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The Troubles: A Secret History, BBC Four, finale review - peace at last, but at what price? | reviews, news & interviews

The Troubles: A Secret History, BBC Four, finale review - peace at last, but at what price?

The Troubles: A Secret History, BBC Four, finale review - peace at last, but at what price?

Concluding part of shocking and sobering documentary series

Peace process: Tony Blair, Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams

This terrifying but gripping BBC Four series about Northern Ireland’s savage sectarian war reached its conclusion with a meticulously detailed account of how hostilities were eventually brought to a close by the Good Friday Agreement, which came into effect in December 1999. In the end, it resulted from a combination of politics, compromise and a realisation that the interminable violence was an obstacle to change rather than a way to achieve it

American senator George Mitchell, who chaired the all-party peace negotiations, declared: “This agreement proves that democracy works. We can say to the men of violence ‘your way is not the right way’.” Nonetheless there were still some, like some Loyalist groups and the so-called Real IRA, prepared to carry on killing.

Even after seven episodes, it was hard to watch veteran terrorists responsible for who knows how much pitiless slaughter reminiscing calmly to the camera, as though describing a life of admirable deeds and good intentions. John Crawley, a former US Marine turned IRA bomber, talked enthusiastically about carrying out attacks on the British mainland, such as the 1996 Canary Wharf bombing (pictured below) which ended a 17-month IRA ceasefire. “England was the belly of the beast,” he said. “That’s where we could damage them.” The single worst atrocity of the Troubles, the 1998 Omagh bombing which killed 29 people, was carried out after the terms of the Good Friday Agreement had already been settled.

Considering the history and the incandescent passions on both sides, it still probably counts as a miracle that a treaty was reached at all. It took considerable guile from Martin McGuinness and particularly Gerry Adams to begin secretly planning for peace while publicly still waging an armed struggle, and Adams’s success in winning over key members of the IRA’s Army Council and pushing for a political solution proved pivotal.

But presenter Darragh MacIntyre didn’t bother to pretend that everything was rosy. His parting shot was news that the security services possess heaps of still-secret documents, containing all kinds of gory details of what really went on during those years when a hideous darkness enveloped Northern Ireland. There could never be a single “secret history,” he said, “because so much remains buried, hidden from public view.” Instead, The Troubles have become “a contest over versions of the past.”

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