Portillo to present major BBC documentary on Easter Rising

Michael Portillopictured outside the GPO in Dublin, where the Easter Rising began
Michael Portillopictured outside the GPO in Dublin, where the Easter Rising began

Former Defence Secretary Michael Portillo is to present a documentary exploring the contemporaneous British perspective on the Easter Rising.

The former Conservative Cabinet minister will front the documentary which will be shown on BBC One Northern Ireland at the end of this month, just days before the centenary of the 1916 rebellion.

The BBC said that ‘Easter 1916: The Enemy Files’ would for the first time tell the story of the Rising using the testimonies of British spies, soldiers, politicians and bureaucrats.

The programme features senior military and intelligence figures, including retired General Lord Dannat, former Chief of the General Staff, and Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones, former Minister of State for Security and Counterterrorism, as well as veteran war correspondent Robert Fisk.

The BBC said that the documentary “explores hidden motives, withheld data and varying interpretations of the facts”, as well as examining the intelligence which was available to the British authorities prior to the rebellion.

The BBC said that “as a former Defence Secretary, Michael Portillo brings a unique understanding to the proceedings beyond that of other presenters. His background gives him a certain insight into the mind-sets of the men who decided who lived and who died”.

Although the Rising began on April 24, as that is when Easter Monday fell in 1916, the rising has traditionally been marked by republicans at Easter – whenever that falls.

The Irish government has organised a host of events and projects – both in Ireland and among the Irish diaspora around the world – to mark the centenary, the centrepiece of which will be a “public celebration” on Easter Monday.

The Irish government said that the event would “reflect the significance of the events of 1916, and be a moment of celebration and pride, following a weekend of commemoration and reflection”.

Yesterday the News Letter reported the strongly sceptical words of Northern Ireland’s Attorney General in relation to the Rising.

John Larkin, the first Roman Catholic to hold the post, said that the rebellion “lacked any democratic or constitutional legitimacy”.

In an interview with a magazine produced by the Evangelical Alliance to mark the centenary of both the Rising and the Somme (and available to buy at www.100days100years.com), Mr Larkin said that the Rising had been “profoundly wrong” and added: “The Rising wasn’t justified in terms of any of the traditional Just War criteria – there was no mandate for it.
l ‘Easter 1916: The Enemy Files’ will be broadcast at 9pm on March 31 on BBC One Northern Ireland.