RIC should be afforded an honourable place in this decade of remembrance
Opinion: Huge level of public interest shows folly of decision to downgrade school history
RIC officers wait at a train station, possibly Clontarf in Dublin: “we are determined these much-maligned men will not be forgotten”.
The tone of reconciliation between old enemies is now a feature at the annual Béal na Blá commemoration of the death of Michael Collins, which takes place tomorrow. This year leading Fine Gael supporter Bill O’Herlihy is expected to call for a possible future alliance of his party and Fianna Fáil.
The invitation to the late Brian Lenihan to speak at the event in 2010, and his decision to accept, symbolised the end of civil war politics and, whatever happens in the future, decisions will be based on pragmatic political considerations rather than old hatreds.
So far the decade of commemoration for the great events spanning the 1912 to 1922 period that led to Irish independence has been marked in a similar spirit or reconciliation and compromise.
The tens of thousands of Irish men who fought in the first World War have finally received due recognition and the State has even given formal recognition to the Ulster Volunteers, whose entire purpose was to block independence.
However, there is one hurdle that official Ireland still has to cross. That is some form of acknowledgement for the policemen of the Royal Irish Constabulary and Dublin Metropolitan Police who guarded the people of this island for almost a century. About 530 of these men, the vast majority ordinary Catholic and Protestant Irish men, were killed between 1916 and 1922, many of them on the orders of Michael Collins.
Last year two retired gardaí, Gerry Lovett and Patrick McCarthy, organised a commemoration at the RIC plot in Glasnevin Cemetery. There was some controversy over the event and this year the group found itself unable to meet the conditions laid down by the authorities at Glasnevin, which included a €6 million insurance bond.
Garda chaplain Fr Joe Kennedy stepped in and arranged for an ecumenical service to take place at Mount Argus Church next Saturday at 2.30pm. Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan will be represented at the event, as will the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
The organisers are hoping that the Government will also send a representative.
“We are determined that these much-maligned men will not be forgotten. Over 500 of them were killed between 1916 and 1922, many in appalling circumstances such as on golf courses, lying on a hospital bed or coming from church with their families,” said Lovett, secretary of the organisation committee.
Honouring the men who served in the RIC does not involve an endorsement of everything the force did, any more than the commemoration at Béal na Blá implies a justification for everything Collins did during the War of Independence and subsequent Civil War.
As historian of the Garda Conor Brady has pointed out, RIC men generally conducted themselves with forbearance and dignity in the face of the terror campaign directed against them by Collins. Their unwillingness to respond with the same level of ruthlessness prompted the British government to introduce the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries to wage a counter-terror campaign.