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‘I served in the Troubles – and I know Corbyn’s a peacemaker, not a terrorist sympathiser’

The fact is that throughout the Troubles many meetings took place with the IRA, including British military top brass and Harold Wilson. So if Corbyn did too, would it have really been such a bad thing? asks RICHARD RUDKIN

WITH the general election on the horizon, it comes as no surprise that the mainstream media once again regurgitate in print or broadcasts every soundbite that portrays Jeremy Corbyn as a terrorist sympathiser, racist, anti-semite or any other label they believe would help destroy the chance of a Labour victory.

By way of example, last week, speaking about Corbyn to ITV’s Robert Peston, Jeremy Hunt stated: “In this election, we have someone who could possibly become prime minister who does actually have extremist views.”

Hunt wasn’t pressed into stating just what these “extremist views” are. But then again, why bother being precise when ambiguity will do the job just as well?

If left unchallenged, there is a danger these statements could be taken as fact, hence the importance of the Morning Star to correct this misinformation at every opportunity.

With the stakes being higher than ever for the election winner, it will only be a matter of time before reference is made to Corbyn’s alleged meetings with the IRA during the Troubles. 

However, even if Corbyn had talked with the IRA, would it have really been such a bad thing? 

Speaking as a former soldier that witnessed the carnage in the early ’70s and lost three comrades in 1972, the answer for me is a definite No.

If any political figure from whatever party had managed to broker a peace deal between the British government and representatives from all sides of the conflict earlier than 1998, and by doing so had managed to save just one life, whether civilian, paramilitary or security forces, I for one would have been celebrating peace. And I suspect many of the families from all sides would have done too.

If you listen to some commentators on the Troubles, you would be forgiven for believing the British government never negotiated with the IRA. However nothing could be further from the truth.

As early as September 1969, only weeks after British troops took to the streets of Derry and Belfast, a joint meeting took place between Major-General Tony Dyball, Chief of Staff to General Sir Ian Freeland, the British army’s General Officer Commanding and director of operations in Northern Ireland, and Jim Sullivan, chair of the Central Citizen’s Defence Committee (CCDC). 

At this time, the CCDC was regarded by the British army as the public face of the IRA, however the composition of the committee soon changed to include politicians and community leaders. 

You might be surprised to learn that at this meeting it was agreed that the street barricades in nationalist districts of West Belfast would remain, but be replaced by British army barriers. 

These barriers would be guarded by both British soldiers and members of the CCDC. In essence, British soldiers would be in a joint operation alongside IRA volunteers. 

However, once the Sunday Times got hold of the story and reported on this joint agreement, the plan was scrapped.

Although by no means the first meeting, in March 1972 Labour leader Harold Wilson, then leader of the opposition, accompanied by Merlin Rees MP and other members of the Labour Party, met with IRA leaders in Dublin. 

This was just one of a number of meetings between British MPs and the IRA. 

In fact three months later in June 1972, a 10-day bilateral ceasefire was agreed at a secret meeting in Derry between representatives of the IRA and MI6 and Philip John Woodfield of the Northern Ireland Office acting on behalf of the British government. 

Sadly, like many ceasefires which followed through the years, for whatever reason, they eventually came to an end and violence returned.

A further accusation levelled at Corbyn is that he has failed to condemn the IRA killings. Another lie. 

What Corbyn has consistently failed to do, and rightly so, is single out the IRA for condemnation while ignoring the killings by loyalist paramilitaries and crown forces. 

Instead of picking sides, Corbyn rightly condemned the killings from “all sides.” 

By taking this stance, Corbyn demonstrated just what was required in 1969 when British troops first took to the streets in the North of Ireland and is arguably required by a British prime minister now more than ever. 

By resisting pressure and taking this stance, Corbyn sent a clear message that the blood of a human being, regardless of race, religion or nationality, has equal value. 

What a contrast this is to what we have in the British Parliament today, where MPs from all parties appear to take the view that the blood of an innocent Israeli, Westerner or British soldier carries more value than the blood of an innocent Palestinian, Iraqi, Afghan or Syrian.

The fact is that throughout the duration of the Troubles many meetings took place. However not all politicians wanted their involvement in negotiating with the IRA brought to the public’s attention for fear of losing face. 

For instance, in 2011, journalist Peter Taylor uncovered files in the National Archives from 1981, in the midst of the H-Block hunger strikes led by Republican Bobby Sands, showing that Margaret Thatcher altered the wording in her own handwriting on a statement sent to the IRA as part of the negotiations. 

Yet at the same time, Thatcher was on our TV screens claiming “she did not and would not negotiate with terrorists.” 

It was a blatant lie to portray herself as a “tough PM” while I would argue that in reality her posturing was a missed opportunity that actually cost lives on all sides. 

However, Hunt and I do agree on one point. Corbyn is a threat. A threat to those that have been telling the poorest in society there is no other way. 

A threat to those who want the poor to take the cuts while the wealthy squirrel their money away in tax havens. A threat to those who are quick to send other people’s sons and daughters to fight an unjust war on foreign soil.

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