UNISON vowed to support members in Northern Ireland and the union’s structures in the nation to defend the Good Friday Agreement and work for human rights, when its national delegate conference opened for business in Brighton this morning.
Motions on delivering on the promise of the agreement, and protecting human rights and equality in Northern Ireland were at the top of the agenda as delegates began their discussions.
In the year that marks the 20th anniversary of the agreement, Gabrielle Carton of Northern Ireland UNISON, told delegates that the union “has always fought for a just peace, not just the absence of violence.
“20 years ago, we were decades ahead of the rest of the UK on rights,” she noted, “now we’re far behind.”
The 1998 agreement promised much, but she said “the years that should have been used to lay the foundations of an inclusive society have been squandered”.
That was a point also raised by UNISON Scotland speaker Eileen Duffy, who recalled “the optimism with which the human rights provisions of the agreement were welcomed by members”.
But “the failure of successive UK governments” to carry out their duties under the agreement, meant that rights which were basic elsewhere – such as equal marriage and abortion, are denied in Northern Ireland.
Executive speaker Lucia McKeever, a former president from Northern Ireland, added: “We as a union should be proud of the role we played, with our brothers and sisters in Northern Ireland, in campaigning for the Good Friday Agreement.
“We should never lose sight of the fact that the agreement belongs to the people of Ireland, north and south.”
As Alastair Long, also from the NEC, reminded delegates: “Human rights and equality do not belong to one community or another in Northern Ireland.”
Conference agreed, unanimously agreeing motions which committed the union to “work wherever it can for the realisation of rights in Northern Ireland, the restoration of devolved government within a framework of equality and human rights, and the protection of the peace process”.