As part of his election campaign, Jeremy Corbyn was recently interviewed by Sophy Ridge on Sky News. The interview began with a fairly straightforward approach, with Ridge questioning the Labour party leader about his policies on universal benefits and how he will protect those living in poverty. About half way through the interview, the tone changed and Ridge began to pursue Corbyn’s IRA links – a topic that has also been plastered across headlines with many papers and even Conservative members labelling him a “terrorist sympathiser”.
The obsession with Corbyn and the IRA is nothing new. On the day he was elected Labour leader, David Cameron tweeted that he was a “threat to national security”. Since then, Tory campaigners and journalists have been hell bent on painting him as a terrorist sympathiser who will not condemn the IRA, despite his explicit condemnation of IRA bombing. The fact is Corbyn has been one of the only prominent politicians to openly understand that there was violence perpetuated by both sides, of which both need to be condemned.
A 2013 BBC Panorama documentary interviewed ex-members of the Military Reaction Force, who revealed they “were not there to act like an Army unit, [they]were there to act like a terror group”. They did this by conducting drive-by shootings despite no evidence victims were actually members of the IRA. It was clear that fighting violence with violence was not working, considering the first of the IRA attacks was in the late 1960s and yet the Good Friday Agreement was not signed until 1998. Jeremy Corbyn has openly explained, including in the Sky News interview that fighting terrorism with violence is not the appropriate response and that his aim was to bring peace to Ireland.
Understanding that you cannot combat terrorism with more violence does not make you a terrorist sympathiser. Due to all of the media coverage slamming the Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award 2013 winner it is hard to understand what actually happened. The good thing is that Corbyn has always been open and honest about his dealings with the IRA. He protested for the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six, who were two groups falsely imprisoned for life for the Guildford and Birmingham IRA bombings. Both groups were later released when evidence supported their innocence and confessions had been taken as a result of torture. Corbyn also openly discussed his peace talks with loyalists, stating: “you have to talk to people with whom you don’t agree”.
Corbyn aside, people seem to be forgetting any Conservative links to the IRA. Conservative campaigners are very quick to attack Corbyn for being a terrorist sympathiser and claim he is a threat to our country, but there seems to be a few facts they are not realising. Most notably, a Conservative councillor for Croydon, Maria Gatland was an actual member of the IRA. Using her maiden name McGuire, Gatland published her kiss and tell book To Take Arms: My Year With The IRA Provisional in 1973. She was temporarily suspended from the party following the revelation, however, was accepted back within a year. Gatland went on to be re-elected as a Croydon councillor in 2010 and 2014. Not only was she a member of the Provisional IRA, but she was also a lover of IRA chief, David O’Connell. Even more worrying was her claim in her book that she “agreed with the shooting of British soldiers and believed the more who were killed the better”. So whilst Corbyn has clearly condemned the violence of the IRA, Gatland has not.
Gatland claims she never lied about her past and yet Jeremy Corbyn, who has been transparent in his peace talks with loyalists, is the one being painted as a terrorist sympathiser by Conservatives and the press. It is incredibly hypocritical for the Conservative Party to smear Corbyn in this way in a bid to deter voters from him when they have an actual ex-IRA member acting as a councillor. Whilst Corbyn has always maintained transparency with his IRA links, the same cannot be said for previous Conservative governments.
Margaret Thatcher announced in a 1988 speech “we will not bargain, nor compromise, nor bend the knee to terrorists”. In reality, her ‘we do not negotiate with terrorists’ rhetoric, which she continued to uphold in front of the public, was far from the truth, as she was conducting secret talks with the IRA, supported in declassified files released by the National Archives in 2011. Thatcher also gave permission for government officials to continue talks with the terrorist group in 1990. More recently, Hansard Parliamentary records reveal Lord James of Blackheath money laundered for the IRA. The Conservative life peer explicitly stated his “biggest terrorist client was the IRA” and that he was “pleased to say that he managed to write off more than £1 billion of its money”.
It is easy enough to see the media coverage criticise Corbyn about how it was so awful he held open talks for peace with loyalists and campaigned for the release of citizens who were wrongly imprisoned for IRA bombings. However, the fact that the Conservative Party has an actual ex-member of the IRA acting as a councillor and an unelected peer admitting to money laundering for the IRA cannot be pushed aside.