John McDonnell
John McDonnell has apologised for his past commentsITN

Newly appointed and highly controversial Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell was forced to apologise not once but twice for comments made in the past about the IRA and former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Appearing at BBC's Question Time, the shadow minister apologised for saying that IRA members should be "honoured". "If I gave offence, and I clearly have, from the bottom of my heart, I apologise, I apologise."

He explained that he had been urging IRA militants to "put their weapons away,", saying that at the time he made the comments, it had looked like the peace process was about to be lost. McDonnell made the comments at a gathering in London in 2003 to commemorate IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands.

He acknowledged that his choice of words had been wrong. "What I tried to do for both sides is to give them a way out with some form of dignity otherwise they wouldn't lay their arms down. And can I just say this, because this has been raised with me time and time again - I accept it was a mistake to use those words, and actually if it contributed towards saving one life, or preventing someone else being maimed it was worth doing, because we did hold on to the peace process.

"There was a real risk of the republican movement splitting and some of them continuing the armed process," he explained.

And on Thatcher, McDonnell said he was also sorry for an "appalling joke" when in 2010 he said that if he could go back in time he would "assassinate Thatcher". When asked about this remark by a member of the audience at the BBC's show, he said: "It was an appalling joke. It's ended my career as a stand-up, let's put it that way, and I apologise for it as well."

McDonnell's apology on the IRA remarks however did not go down well with Gregory Campell, the Democratic Unionist Party MP for East Londonderry who said the apology was "tainted" because he was trying to justify them.

The Guardian's Andrew Sparrow notes that his IRA apology "came over as genuinely sincere, and even heartfelt", but said McDonnell "certainly didn't shed the accusation that he was overly sympathetic to violent Republicanism".

Sparrow added: "McDonnell made some progress in trying to persuade people that Labour is not now run by IRA apologists, but he certainly did not bury the issue for good."