John McDonnell's links with republicans show his 'apology' for the sham it is
Last week, pro-IRA comments made by Labour Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell in 2003 were raised in the House of Commons by Nigel Dodds MP and then on BBC Question Time. McDonnell made a disingenuous 'apology', which was not really an apology at all.
There was an interesting assessment of his apology by Squinter, a columnist in the Andersonstown News, who tweeted: "Lots of inaccurate reporting this morning. John McDonnell carefully gave rationale for IRA remarks, then apologised if anyone was offended."
Yes, he tried to justify his call to "honour" IRA terrorists and then some people thought it was an apology. No: he merely compounded his guilt.
The spotlight is now on the links between the far-left and Irish republicanism and, in particular, on the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his friend McDonnell.
One of the main points of contact has been through the Wolfe Tone Society, which was formed in London in 1984. It supports Sinn Fein through fundraising and lobbying and holds monthly meetings and republican commemorations in the London Irish Centre in Camden Square.
The society also holds an annual James Connolly-Bobby Sands commemoration meeting, and the event on May 6, 2006 marked the 25th anniversary of the republican hunger strikes.
It was addressed by the former IRA hunger striker and Sinn Fein special adviser Jackie McMullan and the Sinn Fein MLA Francis Brolly.
Dennis Grace, convenor of the Wolfe Tone Society, also spoke and outlined some aspects of their work. The first thing on his list of activities was: "Working closely with left-Labour MPs Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell."
He also emphasised the importance of writing to MPs, giving the example of John McDonnell being asked to raise an issue in Parliament when he hadn't received a single letter about it.
The relationship between Corbyn, McDonnell and Sinn Fein is clearly a lot closer than many people imagined. Of the 650 MPs in the House of Commons, only Corbyn and McDonnell were named as "working closely" with the Wolfe Tone Society, and it only took a word from the Sinn Fein support group to get McDonnell to ask a question for them.
Back then, it was simply an interesting fact, but today it is far more than interesting, with Jeremy Corbyn installed as the leader of the Labour Party and John McDonnell installed as the shadow chancellor.
The two MPs who "worked closely" with the Sinn Fein support group in London are now at the very top of the Labour Party.
Of course, the connection between McDonnell and the Wolfe Tone Society stretches back beyond 2006. On Saturday, May 25, 2002, the society commemorated James Connolly and Bobby Sands by holding a march and a rally in London.
It was the first time that republicans had marched through the city to commemorate the men, and the speakers at the rally were Sinn Fein MLA Pat McNamee and Labour MP John McDonnell, along with a representative of the 'Colombia Three' campaign.
This was a year before the comments that McDonnell made in 2003 about the IRA and Bobby Sands, for which he has recently issued his weasel words apology.
In passing, it is worth recalling that the other principal speaker in 2002, Pat McNamee, left Sinn Fein in 2005 and later said that the murder of Paul Quinn in October 2007 was carried out by members of the Provisional IRA.
Jeremy Corbyn also has a long history of links to the Wolfe Tone Society. On Thursday, May 4, 1989, IRA terrorists murdered a prison officer in Loughgall and a soldier near Crossmaglen. Yet just three days later - on Sunday, May 7 - Jeremy Corbyn was one of the speakers at the Wolfe Tone Society's fourth annual commemoration of another IRA terrorist, Bobby Sands.
John McDonnell's odious comments in 2003 were just the tip of a very nasty iceberg.
Nelson McCausland MLA is chair of the Assembly's culture, arts and leisure committee