A Dangerous Pursuit

The anti-sectarian work of Counteract

by Roz Goldie (Author)
©2021 Monographs XIV, 254 Pages
Series: Reimagining Ireland, Volume 102


This is the untold story of Counteract, the trade union sponsored anti-sectarian unit tackling violent sectarianism in the workplace in the Northern Ireland conflict. As the death toll mounted through the 1980s key union women and men started what was planned as a campaign to support workers and became a ground-breaking facility for mediating sectarian disputes in the workplace in these violent times. People were shot for challenging flags at work, drivers hijacked at gun point and forced to drive bombs, taxi drivers murdered in tit-fortat sectarian killings, and workers were forced out of jobs because of sectarian threats and intimidation. This is a hidden part of the peace process, showing the path from «Shipyard confetti» to nuanced expressions of sectarian hostility.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the authors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Figures
  • Acknowledgements
  • Abbreviations
  • Introduction
  • CHAPTER 1 Living in War – Working for Peace
  • CHAPTER 2 Meeting the Challenge
  • CHAPTER 3 1991–92: Early Work
  • CHAPTER 4 1993: Building Strong Foundations
  • CHAPTER 5 1994: Developing Work in a Changing World
  • CHAPTER 6 1995–96: Peace Breaks Out for a While
  • CHAPTER 7 1996–97: Strategic Development to Change Organisations
  • CHAPTER 8 1997: The Poppy and Black Ribbon Disputes
  • CHAPTER 9 1998–99: New Dispensation – New Mainstream Vocabulary
  • CHAPTER 10 1998–99: Consolidating Alliances – Building on Networks
  • CHAPTER 11 2000: If You Do What You’ve Always Done, You Get What You’ve Always Got
  • CHAPTER 12 The Limits, the Lessons and the Legacy
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index

←vii | viii→←viii | ix→


I am grateful to many people for help during the writing of this history. Indeed, the book itself is an acknowledgement of Counteract and a wide variety of people who worked for and supported the anti-sectarian unit. My thanks to those who gave me interviews in 2000–02 and who answered my phone calls and emails in 2020 and responded with information. However, I must first acknowledge the late Noreen Moore, secretary in Counteract. She gathered reports, minutes and information from the earliest days up to 2000 with constant patience and good cheer – no small task given Counteract was not strong on recording its work.

I began a final draft during the months of Covid-19 lockdown, when people could not meet and life was suspended in a virtual hub. Despite those difficulties, Kevin Cooper provided details about the few remaining people I needed to contact – some of whom had died or were too ill to contribute to this book. He waded through decades of photographs for this book, and shared his stories, experience and knowledge – all of which were invaluable. Imelda Cooper volunteered to proof-read drafts and encouraged me, as I tried to translate some rather turgid records into a readable text. Both she and Kevin spared no effort.

Billy Robinson’s brother Gerard was a central person because, as nominal head of family after Billy’s death, his approval was essential. He was open, trusting and generous in sharing photographs, records and many stories that would otherwise have been lost. It was important to get a well-rounded and verified picture of events. Jim Quinn’s input was significant – as he had been the first ‘leader’ of Counteract. As with most people he had more to say than I had found on record and took the trouble to put this on (virtual) paper.

Pascal McCulla was a crucial source of information about the latter years. He came from the Northern Ireland Civil Service Department of Finance and Personnel with the expertise in organisational change to Counteract that Counteract needed to develop a framework for change. He ←ix | x→was pivotal in developing the move from ‘fire-fighting’ to ‘fire-proofing’ that Counteract wanted. He read relevant drafts and provided detailed information – and amendments – on the Equity, Diversity and Interdependence Framework. He also shared photographs.

It would be invidious to single out particular individuals from over fifty interviews during the past two decades. However, information and quotations are credited, which acknowledges them. Thanks to those who also later confirmed facts and details by phone and email.

This book is part of my work as a visiting scholar to the George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at Queen’s University Belfast and the Director, Hastings Donnan to whom I am obliged, but who obviously bears no responsibility for any deficiencies the script may have.

←x | xi→



Association of Chief Police Officers


Amalgamated Engineering Union


Amalgamated Transport & General Workers Union, now T&G (all references are made to T&G for uniformity).


British Standards Institute


Belfast Trades Council


Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre


Campaign for the Administration of Justice


Confederation of British Industry


Central Community Relations Unit

(later) Community Relations Unit of OFDFM


Combined Loyalist Military Command


Community Relations Council (for Northern Ireland)


Communication Workers Union


Department of Agriculture & Rural Development


Department of Culture Arts & Leisure


Department of Enterprise, Trade & Investment


Department of Finance & Personnel


Department of Health & Social Services (now DHSSPS)


Department of Health & Social Services and Public Safety


Department of the Environment


Department for Regional Development


Department of Social Development←xi | xii→


Democratic Unionist Party


Equal Opportunities Commission (NI)


European Regional Development Fund


European Social Fund


Electrical Workers Union


Fair Employment Commission (NI)


Fair Employment Tribunal (NI)


General, Municipal, Boilermakers Union


Irish Congress of Trade Unions


Loyalist Volunteer Force


Member of the Local Assembly (at Stormont)


Manufacturing, Science and Finance Union


Northern Ireland Committee, Irish Congress of Trade Unions



XIV, 254
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2021 (June)
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2021. XIV, 254 pp., 16 fig. b/w, 1 tables.

Biographical notes

Roz Goldie (Author)

Roz Goldie is currently a visiting scholar at the George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at Queen’s University Belfast.


Title: A Dangerous Pursuit
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270 pages