The Workers’ Party
Páirtí na nOibrithe
|General Secretary||John Lowry|
|Founded||1970 (current name 1982)|
|Headquarters||24a/25 Hill Street,
Dublin 1, Ireland
|European affiliation||Initiative of Communist and Workers’ Parties|
|International affiliation||International Meeting of Communist and Workers’ Parties
International Communist Seminar
|Local government in the Republic of Ireland||
2 / 949
The Workers’ Party (Irish: Páirtí na nOibrithe), originally known as Official Sinn Féin, is a Marxist–Leninist political party in Ireland. The party originated out of Sinn Féin (which was founded in 1905) and the Irish Republican Army(IRA), as the split took place with the Provisionals within the republican movement at the onset of the Troubles in 1969–70. The Officials’ founders were Cathal Goulding and Tomás Mac Giolla.
The party name was changed to Sinn Féin the Workers’ Party in 1977 and then to the Workers’ Party in 1982. Throughout its history, the party has been closely associated with the Official Irish Republican Army. It supported theSoviet Union while that entity existed. Notable derivative organisations include the Irish Republican Socialist Party and the Democratic Left.
In the early to mid-1970s, Official Sinn Féin was sometimes called Sinn Féin (Gardiner Place) to distinguish it from the rival offshoot Provisional Sinn Féin, or Sinn Féin (Kevin Street). Gardiner Place had symbolic power as the headquarters of Sinn Féin for decades before the 1970 split. This sobriquet died out in the mid-1970s.
At its Ardfheis in January 1977, the Officials renamed themselves Sinn Féin – The Workers Party. Their first seats in Dáil Éireann were won under this new name. In 1979, a motion at the Ardfheis to remove the Sinn Féin prefix from the party name was narrowly defeated. The change finally came about three years later.
In Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin was organised under the name Republican Clubs to avoid a ban on Sinn Féin candidates, introduced in 1964 under Northern Ireland’s Emergency Powers Act), and the Officials continued to use this name after 1970. The party later used the name The Workers’ Party Republican Clubs. In 1982, both the northern and southern sections of the party became The Workers’ Party. The Workers’ Party is sometimes referred to as the “Sticks” or “Stickies” because in the 1970s it used adhesive stickers for the Easter Lily emblem in its 1916 commemorations, whereas Provisional Sinn Féin used a pin for theirs.
The modern origins of the party date from the early 1960s. After the failure of the then IRA’s 1956–1962 “Border Campaign“, the republican movement, with a new military and political leadership, undertook a complete reappraisal of itsraison d’être. Under the guidance of figures such as Cathal Goulding and Sean Garland, the leadership of 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 to concentrate more on socialism and civil rights-related activities.
In doing so, they gradually abandoned the military focus that had characterised Irish republicanism. The leadership were substantially influenced by a group led by Roy Johnston who had been active in the Communist Party of Great Britain‘sConnolly Association. This group’s analysis saw the primary obstacle to Irish unity as the continuing division between the Protestant and Catholic working classes. This it attributed to the “divide and rule” policies of capitalism, whose interests were served by the working classes remaining divided. Military activity was seen as counterproductive since its effect was to further entrench 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.
However, this Marxist outlook became unpopular with many of the more traditionalist republicans, and the party/army leadership was criticised for failing to defend northern Catholic enclaves from loyalist attacks (these debates took place against the background of the violent beginning of what would 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 involved whether to or not to continue with the policy of abstentionism, that is, the refusal of elected representatives to take their seats in British or Irish legislatures. A majority of the leadership favoured abandoning this policy.
A group consisting of Seán Mac Stiofáin, Dáithí Ó Conaill, Seamus Twomey, and others, established themselves as a “Provisional Army Council” in 1969 in anticipation of a contentious 1970 Sinn Féin Ard Fheis (delegate conference). At the Ard Fheis, the leadership of Sinn Féin failed to attain the required two-thirds majority to change the party’s position on abstentionism. The debate was charged with allegations of vote-rigging and expulsions. When the Ard Fheis went on 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, and went to a prearranged meeting in Parnell Square where they announced the establishment of a “caretaker” executive of Sinn Féin. The dissident council became known as the “Provisional Army Council” and its party and military wing as Sinn Féin and the Provisional IRA, while those remaining became known as Official Sinn Féin and the Official IRA. 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 Irelandby force. 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); eventually the media came to characterize the Provisionals simply as “the IRA”.
In 1977 Official Sinn Féin ratified the party’s new name: Sinn Féin The Workers’ Party without dissension. According to Richard Sinnott, this “symbolism” was completed in April 1982 when the party became simply the Workers’ Party.[need quotation to verify]
Although the Official IRA was drawn into the spiralling 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.
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 terminology: it identified US imperialism as the now-dominant political and economic force in the southern state and attacked the failure of the nationalbourgeoisie to develop Ireland as a modern economic power.
Official Sinn Féin evolved towards Marxism-Leninism and became fiercely critical of the physical force Irish republicanism 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 Vladimir Lenin‘s “Peace, Bread, Land” was indicative of the party’s new source of inspiration. Official Sinn Féin also built up fraternal relations with the USSR and socialist, workers’ and communistparties from around the world.
Throughout the 1980s the party became staunch opponents of republican political violence, controversially to the point of recommending cooperating with British security forces. They were one of the few organisations on the left of Irish politics to oppose the INLA/Provisional IRA 1981 Irish hunger strike.
The Workers’ Party (especially the faction around Harris) was strongly critical of traditional Irish republicanism, causing some of its critics such as Vincent Browne and Paddy Prendeville to accuse it of having an attitude to Northern Ireland that was close to Ulster unionism.
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 theOfficial IRA, 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.
The 1992 split
In early 1992, following a failed attempt to change the organisation’s constitution, six of the party’s seven TDs, its MEP, numerous councillors and a significant minority of its membership broke off to form Democratic Left, a party which later merged with the Labour Party in 1999.
The reasons for the split were twofold. Firstly, a faction led by Proinsias De Rossa 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 had once again surfaced regarding the continued existence of the Official IRA which, it was alleged, remained armed and 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 atDún Laoghaire 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. 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 Workers’ Party constitution. The Workers’ Party later claimed that there was vote rigging by the supporters of the De Rossa motion. 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 South the rump of the party was left with seven councillors and one TD.
In the North, before the 1992 split, the party had four 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.
While the majority of public representatives left with De Rossa, many rank-and-file members remained in the Workers’ Party. Many of these 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’. Marian Donnelly replaced De Rossa as President from 1992 to 1994. In 1994 Tom French became President and served for four years until Sean Garland was elected President in 1998. Garland retired as President in May 2008 and was replaced by Mick Finnegan who served until September 2014, being replaced by Michael Donnelly
A further minor split occurred when a number of members left and established Republican Left; many of these went on to join the Irish Socialist Network. In 1998 another split occurred after a number of former OIRA members in Newry and Belfast, who had been expelled, formed a group called the Official Republican Movement, which recently announced it was decommissioning.
The party today
The Workers’ Party has struggled since the early 1990s to rejuvenate its fortunes in both Irish jurisdictions. The party maintains a youth wing, Workers’ Party Youth, and a Women’s Committee. It also has offices in Dublin, Belfast, Cork and Waterford. Apart from its political work at home in Ireland, it has 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.
Waterford City remained a holdout for the party in the 1990s and early 2000s. In the 1997 Irish general election Martin O’Regan narrowly failed to secure a seat in the Waterford constituency. However, in February 2008, John Halligan of Waterford resigned from the party when it refused to drop its opposition to service charges. He was later elected a TD for Waterford in the 2011 general election. The party’s sole remaining councillor lost his seat in the 2014 local elections.
Michael Donnelly, a Galway-based university lecturer, was elected as the party President at the party’s Árd Fheis on 27 September 2014 to replace Mick Finnegan who had announced his decision to retire from the position after six years.The General Secretary is John Lowry and the party’s Director of International Affairs is Gerry Grainger. The Workers’ Party in Northern Ireland is registered with the British Electoral Commission, with Lowry named as its leader.
The Workers’ Party called for a No vote against the Treaty of Lisbon in both the June 2008 referendum, in which the proposal was defeated, and the October 2009 referendum, in which the proposal was approved.
The Workers’ Party has been active in grassroot politics throughout the country, including maintaining a presence at pro-Choice marches, LGBT Rights marches, and other progressive movements. It was the only left-wing party to campaign for a No vote in the 2013 Seanad Abolition referendum.
Republic of Ireland
The Workers’ Party made its electoral breakthrough in 1981 when Joe Sherlock won a seat in Cork East. It increased this to three seats in 1982 and to four seats in 1987. The Workers’ Party had its best performance at the polls in 1989 when it won seven seats in the general election and party president Proinsias De Rossa won a seat in Dublin in the European electionheld on the same day, sitting 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 the new Democratic Left. Mac Giolla lost his seat in the general election later that year, and no TD has been elected for the party since then. However, at local authority level, the Workers’ Party maintained elected representation on Dublin, Cork and Waterford corporations in the aftermath of the split, and Mac Giolla was elected Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1993.
Outside of the south-east, the Workers’ Party retains active branches in various areas of the Republic, including Dublin,Cork, County Meath and County Louth. In the 1999 local elections, it lost all of its seats in Dublin and Cork and only managed to retain three seats in Waterford City. Further electoral setbacks and a minor split left the party after the2004 local elections, with only two councillors, both in Waterford.
The party fielded twelve candidates in the 2009 local elections. The party ran Malachy Steenson in the Dublin Central by-election on the same date. Ted Tynan was elected to Cork City Council in the Cork City North East ward. Davy Walsh retained his seat in Waterford City Council. In the 2014 local elections Tynan retained his seat; however Walsh lost his, following major boundary changes resulting from the merging of Waterford City and County councils. In January 2015, Independent councillor Éilis Ryan on Dublin City Council joined the party.
Dáil Éireann electoral performance
|Election||Seats won||±||Position||First Pref votes||%||Government||Leader|
0 / 144
|0||15,366||1.1%||No Seats||Tomás Mac Giolla|
0 / 148
|0||27,209||1.7%||No Seats||Tomás Mac Giolla|
1 / 166
(Abstained in initial vote on minority FG/Lab government)
|Tomás Mac Giolla|
3 / 166
(Supported minority FF government)
|Tomás Mac Giolla|
2 / 166
|1||2||54,888||3.3%||Opposition||Tomás Mac Giolla|
4 / 166
|2||4||67,273||3.8%||Opposition||Tomás Mac Giolla|
7 / 166
|3||7||82,263||5.0%||Opposition||Proinsias De Rossa|
0 / 166
|7||0||11,533||0.7%||No Seats||Tomás Mac Giolla|
0 / 166
|0||7,808||0.4%||No Seats||Tom French|
0 / 166
|0||4,012||0.2%||No Seats||Seán Garland|
0 / 166
|0||3,026||0.1%||No Seats||Seán Garland|
0 / 166
|0||3,056||0.1%||No Seats||Mick Finnegan|
0 / 158
|0||3,242||0.2%||No Seats||Michael Donnelly|
The party 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% of the vote.
Three councillors left the party during the split in 1992. Davy Kettyles became an independent ‘Progressive Socialist’while Gerry Cullen in Dungannon and the Workers’ Party northern chairman, Seamus Lynch in Belfast, joined Democratic Left. The party held onto its one council seat in the 1993 local elections with Peter Smyth retaining the seat that had been held by Tom French in Craigavon. This was lost in 1997, leaving them without elected representation in Northern Ireland.
The party performed poorly in the March 2007 Assembly election; it won no seats, and in its best result in Belfast West, it gained 1.26% of the vote. The party did not field any candidates at the 2010 Westminster general election. In the 2011 Assembly election the Workers’ Party ran in four constituencies, securing 586 first-preference votes (1.7%) in Belfast West and 332 (1%) in Belfast North.
The party contested the Westminster general election in May 2015, standing parliamentary candidates in Northern Ireland for the first time in ten years. It fielded five candidates and secured 2,724 votes, with Gemma Weir picking up 919 votes (2.3%) in Belfast North.
The party has published a number of newspapers throughout the years, with many of the theorists of the movement writing for these papers. After the 1970 split the Officials kept publishing the United Irishman (the traditional newspaper of the republican movement) monthly until May 1980. In 1973 the party launched a weekly paper The Irish People, which was focused on issues in the 26 counties, there was also a The Northern People published in Belfast and focused on northern issues. The party published an occasional international bulletin and a woman’s magazine called Women’s View. From 1989 to 1992 it produced a theoretical magazine called Making Sense. Other papers were produced such as Workers’ Weekly.
The party produces a magazine, Look Left. Originally conceived as a straightforward party paper, Look Left was relaunched as a more broad-left style publication in March 2010 but still bearing the emblem of the Workers’ Party. It is distributed by party members and supporters and is also stocked by a number of retailers including Eason’s and several radical/left-wing bookshops.