IRA victims get under five minutes of 87-minute Martin McGuinness documentary

A woman left bereaved by the IRA has described as “outrageous” the amount of time given over to innocent Troubles victims in a new documentary, being broadcast tonight.

Wednesday, 6th January 2021, 7:10 am
Updated Wednesday, 6th January 2021, 10:44 am
Still taken from the documentary of a young Martin McGuinness

The show – which is titled simply “Martin McGuinness” in the TG4 listings – is about an hour and 27 minutes long and centres on the life and times of the late Sinn Fein figure.

Much of it is in the Irish language and it is split into three parts, reflecting different stages of his life: Fighter, Negotiator, and Politician.

By this reporter’s estimate, in the course of the whole show, less than five minutes is devoted to relatives of IRA victims speaking.

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There were three such victims in all (two from England, one from the Republic).

One appears in a piece of archive footage.

Another interviewee is someone who has appeared alongside Mr McGuinness at peace-and-reconciliation talks.

The third is Julie Hambleton, whose sister Maxine (18) was among 21 people killed by the IRA when it bombed two Birmingham pubs in 1974.

Whilst Ms Hambleton has not seen the final documentary, she voiced concern about a lack of focus on victims of the violence in the running time.

The News Letter watched the show in a preview screening before its public broadcast tonight.

The paper’s interest had been piqued when a press release from TG4 arrived in the News Letter inbox last week.

The entire 660-word blurb promoting the show did not mention the IRA once.

Instead it described Mr McGuinness as an “Irish revolutionary” and a “fighter” adding: “He was deeply concerned by the plight of his community in the City of Derry and gave up his job to defend his city and the rights of its people.

“He continued throughout his life to fight for people’s right to govern themselves and have control over their own lives...”

In the course of the whole programme, this reporter only heard three mentions of the words “terrorism” or its variants – twice from Ian Paisley MP, and once from David Trimble.

There was also no emphasis placed on the hard numbers behind the Troubles, which would show the IRA (at over 1,700 deaths) to be by far the most prolific killing machine of all the armed groups.

Whilst the show does devote segments to the Enniskillen Bomb, the Patsy Gillespie murder, and the Warrington bombing – and carries strong political criticism of Mr McGuinness (notably from Mr Paisley and the SDLP’s Brid Rodgers) – the examples of bereaved victims speaking directly for themselves are roughly as follows:

> Julie Hambleton – two segments, about 80 seconds, followed by about 45 seconds;

> Colin Parry, who lost a son in Warrington and who has since done reconciliation work with Mr McGuinness (describing him as a “brave man” with a “desire for peace” in his latter stages of life) – about 105 seconds;

> And an archive clip of David Kelly, son of murdered Irish soldier Patrick Kelly, confronting Mr McGuinness in 2011 – about 40 seconds.

All in all, their voices get a combined airtime of about four-and-a-half minutes.

‘A GHETTO PROTECTED BY THE IRA’:

Throughout the show, the narrator makes remarks including the following: “In 1968, only one-tenth of nationalists possessed their own house, and in addition, only homeowners had the right to vote...

“The burden of inequality and unjust poverty lay heavily on the nationalist community of the six counties...

“...The area of the Bogside and Creggan were Christened ‘Free Derry’, a nationalist ghetto protected by the IRA...

“Following the horror of that day [Bloody Sunday], hundreds of young people joined the PIRA; they took a strong stance against the slaughter perpetrated against the people of Derry and they put their demands to the Northern secretary of the day.”

TG4 is a channel supported by public funding; by its own account, it will receive €40.7m from the Irish exchequer in 2021.

The show is described as “a landmark documentary by LIGID Léiriúcháin, commissioned for TG4 with support from the BAI and the ILBF”.

The BAI is the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, and is basically the TV regulator int he Republic.

The ILBF is The Irish Language Broadcast Fund, a funding body linked to Northern Ireland Screen.

‘COWARD, TERRORIST, LIAR’:

Ms Hambleton said people are “trying to whitewash his past” and portray Mr McGuinness as a “diplomat”.

“He was a self-professed member of the IRA – a commander! And they’re trying to make him look like some kind of hero,” she said, dubbing the time allotted to victims in the film “outrageous” (adding she had been interviewed for about an hour).

“I really don’t know how he slept at night,” she said.

There is a wider problem when it comes to the history of the Troubles, she said: namely that victims “haven’t been sidelined – they’ve been completely forgotten”.

When it comes to the show’s summing-up of his life, as ‘Fighter’, ‘Negotiator’, and ‘Politician’, she said her preferred terms would be ‘Coward’, ‘Known terrorist’, and ‘Liar’.

When her criticisms were put to TG4, it responded: “TG4 are happy with the balance of opinion of Martin McGuinness in this documentary.

“The documentary gives an honest portrayal of a complicated and controversial man, with contributors who have varying opinions of Martin McGuinness.”

Among the things unmentioned in the show were Mr McGuinness’ relatively-light treatment by the state (despite his role as a known IRA commander), and the fact that the IRA targeted people on the basis of their religion (see both links below).

The show will be broadcast at 9.30pm tonight on TG4.

Read more on Martin McGuinness from this reporter:

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