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McDonnell apology for 'honouring IRA' comments

John McDonnell has apologised for calling for IRA members to be honoured. Picture by Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

SHADOW chancellor John McDonnell has been criticised for falling short in his apology which he said was "from the bottom of my heart"

The senior labour figure had previously called for IRA members to the "honoured" for their struggle against Britain.

The Labour MP apologised for the "offence" he caused by the 2003 comments, admitting it was a "mistake" to say "the bombs and bullets" of republicans had been responsible for bringing about the peace process.

But he also argued that the intervention had been "worth doing" as it helped keep the peace process on track.

Prime minister David Cameron condemned the comments as a source of shame when they were raised during PMQs this week.

In 2003, Mr McDonnell told a meeting in London: "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 (hunger striker) Bobby Sands that brought Britain to the negotiating table. The peace we have now is due to the action of the IRA."

During an appearance on Question Time, Mr McDonnell said he now accepted it was a mistake to use those words.

He added: "But actually if it contributed towards saving one life, or preventing someone else being maimed, it was worth doing because we did hold onto the peace process.

"There was a real risk of the republican movement splitting, and some continuing with the armed process. If I gave offence, and I clearly have, from the bottom of my heart I apologise."

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said Mr McDonnell had to make clear that there could be no justification for violence in a democracy.

"I have to accept his apology, but I would say that what he then sought to do was to excuse it or explain it away and frankly I don't buy the notion that what he said was designed to encourage republicans to stick with the peace process," he said.

"I think, what he said when he said, he not only failed to recognise the hurt that his remarks would cause but I think that he was being at the very least ambivalent on the question of political violence in a democratic society, and for me that is the issue he needs to be more clear on."

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds added: "That John McDonnell attempts even now to justify his words undermines his expression of regret and suggests tactical and presentational considerations. He is now suggesting that he used words that he didn't believe in order to persuade republicans to give up violence. That is not credible.

"He has been dragged by entirely justified public outrage to address his obnoxious remarks only once they were brought to general attention. He still has more to do."

Peace campaigner Colin Parry, whose son Tim was killed aged 12 by an IRA bomb in Warrington in 1993, questioned whether Mr McDonnell was "sincere".

"To use the words he did so explicitly back then, they don't sound like chance remarks in the hope that he was assisting the peace process," Mr Parry said.

"He must have been under enormous pressure. Obviously the past does come back to haunt you when your political position changes and you become high profile."

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