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The Untouchables – RIC Postscript

The Propaganda War

Thanks to Major General Tudor, Britain lost the propaganda war in Ireland so critical to counter insurgency. RIC murder and reprisals under his command destroyed any likelihood that the RIC would be retained by the new Free State. The RIC to the great relief of the vast majority of the Irish people was disbanded between January and August 1922.

Colonial police’ forces like the RIC were the primary agents of imperial power and the principal coercive arm of the British Empire’s local administrations during bouts of anti colonial unrest or resistance.

RIC’s History of Notoriety

The RIC’s history of notoriety made the reemployment of disbanded RIC men to colonial policing roles nearly impossible. The few RIC men that were retained by the fledgling Irish Free State resulted in a mutiny in May 1922. The new Civic Guard’s demanded the removal of former RIC officers that had been appointed to senior positions. Only 2% of the new force of Civic Guards or An Garda Síochána’s recruits had seen RIC service and the reaction of other recruits proved that this was a mistake. They were essentially untouchables in Ireland.

UK Disdain for RIC

The UK’s ‘Constabularies’ were also extremely reluctant to accept RIC applications from what they perceived as essentially a discredited paramilitarized ‘Black and Tan’s’ force.

London Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir William Harwood rejected a request to take on former RIC men because ‘even previous to Sinn Féin activities… their Irish service was more of a military nature than that of a civilian police force’. The RIC were essentially untouchables in the UK as well as in Ireland.

Dominions Disdain for RIC

Even in the British dominions, many local constabularies were unwilling to recruit ex-RIC men. Historian Kent Fedorowich described ‘the sheer nature of the violence and the role played by the Black and Tans… conjured up scenes of barbarity and brutality which no dominion police force wanted to be associated’. The RIC were untouchable with one notable exception, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which recruited over 1,300 RIC men between June and October 1922. Eventually the RUC also became untouchables and they too were disbanded in disgrace.

Colonial Police

Britain’s dependent empire already had a transnational relationship with the RIC. RIC style paramilitary policing methods proved attractive to Britain’s 19-century colonial regimes. They saw its para-military makeup and its coercive function as a suitable model for colonial conditions rather than purely civilian police services. Many colonial forces used the RIC as a template and recruited RIC personnel that Colonial Office official, Sir Charles Jeffries, described as ‘the really effective influence on the development of the colonial police forces during the nineteenth century’.

Tudor in Palestine

General Tudor who had overseen police operations in Ireland assumed the role of Palestine’s joint general officer commanding and director of public security in June 1922. Hundreds of disbanded RIC men immediately transferred to the Palestine Mandate.

Tudor described the country as ‘a rest cure after Ireland’. He sourly remarked to Palestine’s attorney-general that the British ‘had to leave Ireland because of the principle of Irish self-determination and were sent to Palestine to resist the Arab attempt at self-determination’.

In April 1922, over 700 disbanded RIC men had already joined the British Section of the Palestine Gendarmerie. A striking force/riot squad was formed through the agency of former RIC chief, Major-General Henry Tudor, to reinforce the locally recruited policing forces. The great majority of them were former Black and Tans and Auxiliaries. This was something the British and Palestine governments tried unsuccessfully to obscure.

Lessons From Ireland

Although Britain had deployed another Auxiliary force in Palestine, some lessons from Ireland were learned. Discipline under Commandant Angus McNeill was far more rigidly imposed than it had been under Tudor in Ireland. As his staff sergeants termed ‘the Irish way of things’ would not prevail in the British Gendarmerie which did not adopt the reprisals policy that defined policing in Ireland.

On the other hand State violence was not subjected to Ireland-style press and political scrutiny. In polite British parlance it could be applied to a non-white ‘colonial race’ in a manner unthinkable in ‘metropolitan’ confines.

Former Black and Tan, Douglas V. Duff used an exchange between an ex RIC man and a British visitor to encapsulate this thinking. The Arab insurgents are not patriots, they’re criminals… Some of the men who were hanged during the Irish Troubles were condemned as criminals. Kevin Barry and the rest. That’s different. They were white men. The Palestine Police were the ‘most notable’ and ‘perhaps the most notorious’ example of an imported Irish ethos.

The British elite now have a number of deadly killing machines at their disposal. They never learn.


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