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21 September 2023

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Call for Irish unity heard at TUC conference

• Sinn Féin MP Mickey Brady at the TUC's 155th annual conference

“This is an exciting time to be a united Irelander”. That was the message that was brought to the 155th Annual Trade Union Congress conference in Liverpool last week.

Mickey Brady, Sinn Féin MP for Newry and Armagh, was in town for the yearly gathering of trade unionists from the length and breadth of Britain. Speaking from Liverpool, Mr Brady said, “It was great to attend this year’s congress. We received a very warm welcome from the trade unionists we met and found plenty of interest in the constitutional conversation that is taking shape happening back home in Ireland.”

The Tuesday evening of conference, 12 October, saw a fringe meeting discuss the campaign for Irish unity. The event was a product of the hard work and dedication of Austin Harney, a longstanding trade unionist and advocate for the Irish community in Britain.

The panel of guest speakers included Mickey Brady MP alongside: Frank Connolly, author of ‘United Nation: The case for integrating Ireland’; Máire Doolin, a full-time PCS Union Officer and former chair of the Liverpool Irish Centre; and Kevin Meagher, author of ‘A United Ireland: Why Unification Is Inevitable and How It Will Come About’ and ‘What a Bloody Awful Country: Northern Ireland’s century of division’.

A last-minute fire alarm meant that the venue for the evening’s meeting had to be fully evacuated. However, a hardy bunch reassembled in the backroom of a public house across the street. Fortunately, the proprietors were happy to accommodate the hastily reconvened fringe meeting and the discussion was able to continue uninterrupted.

In his address, Frank Connolly noted that, “The trade union movement in Ireland has already agreed at its conference two years ago in Belfast, and I was present at it and was involved in preparing the motion, decided that the unions north and south agree that we as a movement of 800,000 workers in Ireland, prepare for a referendum and for unity”. This being a reference to the motion passed at the ITCU’s BDC in October 2021.

Frank Connolly speaking at the TUC fringe meeting on Irish unity

• Frank Connolly speaking at the TUC fringe meeting on Irish unity

Máire Doolin spoke eloquently about how a new Ireland would be able to better address the rights of women both north and south. As she said, “Despite the pivotal role that women played over the course of Irish history still, all too often, their voice has not been heard. In a new Ireland, women must have an equal place in society because until gender equality is achieved our democracy will remain unfinished.”

This address was followed by Kevin Meagher who made a forceful case that the debate on constitutional change is already well underway and that the political establishment needs to be cognisant of this reality. As he said, “We’re getting to that point, in the next five to ten years, when all the variables that you look at, in terms of what might constitute demand for a border poll, will be reached. There’s not actually that many of them. Its either a series of opinion polls or a series of election results.”

Mickey Brady MP opened his address by saying how good it was to be back in Liverpool, a city he studied in as a student in 1970s. As he told the fringe meeting, “In terms of the prospect of a united Ireland, for the first time in my lifetime the issue of a united Ireland is no longer an aspiration: it is a project. I think it is a project that trade unionism has to be very much involved in, both here and back in Ireland. The trade union platform is a huge platform and any trade unionists here tonight need to go home to their branches and raise the campaign for Irish reunification.”

It was evident from the question-and-answer session afterwards that there are notable matters and concerns that require serious consideration and examination. It was also clear that the trade union movement provides a ready-made network of expertise and experience to host such vital conversations. The old mantra of ‘Labour Must Wait’ cannot be repeated. Workers must be central to the building of a new Ireland because ultimately, as history has too often proven, if worker’s voices are not in the room; their concerns won’t be heard.

The meeting concluded with an appeal to trade unionists and progressive voices in Britain to lend their support to the campaign for a unity referendum.

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