Kevin Myers: No army can remain an army unless it punishes deserters. During the war, the Defence Forces had no choice but to prosecute such men
I THINK I may speak with a certain authority on the matter of the Army deserters who joined the British forces during World War Two. It was my column on this subject, following the visit of Queen Elizabeth last May, that prompted Peter Mulvany to begin his campaign to undo the shocking injustice of the blanket ban on state employment and state-welfare, imposed by the 1945 government on those deserters.
This issue has since been visited several times by RTE, but naturally, never to consult the journalist who had exposed the scandal in the first place. And naturally, the RTE documentary on the queen's visit managed to make no mention of the same journalist whose often solitary campaigning finally helped cause the Irish state to remember the Irish dead of the Great War, and to restore the Memorial Gardens at Islandbridge. Needless to say, the Government did not see fit to put that same journalist on any guest list for the queen's visit. This is Ireland, after all.
Now, as to the Army deserters, the issues are clear. Generally speaking, no army can remain an army unless it punishes deserters. During the war, the Defence Forces had no choice but to arrest and prosecute such men. But Oscar Traynor, the Minister for Defence in 1945, had no legal authority to suspend the implementation of martial law against individual soldiers, and instead of due process, to institute a blanket prohibition on welfare and employment. This was not merely an unconstitutional denial of the legal rights of the soldiers, but also a grave assault on the constitutional rights of their wives and children.