Bernard Moffatt

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Bernard Moffatt was born in Peel, Isle of Man in April 1946. Both his mother (Millie Cashin) and father (James Moffatt) were Manx.[citation needed] He was educated at Peel Clothworkers School, a stroke of luck for someone who would become a leading figure in the Nationalist movement, because at that time schools which promoted Manx cultural affairs were the exception. Peel School, although then under the headship of a Yorkshireman (George Sayle), was one such, so Manx History and Culture was on the agenda. Manx dancing classes at the School were organised by Mona Douglas, an icon of the Manx cultural revival, and Moffatt was enrolled in one of those teams.

"I'm now a fully committed Manx Nationalist" he said, and the start of this was the emphasis placed at school on Manx history art and culture. "We used to have Mona Douglas round to talk to us – and I was in the Manx folk dancing team".[1]

In his youth Moffatt came to know several significant figures (all from the west of the island) on the Manx nationalist and language scene (the brothers Walter and Leslie Quirk, Jack Irving and Alfie Cooil), although at that time there was no official Nationalist Party.

Mec Vannin[edit]

Bernard Moffatt was a founder member of Mec Vannin, the Manx Nationalist Party. His attendance at the inaugural meeting with a dozen other people is recorded in the original minute book of Mec Vannin, which (having inexplicably disappeared for twenty years) is now lodged with other Mec Vannin papers in the Manx Museum (MNH) Library.

Moffatt was initially enthusiastically involved in what was then a national movement which saw itself more in a national liberation mould. The island was at that time seen by some as too heavily dominated by the United Kingdom with what they regarded as a colonial administration. There were competing schools of thought on the direction nationalism should take – these included constitutional, direct action and greater commitment to language and culture. There were even attempts to forge links with Welsh and Irish republicans, although at this time, and for over twenty years thereafter, Mec Vannin was not a republican party. The party was periodically beset by crisis and splits, something which was to continue until the mid-1980s.[2]

Bernard Moffatt's involvement in Mec Vannin ebbed and flowed over the next ten years, and it was not until the early 1970s that he committed himself totally to the nationalist movement.

In 1976 he helped found the Anti-Militarist Alliance, an aggregation of members from the Manx branch of the Celtic League and Mec Vannin. The AMA was initially formed to campaign against British military use of the Isle of Man, and it called for the closure of an army base and military bombing range. The AMA also campaigned to end the use of military facilities on the Island to support the war in Ireland. It produced the Celtic League and AMA News, a complete set of which is held in the Manx Museum (MNH) Library.[3]

Membership of the AMA however soon became inimical to some elements of Mec Vannin, and there were attempts to expel Moffatt and others. The expulsion attempts failed, and disenchanted elements left Mec Vannin to establish a short-lived "Manx National Party".[4]

Moffatt continued in Mec Vannin, occupying several executive positions over the years, and was eventually elected Life President.[4]

Celtic League[edit]

Moffatt's initial involvement with the Celtic League came in the mid-1970s as a result of the formation in Mannin of the AMA. Patricia Bridson (later to become Carn Editor) was the branch secretary at the time. Moffatt eventually succeeded Bridson as Secretary and was later elected Assistant General Secretary to assist Alan Heusaff in overall stewardship of the League. Moffatt eventually succeeded Heusaff as General Secretary and undertook that office from 1984 to 1988 and 1991 to 2006.[5]

During his period as both AGS and General Secretary, Moffatt oversaw the Celtic League's military monitoring campaigns. This was a long-running and diverse campaign covering all facets of military activity in the Celtic countries. It was extensively documented in Carn and a copious file of activities was accumulated.

These files were eventually deposited in the Manx Museum (MNH) Library (additional papers are also lodged in the National Library of Wales) and in November 2008 were featured in a French TV documentary (broadcast globally on TV5 Monde and also on France 3). Moffatt was interviewed by journalist Veronica Weber in the library vault at MNH with the boxes of files.[6]

Military monitoring materials compiled by the League have been drawn on extensively by other sources over the years. A copy of a file on munitions dumping around the British Isles was supplied to the Department of the Marine in the 1990s, and the League's archive was also used in a report compiled for the Japanese parliament.[7]

In addition, League material was supplied to the reopened Irish government enquiry into the 1968 Aer Lingus airliner tragedy over the Irish sea (in which British military involvement was suspected), and League queries were responded to in the final report.[8]

Another Celtic League campaign in which Moffatt enthusiastically participated was the initiative to have the Calf of Man (a small island to the south of Man) returned from the English National Trust to the Manx nation. This collaborative venture between the Manx and London branches of the Celtic League was ultimately successful.[5]

Moffatt has travelled extensively for the Celtic League, giving papers on nationalism, anti-militarism and civil liberties in the Celtic countries, Switzerland, Romania and Libya.[9]

Trade unionist[edit]

Writing in the "Outside Left"[10] column in Isle of Man Newspapers, which he wrote for briefly, in December 2015, Mr Moffatt, pointed out the misapprehension of many regarding his politics, stating that a secretary in the 1980s Isle of Man TGWU (Transport and General Workers' Union) said (of his application to be a TGWU official), "It’s your politics. You’re a nationalist they will definitely appoint someone from the (Manx) Labour Party. You’re not left-wing.", and added, "I remember being mildly amused at the idea that anyone in the MLP (Manx Labour Party) was left wing." He went on, "In some ways I’m a conservative with a small c."

Moffatt was an active trade unionist from the 1960s. He joined the TGWU while working for the Forestry Board and was a shop steward in the building industry in the early 1970s. He left the TGWU and joined the health union COHSE (Confederation of Health Service Employees) for a period in the mid-1970s, finally rejoining the TGWU in 1980.

Moffatt became branch chairman of the main TGWU branch (the 6/509) and also Chairman of the TGWU Isle of Man District Committee. Eventually he became full-time official for the TGWU on the island. He was involved in fuel oil disputes and brewery strikes, and also co-ordinated support for striking miners by blocking imports of coal into the island and raising funds.[11]

Through the Trades Council, Moffatt cooperated with others in opposing new trade union laws. In a foreword to On Whose Terms – The Betrayal of the Manx working class he wrote:

"The Isle of Man Government, using the thinly veiled guise of Social Reform, is about to establish new Employment Law. This Social Legislation is designed to provide the State with a security from industrial strife that the old 1936 (Trades Dispute) Act provided. In enacting this legislation Government effectively hopes to hang the same 'albatross' around the neck of organised labour as they did in the 1930s."[12]

Moffatt retired as TGWU full-time official but continued as a member of the IOM Trades Council and also as Secretary of the IOM Whitley Council for several years. He retired completely from Trade Union duties in September 2014. His daughter Angela Moffatt is a full-time official on the IOM for the white-collar and technical union "Prospect".

Civil Liberties[edit]

Bernard Moffatt has been active in campaigning for reform of laws relating to civil liberties on the island for four decades. In the 1980s, with the assistance of the TGWU and when District Chairman on the island, he lobbied the Home Office, meeting government ministers and urging action to allow the right of individual petition under the European Convention on Human Rights to Manx citizens (this was rescinded in 1976 and not restored until the 1990s).

He has also campaigned for the abolition of capital punishment and judicial corporal punishment (birching), for reform of laws outlawing homosexuality, and for prison reform.

He was a founder member (and Secretary) with other trade unionists of the Manx Council for Civil Liberty which existed in the 1990s and was successful in seeing changes to civil liberties legislation which reformed all the aforementioned issues.[13]

Moffatt was scathing of the Manx government and popular attitudes in the island to civil liberties. Quoting a remark made by a sentencing magistrate, he said:

"I would delight in birching both of you" – Those words spoken by a magistrate nearly 30 ago, to two mentally retarded children, should be burnt into the soul of every Manxman. The remarks represent a bigotry, intolerance and fundamental disregard for civil liberty that existed and is retained to this day. The birch, of course, has since "died the death" and is consigned to "saloon bar" nostalgia for a perceived more disciplined age.

He went on:

For the past thirty years or more this Nation has consistently lacked a leadership that took a firm stand on individual liberty.[14]

Moffatt has presented evidence on behalf of the Celtic League to various international bodies on civil liberties issues. In relation to the Isle of Man this has successfully focused on prison reform.[15]


  1. ^ Terry Cringle, "Bernard Moffatt – Manx Nationalist and Union Leader", Mann Today, Feb/March 1988.
  2. ^ "Ripples in a Celtic Tide – Evolution of Manx Nationalism", Celtic History Review, Vol. 1, Issue 2.
  3. ^ Celtic League & AMA News (various issues), MNH Library.
  4. ^ a b "The Development of Manx Nationalism – Part 11", Celtic History Review.
  5. ^ a b Peter Berresford Ellis, The Celtic Dawn, Constable, London, 1993. ISBN 0-09-472770-8
  6. ^ "Thalassa" (nautical TV magazine programme), France 3 & TV5, October/November 2008.
  7. ^ Tohru Aketagawa, Investigation about Application of Status of Forces Agreement (United States of America), Report to Upper House of the Japanese Diet, 2002.
  8. ^ Vickers Viscount, EI-AOM, Fatal Crash at Tuskar Rock, 24 March 1968, Irish Department of Transport – AAIU, 2002.
  9. ^ Carn – Journal of the Celtic League, various volumes.
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Simon Richardson talks to Bernard Moffatt", Manx Life, 35th Anniversary Issue, Vol. 9 No 4.
  12. ^ On Whose Terms – The Betrayal of the Manx Working Class, IOM District TGWU, 1990.
  13. ^ MCCL records lodged with MNH Library - Thie Tashtee Vannin, Douglas, Isle of Man.
  14. ^ "Viewpoint", Island Life, Issue 2, September 1992.
  15. ^ CPT Report to the Government of the United Kingdom, May 2003.

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