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Labour's John McDonnell and the link to dissidents

By Staff Reporter

Published 03/10/2016

Shadow chancellor: John McDonnell
Shadow chancellor: John McDonnell

A republican supporter whose group exercised influence over a Labour faction chaired by shadow chancellor John McDonnell is a strong advocate for the so-called 'Craigavon Two' and other leading dissidents.

Yesterday the Sunday Times exposed links between Mr McDonnell and dissidents, and published details of a meeting held four years ago to support republican prisoners.

The newspaper reported that the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) chaired by Mr McDonnell has in recent years adopted motions proposed by the Irish Republican Prisoners Support Group (IRPSG), which campaigns for republican "POWs".

The group's Facebook page includes messages of support for the Craigavon Two - Brendan McConville and John Paul Wootton - who were convicted of the murder of PSNI officer Stephen Carroll in 2009.

The group's secretary is Gerry Downing, a former LRC member expelled by Labour. It was reported that his group proposed a motion that was passed by the LRC the previous year. Yesterday, Mr Downing shared a Facebook post by a dissident republican in support of fundraising for families of prisoners from Lurgan.

And earlier this year he was a signatory of a letter to then Justice Minister Michael Gove about prisoners' conditions in Maghaberry, where dissident inmates are held. Mr Downing wrote: "It is now clear the prison administration is bent on using a system of intimidation and bully-boy tactics like raiding cells in the middle of the night causing sleep deprivation - and in the words of the prisoners themselves - 'creating an atmosphere of fear and confusion'."

In the letter he also wrote in support of other leading dissidents. "Only last week prisoners Colin Duffy and Alec McCrory were released without charge having spent two years and three months of imprisonment, and there is still the scandal of Brendan McConville and John-Paul Wootton being held in the prison isolation wing for the past four years. How can this be justified? Is it not reminiscent of Guantanamo Bay?"

The IRPSG motion passed by the LRC also stated republicans were being jailed because they "oppose the partition of Ireland via the British occupation of the six north-eastern counties by British imperialism" and the Good Friday Agreement.

Prisoners supported at a 2012 meeting hosted by Mr McDonnell included Marian Price, jailed for her role in a 1973 car bomb attack on the Old Bailey, and Gerry McGeough, who shot an off-duty UDR member in 1981.

Mr McDonnell's spokesman defended his involvement in the campaign, saying Price's release had been demanded on compassionate grounds as she was ill. He said: "The cases of Gerry McGeough, Marian Price and Martin Corey all relate to decisions to detain allegedly dissident republicans and whether they were covered by the Good Friday Agreement. There was a concern in some circles that their detention would set back the peace process."

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