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No role for NUJ in Irish referendum campaign

22 May 2012

The NUJ will play no part in the Fiscal Treaty referendum campaign in the Republic of Ireland. That was the outcome of a special meeting of the union's Irish Executive Council (IEC) at the weekend.

Members considered the response of branches to a proposal that the NUJ issue a statement prior to the vote on 31 May.

At an IEC meeting last month, Paula Geraghty, NEC member unsuccessfully proposed that the IEC could call on members to vote No in the referendum. Cathaoirleach Gerry Curran ruled that motion out of order.

The Cathaoirleach ruled that campaigning in a referendum campaign was contrary to the objectives of the union. He said that ADM 2003 had instructed the NEC to conduct a ballot, which would have led to the inclusion of "political objects" to the union's aims. A ballot was carried out in 2004. The proposal was rejected and the IEC could not depart from union policy.

However, the IEC agreed to circulate a motion for discussion at branches that drew attention to the impact of austerity policy and to the referendum. The Irish Secretary invited branch officers to circulate the motion, to call meetings and to consult with members in advance of the special IEC meeting.

On Saturday, Gerry Curran reported that only one branch, Derry & North West, was in favour of making any statement. Four branches, Dublin P&PR, Dublin Freelance and Dublin (National Newspapers), and Irish South West had discussed the draft motion. All four reported that members were opposed to the IEC taking any public stance on the referendum.

IEC members from the Midlands and West of Ireland consulted members directly via email and telephone. Both reported strong resistance to the NUJ taking any stance. IEC Treasurer Mary Curtin reported discussions at two RTÉ Newsroom chapel at which members vigorously opposed any statement on the referendum.

The Irish Secretary said that the principle reasons given by branches were a strong belief that any statement would compromise union members in their work as journalists covering the campaign. The involvement of the NUJ in any political campaign was strongly opposed by a significant majority of members.

The tone of the motion had been deemed patronising by a number of members. Members in the Midlands, in particular, expressed resentment at being advised on what they should consider when voting. RTÉ members believed the motion compromised their position as employees of the public service broadcaster.

Séamus Dooley, NUJ Irish Secretary, said that the outcome should not be interpreted as support for austerity measures. A number of branches supported the ICTU anti-austerity campaign, but believed the motion involved the union in a political campaign.

Eamonn McCann, NEC member, strongly disagreed with the argument that adopting a public position on the referendum was contrary to rule or to the interests of the union membership. Members should be able to differentiate between their interests and their professional work.

Séamus Dooley said:

"The strong feedback was largely based on the traditional view of members that the NUJ, because of the nature of our membership, should not take part in political campaigns. There was particularly strong opposition to issuing a statement during a referendum campaign. IEC members represent the views of the electorate and members were diligent in consulting braches and chapels on this issue."

Tags: , iec, politics, derry north west ireland branch, dublin freelance branch, dublin p&pr branch, dublin branch, irish south west branch, referendum ireland