ANTI-partnership trade unionist Mick O'Reilly could be restored as leader of the ATGWU in Ireland, two years after he was controversially dismissed by the union's head office in London.

The executive council of the TG & WU, as it is known in Britain, has agreed to a request from the union's Ireland committee to carry out an independent inquiry into all aspects surrounding the dismissal and subsequent reinstatement of O'Reilly and Eugene McGloin, who headed up the union's Belfast office.

The Irish committee of the union originally wanted former policeman, John Stalker ? who examined the alleged shoot-to-kill policy in Northern Ireland ? to head the inquiry, but London opted instead for John Hendy, SC, a well-known specialist in employment law in the UK. Supporters of O'Reilly in Ireland and the UK see this as a major step in getting O'Reilly back in as leader of the union in Ireland.

O'Reilly has constantly campaigned against the national pay deals and what he sees as the union's far too cosy relationship with the government and employers. If he is reinstated as ATGWU leader following the inquiry, he will get his seat back on the Ictu executive where he can be expected to resume his fight against partnership.

O'Reilly was dismissed as leader of the union in Ireland by the TG & WU's general secretary, Bill Morris, in 2002, after he had called a strike in Irish Rail involving the breakaway ILDA train drivers, who O'Reilly had taken into membership of the ATGWU. Several other disciplinary charges were made against O'Reilly, who strongly protested his innocence.

One year later, O'Reilly successfully appealed the dismissal to the London head office, and though he was reinstated, he was demoted from leader to an ordinary official.

The re-instatement deal also prevented O'Reilly from applying for promotion within the union for 12 months ? a period which has just elapsed.

O'Reilly's fortunes within the union improved when Bill Morris was replaced in London by the radical Tony Woodley, who supported O'Reilly.

Also, Jimmy Kelly, a worker in Waterford Glass and another strong supporter of O'Reilly, was surprisingly elected to the powerful 'lay' position as chairman of the union across the UK and Ireland.