Irish Congress of Trade Unions

Full name Irish Congress of Trade Unions
Founded 1959
Affiliation ITUC, ETUC, TUAC
Key people Patricia King, general secretary
Peter Bunting, assistant general secretary
Office location Dublin, Ireland
Country The Republic of Ireland & Northern Ireland
Website Republic Northern Ireland

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (often abbreviated to just Congress or ICTU), formed in 1959 by the merger of the Irish Trade Union Congress (founded in 1894) and the Congress of Irish Unions (founded in 1945), is a national trade union centre, the umbrella organisation to which trade unions in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland affiliate.


There are currently 55 trade unions with membership of Congress, representing about 600,000 members in the Republic of Ireland.[1] Trade union members represent 35.1% of the Republic's workforce.[2] This is a significant decline since the 55.3% recorded in 1980 and the 38.5% reported in 2003.[3] In the Republic, roughly 50% of union members are in the public sector. The ICTU represents trade unions in negotiations with employers and the government with regard to pay and working conditions


The supreme policy-making body of Congress is the Biennial Delegate Conference, to which affiliated unions send delegates. On a day-to-day basis Congress is run by an Executive Committee and a staffed secretariat headed up by the general secretary, Patricia King who succeeded David Begg in the position in 2015.

John Douglas of Mandate became President of Congress at the biennial conference in Belfast in July 2013 succeeding Eugene McGlone of Unite. The president serves for a two-year period and is succeeded by one of two vice-presidents.

Congress is the sole Irish affiliate of the ETUC, the representative body for trade unions at European level and of the International Trade Union Confederation ITUC

Social pacts

Congress enjoyed unprecedented political and economic influence over the period from 1987 to 2009 under the umbrella of Ireland's social partnership arrangements. This involved a series of seven corporatist agreements with the government and the main manufacturing/services employer body IBEC and the construction employers' lobby, CIF (Construction Industry Federation). It was a classic European-style alliance of government, labour and capital built on six decades of voluntary employment relations regulated by state institutions such as the Labour Court.

For many years the union leaders agreed to dampen pay rises in return for regular reductions in income tax rates. They also negotiated a new system of pay determination for public service employees under the rubric of "benchmarking" using external assessment of pay scales for assorted grades.

The era of Christian democratic style corporatism also saw a dramatic fall in trade union density from 62% in 1980 to 31% in 2007 and consolidation through mergers of many affiliated trade unions.[4] Efforts to launch recruitment and organising initiatives failed to secure adequate support from affiliated unions while attempts to secure indirect forms of union recognition through legislation collapsed after successful legal challenges and appeals by the anti-union Ryanair company.

Ireland's period of centralised 'social pacts' ended in late 2009 when the government imposed pay cuts of between 5% and 8% on public service employees. The joint-stewardship of the state's FÁS training and employment authority by Congress and IBEC and accompanied waste of public and EU funds and excessive spending on directors 'junkets' further weakened the public standing of Congress and its 'social partnership' structures.

In an assessment of the post-partnership situation, Congress general secretary David Begg prepared a strategic review paper in which he identified the increasing weakness of the Congress and individual trade unions being due to "recession and change in the balance of power with capital" as well as job cuts, poor organisation, especially in high-technology companies, and a growing rift between public and private sector employees.[5]

On a more positive note Begg asserted that the ending of social partnership arrangements "liberates us to advocate and campaign for our own policies".[6]

Other activities

A "mass rally", organised by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Amnesty International, and the Rainbow Project in support of same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland[7] took place on 13 June 2015 in Belfast, with a 20,000 person turnout.[8]

Affiliated unions

Former members

General Secretaries

1959: James Larkin, Jnr
1960: Leo Crawford and Ruaidhri Roberts
1967: Ruaidhri Roberts
1982: Donal Nevin
1989: Peter Cassells
2001: David Begg
2015: Patricia King



Year President Union
1959 John Conroy Irish Transport and General Workers' Union
1960 James Larkin, Jnr Workers' Union of Ireland
1961 Norman Kennedy Amalgamated Transport and General Workers' Union
1962 Billy Fitzpatrick Irish Union of Distributive Workers and Clerks
1963 Jack Macgougan National Union of Tailors and Garment Workers
1964 Charles McCarthy Vocational Teachers' Association
1965 Dominick Murphy Transport Salaried Staffs' Association
1966 Fintan Kennedy Irish Transport and General Workers' Union
1967 Bob Thompson General and Municipal Workers' Union
1968 John Conroy Irish Transport and General Workers' Union
1969 Jimmy Dunne Marine Port and General Workers' Union
1970 James Morrow Amalgamated Union of Engineering and Foundry Workers
1971 Maurice Cosgrave Post Office Workers' Union
1972 Jim Cox Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers
1972–73 Stephen McGonagle Irish Transport and General Workers' Union
1974 Denis Larkin Workers' Union of Ireland
1975 Andy Barr National Union of Sheet Metal Workers, Coppersmiths, Heating and Domestic Engineers
1976 Matt Griffin Irish National Teachers' Organisation
1977 Brendan Harkin Northern Ireland Civil Service Alliance
1977–78 John Mulhall Irish National Painters' and Decorators' Trade Union
1979 Harold O'Sullivan Local Government and Public Services Union
1980 Jack Curlis General and Municipal Workers' Union
1981 Dan Murphy Civil Service Executive Union
1982 David Wylie Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers
1983 Paddy Cardiff Federated Workers' Union of Ireland
1984 James Graham Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers
1985 Matt Merrigan Amalgamated Transport and General Workers' Union
1986 Jim McCusker Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance
1987 John Carroll Irish Transport and General Workers' Union
1988 William Wallace National Union of Tailors and Garment Workers
1989 Gerry Quigley Irish National Teachers' Organisation
1990 Jimmy Blair Amalgamated Engineering Union
1991 Christy Kirwan SIPTU
1991–93 Tom Douglas GMB Union
1993–95 Phil Flynn Irish Municipal, Public and Civil Trade Union
1995–97 John Freeman Amalgamated Transport and General Workers' Union
1997–99 Edmund Browne SIPTU
1999–2001 Inez McCormack UNISON
2001–03 Joe O'Toole Irish National Teachers' Organisation
2003–05 Brendan Mackin Amicus
2005–07 Peter McLoone Irish Municipal, Public and Civil Trade Union
2007–09 Patricia McKeown UNISON
2009–11 Jack O'Connor SIPTU
2011–13 Eugene McGlone Unite
2013–15 John Douglas Mandate
2015–17 Brian Campfield Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance


1959: Walter Beirne
1960: John Conroy
1967: Fintan Kennedy
1982: Patrick Clancy
1985: Christy Kirwan
1989: Edmund Browne
1995: Bill Attley
1999: Jimmy Somers
2001: John McDonnell
2003: Joe O'Flynn

See also


External links

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