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Tributes paid to NUJ stalwart Eddie Barrett

21 January 2017

With great sadness the NUJ learned today of the death of former NUJ president, member of honour and longstanding activist Eddie Barrett.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said: “Eddie is a huge loss to our union and movement and for those of us proud to call him a friend. His death leaves a big hole. The span of his activism and great union deeds in Ireland and the UK speaks for itself – wherever Eddie found himself working, his pride in his union and commitment to its principles made him its loyal servant and a man who never shirked from a battle, however difficult. Professionally, he was a brilliant journalist and skilled media operator.

“But it’s Eddie the friend and drinking companion that I will miss most – his stories, his incisive wit that could reduce me to tears of mirth, great tales, brilliant company and his kindness. Eddie’s advice and wise counsel have served me well on countless occasions and I will miss it and him hugely.”

The NUJ has passed on deepest condolences to Eddie’s family. Funeral details will be announced when they are confirmed.

Tributes continue to come in to the union and will be added to the website.

Eddie's citation as NUJ member of honour at DM2014

Eddie in action as a young reporter

Tim Dawson, NUJ president, said: “Eddie's charisma shone out in a packed room long before you were introduced. He had a beaming, expansive personality as well as a sharp mind and a facility for expression. Returning to DM after an absence of some years, he took to the rostrum to upbraid a member of the National Executive – it was me.

"'Clothing fashions have certainly changed since my early days at these meetings,’ he started. ‘When last I was here, I believe I was wearing a sleeveless jumper – I was actually quite famous for it. Delegates used to refer to me as "a tankie", presumably because of my top,’ he continued.

“Doubtless the argument that followed was compelling – it certainly persuaded delegates to back him and not the NEC. It was the warmth of his humour as much as anything else that got people on his side. Winning arguments as well as winning over your opponents is a rare skill, but one of which Eddie was the master.”

Séamus Dooley, assistant general secretary, said: “Eddie was a man of the utmost integrity. He was fiercely loyal, to his family, his friends, his union, to the principles of the labour movement. He began his journalistic career in Dublin and is remembered with affection and admiration. On joining RTE he played a significant role in Dublin Broadcasting branch and worked tirelessly to promote cross union cooperation, through the RTE Trade Union Group.

“In 1974 he was instructed that, in his coverage of the trial of British heiress and IRA member, Rose Dugdale, for the theft of Alfred Beit’s paintings at Russborough House in Wicklow, he could not report her remarks from the dock. As a result he refused to make the broadcast, convened a branch meeting and the NUJ blacked coverage of the courts for about a week until RTE agreed that court coverage would not be subjected to Section 31 restrictions [censorship orders which prevented broadcasts of or reports of interviews with members of Sinn Fein and other proscribed organisations].

“Eddie was a formidable politician: dogged, strategic, determined and took part in many internal NUJ battles. Eddie did so with grace and charm, combined with a quick wit and unfailing humour.

“He was an admirer of trade union leader, Jim Larkin, and in 2013 took part in various events to mark the centenary of the 1913 Lock Out. At the Larkin Hedge School in Liberty Hall he relished the poems, songs, music and speeches as we celebrated a man who shared Eddie's global vision and abiding commitment to the cause of labour.”

Barry McCall, NEC member for Ireland, said: “Eddie Barrett was a brilliant journalist, a great trade unionist, a wonderful man, and the best friend anyone could wish for. It would be impossible to overstate the contribution Eddie made to the NUJ and the wider trade union movement in both Britain and Ireland during the past 50 years. As a branch officer and NEC member he helped organise branches and chapels throughout Ireland before moving to London where he remained a prominent figure in the NUJ.

“Eddie was also a first-class journalist. He started his career at The Irish Times in 1965 before moving to the national broadcaster, RTE, a few years later. His courageous reporting on events in Northern Ireland such as Bloody Sunday is still remembered and he became the first RTE reporter to break the infamous Section 31 censorship orders. He continued his broadcasting career in London in the 1980s before moving into PR as communications director with the Transport Union (Unite).

“More recently, the NUJ benefited directly from Eddie’s sharp editing skills when he stood in for the editor of The Journalist while she was on maternity leave.

“All who were fortunate enough to be able to call Eddie their friend will miss him deeply but will be comforted in the knowledge that their lives were so enriched for having known him.”

Chris Frost, chair of NUJ Ethics Council, said: “Eddie was a union stalwart and a wise counsel and will be missed by us all.”

Frances Rafferty, NUJ campaigns and communication officer, said: “Eddie was a wonderful colleague and a great friend. He was superb company and his executive meetings at the Harrison pub were always a great pleasure. He was a tremendously loyal member of the union and a great fount of knowledge of its history and workings. I shall miss him enormously.”

James Doherty, NEC member for Scotland, said: “Eddie was a legend and like so many true heroes of our union, understated and filled with humility. A brilliant journalist and wonderful man. A terrible loss.”

Pádraig Yeats, Dublin, said: “I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of Eddie Barrett, a very old friend and comrade. I first met him when we both served on the Republic of Ireland Industrial Council in the 1970s and early 1980s. We worked very closely together on many issues and I was his campaign manager when he ran for the presidency of the NUJ in 1983.

"He was not only a fine journalist and extremely able trade union leader but a very principled one. That he failed to be re-elected to represent Irish members on the NUJ executive the following year was due to his refusal to support the campaign for the passing of the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution. He instead defended a woman's right to choose, not only because it was union policy but also because he believed it was the right thing to do. His stand did much to redeem the union's honour in Ireland at the time and is something of which we should all be proud. It was thanks to people such as Eddie that we live in a more open and inclusive society today.”

Eoin Ronayne, former NUJ Irish Secretary and Dublin Broadcasting branch chair, said: "Eddie was a trade unionist to his very core. On joining RTE from The Irish Times he immersed himself in trade union affairs at the national broadcaster leading from the front in the Dublin Broadcasting Branch and playing a central role in the work of the RTE Trade Union Group of Unions.

"At a time of great upheaval on the streets of the North he was acutely conscious of the critical role of journalism. He staunchly resisted at every turn the censorship of broadcast journalists imposed by Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act. He left a legacy and reputation for direct action which has been a hard act to follow. A comrade who stands head and shoulders above us all."

Anita Halpin, former NUJ president, said: "Eddie was a dear and loyal friend. I first met him at LBC when he interviewed my Kevin when he was standing as a CP candidate in the May 1979 general election. I met up with him again a few years later in the NUJ arena at a special delegate meeting called when the union had a long-running dispute at the local Wimbledon paper, then owned by David Dimbleby. Our friendship grew when Eddie moved into PR at branch meetings and afterwards in the pub). Deepest love to his family. In comradeship and sorrow."

Chris Kaufman: "Here's to you Eddie; cherished friend, comrade and colleague."

Francis Beckett, former NUJ president, "Eddie Barrett was a rare thing – a committed socialist who talked and wrote with fluency and humour. He had great success early in his life with RTE, but in the end television success was not what he wanted: he wanted to help make a better world, and prized most the work he did for the NUJ and the TGWU. Nonetheless, my happiest memories of him are as a journalist. He was a fast, fluent writer whose copy needed very little subbing, and a natural broadcaster. After his NUJ presidency he and I ran some media training sessions – for trade unions, local government, and (mostly) the Commission for Racial Equality. He suggested that at the end of every course, we run a studio discussion in which he would be the presenter and I would play an angry right-wing Conservative councillor. He would ever so delicately tilt the scales in my favour, and see how our students coped.  It was a brilliant idea: great practice, but also wonderful fun, and everyone left laughing – although it still amazes me that none of our students ever hit either of us."

Photographer Mark Thomas: "Eddie was a generous spirit, a kind and compassionate man. He was always interested in my work and family life. He loved to laugh and had strong opinions about politics and injustices. I will always remember his beaming smile, his positive attitude and his infectious laugh."

John Barsby, NUJ honorary general treasurer, said: "Eddie was a true member of honour in everything he did and in the way he was always ready to help others. His contribution to the NUJ for so many years, including his role as president, was remarkable. A good man who will be missed enormously."

Christine Buckley, editor of the NUJ magazine The Journalist, said: "I first met Eddie when I began covering unions for The Times. He was part of a circle of union press officers and industrial correspondents with whom I had enormous fun and from whom I learned a lot. Eddie was friendly, funny, welcoming, bright, witty and, needless to say, great company. A former head of communications at the Transport and General Workers' Union, Eddie went on to do work for many unions. He was always in demand.

"I got to know him the best though through the NUJ. When I became editor of The Journalist, the union was without any press officers. Eddie filled the breach with dynamism and commitment and in between his busy work he helped me on The Journalist, doing some subbing and providing much inspiration and knowledge. He had a creative eye for headlines, impeccable grammar and a passion for his union. I'm proud to have worked with him and to have become his friend. You don't meet people of Eddie's qualities every day and our world is a poorer place for his passing." 

Mary Maher, NUJ member of honour, said: "I remember the first day Eddie Barrett walked into The Irish Times news room. He looked like a good-natured teenager, easy-going, witty, full of fun. By the end of his first week it was clear that he was also passionate about the importance of journalism and committed to the politics of the trade union movement. He stayed with us for about three years, cheerful, energetic, great company, a first-rate journalist. We elders forgot he was so young. No wonder RTE wanted him, and off he went on his career, dedicated to the best always. His death so young is a tragedy, his memory will stay with us permanently."

Alan Jones said: "Eddie was a true giant of our industry and I was so proud to have known him. My earliest recollection was as a junior reporter in North Wales, when Eddie was NUJ President and visited a branch meeting. He was the most famous person I had met up to that point in my career! It was a huge thrill to hear him speak – and an even better experience to share a few drinks with him in the pub later. The fact that I still remember it shows what an impact he had on me. I was lucky enough to share many more meetings/drinks with Eddie, and all my memories of him are wonderfully happy ones."

NUJ member of honour and former Irish press ombudsman, John Horgan, said: "Eddie Barrett and I joined the Irish Times within a few weeks of each other. He left after a couple of years to go to RTE, but even that short acquaintance was enough for me to appreciate his extraordinary energy, ability and humour. I think the Irish Times missed the boat in failing to hold onto him, but the wider shores of journalism, and indeed the NUJ itself, were the ultimate beneficiaries. There must have been almost half a century between the last time I met him in Dublin and the next time I met him at the NUJ ADM a year or two back: but  the warmth of his greeting, and the immediacy with which that old acquaintance was re-kindled, spoke volumes about his personality and the depth and strength of his character. To lose Eddie is a sharp reminder of the importance of what he did for our profession, and of the need to continually refresh the spirit that animated him."

Tags: , eddie barrett, member of honour, obituary, rte