Myth – Jeremy Corbyn is a terrorist sympathizer and backed the IRA
This is one of the most prevalent accusations going around about both Corbyn and McDonnell and on the face of it, has some credence, which is what the whole accusation is based upon and why so many people have taken it at face value, looking at their past actions and quotes. By necessity, this is a long article, but the background of the situation is as essential as the actual explanation of why the myth is wrong and we would ask readers to bear with it. We will also deal with the accusations regarding other terrorist groups in another post, although the basic premise is the same.
If you need a short and quick answer, the article is summed up in the final two paragraphs.
Before we can debunk and explain this myth, we have to ensure people have a real understanding of what it takes to bring violent enemies to the negotiating table to ensure future peace. If you bring it down to everyday terms, if you have a personal enemy that you are trying to stop attacking you and your family, then the worst way to go about it is to shout in public how awful they are, to refuse to speak to them and to answer their violence with further violence – it will only make things a whole lot worse.
Terrorist negotiations are also very different to ordinary crimes. A criminal knows that they are doing something wrong and against the law and is expecting harsh treatment and imprisonment when they are caught.
A terrorist, however, is fighting for a cause that they themselves believes to be just. They believe that they are the ones being treated unfairly and that they are justified and entitled to be taking the action that they are taking. Therefore, the actions that are taken to stop their violent activities MUST be entirely different and take into account that they will continue to believe that their cause is just, and that laying down their arms must be done by them voluntarily and not by force. Remember, to a great number of people in other nations, WE are seen as terrorists too.
The history of the IRA and the British Forces is a long and bloody one, with both sides entirely convinced that they are in the right. This article is not designed to look into this or make judgement on the struggles. However, it is true to say that, as the IRA killed many innocent people, so did the British Forces and other organisations fighting for both Republican and British interests. This is the reason that Corbyn ‘refused to condemn the Provisional IRA’ – he refused to condemn ONLY the IRA unless he was condemning ALL the violence committed in Northern Ireland, by ALL sides.
“Asked if he was less critical of IRA violence than British military action, Mr Corbyn said: “The violence was wrong on all sides and I have said so all along. My whole point was if we are to bring about a peace process, you weren’t going to achieve it by military means.”
The Labour leader acknowledged his long-running statement for a united Ireland, but added: “Quite honestly, the peace process has brought about a huge step forward.” [Belfast Telegraph]
The subject of Northern Ireland in the 1980s was a hugely contentious one – throughout the 70s and 80s, there were many attacks and bombings – so much so that every British MP and their staff were issued with telescopic mirrors to check under their vehicles for bombs (the writer of this piece was one such member of staff and still has their mirror to prove this). The argument was very black and white – either you were for a united Ireland or you backed the maintenance of a British union with Ireland – and on the mainland, the argument wasn’t dependent on your religion. Labour’s official standpoint at the time was one of “unity by consent” – easy to say but very difficult to bring about, although many on the Left supported a unilateral withdrawal of Britain from Northern Ireland, supporting the cause but importantly, seeking a peaceful, political solution and NOT supporting violence.
When the IRA were only conducting violence, then there was no alternative but to treat them as criminals under British law. However, when Bobby Sands became an MP whilst in prison and was one of 10 Republicans to die whilst on hunger strike protesting that they were political prisoners and not common criminals, then the IRA realised that they could bring their argument into the political arena legitimately rather than simply through violent attacks.
What we need to realise is that there were two distinct factions within the IRA – people like Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, who were seen as ‘modernisers’ and who wanted to go down the political route, and those who wanted to keep the ‘long war’ going against Britain and continue with bombings, attacks and physical violence – a guerrilla war – until they won by force or died in the attempt. Adams and McGuinness were people that could be talked to and negotiated with, and the power was in their hands to bring a peaceful end to the conflict – it was in the interests of ALL of the political parties in Westminster to ‘court’ them and give them the backing they needed to go back to their members and tell them that this was the real road to progress in their fight.
Indeed, since the peace process finally came about, it has been revealed that Margaret Thatcher’s people ALSO held a great number of secret talks with both Adams and McGuinness, as did the SDLP leader John Hume – all of which contributed greatly to bringing the peace protest about and giving those within the IRA who were genuinely seeking peace, the influence they needed to persuade the majority that this was the way forward. As we have seen, there was a small faction that have called themselves the “Real IRA” who were made up of those wanting to play the ‘long war’ who are still active although dwindling in numbers.
Thatcher negotiations – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-16366413
As an ordinary back bench MP, Corbyn’s meeting with Sinn Fein people (which is what he was meeting them as, as political negotiations) would not have been afforded the secrecy that Thatcher’s were. The timings of some of the meetings (ie after the Brighton bomb, when he invited 2 members of Sinn Fein – not Adams or McGuinness as is often reported – to the HoC) seem insensitive but this was precisely the time that the continuation of political negotiations was needed – and having attacked the Tories so catastrophically, then only Labour would have been calm enough to conduct these meetings.
As someone with a long track record of supporting peace, with his activism within CND and opposition to apartheid, along with the calm manner we have seen since he became Labour leader, Corbyn was the perfect man to conduct such negotiations. It was of huge importance back then – especially with the Government ban on Adams’ voice being broadcast on TV – that he was seen by those favouring violent means as being taken seriously.
It is absolutely clear, looking back, that the continuing negotiations in a very volatile time, were undeniably essential to bringing about the Northern Ireland Peace Process. Had Adams and McGuinness failed in their quest to bring the majority of Sinn Fein and the IRA, who were intent on continuing the bloodshed, to the negotiating table, then the bombings and attacks may be continuing to this day – with huge loss of life on both sides. The actions of Adams, McGuinness, Hume, Corbyn – and yes, Thatcher and those within the Tory Government who were also trying to find a peaceful end to the Troubles, were undoubtedly responsible for saving hundreds, maybe thousands, of lives. With both sides insisting they are the just cause, then the only solution is compromise, and it takes a strong and calm leader to be able to bring that about, even when it puts them under the spotlight of appearing to back the terrorists.
Never forget – Nelson Mandela was also viewed at the same time as a terrorist. Margaret Thatcher and David Cameron were instrumental in branding both him and the ANC as evil, violent terrorists. History has proved them wrong. Mandela, like Corbyn, also backed the Irish Republican cause – but by peaceful means and not through violence. The violence perpetrated by the ANC is now viewed as having been essential to their cause, because WE now view their cause as just. We viewed the forced removal of Saddam Hussein as a just cause not too long ago – perceptions change about political and military actions and the more we find out the truth about them then the more informed we will be.