Fighting for rights was ‘my life’, says Benny Cassidy

AFTER almost 40 years of campaigning for better rights for healthcare staff and patrolling the corridors of Enniskillen’s hospitals, Benny Cassidy has parked up his wheelchair for the final time.

Since 1985, the much-loved Enniskillen man has been a constant at Fermanagh’s hospitals, first at the Old County Hospital, then at the Erne Hospital, and most recently at the South West Acute Hospital.

However, it’s through his work with the trade unions that Mr Cassidy will have a lasting legacy locally.


“When I was 19, I had my first exposure to trade unions. We, at Peeters Picture Frames Factory, went out for a one-day strike and we ended out for six weeks,” Mr Cassidy told the Herald.

“Working alongside Jim [Quinn], that gave me the taste for why I needed to become involved in trade unions. Working with them, that has been my life.”

Mr Cassidy was eventually made redundant from Peeters Picture Frames Factory.  He then took on employment at the Old County Hospital.

After working with a ‘great wee team’ in the laundry for four years, the Enniskillen man was hit with redundancy again.

He then successfully applied for a job as a hospital porter, in 1985.

“Frank [Duffy] took me under his wing and we worked together to try and secure better rights for workers,” recalled Mr Cassidy.

“I was only in there one month and I was elected as the shop steward [for Unison]. It became my life’s work.”


Fermanagh households were struggling in the early ‘90s. Mr Cassidy felt that the local healthcare workers needed a voice, to help them secure better standards.

“Back then, I was in Band 2. Even with all the striking, we finished up just one penny better off than the minimum wage. That was scandalous,” said the former SWAH employee.

Mr Cassidy rose through the ranks at Unison. He served as the union’s branch secretary in Fermanagh, while also representing the county on numerous regional committees.

Mr Cassidy was then seconded to act as Unison’s Job Evaluation Officer.

“We were tasked with organising a new pay system. My job was to oversee the process, ensuring fairness,” he said.

“It gave me a great insight into working with other colleagues. That helped me develop as a worker and trade unionist and I had the opportunity to talk to people about the benefits of being in a trade union.”

Up until his recent retirement, Mr Cassidy served as branch secretary of Unison for 27 years. He felt it was his duty to stand up for healthcare workers in Fermanagh.

“I was always really big into supporting the underdog,” he said.

“I always felt that, if the workers were being treated badly, there was something to be fought for.”

In June 2012, Mr Cassidy moved to Enniskillen’s new hospital, the South West Acute Hospital.

While he has enjoyed his time at the SWAH, the former Erne Hospital on the Cornagrade Road holds a special place in Mr Cassidy’s heart.

“The old [Erne] hospital was smaller. I always felt that it was more of a community hospital,” said the grandfather of five.

“At the SWAH [South West Acute Hospital], people take their breaks in their restrooms. By the time that they would get to the canteen and queue up, their break would be over.

“Back in the days of the Erne, it seemed more relaxed. I think because the community has grown, in the same way so has the hospital – it’s about catering for people.”

Mr Cassidy was present in the local hospital during the Enniskillen and Omagh bombings when countless people were rushed into the local service for life-saving support.

Working at the SWAH during the Covid-19 pandemic was a ‘very sad and difficult time’ for local healthcare staff, he said.

“People were dying and their relatives couldn’t get in to see them. There was nurses sitting holding the hands of people dying, when their family couldn’t get in. It was a very sad time,” he recalled.

Mr Cassidy has received an outpouring of support and well wishes from the local residents. He’ll miss the rapport with the patients and staff, he says.

“It’s like a big family up there [at the SWAH]. The workers, regardless of their [pay] grades, always back each other and know the value of working as a team,” said Mr Cassidy.

“The patients were so interesting. Older patients would tell you about past times and I found it so interesting. Even though they’re sick, they don’t mind you cheering them up.”

Mr Cassidy will now dedicate his time to his family and he’s looking forward to spending time with his wife, Charlotte, and his children and grandchildren.

“I have to keep up the walking. On a typical day, we would do maybe 14 miles at work and I didn’t want to retire and pile on the pounds,” said the Enniskillen man.

“I’ve a lot of good memories. If you find a job that you enjoy, you’ll never work a day in your life – and I’ve absolutely loved my job.”

Even though he’ll no longer be wearing the porter’s uniform, Mr Cassidy is committed to standing with local healthcare workers as they fight for better pay and working conditions.

“I think it’s scandalous in this day and age that public service workers are treated in this way,” he said.

“We’re below the breadline. Food is rising in price and people are struggling. When you hear that there are workers having to visit foodbanks, it’s totally outrageous and unacceptable.

“Workers in this region should not have had to go out to strike for pay parity. We’re doing the same job as our colleagues across the water, but we’re being paid differently. That’s bad,” added Mr Cassidy.

To read more.. Subscribe to current edition

Receive quality journalism wherever you are, on any device. Keep up to date from the comfort of your own home with a digital subscription.
Any time | Any place | Anywhere


The Fermanagh Herald is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
Registered in Northern Ireland, No. R0000576. 28 Belmore Street, Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, BT74 6AA