Vale Gerry Conlon

You may have heard by now of the sad passing of freedom fighter, renowned international figure and great friend of the union, Gerry Conlon.

Gerry died on Saturday in his Belfast home following a long battle with cancer. He was 60.

Gerry Conlon speaking at the Youth Conference in Queensland in 2009
Gerry Conlon spoke at a Youth Conference in Queensland in 2009

Of course, Gerry and three others made up the so-called Guildford Four - a group of Irish nationals wrongfully convicted and sentenced to life for the 1974 bombing of a pub in Guildford.

His jailing is arguably the most egregious miscarriage of justice in modern British history. His father Giuseppe, convicted for an alleged lesser role in the bombing, died behind bars before the convictions were overturned in 1989.MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin paid his respects to a man he considered a friend and comrade.

"Gerry was a person of character and courage, who did not allow the great injustices against him to distort or poison his character and optimism,” Crumlin said. 

“He took time to come to Australia amongst many other countries, and addressed the MUA WA Rank and File Conference, and other branches and unions on the importance of why he strove for peace against violence, and justice against elitism. 

“He was an inspiration to those amongst us that find those values central to the meaning and quality of life.  

“Vale Comrade Conlon. Well found, greatly respected and loved and now sadly missed"

Gerry understandably faced significant struggles after his release, and suffered greatly with alcohol and drugs. It would have been incredibly easy for him to take the path of a recluse.

 And yet Gerry understood the power that his story had. He understood how his suffering could be harnessed for the greater good. He knew his experience had forced the world's eyes to be opened to injustice.

 He was a true trade unionist - a living example to us all of the principles we believe in.

 Gerry drew from his experiences to campaign on behalf of others with the Miscarriages of Justice Organisation.

 And Gerry, of course, was a steadfast friend to our Union. He visited Australia on a number of occasions and was kind enough to offer his story, his insights, and his passion to our members.

Knowing Gerry's often deep and dark personal struggles, it should be of enormous satisfaction to us all that he was able to find solace in the global union movement, but particularly here in Australia, among us.

When he most recently addressed the MUA in 2011 in Melbourne, I know there wasn't a dry eye in the house.

"They dragged me out of cave - out of a hole I had dug for myself," he told us.

"And to come here and to feel the warmth, the generosity, the inspiration, and the solidarity of the unions is absolutely fantastic."

Gerry taught us much and we should be proud of the role we played in his life as well.

The thoughts of all of us in the Union go to Gerry's family who have had to endure so much.

For those who didn’t have the opportunity to hear Gerry speak, check out his address to the MUA in Melbourne in 2011 below.

Gerry Conlon (middle) with Assistant National Secretary Ian Bray, WA Branch Secretary Christy Cain and Assistant Branch Secretary Will Tracey and other members of the WA Branch from the 2011 State Conference.