Tyrone: 'Sorrys make me sick!'

Greg Lewis, Wales on Sunday Mar 28 2004

THE chairman of the last deep mine in Wales has launched a stinging attack on Neil Kinnock and Kim Howells for trying to 'rewrite the history' of the miners' strike.

Tower Colliery's Tyrone O'Sullivan said the two men - who now hold senior political posts - must shoulder their share of responsibility for the "devastation" left by the strike.

Mr O'Sullivan said it "made him sick" to hear Kim Howells apologise and Neil Kinnock express regret for their part in the 1984-85 walkout.

"Sometimes you have to stand up and be counted," he said. "That is what we - the miners - did during the strike.

"It makes me sick. They blame Scargill and the miners. But we knew what we were doing."

In an explosive interview, Mr O'Sullivan says he is not surprised Mr Kinnock - who became a European Commission in 1995 - now "pours scorn" on National Union of Mineworkers leader Arthur Scargill and not Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

"I don't find it strange. He's got a fantastic job in Europe because of it, hasn't he?" he said. "I've got no doubts about that.

"To be appointed under a Tory government to a fantastic job in Europe. I don't know if that's a pay-off or not."

Mr O'Sullivan also:

* blasts the Labour Party and TUC for letting the miners down;
* says Kim Howells - who recently said he regretted his role in the strike - was never a miner and was not fighting for his job like the pitmen;
* defends Arthur Scargill whom he says never lost the respect of the NUM 'rank and file';
* and predicts many South Wales mining communities could have been saved from ruin if the colliers had been supported.
"The devastation we faced for the next 15 years across the Valleys - with school kids leaving school to never have a job - was not all down to Thatcher," said Mr O'Sullivan. "I believe Kinnock and the Labour Party at the time, the TUC, and others should have taken responsibility.

"Everybody's got to understand that if we hadn't lost the strike or if we had come out with a draw we would never have been devastated in the Welsh communities in the way we were.

"I find it incredible that they would rather blame us miners and blame Scargill for an issue that must be about the Tory government under Thatcher, and I see only one reason and that is they never believed or could see the devastation that would come to the Welsh valleys after that defeat."

The strike began on March 5, 1984 when it became apparent that a pit near Barnsley in Yorkshire was to be the first colliery to shut in a wide-ranging programme of closures.

With 20 pits and 20,000 mining jobs threatened, the action spread across the UK and, by March 12, half of Britain's 187,000 miners had downed tools.

Neil Kinnock, who was elected leader of the Labour Party a few months before the strike began, told a TV documentary earlier this year that his biggest regret was not to call for a national ballot.

He also said he "detested" Mr Scargill.

"I did then, I do now, and it's mutual," said Mr Kinnock.

But Mr O'Sullivan blasted: "I don't know what they (other striking miners) feel. I only know one thing - despite all the blame heaped on Arthur for the strike, when it came to his election a couple of months later he ends up with a 64 per cent majority in South Wales - even though the South Wales executive were not supporting him. And if they'd have supported him he would probably have had an 80 per cent result.

"How can that be the man who miners hated or blamed? Total rubbish. I know some of the leaders did and they lost their way but I don't think the rank and file have ever lost respect (for him)."

Pontypridd MP and Government transport minister Kim Howells, who was formerly an NUM research official, recently told a meeting marking the 20th anniversary of the start of the strike that he regretted persuading miners to walk out.

"His reaction now is very disappointing," said Mr O'Sullivan. "I believe that he doesn't want the guilt of being a part of the return to work.

"You see Kim wasn't a picketer. He may have gone onto picket lines and, whatever we say, Kim is still a friend of mine. If I met him in the street we would speak, but he was an employee of the National Union of Mineworkers.

"He wasn't on strike, he never suffered the hardships we suffered.

"He was an employee, travelling around checking up what was happening.

"I would say all the time he slept in hotels. Many of those picketers slept on the side, in bus stops or in a bus or in people's homes, on the floor.

"A lot of these people in these positions, including Kinnock, never lost a penny. They never lost their jobs."

He added: "It wasn't about saving their jobs. They still had the money in their back pockets. They could still send their kids to college or university.

Their house wasn't going to be taken off them."

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