The Irish Writers Union was established in 1986, by Jack Harte, with the aim of providing information and assistance to published and aspiring writers alike. The union is linked to other Irish arts groups such as the Irish Writers' Centre and the Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild but, as its name suggests, it deals mainly with matters pertinent to a Trade Union such as the legal aspects of publishing and the protection of authors' rights. The union provides guidelines and model contracts for writers to use as a reference point, along with a plethora of information relating to copyright and contractual law. If and when required, the union will actively participate in disputes and help an author to achieve recognition of their work.
The IWU also works hard to eradicate censorship in whatever from it may take, becoming actively involved in cases and creating publicity to help drum up support for any author suffering censorship. Gerry Adams, one of the union's more famous members, being a fine example of the fight against censorship.
The union is organised around its Committee, which meets regularly to discuss policies and aims, matters of interest and prepares statements to show the union's policy on new laws in the field of authorship and publishing. In May 2002, the Committee announced its new Chairperson, Conor Kostick, a young journalist and writer based in Dublin. I met up with Conor just after his appointment, and asked him about his involvement with the union, how he feels about his new position and in a broader vein, what the union is currently most concerned about.
In answer to my question of how he first became involved with the union, Conor told me:
I got involved with the union on the publication of my second book, The Easter Rising - A guide to Dublin in 1916. I'm a socialist so I joined the union out of a basic principle of belief that it is best to unite and represent writers collectively. I volunteered to work for the union as Disputes Officer and in that capacity began to learn about the ins and outs of the Irish publishing world. Unfortunately, publishers and authors - despite a common interest in achieving high sales for a book - find themselves in disagreement over contracts and royalties far too often.
We went on to discuss who, why and how the union can help:
We welcome all writers into the union. As a matter of fact, the more writers involved in the union the better able we are to persuade publishers of the writers' point of view and represent them with national bodies such as The Arts Council. If you are of Irish background or writing about Ireland then we would be interested in having you as a member. If you've not yet published anything then you can still join the union as an associate member and we can help you with regards to your contracts. Although for advice about how to get published, I'd recommend the annual Writers and Artists Yearbook.
And finally, the issues that the union are currently focussing their attention on:
One of the important campaigns of the union is over public lending right payments. Following an EU directive, most countries pay a small royalty to writers when their works are borrowed from libraries. For Irish writers this would only be a small income but it's better than a kick in the teeth.
Unfortunately, the Irish government, at the time of writing, is not paying public lending right payments. But that may change due to a case which is coming up through the European Courts.
Having been briefly introduced to E2, Conor expressed an interest in finding out more about us and the obvious question of copyright infringement in the information age raised its ugly head. But we'll leave that for another time.
You can find out more by visiting the IWU website where you will also find links to its sister organisations:
And more about the 1916 Easter Rising, here: