Belfast Telegraph

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

By Rachel Martin

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.

"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.

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