The Star Trek episode that was ‘banned’ for promising a united Ireland

Melinda M. Snodgrass, a science fiction writer, had no clue, more than thirty years later, that her Star Trek episode The High Ground would cause such unforeseen uproar. “We found out about it later… and there’s not much you can do about it,” she tells the BBC from her New Mexico home. “Writing for television is akin to establishing a train track approximately 300 feet in the future.” There’s hardly any time for you to halt. That one specific Star Trek: The Next Generation episode has endured and thrived in notoriety despite the show having hordes of devoted fans versed in its mythology.

 

It all comes down to a scenario where actor Brent Spiner’s android character Data discusses the “Irish unification of 2024” as an example of violence effectively achieving a political goal. The episode, which was first aired in the US in 1990, caused so much controversy that neither the BBC nor the Irish state broadcaster RTÉ decided to air it. Back then, American television programs frequently made their worldwide premieres several years after they aired first. It is believed that in 1992, Sky, a satellite channel, showed a modified version that omitted a pivotal moment. However, The High Ground was not broadcast by the BBC until September 29, 2007, at 02:39 GMT. According to BBC Archives, they are positive that this is the only broadcast of the show.

 

The choice to not broadcast the episode is a reflection of the brutal struggle that raged in Northern Ireland at the time, with one of its key actors being the Provisional IRA, a paramilitary organization whose declared goal was to overthrow British administration in the region. As of 2024, Sinn Féin—which first appeared as the IRA’s political wing—is the biggest party in the Stormont assembly, which has been devolved. The party’s leader in Northern Ireland, Michelle O’Neill, was appointed as first minister last month and has forecast that an Irish unity vote will take place in less than ten years. In contrast to Sir Keir Starmer, the front-runner for the UK leadership, who stated that a poll of this kind is “not even on the horizon,” she adopts a totally different tone.

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