THOUSANDS of Irish soldiers who deserted the Defence Forces during World War II to fight on the Allied side against the Germans will receive an official amnesty and apology from the Government this afternoon.
The bill, which was introduced by Justice and Defence Minister Alan Shatter, provides for the granting of an amnesty and apology to troops who went absent without leave during the war and joined the Allies to fight the Nazis.
Speaking to the Irish Independent last night, Mr Shatter said the enactment of the new act would put right a serious injustice to the brave soldiers.
"Tens of thousands of Irish people put their lives at risk during World War Two in the fight against fascism and tyranny," he said.
"They included approximately 5,000 members of our Defence Forces who absented themselves without leave or permission and who were either court martialed or simply dismissed from the Defence Forces.
"When they returned to Ireland at the end of the war, they were treated shamefully by the State, despite their bravery.
"They were excluded for over seven years from employment by the State or by any state body and were essentially treated as outcasts.
"Today in Dail Eireann, the Defence Forces (Second World War Amnesty and Immunity) Bill will complete its enactment through both Houses of the Oireachtas.
"It is being enacted in recognition of the courage and bravery of those individuals court martialed or dismissed from the Defence Forces who fought on the Allied side to protect decency and democracy during World War II.
"It gives important statutory expression to the apology given by me on behalf of the State last year for the shameful manner in which they were treated.
"The enactment of this legislation makes an important difference to thousands of families in the State and goes some way to right the wrongs of our past," he added.
"Unfortunately, many of the individuals whose situation is addressed in this bill did not live to see the day that this State finally acknowledged the important role that they played in seeking to ensure a free and safe Europe."
At its peak during World War II, which was called "the Emergency" in Ireland, around 42,000 men served in the Defence Forces.
Over the course of the war, it is estimated that over 7,000 members of the Defence Forces deserted.
Of these, around 2,500 troops returned to their units or were apprehended and were tried by military tribunal.
More than 4,500 deserters were the subject of dismissal under the Emergency Powers (No 362) Order 1945.
In total, it is estimated that around 60,000 people from the Republic of Ireland fought in the British Forces including the army, navy and air force during World War II.