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Paisley challenges Labour Party youth to talk to IRA victims after Bobby Sands tribute

Bobby Sands

Sir Keir Starmer has been urged by a DUP MP to take disciplinary action against a Labour Party youth association that tweeted a tribute to hunger striker Bobby Sands on the anniversary of his death.

Tuesday marked 39 years since the former Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP died after 66 days on hunger strike in the Maze prison.

On Tuesday evening, London Young Labour tweeted a picture of the Falls Road mural dedicated to the IRA man.

They wrote: “On this day in 1981, socialist and republican Bobby Sands died as a PoW [prisoner of war], following a hunger strike during which he became an elected MP.

“We remember him and continue to fight for an end to imperialism and for a free and united Ireland.”

The tweet received over 2,000 replies, both supporting and condemning the tribute.

DUP MP Ian Paisley asked new Labour leader Sir Keir to take action against those behind the tweet.

“It celebrates a IRA terrorist, Bobby Sands, and calls for the end of imperialism in Northern Ireland. Last time I checked, Labour policy on Northern Ireland is to ensure the people here have self-determination and that Northern Ireland is a part of the UK until the people decide otherwise,” he said.

In correspondence to Sir Keir, the North Antrim MP stated: “I know you will be appalled by anyone suggesting that someone who bombed a furniture shop in Dunmurry in 1976 — a small business that employed people from across the community — can hardly be applauded as an anti-imperialist but are nothing more than a criminal terrorist.

“To suggest that he, Sands was a ‘prisoner of war’ would, if true, pose so many awkward questions for current leaders of a major political party in Northern Ireland.

“I trust you will have this tweet removed, a suitable apology published and the members who orchestrated and retweeted the message disciplined or expelled. Your actions on this will be seen as a measurement of how important Northern Ireland is to the Labour Party under your leadership.”

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The DUP’s Ian Paisley

The DUP’s Ian Paisley

The DUP’s Ian Paisley

Sammy Heenan from Rathfriland, Co Down, was orphaned when he was just 12 after his father was shot by an IRA gunman outside his Legananny home in 1985.

Mr Heenan said he was “shocked” by the tweet and responded to it directly after it was shared by London Young Labour.

“They should come over here and speak to the victims of the IRA and understand and appreciate what the victims have went through,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.

“They would then not be in any way eulogising or glorifying Bobby Sands the terrorist.

“I’m shocked that the youth of a mainstream political party would glorify an individual in such a way.”

Sir Keir took over the leadership of the Labour party last month after Jeremy Corbyn - a republican sympathiser himself - stepped down from the role after five years.

Mr Corbyn had previously been criticised by Stephen Gault, whose father Samuel was one of 12 people killed by the Provisional IRA in the Remembrance Sunday bomb in Enniskillen, for his sympathies towards the IRA.

Sammy Heenan

Calling on Sir Keir to take a similar approach to his stance on anti-Semitism within Labour, Mr Heenan said it would send a “big signal” to those who support “past terrorism”.

“It sends a bad signal to those who took a stand, especially those within the armed forces, who are fighting terrorism worldwide,” he continued.

“Then you get this group — the future of the Labour Party — giving glory to Bobby Sands.

“The Labour Party is like many political parties and has quite a broad range of people within it. There’s people more to the right and more to the ultra-left.

“Obviously those in that ultra-left group had taken over Labour for quite some time so there are still individuals who would be sympathetic, so to speak, to the aims and objectives of these terrorist groupings within the party.

“These young people in London glorifying someone like Bobby Sands are living under some deluded romanticism that there was, what they would call, a struggle over here.

“At the end of the day Bobby Sands was a terrorist and inflicted great pain and hurt on the people of Northern Ireland and the people of mainland Great Britain experienced that as well as a result of their vile terrorist campaign over 30 years.”

The Labour party was approached for comment, but none was received by the time of going to press.

Belfast Telegraph