Shot at Dawn Campaign

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 1 (Jan/Feb 2007), Letters, Letters, Volume 15, World War I

Sir,

—In the Jan./Feb. 2005 issue of History Ireland you kindly permitted our campaign the opportunity to raise the case for pardons for 26 Irish-born British soldiers executed for military offences during World War I. Many of your readers offered support and constructive criticism that was greatly appreciated and beneficial to the Irish effort. I am to say a heartfelt thanks to all concerned and draw your attention to the fact that the passing into British law of the Pardons for Servicemen Executed for Disciplinary Offences: Recognition as Victims of the First World War Act on Wednesday 8 November 2006 meets the objective of the Shot at Dawn Campaign Irl, in that the amendment, while it will not affect the royal prerogative of mercy, is a political mechanism that allows for retrospective pardons in World War I execution cases, with an extra safeguard giving families the right to petition for the royal prerogative of mercy if they so wish.
While this British pardon will not overturn the original verdicts or sentences, we are satisfied, taking into account Defence Secretary Des Brown’s statement of clarification on 18 September 2006, together with the minister’s concluding remarks during the recent Commons debate, that the intention of the pardon is to remove the dishonour of the executions and that it stands as a recognition that execution was not a fate that the servicemen deserved. It should be noted that the New Zealand Pardon for Soldiers of the Great War Act 2000 and Mr Justice Burnton’s opinion in the Farr case early in 2005 set both the political and legal parameters for future British action on the pardons issue. While this amendment is flawed, we believe that it goes some way (warts and all) towards meeting the New Zealand pardons act, which was primarily introduced to remove, in so far as practicable, the stigma attached to the executions of New Zealand soldiers and which also did not quash the conviction or sentence of those executed.
On Friday 10 November 2006 Christy Walshe, a relative of Private Patrick Downey executed in 1915 for disobedience, stated on RTÉ television that he felt that the pardon removed the stigma from his family; towards the end of his comments, in a remarkable act of reconciliation, he advised that, as he wanted dignified closure, he also wanted to forgive the men who had executed his relative.
In conclusion, the Shot at Dawn Campaign Irl would like to take this opportunity to commend the moral courage of Defence Secretary Des Browne MP for his positive action on the World War I pardons issue and wish to express our deep gratitude to Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern TD and his staff in Iveagh House for their enduring support for our efforts. Many organisations, politicians of different hues, councils, trade unions, the media and particularly the ordinary man and woman in the street throughout Ireland and further afield have supported the Irish Shot at Dawn Campaign over the years and are now entitled to share in the collective credit. On behalf of our families we thank you all.

—Yours etc.,
PETER MULVANY

Shot at Dawn Campaign Irl

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