Jeremy Corbyn defends giving key role to former Sinn Fein staffer

Posted On: 
15th December 2016

Jeremy Corbyn's office has defended his decision to hand a key job to the former head of Sinn Fein's London office after the move sparked fury among some Labour MPs.

Jeremy Corbyn with Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams at the House of Commons in 1995
PA Images

Jayne Fisher will be in charge of "stakeholder engagement" for the Labour leader from next month.

Mr Corbyn confirmed the move at a meeting of the party's parliamentary committee in parliament yesterday afternoon.

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One MP present told PoliticsHome: "It's fair to say that the general response was one of shock and anger. Obviously, we really need to annoy more people in the run-up to Christmas.

"Jeremy said she was very lovely and very good and will be a great appointment. But she's worked for the Shinners - there's no getting round that."

Another Labour insider described Ms Fisher's appointment as "a self-inflicted punishment beating".

But a source close to Mr Corbyn said: "Jayne is held in high regard and respected by Labour MPs who have an interest in Northern Ireland.

"She has a good relationship with several Labour MPs who have been critical of Jeremy's leadership, including Conor McGinn and Vernon Coaker."

A party source also stressed that Ms Fisher has been a Labour party member since she was 18, and was part of the Labour Women's Conference in the 1980s and 90s.

She took part in a cross-party initiative called 'Friends of the Good Friday Agreement' before working for the Sinn Fein parliamentary group as the peace process progressed.

"Her primary purpose was to do political outreach in Westminster and the wider community," said the source.

Mr Corbyn attracted controversy in 1984 by inviting Gerry Adams and other members of Sinn Fein to the Commons shortly after the IRA Brighton bomb nearly killed Margaret Thatcher and her Cabinet.

He has always insisted that he was working towards achieving peace in Northern Ireland.

In an interview for the Christmas edition of the New Statesman, Mr Corbyn said: "I was always wanting there to be peace in Ireland. I recognised what was happening in Ireland and that there had to be peace and there had to be an end to the war...

"I represent a very strongly Irish community – it’s more mixed now, but then it was very strongly Irish. And I always firmly believed that the only way you would ever bring about peace in Ireland is by talking to people."