"The lesson is learned" - Leo Varadkar admits he 'messed up' regarding planned RIC commemoration
"What was planned became divisive and became a matter of political contention and that's why the right decision was taken to cancel it."
With election fever hotting up, Virgin Media One hosted the final seven-way debate between party leaders on Thursday evening.
Matt Cooper and Ivan Yates hosted the face-off, with the latter demonstrating so much spirit in the opening stages that he arguably took the focus from those under the main spotlight.
It was Yates, however, who pressed Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on a recent, extremely contentious issue - that of the planned Royal Irish Constabulary commemoration event that was scrapped earlier this month.
Addressing the Taoiseach, Yates contended that he and Fine Gael "messed up" with regards to the RIC commemoration controversy, an argument that Varadkar quickly conceded.
"Leo, do you accept that you really messed up with the RIC commemoration plans?" Yates enquired.
"Yes," Varadkar replied. "Obviously, what was planned became divisive and became a matter of political contention and that's why the right decision was taken to cancel it.
"And I think the lesson is learned that the commemorations that happened in 2016, 2017 and 2018 worked very well. They worked well because they happened on the basis that there was cross-party support for them and I wouldn't go ahead with any other commemorations unless there is cross-party support for them."
Speaking later on the topic of a potential united Ireland, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald challenged the suggestion that she intends to "simply shoehorn 900,000 unionists into a united Ireland", pointing out that she "doesn't want to shoehorn nationalists or anybody else, either" while highlighting "an incredible opportunity for all of us", adding that "no one party holds the title deeds" on such a scenario.
"But you wouldn't commemorate the RIC?" Yates asked.
"Absolutely not," McDonald responded.
"To make an equivalence - and those people are rightly remembered by their families and in an appropriate way - but to try and make an equivalence between the Black and Tans and those that put down the struggle for Irish freedom and democracy, to try and equate that with those who bravely fought and went toe-to-toe with the RIC, with the Black and Tans to secure our freedom I think is absolutely insulting and absolutely wrong."
Varadkar followed up McDonald's comments by noting:
"It was never about the Black and Tans. That's a misrepresentation."
You can read JOE's immediate reaction to Thursday night's debate here.