Commons erupts in opposition to McDonnell’s pro-IRA comments

DUP  Westminster leader Nigel Dodds
DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds

MPs have erupted in vocal opposition to new Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell’s outspoken support for the “bravery” of the IRA.

At the eagerly-anticipated first Prime Minister’s Questions for new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, the loudest cheer came from MPs endorsing DUP MP Nigel Dodds’ denunciation of Mr McDonnell’s comments.

Even some Labour MPs used the opportunity to vocally assert their opposition to the controversial shadow chancellor’s remarks.

In 2003, the veteran left-winger 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.”

Earlier this week, Mr McDonnell defended the sentiment behind his words, telling Channel Four News that had made the comments as an attempt to “sell the peace process” because he was worried that “if elements of the IRA thought they were going to be humiliated and defeated there’d be a major split”.

He admitted that he “might not have chosen the right words” but said it was important for the IRA to “stand down with dignity”.

Mr Dodds put it to David Cameron: “The plaques at the entrance to this chamber in memory of Airey Neave, Robert Bradford, Ian Gow, Sir Anthony Berry - serving members of this house, murdered by terrorists, as they stood up for democracy and the British way of life, are a reminder of the savagery and the brutality of terrorism, as are the gravestones and the headstones in Northern Ireland and right across this land.

“The Opposition leader has appointed a shadow chancellor who believes terrorists should be honoured for their bravery. Will the Prime Minister join with all of us on all sides of this house in denouncing that sentiment and standing with us on behalf of the innocent victims for the bravery of our armed forces who stood against the terrorists?”

As Mr Dodds spoke, at least one Labour MP called out ‘hear, hear’, prompting Labour shadow cabinet member Angela Eagle - a former Northern Ireland Office minister - who was sitting next to Mr Corbyn to turn round and raise her eyebrows.

MPs roared their approval and Mr Cameron replied: “I think from the reaction he’s heard, the Right Honourable Gentleman will see that he has spoken for many, many in this house and I would say many, many - the overwhelming majority of people, the vast majority of people - in our country.”

Mr Cameron recounted, as he has done before, the personal impact of republican terrorism on him.

“Airey Neave was the first I can remember because he was my Member of Parliament. Ian Gow was one of the first politicians I ever wrote a speech for and there had never been a kinder, gentler public servant in this house so cruelly murdered and his family having that life taken away. I have a simple view, which is that the terrorism we faced was wrong, it was unjustifiable. The death and the killing was wrong.

“It was never justified. And people who seek to justify it should be ashamed of themselves.”

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