Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised by families of IRA victims after failing to explicitly condemn the group.
The Labour leadership candidate was in Northern Ireland yesterday to appear on a panel at West Belfast festival Feile an Phobail. In a telephone interview with BBC Radio Ulster, Stephen Nolan repeatedly asked Mr Corbyn to condemn the IRA’s actions.
When asked if he condemned the IRA, the Islington North MP said: “I condemn all bombing, it is not a good idea, and it is terrible what happened.”
Mr Nolan repeated: “The question is do you condemn what the IRA did?”
Mr Corbyn replied: “Look, I condemn what was done by the British Army as well as the other sides as well. What happened in Derry in 1972 was pretty devastating as well.”
When the question was put to him a third time, he said: “Can I answer the question in this way? We gained ceasefires, they were important and a huge step forward. Those ceasefires brought about the peace process, brought about the reconciliation process which we should all be pleased about. Can we take the thing forward rather than backward?”
Mr Nolan again asked: “Are you refusing to condemn what the IRA did?”. At which point railway noise can be heard Mr Corbyn said that he could not hear the question because he was travelling on a train and had poor signal.
Asked the question a fifth time, he said: “I feel we will have to do this later you know”, before the line goes dead.
The Labour leadership candidate’s behaviour has been criticised by relatives of IRA victims. Ann Travers, whose 22-year-old sister Mary was shot dead by the IRA, told the Belfast Telegraph that it was an “insult to all our dead loved ones.”
She said: “I am shocked and disappointed that an MP, especially someone who hopes to win a leadership contest and lead the Labour Party into government, would find it so difficult to say five simple words, ‘Yes I condemn the IRA’.
“Any right-minded, moral, government minister shouldn’t have to think twice to condemn it.”
Colin Parry, whose 12-year-old son Tim was killed in an IRA bomb in 1993, also criticised Mr Corbyn. He said: “When I saw the nature of the interview it didn’t surprise me. I think he saw an equivalence between the British Government’s armed forced and republican terrorists which I think anyone with a balanced view in Northern Ireland could hardly agree with.”
Mr Corbyn has been criticised by opponents for appearing to have links to Irish Republicanism. He has defended inviting IRA representatives to the House of Commons in 1984 a fortnight after the Brighton Bombing.
In 1987, he also observed a minute’s silence for eight IRA members who had been killed by British military personnel.
The 66-year-old, who has been the MP for Islington North since 1983, has unexpectedly come to lead the race to become the new Labour leader.
Mr Corbyn's campaign said he had clearly and immediately condemned all violence, from all sides, in his Belfast Telegraph interview. His team said: "Northern Ireland has been through one of the most difficult and inspiring experiences of establishing peace and reconciliation, and Jeremy's approach is about continuing to move forward on that basis. He is opposed to all violence, which is why he backed talks to achieve peace, when others refused to."
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