*Patrick Hogan, right, with former Tanaiste Brendan Corish at an inter parliamentary conference in Dublin in the 1970s.

KILKISHEN NATIVE, Patrick O’Halloran feels it is time for the Labour Party to revisit its roots in 1912 to remain relevant in 2023.

Recently, I attended my final meeting as a member of the executive board of the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) which represents 30,000 faculty and staff at the City University of New York. I officially retired as a college professor on January of this year.

Prior to joining CUNY/PSC I worked for many years as a hotel doorman where I also was a union organizer for Local 32BJ. 32BJ represents 175,000 property service workers, the largest property service union in the USA. At the conclusion of the meeting I was asked by a fellow board member why I initially as an immigrant did I immediately embrace not alone union membership but also become actively involved in the day to day foot soldier activities.

As the question posed to me was totally out of left field, I had no time to pause and think why for the last 37 years I was a proud card carrying union member and union organizer.

A quick trip down memory lane. Prior to emigrating to New York City in 1985, we are back in Limerick City, I was gainly employed at Dan O’Connor Ltd, one of many companies owned and operated by the late Mr. Ted Russell and his son George. Mr. Russell had a very impressive resume both in business and the Irish political world. Politically Mr. Russell was the Fine Gael standard bearer not alone in Limerick City but throughout the Munster area, on different occasions as a Teachta Dála, Senator, Mayor of Limerick City and an elected member of Limerick Corporation for close to 40 years.

As the Director of the Front Office at Dan O’Connor Ltd, I was the first gatekeeper one would encounter when anyone wished to meet with Mr. Russell pertaining to political business as opposed to the day to day activities of DOC. Once you had been cleared by the front desk, you then would meet with Miss Lyons, Mr. Russell’s private secretary. Miss Lyons was a wonderful lady that taught me everything that one should know with regard to office protocol, something that I benefited from throughout my life especially in the world of academia.

Embedded in my day to day responsibilities was ensuring that all public representatives from all parties were promptly escorted/directed to Miss Lyons’ office before they actually met with Mr. Russell. This was an amazing opportunity for a very young, inexperienced fresh out of college individual to directly interact with seasoned politicians who were major players not alone in Limerick City but in actual fact were responsible for implementing legislation that effected every man, woman and child throughout the country.

Little did I realize that these very brief moments/interactions would lead me to a life-long social conscience embedded in a positive desire to make the world a better place especially relating to blue collar workers and their families. Of all the politicians that I came in contact with there was a constant engaging brief conversations with Jim Kemmy, Stevie and Thady Coughlan, Mick Lipper and Frank Pendergast that was different from other political figures that I dealt with.

Not alone did these five politicians have a real, down to earth common touch, they all were members of the Labour Party. I also observed that each of them always made it a point as they completed their meetings with Mr. Russell to take a short walk to the DOC mill where they were embraced enthusiastically by all of the employees, blue collar, union members, the majority who lived in Limerick’s inner city.

Coming from a family background in a country village where my father was a very active member of the Fine Gael Party, my older brother Michael had run for election for the Clare County Council at the tender age of twenty four it would have been the norm to follow their political philosophical templates. The positive interactions with these five Labour politicians and at this time my open admiration for both Frank Cluskey and Jim Tully as a result of the legislation that they had passed while serving in the 1973-1977 government were clear markers that the Labour Party at this particular time, ‘not alone talked the talk, they walked the walk’.

Mr. Cluskey who as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Social Welfare pushed through legislation with regard to single mothers’ welfare allowance and played a leading role in initiating EU poverty programs. Mr. Tully as Minister for Local Government not alone delivered 100,000 local authority houses, the quality of the homes were greatly improved.

I was also totally intrigued to know why every mill employee connected with all five Labour representatives as opposed to all other politicians. Chatting with the union card carrying workers over time I was informed first hand that they and their families derisively looked on the Labour Party as the political wing of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVP). A family in need were assured that through their local Labour representative much needed assistance was given, whether it was the securing of the blue card, shoes for their children, assistance with an overdue ESB bill, housing or any day to day challenges connected to raising a family especially as it related to the inner cities.

As I was finding and developing my social conscience which would lead to a social responsibility I wondered aloud if the Labour Party played the same humanitarian role outside of inner cities, especially as it related to rural Ireland where I lived. I so wanted to embrace the Labour Party philosophical template but my dilemma was I needed to be assured that the Labour Party played a role in rural Ireland.

Living in a rural village I saw first-hand how the people within the community looked out for each other irrespective of political party allegiance. It was common for the four grocery stores in Kilkishen village, Nonie Donnellan, Patrick Gallagher, Martin Gleeson and John McNamara, to give a much needed line of credit to anyone in the community that needed a line of credit to put food on their family table, political party allegiance played no role.

With regard to finding employment, Flan Gleeson as General Manager of Knappogue, Caggaunowen, Bunratty Castle & Folk Park went ‘above and beyond the call of duty’ to find positions for as many people seeking work within the local community without any political party alliance. Angela Collins O’Mahoney, a local girl, single handily build a most successful factory, Essco Collins, on the outskirts of the village. This factory was a staple employer within the community. Ms. Collins O’Mahoney showed no allegiance to any political party as her factory went from strength to strength.

Mr Brendan O’Regan’s record with regard to the development of Shannon Airport and the promotion of peace in Northern Ireland without any political party allegiance is a testimony of this most amazing gentleman’s legacy.

That being stated I still needed to confirm that what the Labour Party was doing in inner Limerick City, they also were doing for the rural community where I lived. I was aware that Patricia McCarthy was at this time a very effective elected member of Clare County Council under the Labour umbrella, her home base being Shannon. Also Liam Pat McInerney from O’Callaghan Mills was a true hard working Labour Party organizer and in actual fact stood for election to Dáil Éireann on a number of occasions.

My father’s first cousin, Tom Lynch was a union shop steward for a number of years in one of the first factories in Shannon, Lana-Knit. Like my brother Michael, Tom also stood for election to Clare County Council a number of years later as a Labour candidate.

To add to this positive Labour Party’s role within ‘my’ rural Ireland, my childhood best friend, Jim Lynch, encouraged me to speak directly with his parents, whereupon they both extolled not alone why they aligned themselves to the Labour Party’s philosophical template, they noted the fact that for many families within the rural community where we were actually living at the time, how the Brendan Corish lead Labour Party at the time were actually the Christian Socialist that mirror imaged exactly what the Labour Party in inner cities such as Limerick did for the people on a daily basis.

Both Tom and Dolly Lynch noted that the initial breakthrough for the Labour Party in County Clare, especially the rural community of the county, was Patrick Hogan, who was born in Kilmaley. In his youth, Mr. Hogan joined Conradh na Gaeilge and the Irish Volunteers, however, he was deported to England as a result of his activities. During the Irish War of Independence Mr. Hogan fought against the Black and Tans in County Clare. After the Angelo Irish-Treaty, he became an official of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU) Mr. Hogan served as a Teachta Dála for County Clare from 1923 to 1938 and from 1943 to 1944, and again from 1948 to 1969. Leas-Cheann Comhairle from 1927 to 1928, 1932 to 1938, 1948 to 1951. Ceann Comhairle 1951 to 1967. He was Senator on the Labour Panel from 1938 to 1943. It is worth noting Patrick Hogan’s life trajectory as an only child, mail carrier, official with the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU), elected to Dáil Éireann in 1923, qualified as barrister-at-law and called to the Bar in 1936. A little added gloss to my admiration for Mr. Hogan, as Ceann Comhairle, he welcomed President John F. Kennedy to the Dáil in 1963.

Based on this solid background of information, I could definitely identify with the characteristics of what the Labour Party template was in the late nineteenth seventies to the mid nineteenth eighthes, a timeline when the Labour Party whether their role was in opposition or in a coalition government. When Brendan Corish succeeded William Norton as Leader of the Labour Party in 1960, he definitely introduced policies that made the party more socialist in outlook, a party that was best described by Mr. Corish at the time of his leadership as Christian Socialist. Mr. Corish moved his agenda carefully, as ‘socialism’ was considered a dirty word in 1960s Ireland.

Mr. Corish claimed that ‘Ireland would be socialist in the seventies,’ to a certain extend he was actually correct as Fine Gael and the Labour Party formed a government from 1973 to 1977. It is also worth noting that with all levels of crime Brendan Corish believe was that prevention was the best cure. Mr. Corish was an advocate for community policing through social awareness/realization that solid employment opportunities build on education, trade schools interconnected to higher level education was the starting template to address all levels of crime. Mr. Corish also was a strong proponent that the government of the day should ‘back the blue’ with the financial resources and training that would ensure communities/society in general realize that a safe environment is built on respect and adherence to law and order.

Fast forward to 1992, the Labour Party under the leadership of Dick Spring, in the general election, the Labour Party increased its number of Dáil seats from 15 to 33, Dr. Mosajee Bhanjee being the successful Labour candidate in County Clare. One should also note that Mr. Spring was closely involved in the negotiations which lead to the Anglo Irish Agreement in 1985. He also as Labour leader spearheaded the election of Senator Mary Robinson as President of Ireland in 1990, the first woman to hold this office.

Is it not time for the Labour Party leadership of today to revisit its roots, to actually walk the street of the inner cities, the country highways and byways, to actually reach out to all families in these communities, to actually do what Jim Kemmy, Stevie and Thady Coughlan, Mike Lipper, Frank Pendergast, Frank Cluskey, Jim Tully, Brendan Corish, Patricia McCarthy, Liam Pat McInerney, Tom Lynch, and Patrick Hogan did.

Is it not time for the Labour leadership of today to propose and pass positive legislation with regard to housing, education, health care coverage/facilities, free of clandestine discrimination and racism? Moving forward by whatever means possible, whether in opposition or in government partnerships, the Labour Party has to return to its 1912 foundation. A Labour Party founded by James Connelly, James Larkin and William O’Brien as the political wing of the Irish Trades Union Congress.

Yes indeed the question posed by my fellow executive board member of the PSC union caught me off guard as I headed for the exit door. It also made me aware that the Labour Party’s social conscience of the 1970s/1980s is the reason why I found my own social conscience and through the day to day foot soldier street activities within the 32BJ and PSC unions I developed a thoughtful consideration of others, the true social template of the Labour Party of my formal years living in rural Ireland and having the majority of my working colleagues living in inner city Limerick. Maybe societies in general all over the world should start to address their challenges by revisiting the Christian Socialism that Brendan Corish successfully embedded throughout the Ireland of his time.

Pat O’Halloran is originally from Kilkishen village in County Clare. He retired as a college professor this year and now lives in Tyrone, Georgia with his wife Tricia and sons Eamonn and Bryce.

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If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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