President Michael D Higgins has said that an apology is due to Jimmy Gralton the only Irish person deported by an Irish government.
Speaking as he unveiled a memorial at the birthplace of the Leitrim socialist in Effrinagh Co Leitrim, the President was cheered as he condemned "the wrongful intimidation and ultimate deportation by an abuse of the law, of Jimmy Gralton, to whose memory, and whose family, an apology is due".
Gralton , the subject of Ken Loach's 2014 film Jimmy's Hall, campaigned for the rights of tenant farmers and workers. He repeatedly clashed with the clergy and mainstream politicians and was deported by the Fianna Fáil government in August 1933. He was suspected of being a Communist and was denounced by the Catholic Church. He died in New York in 1946, without ever returning home.
Addressing members of the Gralton family who were joined at Saturday’s ceremony by trade union leaders, politicians and hundreds of local people, President Higgins said: “Jimmy Gralton’s treatment at the hands of the Irish State and its agencies in 1932 was wrong and it is indefensible, and I hope that even at this distance of time the recognition that is being afforded to him today will remove any lingering stain on his fine character”.
In a message of solidarity read to the gathering by Rebecca O’Brien, producer of Jimmy’s Hall, Ken Loach said he regretted not being present for the celebration of Gralton’s life in the company of so many who had been involved in the film.
Loach said it was tempting to imagine Gralton’s response to the news about Apple’s tax deal. “ How he would have excoriated the deal,” he said.
Paul Laverty, who wrote the film script and who was present for the unveiling at the site of the Pearse-Connolly hall built by Gralton, said it was almost surreal that the event was happening in the same week as the Apple revelations. “I think a Jimmy Gralton annual award for the biggest corporate grovelling should go to the Irish Cabinet,” said the script writer.
He said Gralton would be horrified by the Government’s attitude and “the level of abuse to natural justice” .
The controversy showed the continued importance of independent thinking “and how this kind of servility to corporation and power is still supreme”, Laverty added.
President Higgins told the crowd that as head of state, he acknowledged that the State’s authority was abused under undemocratic pressure when Gralton was deported.
"Church authorities have previously acknowledged the wrong done to Jimmy Gralton. I do so now as President of Ireland. "
Jim Gralton (80), a cousin of the political activist, said the President’s comments “meant everything”.
He said it was a proud and very special day for the family, who believed an apology from the State was overdue.
“It wasn’t just Jimmy’s deportation. My grandfather Hugh had a shop here and the local clergy went round to all customers and told them to stay away” said the 80 year old. He said his parents Maggie and Packie, had witnessed Jimmy Gralton’s deportation in 1933 and “little did they think that 83 years later the President of Ireland would be unveiling a monument to his memory”.
The Fianna Fáil chairwoman of Leitrim County Council, Cllr Mary Bohan, said Gralton had been wrongly deported because his ideas were deemed unacceptable.
“If we do not learn from the mistakes of our past there is a danger we may repeat them,” she added.
The secretary of the Gralton Labour History Committee, Sligo County Councillor Declan Bree commended the President for “saying what others feared to say”.
Among those present were Siptu president Jack O’Connor , Impact president Pat Fallon, Sinn Féin TD Martin Kenny, former Labour TD Joe Costello, and the general secretary of the Communist Party of Ireland, Eugene McCartan.