British police linked to blacklisting firm
Construction firms paid for data used to block over 3,000 workers, hundreds of them Irish
Union leaders and workers in action against the blacklisting of construction workers, in College Green, central London, last month. Photograph: Steve Parsons/PA Wire
A shadowy organisation that helped to blacklist thousands of construction workers in Britain over three decades, including hundreds of Irish, liaised with the British police, files now reveal.
Dozens of construction firms paid fees to the Consulting Association to gather intelligence about workers, including details of their trade union membership, their political views, even their friendships.
In November 2008, the Association’s head, Ian Kerr met the police’s National Extremist Tactical Co-ordination Unit (Netcu), which seeks to “prevent, reduce and disrupt criminal activity associated with domestic extremism and single issue campaigning”.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in the UK last week said it did hold notes of “a single Netcu meeting, however it is unclear whether these are formal minutes or just notes taken by an attendee at the time or afterwards”.
So far, it is not known why the meeting was held, although there is evidence that MI5 co-operated with the organisation during the 1970s to blacklist Irish workers from Ministry of Defence and other sites.
The ICO initially refused to share the information with blacklist campaigners, saying that information seized during investigations could not be released under the Freedom of Information Act.
“Nevertheless, following court orders, the information has been provided to lawyers acting on behalf of victims,” a spokesperson told The Irish Times.
Over 100 workers are suing the Consulting Association, while over two dozen more firms will be formally listed as defendants when the case returns to the High Court in London next April, a Master of the Queen’s Division was told yesterday.
The Sir Robert McAlpine firm was brought to an end in 2009 when its office was raided by the Information Commissioner, though only a proportion of the files built up since the 1970s were seized.
So far, it is known that information held by the firm, which charged a yearly fee and a small payment for each query about a worker, was used to block over 3,000 men from jobs on building sites throughout Britain.
Nearly half of the 3,000 who are known to have been listed have been tracked down, while London solicitors Guney, Clark and Ryan, which are suing on behalf of 80 men, have urged former construction workers now living in Ireland to come forward.
The firms, including Laing O’Rourke, who face legal action have set up a compensation scheme, but those using it have to accept confidentiality agreements and give up any right to take subsequent legal action.
Last week, the court’s senior master, Stephen Whitaker ruled that an application that all four blacklisting cases under way should be put together as one should be postponed for final decision until March 31st