The familiar refrain from the Tories and their press cheerleaders is that Jeremy Corbyn cannot be trusted, because, dammit, he talked to terrorists. Jezza’s talks with the likes of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, we are frequently told, put him beyond the pale. So how those same press pals will spin the news that Theresa May has not merely talked to terrorists, but put one in the House of Lords, will be a challenging proposition.
Using today’s Royal Wedding as one of those days where bad news can be usefully buried, a list of new peers has been released. As the BBC has reported, “Downing Street has nominated nine new Conservative peers, including a number of former ministers, to sit in the House of Lords … The Democratic Unionists will get one new peer while Labour will get three”. And who might the DUP have nominated?
Vote early, vote often, eh?
“The list, which has to be approved by the Queen, is completed by former DUP MP Dr William McCrea, a Free Presbyterian minister who was MP for Mid Ulster between 1983 and 1997 and for South Antrim between 2000 and 2015”. To call McCrea “a Free Presbyterian minister” does not do justice to the full range of his talents.
A selection of McCrea’s greatest hits has been provided by Ken Griffin, who put it plainly. “I am afraid that @theresa_may has finally jumped the shark with her appointment of the DUP's William McCrea as a Lord. His record is utterly incredible. Highlights include … Membership of proto-loyalist paramilitary group, the Shankill Defence Association”.
There was more. “Lobbying the British government to carry out airstrikes against Irish towns … An association with Billy Wright, one of loyalism's most vicious sectarian killers, even appearing at a rally in support of Wright … And a stint in prison for riotous behaviour”. Sounds like one of the villains from the Piranha Brothers stable.
It got worse: McCrea did not merely lobby for airstrikes against Irish towns. As the Belfast Telegraph noted, “Rev McCrea wanted ‘Libyan-type strikes’ against Dundalk, Drogheda, Crossmaglen and Carrickmore … He made the call in April 1986, just days after the US government had unleashed air raids on Col Gaddafi's regime”.
Carrickmore and Crossmaglen are in Northern Ireland. So William McCrea, who is now being elevated to the Lords, wanted “Libyan-type airstrikes” against British towns - solely on the basis that their population was overwhelmingly Catholic. The Belfast Telegraph report gives a flavour of the conference where McCrea made his demands.
“The documents, held by the Public Record Office, are released today under the 30-year rule. One memo reports on the DUP annual conference in Belfast on April 19, 1986. Noel Cornick, an official at the NIO's Political Affairs Division, wrote that staff from the division had not been welcome at the conference … The main speech was given by Peter Robinson, in which he outlined two alternative solutions - negotiation or confrontation. He said the latter would be ‘devastating, terrible and bloody’”.
Bit worse that napalming Cheltenham, then. Robinson, of course, went on to become First Minister of Northern Ireland, and now McCrea is headed for the Lords.