|By Brian Hanley|
John William Nixon was a career policeman. A native of Cavan, he joined the Royal Irish Constabulary in 1899, at the age of 22. Nixon served in Donegal, Antrim, Mayo, Fermanagh and Dublin and in August 1917 was appointed a district inspector. He was then the youngest such officer to have risen from the ranks of the force.
During those years Nixon must have carried out many of the normal duties of policing which have been referenced repeatedly by those arguing in support of a State commemoration for the RIC. But by 1921 Nixon had acquired a fearsome reputation in Belfast, believed by nationalists there to be the leader of a “murder gang” who carried out assassinations of republicans and others perceived as “disloyal”. Nixon was thought responsible for the notorious McMahon family murders during March 1922. Later that year he would be one of those 1,350 RIC men who transferred to the new Royal Ulster Constabulary on its foundation.
Nixon’s story illustrates why the idea of an uncontentious commemoration of the RIC was always an impossibility. Last October Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan described those policemen who were killed between 1919-21 as having been “murdered”. He has also claimed that they were only “doing what police officers do. As they saw it, they were protecting communities from harm.”
But the story of the RIC under British rule was never that of a normal police force, even before the revolutionary era. And, as a paramilitary force between 1919 and 1921, the RIC were combatants not innocent victims.
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