What did Jeremy Corbyn’s new shadow chancellor really say about the IRA?

John McDonnell, known for his comments about the IRA, has been appointed shadow chancellor. But what did he actually say?

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John McDonnell, MP for Hayes & Harlington since 1997, has been appointed shadow chancellor in Jeremy Corbyn’s new shadow cabinet.

McDonnell, a socialist Labour MP who works closely with the unions, was a serial rebel during the New Labour years. He opposed student top-up fees, anti-terror measures and the Iraq war.

He has also made some dodgy remarks in the past, which are coming back to haunt him now he’s been launched into a top frontbench post. These mainly include his remarks about the IRA.

In 2003, at a gathering in London to commemorate the IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands, he said IRA terrorists should be “honoured”:

“It's about time we started honouring those people involved in the armed struggle. It was the bombs and bullets and sacrifice made by the likes of Bobby Sands that brought Britain to the negotiating table. The peace we have now is due to the action of the IRA.”

He later told The Sun:

“The deaths of innocent civilians in IRA attacks is a real tragedy, but it was as a result of British occupation in Ireland.

“Because of the bravery of the IRA and people like Bobby Sands we now have a peace process.”

Defending his comments in the Guardian, he wrote:

“Talking in terms republicans would understand, I told the harsh truth that the negotiations on the future of Northern Ireland would not be taking place if it had not been for the military action of the IRA. Let me be clear, I abhor the killing of innocent human beings. My argument was that republicans had the right to honour those who had brought about this process of negotiation which had led to peace. Having achieved this central objective now it was time to move on. The future for achieving the nationalists' goals is through the political process and in particular through the Northern Ireland assembly elections.”

Anoosh Chakelian is the New Statesman’s Britain editor.

She co-hosts the New Statesman podcast, discussing the latest in UK politics.

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