“Over the last twenty years a model of inclusive commemoration has been developed and implemented by successive governments. Central to this has been the role of public consultation and expert advice. The government has caused an unnecessary controversy around this RIC/DMP event by abandoning this approach.
“Recommendations on the commemoration of the War of Independence and Civil War were submitted to government by an all-party and expert group two years following a widespread public consultation. These recommendations were accepted by government. While these recommendations included the sensible view that the role of the RIC should be remembered in some way, there was no discussion involving the most appropriate method of doing so.
“An all-inclusive event, remembering all who died during the War of Independence is already scheduled and it was understood by all involved that this would be an appropriate moment to demonstrate that we also remember those who did not support the struggle for national independence which was secured by the men and women who are the focus of many other events.
“It is important to explore every element of this period and use this time as an opportunity to properly discuss every aspect of a complex history. It is also undeniably true that many decent people joined the police force of the day for legitimate reasons but found themselves on the wrong side of history. Indeed, elements of the RIC worked closely with those fighting for Irish freedom at great personal risk. I am acutely conscious also of how this controversy, and some of the language being used in the debate surrounding it, will be received by different traditions in Northern Ireland.
“We need to have a calm and mature discussion. In my view, the event organised by the Justice Minister is not the appropriate vehicle to explore such complex themes. It was an error of judgement compounded by the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and their reaction to those who have decided not to participate. They should withdraw their accusation that, to quote Minister Flanagan, those who choose not to attend this event are abandoning “mutual understanding and reconciliation”.
“The years ahead will have many anniversaries that will pose difficulties and confront us with challenging questions about the country’s journey to independence. It is critically important that we come through this process in a spirit of honesty and reconciliation. We need to rediscover the generosity that informed the 1916 commemorations and return to the open engagement and consultation of that process.
“This event will go ahead, and those who wish to participate in it should be fully respected in doing so. However, I also believe that the special cross-party committee on commemorations should be reconvened to consult on future commemorations and that it be asked to look again at the question of how we appropriately appraise and remember the activities of the RIC and the DMP over the course of the coming years.”