The decision of Charlie Flanagan to commemorate the Royal Irish Constabulary and by extension, the Black and Tans is an outrage. But behind it lies Fine Gael’s ambition to draw this country ever closer into a web of imperialist relations.
The RIC was one of the first police forces ever formed in the world. Their purpose was to keep Ireland safe for the British empire. They were recruited from rural areas and were chosen because they were amongst the biggest and largest men. In 1913, the Dublin Metropolitan Police – the RIC’s counterpart in the city – baton-charged striking workers so ferociously that they murdered two people.
After 1919 a popular struggle – involving thousands of people who took up arms – drove out the RIC and formed liberated zones in parts of the country. Police stations were burnt to the ground and a mass boycott meant that people refused to supply them. The IRA embarked on a campaign of shootings to force them out, killing many RIC officers. By 1920, the RIC had retreated from 500 barracks.
In response to this, Winston Churchill sent in the ‘Black and Tans’ to bolster the RIC. These became part of the official RIC and their name comes from the fact that they combined the Khaki of the British army with the Black of the RIC uniform. Their main tactic was to launch reprisal and murder squads against the population. The activities of the RIC and the Black and Tans are well known in Ireland. They burnt towns like Balbriggan and Cork and murdered innocent people.
Instead of commemorating this brutal, repressive force, we should be celebrating an Irish revolution that drove them out.
But that is not in Fine Gael’s nature. The party has always wanted to bring Ireland back into the Commonwealth and turn us into a minor player in the Anglo-American imperial enterprise.
We should totally reject Flanagan’s stupid idea. But while doing so, let’s link our anger to the contemporary world and demand that the US army also get out of Shannon. If it was right to throw out the Black and Tans, then it is equally right to throw the US and British armies out of Iraq.