Labour's Northern Ireland branch backs Burnham, but unions opt for Corbyn
Northern Ireland's Labour branch is urging trade unionists to back Andy Burnham as the next party leader - although three of the main unions with members in the region have backed Jeremy Corbyn.
With Mr Corbyn due to arrive today for an event at Feile an Phobail, the local Labour branch has reminded members they all have an individual vote to elect the next leader.
And with union membership in Northern Ireland relatively high - more than 240,000 workers were in a union last year - they could play a key role.
The old union block vote system in the Labour Party is long gone and voting was further reformed by the former leader Ed Miliband in favour of one member, one vote.
Boyd Black, secretary of the Labour Party here, said: "Many of the members of the unions here will not take their lead from how their unions voted nationally. I do know of members of Unite that are not in agreement with their union nationally and will be voting for Andy Burnham, and similarly with Unison."
Labour NI, which now has 500 members, has already endorsed Mr Burnham and is unlikely to meet directly with Mr Corbyn, who is appearing at the annual West Belfast Talks Back event tonight.
"It is no longer a block vote system as it used to be, since Ed Miliband changed the rules," said Mr Black.
"In fact, in 2010, although the unions backed Ed Miliband, a lot of ordinary party members voted for David Miliband."
Three of the major national unions which have membership in Northern Ireland - Unite, Unison and the Communication Workers Union (CWU) - have backed 66-year-old Mr Corbyn, who has served as an MP since 1983.
The largest union here, the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (Nipsa), is taking no part in the election of the next Labour leader.
Unison said its Northern Ireland branch does not express an opinion on Labour leadership contests and is not bound by decisions made by the union's Labour link committee.
"Nobody in Northern Ireland is involved in the Labour link committee.
"It's nothing to do with the union membership here," Unison added.
There was no local response yesterday from the CWU, whose general secretary Dave Ward sparked national headlines last week when he said: "There is a virus within the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn is the antidote.
"There are no quick fixes for the Labour Party, but there are some easy decisions and choosing Jeremy as its leader should be one of them.
"We think that it is time for a change for Labour. The grip of the Blairites and individuals like Peter Mandelson must now be loosened once and for all."
Jackie Pollock, deputy regional secretary of Unite, said his union's decision to endorse Mr Corbyn was made by its democratically elected executive council.
"We would additionally stress that matters such as these aren't decided on sectarian or religious grounds and members taking part in the Labour leadership contest in Northern Ireland, as with other parts of the UK, are free to vote for whomever they wish," he said.
Mr Corbyn is taking part in tonight's event at St Louise's Comprehensive College on the Falls Road along with Sinn Fein South Dublin councillor Eoin O Broin, PUP councillor Julie-Anne Corr Johnston and East Belfast DUP MP Gavin Robinson.
The left-wing candidate is well known in Northern Ireland for his enduring friendship with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and hosted visits by SF members to the Houses of Parliament prior to the peace process and IRA ceasefires, and he supports a united Ireland.
People who are not Labour members but who want to vote can go to the Labour Party website at www.labour.org.uk and on paying £3 can become either an affiliated or a registered supporter, with the opportunity to vote to choose the party's next leader.
Number of Northern Ireland members of trade unions last year