Justice Minister insists RIC commemoration is not a celebration of the Black and Tans
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has insisted that a State commemoration for members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) who were killed during the War of Independence is not "a commemoration of the Black and Tans".
Mr Flanagan's comments come after Fianna Fail Mayor of Clare Cathal Crowe said he would not be attending the commemoration in Dublin Castle because he believed it to be a “betrayal” of those who fought for Irish freedom.
Speaking this evening, Mr Flanagan said that the event "is an acknowledgement of the historical importance of both the DMP and RIC".
He added that it is "in no sense a commemoration of the Black and Tans or the Auxiliaries".
Mr Flanagan said office holders like mayors and cathaoirligh have been invited as representatives of their county, city or party and not in a personal capacity.
He said there is "no question but that there are very real sensitivities involved here."
He said the RIC found itself "on the wrong side of history" and said it should be noted that the vast majority of Irish people that served as army or police officers "did so with honour and integrity".
Mr Flanagan said: "That is why it is disappointing to see some public representatives abandon the principles of mutual understanding and reconciliation in an effort to gain headlines.
"This attitude, combined with a distortion of the nature of the commemoration, is ill becoming of any public representative and represents a step backwards to a more narrow-minded past characterised by a hierarchy of Irishness."
He said there are complexities in Irish history which are highlight when many people research their family background and often discovering ancestors who served in the army or police as well as playing a role in the fight for an Irish Republic or Home Rule.
Mr Flangan said historian Diarmuid Ferriter and others have highlighted this in his writing noting that Michael Collins’ uncle served in the RIC while the author Sebastian Barry had one grandfather in the British Army and another who was an Irish Republican.
He added: "The actor Michael Fassbender’s great grandfather was in the RIC while Fassbender is also related to Republican leader Michael Collins.
"So many other Irish families share this complex history and these facts should be explored and acknowledged as all the threads of our history, within families and as a nation, make us who we are today as a people."
Mr Flanagan said he is happy to endorse the recommendation of the Expert Advisory Group on Centenary Commemoration that the place in history of the RIC and DMP be remembered.
Meanwhile, the Mayor of Fingal County Council Cllr Eoghan O’Brien has become the latest politician who says he will boycott a commemoration.
“I feel that to commemorate these arms of British rule in Ireland that acted in opposition to the aims of Irish independence is wrong," he said.
The Fianna Fáil councillor said he respects the rights of people that do want to attend.
But he added that from the feedback he’s gotten “the feeling is overwhelmingly that the Government has gotten this badly wrong.”
The Sligo Cathaoirleach, Fianna Fáil’s Tom MacSharry also said this evening that he won’t be going to the event.
He said: “I do not wish to be associated with any event that would indirectly commemorate the actions of the Black and Tans”.
Earlier on Monday, the Lord Mayor of Cork City John Sheehan said he feels his attendance would be "inappropriate" as a former holder of his office, Tomás MacCurtain was shot dead by RIC members during the War of Independence.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has also called on the Government to cancel the event.
She said: "The Royal Irish Constabulary and Dublin Metropolitan Police were not merely police forces - as the Minister for Justice seems to think - but they had a specific role in upholding what was oftentimes martial law and suppressing the will of the Irish people for self-determination and national independence.
"In no other State would those who facilitated the suppression of national freedom be commemorated by the State and I am calling on the government to cancel this proposed State commemoration."
Earlier today, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said it is “a shame” that some politicians have decided to boycott the State commemoration.
The Taoiseach said Irish members of the two police forces should be commemorated in the same way as Irish soldiers are remembered for their role in fighting with the British Army in World War One.
The Taoiseach said 10 or 15 years ago it was “very controversial” to commemorate the deaths of soldiers in World War One as some people believed they should not be remembered because they fought for the British.
“That has changed,” he said, before adding: “Now we all accept, or almost all of us accept, that it is right and proper to remember Irish people, soldiers, who died in the First World War and I think the same thing really applies to police officers who were killed - Catholic and Protestant alike who were members of the RIC and the DMP.”
Mr Varadkar said the families of the police officers who were killed are still alive and would like to remember them. “I think it's a shame that people are boycotting it but the Government stands over the decision to hold it (the commemoration),” he added
In a statement on Sunday, Mr Crowe, who is a Fianna Fail general election candidate, said he had no “ill feeling” towards those who served in the RIC, adding that “many of them were decent people”.
“I do however think it’s wrong to celebrate and eulogise an organisation that was the strong-arm of the British state in Ireland. The RIC joined army and auxiliaries (Black & Tans) in search parties and raids that resulted in our country-people being killed / tortured or having their homes torched,” he added.
Meanwhile, Mr Sheehan told Independent.ie that there will be events this year in Cork remembering Thomás MacCurtain and another mayor of the city, Terence McSwiney who died in 1920.
"The idea that I would go to a commemoration wearing the same chains that he [Mr MacCurtain] wore to commemorate the RIC would be totally inappropriate."
Mr Sheehan said that's not to take away from individuals who had family members who joined the RIC to "better themselves" or in the belief that they were serving their country.
"But to commemorate the RIC as an institution given its history in Cork I don’t think would be appropriate," Mr Sheehan added.