Stormont deal condemned by unions which demanded deal

The open letter signed by Peter Bunting
The open letter signed by Peter Bunting

A leading trade unionist who begged Northern Ireland’s politicians to strike a deal yesterday railed against the Stormont House Agreement.

Peter Bunting, assistant general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), was one of those to sign an October open letter from the ‘Make it Work’ campaign.

Peter Bunting

Peter Bunting

The letter, which was also signed by senior business and church figures, called for politicians “to resolve and agree some of the very difficult issues facing our community”.

The campaign, which was facilitated by Good Friday Agreement lobbyist Quinton Oliver’s Stratagem company, added: “We accept that the range of outcomes will probably involve accommodations along the way.”

But, despite the campaign simply demanding any deal and not making clear demands of what they wanted, yesterday the ICTU took out full page adverts in the News Letter, Irish News and Belfast Telegraph to condemn the Stormont House Agreement.

The ICTU is now particularly angry at the loss of around 20,000 public sector jobs under a voluntary redundancy scheme funded by a massive loan given to Stormont by the Treasury.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster’s Nolan Show yesterday, Mr Bunting challenged Sinn Fein’s support for the deal and claimed that it “undermined the peace process” and would become “a recruiting sergeant for dissidents”.

Mr Bunting said he thought it was “likely” that public sector union members would vote for a strike on March 13.

Sinn Fein’s John O’Dowd, whose party has supported past union strikes, said that he fully supported the rights of workers to take strike action. But, when pressed on whether he would support the specific strike action planned against the agreement which he endorses, Mr O’Dowd declined to give a clear answer.As the terms of the Stormont deal are argued over in public by those responsible for its negotiation, the education minister denied DUP claims that the agreement meant there would be 20,000 voluntary redundancies in the public sector.

Former DUP finance minister Sammy Wilson accused the unions of having “conveniently ignored that anyone exiting the public sector will do so voluntarily. Do the unions not trust their own members to take a decision on whether they want to accept such a voluntary scheme and the package that would come with it?”

Thus far, only Sinn Fein has unreservedly ratified the Stormont House Agreement.

Alliance ratified the deal, but with reservations.

The DUP has made clear its support for the deal, but has not yet formally endorsed the deal. The UUP executive merely ‘noted’ the agreement, while the SDLP has said that it has no plans to ratify the document.

See ‘Executive agrees to budget, but it is far from unanimous’, page 13, and Morning View, page 50