The UNITE/Glencree Spring School on ‘The Radical Working Class Protestant Tradition in Northern Ireland’ in Dublin on Saturday 6th May was a lively and thought-provoking event, with nearly 60 people turning up to hear speakers including trade unionist Peter Bunting, historian and playwright Philip Orr, former Progressive Unionist Party leader Brian Ervine and writer and People Before Profit activist Eamonn McCann. The audience included a large contingent of working class Protestants from Belfast, a rare happening in Dublin.

The school was opened by Philip Orr, who outlined the long history of Protestant radicalism dating from the arrival of Cromwell’s Levellers in Ireland to the Northern Ireland Labour Party’s short-lived success in the 1960s. Peter Bunting made a powerful plea for the present-day trade union movement to reach out more to Protestant workers in the North, who had seen their traditional jobs in heavy industry decline dramatically and many of the new jobs in the civil service and service industries taken up by better educated Catholics. Brian Ervine gave us an old-fashioned sermon about Christianity and its radical teaching about social justice. NI Alternatives manager Billy Drummond outlined an innovative project in the Greater Shankill which works to prevent young, deprived Protestants from getting involved in paramilitarism, rioting and crime.

Lunchtime saw the launch of a new study – An Oral History of the Protestant Working Class – by Patricia McCarthy and Mick Rafferty, veteran inner-city Dublin community workers, who have also been working with community groups in loyalist areas of Belfast for the past 40 years. The main afternoon speaker, Eamonn McCann, spoke passionately about the need for solidarity between the Catholic and Protestant working classes, and said that in the most recent Stormont election campaign he had found the Protestant voters of Derry more friendly to his socialist message than ever before. The spring school ended with a vigorous round-table discussion between the speakers and the audience, which contained politicians, political activists, trade unionists,community workers, historians, journalists, civil servants,ex-policemen and members of the security forces, and others. A concluding musical and social event was held at Lloyd’s pub in Amiens Street on the Saturday night.

Andy Pollak, board member