THE Government has deferred a commemoration of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) which was due to take place next week.
n a major u-turn on Tuesday evening, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said the event, due to take place on Friday week, was being deferred.
It follows widespread public controversy over the plan to remember the pre-Independent police forces next week in Dublin Castle with three Independent ministers indicating they will not be attending the event. Two Fine Gael TDs also called for the event to be postponed.
Following a significant backlash Mr Flanagan confirmed on Tuesday evening that the event is being deferred.
"I do not believe that the event, as planned, can now take place in an atmosphere that meets the goals and guiding principles of the overall commemorative programme. Therefore, I am announcing its deferral," he said.
"I know that, regrettably, this decision will be a cause of hurt and upset to many people. I commit to proceeding with an alternative commemoration in the months ahead.
"As a next step, I will consult further with the expert Advisory Group on Centenary Commemoration, with the all-party consultative group on commemoration and with other stakeholders, with a view to organising an event that is inclusive and fully respectful of all the traditions and memories on this island."
The move marks a significant climbdown by the government after the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar defended the government's decision to hold and signalled it would still be going ahead earlier on Tuesday.
In a lengthy statement, Mr Flanagan said: "As a Government, we have at all times sought to have a national programme of commemorations that is authentic, sensitive and inclusive.
"We very much support the recommendation that there should be specific State-led initiatives to commemorate the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP)."
He said given the "disappointing response of some" he did not believe the event should go ahead and confirmed its deferral.
His statement continued: "As a Minister in two Departments over the last number of years, I have always been acutely conscious that commemorating the major events that shaped our nation one hundred years ago would in many cases be hugely challenging and hugely sensitive.
"Our island’s history is complex. The events that led to the creation of an independent State had devastating consequences for many families and many communities. We continue to live under the shadow of these events today.
"It has always been clear that the later period of the commemorative programme, including the War of Independence, the Anglo-Irish Treaty, partition and the foundation of Northern Ireland and the Civil War, would be particularly challenging.
"Thousands of Irish people have ancestors who served in the Dublin Metropolitan Police and Royal Irish Constabulary. These personal histories are part of the history of our island. I believe it is right that we acknowledge that history.
"There were those in the RIC who committed atrocities. The horrific record of the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries is well known. But there were thousands of other officers who behaved with dignity and honour in serving their communities. And we should not seek to airbrush these people from our history.
"In general, I would like to emphasise that the Government’s approach to commemoration has always been to deepen mutual understanding without expecting anyone to abandon loyalties. Alongside major commemorations for the 1916 Rising, we have marked the centenaries of the Ulster Covenant, the Home Rule Bill, the Dublin Lock-out, the First World War (including the Battle of the Somme) and the First Dáil.
"We have hosted a State event to acknowledge the British soldiers killed in the Rising. The goal, above all, has been reconciliation. We were all moved when Queen Elizabeth bowed and laid a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance, acknowledging those who died fighting for Irish freedom.
"In that context, and in that spirit, the Government accepted the specific recommendation that “consideration should [be] given to the organisation of specific initiatives to commemorate the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) and to acknowledge their place in history”.
He said the government had been guided by the principles set out by the Expert Advisory Group on Commemorations, including: “…the aim of commemoration should be to broaden sympathies without having to abandon loyalties and, in particular, to recognise the value of ideals and sacrifices, including their cost.
"…it is important not to forget the bloodshed and deep antagonisms of these years…while few eyewitnesses survive, the memories remain vivid in some communities and families and commemoration may revive painful memories of loss or dispossession.
"…we should also be conscious that on this island we have a common history but not a common memory of these shaping events.
"…Commemoration should not ignore differences or divisions. The goal of inclusiveness is best achieved, not by trying for enforced common interest or universal participation, but by encouraging multiple and plural commemorations which remember the past while ensuring, as far as possible, that the commemoration does not re-ignite old tensions.”