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Corbyn 'will support Labour candidates in Ulster for first time'

By Noel McAdam

Published 04/08/2015

Contest: Jeremy Corbyn
Contest: Jeremy Corbyn

Labour leadership front-runner Jeremy Corbyn is set to support the party running candidates in Northern Ireland elections for the first time, it has been claimed.

The 66-year-old left-wing candidate, who has been ahead in the race to replace Ed Miliband, is due in Belfast tomorrow to take part in Feile an Phobail.

But he may also hold a private meeting with Labour's Northern Ireland branch - which is recommending its members back rival Andy Burnham for party leader.

No formal request has yet been made, but it seems likely Mr Corbyn will try to persuade grassroots members to vote for him instead.

Mr Burnham had been due to visit the local branch last month, but called off his trip because it was the same day Mr Corbyn announced his candidature.

Boyd Black, secretary of the Labour Party here, said the dramatic rise of Mr Corbyn was "quite surprising" but added: "I think there is something of a protest vote.

"There is a lot of discontent out there after we lost the election and he is also tapping into the anti-austerity agenda.

"There would undoubtedly be support for him among members in Northern Ireland, and of course individuals are able to vote for who they want." For decades Labour activists in Northern Ireland have been blocked from standing because of its relationship with its "sister party" the SDLP.

But Mr Black revealed: "At one stage about 10 years ago Jeremy Corbyn was opposed to the party organising in Northern Ireland and running candidates.

"He has flagged up his support for a united Ireland by consent, and he supports the Good Friday Agreement.

"Then in a debate some years ago he conceded that he could not in any principled way argue against people here being allowed to become members of the Labour Party. He is quite principled in that sense.

"So we expect that Jeremy will support our basic democratic right to run Labour candidates here and allow people in Northern Ireland to help vote in a Labour Government."

In a video message last month to the Northern Ireland branch, Mr Burnham reaffirmed he remains committed in principle to the party here and to contesting elections.

As the Belfast Telegraph revealed, he said: "We do need to build a strong, progressive voice in politics across Ireland that reaches beyond the divides in the community."

Mr Black said: "Andy Burnham has the leadership ability and the personal empathy to pull together and inspire the disparate strands of Labour support that need to unite if we are to win the next general election."

People who are not Labour Party members but want to vote can go to the Labour Party website at www.labour.org.uk and on paying £3 can become either an affiliated or a registered supporter.

Profile

In 1984, not long after the Provisonal IRA's Brighton bomb, Jeremy Corbyn and Ken Livingstone broke ranks with the mainstream of their party and invited Gerry Adams to speak in London. He was also a supporter of the republican Troops Out movement during the Troubles, which campaigned for the Army to be withdrawn from Northern Ireland.

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