Carlin, Terry (Terence) (1946–2003), trade unionist, was born 25 January 1946 in Derry city, the seventh child among eight sons and four daughters of Neil Carlin (d. 1981), a painter and decorator, and his wife Lizzie. The family resided on Elmwood Street in the city's Bogside. His father – one of the few men on the street in permanent employment – was a branch secretary, long‑serving Northern Ireland district secretary, and sometime president of the Amalgamated Society of Painters and Decorators; he was active on Derry Trades Council, and a regular delegate to the ITUC and ICTU.
Carlin was educated in Derry by the Christian Brothers and at St Columb's College, and as a youth worked for a time in the BSR record player factory. He entered St Patrick's College, Maynooth, as a seminarian, but abandoned clerical studies and graduated BA (1968). After teaching briefly in Limavady, Co. Derry, he taught English and drama at St Columbanus's College, Bangor, Co. Down. Appointed training and information officer with the Northern Ireland Committee (NIC) of the Dublin‑based Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) (1971–4), he organised training courses for shop stewards and educational courses for rank‑and‑file members of affiliated trade unions throughout the region. After serving as assistant (1974–5) to Billy Blease (latterly Lord Blease of Cromac; 1914–2008), he succeeded Blease as ICTU's Northern Ireland officer. Holding the position for twenty‑three years (1975–98), he thus was the senior trade‑union official in Northern Ireland throughout some of the most turbulent years of the political troubles, and during the period of prolonged, fitful movement towards an agreed settlement.
The NIC‑ICTU represented ninety per cent of NI's trade‑union members, whose allegiances spanned the sectarian and political divides: protestant and catholic; unionist, nationalist, loyalist, republican. Throughout his lengthy tenure, Carlin implemented the NIC policy of scrupulous neutrality regarding the constitutional status of NI, while denouncing all forms of political violence, promoting reconciliation between the two political traditions, and advocating full citizenship rights for all. The movement concentrated its primary energies on representing workers in industrial matters, and working for improved standards of living and employment. The policy was open to criticism for perpetuating a structural and rhetorical unity of protestant and catholic workers that was not replicated in the attitudes and behaviour of many members, and was ineffectual, when not quiescent, in confronting inequities and injustices, especially the various forms of workplace sectarianism. Such a critique notwithstanding, the policy did achieve its primary, overriding goal of maintaining the unity of the trade‑union movement throughout thirty years of social strife and violence in NI; avoided was any schism into separate protestant/unionist and catholic/nationalist congresses, the social and political ramifications of which would have transcended the sectional interests of trade unionism alone.
During his first years as NI officer, Carlin helped re‑establish the authority of NI's official trade‑union leadership – both among workers and within the wider society – which had been battered by the success of the 1974 loyalist work stoppage that toppled the Sunningdale executive; the NIC's opposition had utterly failed to prevent the stoppage or limit its scope. Carlin was prominent in the Better Life For All (BLFA) campaign – launched by ICTU in January 1976 in response to an immediate threat of tit‑for‑tat expulsions of catholics and protestants from workplaces – which highlighted social issues that were being sidelined amid the political violence. He tirelessly organised public meetings and rallies to publicise the campaign's principles, enunciated in a People's Declaration that was signed by 100,000 individuals. The principles were frequently cited thereafter by Carlin as a personal political credo: the rights to freedom from violence and discrimination, to peaceful protest, and to adequate employment, housing, education, health care, and other social services.
A lasting by‑product of the BLFA campaign was the intensified organisation throughout NI of local trades councils, of which there were sixteen by 1979; initially formed to conduct the campaign, the councils became permanent features of NI's trade‑union structures, engaged in a broad range of local and regional issues. Their role was vital in implementing NIC strategy in opposition to the second loyalist work stoppage (1977), organised by the United Unionist Action Council, headed by Ian Paisley and Ernest Baird (1930–2003), ostensibly in pursuit of tougher security measures and restoration of devolved majority government at Stormont, though critics suspected a larger design of fomenting a trade‑union split and establishing a separate Ulster trade union congress. Alerted by shop stewards several weeks in advance, Carlin and his NIC colleagues mobilised resistance, securing guarantees from government, security forces, and employers that workplaces would remain open, that vital services such as power and transport would be maintained, and that intimidation of workers by stoppage supporters would be suppressed. Throughout the thirteen days of the stoppage (3–13 May), shop stewards and trades councils monitored the situation at local level, thereby allowing for immediate and coordinated response to developments. Carlin commended the RUC for protecting people going to work, and dispersing intimidatory mobs at factory gates. With the overwhelming majority of workers defying the stoppage, despite widespread threats and violence, Carlin described the episode as a turning point in the history of the Northern Ireland troubles.
Much of Carlin's work transpired behind the scenes, involving organisation and policy formulation within trade‑union circles, negotiations with employers, and lobbying of politicians, ministers, civil servants, local government officials, business leaders, and community groups. His efficacy in such activity derived from his command of well‑researched and documented detail, powers of cogent argument based on the eminent reasonableness of his position, and absence of arrogance and belligerence. 'Carlin convinced by his case rather than personality – a strength that ignorance might regard as weakness' (Saothar (2003), 10). He drafted ICTU policy and position papers on every aspect of economic and social life in NI. He led the NIC's forthright but largely futile resistance to the economic policies of the Conservative Westminster governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major. In caustic public rhetoric, he denounced cuts in public expenditure and restrictions on trade‑union activity, defended public‑sector employment, and advocated government‑funded job‑creation initiatives to address NI's high levels of unemployment. He castigated the Thatcherite ideology that job creation was a function of private‑sector activity and not a responsibility of government as utterly void in addressing the needs of a society riven by political violence.
Carlin condemned all forms of workplace discrimination, and strove to secure legislation to establish rigorous fair employment standards in NI with effective means of enforcement. The NIC‑ICTU lobbied and agitated to correct deficiencies in the fair employment act of 1976, which only addressed direct discrimination, and failed to provide sufficient mechanisms and sanctions to achieve compliance. ICTU declined to endorse the MacBride principles, a set of affirmative‑action, fair‑employment policies framed by Seán MacBride (qv), around which Irish‑American activists based a campaign in the 1980s. With its membership sharply divided on the issue, and fearful that adoption of the principles might result in American disinvestment in NI, with dire consequences for employment and inter‑communal relations, ICTU contended that its own fair‑employment proposals were more comprehensive, since they applied to all employers, not merely to private American companies with NI subsidiaries. Carlin acknowledged that the fair employment act of 1989, which ICTU's persistent efforts helped to secure, was an improvement over the old legislation, but criticised its failure to embody certain of the NIC's major enforcement proposals.
He controversially lobbied the American trade‑union centre, the AFL‑CIO, as part of a coordinated effort with the Irish and British governments to obtain a major US government defence contract for the Shorts aerospace factory in Belfast (1983); the contract for eighteen Sherpa transport planes for the US Air Force was awarded on the basis of an undertaking by Shorts to comply with fair employment practices in recruitment and apprenticeships. A report by NI's Fair Employment Agency that Shorts had soon receded to its traditional discriminatory practices against catholics, was highly embarrassing for Carlin and the NIC (March 1985). Carlin unsuccessfully opposed the British government's decision of November 1984 to privatise Shorts; his subsequent opposition, in concert with NI politicians, to proposals that Shorts' three divisions (aircraft, missiles, and aerostructures) be sold separately, yielded fruit when in 1989 the company was purchased as a single entity by the Canadian conglomerate Bombardier.
As one of NI's foremost 'peace‑mongers' (Saothar, 12), Carlin frequently addressed demonstrations against political violence, and helped organise countless ICTU‑sponsored trade‑union rallies against paramilitary violence in general, or in response to specific atrocities. One of the largest was the massive demonstration at Belfast City Hall after the murders of eight protestant building workers by an IRA bomb at Teebane, Co. Tyrone; speakers included Carlin, and the general secretaries of ICTU, and of the British and Scottish TUCs (4 February 1992). Many of Carlin's interventions were prompted by intimidation and violence directed specifically against workers. These included IRA attacks on building contractors and workers engaged in jobs for the security forces (usually repair works on security installations damaged in IRA bomb attacks), and attacks by loyalist paramilitaries against catholics working in protestant areas or with traditionally protestant firms. During an upsurge of such violence in 1986, the NIC revived its BLFA campaign. Carlin was deeply involved in the launch of Counteract (August 1990), a unit aimed at reducing sectarian tensions and intimidation in the workplace, by promoting respect for diversity, opposing sectarianism, racism, and xenophobia, and intervening to resolve conflicts. The unit organised initiatives such as the youth campaign 'Hands off my mate', and won international acclaim for its training programmes, research, and educational materials.
Carlin was associated with the Peace People movement of the latter 1970s, and was a patron and Belfast committee‑member of the Peace Train Organisation (1989–90), which resisted the IRA's disruption of the Dublin–Belfast rail service by placing bombs on the line. He was an organiser of ICTU's Community Day for a Unifying Peace, marked by simultaneous rallies in fifteen locations throughout NI, and the coordinated observance of a minute's silence in workplaces and schools throughout the island (18 November 1993). He strongly supported the 1998 Good Friday agreement.
He represented ICTU on the Northern Ireland Economic Council, an advisory body of which he was the longest serving member at the time of his resignation (1977–2000). His nomination in 1979 as ICTU representative on the NI Police Authority was delayed for a month in protest at the RUC chief constable's alleged disdain for the authority, especially regarding investigation of complaints against constables. Defending his eventual appointment, he asserted that ICTU's presence on the authority was vital toward shaping an impartial police force. He pioneered the concept of 50/50 recruitment of protestants and catholics to the police, a proposal adopted by the Patten commission on policing for NI (1999), and a policy of the new Police Service of Northern Ireland.
The pressures of office impinging on his health, Carlin transferred to a new position as programme director of ICTU's North–South Cooperation Unit (1998–2001), lobbying on such issues as trade, business development, tourism, cross‑border cooperation, and EU funding. He retired from ICTU on health grounds in July 2001.
Carlin and his wife Una (dubbed 'the TUC' by their friends), who was from Co. Fermanagh, had one daughter, and resided at 15 Marlborough Gardens, Belfast. His recreations were reading, labour history, fishing, and holidaying in Schull, Co. Cork. He died 21 August 2003 at Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast. After requiem mass at St Brigid's church, Derryvolgie Ave., his remains were buried at an ecumenical service in Roselawn cemetery. The NIC headquarters on Donegall Street, Belfast, were named Carlin House in his memory.