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Labour's John McDonnell 'said gutless wimps opposed to Sinn Fein should have knee-caps shot off'

By Claire Williamson

Published 27/11/2015

John McDonnell
John McDonnell

Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell allegedly called for the "ballot, the bullet and the bomb" to unite Ireland - and joked that 'gutless wimps' who refused to meet Sinn Fein should be knee-capped at the height of the Troubles.

According to The Times, the remarks were made at a public meeting of 100 people including members of the IRA's political wing, at a pub in New Cross, South London in 1986 - before the peace process.

The newspaper says it has uncovered archive material showing Mr McDonnell suggested with black humour that Labour councillors who boycotted the meeting should have their "knee-caps shot off".

The event was allegedly documented in a local newspaper, the Deptford & Peckham Mercury which said Mr McDonnell was addressing the meeting on behalf of the self-styled Labour committee on Ireland.

A Sinn Fein councillor from Northern Ireland was a guest speaker, according to the report.

The local newspaper report said: "Mr McDonnell went on to describe the Lewisham Labour councillors who had boycotted the meeting as "gutless wimps" and joked that "knee-capping might help to change their minds".

The IRA continued using bombs after Mr McDonnell's speech and in 1987 - a year later - eleven people were killed in the Enniskillen bombing on Remembrance Sunday.

Mr McDonnell was speaking as part of a tour by Sinn Fein of Labour councils in London that he helped to organise.

When contacted by The Times a spokesman said Mr McDonnell has no recollection of making the remarks.

A spokesman said: "John has no recollection of making these remarks. This quote is clearly taken out of context - John rejects all forms of violence and has done so all his political career.

"The approaches to Sinn Fein and the delegation were organised and publicised extensively at the time to commence the process of initiating a dialogue to secure a peace settlement. And we now know that behind the scenes the then government was also communicating with republicans with the same objective.

"John has also been a long-standing campaigner for peace in Northern Ireland and advocated speaking to Sinn Fein as part of a peace process long before it became accepted practice."

Diarmuid Breatnach, who organised the meeting, told The Times: "I do recall him making some throwaway but unfortunate remark about knee-capping in the context of the rate-capping that the Conservative government was introducing at the time."

The left-wing veteran was appointed by Jeremy Corbyn to lead Labour's economic policy.

It comes after Mr McDonnell apologised in September of this year for remarks he made in 2003, calling for Irish republican terrorists to be honoured.

Mr McDonnell had told a meeting in London: "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 (hunger striker) Bobby Sands that brought Britain to the negotiating table.

"The peace we have now is due to the action of the IRA."

He apologised "from the bottom of my heart" for the offence caused but suggested his comments may have helped the peace process.

The senior Labour MP said it had been a "mistake" to use the words and accepted he had "clearly" caused offence.

David Cameron said Mr McDonnell should be "ashamed" of the comments when the issue was raised during Mr Corbyn's first session of Prime Minister's Questions as opposition leader.

Challenged about the comments on BBC1's Question Time Mr McDonnell said: "I accept it was a mistake to use those words, but actually if it contributed towards saving one life, or preventing someone else being maimed, it was worth doing because we did hold onto the peace process.

"There was a real risk of the republican movement splitting, and some continuing with the armed process. If I gave offence, and I clearly have, from the bottom of my heart I apologise."

This week the shadow chancellor became embroiled in further controversy as he brandished Chairman Mao's Little Red Book in the House of Commons in response to George Osborne's Autumn Statement.

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