Death of Sean Redmond, Former Connolly Association General Secretary, Irish Trade Union Official and Historian

Sean Redmond, former General Secretary of the Connolly Association, died on Saturday 15 December at his home in Drumcondra, Dublin, at the age of 76, having been ill for some time.

Sean Redmond

© Victor Patterson

Sean and his brother Tom grew up in Dublin and they emigrated to London in 1956, where their parents also lived for some years. Both became very active in the Connolly Association, which around that time had launched its campaign to expose the iniquities of the Stormont Unionist regime in British labour, trade union and liberal circles. This campaign was based on the concept that the movement to end Partition in Ireland and bring about Irish national unity in independence needed allies in the British labour movement and the support of progressive public opinion in this country.

In the early 1960s Sean became General Secretary of the Connolly Association and for the rest of that decade he did outstanding work in highlighting the deplorable civil liberties situation under Unionist majority rule in the Six Counties. During that period he represented the Association on the executives of the National Council for Civil Liberties (now Liberty) and the Movement for Colonial Freedom and played a key role in inducing those bodies, which were very influential in British labour circles at the time, to take up the issue of discrimination against Northern Nationalists and Catholics.

As Connolly Association General Secretary he worked closely with the late Desmond Greaves, who edited the Association’s monthly paper “The Irish Democrat”. He edited some issues of that paper himself when Greaves was in Ireland undertaking research for his biographies of James Connolly and Liam Mellows. Sean became widely known and respected in the Irish community and in labour circles across Britain in those years and was much admired as a public speaker. He organised numerous lobbies of MPs in the House of Commons on Six County discrimination issues.

As one example from that campaign, in May 1966 Sean Redmond wrote on behalf of the Connolly Association to Northern Premier Captain Terence O’Neill pointing out that the 1949 Ireland Act offered Stormont no protection “if the British Parliament decides in its wisdom to abolish your government altogether”. To which O Neill replied denying the existence of gerrymandering, discrimination and police repression in the North and saying “I was entertained to read your complex and ingenious version of our constitutional status”, but the constitutional position of Northern Ireland “has a conventional as well as legislative basis.” The following years would show O’Neill that the North’s constitutional position was indeed an illusion and that what Redmond had intimated was right.

Because of his work in those years Sean Redmond may validly be considered one of the progenitors of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Movement which destroyed Unionist hegemony in that part of the world. He later wrote the pamphlet “Desmond Greaves and the origins of the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland” describing the solidarity work in Britain in which he had played a leading part from the late 1950s until the mid-1970s.

That work was important in generating an anti-Unionist climate in British labour circles which impelled the Wilson-led Labour Government that took office in 1964 to put pressure in turn on the Terence O’Neill-led Stormont administration to end discriminatory practices affecting the Nationalist/Catholic population in the Six Counties. This pressure from progressive British public opinion paralleled the pressure that came from within the North itself when the Civil Rights Movement got going there in the 1968-70 period.

On returning to Ireland Sean worked as a trade union official with the Irish Municipal Employees Trade Union, now IMPACT. He was one of the most influential organisers of that union and became greatly respected in Dublin labour and trade union circles for his political shrewdness, good sense and political and industrial experience. He wrote the official history of his union under the title, “The Irish Municipal Employees Trade Union 1883-1983”. He also described the public-spirited action of some of his fellow union members in the union publication, “Belfast is Burning 1941: the story of the assistance given by the emergency services from Eire following the German bombing of Belfast” .

In the 1980s along with some colleagues in other Irish trade unions he helped establish the group, Trade Unionists for Irish Unity and Independence, to lobby for a stronger stand by Irish and British trade unions for those democratic objectives as being in the best interests of the labour movements and peoples of the two islands.

Sean was a lifelong student of the history of the Irish and British labour and national movements. He was a member of the Irish Labour History Society. His experience working in both countries and his political commitment to the classical leftwing position that the labour movement, socialists and radicals should be the foremost advocates of national independence and democracy, led him to embark on a study of successive solidarity movements with the Irish national cause in Britain, going back to the days of the United Irishmen. He had virtually completed this before illness struck him.

In the 1970s and 1980s he was an active member of the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement and in the 1990s he was a committee member of the annual Desmond Greaves Weekend Summer School in Dublin.

He met his wife Susan while working in the Connolly Association in London and they have one son, Sean Og. The Connolly Association Executive sends its commiserations to his wife, his son and other relatives. The many friends and political acquaintances he made while working in Britain will mourn the passing of an outstanding socialist republican, a committed trade union activist and a fine and much-loved human being.

Personal commiserations should be sent to Mrs Susan Redmond at 33 Lindsay Road, Dublin 9.

Photo of Sean Redmond by kind permission of Victor Patterson

Funeral Arrangements

Sean’s funeral will take place at Glasnevin Cemetery on Friday 28th December 2012 at 1:00 pm.