Trade Unions criticise SF’s Mitchel McLaughlin

On Radio Ulster’s Talkback [near the end of the programme] Trade Union representatives, including Peter Bunting of ICTU, criticised Sinn Féin’s Mitchel McLaughlin after he called for civil servants to refuse to process bills for water charges and for postal workers to refuse to deliver the bills – a suggestion first aired, I think, on Slugger BlogTalkRadio last night. Adds as several commenters have pointed out, and one of the Trade Union reps mentioned on TalkBack, the £70million seven-year contract for the provision of the customer billing and collections system for the NI Water Service was awarded to the Xansa-led Crystal Alliance consortium in January last year More on Mitchel McLaughlin’s comments here

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  • BonarLaw

    sorry to repeat myself but as I said on another thread:

    Did I just hear Mitchell McLaughlin on Talkback call for postal workers not to process Water Charge bills?

    The Post Office Act 1953 is very clear on this- a PO official either opening or delaying mail is committing a criminal offence and in a Crown Court faces a maximum of 2 years imprisonment. Mitchell should ask some of his legal friends about his criminal liability for incitement.

    This is a clear act of criminality. Let’s hear a DUP view on how this inputs into their assessment of the Shinners’ fitness for government.

  • Shore Road Resident

    Plus, aren’t the bills being processed by a private company?

  • Bob wilson

    But Bonar surely as long as Sinn Fein also call on the shift and effective implementation of police and courts action against such criminals politically there is no problem 😉
    Sinn Fein only said they would support the courts and police they never said they would stop encouraging people to break it!

    On the incitement point – I hope you’re right

  • That would be a great idea for the postmen not to deliver the bills. I have this bad feeling that we’ll all end up in debt though if we don’t pay the charges.

  • Shane O’Neill

    Tiocfaidh Ar Lies

    Sinn Fein is telling outright lies over its position on water charging.

    The parties election literature says: “While others negotiated the Reinvestment and Reform Initiative that led to water charges, Sinn Fein consistently opposed it”

    This is simply untrue.

    The Reinvestment and reform Initiative was agreed by the Assembly committee in 2002 chaired by Sinn Fein’s Francie Molloy.

    The committee decision was then passed by all the ministers in the Assembly, including Baire de Brun and Martin McGuinness.

  • DK

    Could open a can of worms – maybe he will start demanding that postmen refuse to deliver SDLP literature. I suppose though they are civil servants and they need manners put on them.

    Poor postmen – and the water bill is likely in a plain envelope – how will they identify them without opening them first?

    Another well-thought out plan. SF should just stick to blaming the Brits for everything – seems that anything else is beyond them

  • interested

    Just sounds like a badly thought out sound-bite from the Shinners.

    Particularly poor when other parties are putting forward real suggestions as to how to solve the problem.

  • Plum Duff

    Stall the wedding a minute. How about cutting a letterbox-shaped slot in your blue wheelie bin (Belfast, blue for paper, etc) and let the postman deposit the water bill there. Then it would be collected by the binmen for recirculation.

    Mock not, ye cynics. It has worked so far with the election flyers!

  • kensei

    Actually, if you really wanted to stop the water rates, a well organised and supported campaign of civil disobedience would do wonder. So, postmen don’t deliver the bills, civil service don’t process them, people don’t pay them and people block up the streets. Heck, the odd riot would help, if the Poll Tax is anything to go by.

    But, I forgot. This place only shuts down if people don’t get down a road, not if we get shafted over bills.

  • fair_deal

    If the public servants refuse to do this will this be taken as proof that they are ill-mannered anti-republicans?

  • Firstly,

    A point of order:

    Civil servants are NOT actually administering the new Water Rates. This process has effectively been privatised to a company called Echo (based in Capitol House in Upper Queen Street). Echo area a division of Crystal Alliance, an English-based company who administer water charges for South Staffordshire.

    All staff administering the new water charges have their salaries pais directly by the English parent company.

    I have a friend who works there, and at present he says they receive only a miniscule number of phone calls about the new water charges, despite the over-inflated hype by the press and media about water charges.

    The public arent nearly as concerned about these charges as is being portrayed within political and media circles.

  • confused

    Hold on a minute. Isn’t it the unions calling on people not to pay the bills? Surely this is supported by the union members? So whats the problem? Asking a union member not to handle the bills is no worse than those union members asking the rest of us not to pay them.

    And isn’t it also the case that SF have said they’re now calling on the other parties to join with them in a new Assembly to scrap the tax?

    Seems fair enough to me.

  • Crataegus

    the £70million seven-year contract for the provision of the customer billing and collections system for the NI Water Service was awarded to the Xansa-led Crystal Alliance consortium in January last year

    Just think if it was an integral part of the rates bill we would save £70 million.

  • Confused,

    You have actually confused me with that one…!

    The Echo/company based in Capitol House who administer these water rates do NOT actually have any trade union members!!

  • I Wonder

    Actually, a major element of the bill is a charge (dividend) levied on the water company by Treasury.

    If Treasury waived that, it’d cute tens of millions from the money we apparently have to pay. As it stands, our bills will NOT simply go to local water and sewerage systems, but to pay the UK Exchequer for the assets transferred to the company.

  • david

    Sounds like Mitchel is scraping the barrel with this Election stunt. I mean, his he serious? does he really expect postal workers to risk getting a criminal record? The Shinners are sounding desperate in a world away from the bomb and bullet.

    Votail SF my arse!

  • shamo

    Peter Bunting has great politics and is surely to the left and republican. That he has come to criticise Mitchel McL speaks volumes. Just a strategic blunder though; it would be silly to “shoot the messenger” in this case. This should be a confrontation between the public and British government. Getting workers doing their job in the way obfuscates the issue and actually lets the British Govt off the hook. If unionists and nationalists were to be fined, say, for non-payment, would that not serve the cause of uniting the people?

  • sevenmagpies

    “I have a friend who works there, and at present he says they receive only a miniscule number of phone calls about the new water charges, despite the over-inflated hype by the press and media about water charges.”

    If people aren’t going to pay, why on earth would they be ‘phoning about the charges?

    They’re more likely to be contacting the consumer council to ask what happens if they don’t pay.

  • stillconfused

    So its okay for the unions to advise people not to pay, and get themselves a record, but not okay to ask members of the same unions to not process the bills?

    No wonder the unions aren’t happy with Mitchel. He’s just shown that behind all the talk there is precious little substance.

    Its obvious that the only way to get rid of these bills is to get the assembly established to scrap them.

  • shamo


    My point is that it would be unfair to ask a small section of workers to bear the consequences of agitation on an issue which concerns all workers. Solidarity is what some propose, scape-goating is what Mitchel has asked for. People who want to pay the bills would be apoplectic at the postmen/women, and a much broader issue would end up being a myopic witch hunt.

    As for your suggestion that the Assembly is the best way forward, time will tell, but I’m more on the side of people power than parliamentary power, in light of previous experiences of a dysfunctional parliament. The only problem with mass non-payment is that, if the campaign fails, some people will end up in court.

  • jerryp

    Asking postal workers to refuse to deliver mail is asking them to get themselves sacked. Still, I suppose it’s progress from when the Provo’s were murdering census takers !

  • brendan,belfast

    Mitchell is a disaster for Sinn Fein! he has fronted SF’s crazy economic policy for some time and now this. He failed in Foyle and he looks set to fail in South Antrim. that will be the end of him.

  • aisling?

    We all should demand the installation of water meters outside every home. And if the meters were to happen to get repeatedly vandalised in the middle of the night, and if each one of those acts of vandalism was reported to the peelers, that would amount to a crime wave, and one of the things that has an impact upon the domestic rates charged in any area is the level of crime (yes, the higher the crime levels, the lower the rates!!). Yes, an all-out campaign for water meters and we can kill two birds with one stone. Sounds stupid, but its completely logical

  • Nevin

    Xansa and the NHS

    Xansa FAQs

    Lord Wilson of Dinton – non-Executive Director Secretary of the Cabinet and Head of the Home Civil Service in 1998 ….. hmmmmm

  • Reader

    aisling: Sounds stupid, but its completely logical
    And as a consequence real criminals would be getting away with burglary, rape, drunk driving and all the rest. Meanwhile, as reduced quality of life turns into lower house values, the councils will simply raise the rates to collect exactly the amount of money they first thought of.
    Sounds stupid, but…

  • Red Mist

    What a bare faced cheek Sinn Fein have on this issue.

    Firstly, they were members of the committees and the executive that gave the go-ahead for the possibility of us getting stung with this double tax.

    Then, they are calling on postal workers not to deliver the bills and civil servants not to process them. All the while SF have come out firmly against any non-payment campaign.

    Raymond McCartney running for MLA in Derry released a statement where he was scathing about the non-payment campaign. Amongst other piss poor arguments he said that the campaign would heap financial misery on the poorest. Raymond and SF just don’t get it. The water charge IS the financial misery being heaped upon the poorest.

    SF is way behind its natural constituency on this issue. I live in the Republican heartland of West Belfast and have been a faithful Republican since my teens. I am fully behind the non-payment campaign as are very many others. SF are getting LOADS of ear ache at the doors regarding this issue. The rhetoric and the practice are coming apart at the seams. SF voters cannot believe that SF has not naturally backed the non-payment campaign.

    So now we have Mitchell advising workers to break the law, lose their jobs, and have that financial misery heaped upon their families. Whilst SF policy is advising the public to pay their bills and not fall victim to this non-payment campaign which will only get them in trouble. It is nothing short of cowardly and two faced to advise workers to take risks that Mitchell and co are not prepared to take themselves.

    Watch this space with interest. SF is being backed into a corner in their home ground. Their advice on the double tax is getting more bizarre by the day. They can’t win on this one now. They backed the wrong horse at the off.

    If they continue to oppose the non-payment campign when many of their constituents are not paying and being hauled before the courts they are sunk.

    If they realise that the campaign has taken off and try and reverse their position they will be seen as hypocrates whom are trying to do an about turn and support something which is now popular.

    I have been a SF voter for 16 years. Not this time. Backing an Anti-Water Charges candidate. At least he stands for something.

  • Elk

    Must come to Mc Laughlin’s defence:

    That he is merely asking the Unions to at least bear some of the responsibility and burden of civil disobedience that they are calling on householders to partake in – otherwise surely they are hypocrites – how can they expect us to do it, if they won’t do the equivilant themselves?! Furthermore, is it now the case the U.K. Government has made legal arrangements for non-payment which will hit householders?

  • Red Mist



    Mitchell McLaughlin is scapegoating the Unions to deflect the inaction of his own party.

    The Unions cannot command their members to boycott anything to do with water tax.

    They can simply outline their position and do the same as they are asking others to do…not pay. Why should they be subject to anymore or less burden in this fight?

    Why is Mitchell scapegoating workers? If I was a postie I would be mightly pissed off. Does that mean that when the bills arrive the posties are going to be subject to scorn?

    It is Mitchell in fact that is asking people to do things that he is not prepared to do (nothing new there).

    He is asking workers to take unilateral action whilst he is acutally recommending people pay the bills. What a coward. Is this a ploy that will allow SF to look radical? Well i’m not paying my bills but if I go to court i’ll balme the posties for not delivering them.

    Really Elk, your attempt to defend Mitchell is commendable but nonethelss pathetic.

  • jeep55

    Red Mist

    It is Mitchell in fact that is asking people to do things that he is not prepared to do (nothing new there).

    Any truth in the diabolical rumour that in Derry SF circles he’s known as ‘the draft dodger’?!!!

  • Red Mist


    wouldn’t know.

  • Elk

    First, Red Mist, I’m not that cynical, and perhaps I am indeed politically niave…

    Second, at no point has he called for payment by householders; commanded the Unions to order members not to post or ordered their members to do so. He has requested and floated it as (imo) a commendable idea, and I personally think he meant the best. I’m not of the opinion Sinn Fein have lost their roots; they still know where they come from and who they represent.

    Third, no major party has publicaly called for non-payment, I’m not saying they aren’t mostly a share of b*****ds, but I’m thinking there must be a good reason for it.

    Fourthly, I’m sick of people lambasting politicians when they are positive for once. I think Mc Laughlin did something positive.

  • SuperSoupy

    The Communication Workers Union is to vote on doing exactly what Mitchel suggests and has called on the other two postal Unions to do likewise.

    Can we assume the coments directed at Mitchel apply to the Union? And that other parties are not supporting this commendable action?

  • Elk

    Was emailed this…

    Irish Mirror

    Water Charges
    Gerry Kelly

    Here’s a very short history of the impending water charges that will affect every single household in the North and which every single party is being hit with on the doorstep for this coming election.

    The British government treats this population like mushrooms. That is, the punters are kept in the dark and fed on sh.. / I mean manure. Since the
    North of Ireland is in any case at the bottom of the pile then we are under the direct rule sh.. shovellers in the darkest corner of the mushroom shed.

    For well over a generation there has been absolutely no investment in the water and sewage infrastructure. It is, as would be the case of any derelict structure, falling apart. The British government do not want to pay for it so they want the punters – to pay with no pain to themselves – since their votes don’t count with the main British parties.

    Now put that demand for payment into the context of the Joseph Rowntree report “Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion in NI” 2006. Amongst other things the report says: that every deprivation measure is greater in the 6 counties than in Britain; that 1 in 4 households are unable to afford to heat their homes; in 2004, 24% – or 150,000 households were in fuel poverty; that 100,000 children and 50,000 pensioners live in income poverty; and 40% of pensioners are living in fuel poverty; and that West of the Bann things are considerably worse than East.

    Added to that, the direct rule ministers are misleading us further by claiming that an EU directive is forcing them into separate water charges. In fact the EU directive focuses in on water wastage and there is no evidence at all that water charges will impact on wastage, or indeed improved services. There is further concern that the British government are on a headlong rush into water privatisation which would deepen the poverty trap rapidly. We need only study our energy bills to see what privatisation of essential utilities means.

    Lest we get carried away with the British government input lets also remember that water charges and rates increases in the North came from the Reform and Reinvestment Initiative (RRI) which Mark Durkan and David Trimble negotiated with the British Treasury when the Assembly was actually in session.

    So, what is to be done? Sinn Féin believes that there needs to be a substantial financial package or peace dividend and that this must include a cash injection of £1.6 billion to rebalance the legacy costs of the British government’s failure to invest in water and sewerage. The water charges legislation needs to be deferred. Key documents such as the Strategic Business Plan should be released to all political parties to inform debate and proposals for action. The Assembly needs to make the decisions as the body which will be accountable to the people affected. We will lead the charge against privatisation and resultant poverty.

    In terms of the “Can’t Pay – Won’t Pay Campaign”. I have sympathy with the aims and objectives of course. However, I am concerned that non-payment will deepen the financial difficulties for the individuals in the medium to long term. As well as affecting people’s credit rating and ability to access loans the British government have already brought in quite draconian legislation to take money at source. This will cause hardships to pensioners and anyone on benefits. I am old enough to remember the rents and rates strikes in the early 70’s and the fact that Austin Currie of the SDLP supported it but later as a minister imposed a charge on individuals involved to recoup money owed. Let’s not add a Durkan tax to a Currie tax.

    The British ministers make decisions with ease because they can ignore the voters in the North. Local parties represent people and listen to them. There will be hard negotiations to come with the British on a series of issues. There are hard decisions to make for the benefit of all. If people are not up for it they shouldn’t be running for election. We’re long past being mushrooms. Get the election over, get the Assembly up and make the decisions necessary in the light of information everyone can see and have an input into to. No more excuses.