Historian accuses Government of using advisory group ‘like a mud guard’
Minister said he would not ‘split hairs’ with Diarmaid Ferriter over expert advice
Professor Diarmaid Ferriter has said the expert advisory group on commemorations never suggested there should be a State event for the Royal Irish Constabulary and the Dublin Metropolitan Police. Photograph: Dave Meehan
Historian Professor Diarmaid Ferriter has said the expert advisory group on commemorations never suggested there should be a State event for the Royal Irish Constabulary and the Dublin Metropolitan Police.
He took issue with a statement by Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan who said on Monday that the proposed State commemoration was made “under the guidance of the expert advisory group [EAG] on centenary commemorations”.
Mr Flanagan responded to the mounting furore over the commemoration event on January 17th in Dublin Castle by stressing that it was never intended to honour the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries too.
On Tuesday, Professor Ferriter said the advisory group, which comprises of himself and other professional historians under the chairmanship of Dr Maurice Manning, did not recommend that a service for the RIC and the DMP be included in the list of State commemorations.
“What we stated was that ‘consideration should be given to the organisation of specific initiatives to commemorate the RIC and the DMP and to acknowledge their place in history’,” he continued.
“What we had in mind was an academic event - a conference or seminar - that would look at the issue of policing in Ireland during the revolutionary period, including the role of and disbandment of the RIC and the foundation of the Civic Guard, which became An Garda Síochána. ”
He said the advisory group “should not be used by the Government as a mudguard to provide cover for itself when it receives negative reaction to its solo runs in relation to commemoration.
“The EAG is not an executive body; it is an advisory group. We have consistently maintained that commemoration should be locally rather than centrally led.”
Instead, he maintained, the group proposed that “the commemorative model to mark the centenary of the Soloheadbeg Ambush is the correct approach to the observance of the sensitive and complex centenaries that will occur in 2020.
“This approach advocates a leading role for local authorities in supporting and driving community-led commemoration, augmented with appropriate State assistance and participation.
“The proposed RIC commemoration does not follow that model. What is being proposed was not put before the group and therefore was not discussed by the group and the minister should not refer to the event on 17th January in Dublin Castle as being as a result of our guidance.”
Dr Manning said the advice given by the advisory group could be interpreted as including a State ceremony though he acknowledged that the group only specified a small number of State ceremonies.
“It has never been our job to be prescriptive as to how events should be organised. It is up to the Government to decide the form it should be take. It is their absolute right to decide what should and should not be adopted,” he said.
Mr Flanagan said on Tuesday evening he would not “split hairs” with Prof Ferriter or other members of the EAG.
“What they said expressly was that every consideration should be given towards an event to mark the place of the RIC and DMP in our history and that’s exactly what we were doing,” Mr Flanagan said.
He denied that he had “misrepresented” the views of the committee and said he was determined to see the event proceed at a later date.
Addressing the fallout on RTÉ’s Six One News, Mr Flanagan said tens of thousands of RIC members had been “airbrushed from history”.
“I believe that aspects of this were grossly misrepresented. This was never going to be a eulogising of the Black and Tans.
“This was never going to be a celebration. Rather what was planned was a solemn and sombre event commemorating the RIC.”