Ex-IRA bomber was on broadcast board when £44k given to McGuinness doc

Northern Ireland Screen has said an ex-IRA would-be murderer had no hand in helping to secure funding for a new documentary on the life of Martin McGuinness.

Tuesday, 12th January 2021, 7:35 am
Martin McGuinness follows the coffin of IRA man Charles English in Londonderry in 1985

Laurence McKeown, a former Provo bomber who was once handed five life sentences, was among the directors of the public body at the time it handed over £44,000 for the show.

But NI Screen has said whilst he did sit on its overall board, he was not part of the specialist Irish language committee responsible for agreeing the grant.

The documentary was screened on Republic of Ireland-based channel TG4 last week and has come in for criticism for the relative lack of airtime devoted to IR A victims.

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The Twitter account of Laurence McKeown

Called simply ‘Martin McGuinness’ in the TG4 listings, it summed his life up in three words: Fighter, Negotiator, Politician.

It featured praise from Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams, Mary Lou McDonald, and Michelle O’Neill, plus humorous and personal anecdotes from a litany of other figures who had known him.

There were some moments of criticism from rival politicians, notably Ian Paisley and the SDLP’s Brid Rogers.

But when it came to actual victims of the IRA, there was not even a single voice from NI.

The Official IRA and Provisional IRA – both of which Mr McGuinness belonged to – killed more than 1,700 people including 350-plus Catholics and at least 48 children aged 16 or less, according to the Conflict Archive on the Internet.

Around 222 of the 1,700-plus killings were in Co Londonderry – Mr McGuinness’ main base of operations.

Dr McKeown, who has a sociology degree, now describes himself as a writer and former political prisoner.

He joined NI Screen as a director in February 2012 and left the post in March 2019.

NI Screen’s decision to grant £44,106 for the documentary was made in 2017, while he was still in post.

NI Screen was asked about Dr McKeown’s involvement with the documentary.

It said: “Laurence McKeown was a board member of NI Screen for many years focusing primarily on his area of interest, film exhibition.

“All funding decisions in relation to the Irish Language Broadcast Fund (ILBF) are made by the ILBF committee, in line with its standard criteria. One NI Screen board member sits on the ILBF committee.

“At no point did Laurence have any involvement with the ILBF committee and he had no part to play in the support of this, or any other, documentary supported by the ILBF.”

The show featured three grieving family members in all.

One was Julie Hambleton from England (who lost a sister in the Birmingham bombings); she sharply condemned Mr McGuinness.

Another was Englishman Colin Parry (who lost a son in the Warrington bombing); he has since gone on to link up with Mr McGuinness to deliver joint talks about peace.

There was also archive footage of David Kelly from the Republic (whose soldier father was killed by the IRA) confronting Mr McGuinness.

In total, the three victims’ voices got about four-and-a-half minutes of airtime, out of what was an 87-minute programme.

NI Screen also said: “All appointments to the Board of Northern Ireland Screen are made by Ministers in accordance with the Code of Practice issued by the Commissioner for Public Appointments for Northern Ireland.

“Martin McGuinness was the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, and the first Republican Deputy First Minister in the history of Northern Ireland; making his story and journey to that position an appropriate subject for a publicly funded documentary.

“As previously stated, TG4 and the producers have ensured that this documentary includes many aspects and perspectives on Martin McGuinness’s life.”

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