Oxford Martin McGuinness biography ‘is head and shoulders above TG4 hagiography’

A writer who is an authority on the history of the Troubles has said the new written-word biography of Martin McGuinness stands “head-and-shoulders” above a recent effort broadcast on TV.

Friday, 15th January 2021, 7:27 am
Updated Friday, 15th January 2021, 10:11 am
Martin McGuinness in 2003

The television documentary, commissioned for Republic of Ireland-based network TG4 and made with roughly £120,000 of public money from both north and south of the border, has faced criticism in this newspaper.

Specifically, the descriptions of McGuinness as someone who strove to “defend his city and the rights of its people” (in the PR material promoting the film), and the limited screentime given to victims (about four-and-a-half minutes out of 87 in total) – among other things.

Now Henry McDonald – who has written books about loyalists and one about Martin McGuinness (entitled ‘A Life Remembered’) – has drawn a stark contrast between the TG4 offering and the new entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

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“Whilst the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography fails to mention a number of key questions about Martin McGuinness it is nonetheless intellectually, historically and in terms of truth-telling head and shoulders above the TG4 documentary on his life recently broadcast,” he said.

“Watching that programme I was reminded of an historian who reviewed a book about the late John Hume and remarked that it was so fawning and hero-worshipping that it ‘gave hagiography a bad name’. That applies double to the McGuinness documentary.

“The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is a balanced, fair and accurate portrayal of a life of policy contradictions, ruthless leadership, indifference to human suffering and yet an increasing sense of realism breaking through.

“TG4 presented an early Wild West movie form of Cowboys & Indians version of history; the Oxford version offers a more nuanced, morally complex epic.”

These points were put to TG4, but it declined to respond.

It has previously said it was “happy with the balance of opinion” in its documentary, dubbing it “an honest portrayal” featuring “contributors who have varying opinions”.

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