Corbyn and the IRA: What does the literature say?

Corbyn and his supporters have maintained on multiple occasions two contradictory but often paired assertions: 1) Corbyn never met members of the IRA, even if he did meet members of Sinn Féin (even if that is, as George Eaton points out, “a distinction without a difference, some will say”); and 2) Corbyn was, either as a pivotal or marginal figure, part of the Northern Ireland peace process and a reason for its success.

In my previous post, I referenced three books on the NI conflict, the first two of which did not mention him all, and the third which briefly did but in a way not conducive to either of the aforementioned assertions.

However, just to reference three books on such a complex and drawn out conflict — even if they were pretty authoritative — I began to feel was simply not enough to come to a proper judgement, so, being a man blessed with a little time on his hands (and having the need to borrow a copy of David J. DeLaura’s Hebrew and Hellene in Victorian England for another project I’m working on), I popped over to the Manchester University library to look at the Irish history section and check as many books relating to the Troubles and the history of the IRA as I could in the brief period I had available.

At first, I selected eight books (pictured at the top) which dealt with both specific and general aspects of the conflict. My method was simply to check for Corbyn’s name in the index.

The first I looked at was Marc Mulholland’s The Longest War: Northern Ireland’s Troubled History (Oxford University Press, 2002). No mention there. Okay, first book, bit of teething problems, but I thought I would move swiftly on. It was only one of those ‘concise’ histories anyway. They always leave details out.

The second was Northern Ireland 1968–2008: The Politics of Entrenchment (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010) by Cillian McGrattan, which is described on its Amazon page as: “An in-depth examination of Irish nationalist and Ulster unionist politics during the Northern Ireland conflict.” Good, an in-depth account, just what I need. I checked the index: no Corbyn.

Okay then, I’ll move onto the next book I thought: Explaining Northern Ireland: Broken Images (John Wiley & Sons, 1995) by John McGarry and Brendan O′Leary, a very lengthy and seemingly very popular textbook on the conflict (I counted at least eight copies on the shelf, most of them “One Week” loans). I checked the index: no Corbyn.

I moved onto War and Peace in Ireland: Britain and the IRA in the New World Order (Pluto Press, 1994) by Mark Ryan, which I bet strongly on being a dead cert given it was published by a radical/Marxian publisher sympathetic to the Labour hard left. Yet, in the index, no Corbyn.

I moved onto The Long War: The IRA and Sinn Fein (O’Brien Press, 1995) by Brendan O’Brien. Again: no Corbyn in that index.

I decided to look at some more specific period books: surely Corbyn must be mentioned in The Anglo-Irish Agreement: The First Three Years (University of Wales Press, 1994) by Arwel Ellis Owen if he was so pivotal? You would think so, but no.

What about the most recently published book, a biography of Bobby Sands, Bobby Sands: Nothing But an Unfinished Song (2016, Pluto Press) by Dennis O’Hearn? Corbyn supposedly went to multiple Connolly/Sands commemorations, but no mention in the index yet again.

Finally there was what I thought would be the real ‘kicker’: A Secret History of the IRA (2007, Penguin) by Ed Moloney, a more than 700 page detailed account of the IRA from the 1940s up until the end of the peace process and its decommissioning. If Corbyn had anything at all to do with the process he would be mentioned here, but guess what? Nothing. Nada. Zip.

I was literally shocked: I could not believe it, that from whatever perspective, Corbyn is simply not mentioned at all in any of these academic texts and journalistic accounts.

I had a brain wave and quickly searched all the book indexes again for any mention of McDonnell or Abbott. No surprises there: nothing again.

When putting the books back on the shelf in the right order (because that’s the kind of guy I am), I still could not contain my shock and so quickly searched one more book I was certain must mention Corbyn and his “commitment to peace”: DON’T MENTION THE WAR: Northern Ireland, Propaganda and the Media (1994, Pluto Press) by David Miller. Surely a work, published by the most radical of the radical, giving such a critical Gramscian appraisal of the coverage of the conflict, must at least mention the allegedly biased account the damnable right-wing tabloids painted of Corbyn, Abbott and McDonnell and their never-ending ‘crusade for peace’? But no: none of the three are mentioned at all.

After all that I had to go get something to drink.

There are two potential objections to my method: the first is that indexes can omit things, and I admit that such a thing is possible. But for NINE books? And even if there is a direct reference to Corbyn somewhere in any of these books, even just the one, the editors must have collectively decided that his contribution/part was so pitifully minor or irrelevant, that he was not worth a single citation (the same for Abbott and McDonnell). This does not bode well at all, but I doubt this is the case; I saw plenty of ‘one mentioners’ for individual names in all of the indexes.

The second is that I have not looked at enough books or have been selective in my literary analysis. But what more can I do? I have referenced histories of the conflict, histories of the IRA and Sinn Féin, trenchant polemics against the British position, biographies, media critiques, textbooks…if Corbyn, Abbott, and McDonnell are not there, when they and their supporters say they are, simply put: They. Are. Not. THERE. They are absent. Invisible. (If you want to check, all the links are there, and many of the indexes are ready for preview through Amazon.)

Now you could say this in fact proves the first assertion mentioned at the beginning: “Corbyn never met members of the IRA, even if he did meet members of Sinn Féin.” But you only have to look at my last post to see that Corbyn does appear in the historical record, a much more obscured but still damning record, one that does not show him as some hippie king “peacemaker” in the slightest, but as an avid enthusiast of the IRA and its ‘resistance’ methods.

The saddest thing is that even though Corbyn’s and the other two’s support of the IRA cannot be in any doubt, the fact that only one of the books on the NI conflict out of the twelve I have cited in total, in both this post and the last one, briefly mention him and McDonnell at all (all of them failing to mention Abbott), must mean that their contributions, even as ideological collaborators of the irredentist terrorists, was so incredibly minor and forgettable, it was literally forgotten. It was not worth the time of the authors or the editors (bar one) to include them, even as a footnote, as either villainous or heroic.

The internet has thankfully blessed us with a term to describe the position of such disposable sycophants as Corbyn, Abbott and McDonnell: fanboys.