The Irish People, Vol. 9, No. 13
Date:27th March 1981
Organisation:Sinn Féin The Workers' Party (see Workers' Party)
Publication:The Irish People
Issue:Volume 9, Number 13
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Commentary From The Cedar Lounge Revolution

18th February 2008

Allow me a nostalgic moment this week, for here, in all its glowing somewhat maroon marooness (check out the masthead - never quite red in colour), is “The Irish People”, from Sinn Féin the Workers’ Party from 1981. This, the ultimate successor of the United Irishman was to become the document probably most widely distributed by the SFWP/WP over the years, and certainly the one most widely recognisable to pub goers across Dublin and other centres around the country.

For it was there that my earliest political activity was concentrated having joined the party only a couple or so years later. Is there any more humbling experience than carrying bags worth of political papers around pubs and housing estates on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon and hoping against experience that a friends father will buy one from pity or exasperation? The Provo’s had, frankly, a vastly more organised way of selling An Phoblacht/Republican News and on more than one occasion I encountered groups in semi-military regalia in various pubs in the inner city. That seemed to die away in the late 1980s, early 1990s.

And let’s not underestimate the way in which the paper becomes in some ways the signifier of political activism for many a left party. Having said that the WP was a bit more ambitious than many and - more importantly - a lot more cohesive and even at this point had elected councillors and such like to provide at least some semblance of political activity in a different forum.

As to the document itself, well, it’s as one might expect. Nuts and bolts socialism with an eye on NATO. That a fairly similar piece appeared five years later is neither here nor there. I have to smile at the picture of Pat McCartan, now Judge McCartan, on page 2. And note how the party identification is not played up. No form here to inveigle the unwary into the joys of Marxist-Leninism. No trumpeting the inevitable collapse of capitalism and the vanguard position of SFWP. Instead a diet of mundane, but entirely truthful stories about life in Ireland in 1981 with a sort of internationalism - note the story on page 4 about Fine Gael links with the junta in El Salvador. As to the North? Well, not a whisper. Perhaps the party recognised just how little that played south of the border…

It’s an interesting thought, isn’t it, that in all probability many many issues of the IP were printed over the years, and yet as it happens I never kept one, and I’ll bet most other members or former members of the WP didn’t either. It’s remarkable how ephemeral all this material is. Printed on low grade, slightly transparent paper, the inks and photographic reproduction muddy and uneven. It’s a seemingly fragile container for a sort of kind of revolutionary message.

Still, it must have worked on some level, maroon or not, to judge from the increasing vote the party got. And maybe in its own way was actually more sophisticated than on first view.

More from The Irish People

The Irish People in the archive


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  • By: WorldbyStorm Wed, 20 Feb 2008 08:21:54

    dilettante, actually a great point. I remember trudging off to an Ard Fhéis in the mid 1980s and my father asked were de Rossa and the rest going to be there. I said yes, and he shook his head and said didn’t they realise Dublin was playing at Croke Park that afternoon. Important, is it not, to not have a disconnect with life as it is actually lived – which I guess is a good justification for the kitchen sink approach of the IP.

    Peter, that sounds like it could be an expensive night out!

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  • By: Joe Wed, 20 Feb 2008 09:50:09

    I was selling the IP with you on some of those days too WBS. Important to note that the WP also at the time did a lot of door-to-door street sales wherever they were strong. A far better approach than pub sales in my view.

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  • By: Peter Daly Wed, 20 Feb 2008 09:53:52

    btw I cannot save the .pdf

    Downloaded it twice….each time it says ‘bad file’!

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  • By: mickhall Wed, 20 Feb 2008 18:18:18

    Not covering the north in the early 1980s, mmm, sounds like a political decision centered around not supporting the blanket protest etc. From that period I still feel AP/RP was the best paper around.

    By the way does anyone have the answer to just why the left [UK/Ireland has never been able to produce a half decent paper. I often wonder if the tankies had not won the battle to control the Morning Star, whether the Euros around Martin Jacques may have been able to turn that paper round.

    At the time the Star had the means to keep a float, so I feel it was a mistake not to give the Euro a chance, even though I disagreed with much of their politics, a real lost opportunity as being the mouth piece of TU bureaucrats was never going to build the paper.

    The other lost opportunity was when the Healyites got the cash to turn the Workers Press into a daily, they had some good journalists on board, Peter Fryer, Alex Mitchell and Charley Pottins amongst them, how these people allowed Healy to turn the paper into an outlet for his paranoid ranting speaks volumes about the absurdity of democratic centralism.

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  • By: Garibaldy Wed, 20 Feb 2008 18:47:07

    I’d be fairly sure there’d have been regular coverage of the north in the Irish People in the early 80s, but I’d say not shoehorning it in for the sake of it was a sensible thing. The United Irishman of when the IRA ceasefire was announced in May 1972 was much more about opposing joining the EEC than it was about the ceasefire. In that sense the presence of a paper concentrating on social and economic stuggles on the ground was perfectly within the framework anticipated by the political development begun in the 1960s. The Northern People continued at this point to cover violence against working people from all sources.

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  • By: Pete Wed, 20 Feb 2008 21:41:19

    There was very little coverage of the North. But then again everything in the world didn’t revolve around a few guys wiping shite on walls and not wearing shirts, or did it?

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  • By: Peter Daly Thu, 21 Feb 2008 08:25:28

    fu**ing sticky c**t

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  • By: John O'Neill Thu, 21 Feb 2008 23:03:40

    “or whatever the ISN freesheet is called.”

    It’s called “Resistance”, now whats the SP paper called? “Socialist Voice” or is that the CPI’s? BTW Mark how much does the “Fingal Socialist” cost?

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  • By: Cruibín Wed, 23 Jul 2008 18:02:26

    There was a Cork edition of the Irish People too. I think around 3,000 copies were sold every week at it’s peak.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Wed, 23 Jul 2008 19:13:31

    I never knew that Cruibín…

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  • By: Garibaldy Wed, 23 Jul 2008 19:17:31

    Me neither. Wonder who edited it.

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  • By: Looking Left, No.1: The Irish People « The Cedar Lounge Revolution Tue, 26 May 2009 16:14:26

    […] We also have a downloadable copy in the Archive… […]

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  • By: Peadar Thu, 25 Jun 2009 15:24:27

    Wondering if any one has any back catalogues of “Irish People”, “United Irishman” etc. where the Workers Party people who are now in Labour, spoke out against joining the EU(Common Market) or ratification of the Single European Act?

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Thu, 25 Jun 2009 17:55:22

    I’ve a number from 1972 and even a couple from 73 of the UI, but I don’t think any of the head honcho’s spoke then. Not sure about the SEA. You could look at the Oireachtas website to see what the thinking was on the part of elected reps then…

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  • By: Maddog Wilson Thu, 25 Jun 2009 23:27:40

    Peadar

    I had all copies of the UI from september 1971 to it’s demise in 1980( I think) and it’s replacement by Workers Life. It was a terrible step backwards in my opinion, i note Mick Ryan had the same view. I had a few Irish People’s; but i am not really sure what happened to them. I remember getting rid of the UI’S and feeling quite sad, but this was before the internet and anything like CLR.

    On the Single European Act, from memory the Workers Party was opposed, but i think someone needs to confirm that(garibaldy?) Still hunting for that copy of the IIR, I know it’s there.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Fri, 26 Jun 2009 06:35:12

    Yeah, the WP was opposed IIRC. I know how you feel about the papers. I had tons of IPs back in the day – sure I sold them in Dublin North East, and yet I hadn’t one copy left when it came to the CLR. I’m kicking myself.

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  • By: Joe Fri, 26 Jun 2009 08:14:41

    Yeah, the WP was opposed to the Single European Act. I leafletted the local Dart Station with our TD, McCartan, one morning. I was passionately opposed to it. He was just going through the motions. I’m pretty sure De Rossa would have spoken out clearly against it.
    I remember being flabbergasted to hear that the Democratic Socialist Party were in favour. Their line being that Ireland could only benefit from the progressive norms of European social democracy, I think. I can see where they were coming from now. I voted No to Lisbon but only just. My vote next time is still in the balance though it’ll probably still be a No, safe in the knowledge that I’ll be back on the comfortable losing side once more.

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  • By: Colm B Fri, 26 Jun 2009 11:00:35

    Seeing as we’re all on a ‘Ah them were the days’ IP nostalgia trip I might as well add my tuppence worth.

    During the late 1980s the sale of the IP was a major part of our activity in the WP in Dun Laoghaire. We started with pub sales, usually for some reason on a Sunday morning, but soon abandoned what was effectively providing an excuse for morning-after grumpy old men to have a go! Then we switched to door-to-door and I can honestly say this proved to be remarkably successful.
    All the sales were carried out in council housing estates on a weekly basis by the same party members. I would reckon that there was hardly an council estate in the constituency that at some stage did not have a regular IP sale and the sales of the paper certainly reached into the hundreds at one point.
    I’ll come back to the content of the IP but the main point with these weekly sales was that they provided a contact point between the party member and residents of an estate. Once the run had been established you went to the same doors every week. I know from my own experience from doing two runs, one in Sallynoggin and the other in Monkstown Farm that you quickly got to know the people who bought the IP. This had an impact in a number of ways. Some of these IP buyers became active supporters or even members of the party. They also transmitted information about local issues which allowed us to intiate campaigns or raise it at a council level. Perhaps most significant of all it meant that party members were visible in the estates on a regular basis, negating the natuiral complaint of voters that ‘we only see you at elections’. The end result was that it contributed in a major way to our electoral breakthrough in the area, where we had a TD and three council seats in 1991 the vast majority of our support coming from the same council estates where we had IP sales, although assidous clientalism and some campaigning work probably played an even greater role in our success.

    Im only taking about the ‘technical’ advantages of this work and not its ideological ramifications. I would be very critical (and was at the time) of the failure to turn this activity towards campaigning rather than electoral advantage but thats another story.

    As for the content of the IP, it was, IMO, a dreadful paper: it was just full of boringly written articles about local issues, entirely lacking in socialist analysis, which invariably centred on what Joesephine Bloggs local WP rep was doing or saying about the issue (I still have a cutting from the IP with myself pointing to some wheelie bins in the Mounttown Flats area…ah the stuff of revolutionary history). There were some general articles but these usually brief summaries of the WP position on national issues in dry ‘press-release’ style. From what Ive seen of earlier issues the standard was better at the beginning with much more solid stuff about campaigning etc. Now we could get into a long discussion about the nature of a left-wing newspaper aimed at the general public rather than ‘left-world’ but I think most people would agree there is a balance to be struck between the Tooting Popular Front style of ideological rants plus Long Live the Nepalese Revolution stories and dry localist tracts which make no serious attempt to integrate socialist ideas into the day to day material.

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  • By: Jim Monaghan Fri, 26 Jun 2009 12:41:45

    I rarely saw the IP but wasn’t Padraig Yeates the editor. I would have though that it would have been bright and readable with him as editor. I am told that Rachmann types were goping to take action against hime for exposing them.
    In Dun Laoghaire now the same local activism is being done by Eoin O’Broin (SF) and Boyd Barrett (PBPor SWP). Will they become clientistic and glorifies social workers or something better?
    The sheer gring of weekly sales etc. must alienate those who want to live a little, maybe have a personal life. This is the problem of all groups how to have members who are not doing 20 plus hours a week for the cause.

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  • By: Mark P Fri, 26 Jun 2009 13:18:48

    20 plus hours a week? Are you nuts, Jim? No present day left wing group requires anything like that kind of activity level from its members, week in week out.

    Your question does remind me of something though. I recently picked up a glossy SWP recruitment leaflet, which was politically a bit bizarre. It consisted of a list of statements and the response that “If you agree, then you should join the socialists”. The problem being that you don’t have to actually be a socialist, let alone a Marxist, to agree with the propositions. But anyway, I’m getting off the point a bit, which was that the last part of the leaflet says the following:

    But can I afford the time?

    “It’s the question that many ask when they consider getting involved. And it’s no wonder, as we face hugely stressful lives. Socialists want to create a mass party where everyone makes whatever contribution they can. If that just means distributing a few leaflets to your friends or workmates, that is fine, Of if you want to help organise activity that is also fine.

    You choose what level of involvement you want – but do get involved!”

    On another note, I think that the Yeates period was considerably earlier in the history of the IP than the period Colm B is talking about. My understanding is that the quality of the paper had declined a fair bit by then.

    Also, on the subject of clientelist activity in Dun Laoghaire, it’s interesting to note that Hugh Lewis (a likeable guy and a local, but essentially a stand in for Boyd Barrett) completely crushed Eoin O’Broin at the ballot box in Ballybrack. Some of you may recall a Phoenix profile of Boyd Barrett, seemingly written by a rather Provo partisan with a greater than average interest in the left. Amongst other tendentious points it implied that the more working class vote in Ballybrack would be more natural home for SF and O’Broin than for Boyd Barrett and his associates. I would guess that the Provisionals are bit less smug about such things now.

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