Newly-elected Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been warned that unionists will not stand “idly by” if he leads his party down a pro-republican path.
While the SDLP and Sinn Fein offered congratualations to Mr Corbyn following his landslide victory on Saturday, unionists were more cautious about the vereran left-winger – who on Sunday night sacked his shadow Northern Ireland secretary Ivan Lewis and replaced him with Vernon Coaker (see below).
Mr Coaker had been Shadow Defence Secretary since October 2013.
Before that he had been Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland from 2011 until 2013.
The prospect of a Corbyn victory had caused some alarm among unionists due to his previous associations with republicans and his support for a united Ireland.
He won a massive victory in the leadership contest, with almost 60 per cent of the vote.
Corbyn supporters chanted “Jez we did” and sang the socialist anthem ‘The Red Flag’ as they celebrated.
Mr Corbyn admitted he was “a bit surprised” at the scale of his win which he said amounted to a “fantastic mandate for change in British politics, with a fantastic enthusiasm for real democratic politics”.
Asked if he now faces a challenge to construct a shadow cabinet without several senior figures who have said they will not join, the new leader said: “There’s going to be an inclusive, open process.
“I hope everyone will recognise the mandate we’ve received and that party members expect our party to deliver for them in Parliament.”
Jeffrey Donaldson, DUP MP for Lagan Valley, told the News Letter: “Obviously we respect that the Labour party have elected Jeremy Corbyn as their leader and he will now be the leader of the opposition in the House of Commons, but there are many points of disagreement between us and Jeremy Corbyn and he needn’t expect any quarter from unionism in terms of the stance we take on Northern Ireland.
“What the Labour Party does internally is a matter for them but when it comes to Northern Ireland we will not stand idly by and let Mr Corbyn take a pro-republican partisan stance which would be totally out of character with the way in which the Labour Party had dealt with the peace process so far.
“We hope that he will be more balanced in his approach to Northern Ireland than he has been in the past.”
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt MLA congratulated him, and added: “I trust Mr Corbyn will do nothing by way of altering Labour’s policy on Northern Ireland, and will affirm he will support agreements brought forward by the local parties here in Northern Ireland.”
Other figures in the party including Danny Kinahan and Tom Elliott also issued statements calling for clarity on where he stands on the Union and on the IRA.
UUP Fermanagh councillor Raymond Farrell also phoned the News Letter to say: “I think any unionist should view with serious alarm the election of Jeremy Corbyn to the position of Labour leader.”
Among the issues to have caused concern are that Jeremy Corbyn invited former IRA prisoners to the House of Commons in the weeks after the Brighton bombing, and in 1987 he stood for a minute’s silence for eight IRA members killed in Loughgall.
On August 18, the Herald in Scotland carried a report in which Mr Corbyn had been asked if he was a unionist.
He was quoted as saying in reply: “No. I would describe myself as a socialist.
“I would prefer the UK to stay together, yes, but I recognise the right of people to take the decision on their own autonomy and independence.”
On the BBC Nolan Show in early August, he was asked if he condemned the IRA.
He said he condemned “all bombing”, but appeared uncertain when it came to condemning the IRA outright, before the phone interview abruptly ended after Mr Corbyn said he was unable to hear the presenter.
Mr Corbyn had taken 59.5 per cent of the Labour vote – 251,417 of the 422,664 votes cast – against 19 per cent for Andy Burnham, 17 per cent for Yvette Cooper and 4.5 per cent for Liz Kendall.
See Morning View, page 16