Death of former Workers Party chief Mac Giolla


TRIBUTES HAVE been paid to Tomás Mac Giolla, former president of the Workers Party and a leading figure in republican and left-wing politics for more than 50 years, who died yesterday at Beaumont Hospital, Dublin, aged 86 years.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen said Mr Mac Giolla was “a politician of sincerity and strong convictions with a long record of service to the people of Dublin”.

The former TD was “a committed socialist” who had “a great pride in Ireland’s history, heritage and our native language”. He also saw “inclusive politics” as essential to this country’s progress, Mr Cowen said.

Workers Party president Michael Finnegan said he was “a greatly underestimated figure in Irish politics who played a major role in the struggle for . . . people’s rights throughout Ireland and internationally”.

Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore said: “Tomás Mac Giolla was a man of great principle and personal courage.  He played a central role in trying to wean the republican movement away from its violent roots.”

He added that, “While we took different political paths in recent years, I always retained great admiration and respect for Tomás.”

Green Party leader and Minister for Environment John Gormley said Mr Mac Giolla “was always a man of strong political convictions and he worked in politics to defend the interests of working-class people”.

Sinn  Féin  leader  in the Dáil Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  said despite “extremely sharp and sometimes tragic divisions between Mr Mac Giolla’s party and ours” it was widely acknowledged that “Tomás Mac Giolla acted according to his beliefs”.

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said his sympathy was “with the Mac Giolla family, especially May Mhic Giolla at this sad time”.

Labour TD for Dublin Mid-West Joanna Tuffy said Mr Mac Giolla was “a hard-working constituency representative who took particular care to look out for those who were less well-off”.

Tomás Mac Giolla was a Workers Party TD for the Dublin West constituency from 1982 to 1992 and served as Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1993-94. He was originally elected to Dublin Corporation, as it was then known, in 1979 and remained a member until 1998.

Born into a farming family at Nenagh, Co Tipperary, on January 25th, 1924, he was a nephew of the Irish Parliamentary Party MP TP Gill. He was educated at St Flannan’s College, Ennis, Co Clare, where he changed his name from Thomas Gill to the Irish version. Having won a scholarship to University College Dublin, he took a BA degree, followed by a degree in Commerce. He worked as an accountant with the ESB from 1947 until he became a full-time public representative for the Workers Party in the late 1970s.

Coming from a “pro-Free State” family background, he was drawn to republicanism by the anti-partition campaign of the late 1940s and was influenced by the radical ideas of George Plant, a Protestant IRA man from Tipperary who was executed by the Fianna Fáil government in 1942.

Mr Mac Giolla joined the republican movement in about 1950 and was interned in the Curragh Camp during the IRA Border campaign of 1956-62.  He was elected president of Sinn Féin in 1962, which was the same year in which the late Cathal Goulding became chief of staff of the IRA.

Mr Mac Giolla was also chairman of the IRA army council and worked with Goulding, Seán Garland and others in an effort to shift the republican movement towards a socialist outlook.

The outbreak of the Troubles in the North split the movement and Mr Mac Giolla remained as president of Official Sinn Féin, later Sinn Féin the Workers Party and now simply the Workers Party.

He was elected to the Dáil for Dublin West in the 1982 election and was succeeded as party leader by Proinsias De Rossa in 1988.

Unhappy with the continuing existence and activities of the Official IRA, six of the party’s seven TDs formed Democratic Left in 1992, leaving Mr Mac Giolla as the only Workers Party representative in the Dáil. In the general election later that year, he lost his seat by a narrow margin to the late Liam Lawlor of Fianna Fáil.