Activist who made 'inspiring' contribution to Irish left
Joe Deasy: involved with Ballyfermot/Inchicore co-operative for some time before it was condemned from the pulpit
Joe Deasy was active in left-wing politics for over 60 years. As a young Labour councillor he served on Dublin Corporation with the renowned trade unionist Jim Larkin.
Later, as a card-carrying communist, he was denounced from the pulpit and sidelined by his trade union. On resuming his Labour Party membership in the 1970s, he became a stalwart of the Crumlin branch in Dublin.
Dublin South Central TD Eric Byrne described him as a “remarkable man, whose contribution to our community, the trade union movement and the Irish left was truly inspiring”.
Born in Dublin, he was the eldest of the four children of Dick and Mary Deasy. His father was a train driver and the family lived in “The Ranch”, Ballyfermot, before moving to Goldenbridge Gardens, Inchicore. He was educated by the Christian Brothers, at St Michael’s CBS and later at James’s Street.
He completed his formal education at 17, and was unemployed for two years before finding a job. Developing an interest in the theatre, he was drawn to the work of George Bernard Shaw and attended plays at the Abbey and Gate theatres.
He subsequently joined the left-leaning New Theatre group, and took part in productions which included Waiting for Lefty by Clifford Odets and Six Men of Dorset, a play about the Tolpuddle Martyrs.
In 1941 he was employed as a clerk by the Great Southern Railway, and worked for the company and its successor, CIÉ, for more than 40 years.
He joined the Railway Clerks Association, later the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, and became a committed trade unionist.
Following his father into the Labour Party, he joined the Inchicore branch and went on to serve as treasurer and chairman. In 1945 he was nominated to stand in the local elections, and was amazed to be elected.
At 22, he was the youngest member of Dublin City Council. Much of his time was taken up with the housing shortage, which was particularly acute in Dublin with 18,000 applicants on the waiting list.
In 1948 he supported Labour’s participation in coalition with Fine Gael and Clann na Poblachta. However, he failed to win a seat in Dublin South West and over time his enthusiasm for coalition government waned.
In 1950 he decided not to seek re-election to the city council. The following year he joined the communist Irish Workers’ League. This affiliation cost him membership of his union’s branch committee, and he was obliged to stand down as an executive committee member of the Dublin Council of Trade Unions. He had been involved with the Ballyfermot/Inchicore co-operative for some time before it came under attack by the Catholic newspaper the Standard and was condemned from the pulpit.
The co-op, which had 700 members, operated two shops selling food products at reasonable cost. The 12-man committee included four communists and this prompted accusations that they were spreading “malignant communistic theories”.
The communist committee members, including Deasy, stood down but a boycott of the co-op forced its closure in 1953.
A regular contributor to the Irish Socialist, he also wrote pamphlets about the lives of Jim Larkin and James Connolly.
He described Larkin as “a law unto himself” and “incapable of submitting to the discipline necessary in any organisation”. But he acknowledged Larkin’s “valuable heritage”.
He left what was now the Communist Party of Ireland in 1975, in the fallout over the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. With other former members he established the Irish Marxist Society. Eventually he returned to the Labour Party and remained a member until his death.
A founding member of the Irish Labour History Society, he served as president and regularly contributed to the society’s journal Saothar.
Predeceased by his wife, Pat Hayden, he is survived by his sons Brian, Brendan and Richard.