Trade unions Unite and NBRU in talks over merger

NBRU would retain its own identity within the Irish wing of Unite

Two of the country’s best known trade unions are at an advanced stage of talks regarding a merger. The National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) is set to ballot its members over coming months on becoming part of Unite.

Senior officials of the two unions are understood to have been negotiating for a number of months on the move which is described by Unite as a potential “coming together” and by the NBRU as an “alliance”.

It is understood the NBRU would retain its identity within the larger organisation but would benefit from the greater resources of Unite’s Irish wing and of the much bigger British union of the same name.

The NBRU, which has 4,000 members across Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann and Irish Rail, was founded in 1963 to represent a number of staff at Dublin Bus and it subsequently expanded to gain members across the constituent companies of what was the CIÉ group.


The inclusion of rail staff was recognised in the early 1990s when the name was changed.

It has continued to compete with Siptu for members across the publicly owned transport sector and there have been tensions between the two organisations. Under current general secretary Dermot O’Leary, it has often been perceived to be more militant than its larger rival and, unlike Siptu, it is not a member of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, something that would change if it becomes a constituent part of Unite.

Unite, which has about 20,000 members in the State, including a number of craft and other workers in the transport sector, has been at odds with some of the mainstream union movement here on occasion. The union has a significant existing membership in bus and rail in the North.

Confirming engagement on a possible merger has been ongoing, Mr O’Leary said on Tuesday the two unions had been “looking at the possibilities around forging an alliance of our respective unions”.

“The objective of these discussions is to look at the possibility of establishing a stronger representative body within the transport sector.”

The focus, he said, would be on “embracing the strength of the NBRU’s comprehensive and intimate knowledge of the transport sector, gained from our unique position within the CIÉ group of companies for over 60 years, with Unite’s larger footprint and wider reach into all modes of transport, eg, land, sea and air, across the island of Ireland”.

“Whilst the discussions have been ongoing and are due to be concluded during 2024, a comprehensive consultation process with our members will follow. Ultimately, any decision on the future will exclusively lie with our membership.”

In a statement, Unite’s Irish secretary, Susan Fitzgerald, said: “Unite already represents a sector of public transport workers in the Republic and is the largest public transport union in Northern Ireland. The NBRU has a long history of effectively organising and defending public transport workers in the Republic. By coming together, we would be able to offer transport workers powerful representation throughout Ireland.”

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Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times