According to a 2015 report in The Times, the remarks were made at a public meeting of 100 people – including members of the IRA – at a pub in New Cross, South London in 1986 – at the height of the Troubles. The event was reportedly documented in a local newspaper, the Deptford & Peckham Mercury, which claims Mr McDonnell was addressing the meeting on behalf of the self-styled Labour committee on Ireland. A Sinn Fein councillor from Northern Ireland was reportedly a guest speaker.
The local newspaper report reads: "Mr McDonnell went on to describe the Lewisham Labour councillors who had boycotted the meeting as 'gutless wimps' and joked that 'kneecapping might help to change their minds'."
Mr McDonnell was speaking as part of a tour by Sinn Fein of Labour councils in London that he had helped to organise.
When contacted by The Times in 2015, a spokesman said Mr McDonnell had no recollection of making the remarks.
The spokesman said: "John has no recollection of making these remarks. This quote is clearly taken out of context – John rejects all forms of violence and has done so all his political career.
"The approaches to Sinn Fein and the delegation were organised and publicised extensively at the time to commence the process of initiating a dialogue to secure a peace settlement. And we now know that behind the scenes the then government was also communicating with republicans with the same objective.
McDonnell reportedly joked about shooting Labour councillors opposed to the IRA in the kneecaps (Image: GETTY)
"John has also been a long-standing campaigner for peace in Northern Ireland and advocated speaking to Sinn Fein as part of a peace process long before it became accepted practice."
Political activist Diarmuid Breatnach, who also organised the meeting, told The Times: "I do recall him making some throwaway but unfortunate remark about kneecapping in the context of the rate-capping that the Conservative government was introducing at the time."
Mr McDonnell's comments came just two years after an IRA bomb killed four people at the Grand Hotel in Brighton during the Conservative Party conference – while Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was present.
After his alleged speech in New Cross, the IRA continued their