Statement by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan, on the Decade of Centenaries commemoration of the Dublin Metropolitan Police & Royal Irish Constabulary
06 Jan 2020
‘The approach to the Decade of Centenaries has made clear that there is no hierarchy of Irishness and that our goal of reconciliation on the island of Ireland can only be achieved through mutual understanding and mutual respect of the different traditions on the island.
As part of the Decade of Centenaries (2012-2023), under the guidance of the Expert Advisory Group on Centenary Commemoration, I, on behalf of the Government, will host an event to commemorate the place of the Royal Irish Constabulary and Dublin Metropolitan Police in Irish History.
This event is one of a large number of events taking place during this decade to acknowledge and commemorate significant events or developments in the history of our island one hundred years ago. It is not a celebration. It is an acknowledgement the historical importance of both the DMP and the RIC, and is in no sense a commemoration of the “Black & Tans” or the “Auxiliaries”.
The Decade of Centenaries has, to date, been characterized by an open-minded non-partisan factual approach to our history. It has provided us with the opportunity to remember ALL of those who died over the period.
The office-holders invited to the modest and solemn commemoration on 17 January are invited in their capacity as representatives of their county, city or party as the case may be. They have not been invited in a personal capacity.
There is no question but that there are very real sensitivities involved here. I acknowledge that. But there are sensitivities on both sides. The RIC has found itself on the wrong side of history. The intolerance that was often characteristic of Ireland in the past sometimes forced people to deny their own family histories and airbrush parents, grandparents and siblings out of the picture for doing no more than serving as an army officer or police officer to support their families. It should be noted that the vast majority of Irish people who served as army and police officers did so with honour and integrity.
That is why it is disappointing to see some public representatives abandon the principles of mutual understanding and reconciliation in an effort to gain headlines. This attitude, combined with a distortion of the nature of the commemoration, is ill becoming of any public representative and represents a step backwards to a more narrow-minded past characterized by a hierarchy of Irishness.
The complexities of Irish history has been highlighted and many people have explored their family history, often discovering ancestors who served in the army and/or police as well as playing a role in the fight for an Irish Republic and/or Home Rule. The historian, Diarmuid Ferriter, among others, has highlighted this in his writing noting that Michael Collins’ uncle served in the RIC while the author Sebastian Barry had one grandfather in the British Army and another who was an Irish Republican. The actor Michael Fassbender’s great grandfather was in the RIC while Fassbender is also related to Republican leader Michael Collins. So many other Irish families share this complex history and these facts should be explored and acknowledged as all the threads of our history, within families and as a nation, make us who we are today as a people.
The centerpiece of the Decade of Centenaries has rightly been the 1916 Rising which was commemorated with over 60 official events, including seven major State ceremonial commemorations. Alongside these commemorations, we have also marked the participation of Irish soldiers in the First World War – including in major battles such as the Somme - as well as key events in the history of the Labour movement, female suffrage and the struggle for Home Rule.
In 2016 the Government hosted a small and sensitive commemoration acknowledging the 125 Army officers who lost their lives in the Rising while a Necrology Wall of Remembrance in Glasnevin Cemetery lists all those who died in the Rising, including rebel combatants, civilians, police officers and members of the Army. These commemorations are about our history, not our mythologies, and as Minister for Justice and Equality, I am happy to endorse the recommendation of the Expert Advisory Group that we commemorate the place of the Royal Irish Constabulary and Dublin Metropolitan Police in Irish History.’
Notes to Editors
The roots of the unarmed Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) stretch back into the eighteenth century and the DMP was merged with An Garda Síochána in 1925. The Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) was founded in 1836. By 1870 it has 12,000 members, most of them Catholic. It operated all over Ireland, with the exception of Dublin. It was disbanded in 1922. (A Dictionary of Irish History 1800-1980 edited by DJ Hickey & JE Doherty, Gill & Macmillan, 1980)
The Diarmuid Ferriter book referenced is: A Nation and not a Rabble: The Irish Revolution 1913-1923 (see Chapter 34)
In its guidance for the second phase of the Decade of Centenaries, which covers the period 2018-2023, the Expert Advisory Group recommended commemoration of, in particular:
The ending of the First World War
The introduction of women’s suffrage
The founding of Dáil Éireann
The struggle for independence 1919-1921
The Civil War
The Foundation of the State
Partition and the Foundation of Northern Ireland
The Admission of the Irish Free State to the League of Nations (1923)
The Foundation of the Defence Forces
The Foundation of An Garda Síochána
The place of the Royal Irish Constabulary and Dublin Metropolitan Police in Irish History
The Expert Advisory Group on Centenary Commemoration has guided the Decade of Centenaries for over seven years.
The overall aim of the Decade of Centenaries programme is to broaden sympathies without having to abandon loyalties and, in particular, to recognise the value of ideals and sacrifices including their cost.
These events are not celebrations as has been suggested by some in recent days, but commemorations – acknowledging important historical events and movements.
549 members of the RIC and the 14 members of the DMP were killed between Easter Monday 1916 and the disbandment of the RIC in August 1922.
The Expert Advisory Group has stated that while we have a common history, we do not have a common memory of the events that shaped our history.
The Government has followed the Expert Advisory Group’s advice in encouraging multiple and plural commemorations.
The Government’s approach to commemoration has placed a huge emphasis on access to accurate historical information – for example as part of its 1916 commemoration, the National Library of Ireland digitized a vast trove of records.
Membership of the Expert Advisory Group for the Decade of Centenaries:
Dr. Maurice Manning, Chairperson
Dr. Martin Mansergh, Vice-Chairperson
Prof. Mary Daly
Mr. Francis Devine
Prof. Diarmuid Ferriter
Dr. Leeann Lane
Dr. Sinéad McCoole
Prof. Eunan O’Halpin
Dr. Eamon Phoenix
Mr. Gabriel Doherty
Dr. Mary Harris