Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from NIPSA)
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Full nameNorthern Ireland Public Service Alliance
Founded1922 as Belfast and District Public Officers' Association
Key peopleCarmel Gates (President) Alison Millar (Gen. Secretary)
Office locationHarkin House, Belfast, Northern Ireland
CountryNorthern Ireland

The Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (NIPSA) is a trade union in Northern Ireland affiliated to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. It is the largest trade union in Northern Ireland, with around 46,000 members, and is organised into two groups, the Civil Service Group, for the staff of public bodies employed on civil service terms and conditions, and the Public Officers Group, for employees of education and library boards, health and social services boards, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, district councils, other public bodies and voluntary organisations.

Its current General Secretary is Allison Millar, a member of the Communist Party of Ireland,[2] its President is Carmel Gates, a member of the Trotskyist Socialist Party of Ireland,[3][4] its Vice President is Janette Murdoch and its Treasurer is Tanya Killen, a member of Broad Left,[5] which includes Socialist Party members, and of which 23 of the 25 NIPSA Council members are members.[6]


Early origins[edit]

In the wake of the First World War and Partition of Ireland, the Northern Ireland Civil Service was organised out of the remnants of the Dublin Castle administration. The Unionist Government set up six Ministries (Finance, Home Affairs, Education, Agriculture, Commerce and Labour) and a Prime Minister’s Office. It essentially mirrored the set-up in Great Britain, with the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance becoming the Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service.

The earliest incarnation of what was to become NIPSA was the Belfast and District Public Officers’ Association (BDPOA), but it was short-lived, down to its own success, when it opened a Derry branch and became the Ulster Public Officers’ Association. Its first General Secretary was John Walters.[7]

In 1922, another organisation, The Association of Established Civil Servants, sprung up and sought Whitley recognition from the NICS, but this was met with resistance, not least from HM Pollock, the then Minister for Finance, who instead suggested the establishment of House Committees with separate employee and employer sides, but this never materialised.[8]

The Government eventually set up a Civil Service Representative Council which was a shadow of the Whitley model campaigned for by the AECS. It had a purely consultative role.

In 1929, the CSRC became the subject of a parliamentary row when Nationalist MP Patrick O’Neill informed Minister Pollock during a debate that not one of the CSRC’s 17 was a Roman Catholic. Its legitimacy was continually knocked by the AECS but it remained the only staff side mechanism recognised by the Government.


The AECS resigned all its members from the CSCR in 1933 which led to the dissolution of both organisations. They were replaced less than six months later by a new organisation, the Association of Civil Servants in the Government of Northern Ireland. It took until 1937 to receive recognition from the Government but it remained the principal staff association of Civil Servants until 1950.[9]


The AGSGNI became the Northern Ireland Civil Servants’ Association in 1950. It organised 64 branches across Northern Ireland, and although most remained geographically based a significant number retained a specialised nature, (e.g. telephonists and cleaners).

In 1953, the Association boasted a growing membership of 5,000. Brendan Harkin, a former organiser with the Electrical Trades Union and convenor with the Confederation of Shipbuilding & Engineering Unions (Confed), was appointed NICSA Assistant Secretary.[10]

NI Public Service Alliance[edit]

The NICSA, AECS and Civil Service Association merged in 1971 to become NIPSA, with Brendan Harkin as its first General Secretary.


The supreme decision-making authority of NIPSA is its Annual Delegate Conference which is held each year in late-May to early-June. The function of conference is to commend NIPSA’s annual report, financial statements and to set NIPSA policy for the upcoming year. Every NIPSA branch is entitled to send delegates to the conference, the number of delegates dependant on the number of members within each branch.

Separately NIPSA is divided between two distinct sections, the Civil Service Group and the Public Officers’ Group, the former catering for those employed on NICS terms and conditions and the latter for employees of Health & Social Care Trusts, Education and Library Boards, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and several other bodies.

General Council[edit]

Between conferences NIPSA's executive power rests with the annually elected General Council. The 25 member body is elected through a secret ballot of the Union's 46,000 members.[11]

There are two main groupings on the General Council, NIPSA Broad Left and NIPSA Unity. According to a Fair Employment Tribunal decision in 2016, Unity "comprises members of the Communist Party of Ireland, members of Sinn Fein and others", while Broad Left "comprises members of the Socialist Party, the Socialist Workers Party, People Before Profit and others".[12] Newton Emerson, writing in The Irish News, characterises Unity as "far left" and Broad Left as "even farther left".[13]

Civil Service Group[edit]

The Civil Service Group's executive control is vested in its Annual Delegate Conference which convenes on the day preceding the NIPSA General Conference. It is here that the Civil Service Group Executive is elected from an electoral college made up of attending branches. Despite what is often perceived as a Civil Service bias with NIPSA, it is actually the Civil Service Group which is the smaller of the two sections.[14]

Public Officers' Group[edit]

The Public Officers' Group essentially mirrors that of the Civil Service Group. Its conference is held on the same day and its executive committee is elected in a similar manner.[15]

NIPSA Youth[edit]

Tentative moves have been made towards establishing NIPSA Youth as a viable Young Members movement, similar to the PCS Young Members group. PSA Youth has had a presence at events including General Conference, May Day rallies and the General Strike on November 30, 2011.[16]

The logo of the NIPSA Youth Committee


NIPSA is involved in a wide spectrum of campaigns, ranging from domestic issues such as encouraging the non-payment of water charges to international problems like Justice for Colombia and Palestine through its Global Solidarity Committee.[17]


The union was heavily criticized by an employment tribunal in a case concerning 'entryism' by members of the Communist Party of Ireland. The tribunal noted NIPSA's tendency to sort out internal grievances though tribunals. The judgement said the case was part of a dispute between two factions; 'unity', which is associated with the Marxist Leninist CPI, and the 'broad left' which is associated with various Trotskyite parties, in the union which "has been a rich source of litigation over recent years". The tribunal stated that the two factions actually have little if any substantive political differences.[18]

General Secretaries[edit]

1971: Brendan Harkin
1978: Jim McCusker
2003: John Corey
2010: Brian Campfield
2015: Alison Millar

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Unions Affiliated to Congress 2010 Archived 2011-07-16 at the Wayback Machine, ICTU
  2. ^ Boomer -v- Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance and others, 00057/11FET, paragraph 2.5
  3. ^ Encyclopedia of British and Irish Political Organisations by Peter Barberis, John McHugh, Mike Tyldesley, Continuum, 2000
  4. ^ Archive article from The Socialist Issue 328 - Northern Ireland - Civil Servants Strike Against Imposed Pay Deal
  5. ^ NIPSA Broad Left Secure 20 of 25 General Council Seats
  6. ^ NIPSA Broad Left Secure 20 of 25 General Council Seats
  7. ^ ISBN 0 9517068 7 X - The Making of NIPSA - Terry Cradden - December Publishing. Page 8
  8. ^ ISBN 0 9517068 7 X - The Making of NIPSA - Terry Cradden - December Publishing. Page 13
  9. ^ ISBN 0 9517068 7 X - The Making of NIPSA - Terry Cradden - December Publishing.
  10. ^ ISBN 0 9517068 7 X - The Making of PSA - Terry Cradden - December Publishing.
  11. ^ Rule Book[dead link]
  12. ^ Fair Employment Tribunal: Kerry Fleck & Padraig Mackel vs. Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance, 16-17 May 2016, 23 May 2016, 1 June 2016
  13. ^ Newton Emerson, "Everyone but the UUP is downplaying Sinn Féin's problems", The Irish News, 29 August 2015
  14. ^ Rule Book[dead link]
  15. ^ Rule Book[dead link]
  16. ^ NIPSA Youth
  17. ^ Global Solidarity
  18. ^ Campbell, John (2016-07-14). "Union criticised in 'communist' dispute". BBC News. Retrieved 2019-01-02.

External links[edit]