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10 January 2002 Edition

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Mandelson dubs IRA freedom fighters

BY FERN LANE


Former British secretary of state Peter Mandelson has said that the IRA are freedom fighters and not terrorists. His admission, which was rather surprising given his strong unionist bias whilst in office in the Six Counties, was made during a Channel 4 documentary shown on 29 December about the 11 September attacks in America and provoked a furious response from unionists and British conservatives, forcing him into an almost immediate retraction.

In the programme, The Day the World Changed, Mandelson said that a distinction had to be made between paramilitary organisations involved in a political process and groups such as al-Qaeda. "I think the distinction we have to make is not between good and bad terrorists," he said. "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.

"They're like territorial - as opposed to international - terrorists. And it's what stage of development they're at, what attitude they have to politics, whether they're prepared to engage."

His comments are particularly significant because, although he is no longer in the British cabinet, Mandelson retains a high degree of influence over his party and the government's policy and it is the first time that a British politician with such a high public profile has dared to admit that the armed struggle in Ireland was not mere "terrorism", but rather, national resistance. The remarks could perhaps also be seen in light of the fact that Mandelson has been used before as the herald of massive and potentially difficult political shifts by the Labour party, particularly when its leadership has been keen to dump what it considers to be old-fashioned and obstructive policies - the dropping of Clause 4 was a prime example - and Mandelson was, of course, the architect of the Labour party's transformation to New Labour.

His contribution to the Channel 4 programme was greeted with predictable outrage by Quentin Davies, the Conservative shadow secretary of state, who described it as a "revolting comment". The DUP's Nigel Dodds said Mandelson's were "some of the most despicable remarks made in recent times".
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