Northern Ireland news

Trade unions group campaigning for Irish unity advocates new 'national health service'

Trade Unionists for a New and United Ireland at their Linen Hall Library launch earlier this week. Pictured are Former Siptu division organiser Christy McQuillan, Debbie Coyle of Unison, Mick Halpenny of Siptu and spokesman Ruairi Creaney. Picture by Mal McCann

A NEW group of trade unionists campaigning for Irish unity believe a national health service would be essential to the success of any new Ireland.

More than 150 labour activists from north and south have come together to form Trade Unionists for a New and United Ireland – or Tunui.

The new movement, which includes several union general secretaries from across the island, and Liz Deasy and Karen Gearon, veterans of the Dunnes Stores anti-apartheid strike in 1984, advocate a united Ireland with a new constitution that puts workers' rights at its heart.

The group was launched officially earlier this week with events in Dublin and Belfast. The Irish News yesterday carried a full page advert from Tunui, calling on trades unionists across Ireland to begin engaging in the debate for Irish unity.

Tunui spokesman and trade union official Ruairí Creaney said that with an overall membership on both sides of the border of more than 800,000, the movement was "Ireland's largest civic society organisation".

"If the trade union movement didn't get involved in the debate around Irish unity then its vision would be ignored in any new Ireland that emerges," he said.

"Working class people paid the price for not having an input into the shaping of the Republic a century ago but the labour movement isn't going to wait this time around – we will help lead the debate."

Mr Creaney said he "wouldn't ask anyone to join the southern state as it is now".

He said elements of civic nationalism had presented Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Simon Coveney as protecting nationalist rights in the north.

"But as trade unionists we know that the people in Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are the Irish Tories – they're not going to defend the rights of working people," he said.

"Likewise, healthcare is a human right that is denied by these parties."

He said the group believed in free healthcare at the point of delivery.

"We recognise that people in the north, especially from a unionist background, have real reservations about Irish unity, and I myself have reservations about the southern state because of the lack of social services and lack of healthcare," he said.

"We recognise that and that's why our group is called Trade Unionists for a New and United Ireland – we want a totally new Ireland – we want to take the best of both states and discard the worst of both."

At Tuesday's launch in Belfast, Mr Creaney said the voices of unionist workers must be heard in the debate on ending Irish partition.

"I don't think the unionist working class are as afraid of this issue as the media and others make it out to be," he said.

"It is patronising and dismissive of our unionist brothers and sisters."

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