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Nelson McCausland

Sick taunting of Boris Johnson shows need for conversation around political ethos promoted in Northern Ireland schools

Nelson McCausland

Suspended trade union boss Hedley became a committed republican Marxist at young age


Boris Johnson spent several nights in an intensive care unit with coronavirus

Boris Johnson spent several nights in an intensive care unit with coronavirus

Getty Images

Boris Johnson spent several nights in an intensive care unit with coronavirus

Steve Hedley is the senior assistant general secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, generally referred to as RMT.

Born and bred in the Bogside area of Londonderry, he now earns £105,000 a year as a full-time trade unionist. But last week he was suspended from his position after saying he would "throw a party" if Boris Johnson died of coronavirus.

Replying to a post on Facebook, he said: "I don't want to offend you, but if Bojo pops his clogs, I'm throwing a party."

The controversial trade unionist also said that he hoped other members of the Cabinet contracted the virus, adding: "I hope the whole Cabinet and higher echelons of the Tory party have been touching various bits of him."

Hedley's comments caused outrage and created a backlash, but the combative union leader was not backing down and he hit back at his critics, saying that he "stood by every word".

At that point the RMT president and general secretary intervened and issued a joint statement saying: "Steve Hedley's comments do not represent the view of this trade union and are wholly unacceptable."

Then, on Friday, it was announced that Hedley had been "suspended with immediate effect while a formal investigation takes place into his conduct".

Already the Labour Party has expelled a councillor for saying that Boris Johnson "deserved" coronavirus, so there will be keen interest in how the RMT investigation unfolds and how the union deals with Hedley.

Long ago it was said that Labour owed more to Methodism than it did to Marxism and, indeed, if we go back to the origins of the trade union movement there was a strong Methodist influence among the Tolpuddle Martyrs, who were deported to Australia in 1834 for their trade union activities.

However, today it is Marxism which is dominant in many of our trade unions and Hedley is a good example of some of the worst traits of the far-Left.

He is also a good example of the coalescing of Irish republicanism and the far-Left.

He is certainly a Marxist, of the Trotskyist variety, but he is also a committed Irish republican.

In 2014 Hedley was one of the keynote speakers at the annual conference organised by the republican James Connolly Society in Edinburgh.

The James Connolly Society was founded in Edinburgh in 1986 by James Slaven and was noted for its controversial republican band parades.

Slaven also founded the website '107 cowgate', named after the address of Connolly's birthplace in Edinburgh and, in 2016, Steve Hedley penned a centenary article on the 1916 Easter Rising for the website.

There he explained how he became an Irish republican Marxist and identified three influences: community, home and school.

As regards community, he was born in the Bogside in August 1968 and he said: "My first memories of learning about the Easter Rising are from when I was about three years old, sitting in a neighbour's house in our street in the Bogside, listening to republican albums being played on a record player."

As regards family, he said: "It was a turbulent time in Derry, which had just declared its autonomy and barricades protected our street from marauding British soldiers. My family were initially sympathetic to the Official IRA, who were overtly socialist."

Then, as regards school, he said: "I attended Catholic schools that were broadly nationalist and sympathetic to a united Ireland." The nastiness of Hedley's posts about Boris Johnson will remain as a stain on his record, especially as he refused to retract them, but we will have to await the outcome of the union's investigation.

Hedley has already made one attempt to become the union's general secretary, a post worth £160,000, so how will this episode affect his future prospects?

However, in the meantime his comments about the roots of his Irish republican Marxism are worthy of further consideration, especially the reference to the "nationalist ethos" of the schools he attended.

There is always an ongoing discussion in Northern Ireland about the future of what is an incredibly complex education system and the ethos of the sectors, including the political ethos, will have to be part of that conversation.

Belfast Telegraph