• Shadow chancellor was asked at press conference about 2003 remarks on IRA
  • John McDonnell said then that the IRA’s ‘armed struggle’ should be ‘honoured’
  • Apologised for comments today but said they were effort to bring about peace

James Tapsfield, Political Editor For Mailonline

and
Jack Doyle, Executive Political Editor For The Daily Mail

John McDonnell sparked fury today after he tried to defend his praise for the IRA’s ‘bombs and bullets’ – saying he was only trying to bring about peace.

The shadow chancellor was challenged over comments from 2003 in which he demanded people ‘honour’ Republican terrorists who were ‘involved in the armed struggle’. 

He said their ‘bravery’ was what had brought the UK government ‘to the negotiating table’. 

Asked today how he would explain those remarks to voters at the general election, Mr McDonnell said he had ‘apologised for those words’.

At a press conference in London today shadow chancellor John McDonnell was challenged over comments from 2003 in which he demanded people 'honour' Republican terrorists

At a press conference in London today shadow chancellor John McDonnell was challenged over comments from 2003 in which he demanded people 'honour' Republican terrorists

At a press conference in London today shadow chancellor John McDonnell was challenged over comments from 2003 in which he demanded people ‘honour’ Republican terrorists

But he insisted he had been ‘contributing’ to the peace process.

The justification, which came at an election campaign press conference called by Labour this morning, was condemned by Unionists as an effort to ‘rewrite history’. 

Mr McDonnell’s 2003 comments came at an event commemorating the death of the IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands.

‘It’s about time we started honouring those people involved in the armed struggle,’ he told the event. 

‘It was the bombs and bullets and sacrifice made by the likes of Bobby Sands that brought Britain to the negotiating table. 

‘The peace we have now is due to the action of the IRA. Because of the bravery of the IRA and people like Bobby Sands, we now have a peace process.’

Asked at the press conference in London today what he would say to voters about those views, Mr McDonnell replied: ‘What I say to them is what I said before that I apologise for those words, but if you also look at what I said.

Mr McDonnell's 2003 comments came at an event commemorating the death of the IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands

Mr McDonnell's 2003 comments came at an event commemorating the death of the IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands

Mr McDonnell’s 2003 comments came at an event commemorating the death of the IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands

‘I said no cause is worth an innocent life. And I made that explicitly clear. I also did everything I possibly could to secure the peace process in Northern Ireland. 

‘And at times that was contentious of course because you’re trying to talk to people and at that point in time you were condemned for talking, but then we discovered that governments were talking to them anyway. 

‘So yes I’ve apologised for my language but I’ve made it absolutely clear I didn’t about securing peace.

Pressed on whether he still thought the peace process was a result of the IRA bombing campaign, Mr McDonnell said: ‘I think the peace process was a result of the dialogue that many undertook and if I contributed in no matter any small way I’m pleased to do so. 

‘I made it clear then, I did a Guardian article: no cause is worth an innocent life.’ 

 But DUP politician Jeffrey Donaldson told MailOnline: ‘I don’t think anyone in Northern Ireland is buying into this rewriting of the history of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell’s relationship with senior Republicans.

‘I think they need to come clean on where they stand in relation to the IRA violence of the past and do they condemn outright that violence.

‘Do they condemn the murder of innocent civilians and police officers?

‘These are questions we need to hear clear answers to.

‘If they want to be considered a government the people of the UK need to know where they stand on terrorism not just abroad but in the UK.’ 

An apologist for terror 

‘It’s about time we started honouring those people involved in the armed struggle. It was the bombs and bullets and sacrifice made by the likes of Bobby Sands that brought Britain to the negotiating table.

‘The peace we have now is due to the action of the IRA. Because of the bravery of the IRA and people like Bobby Sands, we now have a peace process.’

— John McDonnell in 2003, at an event to commemorate the death of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands

‘Some of us had to go out there – I might not have chosen the right words – and actually explain to them [IRA terrorists] they could stand down with dignity.’

— In 2015, to Channel 4 News

‘Assassinate Thatcher’

— In June 2010, when asked what he would do if he could go back in time

Mr McDonnell was asked at the press conference in London today what he would say to voters about his views on the IRA

Mr McDonnell was asked at the press conference in London today what he would say to voters about his views on the IRA

Mr McDonnell was asked at the press conference in London today what he would say to voters about his views on the IRA

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