Monday 27 January 2020

Apology to World War II veterans is welcome

WHEN you join a national army you become subject to military law. It means you must not desert – and you must specifically not desert and join the army of another country. That principle has operated in all armies since the dawn of time and has usually been rigorously applied in time of war. It guided the Irish authorities' attitude to the 5,000 men who deserted the Irish Defence Forces in the period 1939-1945 and went, wearing another uniform, to fight the Nazis directly.

The arguments were further backed by the 41,000 Irish people who voluntarily rallied to the Irish Army, Navy and other services during what we called 'The Emergency'. They stood their ground and were ready to face the threat of invasion had it come.

What would have happened had the other Irish soldiers and sailors left? And what example and precedent would be set down for future generations of Irish military personnel in another time of need if desertion was tolerated or condoned?

But last night this thinking – which persisted for much of the past seven decades – was put to one side. Legislation providing for an amnesty and apology to Defence Force members who fought with Allied forces during World War II was initiated and will be enacted soon.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter acknowledged that these people – many of whom suffered injury and imprisonment during the war in which they served with distinction – had been ill-used in Ireland by an inflexible and unduly harsh view of life. What was missing over too many years was the factoring in of horrific revelations of the Nazi death camps and the very real threat posed by fascism in the 1930s and 1940s to the future of all mankind.

The reality is that all Irish men and women who fought Hitler and Mussolini deserve to be revered. The case of Irish Defence Force personnel who changed uniform in a very valid cause has long deserved this special consideration.

Sadly, the policy reversal and recognition came too late for many World War II veterans who have since died. But it is good for their families who had to suffer insult, taunts and discrimination at the hands of so-called Irish patriots, many of whom were just boors.

Mr Shatter is to be congratulated for belatedly righting this wrong. It is a beneficial move for all and another positive step towards taking a fuller view of the history of all our people in the context of their times.

Geoghegan-Quinn should lead by example and give up airport perk

EU COMMISSIONER Maire Geoghegan-Quinn has long been seen as an able politician with an admirable ability to fight her own corner. Her refusal to give up using the taxpayer-funded perk of VIP facilities at Dublin Airport is in keeping with her fearless character. But her determined stance, saying she will continue to avail of the perk as long as the Irish Government funds it, is surely misplaced.

Last year Ms Geoghegan-Quinn used the perk 22 times at a cost of more than €5,500 to the taxpayer. That would fund 29 weeks of unemployment benefit for a single person who is out of work.

Others who qualify for this facility are former presidents, and records show that former President Mary Robinson has also availed of it. In the greater scheme of things the amounts involved are not huge. But in these straitened times the symbolism and example being shown is important.

When the Irish Independent first raised the issue a month ago, Transport Minister Leo Varadkar promised to look into it. But since then the only thing we have heard is the Irish EU Commissioner's dismissal of any suggestion that she will cease to avail of it.

The VIP airport perk has already been withdrawn from former Taoisigh. Perhaps it is time for Mr Varadkar to extend that withdrawal.

Irish Independent

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