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27 April 2006 Edition

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Incapable of handling the unexpected

RTE's two-part drama Fallout was shown this week on the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster in April 1986. A little overdue, but better late than never, the RTE production began with an abrupt interruption to a BBC schedule to announce reports of possible explosions at the Sellafield nuclear power station situated a mere 60 miles from Dundalk.

The drama outlined the potential consequences for Ireland of such a disaster, particularly for those living along the east coast. Too bad for residents of Dublin, Wicklow, Louth, Meath, Wexford and Kildare who were advised by reporters to close their doors and stay at home: "Phone in, tune in and stay in". Of course there was the comforting announcement from the Department of Foreign Affairs: "This is not a Terrorist Attack".

The first part of the two-part programme dealt with the initial chaos, with transport and health coming under heavy scrutiny. In the height of this fictional emergency, patients queued for beds and traffic came to a halt: familiar isn't it?

Irish infrastructure was portrayed as incapable of handling the unexpected. The 'system' fell down, was unprepared in the context of a disaster. This, despite the fact the threat from Sellafield has been hovering over us for decades.

Considering the condition of the health services and Mary Harney's recently derclared state of emergency system, this could have been a direct dramatisation of the state of the nation.

Current debate on energy

The second instalment dealt with the longer term fallout, in economic and human terms and in that order. The initial concerns are depicted as overseas investment, house prices, tourism etc. Gradually things get down to the nitty gritty when the real trauma kicks in. Parents anguish over their sick children, farmers fret over their stock and former-policemen anguish over faulty decisions made during the disaster.

In the meantime the social scales invert with working class kids squatting in Dublin 4 while the former occupants move to the relatively safer regions of the West like Conemara, while continuously fretting about the non-value of property anywhere in the country.

Regular and repetitive advertisements during the intervals, declaring that the motor company Opel were the "Proud sponsors of Irish drama", seemed out of place.

This dramatisation of the affects of an accident at Ireland's nearest nuclear facility should be seen in the context of the current debate on energy, which has seen some commentators raise the prospect of the nuclear option in the face of diminishing fossils fuel resources.

The Cetic Tiger is a hungry beast, wanting everything to be big, fast and easy. We've grown accustomed to big cars, fast food and easy lifestyles, regardless of the cost in energy demands. We want it all now. It's the 'now' factor that needs to be addressed.

British nuclear expansion

In a recent report entitled The Chernobyl Catastrophe, Greenpeace predicts that the worst effects of the disaster are yet to come. Official UN figures had predicted up to 9,000 Chernobyl-related cancer deaths. Greenpeace suggests that recent studies estimate that the real number of such deaths will be in the region of 93,000.

Given these frightening projections, you would imagine that a responsible government would base its agenda on the best interests of future generations, at least the future generations of its own citizens. Yet even today the British Government is looking at nuclear expansion, with Sellafield currently under consideration as a potential site for a further and far larger nuclear plant.

If a British government shows so little concern for the future of its own citizens, would they give any consideration to the welfare of the panic stricken Irish people depicted in Fallout? What provision has the Irish government made in the event of such an 'emergency'? Judging from the amount of people preferring to stay at home untreated rather than face into the chaos of A&E wards in this country, I'd say little. We would simply have to "phone in, tune in and stay in". As the young farmer said at the end of the production, "It's been at our door for years. They only do something when it fucking happens".


Unique Irish view of Tan War

DVD Review. Irish Destiny . Directed by George Dewhurst. Written and Produced by Isaac Eppel , Eppels Films Ltd, 1926. Restored by Irish Film Institute and RTÉ. Price €22.

Many people who have visited the Irish Film Institute in Dublin's Temple Bar will have been struck by the giant cinema poster for the movie described as 'the great spectacular film of the war in Ireland' and depicting the burning of the Custom House. This unique film Irish Destiny was believed lost for decades until a copy turned up in the Library of Congress in Washington. It was made in 1926 and has now been remastered and issued as a DVD by the Irish Film Institute and RTÉ.

Made just five years after the Black and Tan war in which it is set, it must have made a huge impact on Irish audiences. The New York Times described the cinema-goers in Daly's Theatre, New York:

"The scenes of Irish Destiny elicited constant waves of applause. The spectators manifested their enthusiasm when the Black and Tans fell, and they hissed as in the days of the old melodrama, when a Black and Tan struck an Irish Volunteer."

The storyline follows Denis O'Hara into the IRA after witnessing British atrocities. While unique in its setting in the Irish war, it is very much a film of its time with much melodrama. Inevitably, Denis has a long-suffering 'mother machree' and a swooning sweetheart. But this is an Irish-made film and it does not slip into stage-Irishry. It is given authenticity by the inter-cutting of actual newsreel footage of the Tan war and by the involvement of Dublin Brigade Adjutant Kit O'Malley in the production. (By the way, does anyone know anything more about O'Malley?)

The film features what must be the first car chase shot in Ireland when Denis dashes through the streets of Dublin on his motorbike pursued by detectives as he tries to warn IRA GHQ of an impending British raid. For these crystal clear shots of a crowded Dublin city centre in 1926 alone the film is worth seeing. Micheál Ó Súilleabháin has composed a fine score which adds greatly to the experience. Fans of the poitín-making tradition will be interested in the gothic horror scenes of the evil poitín-maker trying to have his wicked way with Denis's girlfriend before her spectacular rescue by the hero.

This film is unique for its time in presenting the war from an Irish point of view. It was a war largely ignored by film-makers, with the exception of the odd Hollywood and British film which reinforced anti-Irish stereotypes. Of course this point is completely ignored by the absurd Kevin Myers who has a 'last word' in the otherwise informative accompanying booklet. But the real last word is with the film-makers whose work has been resurrected for a new generation to enjoy.

Irish Destiny is available on DVD from the Sinn Féin bookshop online at, in Sinn Féin shops and general outlets.


An Phoblacht Magazine


  • The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
  • It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
  • There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.

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