Eilis O'Hanlon: Labour's extreme left idealists who never wised up with age
It's a strange turn of events when a man once named as head of intelligence for the IRA says that the terror organisation is a butterfly that has flown away, while the new Shadow Chancellor of Her Majesty's Most Loyal Opposition says, "It's about time we started honouring those people involved in the armed struggle".
It's even more staggering that John McDonnell MP should have been appointed as Jeremy Corbyn's economic right-hand man the very day before talks began on solving the crisis at Stormont. If the new Labour leader was trying to send a subliminal message about how he intends to handle Northern Irish issues, he couldn't have made it any more unambiguous. Perhaps we should just be grateful he didn't go the whole hog and give Vernon Coaker the title of "Shadow Secretary of State for the Occupied Six Counties". At least not yet, but it's early days.
This is definitely the last thing anyone needs as talks get tetchily, tentatively under way. In recent times, London and Dublin have effectively put a sign on Ulster's door saying, 'Do Not Disturb'. They'll chair round-table discussions if they must, but on the whole they'd prefer if those pesky people in the Province kept themselves to themselves, thank you very much. Suddenly, along comes a Labour leader who seems to think the best way to deal with a beehive is to go poke a stick in it by appointing a man whose instinct is to commend the "bravery and sacrifice" of IRA men while publicly wishing that he could go back in time and assassinate Margaret Thatcher.
What's absurd is that there's even a debate about whether Jeremy Corbyn and his associates are, as Unionists fear, too hugger mugger with Sinn Fein. Of course they are. All that generation of 1980s left-wingers were enamoured by Gerry Adams.
In fact, the only reason they ever stopped working hard to make Labour unelectable in those years was to make excuses for those working equally hard to make Northern Ireland ungovernable.
From Corbyn to McDonnell to Ken Livingstone, they all justify it these days by saying it was OK because it led eventually to the Peace Process.
But that's disingenuous in the extreme. Plenty of people supported a political solution without also standing up for a minute's silence for eight IRA terrorists killed at Loughgall, as Jeremy Corbyn did.
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When they were out defending the IRA, its fellow travellers also didn't know when, or if, that campaign would end. They still happily supported, or had an ambivalent attitude towards, republican violence
Using hindsight to justify decisions made at a time when the IRA was on the rampage is like saying the Vietnam War wasn't so bad because it led to some good movies, and hardly speaks to the new spirit of politics which they claim to represent. It looks more like old-fashioned spin. If they really do think the IRA were the good guys in this conflict, they should have the courage of their convictions and say it.
Lenin called such people "useful idiots", and there were plenty of them around in Students' Union bars during the Troubles. But the new Labour leader and his Shadow Chancellor aren't foolish young idealists, but grey-haired sixty-somethings aspiring to hold the highest offices of state. They knew exactly what they were doing, and how their solidarity was used by the republican movement to paint its murder campaign as part of some wider struggle for social justice.
They're still doing it. Only a month ago, 66-year-old Corbyn refused five times in a row to condemn the IRA campaign when asked to do so by Stephen Nolan. The best he could come up with was to say that bombing people is "not a good idea".
Voltaire had a prayer: "Lord, make my enemies ridiculous."
As they seek to pull the wool over everyone's eyes by pretending that recent IRA murders were actually carried out by agents of the State, SF are finding that having ridiculous friends can be equally advantageous.