New biography: Martin McGuinness a ruthless torturer who personally shot victims

A new biography of Martin McGuinness describes him as a “paranoid” man possessed by an “absolute ruthlessness” when it came to weeding out so-called informers from the IRA’s ranks.

Thursday, 14th January 2021, 12:01 am
Martin McGuinness has been entered into the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography which records the lives of people who have shaped British history

The former deputy first minister of Northern Ireland has today been entered into the prestigious Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

The dictionary describes itself as “the national record of men and women who have shaped British history, worldwide, from prehistory to the year 2017”, and it contains over 64,000 entries.

Now Mr McGuinness is among them – alongside other figures who also died in the year 2017, such as UDA paramilitary Glen Barr and repentant IRA man Sean O’Callaghan.

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The roughly 5,500-word biography catalogues his life in the republican movement, and details his long involvement in the unfolding sectarian bloodbath that became the Troubles.

Beginning in the early days of Operation Banner, when soldiers were brought in to shore up the overwhelmed RUC as sectarian pogroms gripped the Province, the biography states: “McGuinness’s loathing of the soldiers was magnified after he was stopped on a busy street, forced to remove his socks and shoes, and made to spread-eagle his arms against a wall to be searched. He also hated the police and was once fined £75 for stamping on an officer’s toe.”

He became “increasingly brutal” as time wore on, leading to such atrocities as Bloody Friday in 1972 when the IRA in Belfast detonated 22 bombs within an hour and a quarter, killing nine people, followed by the triple bombing of Claudy village 10 days later, also killing nine people.

It describes his claim to have quit the IRA in 1974 as “disingenuous” and quotes Brendan Duddy – the UK government’s secret liaison with the IRA, who also died in 2017 – as believing him to be an “aggressive militarist” and a “Little Hitler”, who wanted supreme, island-wide control.

“Over time, as some of his ‘trusties’ were found to have betrayed him, he drew an evertighter clique around himself and showed absolute ruthlessness in having informers tortured and murdered,” the biography reads.

“According to other IRA members, McGuinness often conducted the actual shooting himself, ‘to show he was still prepared to do so’.”

It also states he personally went to New York to purchase guns on “at least” one occasion.

It goes on to add: “McGuinness faced such a tsunami of criticism after the ill-judged murder of a female census enumerator in Derry, Joanne Mathers, in April 1981 that he was panic-stricken.

“He tried to assuage his critics by glibly claiming the census was an intelligence-gathering exercise by the government and stressing that the IRA did not set out to kill civilians.

“Not for the first time, his straight-faced explanations were widely derided.”

The publication of the biography comes a week after a documentary on Mr McGuinness aired on TG4 (funded by about £120,000 of public money), which described him as a “fighter, negotiator, politician” and was criticised for its lack of focus on IRA victims.

The Oxford biography goes on to cover his journey towards the peace process, but also notes his deep reluctance to turn away from shootings and bombings.

For instance it quotes him in 1985 as saying to the BBC: “We don’t believe that winning elections and any amount of votes will bring freedom in Ireland.

“At the end of the day, it will be the cutting edge of the IRA that will bring freedom.”

It also says he was responsible for “widening the list of ‘legitimate targets’ to include anyone working directly or indirectly for the security services”, leading to the “proxy bomb” attacks of the early ‘90s.

It goes on to note that by “the early 1990s, McGuinness had reached the conclusion that the ‘armed struggle’ alone was doomed to failure”.

But instead of trying to end the violence, he kept IRA attacks going as “leverage” which could be used to influence the peace negotiations.

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Alistair Bushe