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RIC commemoration a revealing saga

Comment & Opinion

ILL JUDGED Minister for Justice and Equality Charlie Flanagan was forced to abandon plans for an RIC commemoriation.

The now abandoned Government-led plans to commemorate those who served in the Royal Irish Constabulary and Dublin Metropolitan Police during the fight for Irish independence was a spectacular misjudgment by the Irish Government.
Such a commemoration would have included the reviled Auxiliaries – the Black and Tans. The controversy surrounding the episode reveals how Irish people have very long memories, especially when it comes to our political history and our relationship with our one-time rulers, Britain.
There should be no denying the fact that many good, ordinary Irish people served in the RIC – and lost their lives during the War of Independence. The history of Ireland from before World War I to after our Civil War is a very complex one, far too often simplified.
Many of those who served in the RIC were ordinary Irish people simply looking to support their families. While it is accurate to depict them as enforcers of British law in Ireland, context is vital.
It must be recalled that the 1916 rebels were very much a minority group when they stormed the GPO. Their actions and their sacrifices meant that, as Yates said, ‘All changed, changed utterly’.
Members of the RIC found themselves in a virtually impossible position. When we look back on those crucial years of Irish history, it would be wrong to forget them, to write them from history.
The first people killed in the War of Independence were two RIC members at Soloheadbeg in Tipperary. One of them, James McDonnell, was from Glenamoy in Erris.
Crucially, their deaths and their lives were remembered and acknowledged at the 100th anniversary, and there has been a general acknowledgement and nod to all who lost their lives, on both sides, in commemorations to date.
So it was not as if those who served in the RIC were being forgotten about during centenary events. Far from it.
However, to isolate them in a special commemoration incorporating the Black and Tans, was not a smart move by the Irish Government, and Charlie Flanagan and Leo Varadkar were forced to make a hasty retreat.
The Black and Tans remain reviled because of the horrific nature of some of their crimes during the War of Independence. They were brought in by the British to bolster the ranks of the RIC and DMP.
Commemorating them was always going to be poorly received, but it is fair to say the Government were taken aback at the extent of the negative reaction. The actions of those involved in the commemoration plans reveal a very shallow grasp of Irish history.
The reversal of the plans shows the power of the people when strongly held and passionate views are articulated.
History is a huge part of Irish life – in contrast, perhaps, to the malaise that can pervade when it comes to Irish people and modern politics. We can be very slow to shout stop in this country, but maybe this Government backdown will show those who often sit on the fence the power they hold. Fuller engagement in politics would be a great outcome from this mess.
And being politically engaged and holding politicians and Governments to account for all their missteps – not just a selective few – is the best possible tribute to those who sacrificed their lives a century ago so that Ireland could be free.