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Documentary On Northern Ireland

February 18, 1986|FRED ROTHENBERG | Associated Press Television Writer

NEW YORK — The two men are community leaders, churchgoers, teetotalers. One is shown walking hand-in-hand with his wife, the other cavorting with his children. It seems like a picture-perfect Kodak commercial, until they start talking about business--the business of hate and death.

Alleged IRA leader Martin McGuinness and Loyalist Gregory Campbell, both elected members of the Northern Ireland Assembly, are the bitter antagonists in a controversial documentary produced by the British Broadcasting Corp. to be broadcast on PBS tonight (Channel 28 at 10).

"Northern Ireland: At the Edge of the Union" was the program heard 'round the world, but not seen in Britain last summer. It became a political hostage when Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's government, contending the program provided a platform to a reputed IRA terrorist, pressured the BBC's board of governors to pull it.

That sparked a one-day strike by BBC workers worldwide, forcing the BBC to go silent for 24 hours. The program, originally scheduled for Aug. 7 on the BBC, finally was shown Oct. 16 after producer Paul Hamann inserted 19 seconds of archival footage, showing bodies being carried away from the site of an IRA bombing in Belfast.

"That was a sop," Hamann said. "Except for the library film, there was no editing whatsoever. We would never accept any."

The documentary, shot in gray, dank Londonderry, attempts to humanize two extremists who are poles apart in the bloody battle between Roman Catholics and Protestants fighting over the issues of Irish unification and the British military presence in Northern Ireland.

According to the film, many believe McGuinness is the leader of the outlawed Irish Republican Army. He won't respond directly to the allegations on camera, but says he supports the IRA's activities. Since 1968, about 2,500 people have been killed in political violence.

McGuinness is seen speaking at rallies, where black-hooded, rifle-toting IRA soldiers march defiantly through the streets. Young boys and other supporters lock arms and ring the parade, keeping British troops at bay.

At home, he's soft-spoken and subdued, but his eyes gaze vacantly as he explains that he's "involved actively on behalf of my people" against the British forces.

Campbell comes across as more of a firebrand. He called McGuinness "a craven murderer" and says he's in favor of a shoot-to-kill policy against the IRA. He also once applauded the killing of two IRA members, saying "Christmas had come early." After he made that statement, a bomb planted under his car fell harmlessly to the ground as Campbell and his family drove to church.

Now there is a cage around his house, he carries a gun and he has official protection whenever he ventures outside. After walking past the bullet-proof doorway, he steps outside and is immediately met by three armed guards who quickly get into the car with him.

For American audiences, this stark, despairing documentary is absorbing on an emotional, human level, but its content will seem a bit foreign. It wasn't tailored for U.S. consumption, so it lacks the background and explanation of the key issues and policies that the British live with on a daily basis.

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