister, the Chernobyl campaigner Adi Roche, was the nominee of the Labour Party, Democratic Left and the Green Party.
The retirement of her brother from the army in controversial circumstances was raised during the race for the presidency in what was seen by many as an attempted smear. Ms Roche eventually came fourth out of five candidates.
Now Mr de Roiste's campaign to clear his name has taken a major step forward after independent senators put forward a motion, in the interests of natural justice, calling on the Minister for Defence to request and advise the President to revoke and reverse the withdrawal of Mr de Roiste's commission.
Under a government amendment to that motion, a new review will now be undertaken to determine whether the decision to compulsorily retire Lt de Roiste from the Army was a reasonable one.
Defence Minister of State Pat Carey told the Seanad that the Government had decided to undertake a further review of the documentation on Mr de Roiste's file to address the considerations set out in a High Court judgment of 2005. It is expected the review will be completed before the end of the year.
Mr de Roiste will be offered the opportunity to make written submissions to the review based on the documentation relating to the circumstances of his retirement, which had been made available to him.
Mr de Roiste, who said he is now "mostly retired", told the Sunday Independent that he was "delighted and elated" at the seanad proceedings, which he watched live on the internet in the US where he is visiting his children.
"I hope this is a step along the road to me being vindicated after all this time," he said.
"After I was retired I became a pariah. Eventually I had to emigrate, first to London, where I worked in a bar and then America where I stayed until 1988. My potential as a human being was destroyed during the course of the interrogation and by the false labelling of me as a terrorist.
"Being fired by a President is an awful serious indictment. The state put 'profession deleted' on my passport. When the issue of becoming a citizen of the United States came up they ask about previous service in an army.
"When the US authorities asked me to explain what they called 'this retirement by the President stuff', I was not able to offer an explanation. That is how it has followed me. It haunted me all my life, wrecked my family and wrecked my chances of American citizenship really."
Outlining the circumstances of the case in the Seanad, Mr Carey said that in 1969 a report had been received by the director of military intelligence that the then-lieutenant had been in the company of an IRA splinter group, which included an individual on remand for offences related to what was understood to be an incident where gardai were fired upon.
"Subsequently, he was seen talking to this individual at an auction of surplus military vehicles in Clancy Barracks, Dublin, on April 23, l969."
Under the government amendment to the independent senators' motion, the Judge Advocate General will be asked to select a nominee to carry out a review of Mr de Roiste's file.
Sen Eoghan Harris, proposing the original motion, said he thought Lt de Roiste had not been afforded natural justice.
Mr Harris said he did not have clean hands in the matter. "I am guilty by association because, like most human beings, I assumed that whatever was done must have been all right, and we all know from the Birmingham Six how dangerous an assumption that is."
Mr Harris said the Taoiseach had displayed enormous moral courage in the response he had made to the motion.
Sen Joe O'Toole asked that Mr Carey ensure that whoever was chosen to review the case would have no connection with the Army.
Mr O'Toole complimented Mr Harris for his courage in putting a public apology on the record for the mistakes he felt he had made 13 years ago.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Mr de Roiste said he wanted to put on record his thanks to the independent senators.