MI5 linked to blacklist of Irish workers

Wed, Oct 24, 2012, 01:00

IRISH CONSTRUCTION workers were blacklisted by British construction companies during the 1970s with the help of British intelligence services’ records, the UK’s information commissioner suspects.

An investigation began into the Consulting Association in 2008 on the back of allegations in the Guardian that dozens of firms had systematically used it to probe the background and sympathies of workers.

Last week, an information commissioner official, David Clancy told the House of Commons’ Scottish affairs committee that some of the older files held by the Consulting Association “resembled intelligence records”.

Such files, he said, were more commonly held by the Consulting Association on Irish workers, who were being monitored more closely by agencies such as MI5 during the 1970s at the height of the Troubles.

The organisation, which began life in 1993, and its predecessor, the Economic League, gave information about workers from to up to 40 firms over 40 years. Member companies paid £2,200 annual membership, plus a charge for each inquiry.

One of the companies listed by the Office of the Information Commissioner (ICO) as holding dossiers on its workers was Laing Ltd, which was taken over by London-based Irish construction magnate Ray O’Rourke in 2001.

The information held on British and Irish workers was “highly personal”, Mr Clancy told MPs, including details about their political leanings, their spouses, education, even the cars that they drove.

Just one in 20 of the files seized was fully inspected by ICO investigators after the raid, which led Mr Clancy to admit that it is “impossible to say” what else might have been uncovered if they had been.

None of the construction companies was subsequently prosecuted and many of them strongly denied that they had made improper inquiries about potential recruits or workers already hired.

Deputy information commissioner, David Smith said his office had decided not to investigate further since the list had been seized and could no longer be used to discriminate against workers.

Following the ICO investigation, legislation was passed in 2010 to make it illegal to blacklist workers because of trade union membership but this did not have retrospective effect.

One construction firm, Carillion told the Scottish affairs committee that two of its subsidiaries had used the Consulting Association without the approval of senior management.

The company said evidence existed that suggested one union was aware of the Consulting Association’s files and had given information to it “to screen out extremist elements operating without official union sanction”.

In July, nearly 90 workers launched a legal action against one firm listed, Robert McAlpine, alleging it had been involved in an unlawful conspiracy.