Workers' Party of Ireland

Workers' Party of Ireland
The Workers' Party
Páirtí na nOibrithe
Leader Mick Finnegan
General Secretary John Lowry
Founded 1970 (current name 1982) (1970 (current name 1982))[1]
Headquarters 48 North Great George's Street,
Dublin 1, Ireland
Ideology Communism
Irish republicanism
Political position Far-left
International affiliation International Conference of Communist and Workers' Parties
Official colours Red, Green
Local government in the Republic of Ireland
2 / 1,627
Politics of the Republic of Ireland
Political parties
Politics of Northern Ireland
Political parties

The Workers' Party[2] (Irish: Páirtí na nOibrithe) is a left-wing republican political party in Ireland. Originating in the Sinn Féin organisation founded in 1905 by Arthur Griffith, it took its current form in 1970 after a split within the party, adopting its current name in 1982.




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.[3]

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.[3]

In doing so, they gradually abandoned the military focus that had previously characterised republicanism. The leadership were substantially influenced by a group led by Roy Johnston who had been active in the Communist Party of Great Britain's Connolly Association.[4]

In this group's analysis, the primary obstacle to Irish unity was the continuing division between the Protestant and Catholic working classes. This it attributed to the 'divide and rule' policies of Capitalism, whose interests a divided working class served. Military activity was seen as counterproductive since its effect 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.[3]

Although 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.[3]

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.[citation needed]

A group 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).[3]

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 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,[5] and went to a prearranged meeting in Parnell Square where they announced the establishment of a 'caretaker' executive of Sinn Féin.[6] The respective camps became known as 'Provisional Army Council' and Sinn Féin / Provisional IRA, while those remaining became known as Official Sinn Féin / Official IRA.[7]

There was no dissension in 1977 when Official Sinn Féin ratified the parties new name: Sinn Féin The Workers' Party.[8] According to Richard Sinnott, this 'symbolism' was completed in April 1982 when the party became simply the Workers’ Party.[9] Official Sinn Féin, under the leadership of Tomás Mac Giolla, remained aligned to Goulding's Official IRA.[10]

The minority, those supportive of Seán Mac Stiofáin's "Provisional Army Council", endeavoured to achieve a united Ireland by 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), and eventually become accepted by the media as simply 'the IRA'.

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.[11][12]

Political development

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.[3]

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.[13]

In 1977, the party published and accepted as policy a document called the Irish Industrial Revolution.[14] Written by Eoghan Harris and Eamon Smullen,[3] 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.[15]

Official Sinn Féin evolved towards Marxism-Leninism and became fiercely critical of the physical force 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 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 other socialist, workers' and communist parties from around the world.[3]

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.[3]

The WP (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.[16][17]

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 Official 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.[18]

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 wanted to move the party towards an acceptance of free market economics.[19] 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.[20]

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'.[21]

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.[22] 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.[23] 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 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.[24]

While the majority of public representatives left with De Rossa, many rank-and-file members remained in the Workers' Party, with Marian Donnelly replacing 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.[25]

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[26] who had been expelled formed a group called the Official Republican Movement,[27] which recently announced it was decommissioning.

The party today

The Workers' Party has struggled since the early nineties to rejuvenate its fortunes in both Irish jurisdictions. The party maintains a youth wing, Workers' Party Youth, as well as a Women's Committee. It also has 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.[3]

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.[28]

Waterford City remained something of a holdout for the party during the 1990s and early 2000s. In the 1997 Irish general election Martin O'Regan narrowly failed to secure a seat in the Waterford constituency.[29] However in February 2008, John Halligan of Waterford resigned from the party when it refused to drop its opposition to service charges.[30] He subsequently became Mayor of Waterford after joining a pact with Fine Gael, the Labour Party, and a number of independents.[citation needed]

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. The General Secretary is John Lowry and the party's Director of International Affairs is Gerry Grainger. The WP in Northern Ireland is registered with the British Electoral Commission, with Lowry named as its leader.[31]

The Workers' Party called for a "No vote" in the June 2008 Lisbon Treaty referendum and was part of the successful "No campaign".[32] It also campaigned for a "No vote" in the rerun of the referendum in October 2009 in which the treaty was passed.

Electoral performance

Republic of Ireland

The Workers' Party became a political force in the Republic in the 1980s, benefiting from public 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. 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 Irish general election as well as winning one seat and 7% of the vote in the European election. This was its 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.[3]

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. 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 Waterford the party 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, County Meath[33] and County Louth.[citation needed] It failed to gain any seats in the 1997 Irish General Election. In the local elections in 1999 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 the 2004 Local Elections with only two councillors, both in Waterford.

The party fielded twelve candidates in the June 2009 local elections.[34] The party fielded Malachy Steenson in the Dublin Central by-election on the same date.[35] Ted Tynan was elected to Cork City Council in the Cork City North East ward.[36] Davy Walsh retained his seat in Waterford City Council.[37]

Poster in Belfast, 2010

In the 2011 general election the Workers Party ran six candidates, without success.[38]

Former Workers Party councillor John Halligan was elected as an independent TD for Waterford.

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, the party gained ten seats at the 1973 Northern Irish local elections.[40] Four years later, in May 1977, this had dropped to six council seats and 2.6% of the vote.[41] 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.[42]

Three councillors left the party during the split in 1992. Davy Kettyles became an independent 'Progressive Socialist'[43] while Gerry Cullen in Dungannon and the WP northern chairman Seamus Lynch in Belfast, joined Democratic Left.[44] The party held onto its one council seat in the 1993 local elections with Peter Smyth retaining the seat formerly held by Tom French in Craigavon.[45] This was lost in 1997,[46] leaving them without elected representation in Northern Ireland.

The party 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 did not field any candidates during the 2010 UK elections.

In the Northern Ireland Assembly election, 2011‎ the Workers' Party ran in four constituencies, securing 586 first-preference votes (1.7%) in West Belfast and 332 (1%) in North Belfast.


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 Provisional Sinn Féin or Sinn Féin (Kevin Street) by the media in that period. 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.[citation needed]

At the Ard Fheis 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 Ard Fheis to remove the Sinn Féin prefix from the party name was narrowly defeated. The change finally came about three years later in 1982.[3]

In Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin was organised under the name Republican Clubs (a name that was used to escape a ban, introduced in 1964 under Northern Ireland's Emergency Powers Act), and the Officials continued to use this name after 1970.[47] The party later used the name "The Workers Party Republican Clubs". In 1982, both the northern and southern sections of the party became simply "The Workers' Party".[48] The Workers Party is sometimes referred to by other Republicans as the "Sticks" or "Stickies" because it uses adhesive stickers of the Easter Lily emblem for its 1916 commemorations whereas others, most notably (Provisional) Sinn Féin use a pin for theirs.[citation needed]

Workers Party, 1986. Troubled Images Exhibition, Linen Hall Library, Belfast, August 2010


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.[49] 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 currently produces a magazine, Look Left.[50] 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.[51]

Notable members


Elected representatives


  1. ^ The party emerged as the majority faction from a split in Sinn Féin in 1970, becoming known as Official Sinn Féin. In the Republic of Ireland, it renamed itself as Sinn Féin The Workers' Party in 1977. In Northern Ireland, it continued with the Republican Clubs name used by Sinn Féin to escape a 1964 ban, and later as Workers Party Republican Clubs. Both sections adopted the current name in 1982.
  2. ^ "Register of Political Parties in Ireland". Houses of the Oireachtas. 23 November 2010. Retrieved 2 May 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m The Lost Revolution: The Story of the Official IRA and the Workers' Party, Brian Hanley and Scott Millar, ISBN 1844881202
  4. ^ Patterns of Betrayal: the flight from Socialism, Workers Party pamphlet, Repsol Ltd, Dublin, May 1992, page 74
  5. ^ 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
  6. ^ The Lost Revolution: The Story of The Official IRA and The Workers' Party, Brian Hanley & Scott Millar, Penguin Ireland (2009), ISBN 978 1 844 88120 p.146
  7. ^ Richard Sinnott (1995), Irish Voters Decide: Voting behaviour in elections and referendums since 1918, Manchester University Press, p.59
  8. ^ The Lost Revolution: The Story of the Official IRA and the Workers' Party, Brian Hanley and Scott Millar, ISBN 1844881202 p. 336
  9. ^ Irish voters decide: voting behaviour in elections and referendums since 1918, Richard Sinnott, Manchester University Press ND, 1995, ISBN 9780719040375 p.59
  10. ^ The Lost Revolution: The Story of the Official IRA and the Workers' Party, Brian Hanley and Scott Millar, ISBN 1844881202 pp. 286-336
  11. ^ Henry McDonald, Gunsmoke and Mirrors, ISBN 9780717142989 p. 28
  12. ^ Stephen Collins, The Power Game: Fianna Fáil since Lemass, ISBN 086278588X, p. 61
  13. ^ See Swan,(pgs 303,330) and Brian Hanley and Scott Millar, The Lost Revolution, 2009 (pgs. 220, 256-7).
  14. ^
  15. ^ The Politics of Illusion:A Political History of the I.R.A. by Henry Patterson, (1997) and Official Irish Republicanism by Swan.
  16. ^ The Longest War:Northern Ireland and the IRA by K. Kelley (1988) claimed that SFWP's attitude to the North was “indistinguishable in its structural form from that held by most Unionists” (pg. 270). See also Swan,Official Irish Republicanism, Chapter 8, and Politics in the Republic of Ireland by John Coakley and Michael Gallagher (2004), Pg. 28
  17. ^ 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),Greystones, Co. Wicklow : Justice Books.(pp. 252,294).
  18. ^ See Armed struggle: the History of the IRA by Richard English, Oxford University Press US, 2004.
  19. ^ Proinsias De Rossa, ‘The case for a new departure Making Sense March–April 1992
  20. ^ BBC Spotlight programme, ‘Sticking to their guns’, June 1991
  21. ^ Sean Garland, ‘Beware of hidden agendas’ Making Sense March–April 1992
  22. ^ Patterns of Betrayal, the Flight from Socialism, Workers Party, 1992, page 11
  23. ^ The Lost Revolution: The Story of the Official IRA and the Workers' Party, Brian Hanley and Scott Millar, ISBN 1844881202, p. 588
  24. ^ "The 1989 Local Government Elections,". Retrieved 2011-02-03. 
  25. ^ The Lost Revolution: The Story of the Official IRA and the Workers' Party, Brian Hanley and Scott Millar, ISBN 1844881202, p. 600
  26. ^ "Official Republican Movement (ORM) - CAIN Archive". Retrieved 2011-02-03. 
  27. ^ ORM in Peace Talks
  28. ^ "Independent candidate: John Gilliland,". BBC News. 2004-05-18. Retrieved 2011-02-03. 
  29. ^
  30. ^ "Workers’ Party asks Halligan for his seat | Munster Express Online". 2008-02-22. Retrieved 2011-02-03. 
  31. ^ "Workers Party (The)", Electoral Commission
  32. ^ Lisbon - A Treaty Too Far Workers' Party website
  33. ^ WP Meath branch
  34. ^ Local Elections Candidates[dead link]
  35. ^ "Press release Malachy Steenson candidate in Dublin Central". 7 April 2009. Retrieved 7 April 2009. 
  36. ^ Ted Tynan Elected Cork Politics Website, 7th of June 2009
  37. ^ North Ward Waterford City Council - Election 2009 results RTÉ Website, 7th June 2009
  38. ^ List of Workers Party Candidates
  39. ^ WP President Mick Finnegan to stand in Dublin Mid West Workers Party Website
  40. ^
  41. ^
  42. ^ Dr Nicholas Whyte. "Upper Bann results 1983-1995". Retrieved 2011-02-03. 
  43. ^
  44. ^ Fortnight, 9 May 1992
  45. ^
  46. ^
  47. ^ "CAIN". Retrieved 2011-02-03. 
  48. ^ Ireland Today:Anatomy of a Changing State by Gemma Hussey, (1993) pgs. 172-3,194 .
  49. ^ Looking Left: The Irish People DCTV
  50. ^ "Look Left Online". Look Left Online. Retrieved 2011-02-03. 
  51. ^ "About us : Look Left". Retrieved 2011-02-03. 

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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