Prominent Irish priests have expressed deep disquiet at a Government plan to commemorate the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) amidst a growing move for a boycott, including three Government minister.
Fr Paddy Byrne parish priest of Abbeyleix in Co. Laois told The Irish Catholic he was “horrified” by the plans to commemorate the RIC and Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP).
The RIC and DMP – founded around the same time but not armed – who were killed during the War of Independence are to be commemorated in Dublin Castle on January 17.
The RIC are historically tied with violence and the Black and Tans; there has been public objection to their remembrance with Dublin City Council voting to boycott the event.
Fr Byrne insisted: “This is a step too far and it’s really insulting from this Government and is yet another sign that this Government is out of touch with the people on important issues,” he said.
Fr Byrne said that Irish history “is both complex and painful” and that “the RIC played a significant role in inflicting pain on the Irish people”.
“The RIC were agents of the British state that worked for British landlords to evict Irish people off the land during the planned genocide that some call ‘the famine’.”
His comments were reiterated by Fr Joe McVeigh, a well-known Co. Fermanagh Priest.
“This Government should know better but then I’m not surprised,” he said, saying he supports a boycott.
“They don’t seem to understand the feelings of the people, even with regard to housing and health and all the different issues presently, not to mention the serious issue of the past when people were being brutalised by these invaders from across the water.”
“Under no circumstances should those people be celebrated,” he said.
It was reported on January 1 that the event would take place with Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan and Garda Commissioner Drew Harris expected to speak. Since then the Mayor of Clare, Galway, Cork and Waterford have stated they will not attend and three independent Government ministers will also boycott the event.
Mr Flanagan has insisted that the event is not “a commemoration of the Black and Tans” and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has stood by the event.
Dr Maurice Manning, Chair of the Expert Advisory Group on Commemoration told The Irish Catholic that while the committee advised that this occasion be covered, “the form of the commemoration was the choice of the Government.
“There are a great number of people who are relatives, descendants of RIC men and the feeling was that the RIC which was such an important part of Irish life for 100 years, that it should be commemorated by those who wanted to.” He said it has nothing to do with the Black and Tans.
“Our concern in all of this is that the truth be told because we see it as history, not as current affairs, in 1966 when we did the 50th anniversary that was totally politicised by the Government of the day and there was only one version of the truth…we’re hoping that this will help fill out the jigsaw of complexity that is the Ireland of that decade,” he said.
History lecturer in University College Cork and member of the Expert Advisory Group on Commemorations, Gabriel Doherty told The Irish Catholic that the RIC was “not a police service, not even a police force, it was a paramilitary force…its main job was to ensure that challenges to the state, whether through criminal activity or especially through political activity, was neutralised.”
Although he has not been active in the advisory group recently for personal reasons, his own view is that an academic conference would have allowed more room for discussion for the history than a state commemoration.
“As a historian, this is a political question rather than a historical question,” he said.