Wednesday 22 January 2020

'Rebel County' representatives split over attending now deferred RIC commemoration

Concubhar Ó Liatháin

The announcement that the State was to hold what appeared to be a hastily organised commemorative event dedicated to the Royal Irish Constabulary and the Dublin Metropolitan Police has emphasised once again that civil war politics is not far from the surface.

And while the event has now been deferred following an escalating to furious reaction from political representatives of most shades, the war of words may yet have an impact on weightier issues such as election timing.

While a number of Fianna Fáil TDs and MEPs and Sinn Féin's Pat Buckley came out strongly against the event, which had been scheduled for next week in Dublin Castle, the stronghold of British rule in Ireland until 1922, Fine Gael's candidates for the General Election in Cork North West were adhering closely to the Government line earlier this week.

Cllr John Paul O'Shea said, in response to the questions posed by The Corkman, that he had not been invited to next week's event but would have 'no issue with attending' if he had been invited: "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.

"We as a country should respect all traditions on our Island and be mature enough as a State to acknowledge all aspects of our past."

In his response, Minister Michael Creed referred us to the statement issued on Monday by the Justice Minister and a spokesman confirmed this was the position of the Cork North West TD. In this statement Charles Flanagan acknowledged that there were real sensitivites involved but said the RIC had found itself on the wrong side of history. 

As the row escalated on Tuesday, the Government was forced into an embarrassing climbdown. 

"Given the disappointing response of some to the planned event on 17th January, 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," said Minister Flanagan.

The Minister's suggestion in his statement that he had acted "under the guidance of the Expert Advisory Group on Centenary Commemoration" has been disputed by UCD historian Diarmuid Ferriter, a member of that group. 

Cork East TD and Minister for State at the Department of Justice David Stanton had not responded to our questions as we went to print. 

Leading the charge for those opposed to the proposed commemoration was Fianna Fáil chief whip and Cork North West TD Michael Moynihan who said he had not received an invitation to the event but "would certainly not attend if invited".

"I completely disagree with the Governments proposals, and I think that this commemoration is totally insensitive and inappropriate, " he said.

"I have always had a great interest in this period of Irish history and in particular the events in the North Cork area.

"The Irish people who sought independence and self governance endured huge suffering and brutality at the hands of the RIC, who were representatives of an oppressive Government desperately trying to prevent Irish independence and freedom. 

"I personally feel that this commemoration is wholly inappropriate and I am at a loss as to why this event was ever planned."

His constituency colleague Aindrias Moynihan was as adamant that he would not attend the event either. 

"I haven't received any invitation. I don't agree with the Governments commemoration of the RIC, their Auxiliaries and Black & Tans on Friday week and won't be attending."

Sinn Féin's Cork East TD Pat Buckley went a step further and echoed calls of his party leader urging the Government to cancel the event.

"As a proud Corkman and Irish republican I would never attend such an event.

"I would never support the state having such an event.

"There is no equivalence between those who fought for freedom and those who for pay defended tyranny and brutality."

Describing the event due to be attended by Garda Commissioner Drew Harris, a former member of the RUC, as an 'affront to those who resisted British rule in Ireland during the Tan War, Deputy Buckley said that it was "citizens who suffered at the hands of those that enforced British rule in Ireland are who we should be commemorating, not the RIC or the Black and Tans".

"The Royal Irish Constabulary and Dublin Metropolitan Police were not merely police forces - as the Government seems to think - they had a specific role in upholding martial law and suppressing the will of the Irish people for self-determination and national independence.

"This State commemoration should be cancelled outright.

"In no other State would those who facilitated the suppression of national freedom be commemorated by the State." 

Fellow constituency TD, Kevin O'Keeffe of Fianna Fáil, also expressed his opposition to the proposed commemoration and added that he would not attend even if he had received an invitation. 

"Some say there is 'PC' but this is pushing the goalposts out too far. 

"Last year we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the sitting of the 1st Dail and consequent to this historic sitting The War of Independence erupted and more so in 1920 when the Imperial Power tried to curb the outpouring of public support by suppression through its Forces under the guise be it the RIC, Dublin Metropolitian Police, Black and Tans, Auxiliaries or British Army."

Newly minted MEP Billy Kelliher was also among those to say he would not attend the event if he were invited. 

"The Irish Government's proposals to commemorate the RIC are an attempt to distort the reality of our nation's War of Independence.

"The General Election 1918 was a referendum on Ireland's right to self-determination. The Royal Irish Constabulary consistently acted against the express wishes of the Irish people."

Among others surveyed but who had not provided responses were Deputies Seán Sherlock, Jonathan O'Brien and Mick Barry as well as MEP Deirdre Clune. 

Both Cork mayors, County and City, issued statements this week to dissociate themselves from the event.

"I do not consider it appropriate to attend this particular function in light of the events that occurred throughout Cork City and County during this time," said Cllr Christopher O'Sullivan. 

City Mayor John Sheehan refused his invite on Monday.