Sinn Fein propaganda

Andrew Billen assures us that the dim-witted Sinn Fein propaganda Rebel Heart, now being broadcast by the BBC, is too uninspired to win converts to the IRA (The Back Half, 22 January). I wish I could be so confident. The peace process is in danger of collapse and this lump of republican jingoism might just help to bring it down.

The problem, as always with Sinn Fein propaganda, is the portrayal of the northern Protestants. They are not seen as a people with the same right to self-determination as the southern Catholics. That would justify partition and make Sinn Fein attacks on the north look like Catholic aggression.

Neil Jordan ducked this problem in Michael Collins, where he simply omitted the northern Protestants from the story. It made a nonsense of the history, but since his main object was to debunk De Valera, it did not completely ruin his film. In Rebel Heart, Ronan Bennett does acknowledge the existence of the northern Protestants - they appear as brutal uniformed thugs who massacre an innocent Catholic family. And that is all. There is no debating the issue whether the Protestants have any right to self-determination, or how the antagonistic peoples on the island might be reconciled. Who needs to discuss any political issues with such murderous thugs? No, it is clear that the only thing the Protestants will understand is a bullet in the back, or a bomb under a car.

Ironically, Billen writes that the massacre was the only scene that shocked him out of his complacency. Presumably, that means he felt a rush of hatred for the vile perpetrators of the massacre. As the killers were dressed in RIC uniforms, not unlike present RUC uniforms, and they are the only representatives of the northern cause in the drama, that rush of hatred could easily translate into the same political hostility that has been the basis of Sinn Fein violence since the Treaty of 1921.

Audience ratings for Rebel Heart have been poor. But that is little consolation for those of us who see a fragile, negotiated peace being wrecked by simplistic, emotive propaganda. How many ill-informed zealots does it take to land us back at blood-stained square one again?

Les Reid
Greenisland, County Antrim

This article first appeared in the 29 January 2001 issue of the New Statesman, The fall of Mandelson