UNISON Northern Ireland

UNISON NI at National Delegate Conference 2019

Delegates from Northern Ireland attended UNISON's National Delegate Conference in Liverpool in June. Here's an overview of some motions that were discussed and events that took place.

Day 1 - Tuesday 20th June

Our UNISON NI delegates performed strongly on day 1, speaking in a number of debates on maternity rights, smashing the gender pay gap and young member’s facility time. Well done to Jamie Coyle (Northern Health, Young member and first time speaker), Aine Brennan (Mater Hospital) and Roberta Magee (South and East Belfast).


Day 2 - Wednesday 19th June

Our UNISON NI delegates kept up the good work on day 2, speaking in the debate on suicide awareness training for stewards. Well done to Fiona Kelly (Northern Health). You did us proud!

A special word of thanks also to Deborah Yapicioz (Orchard Health and Social Care) and Conor McCarthy (Royal Hospitals Branch) for their efforts to speak, and all other delegates who put themselves forward but did not get a chance to be heard or their motions were not reached.

The debate on suicide awareness training was extensive and a reflection of the issues facing our members and UNISON reps alike. Here is a chilling statistic—during 30 years of conflict in Northern Ireland, more than 3,500 people lost their lives. In the 21 years since the Good Friday Agreement, more than 4,000 have died by suicide. Suicide awareness training is one of the UNISON NI courses with a waiting list as it is in such demand.

UNISON NI spoke in support for Composite F – Cuba. This motion applauds the achievement by the people of Cuba in liberating their country and sustaining it as a beacon of socialism over the last 60 years in the face of massive oppression by the USA and other reactionary forces.

The motion states that UNISON has always supported the Cuban revolution and our fellow public service workers and trade unions there, notably through our support for the Cuba Solidarity Campaign (CSC) and the smaller but no less vital Scottish Cuba Solidarity Campaign (SCSC).

UNISON NI hosted several fringe events throughout conference, including Solidarity with Palestinian workers and a film screening of with Palestinian photographer and filmmaker Mohammad Alazza.

Mohammad presented an illustrated talk on his work documenting the lives of refugees in Palestine, 71 years after the Palestinian Nakba. This project was launched with the support of the Royal Hospitals Branch & Down Education Branch.      

Patricia McKeown, the Regional Secretary of UNISON NI, joined conference attendees for the Nakba 71 event.


Day 3 - Thursday 20th June

On Thursday we debated current policy around exiting the EU. The General Secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Patricia King, addressed conference explaining the devastating effect that exiting the EU will have on the island of Ireland, North and South.

We have been working closely with Patricia and the team at ICTU in opposing a 'no deal' exit and fighting to protect our members across the island.

General Secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Patricia King, spoke at the NDC conference

We then debated our NI Priority 1 motion 96 on EU Exit and Protecting the Peace Process. As the Brexit cliff edge looms closer and the threat of a ‘no deal’ Brexit rises as the Tories pander to the Brexiteers, this motion highlights that we in Northern Ireland must have our peace agreement protected. We wanted to highlight that EU exit is not just about the border and trade, but is about the lives of our members, their rights and the future of the peace process. We called on conference to reiterate support for the ‘backstop’ and to campaign to protect our rights.

Gabrielle Carton, Derry Education Branch and NI regional delegate, spoke on the motion.

“My experience is the experience of everyone in my branch and indeed many of our members will live in Donegal but travel across the border every day to work in Derry. If anyone has ever been in a border area in Ireland they will know that you can cross over and back between North and South without even knowing that you’ve left the UK and entered the Republic. There are literally hundreds of crossing points and even on the main roads you will know only know you’ve left the UK when the signs change to kilometres per hour.

“But it wasn’t always like this. I remember the days of army checkpoints, customs posts, and searches of cars. I remember the violence and the fear whenever the news came on the radio every morning to tell us what had happened during the night.

“The fact that both the UK and Ireland were in the EU Single Market and Customs Union helped break down barriers on the island of Ireland as the peace process took hold.”

We then moved on to discuss NI Priority 9 motion 97 on Public Services and EU exit. This motion highlights the turmoil in Westminster around Brexit that gives no confidence that workers’ best interests will be served whatever deal is ahead.

The motion highlights the six tests UNISON has to evaluate what we would like to see included in any future EU-UK deal to protect our members’ rights and public services, which include preventing a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, upholding the Good Friday Agreement and respecting the devolution legislation of the Governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The motion called for the NEC to campaign for an EU exit deal that puts the protection and future growth of UK public services, equality and employment rights at its core. It called for a general election to break the parliamentary deadlock and for the NEC to campaign for a cast-iron guarantee from the UK government that its settled status programme for EU nationals will be honoured in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Thursday afternoon began with Motion 21 on towards a more inclusive LGBT  Self-organised group.  This motion recommended changing the name of the national SOG to LGBT+ in order to make the SOG fully inclusive and was successfully passed.

We then moved to consider a series of proposed Rule Amendments. Rule G Amendment 20 (Branch Officers) which ensures that Branch Secretaries, Chairpersons and Treasurers cannot double-up on any core posts. This has been the longstanding position in our region. We have always believed that proportionality and fair representation are best promoted by expanding branch committee roles to more UNISON reps rather than fewer. It is also an indicator of the democratic health of a branch.