I liked and admired Corbyn on our trip to El Salvador but we disagreed on IRA

Picture shows Chris Hudson, in the middle of the front banner, and tade unionists (names unknown), marching in San Salvador, El Salvador. Hudson (now Rev Hudson) recalls the man on the left of the picture (face obscured) to be Jeremy Corbyn, because he recalls him putting on the hat. Sent in by Chris Hudson
Picture shows Chris Hudson, in the middle of the front banner, and tade unionists (names unknown), marching in San Salvador, El Salvador. Hudson (now Rev Hudson) recalls the man on the left of the picture (face obscured) to be Jeremy Corbyn, because he recalls him putting on the hat. Sent in by Chris Hudson

In January 1986 I travelled to El Salvador to take part in a march for peace and oppose the ongoing civil war that was happening there.

I was working as a trade unionist in Dublin and wanted to use the opportunity to meet with fellow trade unionists and learn about the severe difficulties and human rights abuses they were experiencing.

Rev Chris Hudson, All Souls (Second Presbyterian & York Street) Church, Elmwood Avenue, Belfast. Photo: Brian Little/ Presseye

Rev Chris Hudson, All Souls (Second Presbyterian & York Street) Church, Elmwood Avenue, Belfast. Photo: Brian Little/ Presseye

Their rights to organise were threatened and in some cases they were even murdered. I stayed with a group of Irish Franciscan Priests in San Salvador City.

It was a dangerous time to be there; one English journalist was arrested and detained, blind-folded, for two days.

Among the trade union leaders I met was Rafael Sanchez, who was dismissed from his job and if we were not there to record this, would most certainly have been arrested and tortured.

At that time I met Jeremy Corbyn as we were both, along with others from a British trade union delegation, taking part in a major rally through the centre of San Salvador in solidarity with the Salvadorian Trade Unions and the poor of El Salvador.

Jeremy Corbyn with Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein at the House of Commons in 1995

Jeremy Corbyn with Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein at the House of Commons in 1995

In the past such rallies were fired on by members of the military.

What I remember about Corbyn is that he was extraordinarily friendly and had a good sense of humour.

He and I were at one when we discussed what was happening in Central America. The accepted narrative on the left was that people struggling against oppressive poverty were in open revolt against the regimes in these countries and in particular in El Salvador.

The US seemed obsessed with the communist threat and identified all opposition to oppression as driven by communism and likely to be supported by the Soviet Union. My view was that this analysis was most likely going to drive people into the arms of the Soviet Bloc.

Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons earlier this year. Photo: PA Wire

Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons earlier this year. Photo: PA Wire

Time proved that those who supported the poor were right and when any of the then left-wing parties in Central America came to power they were democratic and accepted the outcome of the ballot box, including the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.

Where I differed from Jeremy was on the issue of Northern Ireland. Corbyn saw the Northern Ireland situation firmly placed in a struggle against imperialism, which he perceived was also the cause of the trouble in El Salvador.

This was typical of the analysis of the left; that opposing British imperialism in Northern Ireland was equivalent to the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa and the struggle of the Palestinian people for independence.

I am not suggesting that Corbyn, in conversations with me, supported the terror of the IRA but he encapsulated it in his understanding of why they were in open revolt against British rule in Northern Ireland. I fundamentally disagreed with this view because I supported The Irish Congress of Trade Unions’ policy of “Peace, Jobs and Progress” and total opposition to the violence of all paramilitaries.

Gerry MacLochlainn (left) and Francie Molloy (right) pictured with Jeremy Corbyn at a Bloody Sunday march in London during the 1980s

Gerry MacLochlainn (left) and Francie Molloy (right) pictured with Jeremy Corbyn at a Bloody Sunday march in London during the 1980s

At that time I was involved in a campaign in the Irish Republic demanding the repeal of articles one and two of the Irish Constitution, those that laid claim to the territory of Northern Ireland.

They were later amended as part of the process implementing the Good Friday Agreement (the Belfast Agreement).

During my stay in Central America I had to catch a flight to Nicaragua.

Jeremy and an Irish priest drove me to the airport, which is forty kilometres from the city of San Salvador.

This was a dangerous journey as the left-wing guerrillas, the FSLN, had forbidden travel in the campo (the countryside), in a bid to establish control of the area.

Whilst many people would disobey that instruction, it could still be dangerous to travel outside of urban areas. However both Jeremy and the priest agreed to drive me to the airport, to catch my flight to Managua in Nicaragua.

Put simply, Jeremy supported ‘troops out’ and a movement towards a united Ireland, and as such his views were contrary to what was eventually agreed in the Good Friday Agreement.

In my opinion, his position was sympathetic to Sinn Fein and the IRA.

This was not a position that can now be posited as support for dialogue with paramilitaries in order to bring about peace.

It went further than that, asserting that unionism was essentially flawed and should be opposed, in order to bring about Irish unity.

Corbyn was not a lone voice in the British Labour Party.

Later, when I was involved in The Peace Train Organisation I had many opportunities to address fringe meetings of the Labour Party and came up against naive and dangerous views on the conflict in Northern Ireland.

I liked the Jeremy Corbyn I met in El Salvador, despite what I believed were his naive views on Ireland.

I found him a warm and considerate person and I admired his courage in travelling with me to the airport in El Salvador during very dangerous times.

However, with hindsight, I believe his views on Ireland within the Labour Party were not only unhelpful in solving the Northern Ireland conflict but actually hindered progress towards peace.

Rev Chris Hudson is originally from the Republic of Ireland and is now minister of All Souls non subscribing Presbyterian Church in Belfast