Jeremy Corbyn 'ignoring Northern Irish political crisis in case IRA sympathy claims resurface'

Exclusive: Northern Irish politician says Labour leader fears criticism will re-emerge that he has Republican sympathies

Siobhan Fenton
Social Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 19 January 2017 14:55
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Naomi Long says the Labour leader is not doing enough to address the Northern Ireland political crisis
Naomi Long says the Labour leader is not doing enough to address the Northern Ireland political crisis

Jeremy Corbyn has failed to act on the Northern Ireland political crisis because he is worried allegations will resurface that he supports militant Republicanism, a leading politician has said.

Power-sharing collapsed at Stormont earlier this week after more than a decade of cooperation and joint rule between nationalist and unionist politicians. Naomi Long, who is leader of the anti-sectarianism Alliance Party, told The Independent that both the Conservatives and Labour were failing to recognise the gravity of the situation.

The Labour leader has long been accused of harbouring Republican sympathies, having attended and given speeches at an official commemoration in 1988 to honour dead IRA terrorists during the Troubles, also referring to their imprisoned members as “prisoners of war”.

Mr Corbyn has previously denied having any connections to or political sympathy for the group.

Ms Long said Mr Corbyn was not doing enough to address the political crisis in Northern Ireland, saying it could be partly due to fear that his links to Republicanism will resurface and spark new criticism.

She told The Independent: “I think there is a reluctance for him to engage [in the present Northern Irish political crisis] because of the line he has taken in the past.”

She added that constant reshuffles of Mr Corbyn’s cabinet meant that there have been four Shadow Northern Ireland Secretaries under the Labour leader, which undermined relationships between the party and Northern Irish politicians due to loss of institutional knowledge and personal links.

She said: “I think we’re on to our fourth secretary of state from Labour. People like Vernon Coaker and Ivan Lewis, had a good working relationship with the local parties and a good understanding of what is going on. But we have this constant flux within Labour.”

Ms Long also expressed concern that continued in-fighting in Labour related to Mr Corbyn’s electability meant the party had become inward looking, at the expense of wider issues, such as the Northern Ireland crisis.

She said: “They are very much focused on Labour’s problems at the moment. They are very distracted in terms of what’s going on in Northern Ireland.”

Stormont’s executive collapsed on Monday after Sinn Fein pulled out of power-sharing with the Democratic Unionist Party.

Martin McGuinness resigned as Deputy First Minister, citing concerns at what he called the DUP’s “arrogance” over how the party’s leader had dealt with claims of financial mismanagement. Arlene Foster, Northern Ireland’s First Minister, is accused of mishandling a government renewable heat scheme which has cost the tax payer £490m. She has refused to step down over the scandal, prompting Mr McGuinness to resign in protest.

Under power-sharing rules his resignation meant Ms Foster also lost her post as both must govern jointly at all times in order for the other to retain their position.

Secretary of State James Brokenshire has announced a snap election will now take place on 2 March, in the hope of electing a new government that will return to power-sharing.

The Independent has approached Jeremy Corbyn for comment.

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