Republicans and loyalists unite to mark centenary of James Connolly arriving in Belfast

SIPTU – the Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union – are marking the centenary of the arrival of James Connolly in Belfast to organise dockers and mill workers in an event in Belfast City Hall on the evening of Friday 28 October.

Lord Mayor Niall Ó Donnghaile will unveil a a portrait of James Connolly by artist Frank Quigley, followed by a panel discussion on the theme of the ‘The Task Today’ looking at “the current needs of workers and people who rely on public services as well as what can be learned from the legacy of James Connolly”.

SIPTU’s General President Jack O’Connor, will be joined by historian John Gray, Culture Minister Carál Ní Chuilín and SIPTU activist Jackie McDonald (more often badged as a loyalist community worker and a UDA leader).

In their press release, SIPTU’s Martin O’Rourke said

Connolly’s contribution in empowering working people in Belfast was immense; his campaigning played a key role in enhancing working conditions and the lives of the most deprived in society. Connolly was passionate about uniting working people, and breaking down sectarian barriers. His time in Belfast was characterised by his drive to unite communities.

SIPTU believes that James Connolly’s actions and thoughts are as relevant today as they were 100 years ago, and we hope by marking this great man of Labour, and exploring his contribution in Belfast, we can further understand the task today for us in the trade union movement.

UNISON’s Patricia McKeown took part a panel at the UUP’s conference on Saturday, and in response to a question about the upcoming centenaries, was able to list a large range of historic events that local unions would be keen to mark in the coming years.

The question is whether cool heads and open minds will prevail as the island gets a chance to re-examine different people’s interpretations of their shared turbulent history?

Update – catching up on a busy week, I’ve stumbled upon the Belfast Telegraph’s article about this event.

“Working with the Prison to Peace group, I have been engaging with all the republican groups anyway,” Mr McDonald, a Siptu activist, said.

“For too long working-class loyalists have been forgotten about or demonised. Myself and a number of colleagues thought it was time we got our message across and how we feel about the things that have happened to us and our community over the years.

“This is a good opportunity to make our voices heard. I will be talking about the poor and disadvantaged and the need to get jobs for our young people and about the need to give them ambition in life.”

The portrait will be erected in the Lord Mayor’s office in the City Hall.

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