Former WP leader Mac Giolla dies

 

A leading figure in Irish republican and left-wing politics for more than half a century, Tomás Mac Giolla, former president of the Workers’ Party, died today at Beaumont Hospital, Dublin. He was 86.

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

Mr 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.

Mr Mac Giolla later joined Sinn Féin and stood unsuccessfully for the party in North Tipperary in the 1961 general election. 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 a member of the IRA Army Council and worked with Goulding and others in an effort to shift the republican movement away from a traditional militarist approach towards a socialist outlook.

He told the Sinn Féin ardfheis in December 1968: “The Republican Socialist ideology is the only one which can unite the mass of the Irish people, both Catholic and Protestant.”

The outbreak of the Troubles in the North precipitated a split in 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 general election of November 1982 and was succeeded as party leader by Proinsias De Rossa in 1988.

Following the departure of six of the party’s seven TDs to form Democratic Left in 1992, Mr Mac Giolla was the only Workers’ Party representative in Dáil Éireann. In the general election later that year, he lost his seat by a narrow margin to the late Liam Lawlor of Fianna Fáil.

He remained active in politics after his retirement and was a member of the Ard Comhairle of the Workers’ Party until his death.

He had been ill for some time and was in hospital for the last week. He is survived by his wife May (née McLoughlin), his sister Evelyn and his nephews and nieces.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen paid tributes to Mr Mac Giolla tonight, describing him as a committed socialist who "throughout his long career, remained unswervingly loyal to his convictions and beliefs".

“He had a great pride in Ireland’s history, heritage and our native language.

“He saw inclusive politics as being essential to this country’s progress. He was a strong
supporter of peace on this island and he was a strong advocate of the civil rights agenda in Northern Ireland,” Mr Cowen said.

Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore said this evening Mr Mac Giolla was a man of great principle and personal courage. “He played a central role in trying to wean the republican ovement away from its violent roots,” Mr Gilmore said. “Had more people listened to Tomás MacGiolla in the late 1960s, 30 years of violence and more than 3,000 deaths in Northern Ireland might have been averted."

He said Mr Mac Giolla was a champion of the poor and the disadvantaged and fought for their interests with great distinction during his ten years as a TD for Dublin West. “While we took different political paths in recent years, I always retained great admiration and respect for Tomás,” he said.

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams and the party’s Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin expressed their sympathy to Mr Mac Giolla’s family.

“There were extremely sharp and sometimes tragic divisions between Mr Mac Giolla’s party and ours,” Mr Ó Caoláin said. “However, it is widely acknowledged that Tomás Mac Giolla acted according to his beliefs and in latter years his party and Sinn Féin occasionally shared platforms on issues of common concern such as Irish neutrality.”

Green Party leader John Gormley said he was very sorry to hear of the death of Mr Mac Giolla’s death, with whom he served on Dublin City Council in the 1990s. “I've always believed that - whether you agreed with Tomás or not - he was always a man of strong political convictions and he worked in politics to defend the interests of working class people,” said.