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Northern Ireland Labour movement loses Momentum over refusal to form local branch

By Noel McAdam

Published 16/02/2016

Corbyn’s Labour does not field candidates in NI
Corbyn’s Labour does not field candidates in NI

It may be called Momentum - but the UK's newest political movement has been stopped in its tracks in Northern Ireland.

Labour activists here have been snubbed by the group set up to build on-the-ground support for controversial party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

The Belfast Telegraph can reveal Momentum has refused to set up a local branch. The rebuff is a setback for members here, who have asked Momentum to explain its decision in detail - and are hoping it will be reversed.

Labour claims there has been a dramatic increase in support in the region since Mr Corbyn replaced Ed Miliband following the party's disastrous performance in the General Election last May.

They say membership has increased from around 300 to about 1,700 - with the local party now seeking to run official Labour candidates in the Assembly election in May. The Belfast Telegraph has seen correspondence showing how the brakes were put on plans for a NI branch of Momentum.

An email from the group said: "Momentum is delighted to accept individuals, who are members or supporters of the Labour Party and not members of other political parties, wherever they live but, like the Labour Party, we do not organise at a local level in Northern Ireland for the same reasons as the Labour Party."

Mr Miliband and senior Labour figure Andy Burnham, who Mr Corbyn defeated in the leadership race, had pledged to review the party's position, although Mr Corbyn has said there is "no great wish" in the rest of the party to field candidates here.

In a letter to Momentum, local activists argued: "We believe there is as much demand for new politics in NI as the rest of the UK, and in NI it also means offering a non-sectarian alternative to the other main parties.

"Since the leadership election our membership has grown from about 300 to 1700, making us one of the largest party memberships in NI. Most of the new members joined in order to vote for Jeremy Corbyn, or decided to join the party after the leadership election because of him."

The email went on: "On your website, you say that Momentum is 'independent of the Labour Party's leadership' and will 'work with everyone who supports Jeremy's aim of creating a more fair, equal and democratic society'.

"We would like you to help us set up a Momentum NI group (and) also appreciate your support in persuading the Labour leadership to reconsider its position on NI. If for any reason you feel unable to support us in setting up a Momentum group, I would be grateful if you would be up front about it and give your reasons."

The reply from a senior Momentum official said: "We do not organise at a local level in Northern Ireland for the same reasons as the Labour Party.

"I understand that this is an ongoing discussion within the party, so this could change. I'm sorry this isn't the level of support you were hoping for but I hope you understand."

One party official who did not want to be named commented: "It's ironic that Momentum which insists it has no direct links with the Labour Party, yet follows the NEC line."

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