The Irish government has cancelled plans to recognize British police forces–many of them born in Ireland–who fought against pro-independence rebels a century ago. The commemoration of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP), was set for Jan. 17 at Dublin Castle, former seat of British administration in Ireland and now a historical site used for state events.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s center-right government noted that not only were many members of the police forces Irish, but also some were sympathetic to the cause of independence. Others suggested the ceremony was part an effort to understand pro-British unionists in Northern Ireland, which remains part of the United Kingdom and is now convulsed by Brexit.
Opposition party members and the mayors of several Irish cities said they would boycott the event. One suggested that no other state would commemorate those who facilitated the suppression of national freedom, especially the brutalities of the Auxiliaries and Black and Tans, the RIC’s special reserve and paramilitary units.
Commemorating Ireland’s bloody War of Independence (1919-1921) “will prove delicate for the Irish state for many reasons,” John Dorney, editor of The Irish Story, writes in The perils of reconciliation. “One being the potentially antagonistic result of evoking the political violence of the era. But another is that the suggestion that the commemoration of such a bloody and polarizing time can be about ‘reconciliation’, like the 2016 commemoration of the Easter Rising, is probably wishful thinking.”
At The Irish Times, columnist Fintan O’Toole wonders, Why do we fear the ghosts of dead policemen?:
Is it obscene merely to remember such men? Must there be a hierarchy of victims in which they remain, not just at the bottom but even lower down, in the underground darkness of oblivion?
We have, supposedly, been trying to rise above such mentalities, to accept that history, when it turns violent, sweeps all sorts of human lives into the gutter. A society that has moved beyond violence does not leave them there.
Dorney, however, concludes that “value-free commemorations” of the War of Independence, partition of the island, and Civil War (1922-1923) “in general are not possible. It is not ‘mature’ to impose a false consensus but rather to understand the political differences that led to bloody strife in Ireland 100 years ago and how they shaped the Ireland of today.”
Historian Diarmaid Ferriter suggested “an academic event – a conference or seminar – that would look at the issue of policing in Ireland during the revolutionary period” was more appropriate than a state commemoration.