SOLDIERS who deserted the Irish Army to fight for the Allies during World War II are to be officially pardoned today.
Anticipating the enactment of the Defence Forces (Second World War Amnesty and Immunity) Bill, Defence Minister Alan Shatter said: "Tens of thousands of Irish people put their lives at risk ... in the fight against fascism and tyranny.
"They included approximately 5,000 members of our Defence Forces who absented themselves without leave or permission and who were either court-martialled or simply dismissed from the Defence Forces.
"Following the Second World War, they were for over seven years excluded from employment by the State or by any State body and were essentially treated as outcasts.
"The Bill is being enacted in recognition of the courage and bravery of those individuals.
"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 goes some way to right the wrongs of our past."
"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," Mr Shatter added.
Last year, the Government said it acknowledged the war gave rise to circumstances that were "grave and exceptional".
Those who fought on the Allied side also contributed to protecting the State's sovereignty and independence and democratic values, it said.
At its peak during World War II, the Defence Forces had about 42,000 serving personnel.
Over the course of the war, it is estimated that 7,000 members of the Defence Forces deserted.
Of these, around 2,500 returned to their units or were apprehended and tried by military tribunal.
More than 4,500 deserters were dismissed.
It is estimated that some 60,000 people from the Republic served in the Royal Air Force, the British Army or the Royal Navy during the war.
The new Bill also provides an immunity from prosecution to those who were or who still are liable to be prosecuted for desertion or being Awol.