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royal irish constabulary

Varadkar says it's 'regrettable' that some politicians will boycott RIC commemoration service

The government recently said it will commemorate those who served in the force prior to Irish independence.

LAST UPDATE | Jan 6th 2020, 5:35 PM

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has said it is “regrettable” that a number of politicians have decided to boycott the national commemoration service for the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) on 17 January.

The government has confirmed plans to commemorate those who served in the RIC and the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) prior to Irish independence. Both groups were disbanded in 1922 following the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty.

The event, which will be held at Dublin Castle, will be attended by the Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan and Garda Commissioner Drew Harris. 

However, a number of politicians – such as the Fianna Fáil Mayor of Clare, Cathal Crowe, and Fianna Fáil Cork Councillor John Sheehan – have confirmed in recent days that they will not attend the event, despite being invited. 

Speaking to reporters this afternoon, Varadkar said that he is “disappointed to hear that some people are going to boycott the event”. 

“I think that is regrettable,” Varadkar said. 

“I remember 10, 15 years ago it was very controversial to commemorate the deaths of soldiers in World War I because some people felt that they shouldn’t be remembered because they fought for the United Kingdom,” he said. 

“That has changed. We now all accept, or almost everyone accepts, that it is right and proper to remember Irish people, soldiers who died in the first World War,” he continued. 

Varadkar said he believes the same thing applies to “police officers who were killed, Catholic and Protestant alike, who were members of the RIC and the DMP, many of whom’s families are still alive and remember them”.

So, I think it’s a shame that people are boycotting it, but the government stands over the decision to hold the event. 

In a statement this afternoon, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said that the commemoration event should be cancelled. 

“In no other State would those who facilitated the suppression of national freedom be commemorated by the State and I am calling on the government to cancel this proposed determination and national independence,” McDonald said.

She added that “it is those who resisted British rule in Ireland” during the war and “citizens that suffered at the hands of those that maintained British rule who the State should be commemorating, not the RIC or the Black and Tans”.

‘A step too far’

Yesterday, Mayor of Clare Cathal Crowe branded the national commemoration service “a step too far”.

“As Mayor of Clare I was invited to attend the event by the Minister of Justice,” Crowe said.

In the main, I think all of the government’s state commemorations have been apt and tasteful but I see the commemoration of the RIC as a step too far.

Crowe said that he did not hold any ill feeling towards those who served in the RIC Division of Clare, describing them as “decent people” guided by strong civic and law-abiding principles.

However, he added: “I do however think it’s wrong to celebrate and eulogise (I consider “commemorate” to be a verb with positive connotations) an organisation that was the strong-arm of the British state in Ireland.”

Speaking of Crowe’s decision not to attend the event, Varadkar today said he would ask if someone from the council would be permitted to attend in his place. 

“I would ask them if they’re not going to attend to at least allow somebody from their council to attend,” Varadkar said. 

If they want to take a personal decision not to attend, that’s their decision, but there may be other people in their city or in their county that feels differently that would like to have the deaths of these men recognised.

“Perhaps those mayors and cathaoirleach who are not attending could ask someone to deputise for them. And I am sure there are people that are willing to do that.” 

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has said in a statement this evening that the office-holders invited to the commemoration are invited in their capacity as representatives of their areas and “they have not been invited in a personal capacity”. 

Flanagan acknowledged that “there are very real sensitivities involved” in the commemoration, but added that “there are sensitivities on both sides”. 

“The RIC has found itself on the wrong side of history. The intolerance that was often characteristic in the past sometimes forced people to deny their own family histories and airbrush parents, grandparents and siblings out of the picture for doing no more than serving as an army officer or police officer to support their families,” Flanagan said. 

“It should be noted that the vast majority of Irish people who served as army and police officers did so with honour and integrity,” he said. 

That is why it is disappointing to see some public representatives abandon the principles of mutual understanding and reconciliation in an effort to gain headlines. 
This attitude, combined with a distortion of the nature of the commemoration, is ill becoming of any public representative and represents a step backwards to a more narrow-minded past characterised by a hierarchy of Irishness. 

‘Not appropriate’

Cork Councillor John Sheehan has today joined the Mayor of Clare in boycotting the 17 January event. 

Speaking to Cork’s 96fm Opinion Line today, he said that a “commemoration kind of implies a celebration of achievements” and that he doesn’t think that’s appropriate “given our history”. 

“For that reason, I won’t be attending,” Sheehan said. 

“I don’t think it’s appropriate that when we are commemorating all the struggles other people did here in Cork, and Tomas MacCurtain and Terence McSweeney and the burning of Cork and all, that and then we’re kind of celebrating the other side, I don’t think that’s appropriate,” he said. 

With reporting by Pat Flynn and Christina Finn

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