Extracts from the Annual Reports

Extracts from Irish Trades Union Congress and Labour Party Conference on August 7th, 8th and 9th, 1916 in the Town Hall Sligo

On the problems of producing a report for 1916

Chairman Thomas McPartlin, opening the Conference: Delegates, —In presenting you our Report, embracing in time a period of over two years, we do so under a great handicap. Following the recent uprising in Ireland, not alone has our Secretary, Mr P T Daly, been removed to England, but all his papers and correspondence dealing with the Congress affairs have been seized, nothing of any service having been recovered. Under these phenomenal circumstances, deprived of any written record any recountal of your Executive’s activities for 1914-15 must be of a brief character.

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On the postponement of Congress

Chairman Thomas McPartlin: In the spring of 1915, with the minds of the people for the most part engrossed in the progress of the European War, the advisability or otherwise of holding the Annual Congress arranged to take place in Sligo during Whit week, occupied the attention of your Executive, who, after fully considering it, reluctantly arrived at the decision that it must at least be postponed till later in the year. Later in the season, when the matter was again reviewed, and when the prospects of holding a successful meeting, were, to say the least, no brighter, it was decided that it would have to be abandoned for that year.

This was a great disappointment to all concerned, to none more so than the local Reception Committee, who had been labouring so hard to make our visit to Sligo as successful as the former one, but it was we believe the better course to adopt. When the Congress had been abandoned for the year, it was decided to issue an appeal to affiliated bodies for financial assistance to carry on the work, to which a loyal response was made.

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On College Green Election

Chairman Thomas McPartlin: The regrettable death of Mr J P Nannetti, MP, the member of the College Green Division of Dublin, and all his life a consistent Trade Unionist, created a vacancy in the Metropolis which aroused considerable interest among Dublin workers. The question of contesting the seat by a nominee from the ranks of Labour was considered by your Executive under their new powers, and after discussion as to the difficulties of finance, etc, was left in the hands of the Sub-Committee acting in conjunction with the Dublin Labour Party. Some hesitation was felt at undertaking such a big venture, but urged by the choice of candidate made by the Irish Party, the decision to contest the seat was arrived at, the result being as follows:

Nugent (Nat.) … … … 2,445
Farren (Lab.) … … … 1,816
Majority … 629

The contest was short and sharp, but, considering that it was undertaken at the eleventh hour with but imperfect machinery, the magnificent poll secured by Mr Farren augurs well for the future of Labour Representation in the City of Dublin.

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Withdrawal of Grant under Section 106. National Health Insurance Act

Chairman Thomas McPartlin: The Government having thought it well, in pursuance of its cheese-paring attitude in certain directions, to notify the withdrawal of the grant given to various Trades Unions, under Section 106, National Health Insurance Act, your Executive protested against this withdrawal; it being most unfair to societies which had already drafted their rules in accordance with the arrangement that this grant be forthcoming, but without avail.

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On the Irish Rebellion

Chairman Thomas McPartlin: The events of Easter week—the rising and its suppression— the imposition of Martial Law, and the wholesale arrest and deportation of suspected persons, many of them Trade Union officials, necessitated considerable activity on the part of your Committee. The correspondence printed herein will indicate the direction of our efforts.

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The position of Trade Unionism in Dublin following the rebellion, was for several weeks somewhat critical. Some of the more active officials had been killed or arrested, public meetings had been prohibited by proclamation, and this was held to apply also to Trade Union meetings. The dislocation of industry consequent upon the bombardment and destruction by the military of the centre of the City, led to widespread unemployment and distress, and the call upon Trade Unions for financial aid was heavy. In addition there was evident, in certain sections of Dublin employers and their spokesmen in the Press, a feeling of satisfaction that at last they had seen the end of militant Trade

We felt it to be our duty to do all we could to advise and offer cheerful counsel to those Unions which had been sorely hit. We are gratified to be able to report that to-day the movement in Dublin is in a sound and healthy condition. In view of the grave rumours that were afloat, the state of mind of those in authority, and the stoppage of communication between Dublin and the outside world, our chairman and Treasurer wrote from Belfast to Mr Arthur Henderson, MP, Secretary to the British Labour Party, and a Member of the Cabinet, directing his attention to several matters of urgent importance. The following is the letter and the correspondence which ensued:

House of Commons.

We take the liberty to write to you at this very serious time, to ask you to interest yourself to prevent the possibility of a grave injustice being done to several of our friends and comrades in Dublin. We take first the case of Mr F Sheehy-Skeffington, who has been arrested. Mr Skeffington is not directly associated with the Trade Union Movement, but we know him to have been a strenuous opponent of anything like an armed rising. He is strongly anti-war, but consistently opposed to military action on all hands, and both publicly and privately has denounced recourse to armed activities on the part of the anti-war Nationalists.

His only association with the Dublin revolt was, we are assured, that he tried his utmost after the outbreak, to organize a body of civic police to prevent looting. We know nothing of the circumstances of his arrest, but fear that under a trial by Court Martial, with military feeling inflamed as it is, the Court will not be able to appreciate the difference between his action and that of active participants in the revolt.

Secondly, we draw attention to the case of many of the women prisoners. Practically all of these women were engaged in the work of nursing and succour—some of them only taking their places on the second, third, or fourth day, when it was obvious that the need of assistance for the wounded was urgent. These women have been arrested, and no one knows where they are. Their friends are anxious to know whether they are alive or dead, and no information can be obtained from the military or police.

Thirdly, we hear that several of the Trade Union leaders of Dublin have been arrested. No one knows the charge against them. Though active participators in Trade Union and Labour fights, they have not been adherents of the Sinn Fein movement. We fear that in the general condemnation many men and women, who are innocent of any connection with the revolt will be unjustly punished should they be hastily tried by Court Martial.

We ask you to use your influence immediately to secure that the men and women now in custody shall be enabled to communicate with their friends, and have ample opportunity to arrange for their defence.
Yours sincerely, National Executive
Irish Trade Union Congress and Labour Party.

NOTE—This was written on May 5th. We did not know at the time that Mr Skeffington had been shot by the military on April 26th. An official statement was issued by the Military Command on May 3rd denying that any prisoner had been shot withouttrial, and we therefore disbelieved the rumours we had heard. It now appears from the evidence given at the Court Martial, that a report of the murder of the three prisoners at Portobello Barracks—Messrs, Sheehy Skeffington, McIntyre and Dickson—had been made by the officer in command of the barracks to headquarters on April 27th. Despite this report an official statement denying the rumours was issued on May 3rd.

8th May, 1916.


I duly received the letter signed by yourself and Mr Campbell, and I atonce placed it in the hands of the responsible authorities, with a personal request that your recommendations might receive their most careful consideration.

Yours sincerely,

12th May, 1916.
I think you will like to see the enclosed copy of a letter which I have received from Sir John Maxwell in reply to mine enclosing a copy of yours of the 6th May.

Yours sincerely,
9th May, 1916*

I have received your letter of the 8th May, enclosing a communication
from the National Executive of the Irish Trade Union Congress and Labour Party. I will certainly see that the representations made will receive the most careful consideration.

As regards the women who have been arrested, I have already released the majority of them, and am only retaining, for further inquiry, certain of the more responsible individuals who appear to have been clearly connected with the rebellion.

The work of sorting the various prisoners is, as you can imagine, one of great magnitude, and I am most anxious to release, without delay, any innocent person who may have been inadvertently arrested.

Yours very truly,

Tom Johnson on members killed in the Easter Rising and in Great War

Before proceeding with the business of the Congress I feel that it is my sad duty to say a word or two regarding the loss which we and the working class movement have sustained through the death of those of our comrades whose lives were sacrificed in the recent rebellion.

As a Trade Union Movement we are of varied minds on matters of history and political development, and, consequently, this is not a place to enter into a discussion as to the right or the wrong, the wisdom or the folly of the revolt, but this we may say, that those amongst the rebels who have been associated with us in the past, who have led and inspired some of us with their love of their country and their class, were led to act as they did with no selfish thought but purely with a passion for freedom and a hatred of oppression.

Amongst those who have given their lives are three men who were well known in the Irish Labour World—James Connolly, Richard O’Carroll, and Peter Mackin. Of these Jim Connolly and Dick O’Carroll were leading spirits at our Congresses. Mackin being an active members of the Painters’ Society and Vice-President of the Dublin Trades Council. I shall not easily forget the speech of O’Carroll during the Dublin Congress of 1914 when responding to the toast of “The City of Dublin ” at the banquet provided by the Labour Party, and the intense fervour of his closing words, “Dublin, I love you ! “ There was the keynote of his civic spirit. He loved his city and his country. He took pride in his public work, in his work for his Union and his class, and it was the intensity of his conviction, the enthusiasm of his nature that led him (impulsively, without premeditation, as I have been told) to throw in his lot with the insurgents.

I had a more intimate knowledge of Jim Connolly. For several years—from the first day of his arrival in Belfast until the outbreak of the war two years ago—I was closely associated
with him. Having that intimate knowledge of him, and after a careful study of his public speeches, his private conversations, and his written work, I say that never was there a man who more thoroughly saturated himself with the hopes, the aspirations, and the sufferings of the working class. We cannot fully appreciate his work until we have cast aside all those ideas and impressions which we have received from current literature, history or philosophy, based as they are on a capitalist conception of society. We must look at life in all its aspects from the point of view of ” the bottom dog “—the oppressed,—be it nation, class or sex.

Jim Connolly saw everything from that standpoint, and his life was one long sustained effort to voice the aspirations and stimulate the ambitions of the poor and disinherited, to break down the forces of Capitalism, and all those social, political, and economic tyrannies which are but the expressions of Capitalistic power. His researches into the history of the Irish people—his interpretation of causes and effects as outlined in his book “Labour in Irish History “—are acknowledged by all students as noteworthy, and by many as pointing the way to a truer explanation of some of the otherwise unaccountable phenomena in the social history of this country.

We who knew him must feel that in his death the working class of Ireland has lost a champion they could ill afford to lose. We looked forward to seeing him take a very active leading part in the direction of the Labour Movement in the civil life of this country under a new regime, but he conceived his duty lay in another direction. We mourn his death, we honour his work, we revere his memory.

And while laying these wreaths on the graves of our comrades who gave their lives for what they believed to be the Cause of Ireland’s Freedom—let us also remember those many others (some of whom had been chosen in years past to attend our Congresses) who have laid down their lives in another field, also for what they believed to be the Cause of Liberty and Democracy and for Love of their Country.

It is a great tribute to the chivalry and humanity of the workers of all lands, that before the rulers can obtain popular support for a war, or before armies can be raised, enthusiasm can only be aroused by appeals to the people in the names of Liberty, Justice, Humanity, Religion, and the Defence of the Weak. I suppose there is not one of us but knows some who responded to the call for recruits with a single eye to the defence of right, the enlargement of the bounds of liberty, and a passionate zeal for the overthrow of tyranny. Many of these have lost their lives, many have been crippled or maimed for life, and we must, alas, look forward to the loss of many more!

It is told that James Connolly when preparing for execution, on being asked by the priest if he would say a prayer for the men of the firing party, replied, “I pray for all men who do their duty according to their lights.” In that spirit I ask all present, whatever their views may be in regard to the war or the rebellion, to rise for a moment in token of respect for all our comrades who have been brave enough to give their lives for the cause they believed in.

Click here to launch page 7 the 1916 Annual Report (PDF)