Aspects of the History & Ideology of the Workers' Party

Sean Garland
Sean Garland

Seán Garland on Downtown Radio's "The Ramblin' Man"
Some time ago Downtown Radio presenter Bobbie Hanvey interviewed Seán Garland of the Workers Party at length about his life and politics for Bobbie's popular series "The Ramblin' Man".  The recording was broadcast over two Sunday evenings on 5th and 12th August 2007.   You can now listen to the intervew  on this site by clicking the "Play" button on the module you select below.

Play Part 1 of Sean Garland's interview

Play Part 2 of Sean Garland's interview


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Below is a summary of the history and ideology of the Worker's Party. Click here to download a more in depth document on the subject in PDF format.

The creation of The Workers' Party came after many years of arduous and costly struggle. At the jubilant Ard Fheis, held in Liberty Hall, Dublin in 1982, when the decision was ratified formally, delegate after delegate spoke of the efforts and sacrifices which had gone into producing Ireland's first major revolutionary democratic, secular, socialist party.

It is not possible to tell that entire story in a few pages. The decades from 1962 include one of the most horrible and evil chapters in the history of modern Ireland; a chapter which unfortunately has not yet concluded. The history of the Party is woven into the fabric of those years. It played a major role in shaping the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association in the 1960s. Subsequently it opposed the growing sectarian, murderous terrorism which has polarised Northern Ireland as never before.

At the same time it set about the task of bringing alive the consciousness of the working class in the Republic through housing action committees, trade union activity, anti-ground rent campaigns, fishing rights and against the private ownership of rivers, defence of public enterprises, tax marches and many other localised campaigns.

During the period 1962 - 1969, the Republican Movement as it was then known, was being altered from a militaristic organisation, solely concerned with securing "national unity“, into a revolutionary political organisation with an embryonic socialist agenda.

From the French Revolution to the present is a mere two centuries. But they have contained some of the most turbulent years the world is ever liable to witness.

Insulated Ireland

Unfortunately there are those who see Ireland as somehow insulated from the intellectual, political and physical turmoil which dominates world life. This is particularly true for elements who have interpreted "republicanism" as a unique and specific, Irish phenomenon, identical to nationalism and congruent with the perceived political aspirations of the country's Roman Catholic majority.

Republicanism, as The Workers' Party understands it, cannot be separated from the fundamental principles of the French Revolution - for Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.


Opposition to the concept of a secular society is part and parcel of both states in Ireland. Equally there is significant hostility to the idea of socialism. Much of this derives from the country's "religious value systems", a scanty knowledge of socialist philosophy and a conservative dread of the future. (Naturally events in Eastern Europe have added to the problems facing Irish socialists). A statement by the late former leader of the Irish Labour

In the course then of the late sixties, Republican activity was directed to social problems which had the purpose of developing a new type of membership but which sought also to heighten class consciousness. At the same time internal education stressed the socialist dimension of the Republican tradition - from Tone to Frank Ryan.


The product of the major events from August 1969 was to provide a fertile recruiting ground for the Provisionals. At the same time a variety of loyalist terrorist organisations were spawned in response to the growing violence. The outcome would be twenty five years of terrorism with the goal of a democratic, secular, socialist republic buried in the pervasive murderous sectarianism which has at this time left Northern Ireland polarised as never before and the majority of citizens in the Republic apparently alienated from any concept of "national unity".

The Ard Fheis of 1977, however, decided overwhelmingly that Sinn Féin would be retained and The Workers' Party attached as a suffix. A new era had begun.

The next five years saw, what at the time looked like, the completion of the pre-stage of Party building. Although the Party had won seats in Local Government elections North and South during the previous decade, the major breakthrough into parliamentary politics had still to happen. Paradoxically, as the Party progressed in the Republic, in Northern Ireland it suffered both by its refusal to support the Provisional hunger strike and by its endorsement of the Chilver's Report on Education proposing the creation of a single teacher training college in place of the existing denominational structures.

The third period identified stretches then from the Ard Fheis of 1982 until the betrayal of the Party and its programme in 1992 by the group subsequently to become the Democratic Left, now absorbed into the Irish Labour Party.

The events surrounding the efforts to liquidate The Workers' Party have been well documented in the publication "Patterns of Betrayal : The Flight from Socialism", available from Party offices, and require no further elaboration here. It is important though to state that the damage done to the Party far surpassed any of the murderous assaults of the mid-seventies. This was true not only for Party structures and morale but also in terms of the many thousands of voters who had placed their hopes in an honest, serious, democratic, secular, socialist party and saw those hopes dashed by the gross opportunism and individualism of those who betrayed the Party.

From the early seventies the Party had campaigned strongly in support of a wide range of international struggles. At the same time the party was prominent in opposing terrorism and sectarianism in Northern Ireland, in defence of natural resources and the state sector in the Republic, in trade union activity, in the development of nationwide tax protests. In fact it had become the cutting edge of radical thinking and activity, particularly in the Republic.


As a result there was a steady rise in electoral support for the Party, with new seats won in the 1985 Dublin local government elections, culminating in the elections of 1989 which saw seven members in the Dáil and a first ever European Parliament seat in Dublin. This increase was also reflected in Northern Ireland where the Party polled just short of 6% of the vote in the Belfast Local Government elections of the same year.

It must be recognised that the present political condition is hostile to the democratic politics of a socialist party. This is compounded by the fairly widely held view that politics is not seen by a growing number of people as a vital, central, and critical component of everyday life. In addition many citizens are cynical as to the

In particular there is the clear shift to the centre-left / right which has had the consequence of both seeking to remove ideology from politics and at the same time blurring any difference between parties in the eyes of the electorate. The recent anti-war, anti-World Bank, and anti-globalisation mobilisations may herald the beginning of a new resistance to capitalism's ideological and political hegemony.

Socialists and their parties will find themselves increasingly being disparaged and dismissed as "old hat" - "not in touch with the times" - "clinging to outworn dogmas". In fact every possible verbal trick in the book will be played in order to persuade socialists that there is nothing to do but go along with the prevailing tide.

The problem for the Party is to gear and develop ourselves to take advantage of this situation in a period of ongoing vicious sectarianism and fundamentalism in Northern Ireland and the media-led, ideologically denuded politics of the Republic.

There are no easy answers. No instant solutions. Indeed we will need to shun any such suggestions; at the same time we cannot rely solely on our correct theoretical perspectives. The challenge is to reconstruct, recognising that it will take time, foresight, planning and meaningful political activity.

Peace, Work, Democracy & Class Politics