Irish Ships and Shipping

Maritime Articles


The seamen's union of Ireland (SUI) finished up on the 4th. of November 2015. It only had 12 members left. The building is now occupied by the Independent Workers Union. (IWU) 

The SUI was established in 1959 and while it was only a small union it became an important one during the 60s and 70s.

"In 1951, the Irish Seamen & Port Workers had a signal victory in a wage claim, having rejected an initial Labour Court Recommendation.
The principle involved in this dispute was that an Irish union successfully negotiated wages and conditions for Irish seamen, separate and distinct from British seamen. Seamen were becoming a force in the Irish Seamen & Port Workers and in 1954, Des Branigan emerged as a new, intelligently focused and charismatic advocate. The union changed its name in 1955 to the Marine, Port & General Workers' Union. Branigan's legacy includes the wonderful badge that bears the silver starry plough and triple knot of Saint Brendan The Navigator against a midnight blue background. The starry ensign represents Irish socialism and the navigational safety of members at sea and the knot's Celtic interweave exemplifies the interdependence and solidarity essential to trade union members.
At Congress Of Irish Union gatherings, Branigan led demands for the proper development of Irish Shipping. The country possessed less than half the minimum recommended tonnage of 250,000 tons and no tanker fleet. Norway was cited as example of a successful maritime policy that not alone underpinned the country's neutrality and independence but contributed significantly to its balance of payments.
Branigan's radical militancy offended powerful clerical figures and moves were made to oust him from the Marine Port, the chosen vehicle being the jettisoning of the union's seamen's section.
In 1957, a closed shop agreement - always denied to Branigan - was offered to a new body, the Irish Seamen's Union. This new union was seen by many as a company union and was opposed in a rancorous and unseemly dispute. Ship-owners in Limerick and Wexford threatened to sail under the British Flag in order to deal with the NUS and employers generally openly stated their desire to stamp out what they called an undesirable element controlling Dublin port. After a fourteen week strike, matters were resolved by the Labour Court and in 1959 the Seamen's Union Of Ireland emerged as an independent union acceptable to the men"
(Francis Devine 2002)

In 1966 the union had a big part to play in helping to bring the B&I from private ownership to state ownership.

During the late 1960s and into the 70s and 80s the union became the main recruitment agency for ratings on board the B&I Line and ICL and crewed all of the company's freight and passenger ships.

  Delegates 1970s P.O'Brien, W.Stacy, F,Gilligan
MV Leinster 1970s
  Delegates 1990s Willie Stacy, Tommy Fay

In the late 1970s two of the main men in the union Frank Gilligan and Joe Beggs were among the first in the country to be elected as worker directors .


While most of their members were seamen and woman they also had members among the riggers in RTE and the dry-docks in Dublin.


There are many who have found fault with the union and there maybe some truth in their point of view but there is also a history to be written about how important this union was and how it helped to secure employment for many families during some of the worse recessions of the past 50 years, how they were instrumental in setting up the first permanent pension for seamen ratings, and helping to improve the onboard facilities on all Irish registered ships and I hope that someday that history will be written.

 Aiden McCabe 2015.

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