Thursday 23 January 2020

Editorial: 'We should commemorate the RIC dead with respect'

'It takes the most dexterous fingers to defuse the trip-switch of a bitterly conflicted past; handled clumsily, it will blow up in your face, as Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan (pictured) has discovered.' Photo: Justin Farrelly
'It takes the most dexterous fingers to defuse the trip-switch of a bitterly conflicted past; handled clumsily, it will blow up in your face, as Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan (pictured) has discovered.' Photo: Justin Farrelly
Editorial

Editorial

The primary rule of commemorations must be first do no harm.

And it is one the Government has broken in its handling of the 1920 centenary.

Some sleeping dogs are best left to their slumbers instead of startling them back to snarling life.

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It takes the most dexterous fingers to defuse the trip-switch of a bitterly conflicted past; handled clumsily, it will blow up in your face, as Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has discovered.

If the history of the RIC in Ireland was inflammatory, that of the Black and Tans was explosive.

Once British prime minister David Lloyd George asserted the conflict in Ireland was "a policeman's job supported by the military and not vice versa", the RIC was on the frontline in his government's war with the IRA.

Between 1919 and 1921, policemen made up by far the highest number of crown forces casualties. More than 400 were killed.

RIC men were regarded as decent people lured into the force by the necessity of making a living. They should not have been pitched into a tit-for-tat cycle of violence which would spiral out of control with the arrival of the Black and Tans in 1920.

Too many died doing their duty and they have a right to be remembered.

The loss of any life must always be a matter of regret in a civilised society but the Government found itself pitched into the molten furnace of history when the perception took hold that its members would be honoured as part of the commemorations.

Attributing justifications in retrospect is futile.

At this remove, all we can say is that atrocities happened and needless blood was spilled.

The stony silence that remains unbroken over much of our history tells its own story.

In a war of any kind, few come out on the side of the angels.

Yet it is hard to get away from the fact that in the War of Independence the RIC's duty was to back the British government's denial of self-determination to Ireland.

In other words, they were on the other side.

Celebrating those who resisted the formation of the emerging Irish State would clearly be contentious in such a context.

But remembering them respectfully should not be beyond us.

In the words of Cicero: "If no use is made of the labours of past ages, the world must remain always in the infancy of knowledge."

Disentangling history, hoping to find teams of good guys and bad, is simply spurious.

We can all find plenty to irritate, insult, provoke and separate if we look hard enough.

What we need to do is accept the full story and live with it. But we must also resist the temptation to sanitise or try or revise it in order to fit a false narrative.

Our duty today is clear - to get on with it and to see it for what it was, and not as what we might wish it was.

Irish Independent

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