Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell pose a threat to the Union, Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster has suggested.
Speaking yesterday at a Conservative conference fringe event organised by the DUP, Mrs Foster it was “very concerning” that any senior Labour figure would associate themselves with people convicted of dissident republican activity.
Labour leader Mr Corbyn has previously expressed support for a united Ireland, while Mr McDonnell has actively campaigned for the release of anti-peace process republicans from prison.
In 2012, Mr McDonnell called for former life sentence prisoners Marian Price and Martin Corey to be freed after they had their licences revoked.
Mr McDonnell also campaigned to have Gerry McGeough freed after McGeough was sentenced in 2011 for the attempted murder of an off-duty UDR man in 1981.
In August, McGeough caused outrage when he said Catholic judges and prosecution lawyers in Northern Ireland were “traitors” who would be “dealt with” following a UK withdrawal.
Unionists must stand together against all the threats to the UnionNigel Dodds MP
The News Letter asked the Labour Party if the shadow chancellor now regretted his support for McGeough but has not yet received a response.
However, in September last year, Mr McDonnell made a profuse apology for claiming, at a meeting in 2003, that Irish republican terrorists should be “honoured” for their role in “the armed struggle” against the UK.
The apology was made on the BBC Question Time programme, when he said: “I accept it was a mistake to use those words, but actually if it contributed towards saving one life, or preventing someone else being maimed, it was worth doing because we did hold onto the peace process.”
DUP MP Nigel Dodds also attended the Conservative fringe event in Birmingham where he described the pair as posing a “threat to the Union” – an assessment his party leader Mrs Foster agreed with.
Mr Dodds said: “But when we think, and you don’t need me to remind you, of the sort of opposition that is now on offer in the United Kingdom and in the House of Commons, men like Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell who have supported in the past people who carry out such bombings, it is more important than ever that we who are unionists, together, whether from Scotland, Wales, England or Northern Ireland, stand together against all the threats to the Union.
“I include the current leader of the opposition and the shadow chancellor in that threat to the Union.”
Mrs Foster said her opinion was in line with Mr Dodds’ analysis.
“It is, absolutely,” she said.
“Because of what they have been associated with in the past and indeed it appears in the present as well given some of the press coverage over the weekend in connection with John McDonnell with some of those who have been convicted of dissident republican activity.”
Ms Foster and other DUP representatives met with Theresa May on Tuesday morning amid speculation about the level of support the party will give the Tories in the House of Commons.
Meanwhile, Ulster Unionist MP Tom Elliott called on the shadow chancellor to “choose his friends more wisely”.
Mr Elliott said someone in Mr McDonnell’s position “should take great care not to associate with people or political campaigns that endorse violence of any kind,” and added: “Northern Ireland still faces a severe threat from so-called dissident republicans and no mainstream politician should be offering them cover or support of any kind. Mr McDonnell needs to take great care who he associates with and what causes he chooses to support.
“Many people will be saddened, but not surprised, to learn that John McDonnell hosted an event in Parliament to support dissident Irish republicans who have opposed the Northern Ireland peace process, including Gerry McGeough.”
Mr Elliott added: “In a recent radio interview Mr McGeough made a number of statements, including a reference to Catholic members of the judiciary who he referred to as “Irish Catholics, traitors in effect, administering British rule here in the six counties.
“Mr McGeough’s use of the terms traitors and collaborators was both emotive and provocative. Many people so described, ended up dead purely because they worked with or for the forces of law and order in this country.
“Northern Ireland still faces a severe threat from so-called dissident republicans and no mainstream politician should be offering them cover or support of any kind. Mr McDonnell needs to take great care who he associates with and what causes he chooses to support.”