Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said the State created "unnecessary controversy" by announcing a commemoration of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP), which he believes could have been avoided in an "all-inclusive event".
A State commemoration of the RIC takes place in Dublin Castle on January 17 and has received much negative backlash, with a number of mayors and other politicians refusing to attend the event.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has defended the decision to commemorate the RIC in Dublin, saying “all traditions” should be respected.
Mr Varadkar said that the commemoration is “not a celebration”.
“It’s about remembering our history, not condoning what happened,” he said.
“We will also remember the terrible burning of Cork, Balbriggan, partition and the atrocities of the Civil War.
“We should respect all traditions on our island and be mature enough as a State to acknowledge all aspects of our past.”
We should respect all traditions on our island and be mature enough as a State to acknowledge all aspects of our past.— Leo Varadkar (@LeoVaradkar) January 7, 2020
His comments come after the Dublin City Council voted on Monday night to boycott the commemoration service.
Councillors described the event as “obscene”.
However, Mr Martin said a model of inclusive commemoration was implemented successfully in the past, including the 1916 commemorations four years ago.
"Over the last twenty years a model of inclusive commemoration has been developed and implemented by successive governments," he said.
"Central to this has been the role of public consultation and expert advice. The government has caused an unnecessary controversy around this RIC/DMP event by abandoning this approach."
Mr Martin said recommendations were submitted to and accepted by the government, but they did not suggest an appropriate way to remember the RIC.
"An all-inclusive event, remembering all who died during the War of Independence is already scheduled and it was understood by all involved that this would be an appropriate moment to demonstrate that we also remember those who did not support the struggle for national independence which was secured by the men and women who are the focus of many other events.
He added he understands many members of the RIC "found themselves on the wrong side of history" after joining the force for "legitimate reasons" but he is concerned a mishandling of the commemoration would be negatively received in Northern Ireland.
He believes "a calm and mature discussion" is needed. Mr Martin said the planned event "is not the appropriate vehicle to explore such complex themes" and called on Mr Varadkar, Simon Coveney and Charlie Flanagan to withdraw recent statements.
"It was an error of judgement compounded by the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and their reaction to those who have decided not to participate. They should withdraw their accusation that, to quote Minister Flanagan, those who choose not to attend this event are abandoning 'mutual understanding and reconciliation'."
Mr Martin said he hopes the Government consults a cross-party committee on commemorations ahead of similar events in the future.
"The years ahead will have many anniversaries that will pose difficulties and confront us with challenging questions about the country’s journey to independence. It is critically important that we come through this process in a spirit of honesty and reconciliation. We need to rediscover the generosity that informed the 1916 commemorations and return to the open engagement and consultation of that process," he said.
"This event will go ahead, and those who wish to participate in it should be fully respected in doing so. However, I also believe that the special cross-party committee on commemorations should be reconvened to consult on future commemorations and that it be asked to look again at the question of how we appropriately appraise and remember the activities of the RIC and the DMP over the course of the coming years."