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Unions 21
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Unions 21 welcomes new Director for Ireland

A picture of a smiling man, here is wearing a navy suit and green tie.  He has dark hair and wears glasses.

By | 4 min

Unions 21 is pleased to welcome Robert Murtagh to Unions 21 as our new Director for Ireland. We asked Robert to talk a bit about himself, his new post and what he sees as priorities going forward.

Tell us a bit about yourself

As well as being in post at Unions 21, I am also the Communications and Campaigns Organiser for Nautilus International, the union for maritime professionals with branches in the UK, Netherlands, and Switzerland. 

I’m based in Belfast and my job at Nautilus involves a range of activities; strategic campaigns, media relations, social media, public affairs and industrial support which I’m keen to also use at Unions 21. 

Prior to Nautilus, I worked for the Royal College of Midwives and before that was President of the national student union in N. Ireland – NUS-USI. 

I’m often found travelling with my wife or sitting on the sofa watching sport, I am a long suffering Man United fan.  

What do you think are the major challenges for unions? 

Change and our ability to adapt with new attitudes and ways of working!

The very nature of employment is changing with increasing numbers of people either forced to or choosing to be self-employed. How do we show relevance in the workplace and demonstrate to members and potential members the power of collectivism, empowering our members to work together in pursuit of their interests. I think this is a massive challenge as trade union membership continues to be outweighed by public sector employment.

I’m also interested in how people view unions and that might be constantly shifting, amongst young people who are not as exposed to trade unions as they were in the past. 

All these challenges requires unions to embrace new ways of working, new technology and data. Unions 21, through our insights, connections and training is helping unions face these challenges and that’s why I am excited to be part of the team! 

Anything specific in Ireland we need to think about?

We’re really keen to continue to take the time to listen and understand the challenges facing the Irish trade union movement.  One thing that springs to mind is how to implement the EU directive for 80% collective bargaining coverage. It will be imperative to support unions to increase in union density and capacity. 

What are the current U21 projects are you really interested in at the moment?

Artificial Intelligence and automation are not new ideas or problems, but with self-driving cars coming upstream and the widespread use of Chat GPT it is becoming increasingly relevant to our daily lives. 

While unions will often, rightly, look at AI with suspicion out of concern for member’s jobs, we must ensure we are employing the technology available to represent our members to the highest possible standards, increasing our influence and running impactful campaigns. 

Our new work on AI has the real potential to support unions to embrace technology, helping us to mitigate the risks to our members while making the most of the opportunities.  You can sign up for our new AI Fundamentals course here.

What is going to be your priority in post?

My priority is to ensure that Irish unions are aware and can participate in the work of Unions 21, being able to take full advantage of the invaluable insights, connections and training that unions 21 has to offer. 

I’ll be focussed on ensuring that takes place and hope Irish unions will participate in the AI project and benefit from the connections Unions 21 can facilitate with other unions, experts and other groups with similar aims.

If you’re in Ireland and want to connect with Robert, you can email him on

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