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Suzanne Breen: Corbyn a 'Marmite' politician, but he gets the youth vote

By Suzanne Breen

Compare and contrast the visit of Jeremy Corbyn to Queen's University Belfast yesterday with that of former Labour leader Tony Blair last month.

Mr Blair was here to join other key players in the peace process to mark the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

There appeared to be little advance publicity about his presence, presumably in case it led to a mass of protesters angry about the Iraq War.

Ask a random sample of students to name their political heroes and Blair won't feature. Corbyn definitely does, and he received a rapturous response at the university yesterday. Of all the political figures who have visited the campus over the past year - including Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and new Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald - he leads the popularity stakes by a country mile.

But for a significant section of unionists and IRA victims, Corbyn is a deeply controversial character.

His close relationship with Sinn Fein leaders at the height of the conflict - when they were pariahs in mainstream British politics - means many unionists don't trust him.

His refusal to meet IRA victims now guarantees this won't change any time soon and it's something he must address.

To say the DUP isn't fussed on Corbyn is putting it politely. When asked by the Belfast Telegraph yesterday about his relationship with the party, Corbyn insisted his door wasn't shut to the DUP, yet it's evident there's not a lot of love on his side either.

"Our party does obviously have meetings and relationships with them (the DUP)," he said.

"Tony (Lloyd) as part of the Northern Ireland team knows them and our party meets them quite regularly to discuss things that are going on within Parliament.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn gives the thumbs up after a visit to Lifford Bridge on the Irish border, during the second day of a two-day trip to learn more about how Brexit affects the country. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday May 25, 2018. See PA story ULSTER Corbyn. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn gives the thumbs up after a visit to Lifford Bridge on the Irish border, during the second day of a two-day trip to learn more about how Brexit affects the country. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday May 25, 2018. See PA story ULSTER Corbyn. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn with Professor Deirdre Heenan (left) and Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Tony Lloyd (right) during a visit to Lifford Bridge on the Irish border, during the second day of a two-day trip to learn more about how Brexit affects the country. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday May 25, 2018. See PA story ULSTER Corbyn. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn with Professor Deirdre Heenan (centre) and Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Tony Lloyd (right) during a visit to Lifford Bridge on the Irish border, during the second day of a two-day trip to learn more about how Brexit affects the country. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday May 25, 2018. See PA story ULSTER Corbyn. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (right) speaking with SDLP politician Mark Durkan, SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan (left) and SDLP leader Colum Eastwood (third from left) after a Londonderry Chamber business breakfast on the second day of Mr Corbyn's visit to Northern Ireland as party leader. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday May 25, 2018. See PA story ULSTER Corbyn. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn with Professor Deirdre Heenan (left) and Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Tony Lloyd (right) during a visit to Lifford Bridge on the Irish border, during the second day of a two-day trip to learn more about how Brexit affects the country. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday May 25, 2018. See PA story ULSTER Corbyn. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (centre, obscured and back to camera) waves at a vehicle with Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Tony Lloyd (back to camera) during a visit to Lifford Bridge on the Irish border, during the second day of a two-day trip to learn more about how Brexit affects the country. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday May 25, 2018. See PA story ULSTER Corbyn. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn with Professor Deirdre Heenan during a visit to Lifford Bridge on the Irish border, during the second day of a two-day trip to learn more about how Brexit affects the country. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday May 25, 2018. See PA story ULSTER Corbyn. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn delivers a public lecture in the Great Hall at Queen's University Belfast. Pic: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is greeted by Professor James McElnay, Acting Vice-Chancellor at Queen's University in Belfast, ahead of delivering a public lecture in the Great Hall. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday May 24, 2018. Mr Corbyn urged Prime Minister Theresa May to reconvene the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference, a body that offers the Irish a consultative role in non-devolved matters concerning Northern Ireland. See PA story ULSTER Corbyn. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (centre) and Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Tony Lloyd MP (left) with Acting Vice-Chancellor Professor James McElnay (second from right), Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Internationalisation and Engagement at QueenÕs University Professor Richard English (right), and Acting Registrar Wendy Galbraith at Queens University in Belfast where Corbyn is due to deliver a lecture during his first visit to Northern Ireland as party leader. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday May 24, 2018. Mr Corbyn urged Prime Minister Theresa May to reconvene the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference - a body that offers the Irish a consultative role in non-devolved matters concerning Northern Ireland. See PA story ULSTER Corbyn. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MAY 24: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn arrives at Queens University on May 24, 2018 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Mr Corbyn was making his first visit to Northern Ireland since being elected as Labour leader three years ago. During his speech in Belfast he is expected to say he insists that he will not support any Brexit deal that supports a hard border with the Republic of Ireland. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MAY 24: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn arrives at Queens University on May 24, 2018 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Mr Corbyn was making his first visit to Northern Ireland since being elected as Labour leader three years ago. During his speech in Belfast he is expected to say he insists that he will not support any Brexit deal that supports a hard border with the Republic of Ireland. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn arrives at Queens University on May 24, 2018 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Chief Constable George Hamilton listens as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn delivers a public lecture in the Great Hall at Queen's University Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday May 24, 2018. Mr Corbyn urged Prime Minister Theresa May to reconvene the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference - a body that offers the Irish a consultative role in non-devolved matters concerning Northern Ireland. See PA story ULSTER Corbyn. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neil arrives to hear Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn deliver a public lecture in the Great Hall at Queen's University Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday May 24, 2018. Mr Corbyn urged Prime Minister Theresa May to reconvene the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference - a body that offers the Irish a consultative role in non-devolved matters concerning Northern Ireland. See PA story ULSTER Corbyn. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MAY 24: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, leaves the stage after delivering a speech at Queens University on May 24, 2018 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Mr Corbyn was making his first visit to Northern Ireland since he was elected as Labour leader three years ago, during his speech in Belfast he insisted the he will not support any Brexit deal that supports a hard border with the Republic of Ireland. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Sinn Fein members (left to right), Francie Molloy, Paul Maskey and Mickey Brady MP, attend Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's lecture at Queens University in Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday May 24, 2018. Mr Corbyn urged Prime Minister Theresa May to reconvene the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference - a body that offers the Irish a consultative role in non-devolved matters concerning Northern Ireland. See PA story ULSTER Corbyn. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MAY 24: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, delivers a speech at Queens University on May 24, 2018 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Mr Corbyn was making his first visit to Northern Ireland since he was elected as Labour leader three years ago, during his speech in Belfast he insisted the he will not support any Brexit deal that supports a hard border with the Republic of Ireland. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MAY 24: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, delivers a speech at Queens University on May 24, 2018 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Mr Corbyn was making his first visit to Northern Ireland since he was elected as Labour leader three years ago, during his speech in Belfast he insisted the he will not support any Brexit deal that supports a hard border with the Republic of Ireland. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MAY 24: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, delivers a speech at Queens University on May 24, 2018 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Mr Corbyn was making his first visit to Northern Ireland since he was elected as Labour leader three years ago, during his speech in Belfast he insisted the he will not support any Brexit deal that supports a hard border with the Republic of Ireland. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MAY 24: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn delivers a speech at Queens University on May 24, 2018 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Mr Corbyn was making his first visit to Northern Ireland since he was elected as Labour leader three years ago, during his speech in Belfast he insisted the he will not support any Brexit deal that supports a hard border with the Republic of Ireland. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MAY 24: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn delivers a speech at Queens University on May 24, 2018 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Mr Corbyn was making his first visit to Northern Ireland since he was elected as Labour leader three years ago, during his speech in Belfast he insisted the he will not support any Brexit deal that supports a hard border with the Republic of Ireland. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MAY 24: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, delivers a speech at Queens University on May 24, 2018 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Mr Corbyn was making his first visit to Northern Ireland since he was elected as Labour leader three years ago, during his speech in Belfast he insisted the he will not support any Brexit deal that supports a hard border with the Republic of Ireland. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
ROSA NI campaigners to amend the 8th amendment to the Irish Constitution hold a banner outside Queens University Belfast's Wilta Hall Labour wear leader Jeremy Corbyn will give a lecture during his first visit to Northern Ireland as party leader. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday May 24, 2018.See PA story ULSTER Corbyn. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn arrives at Queens University in Belfast this morning / Credit: Pacemaker
Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn arrives at Queens University in Belfast this morning / Credit: Pacemaker
Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn arrives at Queens University in Belfast this morning / Credit: Pacemaker
Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn arrives at Queens University in Belfast this morning / Credit: Pacemaker

"Obviously we want to work together with people.

"They are, at the moment, the main prop of the Tory Government in Westminster, which is not helpful for those of us opposing austerity, job cuts and underfunding of NHS across the country."

Corbyn as Prime Minister would be friendlier to Sinn Fein than any previous incumbent of that office. Yet he certainly wasn't advocating a radical republican agenda yesterday. In the absence of power-sharing, he supported nationalists' calls for the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference to be reconvened. But he didn't advocate anything like joint rule and stressed that the body should address only non-devolved matters. He also said, if he was in Downing Street, he would remain neutral in the event of a border poll.

In an interview with the News Letter, he specifically condemned the IRA's 1983 murder of Queen's law lecturer Edgar Graham, which unionists had been calling for him to do.

Corbyn had been criticised in the past for condemning violence generally but declining to condemn the IRA specifically.

He told the Belfast Telegraph he opposed an amnesty for both former paramilitary and security force members and stressed "the law must take its course" and "the PSNI go where the evidence leads".

Corbyn also surprisingly declined to give a pledge that he would change the law on abortion or same-sex marriage here.

He said his views on both issues were well-known but he would prefer for a local Assembly to deal with them.

The Labour leader was totally relaxed during his visit and gave the media greater individual access than Theresa May has during her most recent trips.

Yet his past associations will continue to dictate how many unionists who lived through the Troubles view him.

For the younger generation, that is perhaps not the case.

Pupils at Belfast's integrated Lagan College, which he visited yesterday, were given complete freedom to ask him whatever questions they wanted. Nothing was off-limits. They quizzed him about Brexit, economic policy and the environment.

Not one raised the past.

Belfast Telegraph

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