Selfless activist of the Irish left

Sat, May 9, 2009, 01:00

Patrick Murphy: PATRICK MURPHY, who has died after a long illness aged 72, carved a distinctive niche for himself in Irish left-wing politics and had a record of achievement as a trade unionist and grass-roots activist which was in many ways unparalleled.

Known as Pat to his friends, his formative years were blighted by illness, which left him with physical disabilities and an almost complete lack of formal education.

He emigrated to England at the age of 22, with his father's advice to "stay away from politics" ringing in his ears. He attended the Working Men's College in London, and it was here he met Brendan Clifford, beginning a lifelong engagement with the politics.

In the early 1960s he, together with Brendan and Angela Clifford, Mick Murray, Denis Dennehy and others, founded the Irish Communist Organisation (ICO) - later known as the British and Irish Communist Organisation. It took the Chinese side in the Sino-Soviet split and was labelled Stalinist because it regarded as aerror the Trotskyist view that Stalin had destroyed Leninist democracy.

Anti-revisionists and Maoists began to gravitate towards the ICO. It was decided to build a new Communist Party in Ireland, and Murphy, Murray and Dennehy returned to Dublin with this purpose in 1966. The ICO involved itself in the Housing Action Committees in Dublin and Cork, where it formed an alliance with other communists, left-republicans and socialists. Many younger, mostly working-class, people were radicalised by their activities.

By 1969, the ICO was involved in Belfast where members manned the barricades against the B-Specials (the RUC's part-time reserve force, which had strong links with loyalist paramilitaries). The ICO came to support the "two nations" theory that Protestants in the North were a different nationality.

Murphy's increasing concern at the mass unemployment and emigration in Ireland in the 1980s led to him being one of the founders, in 1986, of the Larkin Centre for the Unemployed, in Dublin's North Strand.

He took voluntary redundancy and went to work full time with the centre, which was very much swimming against the tide at the time by focusing on job creation.

He was a vocal supporter of social partnership. At the local level he saw what could be achieved through working with the State agencies. At the national level he engaged with social partnership through the Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed (INOU), where he served on the National Executive Committee.

Murphy held that Fianna Fáil (and particularly Charlie Haughey) was due a large measure of respect for its contribution to the creation of social partnership and the prosperity that followed.

Murphy's life and politics were shaped by the poor quality of care he received as a child suffering with a debilitating illness and it ended with him extolling the quality of State housing provision and the care he received in hospices in Raheny and latterly Blackrock. He lived through his politics, being a man for whom self-interest never seemed to be on the agenda.

A few days before he died, he said: "I got a kick out of politics, a kick out of life, although at times, when I thought about the physical state I was in, I wondered why that was so." He was remarkably content at the end of his days, and genuinely surprised at how people had rallied around him. This was typical of the modest man he was, who perhaps only at the end realised the profound impact he had had on all who knew him.

His sisters Nancy, Maura and Joan survive him.

Patrick Murphy: born January 20th, 1937; died April 1st, 2009