Communist Party of Ireland

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Communist Party of Ireland

Páirtí Cumannach na hÉireann
ChairmanJohn Pinkerton
Secretary-GeneralEugene McCartan
Founded3–4 June 1933 (3–4 June 1933)
Headquarters43 East Essex Street,
Dublin 2, Ireland
NewspaperSocialist Voice
Political positionFar-left
International affiliationIMCWP

The Communist Party of Ireland (CPI; Irish: Páirtí Cumannach na hÉireann) is an all-Ireland Marxist–Leninist party, founded in 1933. The party is a member of the International Meeting of Communist and Workers' Parties.

Originating as the Revolutionary Workers' Groups, located at Connolly House in Dublin, the most prominent early member was James Larkin Jnr (son of James Larkin). After being outlawed under the government of W. T. Cosgrave in 1931 (as part of a wider crackdown on Peadar O'Donnell's Saor Éire and the IRA), it was legalised in 1932 under Éamon de Valera's government and subsequently changed its name to the Communist Party of Ireland in 1933 under Seán Murray, who had attended the Lenin School in Moscow.

After flirting with Fianna Fáil for a while (a policy criticised by the Communist International), a strong anti-communist public backlash in Ireland occurred around the time of the Spanish Civil War due to the perception that the Popular Front cause was anti-Catholic. The already small CPI subsequently found it very difficult to organise. Nevertheless, some CPI members would fight in the conflict, alongside Republican Congress members, under the XV International Brigade.

Some Irish communists opposed Ireland being brought into the Second World War and particularly conscription into the British Armed Forces being applied to Northern Ireland in the conflict. Some members were held in Curragh Camp by the government during the Emergency, including the CPI's future General Secretary, Michael O'Riordan. As the Soviet Union became more involved in the war after 1941, this proved even more difficult, and the party split; the Protestant-dominated Communist Party of Northern Ireland became a separate body, and the party's members in the twenty-six counties entered the Irish Labour Party (before being expelled and forming the Irish Workers' League).

In 1970, the Irish Workers' Party and the Communist Party of Northern Ireland merged into a reunited Communist Party of Ireland. Throughout the period of the Cold War, the CPI was a staunch defender of the Soviet Union and its achievements. During the Troubles, the party was even able to procure some arms for the faction which became the Official IRA. The party closely supported the Cuban Revolution and campaigns such as the Birmingham Six. Minor splits from the CPI included the Eurocommunist-inspired Irish Marxist Society.



The earliest attempt to form a communist political party in Ireland was a result of the Socialist Party of Ireland, founded by James Connolly, changing its name to the Communist Party of Ireland and affiliating with the Communist International in 1921. This organisation was relatively small and included among its ranks figures such as Roddy Connolly and Nora Connolly O'Brien (children of James Connolly, who was killed in the aftermath of the Easter Rising), as well as writers Liam O'Flaherty and Peadar O'Donnell. In practice, this organisation was heavily allied to the anti-Treaty IRA but distinguished itself by calling for a workers' republic. It had one elected TD, Patrick Gaffney, who switched from the Irish Labour Party.

This earlier group disbanded in 1923 and joined the Irish Worker League founded by James Larkin as the Irish representative of Comintern (along with Larkin's Workers' Union of Ireland). Larkin broke off his affiliation with Comintern in 1928 after a period of private disillusionment with the Soviet Union. The Connolly siblings attempted to set up a replacement, the Revolutionary Workers' and Working Farmers' Party, but this lasted barely a month. Activists associated with James Larkin Jnr (who had attended the Lenin School in Moscow) founded the Revolutionary Workers' Groups in 1930 with their The Irish Workers' Voice (distinguished from Larkin Snr's The Irish Worker) to fully replace the first Communist Party of Ireland.

Early years[edit]

The present-day CPI was founded in 1933 by the Revolutionary Workers' Groups. In 1941 the part of the party in the Republic of Ireland suspended its activities, while in Northern Ireland it continued to operate under the name Communist Party of Northern Ireland. The party was re-established in the Republic in 1948 under the name Irish Workers' League, which changed its name in 1962 to the Irish Workers' Party. The two sections reunited as the Communist Party of Ireland in 1970.

In the first half of the 20th century, the Communist Party failed to gain any traction. The party provided most of the Irish volunteers on the government side[2] in the 1936–39 Spanish Civil War, losing a number of members who were killed in action. The Communist Party of Ireland was also one of the key components in establishing the Republican Congress in 1934, bringing communists, republicans, trade unionists and tenants' organisations together.[3]

O'Riordan years[edit]

Historically, the party belonged to the wing of international communism that looked to the Soviet Union for inspiration. In the mid-1960s, the U.S. State Department estimated the party membership to be approximately 100.[4] The party grew consistently through the 1960s and 1970s. In the late 1960s, some IWP members (notably Michael O'Riordan) became active in the Dublin Housing Action Committee. The IWP also condemned the Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia, although O'Riordan was opposed to this position.[5] In March 1970, following the CPNI/IWP merger, the new Communist Party of Ireland issued a manifesto called For Unity and Socialism, advocating the election of left-wing governments in both parts of Ireland, and, eventually, the creation of a United Ireland.[6]

The CPI strongly criticised the Anglo-Irish Agreement, claiming the AIA "underlined Partition and gave Britain a direct say in the affairs of the Republic".[7] In the 1980s, its membership declined significantly during the electoral rise of the Workers' Party of Ireland and this trend continued after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The party's aim is to win the support of the majority of the Irish people for ending the capitalist system and for building socialism. It is actively opposed to neo-liberalism and to the European Union. Internationally, it maintains fraternal relations with other communist and workers' parties and is a strong supporter of Cuba and Venezuela.[citation needed]

Autobiographical accounts of the party in this period have been written by Mick O'Reilly,[8] Helena Sheehan[9] and Kevin McMahon.[10]

IMS split[edit]

One notable split from the CPI was the Eurocommunist grouplet the Irish Marxist Society, which left the CPI around 1976. The IMS was founded by Joe Deasy (1922–2013), Sam Nolan (1930-), Paddy Carmody, George Jeffares, Mick O'Reilly (1946-) and other former CPI members.[11] The IMS advocated Marxist feminism[12] and was also outspoken in its rejection of the Two Nations Theory of Northern Ireland.[13] Most of the IMS's members later joined the Irish Labour Party,[14] where they played a leading role in the formation of Labour Left.[15]

Recent times[edit]

The party stood two candidates in the 2014 local elections, neither was elected.[16] The CPI fielded one candidate for the 2016 Dáil Éireann election for the Cork North-West constituency.[17]

In January 2021, the Connolly Youth Movement dropped its support for the programme of the Communist Party of Ireland.[18] In February 2021, the Communist Party of Ireland issued a statement stating that several dual (CPI-CYM) members had been expelled for severe breaches of discipline and factional behaviour within the CPI prior to the CYM's decision to drop its support for the programme of the CPI.[19]

Organisation and activity[edit]

The general secretary of the party is Eugene McCartan. The CPI publishes two papers: a weekly paper called Unity, and a monthly paper called Socialist Voice. There are also branches in Cork, Galway, Munster, and Mid-Ulster.

While it is a registered party, the CPI has rarely run candidates in elections and has never had electoral success. The CPI operates a bookshop in Dublin called Connolly Books, which is named after the Irish socialist James Connolly.

The party and its members are prominent in a number of campaigns such as advocating a "No" vote in the Lisbon Treaty referendums.[20] The party has also advocated a referendum on the Irish bailout of banks.[21] It also continues to oppose the European Union and membership of the euro currency.[22] The CPI set up the Repudiate The Debt campaign to further this objective. It also popularised the slogan "Austerity is working!", pointing out that the goal of austerity is the mass transfer of wealth from the working class to the ruling class. This was in contrast to many other left-wing parties in Ireland and abroad (such as SYRIZA in Greece), who claimed that austerity was not working. The CPI is active in Right2Water Ireland and has called for a constitutional amendment to enshrine ownership of water in the hands of the Irish people and not the state.[23] The party also supported the anti-war movement in Ireland as part of the Peace and Neutrality Alliance.

In November 2017, the Standards in Public Office Commission stated that some statements of accounts had been received from the CPI, but they were found not to be compliant because the accounts were not audited. It decided against appointing a public auditor as the CPI did not receive any funding from the exchequer.[24]

General secretaries[edit]

1933–1941: Sean Murray
1941: Tommy Watters
1970–1983: Michael O'Riordan
1984–2001: Jimmy Stewart
2002–present: Eugene McCartan




  1. ^ "The Communist Party of Ireland is an all-Ireland Marxist party founded in 1933". Official website. Archived from the original on 18 February 2020. Retrieved 9 September 2004.
  2. ^ [1][dead link]
  3. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 23 February 2015. Retrieved 23 February 2015.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^ Benjamin, Roger W.; Kautsky, John H. Communism and Economic Development, in the American Political Science Review, vol. 62, no. 1. (Mar. 1968), p. 122.
  5. ^ Communism in Modern Ireland: The Pursuit of the Workers' Republic since 1916, by Mike Milotte, Gill & Macmillan, Dublin 1984 (p. 241, 250-1).
  6. ^ Milotte, p. 281–282.
  7. ^ "Agreement attacked as imperialist", Jim Cusack, The Irish Times, 3 February 1986, p. 9
  8. ^ O'Reilly, Mick (2019). From Lucifer to Lazarus. Dublin: Lilliput Press.
  9. ^ Sheehan, Helena (2019). Navigating the Zeitgeist. New York: Monthly Review Press.
  10. ^ McMahon, Kevin (2017). Organiser. Dublin: SIPTU.
  11. ^ "With other former members he established the Irish Marxist Society. Eventually he returned to the Labour Party and remained a member until his death." Activist who made 'inspiring' contribution to Irish left Obituary of Joe Deasy, The Irish Times, 9 February 2013. Retrieved 4 March 2013.
  12. ^ What's on Today? Irish Times, 23 June 1976, (p. 19) advertises a speech by Naomi Wayne on "Marxist Feminism" on behalf of the IMS.
  13. ^ Encyclopedia of British and Irish Political Organizations by Peter Barberis, John McHugh and Mike Tyldesley. Continuum International Publishing Group, 2005 (p. 224–225).
  14. ^ Eagle or Cuckoo? The Story of the ATGWU in Ireland by Matt Merrigan. Matmer Publications, Ireland, 1989 (p. 316).
  15. ^ Kenny, Brian (2010). Sam Nolan: A Long March on the Left. Dublin: Personal History Publishing.
  16. ^ "Communist Party of Ireland / Páirtí Cumannach na hÉireann".
  17. ^ " Party Candidates".
  18. ^ CYM Statement of Disaffiliation Connolly Youth Movement,, January 18, 2021.
  19. ^ [2] Statement on CPI-CYM relations, February 9 2021.
  20. ^ Conor McCabe, "Lisbon Treaty Referendum: A statement by the Communist Party of Ireland", 3 October 2009.
  21. ^ Communists call for referendum on non-payment of debt to 'foreign banksers', by Mary Minihan, Irish Times, Saturday, 5 March 2011
  22. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 February 2015. Retrieved 23 February 2015.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  23. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 23 February 2015. Retrieved 23 February 2015.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  24. ^ Burke, Ceimin (29 November 2017). "Nearly half of Ireland's political parties failed to submit accounts to watchdog". Retrieved 1 December 2017.
  25. ^ Matt Treacy, The Communist Party of Ireland 1921 - 2011, pp.151-152

External links[edit]