‘Whose Emergency Is It?’ Wartime Politics and the Irish Working Class, 1939–45

  • Donal Ó Drisceoil


The economic impact of the Second World War provided the impetus for class-based politics to make a rare, fleeting appearance on the southern Irish political stage. At centre-stage, however, stood Fianna Fáil, armed with powerful populist rhetoric, peerless political craftiness and extraordinary state power, ready and able to repel the ‘sectional’ interloper and maintain business as usual. Fianna Fáil’s classic populist appeals to ‘the people’ for ‘unity’ in the ‘national interest’ and rejection of the divisiveness of class politics, plus the promotion of Eamon de Valera as national leader, had heightened relevance and resonance in the context of the ‘Emergency’, as the war years in Ireland were known.1 The party made skilful use of the allparty-supported policy of neutrality for its political advantage, while arbitrary emergency powers were used to pin down wages and restrict workers’ rights, as well as to marginalise and suppress the attempts of the temporarily resurgent left to force class issues onto the national political agenda. The politico-cultural bludgeon of Catholic nationalism was an added weapon, wielded to good effect. The war years provide a case study of the fate of class-based, socialist politics in the Irish state. Most of the familiar elements of that story of failure are present: the timidity, conservatism and consensus reflex of the Labour leadership; the separation of the political and economic wings of the labour movement; the surrender of the Irish communist movement to Soviet priorities; the limitations of entryism as a far-left strategy; the failure of the left to compete for the anti-imperialist card; the ‘safety valve’ of emigration; the power of Catholic Church-inspired anti-socialism and the reliability of the ‘red scare’ strategy; and, crucially, the political skill of the dominant Fianna Fáil party in countering challenge from the left and maintaining its core working-class support.


Trade Union Labour Movement Black Market Unemployed Worker Labour Party 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 2.
    On the pro-Allied nature of Irish policy, see, most recently, Eunan O’Halpin, Defending Ireland: The Irish State and Its Enemies since 1922 (Oxford, 1999)Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    On censorship, see, Donal Ó Drisceoil, Censorship in Ireland 1939–1945: Neutrality, Politics and Society (Cork, 1996)Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    Donal Ó Drisceoil, ‘Censorship as propaganda: the neutralisation of Irish public opinion during the Second World War’, in Brian Girvin and Geoffrey Roberts (eds), Ireland and the Second World War: Politics, Society and Remembrance (Dublin, 2000), pp. 151–64.Google Scholar
  4. 2.
    Donal Ó Drisceoil, ‘Keeping the temperature down: domestic politics in Emergency Ireland’, in Dermot Keogh and Mervyn O’Driscoll (eds), Ireland in World War Two: Neutrality and Survival (Cork, 2004), pp. 173–86.Google Scholar
  5. 10.
    Emmet O’Connor, A Labour History of Ireland, 1824–1960 (Dublin, 1992), p. 140.Google Scholar
  6. 11.
    Cormac Ó Gráda, A Rocky Road: the Irish Economy since the 1920s (Manchester, 1997), p. 17.Google Scholar
  7. 12.
    Emmet O’Connor, A Labour History of Waterford (Waterford, 1989), p. 257;Google Scholar
  8. 14.
    J.J. Lee, Ireland 1912–1985: Politics and Society (Cambridge, 1989), pp. 236–7.Google Scholar
  9. 20.
    Enda Delaney, Demography, State and Society: Irish Migration to Britain, 1921–1971 (Liverpool, 2000), pp. 112–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 23.
    Kieran Allen, Fianna Fáil and Irish Labour, 1926 to the Present (London, 1997), pp. 67–8;Google Scholar
  11. 34.
    Andrée Sheehy Skeffington, Skeff: A Life of Owen Sheehy Skeffington, 1909–1970 (Dublin, 1991), pp. 102–9.Google Scholar
  12. 36.
    Emmet O’Connor, Reds and the Green: Ireland, Russia and the Communist Internationals, 1919–43 (Dublin, 2004), p. 226.Google Scholar
  13. 36.
    On the CPI in the war years, see also Mike Milotte, Communism in Modern Ireland: The Pursuit of the Workers’ Republic since 1916 (Dublin, 1984), pp. 182–215.Google Scholar
  14. 39.
    John de Courcy Ireland, ‘Reviewing socialism in Derry and Dublin in the 1940s’, Saothar: Journal of Irish Labour History, vol. 17 (1992), pp. 11–13.Google Scholar
  15. 43.
    Patrick Trench, ‘International Notes: Ireland’, Fourth International, December 1942.Google Scholar
  16. 46.
    Richard Dunphy, The Making of Fianna Fáil Power in Ireland, 1923–1948 (Oxford, 1995), pp. 287–92CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Donal Ó Drisceoil 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Donal Ó Drisceoil

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations