Workers Party of Ireland

Workers Party of Ireland

Infobox Irish Political Party
party_name = The Workers Party of Ireland|Workers Party (Ireland) party_articletitle = Workers Party of Ireland
leader = Mick Finnegan
foundation = 1982
ideology = Marxism
international = "International Communist & Workers Parties"
european = "none"
europarl = "none"
colours = Red, Green
headquarters = 24 Mountjoy Square, Dublin 1
website = []

The Workers Party of Ireland (in Irish Páirtí na nOibrithe, though its logo translates it erroneously as Páirtí na nOibri), is a left wing Irish political party that developed from Official Sinn Féin and the Official IRA.


The modern origins of the party can be found in the early 1960s. After the failure of the 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 and concentrate more on socialism and civil rights related activities. In doing so they gradually abandoned the military focus that had previously characterised republicanism. As the leadership attempted to guide the movement in a more Marxist orientated direction a growing minority within the rank-and-file wanted to maintain traditional nationalist policies aimed at ending British rule in the occupied counties in Northern Ireland. In 1970 Sinn Féin split after the organisation voted to recognise the authority of Dáil Éireann with the majority 'Officials' focusing on building a revolutionary Marxist party in Ireland and the minority Provisionals endeavouring to achieve a united Ireland by force.

Political development

Although the Official IRA was drawn into the spiraling violence of the early period of conflict in Northern Ireland it did declare 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. In their view working class unity within Northern Ireland now had to be achieved prior to the establishment of a united Ireland. 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 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.

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. 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 were its paramilitary wing Irish National Liberation Army(INLA). There was a number of tit for tat killings in this feud up to 1977 when eventually a truce was reached.

Change of name

In 1977 the Officials, renamed themselves "Sinn Féin The Workers Party", under which title it would win its first seats in Dáil Éireann. In Northern Ireland they were organised under the name "Republican Clubs" until 1981 when they renamed themselves The Workers Party Republican Clubs. In 1982 both the northern and southern sections became simply The Workers Party.

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 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 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, both of whom are based in Waterford.

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%. [ [ Upper Bann results 1983-1995] ] 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 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.

The party is currently registered with the British Electoral Commission, which covers Northern Ireland, with John Lowry named as its leader. [" [ Workers Party (The)] ", Electoral Commission]

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 [Proinsias De Rossa, ‘The case for a new departure Making Sense March-April 1992] 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 [BBC Spotlight programme, ‘Sticking to their guns’, June 1991] had once again surfaced regarding the continued existence of the Official IRA who it was alleged remained armed and were involved in fundraising robberies, money laundering and other forms of criminality.

De Rossa and his supporters sought to distance themselves from alleged paramilitary activity at a special Ardfheis (delegate conference)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 signifcant 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' [Sean Garland, ‘Beware of hidden agendas’ Making Sense March-April 1992] .

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. As a result 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 councilors, 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. [ [ The 1989 Local Government Elections,] ]

While the majority of public representatives left with De Rossa, many ordinary 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 a an independent anti-sectarian candidate, John Gilliland in the 2004 European elections in Northern Ireland. [ [ Independent candidate: John Gilliland,] ]

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

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. 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. Up until now neither the US or UK authorities have sought his extradition from the Republic.

ee also



External links

* [ Workers' Party website]
* [ Campaign to Stop the Extradition of Seán Garland to the United States]
* [ "Panorama - The Superdollar Plot"] — Transcript of BBC documentary

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