Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance

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Full name Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance
Founded 1922 as Belfast and District Public Officers' Association
Members 46,150[1]
Affiliation ICTU
Key people

Carmel Gates (President)

Alison Millar (Gen. Secretary)
Office location Harkin House, Belfast, Northern Ireland
Country Northern Ireland

NIPSA or the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance is a trade union based in Northern Ireland and affiliated to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. It is the largest trade union in Northern Ireland with around 46,000 members. It is organised into two distinct groupings, the Civil Service Group and the Public Officers Group. The former caters for civil servants and the staff of public bodies employed on civil service terms and conditions, whilst the latter covers 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 Brian Campfield (a member of the Communist Party of Ireland[2]) its President is Carmel Gates (a member of the Trotskyist[3] Socialist Party of Ireland)[4] its Vice President is Janette Murdoch and its Treasurer is Tanya Killen, a member of Broad Left,[5] which includes Socialist Party members. 23 of the 25 NIPSA Council members are members of Broad Left.[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) however it was short-lived, but this was entirely down to its own success, when it opened a Derry branch and became the Ulster Public Officers’ Association, its first General Secretary being 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, however 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 5000. 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. The main contentions between these two groups are the establishment of a Political Fund and the election of NIPSA Headquarters Negotiating Officials.

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.[12]

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.[13]

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.[14] PSA Youth has had a pronounced presence at many events in recent years including its General Conference, May Day rally and especially at the General Strike on November 30, 2011.[15]

The logo of the NIPSA Youth Committee


NIPSA is currently 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.[16]

General Secretaries[edit]

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

See also[edit]


External links[edit]