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Last Updated:  Monday, 17 March, 2003, 17:01 GMT
IRA man suing shipyard
Veteran Belfast republican Joe Cahill is suing shipbuilders Harland and Wolff because he is suffering from asbestosis.

Cahill, an IRA man sentenced to death for the murder of a policeman, worked in the Belfast shipbuilders between 1950-51 after being released from prison.

He had his death sentence commuted to life in 1942 after the intervention of the then Pope.

But in 1973, he was again jailed for gun-running. Around the same time the British army publicly named him as the IRA's chief of staff.

Despite being a Catholic and republican activist, he said he experienced no hostility over his political affiliations or religion at the shipyard, which had a largely Protestant workforce.

Interviewed for the BBC's week of programming to mark the end of shipbuilding at Harland and Wolff, Cahill said he lamented the passing of the shipyard - which he described as one of the finest in the world.

Joe Cahill
Cahill said Harland and Wolff had been a great source of employment

Fifty years ago there was plenty of work at Harland and Wolff, he said.

"They were re-doing liners which had been used as troop carriers. There was no great difficulty in getting a job.

"You weren't forced to work hard. You were given a certain amount of work to do in the day and when you had that done, that was your day's work over.

"Many a time I slipped off. When you had your work done you would head off to town for a couple of hours and then come back in time to check out."

'Back to the tools'

Cahill believes much time was wasted and that a lack of managerial supervision led to the shipyard's downfall.

His main experience of sectarianism at the yard came after he was promoted.

"After a couple of days the foreman came round and said: 'Joe - back to the tools.'

Many a time I slipped off - when you had your work done you would head off to town for a couple of hours and then come back in time to check out
Joe Cahill

"I asked if I was not doing the job right and he said: 'You are - I'm delighted with the work. But you kick with the wrong foot' - there was an objection to me being a Catholic and getting a promotion."

He said his presence at the republican Easter commemoration at Milltown cemetery in 1950 had been mentioned by some in the shipyard, but nothing was ever said to him directly.

"There had been a photograph of me at the commemoration in the paper, but never at any time did anyone say anything to me about my political affiliations or religion."

Cahill said Harland and Wolff had been a great source of employment and the prospect of its closure was "incredible".

"I blame it on bad management. As a worker it was a disaster.

"It is sad to see that one of the finest shipyards in the world will no longer be alive in this city."

Anvil Point
Last ship - the ferry Anvil Point
Last year, the Northern Ireland Assembly said insurance claims by former workers over asbestosis could cost the UK government up to 190m.

Up to 3,000 former workers, who were employed by the company before it was privatised in 1989, could be affected.

In the last year, Cahill said he had been diagnosed as having asbestosis.

"There are literally thousands of people who have suffered from it and that is one of the biggest curses of the shipyard."

Cahill has a claim in against Harland and Wolf. "Whether I get anything is another thing," he said.

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