MINISTER COWEN PLEDGES SUPPORT FOR THE SHOT AT DAWN CAMPAIGN
The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Brian Cowen T.D., today announced his support for the Irish Shot at Dawn Campaign.
“The offences with which each Irishman was charged, convicted and summarily executed were repealed by the British authorities in 1930 following sustained lobbying by ex-servicemen disillusioned by the military system of the time” stated the Minister. “That itself indicated serious public concern at the time about the credibility of the convictions and sentences passed by the British military system of justice in the awful conditions prevailing on and near the battlefields.
“Moreover, it reflected serious concerns that the regularity and severity of disciplinary action for offences such as desertion, especially in the Irish Divisions, was envisaged by military commanders of the era as a means of deterrence to others rather than an expression of justice. In addition, the failure to give consideration to ameliorating medical conditions known at the time undermine, in my view, those convictions. I have instructed my officials to begin discussions with their British counterparts to re-establish the good names of these Irishmen.”
The Minister commended the work of Mr Mulvaney and also that of Mr John Hipkin, the British Shot at Dawn Coordinator. “The determination and selfless effort of those involved in the Campaign over the last number of years does them great credit and I applaud the substantial efforts made by them toward recognition of their goals.”
The Minister concluded: “Over the past decade, great progress has been made on this island in embracing all of our rich and varied heritage. The Good Friday Agreement is a part of that process and represents an historic accommodation between nationalists and unionists. As part of the momentum toward reconciliation, we have also embraced the sacrifice made by Irishmen who joined the British Army prior to Independence on the basis that they were fighting for small nations, men who were urged by political leaders to see Ireland's fate bound up with the outcome of World War I. It is an intrinsic part of this process that we show our concern at the treatment of those men, particularly in regard to treatment which resulted unfairly in their disgrace and execution.”
14 November 2003
NOTE FOR EDITORS
The Shot at Dawn Campaign, based in Britain, has been working for pardons for 306 British soldiers who it is claimed were unjustifiably executed following field courts-martial during World War I. Specifically, the Campaign is focussed on those offences that were repealed in the British Army and Air Force Acts of 1928 and 1930 (cowardice, desertion, falling asleep at post etc). The Shot at Dawn Campaign (Irl), coordinated by Mr Peter Mulvaney, is seeking a retrospective pardon for 26 of those executed men who it is thought were born in Ireland.
The current British position, as set out in a statement to the House of Commons in July 1998 by the then Minister for the Armed Forces, Dr. John Reid, is based on a review of the issue carried out by that Minister.
Following a review of material pertaining to the matter, Department officials identified a number of points which support Minister Cowen's position:
§ The disciplinary standards which soldiers of the day were subjected to were of concern to Parliament and public alike as early as 1915, and only continued to intensify until the death penalty was removed for the offences in question, in the British Army and Air Force Acts of 1928 and 1930.
§ Statistics are compelling with regard to the pattern of discrimination experienced by Irish troops. In comparison to British, Canadian and New Zealand troops, Irish soldiers were four times more likely to be executed as a result of courts-martial.
§ The prevalence of the British military to impose a harsh disciplinary stance toward lower ranks, and not the commissioned officers, suggests a judicial courts-martial system that was not impartial.
§ Soldiers suffering from shellshock, post traumatic stress disorder, mental breakdown etc, received little or no medical assistance, and the effects of these conditions on the mental state of the executed men were not taken into account in any substantive manner.
§ The campaign enjoys cross border, and cross community, support. Nationalists and unionists alike have expressed concern with regard to the executions, and have articulated a desire to see the commemoration of all those who died or suffered as a result of the war.
§ Concern about the safety of the convictions led the New Zealand Government to enact legislation in 2000 pardoning the five New Zealanders executed (The “Pardon for Soldiers of the Great War Act 2000”). In the words of the Act, “their execution was not a fate that they deserved”.