Corbyn and the IRA: A Closer Look

If Corbyn had just been straight up at the beginning, so much of this could have been avoided, but several social media arguments later, this problem cannot be ignored, and I have to expand on several elements of my last post.

Corbyn looked Andrew Neil dead in the eye and said: “I’ve never met the IRA.”

This is quite a surprise, given that his supporters throughout his troubled leadership have systematically placed him at the heart of the peace process in Northern Ireland (and still are), something he has not disavowed until now.

Before we deal with this new claim, let us just analyse the original group of claims of Corbyn’s contribution to the ending the Troubles.

Of those major histories of the Troubles published in the past twenty or so years, almost none of them seem to mention Corbyn’s name. He is not mentioned in the ‘new standard’ history of the conflict by David McKittrick, Making Sense of the Troubles: A History of the Northern Ireland Conflict (Penguin, 2012) according to the index, nor is he mentioned in Tim Pat Coogan’s 1996 account The Troubles: Ireland’s Ordeal 1966–1995 and the Search for Peace (Arrow, 1996). (Go ahead, check, the indexes are available for preview.) How can someone supposedly so pivotal (or not) be completely ‘whitewashed’ out? Is it a vast Blairite conspiracy to re-write history?

I did however manage to find a single reference to Corbyn in the anthology The Northern Ireland Troubles in Britain: Impacts, Engagements, Legacies and Memories (MUP, 2016), but it was only in relation to the 2015 Labour leadership election, and it definitely did not paint the “Corbyn as peacemaker” dogma in the most flattering light. Here is the section in full (the ‘killer’ is the last sentence):

“The public voicing of Irish republican perspectives, or views in any way supportive of them, continues to be a risky business in England today. Di Parkin’s interviewees for her chapter 12, all Labour Party activists promoting dialogue with Sinn Féin in the 1980s, prefer to remain anonymous in order to conceal their political work in the past from their employers. Anecdotally, these concerns — and counter-measures for what Marie Breen Smyth has termed identity management are widespread, especially among those who have or seek public positions of responsibility and accountability. A vivid example of the way political sympathy for, or engagement with, Irish republicanism during the conflict continues to provide a basis for hostility and delegitimisation in British public culture can be seen in the attacks on Jeremy Corbyn during his successful campaign for the Labour Party leadership in 2015, and subsequently on Corbyn and his Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, for their ‘links with the IRA’ and refusal to single out republican violence for condemnation.
 More thoughtful critics of Corbyn and McDonnell might point out that ‘silencing’ could also work in a different way here: they presented their position in 2015 as if, in the 1980s, they had simply been encouraging dialogue and a ‘peace process’ with Irish republicanism avant la lettre. However, during the early and mid 1980s, Corbyn was unashamedly a supporter of Irish republicanism’s right to ‘resist’ British ‘oppression’.” [pp. 11–12]

(The full chapter is available online here.)

In the cited chapter, that certain participants chose to partake ‘anonymously’ could seem to be enough to explain Corbyn’s current denialism, but this makes no sense: he and his supporters have been open about it in the very recent past (and present), so why acclaim anonymity now? Even when it seems such a participation was stunningly minor?

(Does anybody else remember that episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm where Ted Danson donates a wing to a charity building project under the moniker “Anonymous”, only at the unveiling party to go around admitting that he was “Anonymous”, and for his supposed “humility” he got distantly more praise than Larry David who had also donated a wing but under his own name? Life imitates art…)

He has openly partaken in multiple link-ups with the IRA during and after the Troubles, starting at least in October 1984 when he played “host” to two convicted IRA killers. His claim to have “never met the IRA” does not only not stand up: it is demonstrably false through the words of the IRA and its closest associates themselves. Repeat photographic evidence belies this.

His own supporters claim he was fundamental to the peace process. One even places him at the crux of making the Good Friday Agreement work:

https://twitter.com/RedLeftAndy/status/867345006394257409

Let’s take that assertion as a given: why would someone who has “never met the IRA” be selected, out of all other MPs, to head this off? The answer is obvious: only if they had a pre-existing relationship of some kind.

Corbyn has since admitted meeting “convicted IRA terrorists” (Peston’s phrase not his) in the most stumbling, mumbling, “please-can-we-move-on” kind of way possible, but the original assertion is still making its rounds.

McDonnell and Abbott, his closest political associates, fare a lot more honestly in their declarations. McDonnell has a long history of praising the IRA, and as recently as 2003 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. 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.” In 2015, he gave one of those non-apology apologies literally of the “If I gave offence” variety, but the aforementioned rhetoric stands for itself. Abbott made an even more unambiguous declaration back in 1984: “[Ireland] is our struggle — every defeat of the British state is a victory for all of us. A defeat in Northern Ireland would be a defeat indeed.” She may have had an “afro” back then (her bizarre self-defence), but her refusal to disavow her own words speaks for itself.

I don’t think Corbyn is completely stupid, nor are his supporters; they know the IRA has a toxic legacy that leaves even the most dye-the-wool Labour voter tasting bitterness. This explains both his recent denial and the Corbynite attempt to “ret-con” his IRA relationship (again, in spite of overwhelming evidence otherwise). Given everything, no amount of spin or retroactive (pseudo-)apologies will make this look any better.

But in denying his links in the face of overwhelming evidence, he puts the final nail in the coffin for his supporters’ declarations of his seemingly limitless “honesty”, and a supposed progress through Corbynism for a “kinder and gentler politics” that disavows Blairite spin.

“…Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Just for a moment, forget his past general relationship with other forms of terrorism: such egregious dishonesty can only raise the question of how open and transparent a Corbyn government would actually be, or indeed how disingenuous and censorship happy it could get.

As I have pointed out before, our choice at this election is crapshoot between two increasingly grey and unapologetic forms of hollowed-out authoritarianism, but I think at least for me, no matter how hopeless, I have found an extra option to register a protest of my true values.

You don’t need to choose between the party of a friend of terrorists and the party of one who arms the regime that supports them you know…