Former union chief Christy Kirwan dies

ITGWU general secretary served in Seanad between 1983 and 1987

 Christy Kirwan:  was a Labour man, “but first I’m an ITGWU man”. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

Christy Kirwan: was a Labour man, “but first I’m an ITGWU man”. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

Tue, Nov 26, 2013, 01:00

Christy Kirwan, a former general secretary of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU), now Siptu, has died in Dublin.

Mr Kirwan, a member of the Labour party, was elected to the post in the 1980s. He served in the Seanad as a nominee of the then FG-Labour coalition government between 1983 and 1987.

He was a trade unionist of the old school, organising his fellow workers and graduating to becoming a full-time trade union official and later its general secretary.

Born in Dublin, he grew up in Meath Street and began his working life as a ship’s clerk at sea. He disliked the work and, after 14 months, he returned to Ireland to a job as a shunter on the Great Northern railway line.

He organised the 760 railway workers, who joined the ITGWU, and he became their first branch chairman in the late 1940s.

In 1953, he joined the union’s full-time staff as secretary of the railwaymen’s Dublin No 11 branch. He was later promoted to national group secretary with responsibility for transport and communication workers.

In that capacity, he was involved in a controversial petrol tankers strike in 1980, which led to an internal union inquiry. It criticised oil company managements and reprimanded union officials for showing a lack of leadership.

Unofficial action
Mr Kirwan said later that he did not approve of unofficial union action and he had been firm with those involved in a strike which had never been officially recognised.

“It was a serious dispute, but it was resolved and after that I was elected vice-president,” he added. “There’s a moral there somewhere.”

At the time of his election as general secretary in 1983, he said he was a Labour man, “but first I’m an ITGWU man”.