I’m very much in two minds about the announcement of an official state ceremony to be held in Dublin Castle on January the 17th to honour those Irish and British men who lost their lives while serving with the Royal Irish Constabulary and Dublin Metropolitan Police during the War of Independence. While I have no problem with public officials or politicians attending a privately organised ceremony to commemorate the RIC and DMP it’s more than a little bizarre to witness a nation-state commemorating the memory of those who fought against its very existence. Which, after all, was the main role of Britain’s locally recruited forces in Ireland between 1916 and 1921, and in the decades before that, despite attempts to claim otherwise. Unfortunately the forthcoming ceremony represents more of the cognitive dissonance which has come to characterise so much of the Government celebrations marking the centenary of the Irish revolution. The unofficial adoption of a policy of false equivalency by the committee overseeing the centenary events, effectively placing the actions of the Irish Republican Army and the British Army on the same level, has stoked much controversy, seen most pointedly in the Easter Rising commemorative wall at Glasnevin, where the names of those who died fighting to establish an Irish Republic are listed beside those who died fighting to suppress the Irish Republic, including those who engaged in war crimes and the wilful murder of civilians.
And, as others have noted, so far it seems that the state ceremony to commemorate the RIC will include all parts of that organisation. Which means that on the 17th of January the Irish state will be honouring the mercenary killers who served in the Royal Irish Constabulary Special Reserve, the infamous “Black and Tans”, and the related Auxiliary Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary, the equally infamous Auxies, as well as regular officers of the militia force. Last September the Fine Gael Minister of Justice Charlie Flanagan claimed that the RIC men who died during the War of Independence had simply been:
“…doing their job. They were murdered in the line of duty. They were doing what police officers do. As they saw it they were protecting communities from harm. They were maintaining the rule of law. These are fundamental to police services everywhere. I believe I have a duty as Minister for Justice to police officers.”
Which is a blatantly untrue and partisan reading of history by a senior member of a sovereign Irish government that would likely not exist if those police officers had succeeded in doing their “duty”.