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The Left Archive: Presidential Address by Proinsias De Rossa TD, Workers’ Party Annual Delegate Conference, 1989 December 8, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Left Online Document Archive, Workers' Party.



So, here is a document that sums up the approach of the Workers’ Party at a pivotal point in its development. The victories of the 1989 General Election were months away, the remarkable changes in the USSR were working their own political magic and the party seemed, almost uniquely amongst parties of the further left during this period, well positioned to grow.

It’s a more discursive piece than I remember from the speech proper. The introductory quotes on the inside front pages give some hint of its scope…

“This year I want to challenge some ‘sacred cows’… raise some questions and offer some answers.”

The De Rossa on the cover visibly younger than the politico we’ve come to know.

But inside the message is one that, even now, is still associated with him, two political parties later…

“We need public debates on modern socialism, on Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish Constitution and on who or what is blocking peace in Northern Ireland.”

Still, it’s intriguing to read the section on the European Community and see within it the seeds of later developments by Democratic Left in shifting to a much less euro-sceptic view than much of the Irish further left.

The section on the Economy is oddly shallow, and almost impossibly archaic due to the intervening boom.

A quote from Lenin – ‘What is to be done?”, naturally – and later one from Marx can’t quite disguise the reality that the party was shifting gradually away from sterner lines. But that said the identification with the USSR is strong, and in particular the changes then taking place there.

Perhaps not so strangely the critique of Irish politics and the response of the elites is one that has some resonance today. But the analysis of the North is little better than wishful thinking… ‘The Provisionals are facing the beginning of the end… because an overall majority in the North wants talks. Talks towards a devolved Government in Northern Ireland are not an option to be turned down by the SDLP. They are the democratic right of the people of the whole island.’.

Somehow the present dispensation isn’t one that would fit into that particular schema. And the veiled hints that the Anglo-Irish Agreement was meaningless in retrospect demonstrates their ineffectuality on all-island issues. This too is demonstrated by their call on Protestants (sic) to elect ‘new leaders’.

And what of the following?

We stand for enterprise, energy and experimentation in the South. For devolution and democracy in the North. We want a society that goes out to work and that brings home the bacon.

But we do think that making money is immoral when it damages people. Or when the surplus is not shared.

Socialism as we see it, is not anti-market, anti-enterprise and anti-individual. Socialism will stimulate effort, enthusiasm and enterprise in all levels of our society. Work will be well rewarded and the lazy penalised – and that means dole spongers as well as tax-dodgers, short-day shirkers as well as bosses.

In its own way, very much of its time.


1. Neues aus den Archiven der radikalen Linken - eine Auswahl « Entdinglichung - December 8, 2008

[…] Workers Party of Ireland (WP): Presidential Address by Proinsias De Rossa TD, Workers’ Party Annual Delegate Conference […]


2. Garibaldy - December 8, 2008

Harris’ fingerprints are all over the section on the north, which verges on the hysterical at times, even allowing for rhetorical flourishes. I thought the section about the Labour movement contained a lot of stuff that remains relevant, but as you say WBS, the economic stuff is like a different country altogether – though it may seem more familiar in a year or two, though I doubt that emigration will hit anything like the same levels. The opportunism that led to 1992 is clearly evident in the last part WBS quotes, and in the sections that deal with socialism changing, though some of the thought patterns about socialism and socialist parties needing to change, remain responsive to the interests of workers are conceptually not inaccurate, even if the interpretation of what was principle and what was pragmatism was wrong. Similar language can be found in the more successful western European CPs today for example.


3. Old SFWP - December 8, 2008

The stuff on the north is not that different from what Mac Giolla said the year before. Believe or not Garibaldy this is what lots of people in the party thought. I was disgusted by the provos killing of protestant workers but every year I was hearing about ‘genocide’ and rarely a bad word for the UVF/UDA. The new economic stuff shocked people (esp. ‘spongers’), the northern stuff was par for the course.


4. Garibaldy - December 8, 2008

I do believe it OSFWP. I think we can forget in a post-Johnny Adair world, that in the mid-1980s the loyalists were killing much smaller numbers of people for whatever reason (I think one year it fell for one of their organisations to 5), and so I guess the focus shifted more one way. It was more the rhetoric about unionists or protestants winning the moral war etc that I found near-hysterical, and clearly Harris. I don’t think that reflected what the party was saying in the north about the tribal politicians on all sides. I’ve read quite a lot of the Northern People for this period, and I don’t think it was the same for example. I am sure the economic stuff shocked people. And rightly so.


5. Colm B - December 8, 2008

My recollection of this speech is that it took most WP members by surprise. I remember being partcularly shocked at the insulting references to ‘dole spongers’ etc. and I remember a general unease amongst party members.

From what I learned afterwards, during this period Harris had the ear of De Rossa and whether he wrote those sections on the North etc. or not, he clearly had a significant influence, an influence that continued until the later months of 1989. Harris and his clique were working towards hoisting their version of right-wing social democracy on the WP at this stage, an attempt which culminated in the rejection of his NSD document (that has alradey been discussed on Cedar Lounge). Why De Rossa rejected this rightward path and broke with Harris in late 1989 when he and most of the other parliamentarians later followed more or less the same route (more circuitously) is another days work. Howvever, his break with Harris did play a role in convincing people like myself that he had decisively rejected social democracy.

I agree that it would be wrong to see this speech as a sudden eruption of Harris on the scene. He had a decisive influence on the WP’s direction and ideology since the late 1970s with the imposition of his statist/stalinist Irish Industrial Revolution programme and neo-unionist perspective. This is not to say that Harris was some sort of dictator, he definitely had to contend with other factions at the top of the party but for whatever reason he was the ideological driving force in the 1980s. I am certainly aware that he wrote parts of Tomas MacGiolla’s last Presedential speech in 1988 and it ‘s probable that he did the same in relation to previous speeches.


6. sonofstan - December 8, 2008

Very odd photo – P DeR looks very much like a man who has just produced Eoghan Harris from a hat to the delight and bewilderment of a variety show audience -how does he do it, ladies and gentlemen, how does he do it? The Great MysteRossa…..


7. Garibaldy - December 8, 2008


Loved it.


I don’t think it’s a case of Harris suddenly appearing to prominence, so much as the new Harris that was emerging at this time. On your general point about his significance, I am generally sceptical of claims that one person was the driving force behind ideological change, whether it is the 1960s or the 1980s. That doesn’t seem to me to chime with the development of the Party as a whole.


8. Daniel De Foe - December 12, 2008

Harris has proved what he always was. An unelected mouthpiece of a senator


9. Starkadder - December 12, 2008

De Rossa looks like he’s advertising Mentos 😉 .


10. Gomez - December 15, 2008

A pretty interesting item, as is the Left Archive (which I’ve
been reading over the last month) over-all.

BTW, is it true that OSF tried to negotiate with the UDA at one
point in the seventies?


11. Garibaldy - December 15, 2008

There were negotiations between all sorts of people and organisations during the 1970s, such as the Feakle talks, to try to find some common ground and address potential ways forward.


12. Left Archive: Presidential Address, Proinsias De Rossa TD MEP, 1990 « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - August 15, 2011

[…] previous year de Rossa had given a Presidential Address [see here] which represented a shift towards a more market friendly Workers Party. This speech was to see […]


13. Gerryboy - August 15, 2011

@ No.12 Garibaldi. The Feakle talks were between Protestant churchmen (Methodist, Presbyterian and Anglican) and members of the IRA and Sinn Fein Kevin Street. These secret talks were held at the request of the churchmen and were an attempt by them to make Sinn Fein and the IRA realize the depth of revulsion felt then (1972-73?) among the Protestant and loyalist population towards the provo bombing campaign. The Feakle talks were prematurely broken up and the provo talkers suddenly dispersed when apparently the Gardai rumbled the meeting acting on information received. The churchmen who had travelled from Northern Ireland did not claim to represent the UDA or the UVF at this abortive meeting.


14. Left Archive: Irish Socialist, May 1989. Communist Party of Ireland. « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - June 18, 2012

[…] one of the most interesting features is a long report on the Workers’ Party Ard-Fheis which [see here for WP Presidential Address] the Irish Socialist argues that this ‘heralded a fundamental change in Workers’ Party policy […]


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