seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Loyalists Protest Sinn Féin Minister’s Refusal to Fly Union Flag

On Friday, August 4, 2000, Loyalists protest after Northern Ireland health minister Bairbre de Brún, a member of Sinn Féin, refuses to fly the Union flag outside her Belfast offices to mark the 100th birthday of Britain’s Queen Mother. First Minister David Trimble had written to the Northern Ireland secretary requesting that the Union Flag should be flown on all government buildings.

About 20 people take part in the picket organised by the loyalist Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) as the minister leaves the Department of Health offices on Friday morning.

In Bangor, County Down, a group of loyalist protesters put up a Union Flag outside the offices of Sinn Féin education minister Martin McGuinness at his department’s Rathgael House headquarters. Another group of PUP protesters demonstrate at government buildings in Adelaide Street in Belfast city centre, where the Union Flag is flying above two of the government buildings in the street.

Protestors hold up posters showing the faces of de Brun and McGuinness printed on a Union Flag. The posters also show the face of the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) agriculture minister Bríd Rodgers.

The PUP’s Billy Hutchinson criticises Sinn Féin ministers over their refusal to fly the Union Flag. “These people cannot even recognise that we have a monarch who’s 100 years old and they can’t even fly the flag, just because they think that everything that is British is no good,” he says. “These people forget that they have lived in Britain all their lives, most of them. They weren’t even born at Partition (of Ireland).” He adds that Sinn Féin’s ministers should accept that they are “British ministers in a British state.”

However, Sinn Féin’s Alex Maskey condemns the protests as “intimidating and sectarian.” He says Sinn Féin’s position on the flying of flags is designed not to cause offence. “Where British cultural and political symbols are invoked in public life, equivalent Irish cultural and political symbols should be given equal prominence. Where this cannot be agreed, no such symbols should fly,” he says.

The issue of flags has been emotive and divisive in Northern Ireland. The Sinn Féin ministers anger unionists on May 2 by ordering their civil servants not to fly the flag as part of the Coronation Day celebrations. The row reaches a head when the anti-agreement Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) attempts to guarantee the flying of the Union Flag with an assembly motion in June. However, the party fails to win enough support for their motion to be passed.

There are about 13 days in the year when the Union Flag is flown on designated government offices in the United Kingdom. Government buildings across the UK – from Whitehall ministries to town council offices are expected to raise the Union Flag on these days.

It is the second time in a week that the health minister has run into controversy. On Wednesday, August 2, she is confronted by angry loyalist protesters during an official visit to a County Antrim hospital. Around 20 demonstrators picket the Lagan Valley Hospital in Lisburn, while she is on a visit to see a GP scheme as part of a programme to learn about aspects of the health service. The tyres on the minister’s car are let down and an egg is thrown. De Brun is forced to leave the complex by another door.

(From: “Trimble joins Union Flag row,” BBC News, news.bbc.co.uk, Friday, August 4, 2000 | Pictured: Protesters picket the Department of Health)


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Irish Nurse’s Organization Votes to Reactivate Industrial Action

Two hundred delegates of the 24,000-strong Irish Nurses Organisation (INO) nurse’s union vote unanimously on October 27, 1998 to reactivate industrial action if their claims are not met. The delegates gather at the Burlington Hotel in Dublin.

The more difficult task is to modify the pay demands made by the State’s 2,500 ward sisters. The INO executive calls for senior ward sisters to receive salaries of £31,000 a year, or £6,400 more than the current maximum. However, one of the INO branch amendments calls for a new maximum of £35,000, the same salary as directors of nursing in major hospitals.

The conference is called to report on progress to date in talks, spell out objectives and obtain a mandate for strike action if negotiations break down. There is little progress to report. Talks at the Labour Relations Commission the previous week failed to resolve claims on extra long-service increments for staff nurses, or better rates of pay for ward sisters. Both issues are now referred to the Labour Court, which is already dealing with allowances for extra professional qualifications held by nurses.

The Labour Court is due to hear submissions from the INO, other nursing unions and health service managers on the qualifications issue the following day. About half of the State’s staff nurses have such qualifications, worth £347 a year. The union wants them re-rated at 10% of basic salary, worth up to £2,200 a year for staff nurses at the top of the scale. Despite the negotiating gap, this issue is less difficult to resolve than the others, because it is less likely to lead to follow-on claims from other public service unions.

The union is looking for new long-service increments at the top of the current 15-year scale, which will add 18% to basic salary. As 80% of nurses never graduate to ward sister level, the INO argues that a nurse with 22 years’ service should be earning £25,000.

It is also seeking a minimum 10% pay differential between the maximum amount staff nurses can earn and the pay for the new Clinical Nurse Managers I, recommended by the Nursing Commission. The differential for Clinical Nurse Managers II should be 15% and that for Clinical Nurse Managers III should be 25%.

The union argues that any smaller differentials will make it unattractive for staff nurses to accept promotion and forgo the opportunity for unsocial hours premiums. Recent offers from the management on overtime pay could make promotion even less attractive.

A week earlier the nursing unions defer a nationwide overtime ban only after management agrees to introduce a national framework for overtime payments. Ominously, the concession comes after an overtime ban was introduced in Cork. For the first time nurses nationwide will be paid time-and-a-half, or double time for overtime.

But the unions also demand permanent part-time nursing posts be introduced, as a means of combating the increasing nursing shortage. That there is a shortage of staff nurses is the one issue unions, health service managers and the Department of Health are agreed on. It is severest in Dublin hospitals, where over 300 beds have closed.