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Corbyn's new shadow chancellor McDonnell wanted honour for Bobby Sands

By Rachel Martin

Published 14/09/2015

Hunger striker Bobby Sands' coffin, flanked by an IRA colour party, leaving his mother's home in Twinbrook.
Hunger striker Bobby Sands' coffin, flanked by an IRA colour party, leaving his mother's home in Twinbrook.
Bobby Sands' son Robert Gerald holds his mother's hand at the funeral of his father Bobby in west Belfast flanked by Masked IRA men. Picture by Martin Wright
Tomboy Loudon, Gerry Roche, Denis Donaldson and Bobby Sands pictured in the Long Kesh prison, Northern Ireland.
Hunger strike protesters outside the Dail in Dublin 1981
Hunger strike marchers blocked by gardai as they approach the British Embassy in Dublin
PACEMAKER BELFAST Rioting in west Belfast on the day hunger striker Bobby Sands died in 1981
A man walks past the Bobby Sands mural, in the Falls road area of Belfast
Masked gunmen fire a volley of shots beside hunger striker Bobby Sands coffin, at Milltown Cemetery.
Bobby Sands (seated fourth from left). The Star of the Sea football team.
Hunger striker Bobby Sands funeral procession making its way down Stewartstown Road on Route to Milltown cemetery
Several unionist politicians have called for Maze cells which housed hunger strikers to be flattened
Bobby Sands funeral
1st March 2011. Launch of the Hunger Strike 30th Anniversary Exhibition in the Linen Hall Library, Belfast. Ten republican prisoners died during the 1981 protest inside the Maze Prison. A letter written by Bobby Sands on cigarette paper which was smuggled out of the prison pictured at the exhibition.
Michael Fassbender stars in Hunger, the film about the last six weeks in the life of Bobby Sands
Kieran Doherty died in the Maze prison in 1981 after being on a hunger strike
Former taoiseach Garret FitzGerald pleaded with Ronald Reagan to pile pressure on Margaret Thatcher over the hunger strikes

The left-wing veteran appointed shadow chancellor by new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn once called for Bobby Sands to be honoured and credited the IRA with forcing the Government into peace talks.

John McDonnell has perhaps the most crucial shadow cabinet role after masterminding the push to get Mr Corbyn onto the ballot paper.

But the 64-year-old married father-of-three caused controversy when he told a gathering to commemorate IRA hunger striker Sands in 2003: "It's about time we started honouring those people involved in the armed struggle.

"It was the bombs and bullets and sacrifice made by the likes of Bobby Sands that brought Britain to the negotiating table. The peace we have now is due to the action of the IRA."

Contacted later by the newspaper reporter, Mr McDonnell stood by his words. "The deaths of innocent civilians in IRA attacks is a real tragedy, but it was as a result of British occupation in Ireland," he said.

"Because of the bravery of the IRA and people like Bobby Sands we now have a peace process."

At the time, the Labour Party distanced themselves from the remarks, and the then Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble called for Mr McDonnell to be expelled from the party.

Meanwhile, victims of IRA violence have hit out at Mr Corbyn over his close links to Irish republicanism.

Labour's selection of Mr Corbyn - described as a friend of Ireland by Gerry Adams - has strongly divided opinion.

Enniskillen bomb survivor Stephen Gault, whose father Samuel was killed in the 1987 atrocity, said the decision to elect the hard-left MP was hurtful and spiteful. He said the Labour Party had made a mistake.

John McDonnell has been appointed shadow chancellor by Jeremy Corbyn
John McDonnell has been appointed shadow chancellor by Jeremy Corbyn

"To have somebody like that now in a leadership position in one of the big parties in the mainland is hurtful and spiteful," he said. "This man could be the next British Prime Minister in five years' time.

"It could be detrimental towards the people of Northern Ireland, particularly the victims of terrorism. I just feel as a victim that it's a very sad day."

And Michael Gallagher, whose only son Aidan was killed in the 1998 Omagh bombing, said Mr Corbyn's stance on the IRA concerned him.

"He should know that the people that were involved ran a very vicious, murderous campaign for over 40 years," he said.

"I don't think anybody should say anything that would glorify that. He needs to learn more about what happened in Northern Ireland and concentrate on bringing people together."

Mr Corbyn was a 200-1 outsider when the three-month leadership contest began. But the veteran left-winger got almost 60% of more than 400,000 votes cast, trouncing his rivals Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall.

So far, seven members of the current shadow cabinet have refused to serve under him.

Mr Corbyn has previously said he believed in a united Ireland.

Belfast Telegraph

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