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19 July 2001 Edition

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Endgame in Ireland


The BBC's major series Endgame in Ireland concluded on 15 July with what would seem to have been a hastily rewritten conclusion, necessitated by the resignation of David Trimble and the apparent failure of the talks at Weston Park. Perhaps the question mark at the end of the title, which was added for viewers of RTÉ, should also have been included in the British version.

The series was made by Norma Percy, who has an impressive pedigree in making political documentaries, including The Death of Yugoslavia and The Second Russian Revolution. Her chosen style is to examine her subject whilst the events are still fresh in the memory and to use a series of closely edited monologues to drive the story.

Much of Percy's previous reputation has been built on an ability to remain neutral on her subject, allowing the players to gradually unravel the tale and reveal themselves in the process. In Endgame, she adopted a similar approach, with some degree of success; the lasting impression one gets is not only of Thatcher's cruelty and arrogance, but also her utter and willful ignorance on all matters Irish (although she is the one person Percy did not succeed in interviewing for the programme). This ignorance included treating Taoisigh as Mark Lawson observed, ``as if they were mentally subnormal leprechauns''. And the parade of now-forgotten British Tories reliving their minor roles in the conflict, reminds us again of the profoundly colonial nature of both British government attitudes and of the way in which they conducted the war. Patrick Mayhew's voice is still guaranteed to raise the hackles.

There were revealing moments, mostly offered by smooth, elegant British civil servants like Sir Robin Butler and David Goodall in the manner of dinner-party annecdotes. (These people, who were cringe-makingly servile to Thatcher whilst in power, now adopt an attitude of amused distance, as if the policies enacted by her government really had nothing to do with them). One such moment was Thatcher's refusal to accept that the nationalist population of the Six Counties could be alienated from the institutions of the state on the grounds that the word `alienation' was Marxist in character and should not be applied to `her people'. The most extraordinary was the mooting of her own Final Solution, a Cromwellian plan which involved the ethnic cleansing of the North. Other characters besides the British are also revealed; for example, David Ervine's habit of uttering even the simplest of statements in hyper-exaggerated enunciation as if it were a five-act drama.

Despite the much-discussed decision not to interview `victims of terrorism', the series nevertheless included plenty of footage of IRA bombings (perhaps in acknowledgement that such actions have in fact driven the political process forward), although far less of British Army atrocities, save a brief mention of Bloody Sunday, or of the activities of loyalist murder gangs. But whilst Percy did manage, on the whole, to maintain her neutrality, certain decisions still had to be made.

One was the narrator, whose authoritative, white, male, middle class, English voice not only gave a very particular, anglicised slant to the series but also gave it the slightly patronising taste of a BBC for Schools programme. More importantly, seeking the views of the likes of Johnny Adair and Michael Stone is a little like asking the British National Party what it thought of the British general election. Who on earth cares what they think? Who wants to listen to their witless pontificating which offers nothing except the glorification of sectarian murder? Why give airtime to Michael Stone's pathetic self-aggrandisement? ``I was seconded by several brigadiers,'' he boasts, ``to train people, to motivate them.'' Oh please. Further, Stone's subsequent claim to have gone to Milltown cemetery with the sole intention of killing Martin McGuinness, rather than for the purposes of a sectarian murder spree, is contradicted by Adair's confession to feeling ``proud'' to be a loyalist when Stone had gone to ``confront IRA supporters'' at the funeral, every last one of them, man, woman child, according to Adair, legitimate targets.

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