Belfast Telegraph

Nelson McCausland: Debacle over the commemoration of the RIC shows Republic is not the modern state it pretends to be

Blunder was a shocking embarrassment for Leo Varadkar, but typical of south's view of the past

Participants in Sinn Fein’s annual Sean South commemoration in Limerick
Participants in Sinn Fein’s annual Sean South commemoration in Limerick
Nelson McCausland

By Nelson McCausland

On Tuesday morning, Leo Varadkar was defending his planned national commemoration for the Royal Irish Constabulary. Formed in 1822, it provided a police service in Ireland until 1922, when it was replaced by the Garda and the RUC.

Most of its members were Irish and Catholic, but any commemoration of policing was too much for many in the Irish Republic.

Yes, we can expect Sinn Fein to be up in arms about it, but Fianna Fail was also set against it and there was growing opposition, with a succession of councils and politicians announcing they would boycott the event. By Tuesday evening, it was all over.

The RIC commemoration had been deferred and, with a general election on the way and the breadth and strength of the opposition, that deferral may well be permanent.

Alongside the announcements of boycotts, there were the obligatory Sinn Fein plans for protests. However, those plans are now redundant as there is nothing to protest against.

This has been an embarrassment to Leo Varadkar and it is not the sort of start that he would have wanted for an election year.

But it has not only embarrassed Leo Varadkar; it has exposed the fact that the Republic is not the confident and forward-looking society it claims to be.

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On Tuesday morning, Leo Varadkar tweeted: "We should respect all traditions on our island and be mature enough as a state to acknowledge all aspects of our past."

By Tuesday night, he had to concede that the Republic is not the "mature" society that he had suggested.

Meanwhile, Charlie Flanagan said that the opposition to the event represented "a step backwards to a more narrow-minded past".

Almost a century after partition, the Irish Republic has still not come to terms with its complex past and this debacle does not augur well for the forthcoming centenary of the Irish Civil War.

After four generations, nationalist Ireland is still struggling to deal with its history. It lacks the maturity to "respect all traditions on our island".

Leo Varadkar must have known how this reflects on the Republic, how it exposes deep-seated animosities in the Republic and how it will be seen by unionists in Northern Ireland.

Yet, such was the political and public outcry, that he felt he had to cave in.

At the same time, we can only hope that will help some of the more naive commentators, on both sides of the border and in Great Britain, to understand why people in Northern Ireland find it hard to deal with the legacy of the recent violence in Northern Ireland, some of which has taken place within the current generation.

The past is everywhere around us and it has the capacity to be informative and instructive. But it also has the capacity to poison.

The people of Limerick will have been reminded of that last Sunday, when Sinn Fein held its annual Sean South commemoration at the republican plot in Mount St Lawrence Cemetery.

Volunteer Sean South was killed during an IRA raid on Brookeborough police station on January 1, 1957. He was an Irish republican and a member of Sinn Fein, but he was also an anti-Semitic neo-fascist.

His biographer, Mainchin Seoighe, states that Sean South was a member of the fascist party Ailtiri na hAiseirighe as well as a member of the IRA. Nevertheless, year after year, senior members of Sinn Fein turn up to honour him.

Forty years ago, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland published a booklet on Irish republicanism and said "there is a religious-style overtone in the whole (republican) movement ... the movement feeds on its dead and lives off its martyrs".

The booklet went on to describe the republican plots as their "shrines". That was said 40 years ago, but it is still true today.

Those who want to move Northern Ireland forward must be deeply disappointed by the fact that Sinn Fein retains its annual calendar of terrorist commemorations.

But they will be equally disappointed by the debacle over the RIC commemoration in Dublin and the reality that it has exposed.

Jesus said: "The poor ye have always with you." We might also say: "The past ye have always with you." And that is true on both sides of the border.

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