Republican News · Thursday 11 January 2001

[An Phoblacht]

Rebel Heart ruffles feathers


Rebel Heart, the latest drama by novelist and writer Ronan Bennett, a joint BBC/RTE production, has already annoyed unionist and British media sensibilities.

It was no surprise that in his attack on the drama, David Trimble described the work as being sympathetic to the IRA, then admitted he hadn't actually seen the work.

The Daily Telegraph - the mouthpiece of the British right wing - attacked the BBC for putting money into the project.

Both parties were clearly trying to force the BBC to pull the drama and self-censor itself. Both attempted to demonise Bennett, who told Boris Johnston in an interview with the Spectator magazine that he would not hand the Omagh bombers over to the RUC.

Belfast-born Bennett, who was in 1975 falsely convicted by the RUC of killing an RUC officer, has every reason to be wary of supporting that force. So it is a tragedy that the grief of those who lost loved ones in the Omagh bombing is being used as a moral yardstick with which to measure the worth of this piece of drama.

However, it will be the portrayal of Michael Collins and the pro-Treaty Free State forces that will most disturb those who defended Collins' actions in the months after he signed the Treaty.

In the drama, a copy of which An Phoblacht has seen, Collins attempts to convince Northern nationalists that he will not sell them out. His arguments, though, are treated with scepticism, then disdain by those Belfast republicans who travelled south to persuade him against supporting the Treaty. Their disdain is underwritten by the screenplay when it portrays the anti-Catholic/nationalist pogroms, especially in Belfast in the immediate aftermath of partition, where hundreds of Catholics were killed and wounded and thousands driven from their homes by loyalists and the newly formed RUC.

What is most interesting about Bennett's drama, particularly when it deals with the weeks after the Treaty was signed, is how it portrays those who opposed the Treaty as being on the left of Irish politics. The drama's statement is that those determined to fight on for the republic were in fact fighting for a Workers' Republic.

It was those on the right of Irish politics, symbolised by Collins, who in fact opposed the republic. By accepting the compromise the Free Staters who, to a large extent represented the bosses and bankers, could do no other than suppress the anti-Treatyites and their violence was aimed at killing off the ideal of the republic. The Free Staters executed 77 republicans during the Civil War, many of whom voiced a left wing political philosophy coloured by Connolly's socialism.

The four-part drama is being screened this month.

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