Belfast Telegraph

Nelson McCausland: SF entryism at new trade union group tells you all you need to know about its transparency

Trade Unionists for a New and United Ireland is the latest in long line of cold houses for NI majority, says Nelson McCausland

From left: Christy McQuillan, former Siptu divisional organiser, Debbie Coyle, senior trade union officer, Mick Halpenny, former Siptu senior official, and Ruairi Creaney, group spokesman and trade union official, during a launch event for Trade Unionists for a New and United Ireland in Belfast last month
From left: Christy McQuillan, former Siptu divisional organiser, Debbie Coyle, senior trade union officer, Mick Halpenny, former Siptu senior official, and Ruairi Creaney, group spokesman and trade union official, during a launch event for Trade Unionists for a New and United Ireland in Belfast last month

Last week saw the emergence of a new republican pressure group, Trade Unionists for a New and United Ireland, which is supported by 150 signatories. There was a Dublin launch on Monday at the offices of the Communication Workers’ Union and then a Belfast launch on Tuesday.

This is not the first time that such an organisation has emerged. A group with a similar name and format, Trade Unionists for Irish Unity and Independence, was launched in Dublin in 1984.

The 1984 group was more transparent, because it listed the trade union and the position beside each name, whereas this time it is just a list of 150 people with names such as ‘Willie Hamilton’. There must be hundreds of people called Willie Hamilton on both sides of the border.

However, some names do stand out, and we can do no better than start with the four trade unionists at the top table for the Belfast launch — two from Northern Ireland and two from the Irish Republic.

Spokesman Ruairi Creaney, from Lurgan, describes himself as a “socialist republican, trade union organiser, anti-capitalist and Sinn Fein activist”.

So, the spokesman for the group is a Sinn Fein activist. He may not have said that at the launch, but that is how he describes himself on his Twitter account.

The other person from Northern Ireland was Debbie Coyle, who is a welfare officer with the Omagh and Fermanagh branch of Unison.

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It wasn’t mentioned in the newspaper reports, but she is also a Sinn Fein councillor from Enniskillen. Moreover, she is not the only Sinn Fein councillor on the list of 150 signatories.

Mick Halpenny, of Siptu, was also at the top table, and he is a long-standing believer in a united Ireland. He was one of the sponsors of the 1984 group and was a speaker at a Sinn Fein conference in London in 2010 with the title ‘Putting Irish Unity on the Agenda’.

In 2013, he was also the presiding officer at a republican-sponsored ‘people’s referendum’ on a united Ireland.

The ‘referendum’ was held in Crossmaglen and Cullaville, so, not surprisingly, it got 93% support.

The fourth person at the top table was Christy McQuillan, a former Siptu organiser in the Irish Republic. He was in Belfast in 2016 for the centenary parade to mark the execution of James Connolly in 1916, after the Easter Rising.

On that occasion, he was selected to read the 1916 republican proclamation, and An Phoblacht (May 16, 2016) had a striking photograph of Christy marching up the Falls Road with Liam McBrinn, a “trade unionist and Sinn Fein activist” and “Sinn Fein and Siptu activist Jim McVeigh”.

You will not be surprised to find that Sinn Fein members Liam McBrinn and Jim McVeigh are among the 150 signatories. Indeed, Jim McVeigh, often known by his nickname ‘Flash’, is a former Sinn Fein councillor in Belfast.

Before that, he was an IRA terrorist who served two prison sentences for bombing offences.

Among the other signatories is Daisy Mules, a trade unionist and a member of the Martin McGuinness Sinn Fein Cumann. Mark Lohan, from the Galway Council of Trade Unions, is also a Sinn Fein representative and Tommy Guilfoyle, president of the Clare Trades Union Council, is a Sinn Fein activist in Ennis.

This group of 150 trade unionists calls on other trade unionists to join them in “a campaign for Irish unity”, and to advance that campaign they are holding a conference in Dublin on April 27.

Unfortunately, this tactic is deeply divisive and damaging, especially since some of the signatories hold top-tier positions in their trade unions.

A trade union movement, which should be able to embrace unionist and nationalist workers in support of the rights and conditions of workers, is now being divided into republican trade unionists and other trade unionists.

That is regrettable, particularly since it follows on from the ‘civic nationalist’ letters to Leo Varadkar, in which people designated themselves as nationalist academics, nationalist solicitors, or whatever.

Overall, it seems that republicans are quite prepared to turn whole areas of society into cold houses for unionists.

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