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Meath Cathaoirleach Wayne Harding and Offaly Cathaoirleach Peter Ormond
Meath Cathaoirleach Wayne Harding and Offaly Cathaoirleach Peter Ormond
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Fianna Fáil mayors accepted invitations to controversial RIC event before later criticising it

The commemoration was cancelled by the government after it proved controversial last month.
Feb 19th 2020, 12:05 AM 42,423 67

TWO FIANNA FÁIL mayors who announced they would not attend the Government’s RIC commemoration last month privately accepted invitations to attend the event before doing so.

Correspondence seen by TheJournal.ie also reveals that a third Fianna Fáil mayor, who was unable to attend the commemoration, wished the Department of Justice and Equality “every success with the event” before calling it “inappropriate” a week later.

The commemoration for members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) was scheduled to take place in Dublin Castle on 17 January as part of a series of events to mark the Decade of Centenaries. 

Members of Cabinet, former Taoisigh, members of the Council of State and Garda Commissioner Drew Harris were due to attend, before the commemoration was cancelled following a public backlash at the start of the year.

Among those also invited were the mayors and cathaoirligh of Ireland’s local authorities.

The controversy surrounding the event began after Fianna Fáil’s Cathal Crowe publicly announced he would boycott it because he felt the RIC was an “organisation that was the strong-arm of the British state in Ireland”.

Records released under the Freedom of Information Act show that three of Crowe’s party colleagues from around the country did initially support the event in private, before later announcing that they would not attend.

In an email to the Department of Justice and Equality on 31 December, Cathaoirleach of Offaly County Council, Peter Ormond declined an invitation to the commemoration.

He told the department that he was “unfortunately” not able to attend, but closed the email by wishing the government “every success with the event”.

On 7 January, Ormond issued a press release to say that he had declined the invitation because he was unable to attend.

It read:

Cllr Ormond confirmed that he declined the invitation as he was attending another event in Birr on the same morning and he also disagreed with the principle of the commemoration.
He also stated that he consulted with the Leas Cathaoirleach, Cllr John Leahy who was also not in a position to attend.

In his statement he also described the event as “inappropriate”, saying that the RIC acted “against the wishes of the Irish people” and were a force “involved in the suppression of the Irish people”.

But speaking to TheJournal.ie, Ormond said that he had turned down the invitation in a “one-line response” as a matter of course.

“I get invited to these things all the time, but I just declined and told the Department I couldn’t go because I had to go to another event,” he explained.

Two other Fianna Fáil mayors did agree to attend the event before announcing they would not do so.

On 2 January, Meath County Council’s Cathaoirleach, Wayne Harding responded to the Department of Justice and Equality saying he would accept the invitation, and asked for a soft copy of the letter for details about the commemoration.

However, an article in the Meath Chronicle on 8 January said Harding had refused his invitation to the commemoration and officially informed the council that he would not be attending.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Harding said he had changed his mind about the event after accepting the invitation because new information about it came to light.

He pointed to remarks by historian and member of the government’s Expert Group for the Decade of Centenaries, Diarmuid Ferriter, who said at the time that the group did not recommend the planned commemoration event for the RIC.

“A State event like that is something that cathaoirligh should attend, and I initially responded as a matter of protocol,” Harding told TheJournal.ie.

“But the historians changed my mind when they said that it shouldn’t be a State event.”

On 2 January, an internal email was sent within the Department of Justice, stating that the Mayor of Kerry County Council Niall Kelleher “confirmed attendance at the RIC commemoration”. 

On 7 January, Kelleher announced publicly that he would not be attending as it “would not be appropriate” for him to do so, and noted that he had passed the invitation on to his deputy mayor, who he said had also declined the invitation.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Kelleher said that he was not aware his attendance had been confirmed to the Department. He said that he had been on annual leave until 6 January, and only received the invitation to the commemoration on his return.

He explained that he forwarded an email to the Department of Justice on 7 January confirming that he would not be attending the event.

In his statement to TheJournal.ie, he added:

For the purposes of absolute clarity there are no set of circumstances where I would attend a commemoration of the RIC, the Black and Tans, or the Auxiliaries.

Asked whether someone had checked with him on whether he would attend the event prior to 2 January, the day the internal email was sent within the Department, Kelleher said: “no”.

Asked whether he knew if any email confirming his attendance had been sent to the Department, he also said: “no”.

With reporting from Gráinne Ní Aodha.

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Stephen McDermott

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