The contention of the documentary John Paul II in Ireland: A Plea for Peace, written and directed by Emmy Award winner David Naglieri, is that the speech made by Pope John Paul II during his 1979 visit to Ireland changed the course of history.

At the time of the pope’s visit to Ireland the Troubles were still raging. The possibility of a papal visit to Ulster was ruled out. Instead, a large gathering was organised close to the Irish border near the town of Drogheda, allowing many northern Catholics to go south to see and hear Pope John Paul II.

It was there that the Holy Father addressed the ongoing conflict directly, appealing to those engaged in violence to turn from it and seek peaceful means to achieve their political goals.

The pope’s words removed any moral justification for continuing the Republican “armed struggle” and many within Ireland and abroad hailed them as historic. The reaction from the Republican movement to these words was, however, equally clear, and wholly dismissive. For another two decades, across Northern Ireland and abroad, the murders and bombings continued as television screens broadcast the funeral cortèges and the orphans who followed them.

Yet this documentary maintains that the words of Pope John Paul did have an impact. It suggests that his words caused some priests in Belfast and elsewhere to try to persuade Republicans to adopt a solely political engagement with the problems of Northern Ireland. It was this that eventually led to what became known as the peace process, culminating in an IRA ceasefire and the 1998 Good Friday Agreement,

From the start, the film’s narrative is a little too tidy a reading of Irish history in general, and the Troubles in particular. It takes a broad-brush approach to a notoriously complex and contentious subject. The film’s analysis is too superficial to tease out the multifaceted strands of Irish history, never mind introduce into that mix the film’s novel thesis.

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