UNISON – “This is not political, Mr Lawlor broke the rules!”

This was the statement used by Norma Stephenson, Vice President and Chair of the NEC Disciplinary sub-Committee Panel on the 3rd October 2008 in her justification for expelling Pat Lawlor. 

Norma Stephenson used this statement as a refusal for the NEC Disciplinary Committee to hear evidence to the contrary, in fact the evidence that Pat lawlor was refused to submit during the NEC Disciplinary Hearing showed how the unison leadership at regional and national level had breached the very same rules that they accused Pat lawlor of doing.

During the investigation and subsequent expulsion, the  highly political attack on Pat Lawlor’s socialist beliefs and his membership of the Socialist Party became ever more apparent, as it became clear the breach of rule that Pat Lawlor suposedly carried out was used as an opportunity for the Unison leadership to rid itself of a miltant, trade unionist, marxist and member of the Socialist Party.

One such event that illustrates the true nature of the leadership of Unison was during a dignified protest carried out at the Regional Office of Unison on the 18th April 2008.  This protest by 5 unison members with support from 2 Socialist Party activists was to highlight the attack on Pat lawlor to other unison members attending a regional event.

 The protest was dignified but buoyant giving out many leaflets to the attendees of the event.  It then became apparent that a unison official Brian Mahaffy was taking the leaflets off people as they entered the premises.

Pat lawlor challenged him along with other supporters asking “why are you taking the leaflets of people, why are people not allowed information to make their own decisions”?  Brian Mahaffy said “why are we picketing this event are you not aware this was for old people”.

The relevance of that statement by Brian Mahaffy became apparent when it was found out later that the picket obviously embarrassed the UNISON leadership; who were hosting a conference co-organised with the Belfast Health Trust and senior representatives of private companies on the role of the private sector in the NHS.  It was clear that the unison leadership do not want it coming to light that they were working hand in hand with private companies, trust management and the local politicians on the implementation of private healthcare in the community.  One of the speakers, Chris Manthorp was representing EPIC, a private company which runs private residential homes for the elderly in Britain.

It is a disgrace that UNISON leaders are championing what is in reality the privatisation of parts of the NHS! 

Brian Mahaffy was told by protestors that the picket was to raise awareness of Pat Lawlor’s position and the attack on his rights as a unison member to the current and new members of unison at this event.

 Brian Mahaffy returned inside the offices continuing to take the protest leaflets of the members and visitors attending the event.  It was at this time that Regional Secretary Patricia McKeown and full time official Lily Kerr came out, it was obvious that they were incensed. 

The first words from Patricia McKeown were “what makes you such a hero Patrick Lawlor”…. Followed up byLily Kerr with “what have you ever done for your members you little shit”.  The protesters freely admitted they were astounded by this tirade of abuse.  Pat Lawlor responded that he was elected and represent the members every day and was here to defend himself and his right of free speech.  Pat Lawlor asked to know when she (Patricia McKeown) was elected she retorted “FUCK OFF”. Lily Kerr demanded “what political party we were from” attempting to rip the posters from the placards.

The unison activists with Pat Lawlor said “that they belonged to no political party and were here to support Pat” Lily Kerr called these activists “LIARS and that they belonged to the Socialist Workers Party”!!

 Lily Kerr questioned the poster stating let the members speak, assuming that it referred to the classroom assistants dispute as she said “did not 1800 class room assistants in unison not get balloted”.  Pat Lawlor told her “this was not about the classroom assistants, this was about unison democracy and the rights of members to criticise their leadership of which you are a disgrace to the union” Patricia McKeown shouted at Pat “its about the politics” Daniel Waldron (Socialist Party member) said “you know that you didn’t have 1800 members more like 800” this remark flew Patricia McKeown into a rage demanding “who the fuck are who”? When Daniel replied he was from the Socialist Party, Patricia McKeown screamed “GET THE FUCK OFF MY PROPERTY”.

 Although the unison activists where disgusted and amazed by this abuse, foul language and hostility, some members attempted to discuss with Patricia McKeown and Lily Kerr why they were there but Patricia McKeown and Lily Kerr appeared not to be interested.

 As Patricia McKeown and Lily Kerr continued with the verbal abuse, Eileen Keenan (Unison Educational Member) stated “she couldn’t believe leaders in such high positions had such disregard for their members”.   Grainne Lawlor asked Patricia McKeown “can I speak” to which Patricia McKeown shouted “I am here to shut you up”.  Grainne said “that’s what you want to do to all unison members who criticise you”.

 At this Patricia McKeown and Lily Kerr were rescued by other full time officals and returned to the office while the protestors continued our peaceful protest.  It was at this time that an official/employee from the office came outside with a placard that stated that


 This was an attempt to discredit a legitimate protest by unison members in defence of their rights and as the members not associated to any political party criticised the truth of this poster to the holder, she said “LIKE I CARE”

The protest continued until 10am, with protestors leaving in an astonished but buoyant mood hardly waiting to return to workplaces to report the events that unfolded.  This attack on the members had the opposite effect that the Unison leadership desired, they attempted to intimidate and bully the members but in fact re- enforced their conviction to rid the union of such a disgraceful, disgusting and rotten leadership.

  The unmasking of the veneer of respectability from Patricia McKeown and Lily Kerr  had illustrated to those members that the Unison leadership will resort to any method to prevent a growing opposition to their control of the union.   What was clearly evident to those unison protestors was the political attack on Pat Lawlor’s socialist beliefs and his membership of the Socialist Party. 

The attack on Pat Lawlor’s politics shows the hypocrisy of the Unison leadership, as Unison are affiliated to British Labour party and David Prentis is a member of the Labour Party’s economy commission and joint policy committee.  While the Unison Regional Leadership are building a relationship with the Northern Ireland Assembly Executive by continuing to lobby and court the political parties in the assembly in their pursuit of partnership.

This is the very same Executive who are demanding a decimation of the public sector.

It appears political affiliation or opinion is allowed in unison  unless when it comes to the defence of workers in struggle.     

Grainne Lawlor wrote a letter of compliant (See Below)  to Kevan Nelson (head of democratic services) in unison demanding an investigation into the behaviour of Patricia McKeown and Lily Kerr, to date Kevan Nelson has not mounted an investigation into these complaints.

Dear Kevan



  On Friday 18th April I attended an extremely peaceful and dignified picket outside Unison headquarters, Galway House, Belfast to highlight the issue of “Democracy in Unison” and protecting each and every members’ right to free speech.  This was a response to the complaint against Patrick Lawlor.

 This protest involved seven people with a few handheld posters and distribution of leaflets.  No speeches were held and there was no chanting.

 A gentleman came down from the office asked us what we were doing – we explained that we were handing out leaflets to illustrate our issue – we were not accosting people and they accepted them without bias.  He seemed ok with this and went back inside.

 I was astounded then, when Patricia McKeown (Regional Secretary), Lily Kerr and other ‘official’ staff arrived and hailed a tirade of abuse.  Patricia McKeown’s first remarks were

     “What makes you the hero, Patrick Lawlor”, while Lily Kerr started her launch with

     “Who are you and what party are you from”, while pulling the backing of our posters and stating that

     “you are members of the Socialist Party”.

  When we corrected her on this point, Patricia McKeown’s tirade got worse and she yelled and screamed and used disgusting language in full view of the public.  She completely undermined each and every member of Unison and the ideal it stands for.  Lily Kerr went on to yell

     “What have you ever done for your members, you wee shit” and yelled that this protest was about the recent classroom assistant strike.  Pat Lawlor took up that remark and replied that it had nothing to do with that but in allowing the members to speak freely without fear of victimisation.

 To have anyone speak to me or to my elected union representative in that tone was totally uncalled for.  Personally I attempted to speak to Patricia McKeown to explain who I was and why I was there, she shouted over me, I raised my voice saying, “do you mind I was speaking to you” she then shouted me down with, let’s say a Freudian Slip

     “Well I’m shutting you up” – while this was happening Lily Kerr referred to the classroom assistant’s strike stating that we were denying 1800 members their rights, when another supporter challenged her on these ‘facts’ Patricia McKeown yelled

     “Who the fuck are you”.  He stated quite honestly “I am a member of the Socialist Party:” She then yelled

     “Then get the fuck off my property”.

 Her behaviour and that of her cohorts brought Unison into disrepute more so than any email – with behaviour like that she should definitely be removed from her current position as she is a complete liability.

 Patricia McKeown and Lily Kerr started sneering

     “It’s all about politics – it’s all about politics” Before leaving to go back inside.  This is a very serious road to go down as I’m sure you are aware it is very much illegal to discriminate on persons’ political beliefs.

 A short time later three Unison workers came out holding a ‘counter demonstration’ with a placard stating

     “The people picketing this office are members of the Socialist Party”.  Yes two of the group were but the rest were all Unison members in health and education.   When I told them this, one woman said

     “Like I care!”

 We were only holding the picket between 9.30am and 10am.  We gave out leaflets just to those who accepted them and did not force them on others.  We would have left without fuss.  When Patricia McKeown and Lily Kerr arrived and began their rant they made more people aware of what was going on – even the general public wanted leaflets!!

 Their rant showed them up as vulgar, street fighters – with absolutely no dignity or self-respect. 

 I was astonished and kept repeating over and over how I couldn’t believe mature women in positions of relative authority would behave in this manner.

 I would appreciate an unbiased reply to this complaint and to have this incident looked at on its own merits.


Grainne Lawlor

Unison Member

Royal Hospitals Branch



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