Jeremy Corbyn: I didn't support IRA violence ... the violence was wrong on all sides and I have said so all along
Jeremy Corbyn has defended reaching out to Sinn Fein at the height of the Troubles by insisting that he "wanted the violence to stop."
The Labour leader said yesterday: "I don't want violence, I don't want killing, I don't want all the horrors that go with it."
Mr Corbyn has faced strong criticism for bringing members of the IRA to the House of Commons during the 1980s.
Speaking on the BBC One Andrew Marr programme, he said the republicans he met at that time were former prisoners who had completed their sentences and that his goal had been to open dialogue and reach a political solution.
Mr Corbyn said: "Yes, I did make myself very unpopular with some people by a preparedness to reach out to the republican tradition in Ireland, to say ultimately this war is unwinnable by either side, there is never going to be a military (solution), therefore there has to be a political dialogue.
"At the same time, secretly, the British government was also engaged in that and then eventually in 1994 we got the first ceasefire."
Mr Corbyn was appearing on the BBC before opening Labour's annual conference in Brighton. He later spoke at a conference fringe meeting organised by Sinn Fein.
Asked whether he was less critical of IRA violence than of British military action, Mr Corbyn said: "The violence was wrong on all sides and I have said so all along.
"My whole point was if we were to bring about a peace process, you weren't going to achieve it by military means."
The Labour leader acknowledged his long-running support for a united Ireland, but added: "Quite honestly, the peace process has brought about a huge step forward.
"There is a lot of cross-border agreement, there are a lot of cross border institutions, there is a feeling - you go to Belfast, you go to Dublin, people travel back and forth all the time.
"The governments are in touch with each other every hour of every day on the different issues. There is that kind of sense that there is one island of Ireland."
Speaking to delegates in Brighton, shadow Northern Ireland secretary Vernon Coaker said: "Our policy, Labour's policy, is based on a bi-partisan approach built on the principle of consent.
"And as the agreement since 1998 has set out, it is for the people of Northern Ireland to decide their own future and that's how it should be and how it will remain."
Mr Coaker continued: "I will do all that I can to support the ongoing peace process in Northern Ireland, working with all parties and the Irish Government. Labour will play its part, as it always has done.
"Our party has helped to bring about a substantially better Northern Ireland, but now is the time to move forward, tackling many of the outstanding issues arising from the different traditions and competing narratives, as well as legacy issues around victims, mental health, economic insecurity and poverty.
"The Stormont House Agreement seeks to address some of the most difficult and challenging issues in Northern Ireland.
"It doesn't hide from them, it sets out practical ways to tackle them and when difficulties arise, let us not criticise but let us encourage and support.
"The British and Irish Governments still have a huge role to play in this process as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement."
In a message to people living in Northern Ireland, Mr Coaker said: "The rest of the UK still cares and we do want you to succeed."
Belfast Telegraph Digital