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The Emergency (Irish: An Éigeandáil) was an official euphemism used by the Irish Government during the 1940s to refer to its position during World War II. The state was officially neutral during World War II, but declared an official state of emergency on 2 September 1939, and enacted the Emergency Powers Act the following day. This gave sweeping new powers to the government for the duration of the Emergency, such as internment, censorship of the press and correspondence, and the government control of the economy. The term has remained in use, for example, as a cultural and historic context in school books. The Emergency Powers Act finally lapsed on 2 September 1946. Although the state of emergency itself was not rescinded until 1 September 1976, no emergency legislation was ever in force after 1946 to exploit this anomaly.
In 6 December 1921, following the Anglo-Irish Treaty that ended the War of Independence, the island of Ireland became an autonomous dominion, known as the Irish Free State. However, on 8 December 1921, the six north-eastern counties, already known as Northern Ireland, voted to opt out of the Irish Free State and rejoin the United Kingdom. This Treaty settlement was immediately followed by the bitter Irish Civil War (between the pro-Treaty and anti-Treaty factions of the Irish Republican Army), which was strongly to affect Irish society and politics in subsequent years, but specifically in its responses to the coming global war.
After 1932, the governing party of the new state was the republican Fianna Fáil, led by Éamon de Valera (a veteran of both Irish wars). In 1937, de Valera successfully introduced a new constitution, which had distanced the state further from the United Kingdom, and which changed its name to "Ireland" (in Irish, Éire). In 1932-38 he had also conducted the Anglo-Irish Trade War.
De Valera had good relations with the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain and not only had been able to gain British recognition of the new constitution, but had negotiated the return of the Treaty Ports (three Irish ports – the coastal defences at Cobh Harbour and Bere Island in Co. Cork, and Lough Swilly in Co. Donegal that had remained under British jurisdiction after the Treaty), and resolved their economic differences. The major remaining disagreement between the countries was the status of Northern Ireland. The Irish saw it as an integral part of the nation of Ireland, while the British were unwilling to coerce the Unionist majority there into a united Ireland. Within Ireland itself, armed opposition to the treaty settlement took the name of the anti-treaty IRA, seeing itself as the "true" government of Ireland. This IRA mounted armed attacks both in Great Britain (most notably the S-Plan in 1939) and Ireland.
By September 1939, a general European war was inevitable. On 2 September, de Valera told the Dáil Éireann (the lower house of parliament) that neutrality was the best policy for the country. In this he was almost universally supported by the Dáil and the country at large (although many joined the British military). The 1937 Irish constitution was amended for the first time to allow the Government to take emergency powers, and then the Emergency Powers Act 1939 was passed that included censorship of the press and mail correspondence. The government was able to take control of the economic life of the country under the new Minister of Supply Seán Lemass. Liberal use was made of all of these powers. Internment of those who had committed a crime or were about to commit one would be used extensively against the IRA. Censorship was under the charge of the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defensive Measures, Frank Aiken. It was necessary to prevent publication of matter that might undermine the neutrality of the State and to prevent it becoming a clearing house for foreign intelligence, though over the period of the Emergency, the Act started to be used for more party political purposes such as preventing the publication of the numbers of Irish soldiers serving in the United Kingdom armed forces or industrial disputes within the state. In addition, the information made available to Irish people was also carefully controlled. De Valera performed the duties of Minister of External Affairs, though the secretary for the Department of External Affairs, Joseph Walshe, was very influential.
On the declaration of the emergency, Walshe asked for assurances from the German minister in Dublin, Eduard Hempel that Germany would not use its legation for espionage nor attack Irish trade with Britain. He then travelled to London on 6 September where he met the Dominions Secretary, Anthony Eden, who was conciliatory and defended Irish neutrality in subsequent Cabinet meetings. In addition, the appointment of Sir John Maffey as a British representative in Dublin was agreed.
For the Irish government, neutrality meant not showing partiality to either side. On one hand, that meant the open announcement of military activity such as the sighting of submarines or the arrival of parachutists, and the suppression of any foreign intelligence activity. Ireland's geographic position meant that this policy (which was, in the view of most historians,[who?] applied fully and consistently) tended to benefit the Allies more than Germany. For example, British servicemen who crashed over the State were allowed to go free if they could claim not to have been on a combat mission, otherwise they were released "on licence" (promise to remain). Many chose to escape to Great Britain via Northern Ireland. Also, Allied mechanics were allowed to retrieve crash landed Allied aircraft. There was extensive cooperation between British and Irish intelligence and the exchange of information such as detailed weather reports of the Atlantic Ocean; the decision to go ahead with the D-day landings was decided by a weather report from Blacksod Bay, County Mayo.
On the other hand, the government did not show any overt preference for either side, unlike the United States when it was neutral. This is partly because de Valera had to keep national unity, which meant accommodating the large swathe of Irish society that rejected anything to do with the British, some of whom admired Germany (which had failed in an attempt to supply a small cache of arms to the rebels of 1916) to some extent. These attitudes were shared by Aiken, and Walshe, and to a large extent by de Valera himself. The Fianna Fáil government ruled alone and did not accommodate any other party in decision-making, unlike the British National Government.
In the early months of the emergency, the greatest threat to the State came from the IRA. In the Christmas Raid in 1939, one million rounds of ammunition were stolen from the Irish Army by the IRA (though it was mostly recovered in the following weeks) and there were a number of killings, mostly of policemen. In addition, the existing emergency legislation was undermined by the obtaining of a writ of habeas corpus by Seán MacBride which resulted in the release of all those who had been interned. The government responded with the 1939 and 1940 Offences Against the State Acts, which established the Special Criminal Court, and rearrested and interned IRA activists. A hunger strike was started in Mountjoy Prison in an attempt to gain political status, which collapsed after the death of two prisoners. In retaliation Dublin Castle was bombed and there were a number of serious incidents throughout the country.
The IRA fostered links with German intelligence (the Abwehr) and Foreign Ministry, with men such as Francis Stuart travelling to Germany to talk, though these attempts were largely ineffectual due to a combination of Abwehr and Foreign Ministry incompetence and IRA weakness. Germans also came to Ireland, the most notable of whom was Hermann Görtz, who was captured in possession of "Plan Kathleen"- an IRA plan that detailed a German supported invasion of Northern Ireland. (See also: Irish Republican Army – Abwehr collaboration in World War II).
Two IRA men were executed for the murder of two policemen in September 1940, and the IRA became increasingly ineffective in the face of the resolute use of internment, the breaking of hunger strikes, and the application of hanging for capital offences. During 1941, the hope of a German invasion had faded and funding from the United States had been cut off. The IRA leadership were mostly interned within the Curragh Camp, where they were treated increasingly harshly, or on the run. Most internees accepted release on parole. The IRA remained barely active in Northern Ireland, but they were not a threat to the stability of Ireland.
The United Kingdom was now the only major impediment to Germany. A major British concern was now whether Germany would invade Ireland. The British view was that the Irish Army was not powerful enough to resist an invasion for long enough for reinforcement from the UK, particularly with the IRA as a potential fifth column, and wished to be able to forestall this by stationing troops and ships within the Irish state. In addition, this view made the UK reluctant to provide military supplies because of the risk of them falling into German hands after an invasion. The Irish government's view was that they would be more successful against the Germans than the states already occupied, and there could be no agreement for joint military measures while partition continued, and would not commit themselves beyond neutrality for the whole island should it end.
By June 1940, the British representative in Ireland, Maffey, was urging that "the strategic unity of our island group" should take precedence over Ulster Unionism, and Churchill was making clear that there should be no military action taken against Ireland. The British Minister for Health, Malcolm MacDonald, who had negotiated the 1938 trade agreement with Ireland whilst Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, was sent to Dublin to explore possibilities with De Valera. From these Chamberlain produced a six-point proposal that committed the UK government to a united Ireland and proposed the setting-up of a joint body to effect this. A Joint Defence Council would be set up immediately and the State provided with military equipment. In return the State would join the Allies and intern all German and Italian aliens. Rejected by the Irish government, the proposal was then amended to strengthen the steps towards a united Ireland, and no longer requiring Ireland to join the war, but only to invite British forces to use Irish bases and ports. De Valera rejected the revised proposal on 4 July and made no counter proposal. One reason for this would have been the difficult calculation of how damaging the inevitable split in Ireland would be if such a proposal was accepted. One of the main reasons was that the Irish Government thought that the UK would lose the war and did not want to be on the losing side: during the negotiations Walshe had produced two memoranda for De Valera (one entitled Britain's Inevitable Defeat) predicting the isolation of Britain, the dismemberment of its empire, and finally its inevitable crushing by Germany. Walshe also wrote approvingly of the character of the Pétain government. Walshe's memoranda affected de Valera, with him telling MacDonald that Britain could not destroy this [German] colossal machine.
The great majority of Ireland's trade was with the United Kingdom, and most of its supplies came from there. This created great difficulties for the Irish government as Germany tried to blockade the UK and Britain required Irish ships to operate under their 'navicert' system. In September 1940, a joint agreement on trade, shipping and exports fell through, "the main sticking point between the two sides was the prices on offer from Britain"  owing to the refusal to allow transshipment and repair facilities following German pressure, including the threat to blockade Ireland and the bombing of Ambrosetown and Campile in County Wexford. In the autumn of 1940, the threat of German invasion had receded, but relations between the UK and Ireland deteriorated, largely as a result of the increased losses of Allied shipping to U-boat attack. To try to prevent some of these losses, the UK wanted sea and air bases in western Ireland. On 5 November, in the House of Commons, Churchill complained:
The fact that we cannot use the South and West coasts of Ireland to refuel our flotillas and aircraft and thus protect the trade by which Ireland as well as Great Britain lives, is a most heavy and grievous burden and one which should never have been placed on our shoulders, broad though they may be.
The Irish government chose to interpret this sentence (out of a seven page speech) as a threat of invasion. Some sort of armed occupation was a real possibility, but the balance of evidence is that there was never a serious threat. Large elements of the British cabinet and government and those of its allies were opposed to any armed intervention in Ireland; however, in late 1940 and early 1941, relations between the two countries did worsen. The British stopped informing Ireland of its order of battle in Northern Ireland, while the Irish Army drew up plans for defence against the British. The United Kingdom also started to restrict trade to Ireland, reasoning that if Ireland would not do anything to protect the lives of those bringing in supplies, it should at least share in the deprivations being felt in the UK. Relations between the UK and Ireland only really eased in the middle of 1941 with the invasion of the Soviet Union by Germany and an agreement to allow Irish immigration to Britain to work in the war industries, resulting in up to 200,000 Irish people doing so by 1945.
At the beginning of the Second World War, the United States president was Franklin Roosevelt. The United States was neutral, and Roosevelt's actions were circumscribed by neutrality legislation; however, Roosevelt was a vehement anti-Nazi, an unequivocal supporter of the UK in the war, and personally close to Churchill. The U.S. minister to Ireland was David Gray, a personal friend of Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor. De Valera saw the U.S. as a bulwark against invasion from any party, while the U.S. saw the support of Britain in the war as the priority, and so while supportive of Irish neutrality was sceptical of it extending over the whole island and wanted an arrangement to be made with the UK over ports, possibly through the leasing of them.
The sale of arms was a major issue. The declaration of war legally impeded the U.S. from selling any arms to belligerents under the laws in force at the time, this led to Ireland being briefly considered as a possible conduit for arms sales to circumvent the law. However, in November 1939 Congress agreed to change the law to allow the sale of arms to all belligerents on a "cash and carry" basis. Nevertheless the Irish government wanted the U.S. to sell them arms. This was supported by Gray, and by the British government, but only if not at the expense of their own allocation. As a result, in 1940 all surplus U.S. arms were sold to the UK and Canada.
The strong support of the UK by the Roosevelt administration led the Irish government to try to bolster anti-Roosevelt isolationist opinion in the November 1940 presidential election and a Christmas radio broadcast by de Valera to the U.S. supporting isolationism. An attempt to influence Roosevelt's special emissary, Wendell Willkie on a visit to Great Britain and Ireland January 1941, failed. In a further attempt to obtain arms from the U.S. de Valera decided that Aiken should visit Washington. Gray supported the idea of a visit, but had doubts over whether Aiken was the right person to make it, and stressed that the Irish were only likely to obtain arms if they co-operated with the British Purchasing Commission. Aiken left Ireland in March 1941. For his St Patrick's day address, de Valera claimed that Ireland was under blockade from both sides and that neutrality protected Ireland from "the hazards of imperial adventure". Aiken's visit was disastrous. His anti-British views and, in American eyes, overestimation of Ireland's military capabilities went across all the administration's policies towards the war. As well as alienating Roosevelt and other members of the administration, he failed to use the letters of introduction to senior Democrats, including Eleanor Roosevelt, provided to him by Gray. Aiken spent the last seven weeks of his visit on what was seen as an anti-administration speaking tour, associating closely with isolationist opinion. The result was that the U.S. would not sell any armaments to the State, and relations between the two countries significantly worsened, the U.S. becoming even more unequivocal in its support of the UK. In October 1941 on receiving a note from the Irish government asking for its intentions with regard to Northern Ireland on the stationing of personnel associated with lend-lease, the U.S. State Department referred them to the British government as Northern Ireland was, they insisted, part of the UK.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland (as part of the United Kingdom) was at war and the Harland and Wolff shipyards in Belfast were among the strategic targets for German attack. The Luftwaffe carried out a bombing raid on Belfast on 7 April 1941; eight people died. On 15 April 1941, 180 Luftwaffe bombers attacked Belfast. There was only one RAF squadron and seven anti-aircraft batteries to defend Belfast. However, they ceased firing lest they damage the RAF aircraft. Over 200 tons of explosives, 80 landmines attached to parachutes and 800 firebomb canisters were dropped. Over 1,000 died and 56,000 houses (more than half of the city's housing stock) were damaged leaving 100,000 temporarily homeless. Outside of London, this was the greatest loss of life in a night raid during the Battle of Britain mostly due to the lack of aerial defences over Belfast. At 4.30 AM Basil Brooke asked de Valera for assistance. Within two hours, 13 fire tenders from Dublin, Drogheda, Dundalk and Dún Laoghaire were on their way to cross the Irish border to assist their Belfast colleagues. De Valera followed up with his "they are our people" speech. Although there was a later raid on 4 May, it was confined to the docks and shipyards.
In early January 1941, there had been several minor German bombings of Irish territory. There were three deaths in Borris, County Carlow and other incidents in Wexford, Dublin and at the Curragh. The public mood was already agitated, fearing a German invasion and the implications of the bombings added to the concern. So as not to antagonise the Germans further, the Irish authorities initially declined to confirm that the bombs were German. Public speculation, and IRA claims, that the bombs were British, or German but released by British aircraft, later prompted Irish Government denials.
On the night of 30/31 May 1941, Dublin's Northside was the target of a Luftwaffe air raid. Thirty-eight were killed and seventy houses were destroyed on Summerhill Parade, North Strand and the North Circular Road. The Irish government promptly protested and Germany apologised claiming that high winds were to blame or there had been British interference with navigation signals. Unlike the earlier bombing incidents, there was no public speculation that the perpetrators were other than the Luftwaffe. On 3 October, the German news agency announced that the German government would pay compensation, but only West Germany paid this after the war. Winston Churchill later conceded that the raids might have been the result of a British invention which distorted Luftwaffe radio guidance beams so as to throw their planes off course. Dublin also had a limited blackout system at the time, and the city was clearly visible, unlike British cities.
In pursuit of its policy of neutrality, the Irish Government refused to close the German and Japanese embassies. In 1939, the German Government had very little intelligence on Ireland and Britain. This is because Hitler had hoped for a détente or alliance with Britain, whom he considered the "natural allies" of Nazi Germany. When concerted efforts to build a reliable picture of British military strength did begin around 1939–1940, efforts were first made to infiltrate spies to Britain via Ireland, but these attempts consistently failed (See Operation Lobster and Operation Seagull). The Abwehr also made attempts to foster intelligence gathering links with the IRA, but found that the IRA was in no condition to be of serious use — these attempts were to occur during the period 1939–1943. The German military also drew up plans detailing how an invasion of Ireland might take place. These plans were titled Plan Green and any invasion was to act as a diversionary attack in support of a main attack to conquer Britain titled Operation Sea Lion. Both of these plans were shelved by 1942. When U.S. Army troops began to be stationed in Northern Ireland in 1942, Plan Green was reprinted because there was a fear amongst the German High Command, (and the Irish Government), that the U.S. Army might attempt an invasion of Ireland, following its occupation of Iceland (after the British invasion) and Greenland in 1941. These fears led to another German intelligence plan – Operation Osprey – but it was abandoned when the feared American invasion failed to take place.
The British also had a plan to occupy the entire Island as a response to any attempted German invasion. They had always sought to privately reassure de Valera that any invasion by their troops would be by invitation only. This scheme was titled Plan W and intricate details were worked out with the Irish government and military over how to react to a German invasion. The Irish military shared details of their defences and military capabilities with the British and troops stationed in Northern Ireland. The reassurances from the British did not altogether console de Valera however, and he was frequently suspicious, while German forces still threatened Britain, that the British might invade the territory of the State. He did not know that the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Craigavon was urging London to seize the port at Cobh, or that attempts had been made to split the consensus over the Neutrality policy. Concessions such as relaxing of the claim on Lough Swilly to allow British navy and airforce patrols did go some way to easing the tension. As the war turned against Nazi Germany in their eastern campaign, and as the Abwehr became less and less effective, around 1943–1944, operations in the island of Ireland ceased to be of interest to the German Government and military and therefore the British. Overall, during the period the focus of de Valera was maintaining Irish neutrality. The Irish authorities pursuit of an aggressive campaign of internment against the IRA, including raising the Local Security Force (LSF), executions, and aggressive action by Irish Military Intelligence (G2) meant that the activities of the German Legation in Dublin were supervised closely and attempts to infiltrate spies into the country were quickly discovered.
On the occasion of the death of Adolf Hitler, de Valera paid a controversial visit to Hempel to express sympathy with the German people over the death of the Führer. This action has been defended as proper given the state's neutrality. Sir John Maffey, the British Representative, commented that de Valera's actions were "unwise but mathematically consistent". Douglas Hyde, Ireland's president, also sent condolences, an action which enraged the United States minister as no similar action had taken place on the death of the United States President, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Yet all flags in Dublin were lowered to half-mast out of respect.
Elements of Irish public opinion were slow to accept the nature of the Nazi regime. A "Limerick Leader" editorial in 1945 noted that, "The campaign against war criminals is strangely confined to those who happen to fight on the wrong side." However it continued to say that
Allied atrocities cannot excuse the monstrous barbarism of the Reich.
According to some sources, it appears that there was official indifference from the political establishment to the Jewish victims of the holocaust during and after the war. This was despite de Valera having knowledge of the crimes committed against Jewish victims of the Holocaust as early as 1943. Other sources report that de Valera was so aware in 1942 and the government sought to secure the release of Jews from then. After the war had ended, Jewish groups had difficulty in getting refugee status for Jewish children – whilst at the same time, a plan to bring over four hundred Catholic children from the Rhineland encountered no difficulties. The Department of Justice explained in 1948 that:
It has always been the policy of the Minister for Justice to restrict the admission of Jewish aliens, for the reason that any substantial increase in our Jewish population might give rise to an anti-Semitic problem.
However, de Valera over-ruled the Department of Justice and the 150 refugee Jewish children were brought to Ireland in 1948. Earlier, in 1946, 100 Jewish children from Poland were bought to Clonyn Castle in County Meath by a London Jewish charity.
Esther Steinberg and her Paris-born, Belgian-fathered son were the only Irish victims of the holocaust, dying in Auschwitz having been transported there from Paris in 1942.
De Valera's reluctance to recognise a difference between World War II and previous European wars was illustrated by his reply to a radio broadcast by the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill on V-E Day. Churchill praised Britain's restraint in not occupying Ireland in order to secure the Western Approaches during the Battle of the Atlantic:
|“||the approaches which the southern Irish ports and airfields could so easily have guarded were closed by the hostile aircraft and U-boats. This indeed was a deadly moment in our life, and if it had not been for the loyalty and friendship of Northern Ireland, we should have been forced to come to close quarters with Mr. de Valera, or perish from the earth. However, with a restraint and poise to which, I venture to say, history will find few parallels, His Majesty’s Government never laid a violent hand upon them, though at times it would have been quite easy and quite natural, and we left the de Valera Government to frolic with the German and later with the Japanese representatives to their heart’s content.||”|
De Valera replied to Churchill in another radio broadcast, which was popular when broadcast in Ireland:
|“||Allowances can be made for Mr. Churchill’s statement, however unworthy, in the first flush of victory. No such excuse could be found for me in this quieter atmosphere. There are, however, some things it is essential to say. I shall try to say them as dispassionately as I can. Mr. Churchill makes it clear that, in certain circumstances, he would have violated our neutrality and that he would justify his actions by Britain’s necessity. It seems strange to me that Mr. Churchill does not see that this, if accepted, would mean that Britain's necessity would become a moral code and that when this necessity became sufficiently great, other people’s rights were not to count... that is precisely why we had this disastrous succession of wars — World War No.1 and World War No.2 — and shall it be World War No.3? Surely Mr. Churchill must see that if his contention be admitted in our regard, a like justification can be framed for similar acts of aggression elsewhere and no small nation adjoining a great Power could ever hope to be permitted to go its own way in peace. It is indeed fortunate that Britain's necessity did not reach the point where Mr. Churchill would have acted. All credit to him that he successfully resisted the temptation which I have no doubt many times assailed him in his difficulties, and to which, I freely admit, many leaders might have easily succumbed. It is indeed hard for the strong to be just to the weak, but acting justly always has its rewards. By resisting his temptation in this instance, Mr. Churchill, instead of adding another horrid chapter to the already bloodstained record of the relations between England and this country, has advanced the cause of international morality — an important step, one of the most important indeed that can be taken on the road to the establishment of any sure basis for peace....
Mr. Churchill is proud of Britain’s stand alone, after France had fallen and before America entered the war. Could he not find in his heart the generosity to acknowledge that there is a small nation that stood alone not for one year or two, but for several hundred years against aggression; that endured spoliations, famine, massacres, in endless succession; that was clubbed many times into insensibility, but each time on returning to consciousness took up the fight anew; a small nation that could never be got to accept defeat and has never surrendered her soul?
In April 1995 Taoiseach John Bruton paid tribute to those who "volunteered to fight against Nazi tyranny in Europe, at least 10,000 of whom were killed while serving in British uniforms. In recalling their bravery, we are recalling a shared experience of Irish and British people. We remember a British part of the inheritance of all who live in Ireland."
Unlike other neutral states, Ireland did not introduce a general prohibition on its citizens opting for foreign enlistment during the war. However, one serious concern of government in this regard was the relatively high number of Irish soldiers deserting and leaving the jurisdiction. Estimates of between 4,000 and 7,000 members of the Irish armed forces deserted to join the armed forces of belligerent nations, the majority serving in the British Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy.
On 17 May 1945, Minister for Defence Oscar Traynor stated that he proposed introducing legislation which would deprive deserters of any right "for a long time to come" to employment paid for from public funds. The legislation in question was the Emergency Powers (No. 362) order which was passed on 8 August 1945. This punished those who had deserted during the Emergency in four ways:
The Order only applied to personnel who had been called to active duty during the Emergency or who had enlisted "for the duration" of the Emergency and affected 4,000 men.
The government's reasons for passing the order have been given as follows:
On 18 October 1945 Thomas F. O'Higgins moved to annul the order. He did not condone desertion, but felt that the order was specifically awarding harsh punishment to those deserters who had served in the Allied forces. General Richard Mulcahy also spoke against the Order, disagreeing with the way in which it applied to enlisted men and not to officers. However, despite the arguments put forward by O'Higgins and Mulcahy, the Dáil voted in favor of the order.
In January 2012 the BBC reported that according to Senator Mary Ann O'Brien, Ireland's Minister for Justice and Equality Alan Shatter was "actively working" on issuing the deserters with a pardon.