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Interview with Tomás Mac Giolla in the Mail… February 6, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, The Left.

Interesting interview in the Mail today which Jason O’Toole conducted with Tomás Mac Giolla last Summer.

Here are a few relevant quotations…

I met Mac Giolla last summer and conducted several taped interviews with him. To say he was candid is an understatement.
‘I joined the IRA at the end of ’51 or early ’52. The IRA was a verysecret organisation and I didn’t ever talk about that to anybody,’ he told
me during one of several interviews I conducted with him in his conservatory,
which backs on to the Liffey at his Chapelizod home last July.
‘I never resigned from the IRA. I regard myself as still being a member of the IRA! I said this at a conference in Belfast last October, when I was 84, and people laughed.’
During his period in the Official IRA, Tipperary-born Mac Giolla was imprisoned four times within a twoyear period. He even had to organise his wedding in 1962 to his wife May, also a member of the Republican movement, from behind bars.


Mac Giolla was at the helm when the party split at the 1970 Ard Fheis, after members objected to a proposal to end abstentionism in both the Dáil and UK parliaments. But Mac G i o l l a blamed Seamus Costello, who went on to form the INLA, as the culprit behind leading Republican Ruairi Ó Brádaigh’s dramatic walk-out of members to join up with the Provisional IRA.
‘We had ensured that the split didn’t occur on the vote to enter Leinster House and Westminster parliaments.
If Ó Brádaigh didn’t win that vote they were all ready to walk out. Let’s put it this way, Ó Brádaigh was allowed to win that vote. We ensured they didn’t lose the vote to make sure there was no walk-out.
‘But as soon as that was over, Seamus Costello called for a motion of no confidence in the IRA and Ó Brádaigh stood up and they all walked out. That’s what Costello did to ensure the split.

Mac Giolla was adamant that hehad no blood on his own hands and, despite being on the Army Council, he insisted that Cathal Goulding
had orchestrated the Aldershot bombing in 1972, in which five women and an army priest were murdered, without his prior knowledge.
Mac Giolla’s voice trembled with mixed emotions of anger and shame when he told me how Goulding came to him with the news of the
bomb at the 16th Parachute Brigade headquarters, which was orchestrated in retaliation to the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry.
Holding back the tears, he told me: ‘I was furious. He told me that they felt with all the pressure and knowing that the crowd… the paratroopers… he felt that he should do
‘We didn’t have the expertise of the
Provos in bomb-making and the bomb went off too soon. He made a f****** mess of his timing. It was the old 1940s system, the old alarm clock type of bomb.
‘In another 10 minutes the officers would have been in there sitting down. It got all the people who were serving up the grub. We were the
Workers’ Party and we blow up the workers, the girls serving.

‘I was coming up to my 70th birthday [when he relinquished the Presidency of the Workers’ Party].
The funny thing was that my
father died at 65 and my mother
died at the age of 63. I always felt
that I’d be lucky if I got through my
60s. That’s basically why I decided to get out, but anyway when I resigned he was automatically elected.’
Within four years De Rossa and the all the other Workers’ Party TDs, including Eamon Gilmore and Pat Rabbitte, split the party and formed Democratic Left, before eventually merging with Labour. The split left Mac Giolla as the Workers’ Party’s only sitting TD.
‘I haven’t said this to anybody except you, I believe still that some people, particularly people in the North, still regard me with some suspicion
of being involved in that f****** thing. In f******* De Rossa’s split because I voted f****** with him.
‘Apparently these secret meetings were being held. I didn’t know anything
that happened. So, when it came, it was a big shock. The whole thing was totally treachery. Himself and Rabbitte had done the dirty in
any case.

But despite all the controversies and shady dealings the party had been accused of, such as the allegations surrounding Sean Garland’s
involvement with the North Koreans in forging dollars, Mac Giolla believed the Workers’ Party will be remembered for its championing of
the working class.
‘Anyone who seriously writes about it will at least have to say that it was the first real party of the working class in Ireland. It was a
breakthrough against all the religious and political opposition.
‘And we were doing the things they wanted us to do, whether it was housing issues or reform and so on. That’s what they voted for.
‘The working class areas understood exactly what we were talking about. It was expanding at a great rate and I think it was a powerful
force that was coming up. But it had to be cleaned out!’

Did he have any regrets in life?
‘There is so much written that I haven’t read. I spent three years not being able to read a book. I have so many books to read. All the books in the ’80s and ’90s, I could never read. There are so many books I haven’t read. That is my only regret. There is so much I don’t know, that I haven’t read.’
And politically, did he have any regrets?
‘Oh, Jesus! I was probably the oldest party leader when I resigned, certainly in Europe, maybe in the world, at the time. I had no reason to object to anything but De Rossa!’


1. Seán Ó Tuama - February 6, 2010

I do not know whether O’Toole or Mac Giolla was responsible for the stuff about Costello but it’s crazy.


Seán Ó Tuama - February 6, 2010

Now I understand, it should have said “motion of confidence”, not no confidence.


Omayr Ghani - February 7, 2010

Why would that have cause Ó Brádaigh to walk out though? Costello was the only leading figure on the otherside of the split who had a firm belief in the neccessity of Armed Struggle so why would a motion of (no) confidence the IRA put forth by Costello be behind the split?

Its interesting that Mac Giolla still considered himself a member of the IRA and is perfectly in line with the potrayal of OIRA in The Lost Revolution. One wonders what will happen to OIRA once the deadline on decommissioning expires on Tuesday.


2. NollaigO - February 7, 2010

why would a motion of (no) confidence (in) the IRA put forth by Costello be behind the split?

The Army had voted for the ending of absentionism. I’m reluctant to go along with MacGiolla’s explanation:
We had ensured that the split didn’t occur on the vote to enter Leinster House and Westminster parliaments.If Ó Brádaigh didn’t win that vote they were all ready to walk out. Let’s put it this way, Ó Brádaigh was allowed to win that vote..
Firstly O’Brádaigh didn’t win the vote – the motion didn’t gain the necessary two thirds majority. Then, as TLR reminds us, Denis Cassin not Seamus Costello moved the motion of support for the IRA. This caused the walk-out.
Secondly, if the Goulding leadership had been really anxious to avoid a split over Leinster House, why did they hold an Army convention specially on the issue and have a motion at the Árd Fheis which was discussed for most of the day?

In my area the leadership of the movement stayed with Goulding after the split but thought that the decision to push ending the abstention policy to the point of splitting the movement was daft, especially after ” our failure as a movement in August”. How true these words are, even today!

I was interested in Máirín de Burca’s comments on the TLR in the recent RTE programme. I found her much more informative than Eamonn who expounded, yet again, his views on the authoritarian nature of national liberation movements. He did have a point that the WP was a sui generis Irish political grouping but spoiled it all by branding it ” Stalinist”. Stalinist is much more than being given to political thuggery and lacking internal democracy in the organisation – the Gerry Healy organisation had those characteristics. The IIR document was far more BICO than Moscow inspired! [Yes,I know! Very weak pun and probably not very original].
Máirín in her contribution to the programme had interesting points – how the movement was in awe of Roy and later of Harris, how Smullen was never really a dominant personality and how MacGiolla was somebody for whom she still had an admiration.


WorldbyStorm - February 7, 2010

Yeah, I’d tend to agree with your analysis NollaigO on pretty much all the points…


Seán Ó Tuama - February 7, 2010

Yes, indeed, because of Costello’s later pariah status, he is, in retrospect, being blamed for a split, which in the context of later WP politics, should have been seen as totally welcome. Not very consistent!!!


WorldbyStorm - February 7, 2010

In his defence TLR notes that his editorship of the UI/IP was always regarded as more green than others in the party. And it strikes me that while you’ve got a point Séan one could construct a further defence that he might not have wanted that to have been the issue on which the movement split, or a rupture occurred. I think I mentioned before that one could posit a scenario where a later split could have seen radically different outcomes in terms of the weight of the successor organisations.


3. Meascra na mblaganna « Splintered Sunrise - February 7, 2010

[…] Party, at the age of 86. Garibaldy has an obituary, WorldbyStorm notes a remarkably candid interview, and Conor reproduces a clip of the great man at last September’s Desmond Greaves School, in […]


4. splinteredsunrise - February 7, 2010

My view is that the split would have happened anyway – any move to drop abstentionism would have led to a walkout – but yes, there could have been a later split with different consequences.

The accounts I’ve heard, from people on the other side, usually stress how arrogant and aggressive Costello was – in a sense he was picking up Goulding’s ball and running with it – while Mac Giolla was the conciliator trying to smooth things over. But it cuts both ways. I know Mac Stiofain was very bullish on the other side, but O Bradaigh’s instinct was to play the long game, on the grounds that he had no real objection to the socialist turn as long as abstentionism wasn’t dropped.

Unsustainable in the long run of course…


5. Johnnie O'Casey - February 11, 2010
6. Ghandi - February 18, 2010


Sean Garland Campaign Petition Signing-

Will take place at the following venues between 12 noon and 2pm on the 20th February 2010

GPO Dublin


Wicklow Town

Cork City

Waterford City



7. Starkadder - February 18, 2010

There was a hostile obituary on Tomas published in
the Southern Star recently, which basically said the WP controlled
RTE and all the newspapers in Ireland for years.


8. Drithleóg - February 18, 2010

Yes, Starkadder – it has been noted. A particularly nasty piece of vitriol.


9. Eamon Gilmore opposed to extradition of "elderly" comrade Sean Garland - Page 15 - January 5, 2011

[…] […]


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