Workers Party of Ireland: Wikis


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The Workers Party of Ireland
Páirtí na nOibrithe
Leader Mick Finnegan
General Secretary John Lowry
Founded 1982 (1982)
Headquarters 48 North Great George's Street, Dublin 1
Ideology Communism,
International affiliation International Conference of Communist and Workers' Parties
European affiliation None
European Parliament Group None
Official colours Red, Green
Local government in the Republic of Ireland
Politics of the Republic of Ireland
Political parties
Politics of Northern Ireland
Political parties

The Workers Party of Ireland (Irish: Páirtí na nOibrithe), is a left-wing republican political party in Ireland. The party evolved from Official Sinn Féin, which emerged from the split in Sinn Féin in 1970. In the past the party had close links to the Official IRA.



The modern origins of the party can be found in the early 1960s. After the failure of the then IRA's 1956-62 "Border Campaign" the republican movement, with a new military and political leadership, undertook a complete reappraisal of its raison d'être. Under the guidance of figures such as Cathal Goulding and Sean Garland, the leadership of both Sinn Féin and the IRA sought to shift their emphasis away from the traditional republican goal of a 32 County Irish Republic redeemed (since Republicans regard the republic declared in 1916 as still in existence and the Anglo-Irish Treaty as invalid) by military action and concentrate more on socialism and civil rights related activities. In doing so they gradually abandoned the military focus that had previously characterised republicanism. The leadership were substantially influenced by a group who had been active in the Communist Party of Great Britain's Connolly Association. In their analysis, the primary obstacle to Irish unity was the continuing division between the Protestant and Catholic working classes. This they attributed to the 'divide and rule' policies of Capital, whose interests a divided working class served. Military activity was seen as counterproductive since its effect (whatever the intent) was to further entrench the sectarian divisions. If the working classes could be united in class struggle to overthrow their common rulers, a 32 county socialist republic would be the inevitable outcome.

This Marxist outlook became unpopular with many more traditionalist republicans, and the party/army leadership was criticized for failing to defend northern Catholic enclaves from loyalist attacks (these debates were held against the background of the violent beginning of what were to become The Troubles). A growing minority within the rank-and-file wanted to maintain traditional militarist policies aimed at ending British rule in Northern Ireland. An equally contentious issue was whether to or not to continue with the policy of abstentionism, that is, the refusal of elected representatives to take their seats in parliament; a majority of the leadership was in favour of abandoning this policy. A troika consisting of Seán Mac Stiofáin, Dáithí Ó Conaill and Seamus Twomey, together with others, established themselves as a "Provisional Army Council" in 1969 in anticipation of a contentious 1970 Sinn Féin Árd Fheis (delegate conference). At the Árd Fheis the leadership of Sinn Féin failed to attain the prerequisite two-thirds majority necessary to change the party's position on abstentionism. The debate was charged with allegations of vote rigging and expulsions. When the Árd Fheis went on nevertheless to pass a vote of confidence in the official Army Council (which had already approved an end to the abstentionist policy) Ruairí Ó Brádaigh led the minority in a walk out.[1] This breakaway group aligned themselves with the 'Provisional Army Council' and immediately became tagged by the media as Provisional Sinn Féin, while those remaining became known as Official Sinn Féin. Each rejected the tag, preferring to identify themselves by the location of their head office, Kevin Street and Gardiner Place respectively. The name of the ('official') party remained Sinn Féin until changed to Sinn Féin the Workers Party in 1977. Official Sinn Féin, under the leadership of Tomás Mac Giolla, remained aligned to Goulding's Official IRA.

The minority, those supportive of Seán Mac Stiofáin's "Provisional Army Council", endeavoured to achieve a united Ireland by force [2] As the Troubles escalated, this "Provisional Army Council" would come to command the loyalty of the IRA national organisation save for a few isolated instances (that of the IRA Company of the Lower Falls road, Belfast under the command of Billy McMillen and other small units in Derry, Newry, Dublin and Wicklow), and eventually become accepted by the media as simply 'the IRA'.

The split of 1970 was not necessarily one between Marxist-orientated innovators and Catholic-orientated traditionalists. A key factor in the split was the desire of what became the Provisionals to make military action the key object of the organisation, rather than a simple rejection of leftism. On the other hand, conservatives in the Republic of Ireland sought to use their power and influence (such as through the covert supply of weapons from elements of the Fianna Fáil government of Ireland) to dissipate the influence of the Marxists. [3] [4]

Political development

Irish Political History series

Flag of Ireland.svg


– in Ireland
– in Northern Ireland
Irish republican legitimatism
Physical force republicanism
See also List of IRAs
for organisations claiming that name.

Key documents

Proclamation of the Republic
Declaration of Independence
Message to Free Nations
Democratic Programme
Dáil Constitution
Anglo-Irish Treaty
External Relations Act 1936
Constitution of Ireland
Republic of Ireland Act 1948
The Green Book
New Ireland Forum Report
Belfast Agreement
Articles 2 & 3

Parties & Organisations

Aontacht Éireann
Cairde na hÉireann
Clan na Gael
Clann na Poblachta
Communist Party of Ireland
Connolly Association
Cumann na mBan
Cumann na Poblachta
Cumann Poblachta nahÉ
Córas na Poblachta
Fenian Brotherhood
Fianna Éireann
Fianna Fáil · Ind Fianna Fáil
Irish Anti-Partition League
Irish Citizen Army
Irish Independence Party
Irish National Congress
Irish National Invincibles
Irish Republican Army
Anti-Treaty IRA
Continuity IRA
Official IRA
Provisional IRA
Real IRA
Irish Republican Brotherhood
Northern Council for Unity
Northern Resistance Movement
Official Sinn Féin
Red Republican Party
Republican Congress
Republican Labour Party
Republican Sinn Féin
Saor Éire
Saor Uladh · Fianna Uladh
Sinn Féin
Socialist Republican Party
United Irishmen
Troops Out Movement
Wolfe Tone Society
Workers Party of Ireland
Young Ireland
See also: Party youth wings


An Phoblacht · Daily Ireland
Irish Freedom · Irish Press ·
Sunday Press · Republican News ·
Saoirse Irish Freedom · The Nation ·
United Irishman · Wolfe Tone Weekly


Éire Nua
Armalite and Ballot Box
New Departure


Irish Tricolour
Starry Plough
Sunburst flag
Easter Lily

Other movements

Anarchism {{IrishA}}
Loyalism {{IrishL}}
Monarchism {{IrishM}}
Nationalism {{IrishN}}
Unionism {{IrishU}}


Although the Official IRA was drawn into the spiraling violence of the early period of conflict in Northern Ireland it gradually stepped down its military campaign against the United Kingdom's armed presence in Northern Ireland, declaring a permanent ceasefire in May 1972. Following this the movement's political development increased rapidly throughout the 1970s. On the national question the Officials saw the struggle against religious sectarianism and bigotry as their primary task. The party's strategy was based on the "stages theory": firstly, working class unity within Northern Ireland had to be achieved, followed by the establishment of a United Ireland, and finally a socialist society would be created in Ireland.[5] In 1977 the party published and accepted as policy a document called the Irish Industrial Revolution. Written by Eoghan Harris and Eamon Smullen it outlined the party's economic stance and declared that the ongoing violence in Northern Ireland was "distracting working class attention from the class struggle to a mythical national question." The policy document used Marxist jargon, and identified American imperialism as the now dominant political and economic force in the southern state and attacked the failure of the national bourgeoisie to develop Ireland as a modern economic power.[6]

Official Sinn Féin evolved towards Marxism-Leninism and became fiercely critical of the physical force republican tradition still espoused by Provisional Sinn Féin. Its new approach to the Northern conflict was typified by the slogan it was to adopt: "Peace, Democracy, Class Politics". It aimed to replace sectarian politics with a class struggle which would unite Catholic and Protestant workers. The slogan's echo of Lenin's "Peace, Bread, Land" was indicative of the party's new source of inspiration. Official Sinn Féin also built up fraternal relations with communist parties worldwide.

Throughout the 1980s the party became staunch opponents of terrorism and were one of the few organisations on the left of Irish politics to oppose the republican hunger strike of 1981. The WP (especially the faction around Harris) was strongly critical of traditional Irish Nationalism,causing some of its critics to accuse it of having an attitude to Northern Ireland that was close to Ulster Unionism. [7] [8] As well as the developments at home international links were forged with the USSR and other socialist, workers' and communist parties from around the world.

IRSP/INLA split and feud

In 1974, there was a split in the Official Republican Movement over the ceasefire and the direction of the organisation. This led to the formation of the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) with Seamus Costello, who had been expelled from the OIRA, as its chairperson. Also formed was its paramilitary wing, the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA). There was a number of tit-for-tat killings in a subsequent feud until a truce was agreed in 1977.[9]


Official Sinn Féin was sometimes called Sinn Féin (Gardiner Place) in the early to mid 1970s, a reference to the location of its headquarters, to distinguish it from the rival offshoot of Sinn Féin, called in the period Provisional Sinn Féin or Sinn Féin (Kevin Street). For traditional republicans, the mention of the Gardiner Place headquarters carried symbolic power, because the Gardiner Place headquarters had been the headquarters of Sinn Féin for decades before the 1970 split. This sobriquet died out in the mid 1970s.

In 1977 the Officials renamed themselves Sinn Féin The Workers Party, under which title they would win their first seats in Dáil Éireann. In 1979 a motion at the Ard Fheis to remove the Sinn Féin prefix from the party name was narrowly defeated. The change finally came about three years later. In Northern Ireland the party was organised under the name Republican Clubs (a name that had first been used to escape an earlier ban, introduced in 1964 under Northern Ireland's Emergency Powers Act) until 1981 when they renamed themselves The Workers Party Republican Clubs. In 1982 both the northern and southern sections became simply The Workers Party.[10]

Electoral performance (Republic of Ireland)

The Workers Party became a significant political force in the Republic in the 1980s, benefiting from disillusionment with poor public services, high taxes and mass unemployment. The party made its electoral breakthrough in 1981 when Joe Sherlock won a seat in Cork East. They increased this to three seats in 1982 and to four seats in 1987. 1989 witnessed the Workers Party's best performance at the polls when it won seven seats in the Irish general election as well as winning one seat and 7% of the vote in the European election. This was their highest ever share of the vote in the Republic with over 70,000 votes in the Dublin constituency being sufficient to have the party president, Proinsias De Rossa, elected to the European Parliament, where he took a seat with the communist Left Unity group.

Following the split of 1992 (below) Tomás Mac Giolla, a TD in the Dublin West constituency and President of the party for most of the previous 30 years, was the only member of the Dáil parliamentary party not to side with the new Democratic Left. Although Mac Giolla was to lose his seat in the general election later that year he would be elected Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1993. The Workers Party also maintained elected representation on Dublin, Cork and Waterford corporations in the aftermath of the split. In recent years further electoral setbacks have left the party with only two councillors in the Republic after the 2004 Local Elections, both of whom were based in Waterford. The party currently has one councillor in Waterford and one in Cork.

Electoral performance (Northern Ireland)

The party's fortunes were very different north of the border. They gained ten seats at the 1973 Northern Irish local elections. Four years later, in May 1977, this had dropped to six council seats and 2.6% of the vote. One of their best results was when Tom French polled 19% in the 1986 Upper Bann by-election, although no other candidates stood against the sitting MP and a year later, when other parties contested the constituency, he only polled 4.7%.[11] Three councillors left the party during the split in 1992. One, Davy Kettyles became an independent 'Progressive Socialist' while the others, Gerry Cullen in Dungannon and the WP northern chairman Seamus Lynch in Belfast, joined Democratic Left. They held onto their solitary council seat in the 1993 local elections with Peter Smyth retaining the seat formerly held by Tom French in Craigavon. This was lost in 1997, leaving them without elected representation in Northern Ireland.

In common with all other main parties, the WP is currently registered with the British Electoral Commission, which covers Northern Ireland, with John Lowry named as its leader.[12]

Provisional Sinn Féin, the other party to emerge from the 1970 split, is the party that is now commonly referred to simply as Sinn Féin. They have had much greater electoral success than Official Sinn Féin/Workers Party in Northern Ireland. However, the Provisionals' electoral performance in the Republic was poor until the IRA ceasefires of 1994 and 1997 and they have as yet failed to reach the seven seats won in Dáil Éireann by the Workers Party in 1989.

The 1992 split

In early 1992, following a failed attempt to change the organisation's constitution, six of the seven party TDs, its MEP, numerous councillors and a significant minority of its membership broke off to form Democratic Left, a party which would later merge with the Labour Party in 1999. The reasons for the split were twofold. Firstly, a faction led by Proinsias De Rossa[13] wanted to move the party towards an acceptance of free market economics. Following the collapse of communism in eastern Europe they felt that the Workers Party's Marxist stance was now an obstacle to winning support at the polls. Secondly, media accusations[14] had once again surfaced regarding the continued existence of the Official IRA who it was alleged remained armed and were involved in fund-raising robberies, money laundering and other forms of criminality.

De Rossa and his supporters sought to distance themselves from alleged paramilitary activity at a special Árd Fheis held at Dún Laoghaire in on 15 February 1992. A motion proposed by De Rossa and General Secretary Des Geraghty sought to stand down the existing membership, elect an 11 member provisional executive council and make several other significant changes in party structures was defeated. Many of those who subsequently remained with the Workers Party in the wake of the split regarded those who broke away as careerists and social democrats who had taken flight after the collapse of the Soviet Union and denounced those who left as 'liquidators'.[15]

The motion to "reconstitute" the party achieved the support of 61% of delegates; however this was short of the two-thirds majority needed to change the WP constitution. The Workers Party later claimed that there was vote rigging by the supporters of the De Rossa motion.[16] As a result of the conference's failure to adopt the motion, De Rossa and his supporters split from the organisation and established a new party which was temporarily known as New Agenda before the permanent name of Democratic Left was adopted.

In the North before the 1992 Split the party had 4 councillors, Tom French stayed with the party, Gerry Cullen (Dungannon) and Seamus Lynch (Belfast) joined New Agenda/Democratic Left, and David Kettyles ran in subsequent elections in Fermanagh as an Independent or Progressive Socialist.[17]

While the majority of public representatives left with De Rossa, many rank-and-file members remained in the Workers Party. The party replaced De Rossa as President with Marian Donnelly, who served from 1992 to 1994. In 1994 Tom French became President and served for four years until Sean Garland was elected President in 1998. He retired as President in May 2008 and was replaced by Mick Finnegan.

The party today

The Workers Party has struggled since the early nineties to rejuvenate its fortunes. Its best performance at the polls in the Republic of Ireland has been in Waterford where it performed well in the 1992 and 1997 general elections. Outside of the south east the WP retains active branches in various areas of the Republic, including Dublin, Cork and County Louth. The party has faced similar problems in Northern Ireland in recent years. It performed poorly in the March 2007 Assembly election. No seats were won and its best result came in West Belfast where it gained 1.26% of the vote. The party maintains a youth wing, Workers Party Youth, as well as a Women's Committee. They also have offices in Dublin, Belfast, Cork and Waterford. In recent years, apart from its political work at home in Ireland, it has also sent numerous party delegations to international gatherings of communist and socialist parties.

The party continues to hold a strongly anti-sectarian position and supported an independent anti-sectarian candidate, John Gilliland in the 2004 European elections in Northern Ireland.[18]

In February 2008 Cllr John Halligan of Waterford resigned from the party when it refused to drop its opposition to service charges[19]. He subsequently became Mayor of Waterford after joining a pact with Fine Gael, the Labour Party, Sinn Fein and a number of independents.[20]

Mick Finnegan is the current party President, having been elected at the party's Árd Fheis on 16/17 May 2008 to replace Seán Garland who had announced his decision to retire from the position after ten years[21]. The General Secretary is John Lowry and the party's Director of International Affairs is Gerry Grainger.

The Workers Party called for a No vote in the June 2008 Lisbon Treaty referendum and was part of the successful No campaign. [22] It also campaigned for a No vote in the rerun of the referendum in October 2009 in which the treaty was passed.

The party fielded twelve candidates in June2009 Local Elections[23], also the party fielded Malachy Steenson[24] in the Dublin Central by-election on the same date.

In the June 2009 local elections, Ted Tynan was elected to Cork City Council in the Cork City North East ward.[25] Davy Walsh retained his seat in Waterford City Council.[26]

Alleged links with North Korea

On June 20, 2004, the BBC documentary program Panorama alleged that party president Seán Garland was involved in counterfeiting of US dollars. On October 7, 2005, Garland was arrested by the Police Service of Northern Ireland at the party's annual conference in Belfast. He was released on bail pending an extradition hearing to the United States. The US government alleges that Garland conspired with the North Korean government to import counterfeit $100 notes into the US. [27] Garland has since jumped bail and returned to his home to the Republic of Ireland, and "placed himself under the protection of the Irish constitution and court system." He had sought bail successfully on medical grounds and assured the court that he would reattend to face his extradition hearing. The US requested the extradition of Sean Garland in January 2009 and was arrested by the Gardaí outside the Workers Party Offices in Dublin. [28] A campaign group has been formed to oppose the extradition demand and has attracted considerable support including the signatures of almost 40 members of the Oireachtas, 100 local government councillors, MEPs and members of the Northern Ireland Legislative Assembly [29]

Party Presidents

Elected representatives

See also


  1. ^ Sinn Féin: A Hundred Turbulent Years, Brian Feeney, O'Brien Press, Dublin 2002, ISBN 0 86278 695 9 pg. 250-1, Sinn Féin: A Century of Struggle, Parnell Publications, Mícheál MacDonncha, 2005, ISBN 0 9542946 2 9
  2. ^ Official Irish Republicanism, 1962 to 1972 by Sean Swan,2008.
  3. ^ Henry McDonald, Gunsmoke and Mirrors, ISBN 9780717142989 p. 28
  4. ^ Stephen Collins, The Power Game: Fianna Fáil since Lemass, ISBN 086278588X, p. 61
  5. ^ See Swan,(pgs 303,330) and Brian Hanley and Scott Millar, The Lost Revolution, 2009 (pgs. 220, 256-7).
  6. ^ The Politics of Illusion:A Political History of the I.R.A. by Henry Patterson, (1997) and Official Irish Republicanism by Swan.
  7. ^ The Longest War:Northern Ireland and the IRA by K. Kelly (1988) claimed that SFWP's attitude to the North was “indistinguishable in its structural form from that held by most Unionists”. See also Swan,Official Irish Republicanism, Chapter 8, and Politics in the Republic of Ireland by John Coakley and Michael Gallagher (2004), Pg. 28
  8. ^ One of Harris' critics, Derry Kelleher, accused him of adopting the "Two Nations Theory" associated with Conor Cruise O'Brien; see Kelleher's book, Buried Alive in Ireland (2001).
  9. ^ See Armed struggle: the History of the IRA by Richard English, Oxford University Press US, 2004.
  10. ^ Ireland Today:Anatomy of a Changing State by Gemma Hussey, (1993) pgs. 172-3,194 .
  11. ^ Upper Bann results 1983-1995
  12. ^ "Workers Party (The)", Electoral Commission
  13. ^ Proinsias De Rossa, ‘The case for a new departure Making Sense March-April 1992
  14. ^ BBC Spotlight programme, ‘Sticking to their guns’, June 1991
  15. ^ Sean Garland, ‘Beware of hidden agendas’ Making Sense March-April 1992
  16. ^ Patterns of Betrayal, the Flight from Socialism, Workers Party, 1992, page 11
  17. ^ The 1989 Local Government Elections,
  18. ^ Independent candidate: John Gilliland,
  19. ^
  20. ^ Workers Party asks Halligan for his seat by Dermot Keyes, Munster Express Friday, February 22nd, 2008
  21. ^ Workers Party elect new Party President
  22. ^ Lisbon - A Treaty Too Far Workers Party Website
  23. ^ Local Elections Candidates
  24. ^ "Press release Malachy Steenson candidate in Dublin Central". 7 April 2009. Retrieved 7 April 2009.  
  25. ^ Ted Tynan Elected Cork Politics Website, 7th of June 2009
  26. ^ North Ward Waterford City Council - Election 2009 results RTÉ Website, 7th June 2009
  27. ^ BBC:US says N Korea forged dollars
  28. ^ Ex-Workers Party president Garland arrested by Charlie Taylor, Irish Times, Friday, January 30th 2009
  29. ^ Campaign to Stop the Extradition of Sean Garland

Further reading

  • The Politics of Illusion: A Political History of the IRA, Henry Patterson, ISBN 1-897959-31-1
  • Official Irish Republicanism, 1962 to 1972 , Sean Swan , ISBN 1430319348
  • The Lost Revolution: The Story of the Official IRA and the Workers Party, Brian Hanley and Scott Millar, ISBN 1844881202

External links



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