Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

23 October 2003 Edition

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Suspect devices undermine Bombers

TV Documentary Review



The array of 'improvised' explosive devices designed and detonated by the IRA throughout the conflict was not merely a testimony to the resourcefulness of the organisation but also underlines the utter futility of the demand for decommissioning put forward in recent years by unionists and the British Government.

How does a society decommission weed-killer, sugar, fertiliser, diesel oil or condoms? The simple answer is that it can't and therein lies the absurdity of approaching conflict resolution through seeking the 'surrender' or 'handover' of republican weapons. Such demands are redundant in the context of popularly supported insurgent organisations within a western consumer society in 2003.

Preventing ordinary people from converting everyday, domestic materials into weapons of war can only be achieved through tackling the political motivation that underlies such extraordinary activity.

Bombers, RTÉ 1 Tuesday, attempts to be a history of the recent armed conflict here, viewed through the prism of one of its aspects - the development and deployment of explosive devices by the various protagonists. The limitations of such an approach are obvious.

While a significant portion of the first episode dealt with the steady development and increased sophistication of IRA devices, there was a very deliberate concentration on republican operations that resulted in the deaths and injury of civilians. As a study of military tactics or strategy it failed to analyse, in any way, the effectiveness or otherwise of IRA bomb attacks against British military, political and commercial interests and morale.

Keelan Shanley's narration was interspersed by interviews with people the documentary-makers regarded as representing those most intimately acquainted with the strategy and tactics of the use of explosives. This included veteran RUC and British military personnel and, as supposed authorities on republican military strategy, a combination of the discredited informer Seán O'Callaghan and agenda-driven former IRA activists such as Anthony McIntyre - an avowed opponent of the republican leadership. This is surely one of the programme's most glaring weaknesses.

Bombers is further weakened by the lack of any serious scrutiny of the central role played by the British secret services in the development and direction of the bombing campaigns of loyalist organisations. The 1974 Dublin-Monaghan bomb attacks did feature but there was no serious journalistic analysis of how the UVF suddenly acquired the hitherto absent organisational capacity and bomb-making skills to carry out such a devastating and seriously co-ordinated attack.

RTÉ's record of coverage of the political situation in the Six Counties was so deeply flawed and politically motivated during the course of the armed conflict that one has to be extremely generous to allow the benefit of the doubt apply even in this post-Good Friday Agreement era. While it may be too early to make a conclusive judgment on Bombers, there were enough ominous signs in the first episode to make one deeply sceptical.


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