Eamonn Kelly: Spinning History And Fine Gael’s Disingenuous Call For Compassion


From top: Royal Irish Constabulary Helmet and Dublin Metropolitan Police Baton; Eamonn Kelly

Well, what a mess. People used to say if you play with fire you get burned, which is what appears to have happened to Fine Gael with the RIC commemoration idea.

What were they thinking?

My own view is that they were creating a distraction, to cause a debate far removed from hospital waiting lists and homelessness. An attempt to create a shout-for-all safely parked in history. What a miscalculation.

That it was an election strategy was betrayed by the fact that everyone in Fine Gael was “disappointed” with anyone who opposed the idea of commemorating the RIC and, by extension, commemorating the Black and Tans; which is a bit like the Poles commemorating the SS.

Said Minister Flanagan.

“…it is disappointing to see some public representatives abandon the principles of mutual understanding and reconciliation in an effort to gain headlines.”

The Taoiseach was also “disappointed”; as was John Bruton, on the panel of the Claire Byrne show, who claimed that Fine Gael were taking a “mature” view of the events that transpired in what he described as our “two civil wars”.

He was corrected on this by historian Dr Mary McAuliffe who pointed out that Bruton’s first civil war was actually a War of Independence.

But gradually from the fog of obfuscation a pattern began to emerge of the whole thing being a stunt to allow Fine Gael claim a small mound of high moral ground in an argument of their own creation from where aspersions might be cast far and wide.

The debate could then be stoked by deliberate obtuseness, for no other reason it seems than to see the opposition tied up in knots faithfully trying to untangle the easy half-truths tossed so effortlessly into complex debates. The strategy back-fired spectacularly.

This kind of fake issue is typical of right-wing powers in recent times, where anything and everything is used, and often abused, to simply create division and obfuscation, while the perpetrators attempt to take advantage in the ensuing confusion. In this kind of political gamesmanship, nothing is sacred.

The Taoiseach’s attempt to rescue the situation only worsened things when he conflated sympathy for those Irishmen killed during the First World War, with those Irishmen killed while serving in the Black and Tans.

The two events are so entirely different that even the attempt to make out that they are one and the same is enough to short-circuit your thinking processes.

Naturally there were people who declined to attend a commemoration that seemed to be honouring the Black and Tans. But for a while this was just grist to the Fine Gael mill.

Though no one suggested that attendance at the commemoration was morally mandatory (or even compulsory) the “boycott” was soon well under way and eventually resulted in Fine Gael backing down, not with a cancellation, but with a deferment of the commemoration.

This came in the aftermath of a revelation by historian Diarmaid Ferriter that, contrary to Minister Flanagan’s assertions, a commemoration of the RIC had not been endorsed under the guidance of the Expert Advisory Group on Centenary Commemorations.

So, it seems to have been an entirely Fine Gael idea, plucked out of the air for perception advantages that might accrue to the party in light of a pending election.

But despite these setbacks Fine Gael stuck to their view that all opposition to the idea was morally questionable in its intent, which is essentially the moral view that they held from the beginning, a position that allowed them to declare morally superior “disappointment” with everyone.

Now with the deferment they were disappointed all over again at everyone else’s alleged moral shortcomings, and specifically so with members of Fianna Fail.

In psychology this is known as a Parent-Child transaction, with Fine Gael as the “parent” admonishing the wayward child, (Fianna Fail) but in such a mature way as to not express anger, but only “disappointment”.

We saw a similar angle worked in the Pat Kenny interview before Christmas where Leo Varadkar sought to characterise Fine Gael as the only common-sensical party in the country, surrounded by irrational ideologues who might capsize all the good work Fine Gael have done, as evidenced by the bodies piled up in the doorways of the republic’s city streets at night, and on the hospital trolleys of the state’s underfunded hospitals.

Here was the same idea now in another form, with Fine Gael being cast as the only “mature” party in the country surrounded by irrational hotheads lacking in the virtues of tolerance, compassion, reconciliation and maturity; qualities that Fine Gael claim to be so rich in.

What the entire affair appears to have demonstrated is that Fine Gael, like Boris Johnson and the Trump administration, are not at all shy about rearranging the furniture of history to accommodate present-day electoral requirements.

Which, when you think about it, is kind of disappointing.

The entire controversy seems to have been just another Fine Gael spin, where the object, as always, was to cast one sector against another and taint opposition to Fine Gael policy as intolerant in some way, shape or form; or irrationally driven by mindless ideology.

I guess the angle this time was to cast those opposed to this commemoration as opponents of law and order and all the Human virtues, while attempting to park public debate safely in the distant past.

But someone apparently forgot to drive a stake through the heart of the past and it rose up and declared itself severely displeased. The past, as it turned out, was not quite as distant as at first assumed.

However, the attitude underpinning the gambit, that the opposition is immature and irrational – in contrast to Fine Gael level-headedness and maturity – still persists, with Fine Gael remaining stubbornly “disappointed”, with a tincture of miff.

Its fine to be disappointed, many of us are, particularly since Fine Gael began to rule the roost; but the Fine Gael spin unit might be wise to remember that the last political party to imply that Irish people are too irrational, too irresponsible and too immature to govern themselves, was the British Tory party.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

Top pic: Clare Museum

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16 thoughts on “Eamonn Kelly: Spinning History And Fine Gael’s Disingenuous Call For Compassion

  1. RuilleBuille

    FG,in the shape of Varadkar, Flanagan and Maurice Manning, clearly thought the only opposition to honouring the Black and Tans would be from Sinn Fein and FG would then proceed to isolate them as the ‘Sinister Fringe’!

    Living in their bubble of hatred for Irish Republicanism they miscalculated the attitude of the population towards honouring our oppressors.

  2. gringo

    Top class analysis Eamonn. Tune in next week to hear John Brutons case for the canonisation of Eoin O Duffy and why all those working class Irish plebs should just shut up and do what they are told.

  3. NuffSaid

    Seriously Broadsheet, you need to do better than this, regular contributor or not.

    What a load of waffle. It’s articles like this that stymie discourse around complex and nuanced historical topics.

    Of the many, many, flaws with this article (not least referring to the RIC as the Black and Tans, when this monicker relates only to a period (albeit brutal) toward the very end of its 86 year existence), perhaps the most glaring is this section;

    “This came in the aftermath of a revelation by historian Diarmaid Ferriter that, contrary to Minister Flanagan’s assertions, a commemoration of the RIC had not been endorsed under the guidance of the Expert Advisory Group on Centenary Commemorations.

    So, it seems to have been an entirely Fine Gael idea, plucked out of the air for perception advantages that might accrue to the party in light of a pending election.”

    I’m no blue shirt, but this is simply factually incorrect. This guidance explicitly states that consideration should be given to matter;

    “Consideration should also be given to the organisation of specific initiatives to commemorate the
    Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) and to acknowledge
    their place in history.”


    1. Fearganainm

      The R.I.C. was given its ‘royal’ designation by the British monarch Victoria as a ‘reward’ for putting down the Fenian Rising of March 1867. From its inception it was a paramilitary body that had snuffing out the efforts of the Irish people to secure independence as one of its foremost functions, a task it pursued with relish for decades. There were plenty of bad, murdering R.I.C. members – as bad as the Black and Tans sent to beef up their ranks. There is no nuance capable of airbrushing their oppressive role and their often murderous behaviour from the historical record. Of course there were some decent Irishmen among the ranks of the R.I.C. but most of those that weren’t clandestinely working for the I.R.A. had the good sense to resign when things turned really ugly. Limerickman Patrick Buckley facilitated the capture by the I.R.A.’s East Clare Brigade of Sixmilebridge R.I.C. barracks where he was a serving R.I.C. member. His eventual ‘reward’ for this act was to be tied to a mine at Ballyseedy and blown to pieces along with seven other captured I.R.A. prisoners on March 6th, 1923. His murderers were elements of the Free State Army and we may have to wait some time before Varadkar or Flanagan make a song and dance about the life and death of Patrick Buckley. Effectively the R.I.C. functioned as a pro-British paramilitary force, elements of which occasionally moonlighted as nocturnal death squads – that’s how it was and there’s no nuance about it.

      1. NuffSaid

        “There were plenty of bad, murdering R.I.C. members”

        Never said there weren’t, but there were vastly more ordinary Irishmen who did their job admirably in what was (like it or not) the police force of the country at that time. Your assertion that the only Irishmen that served were either working against the organisation from within or left to rise to the flag as soon there was a sniff of independence is utter nonsense. Nothing in the historical data of the numbers that served would bare this out. It’s fun to look back with green tinted glasses and pretend every Irish person was always chomping at the bit for independence, but the reality is more nuanced than that.

    2. dav

      @nuff said can you explain to me the nuances around the burning of Cork city?
      “The Burning of Cork by British forces took place on the night of 11–12 December 1920, during the Irish War of Independence. It followed an Irish Republican Army (IRA) ambush of a British Auxiliary patrol in the city, which wounded twelve Auxiliaries, one fatally. In retaliation, the Auxiliaries, Black and Tans and British soldiers looted and burnt numerous buildings in Cork city centre. Many civilians reported being beaten, shot at, and robbed by British forces. Firefighters testified that British forces hindered their attempts to tackle the blazes through intimidation, cutting their hoses and shooting at them.

      More than 40 business premises, 300 residential properties, the City Hall and Carnegie Library were destroyed by the fire. The economic loss was estimated as including over £3 million (equivalent to €155 million in 2019) worth of damage, while 2,000 were left jobless and many more became homeless. Two unarmed IRA volunteers were shot dead in the north of the city.

      British forces carried out other reprisals on Irish civilians during the war, but the burning of Cork was one of the most significant. The British government at first denied that its forces had started the fires, and blamed the IRA. Later, a British Army inquiry concluded that a company of Auxiliaries were responsible. “

      1. V

        The burning out started during the summer of 1920
        That’s how the Blood n’ Bandage was born
        And that’s when the Stars and Bars began to appear

        The night of the 11th / 12th was the worst of it alright
        And was the night they scorched the City Hall so it gets particular mention

        But make no mistake it was a long year for Cork
        Two beloved Lord Mayors – one executed in cold blood in his family home
        The other – after 70 plus days on hunger strike in Brixton
        1920 opened with a General Election
        And closed with half the City in ruins

        There was no All Ireland Final ( hurling) that year as Cork couldn’t fulfil their Munster Final fixture (v Limerick asaik)
        Instead it was played in 1922
        Where Dublin bate Cork by 6 points
        And if ye want to know how Dublin won a hurling AI – it’s cause none of the players were actually true blue Dubs

        The recovery largely helped with the arrival of Ford’s and then Dunlop’s

        As an aside – these last few days and seeing how little people know of their own local history has been a sorry eye-opener
        Along with the mountains of comments and columns going around hosting vague opinions out of someone else’s view of history, and all just for the sake of having something to say.
        It’s been largely pathetic, and sometimes insulting.

        Bet ye’re all glad that bikini was retired off now

      2. NuffSaid

        Never said there weren’t atrocities. Much of what was done in the name of the fight for Independence and Civil War that would also fall into this category. My point about nuance is that there’s more to the history of the RIC than the War of Independence. But acknowledging that ordinary Irishmen of all faiths served doesn’t sit with a hardline Republican narrative, and that’s a problem from an historical point of view and as we move forward towards a re-United Ireland.

  4. GiggidyGoo

    You do know the difference though. This event was not “Endorsed” by, Nor is it on the event guide on the Expert Group’s website. There are other events listed.

    It advised to ‘consider’ specific initiatives. It didn’t advise Charlie Tanagain to hold this event. This was a FG solo run. It wasn’t endorsed, and Charlie is a liar basically to say it was.

    So there is no ‘glaring’ flaw, as you put it.

    1. NuffSaid

      I consider this statement below (which I alluded to) as utterly false.

      “…been an entirely Fine Gael idea, plucked out of the air…”

      I never said they endorsed it, and the whole thing is an omnishambles, but factually incorrect to say FG plucked it out of thin air as is suggested.

  5. Dr_Chimp

    This isn’t just typical of right wing powers, it’s typical of anyone involved in politics. But of course, only right wingers lie to create confusion and division. Lefty comrades always stick to the truth and never try to create division….except when it comes to class struggle of course

  6. Truth in the News

    Is it not strange that RTE the so called “Public Service” haven’t done an each day
    commemorative series on what happened on each day of War of Independence
    The seeds of revisionism planted by one Conor Cruise O’Brien are still sprouting
    and they need to be uprooted, …the remnants of the Free State still abound in the
    mind set of the Fine Gael party, the only bit lacking is the resurrection of WT Cosgrave
    and the son, the latter, the mongrel fox chaser, no wonder certain elements dread what
    will be brought to the attention of this generation , and how their Grandparents were
    sold out by a bunch of political opportunists so they could cash in on State Jobs and
    all the frills that went with them

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