Word reached the SKWAWKBOX during the writing of this article that the
Sun has been trailing that it’s ‘going big’ on Jeremy Corbyn at 10pm this evening. If it’s preparing another IRA-related smear after it disgraced itself with its ‘Blood on hands’ attack, which appeared after the terrible events in Manchester on Monday, it’s going to have egg on its face.
S*n is not the only right-wing publication to attempt the same smear. Another rag carried a cartoon showing masked terrorists campaigning door to door for the Labour leader.
Such smears could not be further from the truth – which the SKWAWKBOX brings you exclusively.
This blog has spent a significant part of this month talking to various people on both sides of the republican/loyalist divide, digging to get cast-iron confirmation, from people who were there, of one core fact:
Jeremy Corbyn was an envoy of the British government who played a vital role in the Northern Ireland peace process.
Not only that, but he met – and was highly regarded by – senior figures in both republican and loyalist groups.
Corbyn’s meetings with figures such as Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness have received plenty of – usually negative – publicity. So this article will focus on his contacts with loyalist figures, without neglecting the significance of his discussions with republicans.
David Ervine, in his younger days, was a member of the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force), an armed loyalist group, and was arrested I 1974 while driving a car containing a significant quantity of explosives. After his release from prison in 1980, he stood as a local candidate for the PUP (Progressive Unionist Party) and later became the leader of that party. As a socialist, he was invited in 1994 to attend the annual conference of the Labour Party and confirmed the Irish Times that he would attend:
During his attendance at that conference – which as the article above shows was also attended by senior republican figures – he met with Jeremy Corbyn and his team.
One week later, a ceasefire was called in Northern Ireland.
Valerie Veness, Corbyn’s former assistant, confirms that she and Corbyn met David Ervine on at least four or five occasions over a period of years.
Mr McMichael is a former leader of the now-defunct UDP (Ulster Democratic Party). He played a key role in the early days of the Northern Ireland peace process – and a vital role in that 1994 ceasefire.
He also met with Jeremy Corbyn on several occasions.
Rev Ian Paisley
Neil Latimer was a member of the ‘UDR Four’ – four members of the Ulster Defence Regiment who were convicted of the murder of Catholic Adrian Carroll in 1983. In 1992, three of the men had their convictions overturned but Mr Latimer remained in prison in spite of three appeals that many felt should have been upheld.
The Reverend Paisley was involved in supporting Mr Latimer’s case. Jeremy Corbyn wrote to Latimer in prison on a number of occasions and became friendly with Paisley, with the two men conversing regularly by telephone.
Mr Paisley’s widow, Eileen, told the Belfast Telegraph:
[Paisley and Tony Benn] were very close even though Ian said he was a bit of a republican. I remember watching them embrace once and there was such warmth between them.
Ian knew Jeremy Corbyn too, and he liked him. He didn’t share his politics and he didn’t approve of Jeremy Corbyn meeting Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein people when the IRA campaign was still going on. But he always found him very courteous and polite. He said Jeremy was a gentleman.
Corbyn’s role in mediating with loyalist figures is now a matter of established fact.
Mrs Veness, Corbyn’s former assistant, talked to the SKWAWKBOX at length about the Labour leader’s involvement in Northern Ireland in those days. She told this blog:
A huge amount of garbage has been written about Jeremy and Northern Ireland. He’s never claimed to start the peace process, but he did play a vital role. He always said you’ve got to talk to all sides if you want to find a solution.
John Major said he would be sick to his stomach to talk to Gerry Adams, but he already had secret back channels.
Jeremy never lied about his contacts or involvement and it’s what made him so respected. The first breakthrough in Northern Ireland was when a Tory minister announced britain has no selfish interest there. That was something the republicans had been waiting for.
There were three things the repubican movement wanted:
- equality of esteem
- a declaration that if a majority of the people voted for united ireland, the UK government would respect that
- release of prisoners – there were thousands, both loyalist and republican
The issue of the prisoners was incredibly complex – a tangled nightmare. Jeremy helped unpick it. The republicans trusted him to do it in a way they wouldn’t have trusted other uk politicians.
Mo Mowlam (late Northern Ireland Secretary under Tony Blair) needed someone she could trust and who was trusted by the republicans. She asked Jeremy.
There is simply no way Adams or McGuinnes would have signed up to the peace agreement without resolution of the prisoner issue, so it’s true to say that Jeremy’s role in the peace process was extremely important.
New Labour lied saying he didn’t help, but without him there would have been no deal.
Jeremy was trusted because he had long shown solidarity.In his very first advice surgery as an MP, Paul Hill’s (see below) aunt and uncle came looking for help.
When Drumcree banned loyalist marches and the town was surrounded by loyalists, Jeremy, I and others went over to show support – we had to walk across field to get there. That earned him the respect of republicans.
The idea he would support bombing campaign absolute nonsense. You need to remind people that one reason he’s slightly careful when he answers questions on Northern Ireland is that he spent years working on miscarriage of justice cases and he doesn’t want to compromise anyone.
Paul Hill from the Guildford Four was in prison and getting married. Jeremy was his best man – the Sun never apologised for smearing him as a ‘mass murderer’s best man’ on their front page, not even after the Guildford Four were exonerated and released.
Jeremy was criticised for bringing a ‘bomber’ into the House of Commons. That was Ronan Bennett – he was subsequently exonerated and is now an internationally recognised playwright. Again, the media never apologised.
He, Tony Benn and Ken Livingstone felt only a political solution could possibly help Northern Ireland – and you can’t have a political solution without the republicans on board, so the fact they had kept lines open was crucial – without that Sinn Fein would never have joined the negotiations.
Remember, at the time Thatcher was saying we don’t speak to terrorists but they were doing it through backchannels, via civil servants. The difference is, JC was honest and up front about it.
There was huge oppression of the republican community in Northern Ireland. You even had English kids being pulled over under Prevention of Terrorism Act when visiting their Irish grandparents.
I worked for Jeremy on the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four cases, as well as on the prisoner issue.
Even then, the papers gave him a hard time – they wanted to preserve the status quo, repress republican communities – you had three generations of kids, all they knew was soldiers on streets. The press attacked Labour’s left to maintain the status quo, which is the same as now
When the Birmingham Six came out of prison, the Mail and Sun said outrageous things against some of them, until they started legal action in ireland and the papers backed down immediately and paid up.
Jeremy’s work laid ground for eventual peace negotiations to take place – but he didn’t get the recognition he deserved because Mo was replaced by Mandelson.
The peace process is still fragile, but the media don’t care about Northern Ireland – they’re only interested in destroying Jeremy.
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