The battle for equality in Ireland - Seamus Dooley NUJ

19 Jun 2019

Section of 1985 May Day March png - Credit Kevin Doyle

The trade union movement has been central to the battle for equality in Ireland and the role of our movement in the achievement of gay rights has tended to be overlooked.

Pioneering figures like Kieran Rose and the late Chris Robson worked through the trade union movement and Kieran Rose, being a proud Corkonian and equally proud trade unionist, has long emphasised the role of the Cork Council of Trade Unions as a launch pad for some of the earliest campaigns around decriminalisation.

It is worth noting that the Congress Education and Training committee held a significant seminar in November 1985, an event which records suggest did not exactly have the wholehearted support of the then General Secretary Donal Nevin. Congress published a ground breaking document in June 1987, Lesbian and Gay Rights in the Workplace, Guidelines for Negotiators.  The significance of this development cannot be overstated: decriminalisation did not occur until 1993.

Congress Assistant General Secretary Patricia O’Donovan deserves great credit for her work in the broad field of equality but her commitment to gay rights was of particular significance. The purpose of our 2019 event is to remember the many activists and unions who contributed to the struggle, from equality in the workplace to decriminalisation to civil partnership and marriage equality.  

On every step of the journey trade union members were involved, both through individual unions and trades council to the Executive Council and the organised group, Trade Unionists for Marriage Equality.  It would be wrong to pretend that there was always overwhelming support and at times there was, in my experience, a sort of silent resistance, especially at Biennial Delegate Conferences where motions were “tolerated” rather than warmly embraced but over time LGBT rights became a mainstream concern and the wholehearted support of so many trade unionists for the marriage equality campaign and for Trans rights were of major significance.  

I look forward to hearing Kieran talk about the past and hope we can encourage the beginning of a celebration of our movement’s history but also to learning the lessons of the past so we can be part of making history in Northern Ireland.

Union Pride – Celebrating our Past, Building a better future

Join us for a celebration of the role of the trade union movement in the struggle for LGBT+ equality in Ireland and an exploration of how the Irish trade union movement can help achieve marriage equality in Northern Ireland.

To mark Pride Month Congress is hosting a conversation in the appropriate setting of the Books Upstairs café 17 D'Olier Street, Dublin  Wednesday 26 June,  2019 from to 7.15pm.