I’ve heard mixed reports as to his involvement; some reports describe him as a broker of peace whose efforts brought an early end to the Troubles, while others describe him as a terrorist sympathizer who repeatedly met with and supported militants from the IRA.

Is it possible to put aside opinion as much as is sensible and give an objective account of his involvement?


2 Answers 2


There's no evidence that Corbyn advocates terrorism or other kinds of violence and he has consistently stated his opposition to violence. If "sympathise" means agree, approve, favourable to, support, Corbyn did openly "sympathise" with the IRA's ultimate goal of a united republican Ireland, but he does not appear to "sympathise" with violence. Corbyn's position is that he wanted to aid the peace process (we can only speculate about his contribution).

But a public relations challenge for Corbyn is that he has historically behaved so as to provide many opportunities to be portrayed as a "terrorist sympathiser" - and not just in relation to the IRA but with Hamas and Hezbollah too. He has also appeared to deny or refuse to acknowledge their terrorist acts. There are patterns of behaviour since his public life began.

It is unclear whether he understands that or is bothered by it but it is clear that many won't forgive him for it.

Corbyn has repeatedly avoided unequivocally condemning IRA violence when asked, choosing instead to condemn the violence on both sides or all bombing, and attended meetings with and vigils for people associated with terrorism. He has referred to these people as "friends", "honoured citizens" and such, rather than neutral terms.

Corbyn met with Sinn Féin's leader Gerry Adams several times during The Troubles in the 1980s. Sinn Féin (rightly or wrongly) considered the political wing of the IRA with interchangable membership and Gerry Adams was alleged (he denies it) to be part of the IRA's leadership - at the very least having some influence. Such meetings were very controversial in that period.

Two weeks after the IRA's Brighton hotel bombing intended to assassinate the Conservative party's leadership, including then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and which killed five people and injured over 30, Corbyn invited Gerry Adams and convicted terrorists Linda Quigley and Gerry MacLochlainn to the House of Commons.

Labour's then Chief Whip Michael Corks commented,

in the present climate of opinion this action must be regarded as thoughtlessness of the highest order.

Labour's leader Neil Kinnock was said to be appalled and furious.

The meeting was also shortly before the first anniversary of the 1983 Harrods bombing, which killed six people and injured 90.

Corks told the BBC,

I think that, unless you are very very careful, any contact with people of this sort gives credence to their cause, and unless you are very careful that can lead to people thinking you are actually indifferent to the outrage, the suffering, the killing and the maiming which is the direct consequence of the actions of people who are terrorists.

Corbyn was unrepentant and said he'd do it again. Gerry MacLochlainn claimed to have visited Parliament several times, as a constituent of Corbyn's, and he was reportedly a regular at Corbyn's constituency office. Corbyn denies meeting anyone in the IRA.

Two months later, the Guardian wrote of Corbyn:

Mr Corbyn and a sizeable number of other left Labour MPs ... will continue their sordid romantic infatuation with the Provisional IRA.

Mr Corbyn's invitation to two convicted terrorists to meet him in the Commons in October can be attacked on several grounds. It was a very stupid political gesture from someone who is an elected member of a party opposed to terrorism. It was appallingly timed, so soon after the Brighton hotel bombing. ... We agree with Mr Ivor Stanbrook, the very right-wing Conservative MP for Orpington, when he says that to stop the public from meeting their MPs is to play into the hands of democracy's enemies. But there is a time and a place for everything and Mr Corbyn has little reason to feel proud of his judgment.

  • 1
    @Obie2.0 I'm pretty sure there's been plenty of scrutiny toward's Labour's issues with anti-semitism, I'd be hard pressed to find a month in the last 3 years where it hasn't been a front page story at least once. Similarly Corbyn's links to the IRA and Hamas are frequently mentioned.
    – Jontia
    Commented Nov 25, 2019 at 7:24
  • Also Gerry Adams was a senior leader of the PIRA. So you have to keep the structure of the PIRA and the reality of who was leading it in mind when considering Corbyn's relationship with Republican politics. As you point out, it raises many question. But at this point there is sufficient evidence that the PIRA and Sinn Fein were and still are tightly coupled entities.
    – user8398
    Commented Nov 25, 2019 at 9:55
  • 2
    @inappropriateCode the shared leadership and organisational entanglement may be beyond dispute, but I think the character of the relationship between the two entities is a matter of some mystery and dispute. Sinn Féin being the political wing of the IRA is one characterisation that draws the sharpest criticism of Corbyn's actions, so relevant here, but I don't think it's a settled straightforward fact that the relationship was this way round as opposed to the IRA being the paramilitary wing of Sinn Féin or a shared leadership having inabsolute control over both organisations.
    – Will
    Commented Nov 25, 2019 at 11:33
  • Worth noting that Adams was an MP during 9 June 1983 to 9 April 1992. So he should already have been there. (maybe not for that meeting, but in general) Ideological reasons mean he abstains though.
    – bobsburner
    Commented Nov 25, 2019 at 12:02

Here is an account of his historical involvement with the NI peace process from Channel 4 factcheckers.

TL;DR: Corbyn was a professional muck-stirrer for most of his career. He took an unpopular position and stuck to it, and then acted in ways that seem designed to provoke outrage.

The summary is:

  • He consistently campaigned for a peaceful resolution leading to a united Ireland. This included talking to republican politicians, some of whom had been convicted of terrorist offences. In one notorious incident two such people were invited to the House of Commons two weeks after the Brighton bomb.

  • He consistently refused to single out IRA bombers for condemnation, preferring to condemn all violence by all sides including the British Army. Seeing the IRA and the British Army as moral equivalents raised (and continues to raise) a lot of hackles.

  • He was not involved in the real peace process between the UK government and the IRA, which was done via a secret back-channel. It is therefore unlikely that his involvement made any significant difference.

  • 4
    More accurately, he pays lip service to condemning all violence but is remarkably selective when choosing his examples of "violence" - not only in NI, but also in the Middle East and elsewhere in international politics.
    – alephzero
    Commented Nov 24, 2019 at 21:49
  • 3
    The British army murdered unarmed protesters and colluded with loyalists (newstatesman.com/politics/northern-ireland/2019/03/…). Even if the British public feels that one is more morally upstanding than the other this is more tribalism than a reflection of reality
    – llama
    Commented Nov 25, 2019 at 18:08
  • Did he regularly single out loyalists or the British army for condemnation? If he consistently condemned violence on all sides, that might be seen as a diplomatic tactic to defuse tribalism.
    – jkej
    Commented Nov 25, 2019 at 21:27

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