British closely watched Workers’ Party split that led to Democratic Left

Northern Ireland archive: ‘Cuban ambassador gave an almost incomprehensible speech about international solidarity and the class struggle’ said embassy official

‘There was substantial bitterness and anger at the actions of Proinsias De Rossa (above) and his colleagues in splitting the party”, official said. Photograph:  Paddy Whelan

‘There was substantial bitterness and anger at the actions of Proinsias De Rossa (above) and his colleagues in splitting the party”, official said. Photograph: Paddy Whelan

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The British embassy in Dublin took a particular interest in the bitter split in the Workers’ Party in 1992, which led to the emergence of Democratic Left under Proinsias De Rossa, TD. This is disclosed in declassified files from 1992 released today by the Public Record Office in Belfast.

In a memo to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Northern Ireland Office, T Gallagher, a Dublin embassy official, reported that the Workers’ Party had held its annual conference in Dublin on May 22nd/23rd, 1992, just three months after six of its seven TDs and 50 per cent of its membership broke away to form a new party, Democratic Left. He reported: “It was attended by around 300 people, many from Northern Ireland, and the motley crew of fraternal delegates from North Korea and Cuba – the latter led by the Cuban ambassador to London who gave an almost incomprehensible speech about international solidarity and the class struggle . . . There was substantial bitterness and anger at the actions of Proinsias De Rossa and his colleagues in splitting the party . . .’

According to the report, Sean Garland, acting secretary of the Workers’ Party, accused his former colleagues of removing files from their offices. The Workers’ Party, the diplomat added, was in serious financial trouble with debts of IR300,000, many of these personally guaranteed by De Rossa and his deputy, Pat McCartan. Both men, he noted, did not consider themselves responsible for the debts incurred by their former party.

In conclusion, Gallagher informed London: “With the changes in Eastern Europe, the Workers’ Party is looking increasingly anachronistic with its class-war policy . . . The rhetoric is sounding ever more out of touch. Much time was taken up at the Ard Fheis discussing whether it was a ‘Republic Socialist Party’ or a ‘Socialist Republican Party’. The party’s prospects were poor, he noted, while a Northern Ireland woman, Marian Donnelly had been elected leader.

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