Belfast Telegraph

Labour's Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell urged to meet IRA victims

Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell should be taken to meet victims of IRA attacks to "get an education", a Tory MP has said.

Oliver Colvile, Conservative MP for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, urged the former shadow Northern Ireland secretary Ivan Lewis to persuade Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell to meet with the victims.

Speaking during a Commons debate on the political situation at Stormont he said: "I hope also that he can help convince his leader and the shadow chancellor to give up their support for IRA terrorists.

"Perhaps we might like to take them to meet some of the victims of the atrocities to hear first hand of the real anguish of losing close relations and maybe they can get an education."

Mr Corbyn has faced criticism over reported links to the IRA while Mr McDonnell apologised in September for any offence comments he made about the group in the past may have caused.

Meanwhile, MPs called for fundamental changes to the workings of the Northern Ireland Assembly, claiming current arrangements would only prolong the current political crisis which was sparked by a murder linked to the IRA.

A police assessment that members of the IRA were involved in shooting Kevin McGuigan in August prompted unionists to remove all ministers but one from the power-sharing Executive, claiming Sinn Fein was inextricably linked to the supposedly defunct republican terror group.

Three weeks of talks have failed produce an agreement and critics have warned that important departments such as health have been left without leadership

Northern Ireland Committee chair Laurence Robertson said he doubted a solution could be found to the current crisis before next year's elections and insisted the long-term flaws in the system now need to be addressed.

He said the way the Assembly works institutionalises sectarianism by asking its members to declare their allegiance to either unionist, nationalist or neither causes and that unless deeper problems such as this are addressed crises would continue to arise

The Conservative MP said: "It's also very important to recognise that the institutions were not functioning before that and the real and the deeper reason for this problem as far as I can see is the design of those institutions.

"We know why they were put together in the way they were put together all those years ago - it was to bring people together, to have them talking to each other instead of firing at each other, and there could be no better reason for designing the institutions other than that, to bring them together.

"No one's hearts could have failed to leap at the sight of Dr Ian Paisley sitting together with Martin McGuinness, that really did give us hope.

"But thinking back I think we have to accept that the way the institutions were designed, when one is elected to the Assembly, and one has to designate oneself unionist or nationalist or neither, could be said to be institutionalising the very sectarianism that we are trying to get away from."

The UUP's Danny Kinahan (South Antrim) compared the "silo mentality" in Northern Ireland whereby ministers from different parties undermine each other because of ideological differences with the Tory-Lib Dem coalition formed in 2010 at a time of recession.

He said the power-sharing agreement as it currently works "cannot stand".

He said: "When this House agreed a coalition government in 2010, neither coalition partner got exactly what they wanted form the Government, but both parties were able to set personal and ideological decisions aside to do what they deemed was right for the nation.

"Sadly the opposite is now true at Stormont - ministers are challenged by executive colleagues not because of their policy approach but because of party political or ideological differences.

"It is said that a House divided against itself cannot stand."

Nigel Dodds, Democratic Unionist MP for Belfast North, said: "The DUP is not prepared to carry on business as usual or sweep such matters under the carpet.

"They cannot be swept under the carpet.

"Just imagine if a political party here in government had some kind of militia or paramilitary organisation was out doing these things in the streets. It wouldn't be tolerated for a minute and nobody else should tolerate it either.

"If we truly value democracy then we must be clear that only those committed to exclusively peaceful and democratic methods should be eligible for places in government.

"If they are found to be not so committed then action must be taken."

Outlining a way forward, Mr Dodds said paramilitaries "have to go away" and disband.

Shadow Northern Ireland minister Stephen Pound insisted Labour's policy towards Northern Ireland had not changed since Mr Corbyn's election as leader and his appointment of Mr McDonnell as shadow chancellor.

Mr Pound said: "There has been no change in the policy of this party with regard to Northern Ireland.

"We reiterate on the record the bipartisan approach and I think it is vital that we place on record our unwavering commitment to the people of Northern Ireland, to the rule of law, and... we are fully supportive of the principle of consent as expressed in the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent other agreements."

Northern Ireland Minister Ben Wallace called on parties opposed to the Government's welfare reforms, another vexed issue in the current impasse in the province, to implement them.

He said: "Whatever your positions are on welfare and my Government's position on welfare, it was something that needed to be implemented.

"It was something that the party's signed up to in December of last year and that is simply part of politics that we have to face and have to implement."

Mr Wallace reiterated the Government's support for the PSNI's investigation into paramilitary activity and would not interfere as he called for full implementation of the Stormont House agreement.

He said: "There is no place in Northern Ireland or the rest of the United Kingdom for the paramilitaries or the existence of paramilitary organisations."

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