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Remembering RIC and DMP members

January 25th, 2020 11:40 PM

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ALL the hysteria generated by the government’s announcement of a State commemoration for members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) that subsequently had to be deferred illustrates that the predicted difficulties the latter part of the Decade of Centenaries would present were very well founded. And, we haven’t even got to the Civil War centenary yet!
Somehow the villainous Black and Tans were thrown into the mix of what was a well-intentioned commemoration – not a celebration – of the 550 policemen, mostly Irishmen, who died while doing their job on the orders of the powers-that-were between 1916 and 1922, the British Government. Many of those who jumped on the populist bandwagon of tarring all these policemen with the same brush as used on the Black and Tans seem to have forgotten that during the dignified centenary commemorations of the 1916 rising four years ago, the British soldiers who died during that rebellion were commemorated, along with the heroic Irish leaders of, and participants in, that seminal week that lit the fuse for the subsequent War of Independence.
While the DMP was an unarmed force, RIC members, carrying out orders, did some terrible things against their fellow countrymen, from actively assisting at evictions during the Land War era to carrying out the assassination of Lord Mayor of Cork Tomás Mac Curtain in March 1920. This makes the idea of a commemoration of them too vicious a circle to square in most Irish people’s eyes.
Organisations of retired policemen such as the Historical and Reconciliation Police (Harp) Society, mostly comprising former members of An Gárda Síochána, had been campaigning for several years to have their predecessors who died during the revolutionary years commemorated, especially those who died in the line of duty. Retired Garda Jim Herlihy, who proposed the commemoration, said he was shocked by the ‘absolutely vitriolic’ comments from ‘keyboard warriors,’ adding that ‘it’s scurrilous what is being written.’
He was also disappointed by the politicising of the commemorative event, commenting: ‘There’s also politics coming up before an election. We never wanted anything to do with politics.’
Announcing the State commemoration at a fortnight’s notice smacked of it not having been fully thought through by the government in its haste. Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan either misread or ignored the advice about the matter proffered by the expert group of historians set up to advise the government on how to handle the Decade of Centenaries.
Any intimation that the Minister was acting on the advice of the expert group when he announced the State commemoration of the RIC and DMP was swiftly dismissed by spokesman Diarmaid Ferriter, Professor of Modern Irish History at UCD, who said that they collectively felt that an event of a more academic nature would be more appropriate in such a sensitive case.
When the centenary of what was regarded as the first act of the War of Independence – the killing of two RIC men at Soloheadbeg in Co Tipperary in 1919 – was marked this weekend last year, relatives of those who carried out the ambush mingled with those of the two murdered policemen during an event that was dignified and sensitively handled by the local community. This looked like a promising and useful template for such commemorations, but somebody has obviously broken the mould and distasteful nastiness has been unleashed.
From here on in, the government needs to pay more heed to its expert advisory group in order to avoid further pitfalls.

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