Written Answers. - Defence Forces Absenteeism.

Paul McGrath

Question:

348 Mr. McGrath asked the Minister for Defence the number of illegal absentees from the Defence Forces who are currently at large; the time span to which the register of such personnel applies; the efforts being made by the Defence Forces to apprehend such persons; the number of such persons who have been arrested; and if there is a procedure for granting pardons to such persons after a reasonable length of time. [20591/00]

The military authorities advise that there are approximately 3,500 personnel currently registered as being illegally absent for periods in excess of one year. However, some of these cases were originally recorded as being illegally absent quite some time ago and, in some cases, as far back as 1945. It follows that many of these individuals would now in fact either be very advanced in years or be deceased.

An "illegal absentee" is anyone who is registered as being in excess of 21 days absent from the Defence Forces. On being registered as being illegally absent, notification is sent by the unit concerned to the military police and to the Garda inspector of the district in which the individual would normally reside.

Thereafter, in consultation with the gardaí, the military police will visit the last known address of the individual and, if found, he/she will be detained by the military police and returned to his/her unit.

The procedure in military law with regard to such absentees is that a court of inquiry is held pursuant to section 147 of the Defence Act in respect of each such absentee. A record would exist in the service books of each unit to the effect that the person concerned had been declared to be absent without leave from a specific date. Pursuant to the provisions of section 135(2)(f2>b) of the Defence Act, that person is also presumed to have deserted the Defence Forces.

There is a simple procedure available for long-term absentees to surrender themselves and for trial to be dispensed with. Furthermore, a pragmatic approach is taken to the question of using powers against long-term absentees, particularly those who are advanced in years.