EXCL John McDonnell criticised over Northern Ireland peace process claims

Posted On: 
19th May 2017

Two Conservative MPs who served in the Army have criticised John McDonnell after he claimed he did "everything I possibly could to secure the peace process in Northern Ireland".

John McDonnell has aplogised for comments he made about the IRA.
PA Images

The Shadow Chancellor's comments came as he apologised again for previously praising the role played by the IRA during the Troubles.

Speaking in 2003, Mr McDonnell said: "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.

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"The peace we have now is due to the action of the IRA. Because of the bravery of the IRA and people like Bobby Sands, we now have a peace process."

When the comments re-emerged in 2015, Mr McDonnell told the BBC's Question Time that he apologised for any offence his remarks had caused.

Asked about them again at a press conference this morning, he said: "I apologise for those words, but I also said no cause is worth an innocent life and I made that explicitly clear. I also did everything I possibly could to secure the peace process in Northern Ireland and at times that was contentious, of course.

"We were trying to talk to people you were condemned for talking to, then we discovered that governments were talking to them anyway.

"So I've apologised for my language, but I made it absolutely clear that everything I did was about securing peace and no innocent life lost is worth it."

Tory MP Johnny Mercer, a former Army major who served in Afghanistan, told PoliticsHome: "John McDonnell is seriously misguided of what he views as the 'bombs bullets and sacrifice of people like Bobby Sands', but I see as the IRA's indiscriminate and murderous campaign in both the province and the mainland.

"If he feels he did all he could to secure peace, I feel sorry for him that he should try and rewrite his conscience in this manner."

James Cleverly, who was also an Army major before becoming Tory MP for Braintree, said: "The comments John McDonnell made about the British government being dragged to the negotiating table by the bomb and the bullet were deeply offensive to many people who served in Northern Ireland, or lost friends and family through terrorism.

"This partial clarification does nothing to expunge his past comments. I was serving in the Army when soldiers were being murdered driving back from their bases in Germany. Every soldier was acutely aware that they were a target.

"At that time, people like Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell were making supportive noises about a movement that was targeting soldiers."

Mr McDonnell made his remarks as he launched Labour's latest election poster, which accuses the Tories of planning a "triple whammy for pensioners" through cuts to the winter fuel allowance, pensions and changes to the social care system.