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The government has cancelled this month's contentious RIC commemoration event

The government had come in for sustained criticism over the scheduling of the event.

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan made the announcement this evening.
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan made the announcement this evening.
Image: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

Updated Jan 7th 2020, 6:47 PM

THE GOVERNMENT HAS decided to cancel its proposed commemoration for those who served in the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) prior to Irish independence that had been due to take place on 17 January.

The scheduling of the event had seen the government come under sustained criticism, with a number of politicians saying in recent days that they will not attend the event.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said that scheduling the event was an “error in judgement” while the Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said it “should be cancelled”. 

The event, which was due to be held at Dublin Castle, would’ve been attended by the Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan and Garda Commissioner Drew Harris. 

Today, TheJournal.ie reported that the expert advisory group for the government’s Decade of Centenaries programme did not recommend the planned commemoration event for the RIC, according to one of the group’s members Diarmaid Ferriter.

In a statement this evening, Minister Flanagan has said that “given the disappointing response of some to the planned event on 17 January, I do not believe that the event, as planned, can now take place in an atmosphere that meets the goals and guiding principles of the overall commemorative programme”.

The minister said that he is committed to “proceeding with an alternative commemoration in the months ahead”.

Flanagan said he would consult further with the expert advisory group with a view to organising an event that is “inclusive and fully respectful of all the traditions and memories on this island”.

“Thousands of Irish people have ancestors who served in the Dublin Metropolitan Police and Royal Irish Constabulary,” he said. “These personal histories are part of the history of our island. I believe it is right that we acknowledge that history.

There were those in the RIC who committed atrocities. The horrific record of the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries is well known. But there were thousands of other officers who behaved with dignity and honour in serving their communities. And we should not seek to airbrush these people from our history.

Flanagan had said he accepted the advisory group’s specific recommendation that  “consideration should [be] given to the organisation of specific initiatives to commemorate the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) and to acknowledge their place in history”.

The minister added the approach from government has always been to “deepen mutual understanding” without expecting anyone to abandon loyalties. 

“The goal, above all, has been reconciliation,” Flanagan said. 

Speaking on RTÉ Six One News this evening, Flanagan said that public safety was one of the reasons the RIC Commemoration was deferred.

“I am determined that this will take place, it won’t take place now but later this year,” said Flanagan, who added that “aspects of this were grossly misrepresented…this was never going to be a eulogizing of the Black and Tans”.

Earlier today, historian Ferriter said the group “did not recommend or endorse the idea of a formal state commemoration for the RIC in the manner proposed”.

He said what the group 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 Síochána”.

Earlier today, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that the RIC commemoration was “not a celebration”. 

“It’s about remembering our history, not condoning what happened,” Varadkar said in a tweet. 

“We will also remember the terrible burning of Cork, Balbriggan, partition and the atrocities of the Civil War,” he said.

“We should respect all traditions on our island and be mature enough as a State to acknowledge all aspects of our past.”

Varadkar yesterday said it was “regrettable” that people have made the decision to boycott the event. 

In a statement this evening, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald TD said deferring the commemoration “is a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough. This event needs to be cancelled”.

Said McDonald said: “Over the past number of days we have gotten a flavour of the extent of Fine Gael’s revisionism, during which they have repeatedly defended their decision to commemorate the DMP and the RIC.

“These forces were part of the British apparatus of occupation and acted to suppress the democratic demand for independence as expressed overwhelming by the people in the 1918 General Election,” said McDonald.

“For any Irish government for advocate commemorating these organisations is shameful and it has rightly drawn much criticism.Deferral of this planned commemoration is a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough. This event needs to be cancelled.

With reporting by Cónal Thomas and Aoife Barry

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Sean Murray

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