by Keith Harris         

In my days of professional employment as a journalist, I became Father of the Chapel to one of the UK's larger collective National Union of Journalist’s collective chapters, based in Essex and covering a broad swathe of the south of England.

I'd been a member of the NUJ for 15 years and was at one time also a member of good standing in the International Organisation of Journalists (IOJ), until the IOJ sent me a threatening letter telling me that I could not belong to both organisations, so I simply replied with my resignation.

Later down the line I quit my job and let my NUJ membership lapse. When a few years later I came into some changes and decided to resume writing, I also decided to resume my membership of the National Union of Journalists.

I knew that as a former member of good standing, renewal of my membership was a simple process of a straightforward application and the renewal fee. There was no requirement, as with newcomers, to ‘prove’ I was a journalist as that was already on record. NUJ head office in London confirmed the renewal fee as then at £20. The Dublin office however insisted on a £74 fee to rejoin, leading to a challenge and dispute and a blatant display of prig-headedness by so-called union representatives.

From that point onwards, respect and cordiality went out of the window.

London had informed me that the renewal fee was £20 (imposed to cover administration costs). Dublin however insisted on the payment of a fee of £74 and would provide no explanation other than to say such a figure was “insisted on by the branches” — a quote by Dublin-based NUJ membership secretary Joyce O’Toole. When I sought clarification of this fee, which was way in excess of head office stipulations, never mind general good sense, the Dublin office became inhospitable in its response.

Then I began to be told that I would have to prove that I was a journalist etc etc and I began to think that these pillocks were getting boring.

I was given a hodgepodge of confused information as to what I required when attending the NUJ’s south-west branch meeting at Adare to which I had been invited and which was to consider my renewal on its agenda. I was treated as a fool by people who revealed themselves as fools.

I explained to the then branch chair Valerie Sweeney that as a lapsed member seeking membership renewal, there was no requirement for a proposer or seconder, a matter she reluctantly accepted, and I further explained that the NUJ head office retained my full membership history.

At the meeting in Adare, my simple request to Valerie to briefly address the members to introduce myself was perfunctorily turned down as if I was an axe murderer there to wreak havoc. I was not extended the courtesy of sitting in the meeting and had to loiter outside like an errant schoolboy called before the beak. I was not enamoured by any of this crap.

After over one hour of loitering, Padraic Gallagher, a young journalist from RTE radio and the branch secretary at the time, emerged from the meeting to inform me that my application had been “deferred”.

Fine. I take time out of a busy timetable to attend a meeting 15 miles from my base to renew my 15 year membership of the NUJ to be told this. I don't think it was the 15th of the month.

Well. I decided to remain in the bar—the meeting was at the Woodlands Hotel—and socialise with my ‘journalistic colleagues’, most of whom in this particular meeting were beginning to appear to me as little more than ego tripping buffoons. Anyway, I had booked a place at a meal following the meeting and was growing hungry. Then Ms Sweeney approached and said that I should leave, as this was a ‘private’ meeting.

“You can’t stay here,” she said.

“Why?” I asked.

“You’re not a journalist. We don’t know anything about you.” That from Ms Sweeney in stern schoolmarm’am tone. The omnipotent God of who is and who isn’t and what is and what isn’t, stupid damned ignorant woman.

After a few moments of attempted parley (one cannot converse with a dumbkoff) I suggested in the politest way that she shove her hospitality up her ass and left the meeting.

Some weeks later, one Seamus Dooley, Irish organiser for the NUJ who had also attended the meeting and to whom I had introduced myself prior to its start, rather placatingly and somewhat condescendingly made the suggestion that I enrol as a temporary member until I had ‘proved that I was a journalist’.

Now this might seem nitpicking stuff, but in fact it is the stuff that communities are built on or eroded by. I have no hesitation in saying that I have more journalistic experience than Ms Sweeney certainly has manners in the lining of her handbag and it is a simple fact that I held more experience as a journalist than anyone who attended the meeting that day.

The worrying factor of all this is that Ms Sweeney was in a position of influence over those members of the press whose job it is to write of and convey the truth to the public.

Now I won’t say that my endeavours at submitting copy have been gagged. Far from it.

The small world of secluded cliquedom as practised by the juppies (my new word for the journalistic bigots who think the world, the whole world and nothing but the world is theirs and theirs all alone) attests to nothing grander than useless indifference. You can write reams of sweet, harpy lageristic dribble that lays claim to your adroitness as a humorphile. That doesn’t mean you can write. To fuddyduddle with words and avoid rooting out the truth is a disservice to the journalistic profession and all of us can well do without those who promulgate such.

What makes the above matter more unpalatable is the attempt by those within the higher echelons of the NUJ who simply tried to ignore my reports of the matter as though none of it ever happened.


lageristic: of, appetaining to, a lager swilling journalistic yob. May have a beer gut.
humorphile: someone who believes life is not more than a joke

If you are an NUJ member and have encountered similar difficulties with the union branches within Ireland do let me know.


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