In the first of Tírghrá’s ‘How Does She Stand’ series published on New Year’s Eve, this writer opined that the Irish War of Independence and Irish history more generally has ‘come to be a battlefield of contemporary politics’. Less than 24 hours later, crystal clear evidence for that assessment came into being.
Defeat for the Dublin government – May it Be the First of Many
On New Year’s Day, the Fine Gael-led Dublin government announced its intention to take an unprecedented step and host a state commemoration for the Royal Irish Constabulary and the Dublin Metropolitan Police in Dublin Castle under the auspices of the Department of Justice. The resultant public furore forced a humiliated government to climb-down and ‘defer’ the commemoration. This show of public force was accompanied by the repositioning of many within Fianna Fáil to at least a surface-level greener stance, a likely temporary, but welcome, suspension of Sinn Féin’s appeasement policy with regard to the contest of Irish historical narratives, and the rise of the Wolfe Tones’ recording of ‘Come Out Ye Black and Tans’ to the top spot on Irish and British iTunes charts. There can be no doubt that the centenary of the bloodiest year of the Tan War has entered centre stage into Irish politics and culture with a very loud bang. It will not be dislodged easily.
All of us who realise the debt we owe to the men and women who dedicated their lives to liberating our nation, particularly during the 1916-23 phase, should not underestimate the success that is the government’s capitulation on its RIC/Tan love-in. Contrary to its intention and in an unbelievably ham-fisted manner, Fine Gael have reawakened a latent republicanism in large swathes of the Irish public. That gives us some cause for optimism. For too long, the trajectory has been in the wrong direction. From successive visits by British royal figures to placing Irish-born men who joined Britain’s military forces on a par, at least, with martyred Irish republicans, the past decade in particular has been driven by interests determined to inject amnesia into the Irish public where the record of British rule is concerned.
Now there’s been a long overdue and much-needed victory for the little people. Croppies must not lie down any longer. Let us press on, build further momentum and strive to achieve the primacy of Irish republicanism over the popular historical narrative. To not do so would leave the door open for the establishment to continue to push a narrative of so-called ‘complexity’ whereby the objectives of Irish republicanism, empire nationalism and British imperialism are all treated as equals, at best. If we’re serious about our commitment to an all-Ireland republic, we will wage stiff resistance to efforts to distort Ireland’s history to massage the record of British rule and feed the lie that British rule was either a neutral or positive imposition on our nation.
We are in an era where little shocks this writer and I’m sure I am not alone. Nevertheless, news that the state would be used as a prop by Fine Gael to rehabilitate Britain’s Ireland-based colonial police and paramilitary forces was certainly an exception to the nothing-shocks-anymore rule. After an initial absence of much of a response to the news (understandable given the day that was in it), the Irish Revolutionaries Facebook page organised an online petition calling for the cancellation of the RIC commemoration. The petition achieved close to 50,000 signatures by the time the government reversed its decision.
On 4th January, Clare’s Cathal Crowe became the first of several mayors to announce that he would be boycotting the commemoration. Other mayors slowly began to take the same position, including Cork’s John Sheehan who correctly pointed out how hypocritical and wrong it would be for him to commemorate the RIC in January 2020 and then in March commemorate his predecessor, Tomás Mac Curtain, who the RIC dragged out of bed and murdered. On 6th January the Seán Heuston Society announced it would hold a protest against the commemoration and Aontú became the first political party to state it would also protest the event. The same day Ógra Shinn Féin also announced its intention to protest at the Castle.
Radio talk-shows were inundated with calls from people deeply angered by the government’s arrogant determination to give state endorsement to organisations that, 1919-21 aside, collected tithes at gunpoint from peasants for the upkeep of a minority religion that acted as a badge for the elite, evicted people from their homes, guarded food exports during the Great Hunger, battered striking workers, some of them to death, in 1913 and identified republicans for execution in 1916. Online memes ridiculing the government and its obsession with honouring colonial oppressors circulated far and wide. Dublin City Council, with a 38 – 10 margin, passed an emergency motion that correctly pointed out that ‘only a subservient government suffering from a post-colonial state of mind and ashamed of our revolutionary history would encourage this disgraceful event’ and, emulating the tactics of Fenian Michael Davitt, voted to join the mayors who were set on boycotting the event. Dublin Liberties’ pub Peadar Brown’s took steps to arrange a ballad session to accompany the planned protests, with rebel singers signing up to offer their talents. The West was awake!
On Monday evening, Fianna Fáil’s Justice spokesperson Jim O’Callaghan appeared on RTÉ television and outlined that he would not be attending the commemoration. While members of Fianna Fáil, including O’Callaghan and Crowe, acted commendably throughout this affair and showed leadership that hardly ever comes from Fianna Fáil, that party’s actual leader left an awful lot to be desired. Michéal Martin, as ever, tried to ride two competing horses. As a man aiming all the time to appeal to his conception of ‘Middle Ireland’, Michéal Martin was true to his watery-drivel form. It’s not acceptable and it undermines the positive work and positions taken by others in Fianna Fáil. It underlines that he is not fit to be Taoiseach and cannot claim to be a republican in the slightest. But, alas no one in Fianna Fáil has the courage to displace him or the ideological conviction to propose an alternative and better course for the party. Quelle surprise – it’s Fianna Fáil after all, the Galway Tent party.
On 7th January, a spat that the government could certainly have done without erupted when prominent historian Diarmaid Ferriter, a member of the government’s Expert Advisory Group refuted Charlie Flanagan’s assertion the previous day that it was the Group’s idea that the RIC and DMP be commemorated. Ferriter accused the government of using the group as a mudguard to provide cover for the government when it made unpopular decisions, something the planned commemoration certainly was. Leo Varadkar continued to defend the government’s commemoration plans, stating in a press conference that he was effectively not able to get his head around how Irish people, having come round to the view that commemorating Irishmen who fought in World War One is appropriate (something that deserves scrutiny in its own right), could possible object to commemorations for the RIC (including the RIC’s Special and Auxiliary divisions) on the hundredth anniversary of War of Independence. A product of King’s Hospital insulated private schooling illustrating his remove from the nation once again.
Just before 6pm on 7th January the government grudgingly and ungraciously admitted defeat and surrendered. The commemoration would be ‘deferred’. It is the responsibility of all republicans to make sure that ‘deferred’ de facto means cancelled and that no government ever even considers trying to organise such a shameful stunt again. Croppies should not lie down.
The saga did not end with a bullish Charlie Flanagan ‘deferral’ press statement on Tuesday evening. He was wholly unapologetic in a live RTÉ news interview with Caitríona Perry, an interview that, true to RTÉ form, managed to avoid any actual hard questions and gave free reign to Flanagan to remind us all just how arrogant he really is. He blamed the ‘deferral’ of the commemoration on the ‘disappointing response of some’. No doubt Flanagan and the cabinet table cabal will have been further disappointed by the chart-topping successes of IRA man Dominic Behan’s ‘Come Out Ye Black and Tans’, as performed by the Wolfe Tones.
Unable to display any kind of ‘maturity’, which he ad nauseum lectures the little people about when it comes to remembering Irish history, Varadkar refused in a press conference to offer congratulations to the Wolfe Tones on their recent successes and refused to comment on their pledge to donate the proceeds of downloads of their song to the Peter McVerry homeless charity. He did not miss the opportunity though to tell journalists of his empathy for the British royal family amid their current trials and tribulations. He did make a point of insisting that the public rejection of the RIC and Tans reduced the likelihood of a united Ireland. Of course, that was a nonsense assertion and there can be no equivalence between achieving Ireland’s territorial integrity and favourably remembering our colonisers. The petulant King’s Hospital boy was shining through again and reacting out of instinct. In the meantime, the Tones continue to rise up the Australian iTunes charts, with the band pledging money raised in Australian downloads to be spent fighting the spread of fires.
The cavalry of right-thinking people in the dominant newspapers arrived too late on the battlefield to save the day for revisionism and the government. Not used to such defeats in these supposedly progressive times, the likes of Fergal Keane and Fintan O’Toole could not contain their frustration at large sections of the Irish nation retaining self-respect and a basic patriotic outlook. That many of us will not allow ourselves to be deluded by phoney causes of ‘maturity’, ‘inclusion’ and ‘complexity’ and stand by while the government commends the long-time oppressor organisations of the British state in Ireland and their members greatly irks the Keane-O’Toole axis. They have become too used to their roles as high priests of determining what is good and bad in Ireland today. This is our Ireland too and we should strive to ensure that this defeat for the right-thinking orthodoxy is only the first of many blows that they suffer.
This piece has been aimed at summing up the highs of the first defeat in recent times for the revisionist and official Ireland agenda, and what a defeat it has been! No doubt in two- or three-decades time, students will be writing dissertations and theses on this affair. This writer intends to follow-up this piece with a ‘Taking on the Black and Tans (Part Two)’, analysing in more detail how this January 2020 battle over the rights and wrongs of commemorating Britain’s crown forces fits into the wider contest for control of the Anglo-Irish historical narrative