The Government’s decision to cancel the controversial commemoration service for members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) following a public outcry “is a warning shot that must be heeded”, says a leading academic.
Speaking at the opening of the newly refurbished exhibit ‘Irish Wars 1919 – 1923’ at the National Museum of Ireland at Collins Barracks last night, Dr Maurice Manning, who is chair of the Expert Advisory Group on Centenary Commemorations, said the decision to cancel the event which was due to take place at Dublin Castle this month was “worrying, given some of the extreme language and political posturing we have seen”.
Dr Manning, who served as a Fine Gael TD and senator for more than two decades, urged all political parties to tread carefully on the divisive issue.
“I appeal this evening to all political parties and their leaders to realise that these are fragile times and that genuine leadership requires a proactive approach from them – all of them – in ensuring that the generous, curious and collaborative spirit of the past few years is not shattered.”
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Plans by Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan to commemorate members of the RIC and the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) who were killed during the War of Independence have been put on hold.
The climbdown came after strong public opposition from those who saw it as commemorating the hated Black and Tans.
Some ministers with the Independent Alliance threatened to boycott the event while Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald and other politicians called for it to be cancelled.
Dr Manning said that while “we were very clear in all of our statements that commemorations should not ignore differences and divisions”, the role of the commemoration committee was to “ensure the integrity of the entire process, to ensure that the decade [of commemorations] belonged to the people and that there would be no manipulation for political or other purposes – whether it came from Government, other parties or factions”.
He said a key consideration was that commemorations should “remember the past while ensuring, as far as possible, that the commemoration does not re-ignite old tensions”.
He made the comments as a new poll published yesterday found 73pc of respondents believe the Government was wrong to propose the RIC/DMP commemoration.
The poll, conducted on January 13 by Ireland Thinks, found 97pc of Sinn Féin supporters and 90pc of Fianna Fáil supporters were opposed while Fine Gael supporters were evenly split on the issue. Those aged 25-34 were the most likely to oppose the event.
Meanwhile, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the event “will only take place on the basis that there is cross-party consensus in favour of them”.
“We want any commemorations to be inclusive, to be non-judgmental, not to threaten anyone’s loyalties and cause division in our country,” he said.
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