Unions mourns death of George Kiely

  • 15 Jul 2021

NUJ members are united in grief at the untimely death, following a sudden illness, of union stalwart George Kiely.

George was vice chair and treasurer of Dublin PR and publications branch and had been working in a part-time basis as an organiser attached to the NUJ's Irish office. He had a richly deserved reputation as a tenacious negotiator with finely honed skills allied to a deep commitment to social justice and the maintenance of ethical standards.

As a joint member of NUJ and SIPTU George was highly regarded across the Irish trade union movement and had a distinguished record as a public servant with the Irish export board, Coras Tráchtála and later Enterprise Ireland.

His working life spanned journalism, public affairs, industrial development and the study of bioethics after an initial career in sales.

He served as a Senior Adviser in the Entrepreneurship Division of Enterprise Ireland, the state economic development agency.  George graduated in Modern Languages, Philosophy and Ethics from King’s College London and Business Studies from Liverpool University. He also took a MSc in Science Communication (Ethics) jointly at Queens University Belfast and Dublin City University.

Following a career in freelance journalism and industry in the UK, in 1980 he joined the Irish state economic development sector where he has worked in several capacities including two overseas postings in Iraq and Singapore. He also carried out a variety of assignments as a consultant for the World Bank in Asia.

He has worked extensively in the field of bioethics and took a year’s sabbatical in 2005 to work in Dublin City University as Visiting Researcher in Bioethics.

Due to Covid 19 restrictions and in line with public health guidelines a private funeral service will be held on Monday 19 July, however it can be viewed online.

Please see death notice for George with link to his funeral service on Monday afternoon - Death Notice of George Kiely

Tributes to George have been led by Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary who recalled his gifts of empathy, compassion, and friendship. She said:

"As a fellow Liverpudlian it was always a joy to meet George. He seemed to be in perpetual good humour and had a genuine interest in people. The NUJ extends sympathy to his beloved wife Sheila, to his sister Margaret and to the wider family circle and to his many friends and colleagues.

"George made an enormous contribution to the union as a branch officer, conference delegate and, more recently, as an organiser. He achieved results, especially in personal cases, through careful preparation, attention to detail and his powers of persuasion. He was charming and good company but was also fearless when defending the interests of members. Not surprisingly he was a devoted Liverpool fan."

Séamus Dooley, NUJ assistant general secretary, said:

"We are all devastated at the loss of George. As a friend and confidante he was one of the most collegiate activists I have had the pleasure to work with.

"George brought a depth of knowledge, experience, and wisdom to his various roles. His work in state development agencies brought him across the world and he had unique insights into business practices. He loved talking about his travels and about his early days as a contributor to the sports pages of the Liverpool Evening Echo.

"He wore his learning and expertise lightly. I still recall his amusement when a HR manager declined to provide criteria for redundancy selection. George doggedly insisted that the company was obliged to justify its decisions, the manager told him with an air of disdain that a union official could hardly be expected to understand the business case.

"George, who had represented Enterprise Ireland globally and served on two Dublin enterprise boards, replied that, not only could he understand their problems he might be able to find a solution which did not involve redundancies or layoffs.

"He was a former member of the NUJ ethics council and was a founding director of EBENI, the Irish Branch of the European Business Ethics Network.

"His untimely death deprives the NUJ of a loyal member, but the greater loss will be felt by Sheila, whom he married on St Patrick’s Day 1986 in Singapore.

"Their marriage spanned continents and embraced a vast range of interests; it is a cause of great regret that George will never get to host his long-promised Dublin P&PR outreach meeting in their home of which they were so proud in Strokestown, Co Roscommon.

"George was self-effacing and seldom occupied the front row, but he was a consistent presence at NUJ events.”

Ian McGuinness, NUJ Irish organiser and a former chair of Dublin P&PR branch said:

“George was genuinely one of life’s good guys: kind, generous, easy-going, funny and compassionate. Everybody I knew who met George instantly liked him, it was impossible not to do so. His compassion manifested itself, in the trade union sphere, as a determination to fight tooth and nail for our members. Over the years, he dealt with numerous personal and collective issues but, as any trade union official will tell you, the former are usually more difficult and emotionally draining, given that you are often dealing with individuals in great distress. George took on some of the most difficult personal cases for the NUJ and approached the members concerned in the same way that he dealt with everybody in life; with compassion, understanding and respect.

"The members didn’t just feel that they had a trade union official on their side, they had a comrade and colleague and, by the end of their case, a new friend.

"George also managed to defend workers without disrespecting those against whom he was arguing or debating. It was a mark of his character that many members of management and HR, who faced George across the negotiating table, ended up liking George even after he successfully went toe to toe with them. That isn’t a skill that can be taught to somebody, it was simply a fact that his personality was such that even the bosses would end up liking him.

"George always greeted Helen and Evelyn, the administrative team, with a big hug every time he called to the Irish HQ. The first thing he asked them was how they and their families were, and everybody in turn always asked after his wife Sheila, to whom he was so obviously devoted. Within seconds of arriving in the office, George would have Helen and Evelyn smiling and laughing, even on the most stressful of working days.

"As a colleague, George was a rock. He was reliable, confident, sincere, and had impeccable judgement when dealing with difficult situations. However, he was so much more than a wonderful work colleague to everybody in the NUJ Irish Office. He was a friend and confidant. He will be sorely missed. George Kiely is irreplaceable.”

Siobhan Holliman, joint Cathaoirleach, NUJ Irish executive council, said

"I am deeply saddened by the sudden loss of our dear colleague and friend. On a personal level, George was exceptionally kind, unassuming and always sensitive towards people's personal and professional lives. He rarely missed an opportunity to compliment or congratulate and I will remember him with great fondness."

Neil Ward, chair of NUJ Dublin P&PR branch paid tribute on behalf of the branch:

"George Kiely was a stalwart of the NUJ and a dear valued friend who was widely respected. As vice-chair and treasurer of the Dublin P&PR branch he remained an influential and trusted figure. We are truly shocked and saddened by his passing.

"His dry wit, combined with a keen intellect and pragmatism was an irreplaceable blend of personality and skill that enhanced our work and enlivened our social life. George will be deeply missed and fondly remembered."

Tributes have also been paid by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

Owen Reidy, assistant general secretary of the ICTU, said:

"I worked very closely with George from 2003 to 2006 when he was the SIPTU chairman of the Forfas/Enterprise Ireland/IDA section committee in the State and Related Agencies branch. He was an excellent trade unionist, hugely committed to protecting and enhancing the conditions of his members. But most of all he was a really good person and colleague. I very much enjoyed my time working with George - it was always good to see him after this period at SIPTU conferences and when he was working with the NUJ to catch up on union matters, politics and football! On behalf of the ICTU we express our deepest sympathies to George’s wife Sheila, to his sister and to NUJ colleagues and friends."

Ronan Brady,  IEC member and a long-time friend, said: 

“George was a really sincere friend to anyone in trouble and anyone trying to change things for the better.  You never walked alone when George was around.”

Gerry Curran,  NEC member and former Dublin P&PR chair, said: 

“George was a thoroughly decent top class man, and a friend. He will be sorely missed.”

Paul Holleran, former Scottish organiser said:  

“George was a great guy, good journalist, fine trade unionist and proud Scouse Liverpool fan.”

Luke Byrne, Mediahuis Ireland (IMN) chapel FOC, conveyed the sympathy of members at Independent House.

“What terrible news. George was a gentleman and a great trade unionist. My sincere condolences to his family.”

John Fray, former NUJ deputy general secretary said: 

“The NUJ has lost a fine trade unionist and a true comrade.”

NUJ staff Helen Taylor and Evelyn Hannigan said:

"As the administration staff in the Irish office, we always found George a joy to work with. He was an absolute gentleman and his 'Greetings, my dear' accompanied by a hug whenever he arrived into the office could cheer us up on even the most stressful day. For such an unassuming man, we hope he knows the great impact he had on us. Everybody loved George. You couldn’t but love him! You certainly never felt alone when George was around. Deepest sympathy to Sheila and all feeling his loss."  

George Kiely is pictured with Jim Eadie, the first Irish organiser of the NUJ at a party in Liberty Hall to mark Jim’s 90th birthday.

Return to listing