Saturday 18 January 2020

Micheal Martin says RIC event an 'error of judgement' by Government

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin (PA)
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin (PA)

Hugh O'Connell, Philip Ryan and Cormac McQuinn

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has said the planned State commemoration of Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) officers killed during the War of Independence was an “error in judgement” by the Government.

In a statement, Mr Martin said the Government had caused “unnecessary controversy” by abandoning the approach of seeking public consultation and seeking expert advice head of commemorations. He said the event should go ahead and those who attend should be respected for doing so.

He said both police forces should be remembered during centenary commemorations.

However, he said the controversial event proposed by Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan was “not the appropriate vehicle”.

The Fianna Fail leader also called on Mr Flanagan to withdraw an accusation that those who were boycotting the event in Dublin Castle next week were abandoning “mutual understanding and reconciliation”.

“We need to have a calm and mature discussion,” he said.

“In my view, the event organised by the Justice Minister is not the appropriate vehicle to explore such complex themes. It was an error of judgement compounded by the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and their reaction to those who have decided not to participate,” he added.

Mr Martin said an all inclusive event to remember those who died during the War of Independence had been arranged and suggested this would be a more appropriate way to remember RIC and DMP officers who were killed.

“An all-inclusive event, remembering all who died during the War of Independence is already scheduled and it was understood by all involved that this would be an appropriate moment to demonstrate that we also remember those who did not support the struggle for national independence which was secured by the men and women who are the focus of many other events,” he said.

“It is important to explore every element of this period and use this time as an opportunity to properly discuss every aspect of a complex history.

"It is also undeniably true that many decent people joined the police force of the day for legitimate reasons but found themselves on the wrong side of history. Indeed, elements of the RIC worked closely with those fighting for Irish freedom at great personal risk,” he added.

Mr Martin said he was “acutely conscious” also how the controversy and some of the language being used in the debate will be received by different traditions in Northern Ireland.

“This event will go ahead, and those who wish to participate in it should be fully respected in doing so,” he said.

“However, I also believe that the special cross-party committee on commemorations should be reconvened to consult on future commemorations and that it be asked to look again at the question of how we appropriately appraise and remember the activities of the RIC and the DMP over the course of the coming years,” he added.

Meanwhile, a member of the Expert Advisory Group (EAG) on the Decade of Centenaries Diarmaid Ferriter claimed that justice minister Charlie Flanagan misrepresented its position on a commemoration of the RIC.

UCD historian Diarmaid Ferriter said the group should not be used by the government as a "mudguard" for negative reaction to "its solo runs in relation to commemoration."

Mr Flanagan had said that under the guidance of the EAG he would host an event to commemoration the RIC and DMP.

Mr Ferriter insisted that the EAG "did not recommend or endorse the idea of a formal state commemoration for the RIC in the manner proposed."

He said it stated that consideration should be given to the organisation of specific initiatives to commemorate the RIC and the DMP and to acknowledge their place in history.

According to Mr Ferriter the EAG had an academic event like a conference or seminar in mind.

He said this would have "looked at the issue of policing in Ireland during the revolutionary period, including the role of and disbandment of the RIC and the foundation of the Civic Guard, which became An Garda Síochána."

Mr Ferriter said: "The EAG should not be used by the government as a mudguard to provide cover for itself when it receives negative reaction to its solo runs in relation to commemoration."

He said the EAG has maintained that commemoration should be locally led and the model recommended to mark the centenary of the Soloheadbeg Ambush "is the correct approach to the observance of the sensitive and complex centenaries that will occur in 2020."

Mr Ferriter added: "The proposed RIC commemoration does not follow that model; what is being proposed was not put before the EAG and therefore was not discussed by the EAG and the minister should not refer to the event on 17th January in Dublin Castle as being as a result of our guidance."

The Department of Justice has been contacted for a response

There is growing unrest within government over the plans to remember the pre-Independent police forces next week in Dublin Castle with three Independent ministers indicating they will not be attending the event.

They include Office of Public Works (OPW) Minister Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran, who has responsibility for Dublin Castle where the event is due to take place on Friday week, January 17th.

In a statement Mr Moran confirmed he would not be attending the event and called for it to be postponed "to allow for greater reflection on how best to deal with the wider issue of such commemorations".

He said the public debate in recent days "reflects the serious sensitivities and concerns that people have some 100 years after the country’s struggle for independence".

Mr Moran said: “We are at a very sensitive period in our historic 100 year anniversaries and the planned commemoration of members who served in the RIC and the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) prior to independence while being led by good intentions, has failed to recognise the deep-seated feelings surrounding the force.

“We must respect the sincerely held feelings of people on the matter and note the historical record of how policing was carried out in the State from when the RIC was formed in 1836 and which ultimately led to the declaration in April 1919 by Dáil Éireann to boycott the police service.

“I believe it would be wrong that this difficult period of Irish history that we are about to commemorate and which led to our independence to ignore the firmly held convictions by the general public.”

Finian McGrath, the Disabilities Minister, confirmed to Independent.ie on Tuesday morning that he would not be attending the event.

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

Explaining his decision, he told Independent.ie: "We all agree that we want to live in a democratically inclusive republic but I will not be attending out of loyalty and respect for all those who struggled for Irish independence between 1912 and 1922.

"As a member of the Oireachtas I stand by the 1919 Dáil mandate and police forces that suppressed the will of the Irish people were not a community police service. They were an important part of the colonial power that fought against democracy.

"As someone who comes from the Wolfe Tone, (James) Connolly and (Tony) Gregory tradition and wants a United Ireland with the consent of the people I support those who don't want to attend. Commemorations should be about respect but should also be about choice."

Seán Canney, another Independent minister in government, said he would not be attending the event. “I don’t support it and I won’t be attending,” Mr Canney said.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar again defended the planned commemoration in two tweets posted on Tuesday morning.

“The RIC/DMP commemoration is not a celebration. It’s about remembering our history, not condoning what happened. We will also remember the terrible burning of Cork, Balbriggan, partition and the atrocities of the Civil War,” he wrote.

“We should respect all traditions on our island and be mature enough as a State to acknowledge all aspects of our past.”

Meanwhile, former Culture Minister Heather Humphreys strongly defended plans for the commemoration.

She said: "It's important to remember that the RIC comprised of many, many Irishmen who made the ultimate sacrifice.

"They gave up their lives and it's important that we remember them".

Ms Humphreys added: "We should not be conflating this with the Black in Tans and the Auxiliaries that's wrong."

She said the first police officer killed in the 1916 Rising was a Catholic man at Dublin Castle.

"He was carrying out his job. Do we not owe it to his relatives, that we should remember his memory?"

She also responded to the criticism of the event by politicians including many from Fianna Fáil saying: "I feel that this is slipping into a political arena.

"That is a dangerous place. We should not be going there. Commemorations are above politics.

"It does not belong to any political party... and we need to stay in the space where we look back at a very difficult part of our history in a very respectful and inclusive way, because there are many different narratives here, and everybody deserves respect."

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan insisted on Monday it wouldn't be a "celebration" of either organisation and that it was "in no sense a commemoration" of the notorious Black and Tans paramilitary force that backed up the RIC.

The event - part of the Decade of Centenaries - will be attended by surviving family members of those who served in the RIC and DMP - as well as historians and politicians.

Politicians across the country have indicated they will boycott the event including several Fianna Fáil mayors. Sinn Féin has called on the event to be abandoned, while a majority of Dublin City Councillors voted on Monday to oppose the holding of the event.

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