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Fine Gael Minister for Justice and Equality Charlie Flanagan

Charlie Flanagan 'shocked by nastiness and vitriol' he received over RIC commemoration

The chair of the Expert Advisory Group also described the planning as ‘a bit of a mess’.

LAST UPDATE | 8 Jan 2020

JUSTICE MINISTER CHARLIE Flanagan has said he was shocked by the “nastiness and vitriol” he received as a result of the planned RIC commemoration.

The government announced yesterday that the commemoration for those who served in the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) planned for 17 January is to be cancelled and held at a later date.

The decision came after days of criticism that the event was not appropriate and was not organised without the right amount of consultation.

Speaking on the Pat Kenny Show on Newstalk, Flanagan defended the event but said that it was the right decision to call it off. 

“I didn’t want a situation where there were protests. I mean, Mary Lou McDonald called for public protests,” Flanagan said. 

I didn’t want families of RIC members who have waited you know, up to and including 100 years to have their ancestors and family members honoured. I didn’t want them running at the gauntlet of civil disturbance on the streets of Dublin because that’s the exact opposite of reconciliation.

Flanagan also said that the event was “never a celebration” but the plan was to have “an acknowledgement, to have a commemoration”. 

“I also believe now to defer it, to call it off, was also the right thing to do. There was a particularly hostile atmosphere. There was a lot of division.  And of course, the purpose of events in the context of the Decade of Commemoration was to bring people together. This is about reconciliation,” he said. 

Flanagan also said that he was shocked by some of the responses he received as result of the controversy. 

“Can I just say that I was struck over the last 48 hours at the nastiness, at the vitriol at the emails that I got, the phone calls that I got, you know this is this is far from a programme of reconciliation. I was quite shocked,” he said. 

The minister added th that future commemorations such of those about the Civil War will prove to be very difficult in the context of the last few days. 

“I think it’s going to be extremely challenging and difficult. I do believe that there is a scholarly role to be played her,  in so far as the holding of lectures and seminars in order to have a greater understanding,” he said.

We were all moved in recent years by the visit of Queen Elizabeth. The fact that she bowed, and she laid a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance, acknowledging as she did, those who died fighting for Irish freedom and I think that’s the space that we need to move to.  

officers-and-men-of-the-royal-irish-constabulary-in-the-19th-century-the-armed-police-force-of-the-united-kingdom-in-ireland-until-1922-from-the-century-edition-of-cassells-history-of-england-publ Officers and men of the Royal Irish Constabulary. Ken Welsh / PA Images Ken Welsh / PA Images / PA Images

Speaking earlier on Newstalk Breakfast, the chair of the Expert Advisory Group (EAG) for the government’s Decade of Centenaries has said that the deferment of the RIC commemoration was “a bit of a mess”.

Maurice Manning has said “the execution of what was attempted was wrong” but also defended Flanagan who he said has “behaved with great integrity”.

It is a bit of a mess and it probably could have been avoided. But I think the important thing is to learn from it as we go into this sort of difficult part of the Decades of Centenarians. Which will be the Civil War and even the War of Independence, which we’re going through at the moment.

Manning added that the Decade of Centenaries have so far been conducted with “a sense of tolerance” and he hoped that would continue.

Yesterday, member of the Expert Advisory Group Diarmuid Ferriter told that the group did not recommended a commemoration event for the RIC.

Instead, it had recommended that an academic event be established that looked at the policing during the revolutionary period. Ferriter said that the EAG “should not be used by the government as a mudguard” against criticism.

Asked today whether the EAG has been used as a mudguard against criticism, Manning denied that it had.

“I don’t agree with that at all,” he said.

And I think that in all of this, the minister responsible Charlie Flanagan has behaved with great integrity. And I think that probably the execution of what was involved was got wrong.

“There was a statement in our report which said that consideration should be given to the holding of commemoration ceremony.”

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