15th October 2009

Of the other elements involved perhaps it is worth mentioning the Irish Workers Group, which is a revolutionary Socialist group which aims to mobilise the Irish section of the international working class to overthrow the existing Irish bourgeois states, destroy all remaining imperialist organs of political and economic control and establish an all-Ireland Socialist Workers Republic. The leader is Gerard Richard Lawless of 22 Duncan Street, London, a former member of the I.R.A who was interned by the Government of the Irish Republic in 1957. Eamon McCann of 10 Gaston Square, Londonderry, a prominent participant in the unlawful procession, is chairman of the Irish Workers Group in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland membership includes Mr. Rory McShane of 14 Upper Crescent, Belfast, who was prominent in the formation of the so-called Queen’s University Republican Club.”

William Craig, 16 October 1968, Stormont Papers, Vol.70 (1968), p.102 

The Irish Workers Group (IWG) was formed in London in 1966, out of the divisions within the Irish Communist Group. It is argued by D.R. O’Connor Lysaght that the IWG was the first active Trotskyist group to establish itself in Ireland since the Revolutionary Socialist Party of the 1940s. This does not mean that the origins of modern Irish Trotskyism lie within the IWG – the SWM/SWP and Militant/Socialist Party, who arrived in the 1970s, are both outside its borders, while the Socialist Labour League had activists in Ireland contemporaneous to the IWP – merely that it is pivotal to any understanding of the Trotskyist movement on the island. Indeed, in terms of personnel, if not quite ideology, it is possible to trace the IWG in 1967 to the present-day Workers Unemployed Action Group in Clonmel, as well as Socialist Democracy .

External Resources:

The IWG may not have been the only Trotskyist group in Ireland, but what made it a step apart from the others was the fact that it had been set up by Irish émigrés in London and brought back to Ireland by Irish people. Almost all other groups I have come across so far were essentially branches of already-established British movements. Whether this lessens or strengthens the authority of the IWG in Irish Trotskyism, I don’t know. However, it is a fact, and needs to be acknowledged.

In 1967 the IWG published its Manifesto, available here .

As regards the story of the IWG, there are two main written accounts. One is by Seán Matgamna, who was a member of the group for a short time, and D.R. O´Connor Lysaght, who wrote an article sometime in the 1980s on the history of Irish Trotskyism.

Matgamna’s account is available on Workers’ Liberty, here . He takes issue with a lot of what O’Connor Lysaght says, particularly with regard to Gery Lawless, for whom Matgamna seems to carry a personal disregard.

Matgamna makes a few claims about Gery Lawless regarding the time Lawless was interned in the Curragh – claims that are unfounded as this article by John McGuire  of the University of Limerick makes clear. Matgamna also makes claims about Lawless’ case against Ireland in the European Court of Human Rights. However, a reading of the actual case  shows that Matgamna, on this point, is again somewhat less than accurate.

O’Connor Lysaght’s account is not freely available, and so I’ve taken the liberty of reproducing an extract from his article where he deals with the IWG.

Similarly, ‘The Origins of Trotskyism in Ireland’ by Ciaran Crossey and James Monaghan,although available, is hard to find [Note: this has subsequently been added to the archive]. The last six paragraphs which deal with the re-emergence of Trotskyism in Ireland after 1958 is reproduced after O’Connor’s article below.

I believe, but I am not certain, that membership of the IWG included the following: Gery Lawless, Eamonn McCann, Liam Daltun, Michael Farrell, Joseph McAnna, Bairbre McCluskey, James Lynch, Anne Murphy, and Paddy Healy.

By the way, both extracts claim that Gery Lawless was instrumental in establishing the Irish Workers Union. From conversations with one person who was in the Irish Workers Union at the time, and with another who knew some of the people involved, this does not appear to be the case. However, Lawless was certainly a member of the Irish Workers Union, and an active one at that.

Here’s what O’Connor Lysaght has to say on the IWG. As always with this series, all comments and clarifications gratefully received.

[From ‘Early History of Irish Trotskyism’ by D.R. O’Connor Lysaght.]

“Although the Republican movement had adopted an economic and social programme [in the 1950s] it was little more political than it had been during the Emergency. Many, particularly in Dublin, chafed at this conservatism. Others, in Co. Tyrone (Saor Uladh) wanted especially to hasten the military struggle. The two dissident groupings broke with mainstream Republicanism and came together around the demand for more action, both political and military. Before the new body could be named, it was destroyed by Government repression. Even then, its members’ search for revolutionary politics had produced a man who has as such claim as anyone to the title of father of modern Irish Trotskyism, embarrassing as it may be to his child.

The man was Gerry [sic] Lawless. He learnt about Trotskyism in the Curragh prison camp where he read the documents of the Fourth International fifth world Congress. On his release, he had to leave Ireland for Britain. There he served a political apprenticeship with the S.L.L. [Socialist Labour League]. In 1963, sections of the International Committee to which the S.L.L. was affiliated, reunited with their opponents, the International Secretariat to form a United Secretariat of the Fourth International (U.S.F.I.). The S.L.L. did not support this move. Lawless did so, partly out of dissatisfaction with the Leagues´greater British chauvinism.

Though he broke with it, he did not join the U.S.F.I. which was probably his single biggest mistake. Instead, he sought to build an Irish Trotskyist group that could not take sides in the International (and even at that time more confusingly the British) Trotskyist controversies. In this course, he made strange bedfellows among London Irish immigrants. First he formed an Irish Workers Union. Then he combined with the Maoists who would constitute the so called Irish Communist Organisation (now the B.I.C.O.) in an Irish Communist Group. When this last split into Trotskyist and Stalinite [sic] parts in late 1965, the former founded the Irish Workers Group (I.W.G.) which brought Trotskyism back to Ireland at last.

The I.W.G.´s Dublin branch was founded in May 1967. A few months later, it initiated a branch in Belfast which included Michael Farrell. Another branch was started in Dundalk. The group oriented towards the Labour parties on both sides of the border. This was justified by a somewhat Stalinophobic attitude to the Stalinites who had taken over the Republican movement after the border campaign collapsed in 1962. However, it was corect for other reasons. The Labour youth movements were wide open. Furthermore the new social hyper-activity of the Republicans was kept within the perimeters of the Stalinite concept of rigorously controlled revolutionary stages, the current one being that of (anti-landlord) bourgeois revolution. Outside Bray, Co. Wicklow, this did not pay dividends. It would be the six county crisis from 1969 that revived Irish Republicanism, even if, in doing so, it split it. On the other hand, the IWG’s contribution reflected also among its members a variation of the traditional theoretical weakness of the Irish left. Ignorant of the 1944 [theses]

[part missing]

… of the Irish international question. In common with nearly everyone, including most Republicans, they expected a peaceful end to partition.

This weakness affected the way the IWG split in 1968. To strengthen the group’s politics, Lawless had brought in Seán Matgamna and his comrades of Workers Fight, a British group with a history of political analysis of a sort. Matgamna showed himself a prolific theoretician but one as weak as anybody on the National Question, in particular on the EEC. He wrote an article for Irish Militant (the IWG’s agitational paper) in which he posed as a fighting slogan “in or out of the Common Market, the struggle goes on.” Anticipating opposition, he made a pre-emptive strike. He proclaimed a faction around the demand for a homogeneous organisation, which meant in his concrete interpretation, expelling Lawless. In the resulting struggle, the three issues were, in order of importance, the national question, party building, and Lawless, but the volume of the debate as in reverse ration.

Matgamna and his allies, including Patrick (Paddy) Healy, were defeated in the group as a whole. They withdrew on St. Patrick’s Day 1968 and Healy formed the League for a Workers’ Republic. The minority had won a majority of the Dublin branch. The IWG was unable to reform before the civil rights agitation in Northern Ireland reached a critical phase. The Belfast members of the group had tended to be alienated from Leninism by Matgamna’s appeal to its tenet to justify anything he wanted to do. On 7th October 1968 they broke with the IWG to form a much more promising but distinctly non-Leninist mass organisation on the lines of the mass centrist bodies that had appeared in contemporary Europe as a result of the uprisings the previous May. The new body was Peoples Democracy. Its birth was, in fact, the end of the IWG, though it was not liquidated officially until May 1969. It seems also to have been the end of Gerry Lawless’ consistent career as an Irish revolutionary as distinct from a British revolutionary supporting the Irish struggle.”

Here’s what Ciaran Crossey and James Monaghan have to say about the re-emergence of Trotskyism in Ireland.

[‘The Origins of Trotskyism in Ireland’ by C.Crossey & J.Monaghan, Revolutionary History, vol.6, No. 2/3, 1996]

“towards the end of the 1950s, the Socialist Labour League from Britain did recruit a few individuals in Ireland, but nothing substantial came of this. This toehold did develop later into an apparently substantial SLL group here which worked in the Northern Ireland Labour Party. They quickly established control of the Young Socialists, which they ran for the next two years. They also had a base in the Draughsman’s Union in the shipyards. A leading recruit from the Communist Party of Great Britain in the late 1950s was Brian Behan, brother of Brendan. Behan was an industrial organiser for the CPGB in the building industry, and continued in this role for the SLL. He developed anarchist ideas, and split during a dispute with the SLL leadership, taking the Dublin branch with him.

Unfortunately, the ultra-left policies of the SLL in general were also applied here, so that in 1964 the SLL and the Young Socialists walked out of the NILP and into the political wilderness. Considering that the 1960s saw the development of civil rights agitation, the Loyalist reaction to it, and the growth of worldwide politicalisation, it is shocking to see the SLL was nowhere to be seen. An organisation which allegedly had widespread support in 1964 had collapsed by 1966, had only a few individuals in 1969, and made no impact on events, although branches of the SLL existed in Derry, Belfast and Dublin, at least in paper.

apart from the SLL, attempts to revive Marxism in Ireland were centered around Gery Lawless. Lawless was a Republican prisoner in the 1950s, and whilst inside read a range of socialist material. Upon his release he ended up in England where he initiated the Irish Workers Union and then the Irish Communist Group. This was a mish-mash of different political strands, including some who later ended up establishing the Irish Communist Organisation, which subsequently developed into the British and Irish Communist Organisation.

The ICG split in late 1965 into its Maoist and Trotskyist wings. The Trotskyist wing, the Irish Workers Group, existed for a period in Britain, but without any support in Ireland. In its early period, the IWG held a number of discussions with the Militant group in Britain. When the debate inside the IWG developed over Maoism, Brendan Clifford wrote documents attacking Trotskyism and the application of the theory of permanent revolution to Ireland. The relpy was written for the Trotskyist faction by Ted Grant, who was at the time the political editor of the Militant newspaper. A slightly abridged version is available in Ted Grant’s The Unbroken Thread.

By May 1967 the IWG had set up a branch in Dublin, to be followed a few months by the Belfast branch, and then one in Dundalk. They set up a paper called the Irish Militant (nothing to do with the later group), and a theoretical journal, Workers Republic. The IWG lasted a short period before it collapsed in late 1968. It suffered two splits that year. After a factional discussion on threetopics – the national question, party building, and Gery Lawless and his role in the organisation, the minority faction withdrew on 17 March 1968 to set up the League for a Workers Republic. This faction was led by Seán Matgamna and Paddy Healy, and took the majority of the Dublin branch of the IWG. Disillusioned by the in-fighting the IWG and attracted by the potential mass student movement in the North, the Belfast branch effectively ceased operating when they joined the newly developing Peoples Democracy in ctober 1968. This was a radical youth group in and around the Civil Rights Association. I think it could best be described as radical, but definitely not a Marxist group, with some of its leadership describing themselves as ‘post-Marxist’.

The League for a Workers Republic built up its base through the growing Young Socialist organisations which seem to have been semi-formal sections of the two Labour parties. In the North the left wing of the NILP and the Young Socialists moved in a number of directions. Eamon McCann is now one of the leaders of the Socialist Workers Movement, whilst some of those active in Derry YS joined the Militant.

By the early 1970s there were a number of groups claiming to be Trotskyist: the League for a Workers Republic, the League for a Workers Vanguard, the Movement for a Socialist Republic, Militant and the Socialist Workers Movement, as well as possibly some other grouplets.”


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  • By: Irish Left History Project: Irish Workers Group (1976) / Class Struggle | Irish Labour and Working Class History Thu, 29 Oct 2009 09:13:11

    […] [Not to be confused with the 1960s Irish Workers Group.] […]

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  • By: Irish Left Review · Irish Workers Group (1976) / Class Struggle Thu, 29 Oct 2009 09:21:43

    […] [Not to be confused with the 1960s Irish Workers Group.] […]

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  • By: Irish Left Open History Project: League for a Workers’ Republic, 1968 – « The Cedar Lounge Revolution Thu, 12 Nov 2009 07:19:29

    […] Sean Matgamna, Peter Graham, Paddy Healy, and Liam Daltun. It arose out of a split within the Irish Workers’ Group. The LWR soon became a strong force within the Dublin Young Socialists. Early members of the LWR […]

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  • By: Irish Left Review · League for a Workers’ Republic, 1968 - Thu, 12 Nov 2009 09:35:59

    […] Sean Matgamna, Peter Graham, Paddy Healy, and Liam Daltun. It arose out of a split within the Irish Workers’ Group. The LWR soon became a strong force within the Dublin Young Socialists. Early members of the LWR […]

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  • By: Cathal Lynch Sun, 14 Mar 2010 14:19:58

    I met Mike Callinan in 1969, when I newly arrived in London. At that time he was associated with the Syndicalist Worker Federation and introduced me to Spanish activists who were still involved with Franco’s political prisoners. I’ve never come across the Stalinophobian Syndicalism referred to by John Palmer. It’s a tendency I must have missed, something perhaps from John’s refined portmanteau. Certainly Mike Callinan was a thoughtful politico who had to make his way and his arguments among the predominant Trotskyist groups of the period. He had spent several years in Australia, where his politics were forged and where he was introduced to libertarianism socialism.

    I remember Gerry Lawless and John Palmer from the various civil rights gatherings in the back rooms of pubs. An abiding memory is the sectarian gravitas of well-intentioned but rather ineffectual meetings when set against events in Northern Ireland. It was a bit like corporate shareholders trying to make activities on the periphery fit into their generalised world view.

    Mike Callinan later went into the (from memory) Irish National Liberation Solidarity Front, which included a scattering of Maoists among its members. The most prominent of these was Eddie Davern, who had been imprisoned in South Africa for anti-apartheid activities. At the inaugural meeting, a police spy “Dick Jackson” was elected onto the Committee. He spent a year promoting physical force before being unmasked. This group had a newspaper with high production standards. Its designer later moved to Belfast and worked on Republican News.

    There was a lot of Special Branch activity in those days and a corresponding amount of paranoia. In 1972 Mike Callinan was charged with treason and sedition, although after a year on remand he and two others were cleared. Coming from Belfast, he had an emotional as well as a political response to the volatile situation in Northern Ireland. Having left Belfast after graduating from Queens, he still carried vivid and visceral memories of the oppressive pre war period for NI Republicans. For him, the attenuated process of reaching a position was so much self-indulgent blather. For a while he was a member of Provisional Sinn Fein

    I remember Liam Daltun. He was a builder and I was his labourer. Liam had a facility for languages and could speak French and Irish fluently; he spoke Russian well. He would arrive at work with a bundle of newspapers, including Le Monde, and there would be no activity until he had gone through them all. Being permanently cash-strapped, some days were spent acquiring building materials on credit. I was warned that I would never get paid, but always did. He had a passion for the Irish language and its literature, particularly the modernism of Mairtin O’Cadhain, whom he counted as a friend. His politics had a hinterland.

    Liam visited Ireland after Peter Graeme was murdered. He was never the same when he came back. I don’t know what happened to him there. Shortly afterwards he committed suicide. He was a lovely man whose politics were in transition and with a growing irritation with vicarious activities in Britain in the face of dissolution back home.

    The mention of Burntollet, reminds me of the enquiry carried out into the ambush and published by Bowes Egan from his flat in Kensington. There was also an Irish ‘Civil Rights’ newspaper (whose name escapes me) from the same source, much of it written by John Gray, later of Linen Hall Library in Belfast. It was short-lived, but I recall selling several issues around Kilburn pubs. Jeff Dudgeon, champion of gay rights in Northern Ireland, was part of this.

    When internment was introduced, thousands congregated at Speakers Corner. There were a lot of speeches, but no consensus on the radical steps we should take to register our outrage. Liam O’Callaghan, a right wing Irish nationalist, who ran a shady political organisation, took the platform. He announced that we will march to the Ulster Office and wreck it. Which is precisely what happened. The political groupings were more diverse and less comfortable than we care to remember.

    I honour the memories of Mike and Liam; both were gentle mentors who gave their friendship, their honesty and their experience without the cynicism that their lives might have warranted.

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  • By: Left Archive: The Socialist Workers Movement: A Trotskyist Analysis – Irish Workers Group, 1992 « The Cedar Lounge Revolution Mon, 10 Oct 2011 06:06:08

    […] from the Irish Workers Group (which later became Workers Power – for more on the IWG see here), and many thanks to Budapestkick who donated it and who has written the following overview of […]

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  • By: Conor McCabe Sat, 21 Jan 2012 15:42:56

    Just got word that Gery Lawless passed away this morning. RIP.

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  • By: Starkadder Sat, 21 Jan 2012 18:48:49

    RIP Gery Lawless.

    IIRC, Lawless once wrote an angry letter to the “Irish Times”
    taking issue with Cruise O’Brien’s position on South Africa.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Sat, 21 Jan 2012 18:52:10

    In reply to Starkadder.

    Thanks Conor.Very sad. He seemed like a real character.

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  • By: Gery Lawless « The Cedar Lounge Revolution Mon, 23 Jan 2012 07:42:55

    […] Dublin Opinion and here’s a thread here where some of his life is discussed, as well as this here on the Irish Workers Group. There are [rightly] calls for a thorough appreciation of his life and […]

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  • By: John Goodwillie Mon, 23 Jan 2012 15:34:39

    Sorry to hear of Gery Lawless’s death. He was certainly a character as well as a political activist.

    leftopenhistoryteam and NollaigO above have mentioned Joseph Mac Anna. The Irish Militant once carried a photograph of Eamonn McCann labelled Joseph Mac Anna, so I have always assumed they were the same person.

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  • By: Gerry Ruddy Mon, 23 Jan 2012 18:53:03

    I am also sad to hear of the death of Gery Lawless. I first met him in the late sixties and he was indeed a ‘character” I remember him well on the Burntollet march- he did indeed have a vivid imagination and I recall him telling us in the City Hotel about the ambush by the “b’ specials and how masked men in military uniforms and obeying orders were beating up the students and he had to jump in a river to escape. But he also had politics and he certainly influenced me towards Trotskyism. Heard he joined the Labour Party and was a councillor for a while in London-Islington I think.
    I personally never heard the term post marxism used around PD.There were differing tendencies within it, including republicans, liberals, anarchists, and varying shades of marxists. There were also followers of Lenin who eventually took over the PD.

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  • By: entdinglichung Tue, 24 Jan 2012 15:49:01

    very sad … Gery presente!

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  • By: KNOCKNASHEE SHOP RIVER Wed, 01 Oct 2014 12:02:16

    British Intelligence officers have to study communist partys and organisations as standard during training I vividly remember classes on the Spanish Civil war and anarchist movemnet IWA just thoiught Id give the IWA class war and DAM a mention here all had IRISH members and of course freedom books who suffered a Frankly dispicable firebombing last year.

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  • By: pat connell Wed, 01 Oct 2014 12:30:56

    The International Workers Association came out of Spanish War.The Spanish Civil war had former IRA members fight in the Spanish Civil War anyone got any names?

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  • By: Charlie Wed, 01 Oct 2014 13:17:05

    In reply to pat connell.

    Check out
    and look around, it has references to some of the political backgrounds of the international volunteers.

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  • By: SOOTY HOOFS Wed, 01 Oct 2014 13:48:11

    People like you save lives!!!!…..Id say the london anarchists and London Irish are more up on left wing politics than the Mexican pig snorers in Sinn Fein can comprehend…..shshshshsh……you might wake them up

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  • By: roddy Wed, 01 Oct 2014 16:51:40

    Mexican pig snorers?

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  • By: Paddy Healy on The Irish Workers Group London 1965 | Paddy Healy's Blog Mon, 13 Apr 2020 14:23:15

    […] Irish Left History Project: Irish Workers Group, 1966-68In “Irish Left Open History Project” […]

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