Lines of communication: If anyone tries to tell you photos like this show Jeremy Corbyn in league with terrorists, they are either mistaken or deliberately lying.
David Starkey’s appearance on the BBC’s Politics Live seems to have triggered an outburst of ignorance on Twitter, the like of which This Writer hasn’t seen for months.
Mr Starkey spent almost the entire 45 minutes advertising his ignorance of the achievements of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, and his disdain for Mr Corbyn’s politics (despite knowing so little about it).
At one point, he prompted me to write this tweet:
It has had more than 100,000 impressions in the 34 hours since I wrote it (at the time of writing). I think supporters of Mr Starkey’s point of view wanted to start a dogpile (see here if you don’t know what that is) but it attracted fierce support as well, dragging the detractors into a debate they couldn’t hope to win.
If you agree with them, consider the evidence in Another Angry Voice‘s article here.
Skwawkbox has useful material here.
The FT provides relevant information in this piece.
There’s more all over the Internet, but it seems my critics haven’t bothered to check.
Their claims were varied, with only one connection – they were all false, and easily rebutted. So:
There were flat-out claims that Mr Corbyn had nothing to do with the GFA – answered with an eyewitness response (among other things).
This testimony was attacked, of course…
Some claimed that although Mr Corbyn was involved, he had no right to be.
Some claimed Mr Corbyn was a supporter of the IRA. Not true.
Of course one could mention the Conservative councillor who was a member of the IRA in response. Search “Maria Gatland”.
In the face of evidence, some tried to modify their claims. Too little, too late?
Some claimed he only spoke to loyalists. Also untrue.
Some lied, claiming I had said Mr Corbyn was responsible for the GFA, or played a greater part than I had suggested.
Key figures were name-checked, both for and against Mr Corbyn:
(This one was particularly amusing as it had its origin in The Spectator, which can hardly be considered a reliable source of information about Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters. It once listed me as an anti-Semite, for crying out loud!)
There were many bald claims made in pure ignorance.
(That would be apart from those who very clearly did, as evidenced by other comments in this discussion.)
And there has been an awful lot of foul-language abuse, some of which even attracted a civilised response.
So we see a multiplicity of wild fantasies being pushed at me without a scrap of supportable factual evidence (whatever has been put forward is easily defeated), and also a huge amount of evidence supporting what actually happened.
And what did happen?
Well, let’s start here:
It is true that Jeremy Corbyn, together with John McDonnell and possibly others, is known to have started talking with representatives of Sinn Fein – the democratically-elected political wing of the Northern Irish republican movement – and not the IRA, in 1983 – after Mr Adams became the first democratically-elected Sinn Fein MP in Westminster.
This was two years after then-prime minister Margaret Thatcher (later Baroness Thatcher) opened up negotiations of her own – although these really were with the IRA. At the time – and for years after, Mrs Thatcher and her Tory successors denied having any such contact with the paramilitary organisation, claiming, “We do not negotiate with terrorists.”
BBC investigative reporter Peter Taylor said when the information was released under the Thirty-Year Rule: “That was nonsense, that was going on all the time behind the scene.”
So we see that Mr Corbyn was involved in the peace process at least 15 years before the Good Friday Agreement was signed, in open talks with Sinn Fein that fostered goodwill while the Conservative government was holding secret negotiations with the IRA that came to nothing. Mr Corbyn has received a large amount of criticism for his actions, and Mrs Thatcher had none for hers. That’s the wrong way round.
Still, the fact of Mrs Thatcher’s negotiations shows that critics of Mr Corbyn now needed to find a way of discrediting his activities. References to photographs of him with Gerry Adams (for example, the shot at the top of this article) and Martin McGuinness (who was also democratically elected) don’t cut the mustard in this respect as they do not show him in discussions with terrorists.
For this reason, Mr Corbyn’s invitation for Gerry Adams to come to Westminster for talks, along with other members of Sinn Fein and Linda Quigley and Gerry MacLochlainn – who had been arrested and convicted of conspiracy to cause explosions and possession of explosives in 1980 – caused uproar as the meeting was scheduled to take place just two weeks after the IRA bombed the Conservative conference in Brighton in 1984. The two former prisoners had been invited to discuss prison conditions; the meeting was nothing to do with the bombing.
Mr Maclochlainn went on, along with Mr Corbyn, to become part of the campaign to free the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six, innocent people who had been falsely convicted of carrying out IRA bomb attacks in 1974. As a result of their efforts – and those of many others – the convictions of the Four were quashed in 1989, and those of the Six were quashed in 1991.
Oh, and in 1994, as Sinn Fein’s representative in London, he was in the first delegation to meet with the British Labour Party front bench for discussions that eventually led to the Good Friday Agreement. Apparently this is nothing to do with his connection with Mr Corbyn. I find that hard to believe.
Mr Corbyn himself described the release of the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four as one of the high points of his career, back in 2013: “The release of the Birmingham Six in 1991 and the Guildford Four in 1989 was amazing. I had helped campaign for them because of a miscarriage of justice and I could paper the walls with abusive letters I got at the time.”
It seems that some have claimed that Mr MacLochlainn’s – and Ms Quigley’s – convictions are evidence that Mr Corbyn has met and supported members of the IRA. In fact, it is clear that they had nothing to do with the IRA at the time, with Mr MacLochlainn going on to a – law-abiding – career in politics. Mr Corbyn himself said in an interview with Robert Peston: “I have not spoken to the IRA… I’ve met former prisoners who told me they were not in the IRA.”
Similarly, it seems some have claimed that Mr Corbyn’s arrest for obstruction when he joined 15 demonstrators protesting against the “show trial” of IRA suspects including Brighton bomber Patrick Magee, who would be convicted of murdering five people, was a show of support for terrorists, terrorism and murder. But this was at a time when Mr Corbyn had been in dialogue with people involved in the Northern Irish question for several years and it is entirely possible that he was protesting against a deliberately provocative act that could have wrecked his efforts toward peace. You decide.
The same could – again – be said about Mr Corbyn’s appearance at a meeting of the Wolfe Tone Society, an Irish republican support group, in which eight IRA members and one civilian who were shot dead by the British Army in an operation to defend a police station known as the Loughgall ambush were commemorated. Mr Corbyn said he attended the event and took part in a minute of silence to “call for peace and a dialogue process”. He was trying to prevent the deaths from causing a rift that could ruin attempts to end the violence altogether.
It seems to me that we’re seeing bad faith misinterpretations of Mr Corbyn’s actions, made for political gain rather than in any attempt to reveal the facts.
And what about claims that Mr Corbyn was on the editorial board of a magazine called London Labour Briefing when it published material that seemed to praise, or make light of the Brighton bombing? Well, there is absolutely no evidence connecting him with the offending material. In May 2017, he told Sky’s Sophy Ridge: “I read the magazine. I wrote for the magazine. I was not a member of the editorial board. I didn’t agree with it. I don’t agree with that position.”
Mr Corbyn has been accused of hindering the peace process by opposing the Anglo-Irish Agreement between the UK and the Republic of Ireland, that was signed in 1985. This, again, appears to be based on a false interpretation of events.
The treaty gave the Irish government an advisory role in Northern Ireland’s government while confirming that there would be no change in the constitutional position of Northern Ireland unless a majority of its people agreed to join the Republic, and was intended to help end the “Troubles”. In this intention, it failed utterly.
One reason for its failure was the fact that unionist political parties were excluded from the pre-treaty negotiations. They also rejected the agreement because it gave the Republic a role in the governance of Northern Ireland. And republicans hated it because it gave formal recognition to Northern Ireland’s status as part of the UK. It did nothing to end the Troubles.
Mr Corbyn, speaking in Parliament at the time, made clear his own reasons for opposing the treaty: “We believe that the agreement strengthens rather than weakens the border between the six and the 26 counties.” He saw that as contrary to efforts for peace and it seems clear that he was correct. He continued his efforts to bring all involved parties to the negotiating table – including unionist and republican representatives who had been excluded from the Anglo-Irish Agreement talks.
In 1987, The Times tried to claim that Mr Corbyn gave money to an IRA bomber – and was forced to publish an apology in short order.
The Sun revived the claim in 2015 – and was swiftly put in its place.
Notice that Mr Corbyn’s first act, on hearing that an operative of the Provisional IRA might be in London, was to phone the police. That is not the act of a supporter of terrorism.
On August 11, 1988, the Irish Times ran an article praising Jeremy Corbyn as a “tireless campaigner for the Irish”. I don’t have a copy of the article but comments about it elsewhere suggest it referred to his work to clear the Guildford Four, and his call for the Bloody Sunday inquiry to be re-opened.
Turning now to the unionists who Mr Corbyn isn’t supposed to have met, let’s discuss David Ervine. He was a member of the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force), an armed loyalist group, and was arrested in 1974 while driving a car containing a significant quantity of explosives. Released from prison in 1980, he eventually became the leader of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP). As a socialist, he was invited to attend the Labour Party Conference in 1994, where he met Jeremy Corbyn. One week later, a ceasefire was called in Northern Ireland.
I know – coincidence, right?
Also vital in that 1994 ceasefire was Gary McMichael, a leader of the now-defunct Ulster Democratic Party. And both he and Mr Ervine were among four loyalist leaders, some or all of whom met Mr Corbyn on at least five occasions that year to discuss the allegedly wrongful imprisonment of Neil Latimer, a member of the “UDR Four” – Ulster Defence Regiment men who were convicted of killing Catholic Adrian Carroll in 1983. Nine years later, three of the four were released, their convictions overturned, but Mr Latimer remained in jail despite three appeals that many felt should have been upheld.
For those who claim that Mr Corbyn never condemned the IRA bombings: He is of course on the record as having condemned all violence during the “Troubles”. But in respect of IRA bombings, his feelings are also very clear because on November 29, 1994, he signed an Early Day Motion condemning the Birmingham bombing of 20 years previously.
It stated: “That this House notes that it is 20 years since the mass killings of 21 people in Birmingham as a result of terrorist violence; deplores that such an atrocity occurred and again extends its deepest sympathy to the relatives of those murdered and also to all those injured; and strongly hopes that the present cessation of violence by the paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland will be permanent and thus ensure that such an atrocity as took place in Birmingham as well as the killings in many other places both in Northern Ireland itself and Great Britain will never occur again.” There was also an amendment stating that MPs believed consideration should be given to building a civic memorial to those who died.
The ceasefire lasted until February 9, 1996, when the IRA committed the Docklands bombing that killed two people and injured 39 others. Sinn Fein said it had ended because of the refusal of the UK’s Conservative government to begin all-party negotiations on a lasting peace until the IRA decommissioned all its weapons.
Gerry Adams visited Westminster in November 1996 to meet Labour MPs, including Jeremy Corbyn, to find a way to resurrect the ceasefire. Mr Adams had previously visited the United States at the request of then-President Bill Clinton, who appointed George J Mitchell as the United States Special Envoy to Northern Ireland in the same year. The governments of the UK and the Republic of Ireland agreed that Mitchell would chair an international commission on the disarmament of paramilitary groups and he subsequently recommended a series of rules – the Mitchell Principles – to which organisations had to agree if they were to take part in talks on the future of Northern Ireland.
Following the talks involving Mr Adams, Mr Corbyn and others, a new ceasefire began after the election of Tony Blair’s New Labour government, in July 1997. Negotiations for what eventually became the Good Friday Agreement began at the same time – but without Sinn Fein, which had not yet signed the Mitchell Principles. That party did so in September that year, and was admitted to the talks then.
Valerie Veness was Mr Corbyn’s assistant at this time. She has insisted that he played a small but vital part in the negotiations that led to the Good Friday Agreement – holding discussions with republicans over the release of prisoners, one of that contingent’s demands if it was ever to sign a peace deal.
It seems clear that he was asked to do this by Mo Mowlam, the late Northern Ireland secretary who is credited with having sealed the GFA. According to Ms Veness, Ms Mowlam needed someone she could trust and whom the republicans also trusted, and that is why she chose Mr Corbyn.
This runs directly contrary to claims made by critics of Mr Corbyn and myself in the Twitter discussion (remember that?) – but in fact it also fits in perfectly with the facts.
Yes, Ms Mowlam criticised Mr Corbyn in 1996. Mr Corbyn had invited Gerry Adams to launch his autobiography in Westminster. She told the House of Commons she “unreservedly” condemned the invitation, which happened after the IRA’s Docklands bombing. It is entirely in keeping with the behaviour that we have seen from Mr Corbyn in previous years that he may have been seeking a way to keep lines of communication with Sinn Fein open with the offer. Ms Mowlam said: “Gerry Adams should be concentrating his efforts on encouraging the IRA to return to its ceasefire, rather than promoting his book,” and history shows that this is exactly what happened.
Is it really beyond the realms of possibility that, having seen the good relationship between Mr Corbyn and Mr Adams, Ms Mowlam would not have asked the former to approach the latter to discuss an issue of such delicacy as the release of prisoners? I don’t think so, and I certainly don’t think there’s enough evidence – in a Parliamentary statement made for diplomatic reasons – to support a claim that Ms Mowlam hated or despised Mr Corbyn.
So that is the evidence supporting claims that Mr Corbyn was involved in the Northern Ireland peace process. It seems conclusive.
Those involved in that process speak highly of him. Ian Paisley described him as courteous and polite; a “gentleman”.
And Gerry Adams said he would like to see Jeremy Corbyn become the UK prime minister, describing him as “outstanding”.
Mr Corbyn himself doesn’t talk about this part of his life because he is respecting confidences – things that were said and done in private. We can see clear evidence of this in the lack of any details in his speech on receiving the Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award for his efforts to bring about a peaceful solution to the conflict in Northern Ireland.
Yes – Jeremy Corbyn has received an international, and highly-prestigious, award for his efforts toward peace in Northern Ireland. But my Twitter feed is full of people claiming there’s no evidence he did anything. And I bet they’ll still ignore the facts after reading this.
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