A former aide to Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has been given a key post in Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership team, Labour sources have confirmed.
Allies of the Labour leader defended the decision to hire Jayne Fisher as “Stakeholder Engagement Manager”, despite unease among the party’s backbench MPs.
Fisher, who ran Sinn Fein’s Westminster office, will take up her new post in the New Year- with responsibility for overseeing Corbyn’s contacts with all ethnic and community groups.
Corbyn privately confirmed the appointment at his regular Wednesday meeting with the party’s backbench Parliamentary Committee, HuffPost UK has been told. He said Fisher was “a very good” hire.
A Labour spokesman refused to comment on “staffing matters”, but a party source told HuffPost that Fisher was a long-standing member of Labour in Islington South, having joined the party at 18.
She helped establish the Labour Women’s conference in the 80s and 90s and was involved with the Labour Party Irish Society from when it was established in 1998.
MPs were concerned not just about Fisher’s links to Sinn Fein, but also the Republican party’s stance on Israel, given her new role will involve rebuilding relationships with Britain’s Jewish community in the wake of Labour’s anti-semitism controversy.
At a London rally for Gaza in 2014, during the height of Israel’s military conflict with Hamas, Fisher delivered a personal statement from Adams in which he demanded the “expulsion” of Ireland’s Israeli ambassador.
Corbyn allies said that Fisher played a role in the cross-party “Friends of the Good Friday Agreement” which included figures such as Kevin McNamara, the former Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary.
She then worked for Sinn Fein Parliamentary Group when the party wanted a presence in Westminster during the peace process.
“The primary purpose was to do political outreach in Westminster and the wider community,” the source said.
“Jayne is held in high regard and respected by Labour MPs who have an interest in Northern Ireland. She has a good relationship with several Labour MPs who have been critical of Jeremy’s leadership including Conor McGinn and Vernon Coaker.”
Corbyn, who has a large Irish population in his north London constituency, has himself long supported Sinn Fein.
During his first Labour leadership campaign in 2015, he was photographed in the Commons with Adams and Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, as well as Fisher.
The Labour leader insists that he was only ever interested in promoting the peace process, and points out that the Major government was talking secretly to the Republicans when he was doing so publicly.
But he has also come under attack for inviting Adams and others to Parliament in 1984 soon after the IRA’s Brighton bombing nearly killed Margaret Thatcher and her Cabinet.
In 1987, soon after the shooting of eight IRA men in Loughall in Northern Ireland, said he was ‘happy to commemorate all those who died fighting for an independent Ireland’.
After his promotion to Corbyn’s top team, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell apologised “from the bottom of my heart” for suggesting in 2003 that the IRA should be honoured for the bombings which brought the British government “to the negotiating table”.
As a backbencher, he had said: “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 Bobby Sands that brought Britain to the negotiating table.
“The peace we have now is due to the action of the IRA. Because of the bravery of the IRA and people like Bobby Sands, we now have a peace process.”
In 1986, at the height of the IRA’s terror campaign in Britain, McDonnell called for the “ballot, the bullet and the bomb” to unite Ireland.
Fisher appeared to have deleted thousands of tweets in recent days, as word of her appointment began to leak.