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Accompanying post to Left Archive: Labour Party Bulletin – Tallaght Branch, Nov/Dec, 1969 October 3, 2011

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Labour Party, Irish Left Online Document Archive, Irish Politics, The Left.
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Many thanks to Damian O’Broin for writing this post which accompanies the document here.

“We believe that under the present social system housing needs can never be adequately catered for until housing has been removed from the realm of Private Profiteering and Land Speculation and put in the hands of the National Building Agency.

As a first step in the easing of the housing problem all building land in the urban areas should be brought under public control. This measure will end land speculation, reduce site costs and knock at least £500 off the price of the average home”

We can only imagine what Tallaght – and all of Dublin – would look like today if such a measure had actually come to pass. Or, indeed, if Labour had spent more time talking about nationalising “all building land”.

In 1969, the great ‘Private Profiteering and Land Speculation’ craze that would do so much to define the next 40 years was only warming up, and the development of Tallaght would be an integral part of that story.

I was born in Tallaght in March 1970, four months after this Bulletin was produced. I discovered it last year, buried away in a wardrobe in my parents’ house. To the best of my knowledge it was written by my father, Sean O’Broin, who was then the Chairman of the Tallaght branch of the Labour Party. He was 41 at the time, the age I am now, and his own political journey to this point – and beyond – is worth recounting.

He’d grown up beside St Stephen’s Green, the eldest of 10, and left school at 14 to train as a cobbler. His own father had had some peripheral involvement in 1916, but refused to talk about it, and was scornful of those who in later years emerged from the woodwork to claim credit and pensions. His maternal grandfather had been the last person to visit Commandant Michael Mallin before his execution, and reportedly helped smuggle a message out of Kilmainham. Apparently my grandmother – who was just a teenager at the time, stood outside the prison and held Mallin’s infant son during the visit, so that he could catch a glimpse of him through his cell window.

Given this background it was probably no surprise that he joined Fianna Eireann in his teens, eventually becoming Quartermaster General. There are loads of half told and half remembered family stories from this time (the mid to late 1940s) involving guns, explosives and exciting escapades. There is an innocence to the stories, that probably reflects the general view of republicanism in the years before the Border Campaign – a minority, but largely harmless pastime.

During this period Sean met Billy McMillen, who would later become a leading figure in Belfast republicanism. The two shared a love of the Irish language, and broadly similar, urban, working class backgrounds. And despite different political trajectories, the two would become, and remain, close friends. In 1962, not long after having been released from internment, Billy would be best man at my parents’ wedding.

In addition to his republican activities, Sean was an avid Irish language activist (he had been born Byrne, but always used O’Broin) and an active trade unionist. After serving his time and working for a while as a cobbler, he joined CIE as a bus conductor where he became a shop steward with the Workers’ Union of Ireland.

I’m not sure at what point he began to part ways with the Republican movement. By 1956 when the Border Campaign commenced he was no longer involved, his Irish langauge and trade union activities taking precedence. Several of his friends – including Billy – were interned during the 1956-62 campaign.

But there was another influence in his life, which I presume had an impact on his relationship with republicanism. His faith. To the best of my knowledge, his Catholic faith was always important, but during the 1950s he clearly began to delve deeper. He studied ethics and social justice at the Jesuit Workers College (now the National College of Ireland) and for a period, came very close to joining the Cistercians. Luckily for me, that never happened.

Whether his turn towards the faith was the reason he distanced himself from Republicanism, or whether it was his experiences of Republicanism that drove him deeper into Catholicism, I’ll probably never know.

By 1969 he was married, living in Tallaght, and expecting his first child. He had left much of his more radical activism behind him. He had also moved from worker to employer. Together with his brother, he was running a small television shop and repair business – Lamberts – in Crumlin village. Which may explain his move from Trade Unionism to Labour Party involvement. As far as I know, he was asked to set-up a Labour Party organisation in Tallaght in the late 1960s

His close friend Billy, on the other hand, was in the eye of a storm. He had been a republican candidate in the 1964 election and, soon after, succeeded Billy McKee as O/C of the Belfast IRA. In 1967 he helped found NICRA, and when the North exploded in 1968/9 Billy was in middle of it.

At the time Dad was writing Tallaght Labour News in the Autumn of 1969, Billy was at the centre of the split between the Officials and the Provisionals.

It’s interesting to consider how the different circumstances each man lived with brought them to very different places. If Dad had been grown up on the Falls Road rather than Mercer Street would he have been sitting beside McMillen in September 1969 when McKee and Co arrived to seize control of the Belfast IRA? Who knows? Very possibly.

Dad would eventually part ways with the Labour Party. He couldn’t square his Catholic beliefs with Labour’s support for divorce, contraception and the rest of the ‘Liberal Agenda’ (which already sounds so quaint – how times change).

He always maintained that he believed in social justice, not socialism. And that streak of social justice stayed with him, and underpinned everything he did. In my memory of him, his activism was rooted in the local community, and in particular the local parish, in which he remained deeply involved.

Rather than smuggling pistols or representing co-workers, he was ministering the eucharist and reading at mass. And instead of Tallaght Labour News, he was editing the Parish Newsletter. But if you’d asked him, I think he would have seen all of that activity as coming from the same place, the same commitment to social justice.

Returning to the Bulletin, what’s perhaps most striking – but not surprising – is how local it all is. The North was in flames, government Ministers were conspiring to import arms for the IRA, and yet all we have in bread and butter issues – ground rents and housing shortages.

Nor is there mention of the momentous general election of just six months earlier, although the introduction perhaps hints at the impact of Fianna Fáil’s red scare tactics during that campaign.

“There is a great deal of confusion to-day concerning the Social Policy of the Labour Party, and we hope by these bulletins to explain the principles by which we stand.”

Clear hints there of the scars of the recent campaign.

In fact, we had direct experience of the red scare in our house. My parents were subjected to a barrage of anonymous phone calls around this time, telling them to ‘get out of Tallaght’ that ‘Reds weren’t welcome here’. My mother, while never knowing for sure, always suspected a few of the more pious members of the local community.

It’s hard to imagine a red scare of this sort in Tallaght today, with two Labour Party TDs and one from Sinn Féin. But Tallaght in 1969 was far different.

Tallaght was still just a village of a couple of thousand people. The street lights were switched off at 11pm every night and I’ve lost count of the number of people who told me they picked blackberries along the road where the By-Pass now runs.

And it certainly wasn’t a fertile ground for the left. Dublin County South was the only Dublin constituency not to return a Labour TD in the ‘seventies will be socialist’ election of 1969. Sean Fitzpatrick, one of the councillors mentioned in the Bulletin, took 6.44% of the vote, and Labour took 17.56% in total.

But change was afoot. Two years earlier, in 1967, it had been proposed as one of four ‘New Towns’ in the Myles Wright masterplan for Greater Dublin and all was set to change. (I still remember the ‘Welcome to Tallaght, New Town’ sign on the Greenhills Road).

In the years that followed Tallaght grew at an extraordinary pace, as estate after estate was built and the population exploded during the 1970s. I still remember the fields where we wandered or played football being turned into building sites and then houses. In the space of ten years, 50,000 people would move to this sleepy south Dublin village.

But despite this, the seventies were most definitely not socialist in Tallaght. It would be 12 years before Labour would take a seat here – Mervyn Taylor in 1981

And all the while it seemed that houses was all that was being built. It took until the 1990s before anything approaching a proper community infrastructure would appear, delayed by bad planning, zoning scams and neglect. By then, a population the size of Limerick City had grown up, with no facilities and, in many cases, no jobs.

Little wonder that Dublin South West was the most left wing constituency in the country in 1992 with three of the five TDs coming from Labour and Democratic Left.

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Comments»

1. Left Archive: Labour Party Bulletin – Tallaght Branch, Nov/Dec, 1969 « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - October 3, 2011

[…] Accompanying post to Left Archive: Labour Party Bulletin – Tallaght Branch, Nov/Dec, 1969 […]

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2. Tel - October 3, 2011

Just wanted to say this is an excellant post.

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Damian O'Broin (@damianobroin) - October 3, 2011

Thanks Tel, glad you liked it.

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Ghandi - October 3, 2011

+1

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3. Jim Monaghan - October 3, 2011

People forget just how Catholic people were. Interesting post.
Local publications tend to be parochial anyway. Even the ones in Belfast during the height of the troubles tended that way.

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4. Joe - October 3, 2011

Fantastic post, Damian. Excellent. Best I’ve read on the excellent Cedar Lounge in a long time.

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WorldbyStorm - October 3, 2011

+1

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5. Sean - October 3, 2011

Thanks for that, Damian. Very interesting.

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6. Damian O'Broin - October 3, 2011

Thanks folks. Appreciate the feedback and delighted you’ve enjoyed it.

@Jim Monaghan – yep I think it’s very easy post-Casey, post-child abuse etc, to forget just how Catholic the country was up until very, very recently. That said, I do remember Dad mentioning that his nickname during his WUI days was ‘the priest’

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Blissett - October 3, 2011

Very very recently is right.

Reading this I cant help but think of my own Dad, who would have been 10 years of age when that was printed. granted he was never involved in any party but always got involved in campaigns in the local community, his trade union, showed up to protests even some H block protests. He was and is very passionate about social justice, voted and votes Labour and latterly SF, cannot abide the Trade Union leadership as he thinks they have sold out.

And yet similarly, he was involved in the Parish Assembly, compiling the newsletter, is deeply religious, and has the same suspicion on the ‘liberal agenda’ as your own father.

Great post, definitely registered with me.

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Damian O'Broin (@damianobroin) - October 3, 2011

I think there is (was?) a large-ish constituency of people out there who combined a passion for social justice and a deep faith. You only have to think of the likes of Peter McVerry and Stanislaus Kennedy. Or Trócaire, which manages to hold quite a radical justice agenda under the auspices of the Catholic bishops.

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7. make do and mend - October 3, 2011

Yeah, excellent post.

Btw, the idea of a social land rent/tax is gaining currency among more progressive Greens. The idea is that no one owns the land, its resources or the earth itself. When we uses the resources of the earth we should create a fund which could be used for social distribution (security), while a regulated market for improvements on land (housing, growing crops, and so on) could be formed within the defines of a stewardship scheme. Of course, we cut out the rentiers who do not make improvements but instead live off improvements others make.

Hell, I think even the Lib-Dems in the UK debated the idea during their just finished pow-wow.

best

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LeftAtTheCross - October 3, 2011

On stewardship and land tax, here’s a couple of resources that might be of interest:

http://www.labourland.org/manifesto/index.php

http://www.stewardship.ac/faq.htm

They’ve been on my “to read next” list for a while but keep getting shunted by other stuff.

And +1 on the post, great to hear personal histories like this, well done Damian.

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Damian O'Broin (@damianobroin) - October 3, 2011

The Land Value Tax looks like an interesting idea. Must have a read. Thanks for the links.

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CL - October 4, 2011

“The United Kingdom government was forced, under the threat of Irish secession from the Union, to expropriate the expropriators and, despite the urgings of individuals like Michael Davitt and Henry George[13] that the surplus be appropriated through a land tax for common purposes, re-allocated the nation’s land to another, somewhat larger, but still small, privileged minority. Following “land reform”, one per cent of the Irish people now own half the land and over 90 per cent own no land.”-Raymond Crotty
http://www.cooperativeindividualism.org/crotty-raymond_on-irish-land-question.html

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make do and mend - October 5, 2011

Thanks for the links LATC. I’ll put them in the “must look at file” for perusal during the weekend. I’m looking at different political parties in my country of destination for the new year. Surprisingly the greens seem the most radical, while the various socialist groupings seem to be waiting for the 1930’s to return – and bickering accordingly.

As with any idea, as CL alludes to, it can be interpreted in many ways and finally implemented contrary to the original spirit.

For me, the bottom line is that no one owns the earth or it resources. Full stop. From thence we go.

best

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LeftAtTheCross - October 5, 2011

Where you off to MDAM, Australia? There seems to be a decent Green Left strand there alright, if so.

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8. irishelectionliterature - October 3, 2011

Lovely post. I’d be another where my parents (My Late Father Especially) would have been very involved in Social Justice at a community level but would also have been very devout Catholics. A very practical Christianity that would have involved helping the less fortunate not just by charitable donations but also by direct involvement in peoples lives.
A type of Christianity that certainly seems to be lost by much of the Church institutions.

Regarding Tallaght ,Its very descriptive and for years I saw the wide open spaces that were built upon with just houses and nothing else. I wouldn’t live that far away and my wife lived there for a good while in the 70s, whilst my Father in Law was involved in education there. The lack of facilities, planning etc there are shocking.

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Michael Carley - October 4, 2011

You’re right about the facilities. We moved there in 1977 (Tymon) and then to Springfield the year after. I was one of the people from my school who went to the opening of the first public building constructed for the big new shiny Tallaght: the police station, opened in 1987(?).

If you ever need blackmail material, the photo of a young me with Gerry Collins should do the job.

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9. Damian O'Broin (@damianobroin) - October 5, 2011

It’s interesting that quite a few people have very similar experiences of a strong Catholic/Social Justice background. A very much overlooked influence on modern Irish left wing political thought, I suspect.

And I’m glad that my descriptions of Tallaght in the 70s and 80s struck a chord. It really was a case of let’s bung 70,000 people halfway up a mountain with a couple of corner shops and a patchy bus service. Sure they’ll be grand.

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