Austin Harney

What a carve-up!

Austin Harney

The evening of Wednesday 25th October - the Labour Party Irish Society (LPIS) AGM - was one of the biggest insults to democracy I’ve ever witnessed! 

Since John McDonnell stepped down as Chair ten years ago, many of us have been deeply unhappy with the LPIS. Instead of a properly constituted AGM on a Saturday which would appeal to all Labour Party members who are of Irish heritage, they held an AGM on a week night in Parliament in a room for twenty people. The only other function that they put on is the annual St. Patrick's Parliamentary Reception in the House of Lords. Guest speakers are usually Baronesses, Lords, and MPs - hardly representative of the Irish people throughout Britain. 

For this reason, a number of us decided to stand a full slate of candidates against the existing executive committee of the LPIS. With the events of the last two years, it was a forgone conclusion that we would have many Momentum members joining the LPIS. As a result, a number of us in London organised a united Left Slate to make the  LPIS more representative of all Irish people in Britain. Although I objected to standing candidates against Rita Conneely and Liz McShane whom I had worked with for years, changing the LPIS executive committee was the priority. This opportunity, however, was overshadowed by the outrageous way the LPIS AGM was organised. 

The room where the AGM was held was  packed hours before it started. Many of us were not allowed in. The executive committee then had to open up another room to accommodate more numbers.

When the AGM started, I requested, amid heckling, that the AGM must be suspended as the room was not large enough and meeting in two rooms was completely inconvenient. My point of order was voted down in the first room but only narrowly defeated in the second room. Afterwards, the whole evening was dominated by candidates making speeches for positions. There was no register of attendees and ballot papers without numbers were handed out at the AGM, calling into question the fairness of the voting process. 

I stood for secretary and stated that we should reach out to the whole Irish community in Britain as well as campaign against the austerity hitting the Irish community, such as the elderly. Other campaigns would include fighting anti -Irish racism in other parts of Britain and the brutal discrimination against Travellers. I applauded the 30th Anniversary of Black History Month and said we should have a History Month of Irish Immigrants to Britain over the last few centuries as part of our educational curriculum. We should, also campaign for justice for the families of those who are the victims of state collusion with terror attacks, including the Ballymurphy and the Dublin-Monaghan bombings. 

We need to build this LPIS with a proper AGM on a Saturday that would be accommodating for the Irish community in other regions of Britain. In terms of work, I highlighted the first Irish History Month project in the South East Regional TUC. Although I had only two minutes, all of us did the best in a very unfair AGM. I knew that we were going to lose.

Towards the end of the evening, I discovered the AGM had been filled up by many MPs, Baronesses, Lords and paid Labour Party officials who were also given voting rights. There is even a leaked email from the LPIS executive committee that they intended to fill up the room with staffers. The MPs included Stephen Kinnock, Stella Creasey, Vernon Coaker, former Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Chuka Umunna, Wes Streeting, Ruth Smee and Chris Leslie. In addition, at least twenty people were not allowed in and stood outside the rooms. Some were candidates. I heard several complaints that Stephen Pound  MP told many Momentum members in the queue outside Portcullis House that the AGM was cancelled. On the other hand, a number of Progress supporters were escorted into the building.

The process for a fair AGM was not followed. A complaint has been submitted to the NEC calling for the AGM to be declared null and void. The handling of this AGM will raise the question of whether the plan to oust Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party has really gone away. 


Secretary, Labour Party Autism/Neuro-Diversity Steering Committee