Tuesday 21 January 2020

Boycotts and blame: 'Black and Tans event' descends into farce

  • Government cancels plans in humiliating U-turn
  • Blame game erupts as decision made to postpone
Controversy: Members of the Royal Irish Constabulary on parade in 1913
Controversy: Members of the Royal Irish Constabulary on parade in 1913

Cormac McQuinn, Hugh O'Connell and Philip Ryan

Plans for a controversial commemoration of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) are in tatters after the Government was humiliated into cancelling next week's gathering.

Despite denying it amounted to a celebration of the infamous Black and Tans, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan capitulated to calls for the commemoration to be called off.

His decision came within hours of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and other senior ministers stridently defending the plans.

A blame game erupted within Government even before the decision was taken to postpone, with Mr Flanagan taking flak for pushing the plans to remember those who served with the RIC and Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP).

Earlier, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin joined a boycott claiming the commemoration had been an "error in judgment". He accused the Government of causing "unnecessary controversy" by abandoning an approach of public consultation.

His comments came as Independent ministers and Fine Gael TDs said they would also snub the event.

Charlie Flanagan Photo: Arthur Carron
Charlie Flanagan Photo: Arthur Carron

Mr Flanagan last night said he was determined the commemoration would take place at a later date, insisting: "It's the right thing to do."

But he said that given the "disappointing response of some" he did not believe the event should go ahead next week and promised further consultation.

There was scathing criticism of the plan to commemorate the RIC and DMP, which the British government reinforced with the notorious Black and Tans during the War of Independence.

Ministers had insisted the event was recommended by an Expert Advisory Group in an apparent tempt to shift the blame. However, historian Diarmaid Ferriter, a member of the group, disputed this, maintaining it had not recommended such a ceremony.

He said the group should not be used as a "mudguard" to provide cover for the Government "when it receives negative reaction to its solo runs in relation to commemoration".

Mr Flanagan later rejected Mr Ferriter's suggestion that he misrepresented the group's position.

Members of the Black and Tans, an armed auxiliary force of the Royal Irish Constabulary. Photo: Topical Press Agency/Getty Images
Members of the Black and Tans, an armed auxiliary force of the Royal Irish Constabulary. Photo: Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Meanwhile, there has been rumblings within Government over Mr Flanagan's role in the highly contentious commemoration. While Culture Minister Josepha Madigan is tasked with overseeing the Decade of Centenaries, it has been claimed Mr Flanagan is behind the proposal to hold the event. A source said it was "something that came from justice primarily" and claimed Mr Flanagan's department has been "managing this themselves to a large extent".

However, the Irish Independent has learned that Ms Madigan chaired an all-party group, including Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil representatives, which discussed "appropriately acknowledging" the role of the RIC and the DMP at a meeting last April.

Minutes from a meeting of the all-party consultation group on commemoration show that Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh, who claimed on Monday the group had not been consulted about the commemoration, was in attendance.

The minutes record that a number of specific themes were considered, including "appropriately acknowledging the role of the Royal Irish Constabulary and Dublin Metropolitan Police".

No dissent by attendees is recorded in the minutes of the meeting. But Mr Ó Snodaigh insisted last night that he and Fianna Fáil members of the committee raised objections.

Former culture minister Heather Humphreys - who oversaw a successful memorial for British troops who died in the 1916 Rising - denied her colleagues "dropped the ball" in the preparations for next week's ceremony.

She was among ministers who defended plans just hours before they were abandoned.

She said there were many Irishmen among the ranks of the RIC and DMP who "made the ultimate sacrifice".

Ms Humphreys added: "They gave up their lives and it's important that we remember them." She insisted "we should not be conflating this with the Black and Tans and the Auxiliaries. That's wrong".

As the controversy grew yesterday, the Taoiseach also mounted a defence of the commemoration, insisting "it's about remembering our history, not condoning what happened".

He added: "We should be mature enough as a State to acknowledge all aspects of our past."

However, Independent ministers Kevin 'Boxer' Moran, Finian McGrath and Seán Canney all later came out and said they would not attend, as did Fine Gael TDs Noel Rock and Fergus O'Dowd.

Mr McGrath said the event should be postponed and described the RIC and DMC as "an important part of the colonial power".

Irish Independent

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