My officials met with the British Ministry of Defence in London on 6 February 2004 to discuss the 26 Irish born soldiers who were executed by the British Army during the First World War for alleged breaches of military law. At that meeting it was agreed that the British side would forward the courts martial case files for the Irish men in question and that in response we would formally set out our position in writing.
Following a thorough evaluation of the case files, which we received in April, and the consideration of extensive supplementary information provided by a number of sources, the Embassy of Ireland, London, submitted a report on this matter on 27 October 2004 to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on my behalf.
None of the men was charged with what would be viewed as the most serious of military crimes, such as treacherously deserting to the enemy, or mutiny. In fact, public and parliamentary dissatisfaction with the number and manner of military executions during World War I was such that the death penalty was repealed for the military offences under which each execution took place only ten years after the war had ended. In addition, there is evidence to suggest a disparity in the treatment of lower ranks in comparison to officers, statistical evidence that highlights a harsher disciplinary regime faced by men from Ireland in comparison to men from other countries and numerous references to the need for an example to be made when sentencing was being considered. The report concludes that the cumulative effect of the issues raised therein casts serious doubt on the safety of these courts martial convictions and subsequent executions.
We have, therefore, asked the British Government to consider our report with a view to granting these men retrospective pardons. The British response in this regard is awaited.