LEADING politicians are calling for a major investigation into a culture of blacklisting that may have been responsible for barring Irish workers from London Olympics projects.
Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna told the House of Commons last week that secret files had been used to vet thousands of workers.
An inquiry into blacklisting is currently being undertaken by the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, but the Labour MP said that a full Government investigation is needed.
He claimed an investigation could address allegations that British intelligence services and police were complicit in blacklisting Irish construction workers in the 70s and illegally barring them from Ministry of Defence projects.
Describing the practice as “secret, insidious and shameful”, Mr Umunna said: “For a long time many construction workers have suspected that they were being systematically denied work – work that they were more than qualified to do. As a result, lives have been ruined.”
Referring to allegations that police and MI5 supplied information contained in a blacklist discovered in 2009, which was used by some large contractors of Olympics projects, he added: “This further underlines the need for a full government investigation into blacklisting. The sadness is that we cannot say with confidence that these practices are still not continuing and that is why action is needed.”
Labour’s John McDonnell MP told The Irish Post that workers had been placed on the list for a number of reasons – selling political newspapers, possibly including An Phoblacht, for raising health and safety concerns and for trade union activity.
He added: “We are calling for an independent inquiry because we want to get access to all of the information and get some of the police officers involved actually in the witness box under oath when giving evidence.”
Lawyers representing scores of Irish construction workers who claim that an industry blacklist was used to keep them out of work have backed Labour’s call for an independent investigation.
“We would be happy to see an inquiry into blacklisting given the suffering that it has caused,” said Seán Curran, a Partner at Guney, Clark and Ryan.
The Derry-born solicitor added: “Important questions must also be asked about the conduct of trade union representatives that acted against the interests of their members.”
The London-based firm currently represents over 80 construction workers, at least a quarter of which are Irish, who are taking action against Sir Robert McAlpine. They allege that the construction giant used the blacklist to prevent them from being hired and some say they were forced to return to Ireland as a result.
Mr Curran said it is also alleged that Sir Robert McAlpine conspired with trade union representatives and employment agencies to violate the Data Protection Act and employment legislation.
Another solicitor from Guney, Clark and Ryan, Liam Dunne, from Co. Kildare, said the case is likely to come before the High Court this autumn, by which time the firm expects to be representing up to 300 claimants.
Mr Curran said he could not rule out the possibility of an out-of-court settlement, but added: “Any settlement would have to be on very carefully defined terms.”
A vast database containing information on over 3,200 construction workers was discovered at the office of the Consulting Association after a raid by the Information Commissioner in 2009.
It subsequently emerged that 44 construction firms used the company to vet prospective employees over a period of 15 years.
Last Tuesday, Cullum McAlpine, a director at Sir Robert McAlpine, acknowledged that his company used the blacklist, but said it had not conducted improper investigations.
Lib Dem business secretary Vince Cable has pledged to investigate blacklisting “if there is any evidence that we can investigate”.
He has appealed for anyone with evidence of blacklisting to come forward.