Northern Ireland news

Plan for television documentary on Maryfield 'bunker' rejected

The Northern Ireland Office discussed a proposed television documentary in 1997
Éamon Phoenix

A PROPOSAL for a 'fly on the wall' documentary about the Maryfield Secretariat was rejected by British and Irish officials in 1997.

BBC journalist Stephen Grimason had proposed a documentary on the secretariat in Holywood, Co Down, where British and Irish officials serviced the Inter-Governmental Conference established under the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement.

Joint Secretary Peter Bell told the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) that Mr Grimason had floated the idea at the recent St Patrick's Day party in the secretariat.

"The proposed treatment would be, for example, moving around the secretariat (some pretty exciting footage here, one feels) and being present at the start of one of our delegation meetings … then panning away as we got down to business," he wrote.

Mr Bell felt that the proposal "might be a reel too far", as did his Irish counterpart, David Donoghue, adding: "It is very difficult to imagine how even an edited version of an internal secretariat meeting would not give the impression, to those minded… that the Irish side was seeking to influence operational police decisions."

Andy Wood, the NIO's Director of Information Services, pointed out that filming would take place during the tense marching season.

"No prizes for supposing that events outside Maryfield might also serve to raise the temperature inside the building - this is not a comment on your Irish counterparts - simply to state that when things get hairy in the streets, the same effect can be detected in normally more tranquil locations," he wrote.

Mr Wood believed that such a documentary would merely reinforce unionist perceptions of the secretariat: "Of course, it is perfectly fair to argue that unionists will continue to believe that, in addition to drawing up plans to unify Ireland, you and your colleagues are also celebrating Black Mass, slaving over your Ouija boards and the like – and that the only way to disabuse them of this perception is to show them what really goes on.

"But there's the rub – because [they] will continue to believe … that 'you didn’t see the half of what really goes on in there!'."

He wrote that the documentary might make good television but it would be "bad politics" for the NIO.

The film was never made.

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