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Unite spokesman on austerity was member of Republican Network for Unity

Published 30/11/2015

Republican Network for Unity member, Ciaran Cunningham
Republican Network for Unity member, Ciaran Cunningham

Unite - the largest trade union representing workers in Northern Ireland - has employed a former member of the Republican Network for Unity (RNU) as its spokesman on austerity.

Ciaran Cunningham was invited to speak on Monday morning's BBC Nolan Show about cuts protests staged at the weekend.

He previously spent time in prison for Real IRA intelligence-gathering while he was working at the Royal Victoria Hospital.

The RNU is regarded by many as the political wing of Óglaigh na hÉireann, though denied by Mr Cunningham in a 2014 interview with the Belfast Telegraph.

Then, he said he neither endorsed nor condemned ONH, a real IRA splinter group.

He said: "We understand the logic. Armed actions are a legacy of British occupation in Ireland.

"There will always be a group of people, no matter how small, who will remember that and say that, rightly or wrongly, the logic of the gun is fair enough. That's the legacy issue. It would be inaccurate for me to say that mindset is wrong. It would be equally or wrong for me to say it's right."

On Monday Mr Cunningham talked on the Nolan Show about Unite's opposition to the Fresh Start deal and how he thought it would impact on "the poor, the sick and the vulnerable".

When Stephen Nolan asked if he was still a member of the RNU, he said he no longer was, but that it was irrelevant.

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Nolan challenged him: "Unite have put you up as their spokesperson, correct?

"You're the same Ciaran Cunningham who spent time in prison a decade ago for intelligence-gathering while working at the Royal Victoria Hospital. Do you regret what you did? Would you do it again?

Mr Cunningham said: "I came here to talk about the impact of benefit cuts on the vulnerable.

"I'm a grassroots working class activist and a trade unionist."

Nolan: "Are you against the peace process?"

Mr Cunningham: "I will not let the debate here be deflected into my personal and political past."

Nolan responded: "Critics might suggest that what you're actually trying to do is damage Sinn Fein as a political motive, which is why the question is relevant. Are you against the peace process?

He replied: "That isn't the case. My priority is the building of a non-sectarian, working class alternative to Tory austerity."

The Unite protests took place on Saturday in Belfast, Ballymoney, Newry and Londonderry.

Mr Cunningham said they were necessary to bring attention to the "real danger and the real levels of poverty and desperation that we've seen across the water" after Tory cuts.

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