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27 November 2017 Edition

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Personal memoir, speculative journalism


Crossing the Line: My Life on the Edge. Martin Dillon. Irish Academic Press €18.99

THERE’S LITTLE DOUBT that Martin Dillon is a technically-accomplished writer. His prose is pithy and engaging and makes for a free-flowing reading experience. The problem is not the style but some of the content. 

Unsubstantiated opinions are interwoven with a factual journalistic narrative, and the whole thing portrayed as incontrovertible truth. The phrase “in my opinion” is used throughout sections of the book but the following text is generally presented as fact rather than speculation. The introductory qualification is not an absolution for unsubstantiated theories, and to cite “a trusted source” or “I have seen documents” is not good enough. 

One has to question much of what is presented as fact, when we are confidently informed (page 135) that “nationalists regarded Ulster as one of the nine historic provinces of Ireland”. 

This book is an odd mixture of personal and family reminiscence and a rehash of some of his earlier writings. 

His seminal work The Shankill Butchers is presented in a condensed form where he states: “British Military Intelligence and Special Branch hid critical information . . . and engaged in a dirty war in which they used loyalist gunmen to target republicans for assassination.” Fair enough but he then flatly denies the likelihood that the authorities knew the identities of the Shankill Butchers and describes “such a theory as dangerous [and with] no basis in fact”. Presumably his “trusted sources” informed him of this as well.

There are some illuminating passages. The vitriol he heaps upon British Prime Minister Edward Heath makes interesting reading. Overall, though, the mix of personal memoir and speculative journalism makes for a curiously unsatisfying read.


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