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Irish Left History Project: Independent Socialist Party, 1976 – 1978 September 25, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Independent Socialist Party 1976 - 1978.



We don’t know if there were any more issues, how long it ran for, nor do we know who wrote for it, as none of the articles are by-lined.

As far as the Independent Socialist Party goes, prety much all we know is from John Goodwillie’s article in Gralton, 1983, and from Wikipedia. ,mm ,


Independent Socialist Party – formed c.1976 as a replacement for the Irish Committee for a Socialist Programme. Known for the membership of Bernadette McAliskey it was never more then a small group and ceased to function around 1978.


The Independent Socialist Party was a far left political party in Ireland. It was founded in 1976 as a split from the Irish Republican Socialist Party named the Irish Committee for a Socialist Programme, calling for more prominent socialist politics and less emphasis on paramilitary activity. The following year, it renamed itself the “Independent Socialist Party” and was joined by former UK Member of Parliament Bernadette McAliskey.

The party entered discussions with the Socialist Workers’ Movement (SWM), with the aim of forming a joint organisation, but the SWM chose instead to join the Socialist Labour Party in 1978. As a result, the Independent Socialist Party decided to disband.

Just flicking through the document it is concerned with Post Office and Aer Lingus strikes in the South, an RUC/British Army raid on Provisional Sinn Féin offices in the North (“We declare our unconditional solidarity [with PSF] as they bear the brunt of determined repression by British forces in the North”).

There is an article in the Independent Socialist which asks:

Are we Republicans? No, not in the sense of traditional republicanism. We are struggling for the establishment of a WORKERS state in each and every country ie: a state in which the ownership and control of production is in the hands of the working class, organised as one in the interests of all. Only by organising in the factories, the communities and local areas can workers gain control of every aspect of their own lives.

The ISP is not only asking awkward questions, fighting for workers’ rights defending gains made over a hundred years and more of struggle, but also seeking and finding answers as to why problems exist – organising not only to protect our class against the onslaught of the system but to overthrow the system of Capitalism, to trasnform society, to establish our own system, the working class system, SOCIALISM.

So, the obvious questions ensue. How large was the ISP membership, did it hold Annual Conferences, Ard Fheiseanna, do people know if it generated a defined set of policies/documents, did it have any elected representatives at any point and so forth?


1. Neues aus den Archiven der radikalen (und nicht so radikalen) Linken « Entdinglichung - September 25, 2009

[…] Independent Socialist Party, 1976 – 1978/Independent Socialist, Mai 1978 * Sinn Féin Ard Fheis 1986 * Eamonn Smullen: Things Can Change in order to Remain the Same […]


2. Jim Monaghan - September 25, 2009

This came from Bernadettes split from the IRSP when she and others discovered an existing Group B.It included about half the leadership pf the IRSP. I believe Gerry Ruddy who rejoined the IRSP and who has now retired as Chair of the IRSP was in it. Gerry Ruddy was ex PD.
The spilt from the IRSP was fairly friendly. Costello came downstairs after the rump had their meeting and went around to all those who had split and shook their hand and said although they had had a serious disagreement they would find themselves on the same side of the barricades. Interesting that a non marxist could be so non petty.Everyone was either waiting to give lifts home or waiting for these lifts.
The ISP was supposed to merge with the SWM now SWP. I don’t know why this did not happen. There was a hoppe that after this merger that the PD/MSR fused group would then merge with them.
Most of the ISP drifted back to the IRSP.
I gather Ruddy and co has had success in getting rid of the militarism in the IRSP


3. Garibaldy - September 25, 2009

I see the article on the Legal Society misquotes The Godfather. Shocking.


IIRC the Deadly Divisions book quotes someone saying Devlin et al were unhappy not with the existence of a military wing but with the fact it controlled the party instead of the other way round. Is that wrong then?


4. Seán Ó Tuama - September 25, 2009


I think you are correct.

They would have been naive not to expect an armed group. But there probably was also the fact that they were genuinely shocked by the nature of the ensueing IRA-INLA feud.


5. Garibaldy - September 25, 2009

Cheers Seán. I think the fact that this was founded in 1976 rather than earlier does make me think the Deadly Divisions book might be right.


6. Jim Monaghan - September 25, 2009

I think they were shocked that it was already there and functioning. I think there was also shock at how the feud escalated and put the new party in thrawl to militarists (a polite term for uncontrollables). The need for protection against the far more heavily armed Officials meant that they needed whatever help they could get. If you look at say the Belfast people it was a question of friends form school etc. The nickname Planet of the Irps for Divis meant that they were effectively under siege and their nsupporters elsewhere had to take refuge. The Provos regarded it with amusement. Even during the H-Block days there was still animosity againts the Irps as being a variety of Sticks. This meant no support from the Provos at this stage.
Remember where the IRSP ended up was not written in the stars so to speak. The combination of repression from the state and the attack from the Officials skewed them in a certain direction. I don’t believe they ever recovered a political balance afer that and were constantly chasing for military credibility with the politics being buried.
I am told thet current leadership have broken from militarism. I hope it is true.


7. WorldbyStorm - September 25, 2009

Can I say thanks to you all for this information. It’s great and fills in gaps. Can I ask, any sense of numbers and structures, ie. did they have branches/cumann and were there many members? Anyone know of actual policy platform documents?


8. Garibaldy - September 25, 2009


Have you and Conor thought of getting in touch with surviving participants of these types of groups where you know names? It could be they’d be more than happy to help with these types of queries. Alternatively, they might tell you to fuck off 🙂


WorldbyStorm - September 25, 2009

I think that has to be the next stage – definitely.


9. Seán Ó Tuama - September 25, 2009

I agree with all that Jim has said above, in particular on the problems caused for the IRSP by the OIRA attempt to wipe it out..

If I remember correctly the debates at the time, the Bernadette/Derry people did largely put their political position in terms of the party controlling the army.

I would also be surprised if many of the Derry people were unaware that an armed wing was being built, considering that some of them appeared to have been involved in it.



10. Seán Ó Tuama - September 25, 2009

The first sentence in 9 above should read “I mostly agree etc………with the following exceptions”.


11. Brian Hanley - September 25, 2009

Johnnie White, former Derry IRA and Official IRA commander and founding member of the IRSP (and what became the INLA) was in the ISP I think. He later joined Sinn Fein during the 1980s. There was an INLA colour party at his funeral but I think he was only a member of that organisation for a relatively short time.
From reading some 1960s IRA material Costello was not exactly ‘soft’ on dissidents himself. Perhaps he was friendly to those who left to form the ISP because they had no ambitions to form a rival military group.


Gerry Ruddy - October 2, 2009

Just caught up with this discussion. Johnny White was indeed heavily involved in the ISP and set up the Five Eights Bookshop in Dublin and produced a number of editions of the Five-Eights newsletter. It was the IRSP that eventually negotiated his return to his native Derry City where he spent the remaining years of his life. He identified with the IRSP The ISP evolved out of the irish Committee For A Socialist Programme and had a wide range of members. As I remember we had three key areas of work, economic, women and democratic rights. I was on the democratic section as was Bernadette and we pushed for a united front on the issue of the dirty protest if my recollection is correct. We ran, or rather Jim McCorry, ran a resource centre on Broadway in Belfast. A lot of good work was done but a number of issues including the prison protests and the usually left arguments led to its demise. I have many documents from the time up in my roof space. Maybe comrades the technocrats can help me make them available?


Conor McCabe - October 2, 2009

That’s great Gerry. I’d love to help you make them available. WBS has the scanner, but I can meet you and pick up the documents, and then pass them on. I’m based in Dublin but I can meet up with you where you live. could you email me and we can arrange the details? My email address is:


AT = @

thanks again.


Garibaldy - October 2, 2009


Sorry I haven’t had the chance to email you back. It looks great. I think it will get a positive response, and I’ll pass it along formally once Lisbon is out of the way, and Seán’s court appearance frees people up a bit.


Conor McCabe - October 2, 2009

That’s great Garibaldy. I know it’s a busy time for the WP, but there’s no time frame on this project as it’s pretty much myself and Maura Cronin anyway! Any time people are free, i’m more than happy to meet them. cheers.


WorldbyStorm - October 2, 2009

As Conor said, glad to help out.


12. Setting Up A Twilight Theme Party | Twilight Blogger - September 26, 2009

[…] Irish Left History Project: Independent Socialist Party, 1976 … […]


13. Alan MacSimoin - September 28, 2009

Brian’s right, Johnny White was in the ISP. He staffed their little bookshop in Dublin’s Wellington Street, the ‘Five-Eight’. They also produced a duplicated bulletin of the same name in Dublin, ‘Hard Station’ in Derry, and I’m pretty sure they also had one in Belfast.

As for the ‘Independent Socialist’, I think there were just two issues. One of their writers was Eamonn McCann.


14. Conor McCabe - September 28, 2009

Thanks Alan, I’ll try to track down copies of the bulletins. Cheers for that.


15. EamonnCork - September 28, 2009

On an unrelated matter of strictly personal interest. I’m up at home and going through my father’s books I found a copy of Marx’s Civil War in France, printed in China, with Progressive Books and Periodicals stamped inside the front cover and a little hammer and sickle embossed alongside it. Anyone know anything about this shop or who ran it? It wasn’t a predecessor of Connolly Books was it?
Also, I’m in Dublin next week and plan to load up on old political books, magazines, anything like that I can find. Can anyone recommend any places which might be helpful?


16. Conor McCabe - September 28, 2009

Progressive Books was the bookshop of the CPI Marxist-Leninist, which was off Parliament Street. Nothing to do with Connolly Books. A rough rule of thumb, if it’s from China, it’s CPI-ML or possibly Cork Workers’ Club. If it’s Soviet Union, it’s CPI.

The only left-wing shop in Dublin that I know of these days is Connolly Books on Essex Street.


17. Garibaldy - September 28, 2009


If you’re looking for old pamphlets and stuff published by Irish parties, you might try the parties themselves if you haven’t done so already.


18. Conor McCabe - September 28, 2009

Eamonn, if your father bought it in Cork, there were a couple of leftist/Maoist bookshops in the city c.1970s to 1980s. As far as I know they got their stuff from China, so it might have been from one of those stores. I don’t know if one of them was named “Progressive Books” as well.


19. Conor McCabe - September 28, 2009

Just on what Garibaldy said, the Workers Party on Mountjoy Street have a rake of stuff, all going fairly cheap. The place’s is in a bit of a mess, though, as it’s temporary, so it’s probably best if you ring them first.


20. Garibaldy - September 28, 2009

Yeah definitely worth ringing first. With Lisbon and the campaign against the extradition (next hearing scheduled for the first week of October) and the Northern Regional Conference coming up things are busy, as well as the fact it’s only temporary.


21. anarchaeologist - September 28, 2009


apart from Connolly Books, there’s another lefty bookshop on College Green, just opposite Trinity, Books Upstairs. Depending what time of the month you’re in, there’s generally an eclectic range of political material on a wall-mounted rack on the left, half way down the shop (lots of Aubane). I’d also have a look at Stokes Books nearby in the Victorian market arcade off George’s Street. The stuff inside is generally expensive enough but you can get the odd bargain in the bins and the shelves outside (if I haven’t been there first…). Have a pint and a toastie in Grogan’s afterwards!

In the same neck of the woods on Parliament Street (just around the corner from both incantations of the CPI (M-L) bookshop you’ll find Oxfam Books which is quite good for out of print and hard to get political biographies (with the occasional pamphlet thrown unpriced on the bottom shelf of the Irish section).

The ground floor of Cathach Books on Duke Street (off Grafton Street) is generally a waste of time if you’re not loaded. Go down to the basement however and you never know what you’d pick up in terms of pamphlets and other bits and pieces. I heard he had old copies of AP/RN there recently but they were gone by the time I got in.

I’ve never seen anything of interest politically in the Winding Stair, even in the old days.

Happy hunting, let us know how you get on…


22. EamonnCork - September 29, 2009

Thanks very much lads, there are a couple of places I’d never have thought of there, when you’re based out in the boondocks you have to make the best of these trips to the smoke. Though I live in Cork, I was brought up in Sligo so I suspect the Dublin Progressive Books is where the Marx was bought. CPI-ML was the home of the legendary David Vipond, wasn’t it? Among the books I also found a couple of histories of the Labour movement in Britain written in the thirties, heavily underlined and annotated by my grandfather and a collection of stuff from Tribune. It’s amazing, and heartening and also kind of poignant, to see how much socialism had to do with the notion of a better more fulfilling life on a personal and cultural level as well as an economic one, that whole Open University/Arts Council/Third Programme side of the British Labour movement which I find very attractive and which maybe got lost along the way.
It’s dealt with brilliantly in a book called The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes by Jonathan Rose whose ideal audience might be some of the people who post here. I, well almost, guarantee it will be the most enjoyable book you’ll read this year. Anyway, as usual, I digress. (The Intellectual Life of the Irish Working Classes would be a worthwhile project but not as stirring given the amount of censorship which hit the working class harder than anyone else, given that they didn’t usually have any secret channels to get books in by, that’s why I’m always impatient with the Brian Fallon canard about, “Censorship? Everyone I knew had the books they wanted.”)


Starkadder - November 15, 2009

Left-wing bookshops in Cork aren’t doing so well since
Barracka Books closed. The Sinn Fein shop on Barrack Street
occaisonally carries some Non-Shinner stuff,such as back
issues of Red Banner. Some Saturdays the Socialist Party
hold a stall selling copies of “The Socialist” and “Socialist
View” as well. You can get some old SWP stuff in Vibes & Scribes
in Bridge Street .

Anyone remember the parties hawking their mags outside
the GPO in Dublin? It was Long before my time!


23. Conor McCabe - September 29, 2009

Eamon, I wouldn’t be so disheartened about the possibilities of a book about the intellectual life of the Irish working classes. One of the hats I’m wearing at the moment is oral history archivist, and I’m going around the country interviewing working class activists in their 60s and 70s, as well as people brought up on working class housing estates, and what comes across is a strong, active, intellectual life which hasn’t been picked up on by the mainstream. Not that surprising when you think that the vast majority of Irish historians come from middle class backgrounds, and only really engage with Irish working class history through health/housing/prison/poor law reports, or through Larkin and Connolly.

As regards the books, for me, an intellectual life is a reflective life, be it on society or one’s own life. The possession of books does not an intellectual life make. It’s one’s engagement with the ideas contained within, the criticial discourse undertaken, which makes for an intellectual life. Most middle class people I know would cream themselves if IKEA sold books by the barrel, as they treat their collections as furniture anyway.


24. Conor McCabe - September 29, 2009

An example, I was interviewing a guy in his eighties last week, and as I walked into his house there was a copy of Engel’s selected letters in the kitchen. When I went into his sitting room one wall was completely covered with shelves and books. And you just know that the man had actually read these books, he didn’t buy them as furniture or to name-drop at dinner parties. He had all these old vinyl records on the sofa, including the Dubliners and some light opera. Another man I interviewed two weeks ago had a political collection which I believe you would kill for! And he lives in Cork city as well!

One last point, I don’t think we can downplay the influence of emigration on Irish working class intellectual life. People came back from England with books and ideas. You can’t visa a thought.


25. sonofstan - September 29, 2009

One of my favourite phrases is EP Thompson’s declaration at the start of “The Making of the English Working Classes” where he talks of rescuing them from ‘the massive condescension of history’: certainly, s similar project here would seem to be needed. And on Eamonn’s point about the OU/ Third programme side of the British Labour movement, I think this is one of the areas where Ireland, despite our proclaimed classlessness and informality, remains much more divided than Britain; access to ‘high’ culture and to higher education is still more restricted here, and this restriction so unquestioned as to appear natural to those fortunate enough to see it as a birthright.

One of the things i do is teach adults, and the sense of bitter, and unjustified exclusion that particularly older people have (well, those a little older than me….) is one of the first things you notice.


26. EamonnCork - September 29, 2009

Conor, I didn’t mean to imply that there was no, or little, working class intellectual life in Ireland. I just meant that there were specific obstacles which had to be overcome here. Many people who could have done better would have been victims of that culture of deference to the church, e.g. that old phrase which I still remember from my own schooldays which weren’t a million years ago. ‘I suppose you know better than the priest.’ I think that’s most brilliantly illustrated in the bit from Tarry Flynn where the priest takes Tarry to task for reading books and telling him that the only thing he should be reading is the Sacred Heart Messenger because that’s good enough for the likes of him. The scene still makes me angry. And it’s why I was so excited when as a teenager I read Labour, Nationality and Religion because not only is Connolly taking on the clergy, he was doing it with such style, rationality and intelligence. People sometimes forget what a good prose writer Connollly was.
My grandfather was one of those remorseless auto-didacts, saving a few bob for a gramophone record here and a book there. I remember my late grandmother saying to me that he didn’t think there was any feat in the world greater than writing a book. I think that was something working class auto-didacts, and I’m aware I’m generalising wildly here, had in common. And I think that kind of mystical belief in the power of the intellect gets passed down the generations. For example the idea that you judge somebody’s worth by the amount of money they make has never appealed to me. Yet I know many people who can think of no greater tribute to anyone than to say, ‘he did very well for himself.’ In a way that is almost the difference between the right wing and left wing outlook on life. One side thinks that Michael O’Leary is the most admirable figure in Irish life, the other side might be more inclined to plump for somebody like John McGahern. I think to a degree it comes from the values you inherit. And whether you think bequeathing your kids an investment property is more valuable than leaving them with a love of reading and inquiry. I won’t throw a fit if my kids don’t have the same political views as me but I’d hate if they told me they believed something because, ‘that’s what everyone says.’ Which brings us to your point about what you get out of books being what matters rather than the consumption of the books in the first place. There are few things more disheartening than listening to the radio when members of a book club reveal that what they’ve got from their latest assignment is a collection of smug, complacent confirmations of their outlook on life. JG Ballard was right when he said that middle class people gathering around in clubs to discuss books was a real sign of cultural boredom. In fact there seems to be a whole genre of books which seem to have sprung up to service the book clubs.
That work you’re doing sounds fantastic Conor, is there a book coming out of it? And where can I get a job like that? I think it ties in the point I was trying to make which is that socialism for a lot of that generation in particular was an intellectual adventure as well as an economic prognosis. The great contrast is with the new cynicism where highly educated people in BBC, Channel Four and indeed RTe justify the mass production of rubbish on the grounds that the ‘ordinary Joe Soap’ likes it. There was a time when the Ordinary Joe Soaps in their millions watched The Ascent of Man. And as the Simon Schama History of Britain showed we would watch good stuff if we were given it.
Apologies for the rambling nostalgia, I was looking around my grandparents (the non left wing ones) house this morning and had a bit of a madeleine (or at least Jacobs Goldgrain) in the tea moment.


CMK - September 29, 2009

This is a fascinating thread and I think work on the intellectual life of the Irish working classes is long, long overdue.

I’ve personally had a long association with the OU and it’s often struck me that it would have been inconcievable for such an institution to have developed here, particularly in the 1960’s. We’re dealing with a culture which regards Donogh O’Malley’s secondary education initiative, around the same time as the OU started, as some sort of fantastic advance for which we should all be eternally grateful. When, in fact, it was long, long overdue and FF should have been ashamed that it took them so fucking long…..


27. anarchaeologist - September 29, 2009

Eamonn again,

I didn’t mention the Secret Bookshop, just up from Tower Records on Wicklow Street at the end of a long corridor. Check out the shelves behind the till for the sort of books you might be interested in but also the random boxes on the table at the till for pamphlets and other political ephemera.

The WSM has a good range of back issues of Irish anarchist publications and you can contact the book service through the website (sorry for the plug WbS!).


28. EamonnCork - September 29, 2009

I’m not sure if it had anything to do with the WSM but I came across an interesting piece on the Clondalkin Paper Mills occupation a while back on what I think was an Irish anarchist site.


29. Conor McCabe - September 29, 2009

Eamonn, the CPI has a pamphlet on the Clondalkin Paper Mills occupation. It’s available at Connolly Books, along with various Cork Workers’ Club pamphlets.


EamonnCork - September 30, 2009

Conor, thanks. That’s great because I’ve seen that pamphlet referenced elsewhere.


30. Conor McCabe - September 29, 2009

“That work you’re doing sounds fantastic Conor, is there a book coming out of it? And where can I get a job like that?”

There’s no book coming out, it’s purely archival. And there’s no job. It’s purely voluntary. In fact, I tried to secure funding from two different agencies (a rare sense of self-preservation prevents me from mentioning them) and was rejected each time. So, it’s off my own bat. I’ve talked to an archive which will take the recordings, so that’s the main thing.


31. Garibaldy - September 29, 2009

You recording on digital or tape Conor?


32. Conor McCabe - September 29, 2009

Both. I have an Olympus WS-110 for digital, and a Sony portable tape recorder as well. I use both during the interview. When I finish the interview, I burn the digital recording as CDs, so that each interview is archived as MP3, CD, and audio cassette tape. I reckon that the CD and audio tape are for the archive, and that students and researchers can work off the MP3s. I haven’t transcribed, nor do I intend to transcribe. Hopefully that can be done either by the archive, or by securing funding in future years. The main thing is to record and archive, and worry about transcription later on.

not all the recordings are for the archive, though. I’m working on an oral history of Edenmore housing estate on Dublin’s Northside, and I’m due to present a paper on what I’ve done so far at the Economic and Social History Society’s annual conference in Belfast in November. Just trying to put Irish working class studies on the map, that’s all.


33. Garibaldy - September 29, 2009

Thanks Conor. Just curious given how fast technology is moving. I can’t think the last time I saw tapes for sale which is why I was asking.


34. Conor McCabe - September 29, 2009

Argos has them, as does TESCO, and Easons. But apart from that, they’re not the asiest things to find. Took me three shops in Cork recently to find them, and when I did, the shop assistant has to ask ME how much they cost!


35. Garibaldy - September 29, 2009

Hilarious. They had to pay you right?


36. Conor McCabe - September 29, 2009


Naah I told them what I usually pay in Easons: €4 for 3.


37. Garibaldy - September 29, 2009

Honesty. Downfall of the left. With the exchange rate being what it is, that sounds dear enough. Important work though Conor. I’m sure people will be grateful for it in years to come.


38. Conor McCabe - September 29, 2009

Actually, Garibaldy, maybe you could help me? I’d love to start recording community and trade union activists who are/were members of the workers’ Party. Again, this isn’t for a book, it’s archival, and for me the focus would be on community activism (32 Co. as well). I could send you on the details of the project, who’s involved, and where the archive will be stored. I don’t have your email address, but mine is:


AT = @


39. Garibaldy - September 29, 2009

Conor my address is garibaldy2 AT hotmail.co.uk. Send the stuff on and I’ll gladly see what I can do.


40. “JOIN The Independent Socialist Party” Leaflet -Circa 1976 « Irish Election Literature Blog - February 8, 2010

[…] You will also find some more information here. […]


41. irishelectionliterature - May 15, 2010

I’ve a leaflet from 1982 for an ‘Independent Socialist’ Tony Clarke up on the site.
I gather some members of the Independent Socialist Party after the parties demise, later stood as Independent Socialists.
Any idea if Tony Clarke was one of them?


42. Left Archive: The Independent Socialist Party: An Introduction, Independent Socialist Party (Ireland), January 1977 « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - January 14, 2013

[…] document – produced by the Independent Socialist Party, [and see here] is very rare and provides an insight into one of the shortest lived left political parties in […]


43. The intellectual life of the Irish working class… reprise | The Cedar Lounge Revolution - July 22, 2013

[…] This is a fascinating thread from the CLR in 2009. Particularly to read and reconsider after five years or so. Work on the intellectual life of the Irish working classes is long, long overdue. […]


44. Left Archive: The Irish Left – For Revolutionary Regroupment – Independent Socialist Party c. late 1970s | The Cedar Lounge Revolution - August 5, 2013

[…] is an useful document published by the ISP [of which more see here] in the late 1970’s. It seeks to argue the case for a revolutionary regroupment of the Irish left […]


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