Tributes have been paid to Irish women’s rights activist and trade unionist Sylvia Meehan, who has died aged 89.
Her death follows a long illness, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) has said.
Ms Meehan studied legal and political science at UCD, where she was the first woman to win the UCD Literary and Historical Association gold medal in 1951.
She began her career in teaching, becoming heavily involved with the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland trade union during her teaching years and the Women’s Committee of Ictu.
She served as the first chair and chief executive of the Employment Equality Authority, from its establishment in 1997 until 1992.
In 1977, she left teaching to become the first chief executive of the Employment Equality Agency, which was established to oversee the enforcement of the Employment Equality Act.She has been particularly credited with being instrumental in the movement towards achieving equal pay for women.
In more recent years, she served as President of the Irish Senior Citizens Parliament.
The President, Michael D Higgins, said her pioneering work on equality in education and employment had left a lasting legacy.
“In her life, Sylvia Meehan overcame many challenges, becoming a tenacious campaigner for workers’ rights, determined to promote the inclusion and empowerment of women, older people and all vulnerable sections of society.
“Her energy, vision and dynamism were directed at making Ireland a more empowering, informed and welcoming society.”
Ictu General Secretary Patricia King said Ms Meehan’s “pioneering work paved the way for a generation of feminists”.
“Sylvia believed that woman must demand their place at the negotiating table and encouraged greater participation by women in the trade union movement, in civic society and in politics,” said Ms King.
Director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland Orla O’Connor said Ms Meehan “will be a great loss not only for her family but for the women’s movement in Ireland.”
Minister for Equality, Immigration and Integration, David Stanton said he was “very saddened” to learn of Ms Meehan’s death.
“An inspiring role model and a campaigner for equality when it was far from fashionable, she has been hugely influential across a long career which spanned teaching, public service as the first Chair of the Employment Equality Agency, and advocacy,” he said.
“We take inspiration from her example as we continue to work for full gender equality. On behalf of Minister Flanagan and on my own behalf, I extend our deepest sympathies to Sylvia’s family and friends.”
Sinn Féin spokesman for workers’ rights David Cullinane said Ms Meehan was an “outstanding advocate and activist”.
Ms Meehan is survived by her five children, John, Niall, Sarah, Richard and Rosa.
This article was written by Áine McMahon for the Irish Times, September 6th, 2018
Today (Monday, September 3rd) ICTU General Secretary Patricia King has called on the Government to restore pay to Section 39 workers, in line with the public sector agreement. King has specifically called on the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Health to immediately make available resources to resolve the dispute.
“The workers in Section 39 Organisations had their pay cut in line with cuts imposed on workers in the public sector. Now that pay is being restored in the public sector workers in Section 39 Organisations should also receive the terms of the public sector pay agreement.”
Patricia King’s comments follow a meeting earlier today in which SIPTU, FÓRSA and UNITE confirmed that they would be consulting with members to consider what action is appropriate in light of the failure of Government to address the issue of pay restoration for workers in Section 39 Organisations.
The fight for workers’ right to organise in a union for the purposes of collective bargaining has been the key task for our organisation during its more than 100 years of existence.
Currently, SIPTU members are considering industrial action in relation to two companies where the employer has refused to adequately engage with their union. These companies are Rapid Action Packaging in Gweedore, County Donegal, and the Respond Housing Association.
In both cases, despite the companies being in receipt of public funds, management has ignored direction by the State’s industrial relations mechanisms to engage with union representatives.
Elsewhere, from the pharmacy chain Lloyds to retailers such a TK Maxx, employers are also refusing to respect workers’ right to collectively bargain as members of their union, Mandate.
In the early decades of the 20th Century the struggle for the right to union recognition resulted in titanic struggles such as the Great Dublin Lockout of 1913. Since then, most businesses realised that an attempt to deny workers the right to union recognition was a battle they were bound to lose, and so have desisted from such attempts.
From Ryanair to Lloyds Pharmacy, the battle for union recognition remains at the heart of the struggle by workers for fair and equal treatment. Both companies are hugely profitable concerns which, until now, have been reluctant to share those rewards with the workers who have made them possible.