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Explainer: The RIC, the Black and Tans and their legacy in Ireland

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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

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

As controversy looms over a planned commemoration of the RIC at Dublin Castle, we take a look at who the RIC were and the legacy they left in Ireland.

Q. Who were the RIC?

The “Irish Constabulary” was formed in 1836 and was given the prefix “Royal” in 1867 for suppressing the Fenian uprising. It was never universally popular because it was a quasi-military force, also engaged in intelligence gathering, and had assisted at evictions during the Land War of the 1880s. But it had a certain public acceptance as this country’s first legitimate police force. Its members were predominantly Irish and Catholic with some Protestant and English senior officers.

Q. Who were the DMP?

The Dublin Metropolitan Police was formed in 1838 and covered counties Wicklow and Dublin as a largely civilian unarmed force. It had a difficult relationship with working class Dubliners made worse after violence during the 1913 Lockout. It had less of a role in the War of Independence of 1919-1921. But its G-Division, responsible for intelligence, had a gut struggle with Michael Collins’s IRA spy network.

Q. Who were the Black and Tans?

By late 1919 the RIC were intimidated and boycotted causing many officers to resign and few recruits to join. The London government would not openly acknowledge a “war” in Ireland. In January 1920 they began recruiting an auxiliary police force in Britain made up of ex-soldiers to support policing in Ireland. Officially called the “RIC Reserve,” their black tunics and kakhi trousers earned them their name after a pack of foxhounds in Co Limerick. They often operated independently of the RIC with whom they often had a very uneasy relationship. They became a byword for terror and atrocities enflaming public opinion.

Q. Who were the Auxiliaries?

Another police back-up force begun in July 1920, smaller than the Black and Tans and styled as more elite comprising ex-army officers. They were paid £1 per day – twice the rate for the Black and Tans. Nominally, the blue uniformed Auxies were under RIC command. But they often acted independently or with the Black and Tans and became similarly reviled for their criminal acts.

Q. What is the RIC’s legacy?

Some RIC members did criminal things during the War of Independence like the murder of the Lord Mayor of Cork, Tomás MacCurtain. Other RIC members tried to act honourably and independently of the two auxiliary terror forces. Some actively criticised the auxiliary police forces’ behaviour while some RIC officers helped the rebel cause. Some IRA members also did some very morally questionable things during a very dirty conflict.

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