Garland told East Berlin party would not be restricted in fundraising methods

 

A letter from former Workers’ Party general secretary Seán Garland to the East Berlin authorities in 1989 acknowledges that the party was involved in illegal fundraising activities.

Archives of the former ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED) contain letters from Mr Garland outlining his party’s contacts with socialist and communist parties in the 1980s to boost the Workers’ Party’s standing abroad – and party coffers at home.

“In Ireland our party has no regular source of income, whatever resources we have secured it has been through our own efforts, we state in confidence to you, that we do not allow ourselves to be restricted in the methods of raising resources,” states a four-page letter to the SED central committee, dated February 26th, 1989.

“Legal and illegal means have been employed by us. We well recognise the dangers involved in some of our resources raising activity in Ireland and we are constantly examining ways and means whereby this danger can be eliminated.”

‘Political visits’

Mr Garland, now 78, has confirmed to The Irish Times that there were regular “political visits” to East Berlin in the 1980s, but he declined to elaborate on the letter’s reference to “legal and illegal means”.

“We had a relationship, that was true, but I don’t have any comment on that,” he said.

Asked to elaborate on his party’s illegal activities, he said: “I don’t recall words in that direction but it’s over 20 years ago. That’s all water under the bridge.”

SED files suggest Mr Garland attached importance to both political and trade ties.

Handwritten documents in the files, carrying a company stamp from “Worlds-Best Products” on Merchant’s Quay in Dublin, ask for details of East German tyres and tubes, electronic goods, motorbikes and even fishing tackle.

They also asked for full details on East German beer brands, explaining that “import duties and custums + Excise are very strictly applied to drink”.

The February 1989 Garland letter details a Workers’ Party organised visit to Dublin of a North Korean trade delegation for a meeting with Irish semi-State bodies with a view to importing coal.

Efforts to import Soviet textiles and tyres came to nothing, the letter added, because “these enterprises are in the process of reconstruction”.

Offset printing press

Raising party funds was crucial to fight effective campaigns on both sides of the Border, he wrote, particularly as the party had just ordered a new offset printing press costing a total of £170,000 with a five-year bank “laese” (sic).

“Over the past years we have had to borrow large amounts of money to expand and maintain the party. Our technical section has been severly restricted for tactical reasons because of the dangers involved in illegal activity.”

The Workers’ Party’s many enemies were waging a “vicious and consistent campaign . . . using every and any means to discredit and destroy the party among the working class”.

He added: “These attacks have failed in their objective though we are sure they have had some negative effect on the public mind.”

Hostile forces

The party was also under attack, he said, from hostile forces in the British army, the RUC “and most frequently and latterly by the terrorists gangs of the Provisional I.R!A and the Ultra Left I.R.S.P./I.N.L.A.

“We do not foresee the end of such attacks and therefore we must maintain our means of defence and retaliation.”

Despite these difficulties, Mr Garland outlined an ambitious five-year plan for the coming years, including a full-time education school to train party organisers.