Belfast Telegraph

Monday 29 December 2014

Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams says Tony Benn was a 'true friend of the Irish people'

The veteran politician Tony Benn died at home today at the age of 88, his family said in a statement. Pic Andy Butterton/PA Wire
The veteran politician Tony Benn died at home today at the age of 88, his family said in a statement. Pic Andy Butterton/PA Wire
LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 08: Tony Benn, president of the Stop the War Coalition and former politician, addresses the crowd at the 'Antiwar Mass Assembly' organised by the Stop the War Coalition in Trafalgar Square on October 8, 2011 in London, England. The demonstration sees prominent campaigners and artists calling for the British Government to immediately withdraw troops from Afghanistan. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 08: Tony Benn, president of the Stop the War Coalition and former politician, prepares to address the crowd at the 'Antiwar Mass Assembly' organised by the Stop the War Coalition in Trafalgar Square on October 8, 2011 in London, England. The demonstration sees prominent campaigners and artists calling for the British Government to immediately withdraw troops from Afghanistan. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 08: Tony Benn, president of the Stop the War Coalition and former politician, prepares to address the crowd during the 'Antiwar Mass Assembly' organised by the Stop the War Coalition at Trafalgar Square on October 8, 2011 in London, England. The demonstration sees prominent campaigners and artists calling for the British Government to immediately withdraw troops from Afghanistan. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
LONDON - OCTOBER 08: Former Labour MP Tony Benn smokes a pipe during an Anti-War rally on October 8, 2007 in London, England. Anti-war protesters marched down Whitehall to Parliament Square, despite being told the protest was illegal. (Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 24: Tony Benn addresses the crowd of postal workers and members of the Communication Workers' Union during a rally in the Methodist Central Hall on February 24, 2009 in London. Postal workers are preparing to protest in Westminster today amid growing anger over the proposed sale of a section of the business. Ministers want to sell a stake of about 30% to the private sector to help pay for the modernisation of the service. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 01: Tony Benn speaks as protesters and members of The Stop the War Coalition gather at the US Embassy to march to Trafalgar Square on April 1, 2009 in London, England. Protesters marched through London demanding action on poverty, climate change and jobs, as world leaders arrived in London ahead of the G20 summit. (Photo by Tim Whitby/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 17: Former Labour MP Tony Benn arrives to lay a wreath at the Cenotaph on Whitehall at a Ceremony for the 204 dead Soldiers on August 17, 2009 in London, England. A milestone figure was reached on Satuurday when the 200th British Soldier died in Afghanistan. Four more soldiers lost their lives over the weekend bringing the total dead to 204, with 13 losing their lives this month alone. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 17: (EDITORS NOTE: THIS IMAGE WAS CONVERTED TO BLACK AND WHITE) Former Labour MP Tony Benn arrives to lay a wreath at the Cenotaph on Whitehall at a Ceremony for the 204 dead Soldiers on August 17, 2009 in London, England. A milestone figure was reached on Satuurday when the 200th British Soldier died in Afghanistan. Four more soldiers lost their lives over the weekend bringing the total dead to 204, with 13 losing their lives this month alone. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
File photo dated 16/10/99 of Tony Benn joining rail union members at a demonstration in central London.The veteran politician died at home today at the age of 88, his family said in a statement. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday March 14, 2014. See PA story DEATH Benn. Photo credit should read: Neil Munns/PA Wire
File photo dated 11/05/07 of Tony Benn. The veteran politician died at home today at the age of 88, his family said in a statement.PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday March 14, 2014. See PA story DEATH Benn. Photo credit should read: Stephen Kelly/PA Wire
File photo dated 20/10/64 of Tony Benn. The veteran politician died at home today at the age of 88, his family said in a statement. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday March 14, 2014. See PA story DEATH Benn. Photo credit should read: PA Wire
File photo dated 12/12/13 of Tony Benn speaking at the Celebration of the Life of Nelson Mandela. The veteran politician died at home today at the age of 88, his family said in a statement. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday March 14, 2014. See PA story DEATH Benn. Photo credit should read: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
File photo dated 28/07/61 of Tony Benn with his wife Caroline. The veteran politician died at home today at the age of 88, his family said in a statement. RESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday March 14, 2014. See PA story DEATH Benn. Photo credit should read: PA/PA Wire
File photo dated 18/04/79 of Tony Benn campaigning in Bristol. The veteran politician died at home today at the age of 88, his family said in a statement. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday March 14, 2014. See PA story DEATH Benn. Photo credit should read: Bristol Evening Post/PA Wire
File photo dated 07/10/66 of Tony Benn. The veteran politician died at home today at the age of 88, his family said in a statement. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday March 14, 2014. See PA story DEATH Benn. Photo credit should read: PA/PA Wire
File photo dated 28/11/0 of Tony Benn.The veteran politician died at home today at the age of 88, his family said in a statement. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday March 14, 2014. See PA story DEATH Benn. Photo credit should read: PA/PA Wire
File photo dated 01/04/09 of Tony Benn. The veteran politician died at home today at the age of 88, his family said in a statement. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday March 14, 2014. See PA story DEATH Benn. Photo credit should read: Fiona Hanson/PA Wire
File photo dated 24/06/03 of Tony Benn.The veteran politician died at home today at the age of 88, his family said in a statement. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday March 14, 2014. See PA story DEATH Benn. Photo credit should read: Andy Butterton/PA Wire
File photo dated 20/04/75 of the press conference at the St Ermine's Hotel, Westminster, given by anti-Common Market Ministers, (left to right) Mr Michael Foot, Mr Tony Benn, Mr Peter Shore and Mrs Barbara Castle. The veteran politician Tony Benn died at home today at the age of 88, his family said in a statement. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday March 14, 2014. See PA story DEATH Benn. Photo credit should read: PA/PA Wire
File photo dated 14/02/08 of Tony Benn. The veteran politician died at home today at the age of 88, his family said in a statement. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday March 14, 2014. See PA story DEATH Benn. Photo credit should read: Lewis Whyld/PA Wire
File photo dated 01/12/50 of Tony Benn celebrating retaining the seat for Labour in the Parliamentary by-election at Bristol south-east. The veteran politician died at home today at the age of 88, his family said in a statement. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday March 14, 2014. See PA story DEATH Benn. Photo credit should read: PA/PA Wire
File photo dated 04/07/66 of Tony Benn. The veteran politician died at home today at the age of 88, his family said in a statement. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday March 14, 2014. See PA story DEATH Benn. Photo credit should read: PA/PA Wire
File photo dated 25/09/07 of Emily Benn with her grandfather, former Labour MP Tony Benn (right), and her uncle Hilary Benn, during the 2007 Labour Party Conference in Bournemouth. The veteran politician Tony Benn died at home today at the age of 88, his family said in a statement. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday March 14, 2014. See PA story DEATH Benn. Photo credit should read: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
File photo dated 05/10/84 of The Labour Party conference coming to a close with a rendition of the Red Flag (from left) NEC members Tony Benn and Alan Hadden, leader Neil Kinnock, General Secretary Jim Mortimer, and conference chairman Eric Heffer. The veteran politician Tony Benn died at home today at the age of 88, his family said in a statement. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday March 14, 2014. See PA story DEATH Benn. Photo credit should read: PA/PA Wire
File photo dated 08/10/07 of Tony Benn and Brian Haw at an anti-war protest in Trafalgar Square, central London. The veteran politician Tony Benn died at home today at the age of 88, his family said in a statement. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday March 14, 2014. See PA story DEATH Benn. Photo credit should read: Stephen Kelly/PA Wire
File photo dated 26/09/04 of Tony Benn. The veteran politician died at home today at the age of 88, his family said in a statement. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday March 14, 2014. See PA story DEATH Benn. Photo credit should read: Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA Wire
File photo dated 11/04/61 of Tony Benn at his London home with his wife, Caroline, and four children-left to right- Hilary, 7, Joshua, 2, Melissa, 4, and Stephen, 9.The veteran politician died at home today at the age of 88, his family said in a statement. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday March 14, 2014. See PA story DEATH Benn. Photo credit should read: PA/PA Wire
File photo dated 10/05/65 of Tony Benn demonstrating the "Trimphone". The veteran politician died at home today at the age of 88, his family said in a statement. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday March 14, 2014. See PA story DEATH Benn. Photo credit should read: PA/PA Wire
File photo dated 08/10/07 of Tony Benn. The veteran politician died at home today at the age of 88, his family said in a statement. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday March 14, 2014. See PA story DEATH Benn. Photo credit should read: Stephen Kelly/PA Wire
File photo dated 19/06/57 of Tony Benn decorating the Labour Party offices at St. George, Bristol. The veteran politician died at home today at the age of 88, his family said in a statement. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday March 14, 2014. See PA story DEATH Benn. Photo credit should read: PA/PA Wire
File photo dated 11/12/67 of Tony Benn speaking in front of the first prototype CONCORDE. The veteran politician died at home today at the age of 88, his family said in a statement.PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday March 14, 2014. See PA story DEATH Benn. Photo credit should read: PA/PA Wire
File photo dated 11/04/61 of Tony Benn. The veteran politician died at home today at the age of 88, his family said in a statement. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday March 14, 2014. See PA story DEATH Benn. Photo credit should read: PA Wire
File photo dated 25/04/61 of Tony Benn out canvassing to Judith Spratt and her two-year-old son Mark, in London. The veteran politician died at home today at the age of 88, his family said in a statement. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday March 14, 2014. See PA story DEATH Benn. Photo credit should read: PA/PA Wire
File photo dated 28/02/04 of Tony Benn addressing the Stop the War Coalition's annual conference. The veteran politician died at home today at the age of 88, his family said in a statement. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday March 14, 2014. See PA story DEATH Benn. Photo credit should read: Johnny Green/PA Wire
File photo dated 08/05/61 of Tony Benn holding up his certificate of election, with his wife Caroline and son Stephen, nine. The veteran politician died at home today at the age of 88, his family said in a statement.PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday March 14, 2014. See PA story DEATH Benn. Photo credit should read: PA/PA Wire
File photo dated 13/02/84 of Tony Benn (right) and Roy Hattersley (left) with works convenor Mick Thorpe in his factory canteen.The veteran politician Tony Benn died at home today at the age of 88, his family said in a statement. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday March 14, 2014. See PA story DEATH Benn. Photo credit should read: PA/PA Wire
File photo dated 08/05/61 of Tony Benn with his wife and son at his home in Holland Park before heading to the House of Commons.The veteran politician died at home today at the age of 88, his family said in a statement.PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday March 14, 2014. See PA story DEATH Benn. Photo credit should read: PA/PA Wire
File photo dated 30/05/75 of Tony Benn .The veteran politician died at home today at the age of 88, his family said in a statement. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday March 14, 2014. See PA story DEATH Benn. Photo credit should read: PA/PA Wire

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams has described Tony Benn as a true friend of the Irish people following his support for a united Ireland.

His republicanism and dealings with Sinn Fein long before IRA and loyalist ceasefires which ended the Northern Ireland conflict in 1994 provoked controversy, particularly his invitation to Mr Adams to come to Westminster.

The former West Belfast MP said: "Tony was a true friend of the Irish people.

"A principled politician and activist, he spoke up passionately for the idea of a united Ireland. He remained an avid supporter of Irish freedom throughout his life."

Mr Benn met the Sinn Fein leader on numerous occasions. He invited Mr Adams to a meeting in 1983 during the height of the IRA's campaign when the republican party's tolerance of violence was anathema to most in Great Britain.

After a visit by Mr Adams was blocked in 1993 he correctly predicted that he would eventually visit Downing Street, to become a regular occurrence during peace process negotiations under the Blair administration.

Many unionists profoundly disagreed with his stance.

East Antrim Democratic Unionist MP Sammy Wilson said: "He just followed the standard doctrinaire left wing view that republicans are good and unionists are bad. That permeated the left wing of the Labour Party."

Mr Benn, who died on Friday at the age of 88, once campaigned to have the Queen's head removed from stamps. He was a republican, advocating an end to the monarchy.

His interest in Northern Ireland was long-standing and helped keep the issue on the Westminster agenda.

Mr Adams, now a public representative in the Irish parliament, added: "Tony was a champion of the downtrodden and the voiceless in Britain, in Ireland and throughout the world.

"I met Tony many times over the years. He was a thoughtful and highly intelligent human being and a genuinely nice man, whom I will greatly miss."

In 2002, when the peace process was gridlocked over IRA arms decommissioning, the upper-middle class and nonconformist radical called for joint authority to be introduced by London and Dublin.

Ireland's foreign affairs minister, Eamon Gilmore, said he was a man of great integrity and determination.

"Tony was a most principled and respected parliamentarian and was also a great friend of Ireland.

"While his views on Northern Ireland were often seen as controversial, once the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998 he was among its strongest defenders."

Nationalist SDLP Foyle MP Mark Durkan said he was passionate in his politics, compassionate in his outlook and compelling in debate.

"For him politics was a battle of ideas, not a contest of image.

"He was always ready to argue issues on the basis of the interests at play and the rights at stake.

"Tony Benn was a great parliamentarian, wonderful platform orator and both personable and impressive in private conversation."]

Further reading

Tony Benn dies aged 88: Veteran politician who embodied soul of the Labour Party and came to be admired even by his rivals

Tony Benn dead: Veteran Labour politician passes away aged 88

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