Suspended officials contest disciplinaries

by David Granville

Two senior Irish trade unionists face disciplinary action from their British-based union, despite overwhelming backing from the union's Irish executive.

The two, Dublin-based regional secretary of the ATGWU, Mick O'Reilly and his Belfast-based deputy, Eugene McGlone, were suspended in June following an investigation by T&G deputy general secretary Margaret Prosser, whose report includes allegations of irregularities in the union's Belfast office.

However, the suspensions by the London-based leadership of one of Britain's largest and most powerful unions has been seen by many as a less-than-thinly-veiled excuse for curtailing the careers of two of the union's most effective and independently minded leaders, both of whom are on the left.

The Irish region of the union incurred the wrath of the general secretary after it effectively overturned a national executive statement on Ireland at the T&G's 1999 biennial conference.

O'Reilly's speech on behalf of the national executive, made shortly after he was appointed as the first southerner ever to fill the Irish regional secretary's position, was reported to have left Morris incandescent with rage.

As a result, delegates were able to debate a series of motions submitted by the Irish region.

Morris, above right, is also believed to have favoured a different candidate for the regional secretary's post.

However, it is recent inter-union conflict in Ireland which appears to have spurred the T&G leader to take action.

The Irish executive of the ATGWU recently took into membership more than 100 train drivers who had split from SIPTU over the union's conduct during a bitter industrial dispute earlier this year.

The Irish region's backing of the successful No campaign in the recent Nice referendum and the its opposition to the Irish government/union partnership deal, the strangely named Programme for Prosperity and Fairness, had drawn the wrath of the Irish political and trade union establishment.

O'Reilly, above left, and McGlone were suspended from their posts in the week before a key meeting of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, at which it had been expected that the ATGWU's opposition to partnership was likely win the support of a majority of Irish trade unionists.

The timing of the suspensions led to media speculation that the Irish government had appealed to British prime minister Tony Blair to do something about the Irish region and that Blair had then contacted Bill Morris -- allegations so far unproven.

However, the vigour with which the T&G leadership has been prepared to conduct its campaign against O'Reilly surfaced clearly at the recent Desmond Greaves Summer School in Dublin.

O'Reilly had been scheduled to speak on the future of republicanism, in a strictly personal capacity, alongside Sinn Féin's Jim Gibney. Shortly before the event O'Reilly was served with a solicitor's letter barring him from speaking at the school or at the Northern Ireland Civic Forum, in any capacity.

Despite this gross infringement of the right to free speech and his personal rights to a life outside his trade union work, O'Reilly decided not to attend.

The embattled region now has a case before the Irish courts. Under 1975 Irish trade-union legislation, British-based unions organise in the 26 counties only under licence, and on condition that the democratic wishes of the union's Irish members are respected. The case will reach the courts sometime in October.

O'Reilly and McGlone have the backing of their executive, and support for the pair has spanned national, political and community affiliation.

Progressive Unionist Party leaders David Ervine and Billy Hutchinson are among those who have written to Morris to complain about the treatment of the two officials -- all the more remarkable given O'Reilly's republican sympathies and the notoriously fraught situation facing trade unionists in the north.

T&G executive member Martin Mayer, who is co-ordinating support for the suspended officials in Britain, said: "These suspensions have shocked activists and officers alike and raise serious questions about the role of the General Executive Council, which was not consulted or informed.

"Lay activists throughout Britain are saying they would not let their employers treat their own members in this way."

October/November 2001

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2002-02-04 13:33:31.
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