As part of the Irish Left Archive project, we are gathering personal accounts and recollections from activists on the Left of their involvement in political activity, parties, organisation and campaigns.

We hope that in addition to the document archive, these accounts will provide a social context to political participation. If you are or have been involved in Left political activity of any kind or at any level, we'd be grateful if you would also add your experience to the collection. You can submit your account here

Accounts can be filtered using the topic headings or by keyword using the form below.

4 entries matching your filters.

Camilla Fitzsimons #6231

Hi, my name is Camilla. I grew up in a middle-class part of Dublin and first became politically aware in my late teens/early twenties when I worked as a nurse. One particular catalyst was when I specialised in HIV/AIDS care and saw class prejudices regularly displayed by many middle-class healthcare professionals. My strong feminist identity was influenced by my mother’s life. She married at 23, had to give up work because of the marriage bar and then raised nine children whilst financially dependent on her husband in a highly patriarchal family.

I started going to protests and marches in my mid-twenties then joined the SWP around 1997. This was a hugely politicising time in my life. I remember long conversations with other new members, picket-lines (nurses strike, housing actions), paper sales, travelling to Belfast for a meeting to mark 5 years since the death of Stephen Lawrence, Marxisms’ in Dublin and London, branch meetings (I was a member in Rathmines then moved to the northside so a member of a tiny phibsboro/cabra branch). One thing that I got from the party and that is underreported including in your podcast is the role and impact of some of the women involved. I was hugely influenced by Mary and Brid Smith, Mary, Roisin and Crea Ryder, Melissa Halpin, Jo Tully, Marnie Holborow and others who were around Dublin at the time. I learned about the case for abortion and unpacked the many problems with liberal feminism. I still have a huge amount of respect for these women and stay in touch with many of them. I left the SWP in 2000, I slipped away coinciding with the birth of my first child.

But I was finding it difficult to be in the party for three reasons:

There was also a disconnect between the culture of the party and what I was experiencing in my paid work. By then I had left nursing and retrained in adult education and was working for a community development project. I set up an education group for women who were ex-drug users thanks to money from a Local Drugs Task Force. This was a deliberately politicising space influenced by the ideas of Paulo Freire meaning groups always sat in circles, everyone could speak and we worked hard to lateralise power-dynamics. This wasn’t my experience in the SWP (or other political spaces since then) where people sit in rows, the speaker is positioned as the ‘expert’ and only after they speak are there questions/comments. There is never small group work and rarely authentic expressions of uncertainty. Even to this day discussions are the bits that get cut short, open forums are dominated by mostly men who stand and give long monologues and there is a sense for ordinary members that policy is something decided elsewhere not by the collective.

The next period of my own activism was as an original member of the organising committee of the The Spectacle of Defiance and Hope’ (2010-2014). We were a broad-based creative resistance movement that used theatre and art to fight savage budgetary cuts to the community and voluntary sector. Here are YouTube links to two of our marches:

As a volunteer with the spectacle I was centrally involved in designing and delivering politicising workshops about the Anglo-Irish bail out and subsequent austerity cuts. This was a collaboration with DDCI and together we ran workshops with trade unionists, community leaders and the general public. I subsequently volunteered on the board of DDCI for 3 years. The spectacle was a democratic space and huge amount of work was put into it. We paired with other groups along the way including working closely with Occupy Dame Street at one stage and then being active in the water charges movement. One of my favourite memories is of singing one of the songs we wrote on stage at the end of the water charges march on Merrion Square. However, I have found in recent years that the story of this movement is often told as the story of some of the charismatic male leaders to the detriment of huge amounts of work put in by ordinary people in communities across Dublin and the women who were also centrally involved in organising the events.

In 2013, I began marching for abortion rights and designed consciousness-raising workshops for the Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC). In 2017, I got involved with my local pro-choice group Dublin-West Pro-choice and canvassed to repeal the eighth amendment. I also started to actively support ROSA around that time.

Probably the biggest think I am known for is my book on repeal (). This is based on a study I began in 2018 when I made direct contact with over 300 canvassers before the referendum to repeal the eighth. Some raw data from this work is now archived with Digital Repository Ireland. I re-joined ARC in 2020 but left in 2022 because of political differences.

I am not part of a political organisation now although I do at times work with both PbP and ROSA/Socialist party. I have written for the IMR (as recently as last month’s publication) and have spoken at meetings and demonstrations. I also canvass for Ruth Coppinger of the Socialist party as she is in my constituency. I spent a good few evenings before Christmas delivering leaflets (on my own) to hundreds of doors in my neighbourhood supporting her work.

I am a full-time academic now and a branch member of my trade union. I recently convened ‘academics for reproductive justice’. I still sometimes think about joining a political party but the way these groups are organised (top-down, anti-dialogic) is too much of a barrier for me so instead I contribute through the research I do which is my way of documenting left-wing activism in real time. My current project is on radical feminist activism. I am interviewing 20-25 other activists as part of this as well as gathering stories from 50 ordinary activists.

Worldbystorm #3988

[I]n the Workers’ Party I settled fairly easily into meetings of the party locally which were held on a regular (sometimes weekly) basis (I seem to recall a string and nails image in the house where most meetings were held made by Official prisoners in the North). After the initial period where membership was assessed the branch was welcoming, and endless quantities of biscuits and tea seemed to ease one into the life of the party.

There was a lot to do, though I remember as the years went on being surprised at how little it seemed to be about politics as distinct from political activity. Sales of the Irish People around the local area on a Sunday morning were a given. This involved going into pubs and trying to sell them to whoever was there, often the father’s of friends. There was the Annual Collection […] Then there were meetings of one sort or another. I had no interest in any party position so I tended to avoid most of them, other than the odd trip to political and/or community meetings.

Canvassing on collections meant door knocking. In the first year I was sent to the door of a local high-profile H-Block and union activist and a couple of other republican activists who were not amused at the arrival of a WP member at their door and made that clear in no uncertain terms – to the general hilarity of other members who watched on. That was a sort of test because after the first year I don’t recall it happening again.

One meeting I remember vividly and this would have been very early on was a Community Centre in Finglas (if I recall correctly) where a younger Richard Bruton was willing to fight his corner in front of the a very hostile crowd. Bodenstown was another event that rolled around regularly but I suspect I only went a handful of times over the years. There was certainly a sense of two different political cultures combining in the WP commemoration there with colour parties and so on.

I was in third level at this stage but there was a notable emphasis on working in the community and very little concern over my being active in the institution I attended – that would come later. However there was also a vague pressure to get involved in WP Youth which seemed to exist somewhere but have little or no connection to events at constituency level where I was, bar one weekend where a bunch of members from the North, or more accurately offspring of members from the North, arrived in Kilbarrack. There was a meeting one afternoon, which consisted of perhaps eight of us, most of them two or three years younger than myself, sitting in a sitting room in a house drinking tea, but given that this functioned as no more than a meet and greet, there was no way to determine what particular purpose this served.

Party headquarters I doubt I was in more than a few times over the first few years, though I wound up a number of times drinking in the party ‘club’ which was both interesting and educational because one learned more of general attitudes than you would at a meeting – so for instance I first heard there of the SPI and met people who had been involved in that organisation before joining OSF. Also there I remember hearing huge criticism of Tony Gregory – and perhaps a sense that he was one who got away.

Having read accounts of other formations and parties my sense is that there was much less serious pressure to get involved in a way that would monopolise one’s time fully. I’m not sure if that was true of all members or part of that was the fact I was in third level and beginning to be a bit more active there in student politics (and so playing one off the other to some extent) or whether that was typical of the party at the time. One could certainly centre one’s life around the party, and many people I knew did, but there was also a fair smattering of people who seemed to have variable involvement in activities. But all that said within a very short time membership of the party became a thread running through life – in terms of meetings and so on that occupied a fair bit of time. Without question the first number of years were much more clearly focused on the constituency actitivities. But that would change later.

John #3985

When I joined (1980) a normal week was; First Monday of the Month Constituency Meeting. Every Wednesday Finglas Branch Meeting Every Friday Papers IP (Pubs), Every Sunday Papers door to door.

More people left the WP over burnout than ideological differences at that time. Later there was an attempt to organize IDYM meetings that later became WPY meetings (Tuesday night) The DNW constituency was lucky enough to have an office to meet in and we certainly tried to get value for the rent we paid.

Joe #3984

I knocked on the door of the leading WP activist in Kilbarrack on a weekday night some time in possibly late 1985. I was welcomed in to the kitchen table where a meeting of the Kilbarrack East branch was about to start. I was welcomed to the meeting briefly and then the leading activist proceeded to tell me, in front of the other four or five members present, that this branch did not support Pat McCartan being the Dáil candidate for the constituency. And further that the majority of the members and of the branches in the constituency did not support him being the candidate either. That piece of fundamental business being done, the meeting went on with reading of minutes of last meeting, discussion, talk about arrangements for paper sales.

In the following years I lived and learned how this issue, McCartan’s candidacy or not, took up at least as much time and energy as any other matter in the political life and activity of the Dublin Nth East constituency WP as anything else.