Michael Copeland: ‘Mr Corbyn – the IRA were not freedom fighters, but terrorists’

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, right, with his shadow chancellor John McDonnell
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, right, with his shadow chancellor John McDonnell

This is a letter that Michael Copeland, the former MLA and UDR soldier, sent to Jeremy Corbyn after he was elected as leader of the Labour Party last year. Mr Copeland says he has not received a reply:

I was born and have lived all my life in Northern Ireland, and I have never to my knowledge deliberately hurt or harmed another human being.

IRA gunman

IRA gunman

I have been in a small way been involved in what passes for politics here, as a local government councillor and a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, where I represented to the best of my ability all the people of East Belfast.

I served within the Ulster Defence Regiment during the terrorist campaign and my wife was a constable with the Royal Ulster Constabulary, who to be frank is lucky to be alive.

We are both members of the Ulster Unionist party. This does not prevent us from having a social conscience, indeed some here regard me as a socialist.

At one time the constituency I once represented made a very significant contribution to the GDP of the entire United Kingdom and had within its boundaries the two largest shipyards, the largest and oldest aircraft factory and the largest rope works, not in Ireland, not in the United Kingdom but in the entire world.

Michael Copeland

Michael Copeland

Today after 40 years of murder and bombing the vast majority of it at the hands of the IRA, East Belfast has four of the wealthiest wards and four of the poorest wards in Northern Ireland separated in some cases by the width of a road.

We have over 3,500 children living in poverty and over 40% of the working age population dependant on at least one state benefit.

This constituency for many years had a strong support base for the Northern Ireland Labour Party.

I know that most people involved in politics have adopted policies or made statements that they, with the passage of time regret.

I have no idea what informed your views on Northern Ireland, or shaped the views apparently held by yourself and other members of your front bench team regarding the IRA and Sinn Fein, but I know what shaped mine – walking to school with the smell of gas in the air, falling asleep by counting gunshots, being awakened by bomb explosions, the endless funerals of those like myself and my wife who served within the law who were murdered in the most cowardly fashion by terrorists in cold blood, school bus drivers in front of their young passengers, teachers in front of there pupils, fathers in front of their wives, mothers in front of their children.

These actions, sir,are not the actions of freedom fighters – they were the actions of terrorists.

The solution available at Stormont is far from perfect, and it will not be helped by the opposition party in our parliament at Westminster being partisan on the citizenship of one million people.

• Michael Copeland was an Ulster Unionist MLA for East Belfast from 2003 to 2007 and from 2011 to 2015