General Secretary

Summer 2019 | 11.08.2019

Conference in Action


This year’s Annual Conference was memorable for a number of reasons as we celebrated our 80th anniversary

Readers of the Gatelodge magazine will know, by the time this article is published, that the POA Annual Conference has set its policies in place for the Executive to work on throughout the year and the NEC will take forward the work that has been set by our ruling body, the delegates at Conference.

This being our 80th Anniversary a special mention must be made to Finlay Spratt, Honorary Life Member, who was awarded the MBE this year. Finlay Spratt was not just an outstanding Chairman in Northern Ireland, but he championed prison officers and their families and made sure as best he could that they were supported at work and away from the workplace to ensure safety was always a priority. The complex and unique history of the Northern Ireland Prison Service must be set in context of the civil unrest in Northern Ireland over the last 40 years. Finlay Spratt MBE and Honorary Life Member of the POA had the vision after the Good Friday Peace Agreement that the widows/widowers needed support on an ongoing basis and he along with June Robinson Area Secretary for Northern Ireland and with the support of the NEC set up the Northern Ireland Prison Service Trust.

Finlay is the current Chairman of the Trust and June is the Secretary to the Trust. So, what exactly does the Trust do?


The Trust was established in 2002 and started operating in 2003 in order to address the needs of the wider Prison Service family in Northern Ireland especially for the widows/widowers, dependents of murdered staff, dependents of those who have died in service, medically retired staff and the dependents of medically retired staff. The tremendous support network that is available through the Trust is immense and no one should ever doubt the incredible work and resilience of Finlay Spratt MBE and June Robinson over the years to make it such a success. It was therefore fitting that on our 80th Anniversary that two of the widows Mary and Moira addressed our Conference. Their stories were extremely sad and at the same time heart-warming as they knew the value of the support mechanism that was hard fought for and will hopefully continue for many years with the correct support not just for Finlay and June and all those that give up their time on a voluntary basis but through direct support from the POA.

Finlay Spratt thoroughly deserves the MBE not just for his service to the Northern Ireland Prison Service and indeed his astonishing record protecting members in Northern Ireland and indeed their families but for the work over the years for the Trust. Very well done Finlay you thoroughly deserve the recognition of such an award and hopefully you will continue in the Trust for many years to come doing what you do best supporting those who need help.


Conference also gave us the opportunity to discuss and debate in a healthy manner the future of our Trade Union. The Cuffe Report was passed by Annual Conference. It contained many recommendations and now the hard work will continue to ensure that reports will be ready for our ruling body which of course is Annual Conference to action any pieces of work that require rule changes. Like everything in life change is always treated with suspicion but I am sure everyone has the same focus in making the POA fit for the future so that it goes from strength to strength for future generations. I want the POA to be a campaigning union not just a servicing union. The POA have always been a campaigning union and that needs to continue. We are a small specialist trade union and it is often said by external commentators that we punch above our weight. Since 1994 we have been stripped of our basic fundamental human rights “the right to strike”. Quite rightly that remains a key objective in our policies and indeed in our rules and constitution to obtain that right which may assist us going forward in the future. It is therefore absolutely correct that we engage wholeheartedly with all politicians of every party to make sure that we are addressing our key objectives such as restoration of trade union rights, stopping privatisation, getting a decent pension age and decent pay and terms and conditions through collective bargaining. At present our negotiations continue and we will hold politicians accountable for actioning any pledges given to us whether it is an opposition party or indeed the party that is in Government.


Not everyone who is a POA member will agree with the methods that the Executive use or indeed myself as General Secretary. I wish to make it abundantly clear leadership is not just about telling people what they want to hear to be popular. Leadership is about saying it as it is and engaging with everyone irrespective of who the individuals are or indeed who the organisations are. It would be far easier just to stay under the radar and not do or say anything controversial, but I am afraid that is not leadership. Personally, I believe and have always believed the POA needs to build bridges with all political parties and other organisations as to stop engaging means we only talk to ourselves and that cannot be an option. To get what we want to make the lives of our members and their families better we need to engage with everywhere without restriction and also be pragmatic. I firmly believe the POA will be successful in many of our aims and objectives, but we need to be clear about our strategies so that all our members embrace and engage in the process. The restrictions on our union such as the right to take legitimate industrial action and the restriction on facility time for our officials makes things extremely difficult but not impossible. I recognise throughout Britain and Northern Ireland we have many dedicated local officials who give up their own time because they totally believe in justice in the workplace. Together we can achieve we just need to believe in ourselves.

Steve Gillan
General Secretary