Ireland's history is difficult, but cannot be ignored

Ireland's history is difficult, but cannot be ignored

IT’S 2020 but you’d never think so.

As I write this the government has just backed down on holding a ceremony marking the historic role of the Royal Irish Constabulary.

We are still, you see, in the years of commemoration. A hundred years or so since the fraught era that marked the founding of this State. The War of Independence, the Civil War.

Difficult times to remember, obviously. But this is Ireland 2020, modern, liberal, no longer monocultural. As much in thrall to the global world of modern communication as anywhere else.

We are not the same country that lived through those events and those who lived through those events would not expect us to be so.

We are one hundred years on. We are one hundred years more mature. We have had one hundred years to come to terms with things. We have had one hundred years to think about things.

You’d think so, wouldn’t you?

Perhaps the truth is that the government has completely mismanaged this thing.

Perhaps they have completely misjudged the first act of remembrance in a year that’s going to have quite a few.

Perhaps this is an utter cock up.

The point is, though, that it is almost impossible to tell.

Of course dealing with the legacy of the RIC is loaded with complications. They were, after all, the police force of an Imperial power. They were the enforcement of Empire. They were on the side of the British in the War of Independence.

They were also, in very high numbers, Irishmen.

They were men who, by and large, we can presume, were not so much embedded in political opinion or committed to the endurance of British rule as they were to a proper job.

Clearly, this is complicated, multi-layered stuff.

So, perhaps, the government just got it utterly wrong. That wouldn’t be too hard to believe.

In reality, though, it is hard to tell. It is hard to tell because what has really dominated the current debate around the proposed ceremony is the stench of easy political outrage.

It has shown, not so much a considered, thought out, objection, but the cheap thrill of politicians scoring easy points.

The number of councillors from different counties declaring they would not attend the Dublin Castle ceremony was to see these minor politicians position themselves as fresh heroes for tomorrow’s plinths.

That a few Independent TDs, members of the cabinet, would join in was as predictable as Boris Johnson’s cabinet gleefully laughing at his latest lame gag.

That Mary Lou would row in on behalf of Sinn Féin, as if even the acknowledgement of our complicated past was an outrage, was a predictable disappointment.

Sinn Féin, under this leader, seem to be retreating into the green populism they seemed to have outgrown.

It doesn’t augur well. Not just for the commemorations to come but for the looming election.

If there was leadership here I couldn’t see it. Instead there was a race to the cheapest, most obvious, most superficial, least thought out point.

Micheal Martin, for Fianna Fáil, briefly seemed to offer a considered viewpoint but in true Fianna Fáil style retreated very quickly to wherever the largest crowd was standing.

RTÉ’s political correspondent went along with all this and declared that it showed ‘the old divisions still run deep.’ Is that true? Should we just accept that as a given?

I’m not convinced. I work and live and chat and drink in this society and I’d be lying if I said excessively strong opinions about past events were obvious.

What is obvious, though, is that, especially in the age of Twitter, phone-ins, and instant opinions, an unprincipled political rampage could stir up anything.

Politicians eager to pounce on easy populist postures show nothing but the shallowness of their own beliefs and journalists going along with it show a worrying lack of curiosity.

And that is all very dangerous.

Of course there are deeply held attitudes here to past events. We had, after all, a civil war and have, probably, never really dealt with that.

But adopting a bar stool reaction because it sounds well on the airwaves, following the crowd who are following the crowd, reacting instead of thinking, none of that gets us anywhere.

It does nothing to honour the past.

And it very much cheapens the present.