If you’re going to do a U turn, getting it over quick limits the damage (even to bloggers like me). It’s remarkable how long politicians usually take to face up to the inevitable. Wisely not this time. With only 10 days to go, it had to be quick, with only a weasel word “ “deferred” substituted for “ cancelled.” Was holding a commemoration in Dublin Castle for the RIC and the Dublin Metropolitan Police a revisionism of history too far, as the mayor of Clare declared? As Ronan MCreevy writes in the Irish Times:
The public and political reaction to the proposed State commemoration shows that men who were in the RIC or DMP are not regarded in the same way as the Irishmen who fought in the first World War.
Neither can the legacy of the two police forces be disentangled easily from the Black and Tans or the Auxiliaries – a problem not helped by the fact that the Government failed to explain that the latter groups were not being commemorated.
The decade of centenaries to date has been remarkable in the absence of rancour or party political point-scoring. That has ended with the rumpus over this commemoration.
I’m not sure he’s right about that. Rather than revisionism of the record it was a matter of tone and context, a ceremony that inevitably would look like celebration. Damage at the beginning of the Decade of Commemoration has been limited; the Republic has avoided dividing politically over its past, if only just. The retraction happened too swiftly for even Sinn Fein to capitalise. Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin avoided overt point scoring and therefore scored points by keeping away from his party’s traditional comfort zone. Historian Diarmaid Ferrier was not so gentle. He scathingly dismissed the alibi that Justice minister Charlie Flanagan had built around him as a mudguard”
Professor Ferriter said the advisory group, which comprises of himself and other professional historians under the chairmanship of Dr Maurice Manning, did not recommend that a service for the RIC and the DMP be included in the list of State commemorations. “What we stated was that ‘consideration should be given to the organisation of specific initiatives to commemorate the RIC and the DMP and to acknowledge their place in history’.
“What we had in mind was an academic event – a conference or seminar – that would look at the issue of policing in Ireland during the revolutionary period, including the role of and disbandment of the RIC and the foundation of the Civic Guard, which became An Garda Siochana.”He said the advisory group “should not be used by the Government as a mudguard to provide cover for itself when it receives negative reaction to its solo runs in relation to commemoration.”
Prof Ferriter clarified that the expert advisory group only recommended a small number of State ceremonies over the coming years; one to remember the War of Independence, two to mark the coming into being of the State, one for the Civil War and one to remember Ireland’s entry into the League of Nations in 2023 which will end the Decade of Centenaries.
This is playing it relatively safe. The North doesn’t figure explicitly.
A dispassionate examination of the RIC is now more important than ever, keeping the militant rhetoric in check and reminding those willing to listen that most RIC were Irish just like themselves and carrying out the law of the state at the time. While cancelling the service of commemoration is a minor political fiasco, it nonetheless shows that the Dublin establishment are prepared to make more of the Decade of Centenaries than laying on a pageant of Irish freedom. Respect for other times and others customs will still be upheld; self criticism will continue. If only the North, republicans as well as unionists took similar risks with their dearest myths.
Try two contrasting tweets
Suppose now is not the time to say my grandfather was an RIC officer. Based on sheer numbers alone there must be tens of thousands of us out there. Our country/history is complicated, yet we are all proud Irish citizens. Surely that’s reconciliation enough?
Surrender by Dublin Govt over RIC is a telling signal to Unionists as to how they & their history would be treated in an all-Ireland. If this is the respect for a mostly RC police force, imagine how Unionist culture and traditions would fare in such a republican utopia
He would say that wouldn’t he?
Not so long to go until the centenary of partition, the founding of the Northern state and being nice to unionists. Will respect be asserted and can it be mutual? I can hardly wait.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London