Furore over IRA film could put peace talks in jeopardy

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The BBC is risking a political storm over a major new documentary series on the history of the Provisional IRA and Sinn Fein, thought to contain an interview with a serving member of the IRA.

According to BBC sources, series presenter Peter Taylor has been seeking to interview a senior member of an active IRA unit, probably at commander level, for the past six months. The opening title sequences, currently being edited, are said to contain "emotive" footage of IRA hunger strikers.

Sinn Fein confirmed yesterday that it had been helping Mr Taylor gather interviews from party activists, Republican ex-prisoners, and families of IRA men for the four-part series, titled Provos: the IRA and Sinn Fein.

Mr Taylor, a veteran reporter on the conflict in Northern Ireland known for his excellent IRA contacts, refused yesterday to confirm whether he had obtained an interview with a serving member of the Provisionals, saying "wait and see". However, he said the project was the culmination of 25 years of reporting on the Troubles, which include such highly acclaimed documentaries as Remember Bloody Sunday and States of Terror.

Both the BBC and Sinn Fein are highly concerned about the impact the series, scheduled to be shown this autumn when the peace process could be at its most critical stage, might have on the negotiations. The four 50-minute films are being produced by Panorama editor Steve Hewlett, who is hotly tipped to be the next controller of BBC1.

The BBC first revealed its plans for the series last November, saying it would be examining the development of the IRA and its relationship with Sinn Fein. It also said the series would look at the question of whether Sinn Fein MPs Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness had been Chiefs of Staff in the Provisionals in the Seventies.

But Sinn Fein spokesman Richard Macauley said the party had denied Mr Taylor access to them because it did not wish to give the BBC its unqualified seal of approval. "We did not want the BBC to be able to claim it had made the definitive documentary on the conflict in Northern Ireland. We do not feel the time for such a documentary has yet come," he said.

Mr Macauley hoped the series would show once and for all that Sinn Fein were not the "puppets" of the IRA. Nevertheless, he fully expected questions to be raised at Westminster.

In 1985 Margaret Thatcher accused the BBC of giving terrorists the oxygen of publicity over a Real Lives interview with Mr McGuinness. And under a government ban Sinn Fein representatives were not allowed to speak on British television until 1993.

Ken Maginnis, the Ulster Unionist spokesman on security matters, said he was concerned that the series ran the risk of "glorifying terrorism". "My fear is that it could become a propaganda vehicle for the Republican movement."

But a BBC spokeswoman said: "The series is still in production ... the time to judge it is when it is shown."