OPINION: Is our Justice minister rewriting RIC history?

October 7th, 2019 12:00 PM

By Southern Star Team


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Flanagan explained that he attended because the policemen involved were simply ‘doing their job and were murdered in the line of duty … They were doing what police officers do'.

Politically, Fine Gael’s Charlie Flanagan is an odd fish!  He’s one of the few government ministers to attend a commemoration service for members of the Royal Irish Constabulary who were killed during our War of Independence. 

At a recent event, the names of 11 RIC men and four DMP men, who were killed in 1919 during the first year of our War of Independence, were read out by a group called the Historical and Reconciliation Police society (Harp).  The aim of this group is to honour the memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice: to die for King and country.

Flanagan explained that he attended because the policemen involved were simply ‘doing their job and were murdered in the line of duty … They were doing what police officers do’.  As he saw it, they were protecting communities from harm … and maintaining the rule of law. ‘These are fundamental to police services everywhere,’ he said.

Cripes, we gasped!  Has he forgotten the Black and Tans?  That psychopathic scum released from British prisons who, in their role as a special reserve of the Royal Irish Constabulary, pillaged and burned the centre of Cork city, the town of Balbriggan, and small towns and villages. 

They machine-gunned spectators at a football match in Croke Park, they tortured and shot prisoners and, yet, Flanagan seems to suggest that those thugs ‘protected communities and maintained the rule of law’.  Is this politico for real, we asked.



Indeed, Flanagan made no mention of the atrocities and murders committed by the RIC.  For instance, one wonders if he ever heard about their vile assassination of politician Tomás MacCurtain, the then Lord Mayor of Cork? 

Whatever the answer, his sympathetic description of the RIC as a decent bunch of lads, doing their job, protecting the people and maintaining the law, did not include that body’s close participation with the notorious Black and Tans who killed, tortured and burned in their efforts to destroy the struggle for political freedom.

And Minister Charlie did not make any reference to the principled resignations of decent RIC members. (Departures from the force by 1920 exceeded 600 policemen). Curiously also, he did not refer to the fact that the IRA established its own police force to protect communities from the marauding activities of the combined forces of RIC and Black and Tans.  

Nor did he touch on the legitimacy of the IRA’s struggle for Irish freedom, nor the British refusal to abandon its uncompromising policy of death and destruction, their ‘we have terror by the throat’ mentality! 

So let’s remind the Minister of this simple fact:  the RIC was not a collection of ‘dacent auld skins’ doing a thankless job at a difficult juncture in Irish history.  It worked hand in glove with the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries who terrorised much of the population by means of  torture, shootings, killings on impulse and setting fire to the centre of Cork city.

And if evidence were needed, this scribe’s grandmother – were she still alive – would testify that RIC thugs and British soldiers wrecked her house in search of firearms, and threatened to shoot the occupants.

And it’s not without reason that from 1822 onwards the RIC always opted for rural bullies to act as policemen whose main task was to ensure that Ireland would never secure political independence. As everyone knows the policy eventually collapsed – a development to which the Minister did not refer. 



But to return to his use of the word ‘murder’ in the case of the political killing of RIC men during our War of Independence, ‘They were murdered in the line of duty for doing what police officers do’, he said, which raises this question:  Is Minister Flanagan getting his politico-speak from the Indo/Sindo?

Probably not, because if we accept the proposition that the IRA were ‘murderers’ who were a threat to the community and who did not respect the ‘rule of law’, it implies that Sinn Féin and the IRA acted illegitimately in the struggle to create a Republic.  And Flanagan, to his credit, never states that the struggle for independence was illegal or unlawful.   

Interesting, too, that an editorial in De Paper agreed with Flanagan’s contention that the activities of the RIC in 1920 consisted in the main of ‘protecting communities from harm’ and ‘maintaining the rule of law’.  



Who knows, but maybe one day history will be rewritten to present the Royal Irish Constabulary as the good guys! 

Times have changed and for Minister Flanagan, his Fine Gael party and elements of the media, it is now appropriate and proper to commemorate those members of the RIC who tried to maintain the rule of law (British) and to ‘protect’ communities from harm.  

Where this argument falls down, of course, is that the RIC worked closely with the Black and Tans, Auxiliaries and army to reinforce the arm of the British State in Ireland. And, indeed, there wasn’t much difference between the RIC and the other militarised agencies of British rule. 



It’s a point borne out by the appointment in June 1920 of Divisional Commander Lt-Col Smyth for the province of Munster. 

 He made a speech to the ranks of the Listowel RIC in which he uttered these chilling words: ‘If the persons approaching a patrol car carry their hands in their pockets, or are in any way suspicious-looking, shoot them down.  

You may make mistakes occasionally and innocent persons may be shot, but that cannot be helped, and you are bound to get the right parties some time.’

He went on:  ‘The more you shoot, the better I will like you, and I assure you no policeman will get into trouble for shooting any man.

‘If a police barracks is burned or if the barracks already occupied is not suitable, then the best house in the locality is to be commandeered, the occupants thrown into the gutter.  Let them lie there, the more the merrier.’

The epilogue to the blood-curdling warning is as follows: Soon after, Dan ‘Sandow’ O’Donovan of Cork’s No 1 Brigade entered the Cork and County Club, where Smyth was staying. 

He identified the Lt-Col, spoke to him briefly and then shot him dead.  He got a bus home.

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