Brexit disaster ‘catastrophic’ for tens of thousands of Irish workers – Siptu chief

Union seeks emergency legislation to ban evictions of tenants and mortgage-holders

The head of the country's largest trade union has strongly criticised the Boris Johnson government in the UK as being "destructive and pompous".

Speaking at Siptu’s biennial conference in Cork on Monday its general secretary Joe O’Flynn said the country was “on the brink of the Brexit disaster”.

He said this would “be catastrophic for tens of thousands of workers and their families on the island of Ireland”.

“Many will pay a heavy price with the loss of their jobs and their livelihoods – rural communities North and South will be devastated by the economic fallout. Sadly, some have already been affected. As a union we have taken as much action as possible to highlight the issues and to seek to mitigate the worst impacts where possible.”


Mr O’Flynn said that while the economic fallout of a no-deal Brexit would be highly negative, he argued that worse still, would be the political crisis that could see a return to a hard Border and a threat to the Belfast Agreement.

“We fear a return to unrest and all that will entail if the extremists on both sides of the community exploit the situation for their own agenda – and they will. We have seen evidence of it already in recent times and, I believe, all of us on this island of ours will pay a very heavy price for the indulgence of the Tories and their populist politics. It is clear that they have never once stopped to consider the implications of their actions on the lives of our people, North or South.”

Mr O’Flynn also told the conference that the Government should introduce emergency legislation to make it illegal for landlords, banks and investment funds to evict tenants and homeowners in mortgage distress.

He argued that the Government should double its investment in the construction of a local authority-led public and affordable housing programme.

“It is simply intolerable that we have so many of our people suffering from the insecurity of not being able to afford a roof over their head. For years we have campaigned for local authorities to get back to doing what they once did and take responsibility to build public housing that people can afford. We see housing as a right and the Government dependence on the private sector to house our people has failed miserably. No citizen should be left at the mercy of vulture funds to depend on whether they enjoy a roof over their heads. It is an absolute disgrace that in so many cases people are paying more on rent than they would on mortgage payments as rents have reached extortionate levels in many of our cities and towns throughout the country.

“In a wealthy society such as ours, the Government and local authorities must accept their responsibility and act more swiftly to solve our housing crisis. It’s not as if, as a nation, we cannot afford it! We spend almost €1 billion subsidising private landlords year after year. We are in the midst of a housing emergency and it is a crisis that can only be solved with a major programme of public housing provision.”

Mr O'Flynn also called for the introduction of a "just transition" for workers who depended on the production of fossil fuels. He said the future of their communities, particularly in rural Ireland, must be protected.

“We cannot allow the fabric of rural Ireland to deteriorate any further and must ensure regional development creates a balance so that affected communities will have the opportunity to prosper.”

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent