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Labour leadership candidate Owen Smith wrong to link IS to Northern Ireland peace process: Jeffrey Donaldson

By Allan Preston

Published 18/08/2016

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson
DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson
Labour leadership hopeful Owen Smith

A Labour leadership candidate who claimed Islamic State (IS) should be part of peace talks after comparing Middle East negotiations to the peace process here has "got it wrong", a senior DUP MP claimed yesterday.

Owen Smith said his experience in Northern Ireland as a special adviser to former Secretary of State Paul Murphy between 2002 and 2005 had convinced him that "all parties to the conflict" in Syria and beyond should be involved in talks.

But his comments sparked an outcry, with Johnny Mercer, a Conservative member of the Commons' Defence Committee, saying they showed Mr Smith's "unfitness for leadership". A spokesman for Jeremy Corbyn also branded the remarks "hasty and ill-considered".

Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson said Mr Smith had "got it wrong" and there could be "no direct parallel between the Northern Ireland peace process and dealing with the so-called Islamic State".

Asked on the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme if IS should be involved in peace talks, Mr Smith replied: "All solutions to these sorts of international crises do come about through dialogue, so eventually, if we are to try and solve this, all of the actors need to be involved. But at the moment IS are clearly not interested in negotiating."

A spokesman for the Labour leadership contender later clarified he believed there could be no talks with IS unless they "renounce violence, cease all acts of terror and commit themselves to a peaceful settlement".

"Owen's experience of helping to bring about peace in Northern Ireland is that eventually all parties who truly believe in delivering peace have to be around the table," the spokesman added. "At the moment that doesn't include, and may never include, IS."

But speaking to the Belfast Telegraph last night, Mr Donaldson said: "I don't believe what Owen Smith is advocating could be associated with the experience in Northern Ireland.

"Whilst I recognise that dialogue is an important part of peace-building, I just don't see that there's any prospect of that happening with IS.

"What we really need to do as an international community is to get behind those forces in Iraq and in Syria who are trying to uphold democracy and to protect their communities against this terror."

Mr Donaldson added that he only had limited dealings with Mr Smith during his time in Northern Ireland advising Paul Murphy, whom he called "an excellent Secretary of State."

Asked if he agreed Mr Smith was unfit for leadership, he replied: "I don't think that's fair. It's not unreasonable for Owen Smith to comment on these types of issues, even if I think on this occasion he's got it wrong."

When Labour leader Mr Corbyn was asked if he supported IS peace talks, he maintained: "They are not going to be round the table. No."

Mr Mercer said Mr Smith's comments were desperate.

"Everyone knows negotiation is far more desirable than violence in any conflict, but to suggest it in this case is to entirely misunderstand and fail to grasp the challenge posed by IS," he added.

"His desperate attempts to out-Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn have led him to the view that barbaric murderers who behead journalists and lynch homosexuals are now the sort of people that we should negotiate with."

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