Corbyn and the IRA: an infantile scandal
O'Neill has been saying for months that one of the great things about Brexit is that, now our political class are having their scapegoat taken away, our politics is now much more about proper issues that matter. And he's right about that. But now he's annoyed that people might care whether the Prime Minister of a country supports or opposes the murdering of that country's citizens. What issue could be less infantile?
Right now, nothing better sums up the moral infantilism of the opinion-forming class than its obsession with Jeremy Corbyn and the IRA.
Nothing, he says: nothing is more infantile than this silly little concern over murdering people. Not even mobile phone roaming charges, presumably.
You don’t have to be a fan of Corbyn to find this incessant IRA talk childish and irritating. It captures the media and political class’s preference for gotcha moralism over serious debate about the important issues of today, in Brexit Britain, 20 years since the Provisional IRA last detonated a bomb.
They murdered Adrian Ismay with a car bomb just a year ago. They blew up Newry Courthouse seven years ago. But sure, let's leave the splinter groups conveniently to one side and say O'Neill's got a point. So what does he say to the victims of the Omagh Bombing whose case against the last suspect only collapsed last year? "It was nearly twenty years ago so get over it"? Breda Devine and Maura Monaghan were only one year old when they were blown up. I'm betting twenty years doesn't seem like water under the bridge to their families.
Anyone who knows anything about the Troubles, which started in 1969 and ended with the first Provisional IRA ceasefire in 1994, knows British officials were talking to Sinn Fein and the IRA in the same period Corbyn was meeting with them.
O'Neill is particularly adept at calling out politicians' bullshit, which makes it so much more disappointing that he's helping spread Corbyn's disingenuity here. No-one's accusing Corbyn of talking to Sinn Fein. He's accused — correctly — of supporting the IRA: supporting both their strategy and their tactics, and wanting them to win.
John Major himself okayed these discussions between officialdom and the IRA’s Army Council. If Corbyn is a nutter unfit for public life because he talked to the IRA before it stopped its campaign, so is John Major.
Is there a single person anywhere on the planet who genuinely believes that John Major commenced negotiations with the IRA because he was a keen supporter who celebrated their killings? Really?
The talks between the Major Government and the IRA were fraught, because they were between opposing sides — enemies, in fact. The talks were very difficult and took many years, because the two sides disagreed with each and largely hated each other fundamentally. Corbyn's "talks" with Sinn Fein were not fraught, because they didn't disagree about a single damned thing.
The Queen shook hands with Martin McGuinness, IRA man turned first minister of Northern Ireland. Ah, but that was in 2012, not 1988, and that makes the world of difference, say Corbyn’s haters.
Firstly, yes, obviously the time makes a difference, just as there's a teensy bit of a difference between meeting the President of Turkey in 1916 and in 1930. McGuiness clearly disagreed with O'Neill here: there's no way on Earth he'd have shaken the Queen's hand in 1988.
Secondly, this sort of thing is the Queen's job. She has to shake the hands of some truly awful people. If Recep Erdogan visits the UK, she'll probably have to shake his hand. That doesn't signify that she or anyone in the Government supports him.
Is Mandela beyond the pale, too? Should we take down his statue in Parliament Square? Will Arlene Foster attack him in her next speech? Of course not. He isn’t Corbyn, and they’re out to get Corbyn, not to be consistent or principled.
Is Nelson Mandela standing for election to be British Prime Minister? What is O'Neill suggesting here? That we can't criticise someone who is standing for election without also criticising every historical figure with comparable views? Needless to say, O'Neill doesn't follow that rule himself.
Then there’s the warped moralism of the constant demand that Corbyn should condemn the IRA ‘specifically’.
Yes, obviously, since it is specifically the IRA that he has actively supported. O'Neill is being disingenuous again. No-one has ever suspected that Corbyn might be a UVF fan, so there's really no need for him to clarify his position on them. Similarly, no-one is asking him for his views on nun-beating. And?
If Corbyn is ‘pro-IRA’ for refusing to single out the IRA as the worst group, are these people pro-UVF, pro-UDA, pro-the Shankill Butchers for refusing to single out loyalists, and even worse for effectively saying: ‘Stop condemning loyalists, just condemn the IRA alone’?
See, the trouble with starting with a bit of rhetorical sleight of hand is, before you know it, you've followed your own logic and wound up talking complete bollocks. (And I should know.)
Because really, what on Earth is O'Neill on about? Is he suggesting that the Conservatives support the UVF? They don't. Is he suggesting that mainstream British political parties have a history of failing to condemn the UDA? News to me.
There was official recognition, both in the UK and Ireland, that the Loyalist paramilitaries wouldn't have existed without the Republican paramilitaries, and that therefore stopping the Republicans was the strategic priority. And one can have legitimate problems with that position, sure. But I don't remember a Tory leader ever praising the UVF's bravery or supporting their tactics. Maybe it slipped my mind.
DUP officials did more than whip up a climate of violent contempt for Catholics. Some of them had links with groups that worked with loyalist death squads.
O'Neill's point about various DUP bigwigs' dodgy history is well taken, but is again disingenuous. The point of a peace process is not that it magically turns bastards into nice people but that it ties the bastards up in constitutional politics long enough for a couple of generations to get out of the habit of violence. Those of us living in Northern Ireland have to put up with having some murderous hateful bastards in government for a while, which, it seems, is a price most of us are willing to pay for the peace. But Corbyn isn't a part of that. He's a Londoner. We don't have to put up with a terrorist-loving leader of the British Labour Party in order to preserve peace. There's no trade-off there: he just supports terrorists, and in return we get supported terrorists. Arlene Foster, whatever you may think of her, is not Corbyn's counterpart; Theresa May is. And, unless Brendan O'Neill is sitting on the scoop of the century, I don't think she has a history of torturing Catholics to death.
Jeremy Corbyn didn't negotiate with the IRA. He didn't even — as O'Neill claims — merely talk to them. He supported them. Alex Massie has a handy list:
No-one who was seriously interested in peace in the 1980s spoke at Troops Out rallies. The best that could be said of those people was that they wanted ‘peace’ on the IRA’s terms. In other words, they wanted the IRA to win.
If that had not been the case, if they had been interested in an actual settlement, they would not – as Corbyn did – have opposed the Anglo-Irish Agreement. They would not have denounced John Hume and the SDLP as craven sell-outs. They would not have insisted that the armed struggle was a vital part of getting the Brits out of the northern Irish statelet.
But these people did do that. All of that and more.
[In 1993], Corbyn was a member of the board of Labour Briefing, a fringe magazine for diehard leftists that unequivocally supported the IRA’s bombing campaign. Corbyn organised the magazine’s mailing-list and was a regular speaker at its events. In December 1984, the magazine “reaffirmed its support for, and solidarity with, the Irish republican movement” ... “Labour briefing stands for peace, but we are not pacifists”. Moreover, “It certainly appears to be the case that the British only sit up and take notice when they are bombed into it”. That being so, discussions with the SDLP and the Irish government were, at best, a distraction. Only Sinn Fein and the IRA spoke for Ireland. Labour Briefing explicitly opposed the SDLP, preferring instead to endorse the republican terrorist campaign.
This was published a few weeks after the Brighton bombing. ... Condemning the bombing showed that the Labour party had lost its ‘political nerve’. The Corbynite left, however, was made of sterner stuff. As Labour Briefing had previously written: “We refuse to parrot the ritual condemnation of ‘violence’ because we insist on placing responsibility where it lies…. Let our ‘Iron Lady’ know this: those who live by the sword shall die by it. If she wants violence, then violence she will certainly get.”
That, for the avoidance of doubt, is what Brendan O'Neill is referring to when he talks about
the time [Corbyn] took tea with the leaders of Sinn Fein and said a few critical things about Britain’s actions in Northern Ireland.
You can take the boy out of the Revolutionary Communist Party....