Mandelson denies Provisional IRA are 'freedom fighters'

 

Former Northern Secretary Mr Peter Mandelson has strongly denied claims that he believed the Provisional IRA should be regarded as freedom fighters and rejected claims he had sought to glorify paramilitaries.

The denials came after he appeared on the Channel Four programme about the September 11th attacks, The Year the World Changed.

Mr Mandelson said on the programme a distinction should be made between armed groups who engage in a political process and Osama bin Laden's followers. He insisted those groups which embark on negotiations to find a political solution should be regarded differently to the al-Qaeda network.

"I think the distinction we have to make is not between good and bad terrorists. It is between those terrorists who have political objectives and are prepared to negotiate those objectives at the end of the day and engage in some sort of dialogue and ultimately some sort of political or peace process.

"I don't call them terrorists when they reach that stage. They are resisters. They are freedom fighters, or whatever," he said.

A Sinn FΘin spokesman said Mr Mandelson was only echoing views expressed by Mr Gerry Adams. "It is what republicans have always believed and they don't need any acknowledgment from Mandelson that this is the case," he added.

Mr Mandelson later rejected the claim he had suggested the Provisional IRA should be regarded as freedom fighters.

Any suggestion that this was his position was a complete "misrepresentation" of his comments, he said. "Of course the Provisional IRA is on ceasefire and is engaged in a peace process and is represented in democratic political institutions as I also remarked. But that does not make them freedom fighters and never will."

The clarification was welcomed by Ulster Unionist MPs, Mr Jeffrey Donaldson and Mr David Burnside, who had criticised Mr Mandelson earlier.