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Who won the war in Northern Ireland? The British, so says a new BBC documentary

Filmmaker Peter Taylor says this is the only conclusion that can be made, for now.

Mural on the Falls Road commemorating the War of Independence.
Mural on the Falls Road commemorating the War of Independence.
Image: Paul Seheult

A NEW DOCUMENTARY will be broadcast on BBC One tonight, looking at the question of Who Won the War in Northern Ireland.

It’s being presented by Peter Taylor who reported on the conflict for over forty years.

He concludes that the conflict was won by British and unionists because the IRA is no more the union with the United Kingdom is secure.

During the making if the film,  Taylor re-interviews many of the people he did during the course of his reporting including politicians, paramilitary volunteers and members of the public.

Taylor says that part of what he wanted to do was to show these people extracts of what they had said at the time and ask them if they still felt the same.

Some of the politicians interviewed include Gerry Adams, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness.

Another interviewee revisited is Sean McKinely, a 12-year-old boy Taylor interview in 1974 who wanted to “fight and die for Ireland”.

Speaking this morning on RTÉ’s Marian Finucane show, he says that some of the people he interviewed were “astonishly candid” in what they said.

One of these he says was Jim Prior, Margaret Thatcher’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland during the 1981 IRA hunger strikes:

I asked him did he think violence had actually worked in bringing us to where we were and he said ‘yes’. He was categoric. He believed that violence had worked and did work.

In a BBC blog written by Taylor about the documentary, Prior is quoted as saying:

“I think violence probably does work. It may not work quickly and it may not be seen to be working quickly, but in the long run one has to look back and say, ‘Yes, it did work.’”

Despite this, Taylor told the Marian Finucane that any perceived successes through violence must be viewed in context.

“It’s important to put that in context because violence, and IRA violence predominantly, actually broke the mould of the one-party state that had dominated Northern Ireland for fifty years,” he argues.

Taylor says that the documentary looks at the period in the 1980s when the IRA and British forces realised they weren’t going to defeat each other, something he says began the search for a peaceful alternative.

Taylor accepts that the premise of the question posed by the documentary is controversial.

“It was intended to be provocative and it’s designed to make people think,” he says.

“One of the reasons for making the programme was to remind people of what had happened in Northern Ireland all these years. Forty years plus.”

On his conclusion that the war won by the British and unionists, Taylor says that it is the only conclusion he can arrive at now, but this may change as time passes.

“If you look at it through the prism of the present I’ve no doubt that the British and the unionists won the war because the IRA is no more and the union as it has ever been.”

But Taylor points out that Martin McGuinness is now deputy first minister and that “miracles have happened”:

I would not be surprised if at some stage in the long, long years ahead a united Ireland did emerge. So my conclusion may be controversial but I hope it makes people think.

The documentary Who Won The War will be broadcast on BBC One tonight at 9pm.

First published 3.15pm, 28 September 

Read: About 500 British troops are to train on this Derry mountain and nationalists aren’t happy >

Read: ‘Never never never’ and other famous words from Reverend Ian Paisley >

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Rónán Duffy

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