Identity Statement for Tony Heffernan

  • Reference code: IE UCDA P180
  • Title: Papers of Tony Heffernan
  • Dates: 1982–98
  • Level of description: Fonds
  • Extent: 37 boxes
  • Context
  • Content and Structure
  • Conditions of Access and Use

Biographical History

The Tony Heffernan Papers represent his long association with the Workers’ Party, from his appointment as the party’s press officer in July 1982 to his appointment as Assistant Government Press Secretary, as the Democratic Left nominee in the Rainbow Coalition government between 1994 and 1997. The papers provide a significant source for the history of the development of the party and its policies through the comprehensive series of press statements issued over many years.

In January 1977 during the annual Sinn Féin Árd Fheis members voted for a name change and the party became known as Sinn Féin the Workers’ Party. A concerted effort was made in the late 1970s to increase the profile and political representation of the party. In 1979 Tomás MacGiolla won a seat in Ballyfermot in the local elections in Dublin. Two years later in 1981 the party saw its first success at national level with the election of Joe Sherlock in Cork East as the party’s first TD. In 1982 Sherlock, Paddy Gallagher and Proinsias de Rossa all won seats in the general election. In 1981 the Árd Fheis voted in favour of another name change to the Workers’ Party.

The November 1982 general election saw mixed fortunes for the party. MacGiolla was returned as a TD for Dublin West, de Rossa topped the poll in Dublin North West but Sherlock and Gallagher lost their seats. This period also heralded an organisational change in the party and a shift in emphasis towards health and social policy.

In 1987 the Workers’ Party won four seats in the general election with MacGiolla, de Rossa, Sherlock and Pat McGrath all elected to the Dáil. The same year MacGiolla announced his resignation as party leader. He was succeeded by Proinsias de Rossa in 1988.

1989 saw the party win six seats in the general election, de Rossa, MacGiolla, Pat Rabbitte, Eamon Gilmore, Eric Byrne and Pat McCartan, all being successful. In the European elections held the same year de Rossa topped the poll in Dublin.

Throughout Europe rapid change in the old regimes was taking place leading to the collapse of Communism in Eastern and Central Europe in 1989. At the party’s annual Árd Fheis de Rossa addressed the delegates. He spoke about social democracy and the acceptance of free market economics in a speech heavily influenced by Eoghan Harris. Heffernan had counselled de Rossa that the reaction amongst the membership would be hostile. The same year a pamphlet authored by Harris entitled ‘The Necessity of Social Democracy’ caused great unease amongst the membership and ultimately led to his resignation from the party. Eamon Smullen who published the pamphlet was also asked to leave. Apprehension about the leadership of the party rumbled on into the early 1990s with private meetings being convened by de Rossa in the home of Des Geraghty leading to talk of a split in the party.

At an Árd Chomhairle meeting in 1992 Tony Heffernan proposed a lengthy motion calling for the condemnation of the Official IRA [OIRA] and a declaration that membership or support of the OIRA was totally at odds with membership of the Workers’ Party. On 15 February 1992 a special Árd Fheis was held in the Marine Hotel, Dun Laoghaire during which a reconstitution of the party was proposed. The motion failed to gain the two thirds majority and de Rossa was forced to consider his position in the party, now seriously compromised. De Rossa and his supporters announced their intention of forming a new organisation under the working title New Agenda. In March 1992, 600 members of New Agenda met and voted to rename themselves Democratic Left.

In 1994 Democratic Left entered government as part of the Rainbow Coalition with Fine Gael and Labour. De Rossa was appointed Minister for Social Welfare with Liz McManus, Pat Rabbitte and Eamon Gilmore being appointed Ministers of State.

In the 1997 general election Democratic Left lost two of its six seats. Between 1998 and 1999 it entered discussions with the Labour Party and after just seven years in existence Democratic Left merged with the Labour Party, retaining the title of the larger organisation. In 2002 the former Democratic Left TDs, Pat Rabbitte and Liz MacManus were elected as party leader and deputy leader of the Labour Party. After the 2007 general election Rabbitte stepped down as party leader and Eamon Gilmore was elected to the position unopposed.

Tony Heffernan was appointed Press and Parliamentary Director for the Labour Party in 2000 remaining in this position for eleven years. He retired from the Oireachtas in April 2011 after 29 years. He is one of the longest serving backroom political staff members. He continues to work as a media and communications consultant in the private sector.

Archival History

This collection was deposited in UCD Archives by Tony Heffernan in October-November 2000.


Scope and Content

Papers relating to Sinn Féin the Workers’ Party, 1960s–82; the Workers’ Party 1981–91; and Democratic Left 1992–8.

Agendas, general secretary reports, presidential addresses, reports, resolutions, motions relating to the Árd Fheiseanna of Sinn Féin the Workers’ Party and the Workers’ Party 1968–91 and the Annual Delegate Conferences of Democratic Left 1993–7.

Internal party organisation and policy development material including party constitutions, manifestos circulars, reports, printed matter 1967–98.

Exhaustive series of press statements concerning party policies, domestic and international events and topics, issues pertaining to local politics, national politics including correspondence printed in the national press, speeches and addresses, contributions to debates, broadcast scripts 1971–98.

Election material including flyers, promotional literature [1960s]–98. Campaign posters urging a ‘No’ vote in the Maastricht Treaty, 1992.

Material relating to Dáil business including minutes of meetings held by the Workers’ Party Dáil group 1989–92, correspondence, press statements and parliamentary questions relating to Dáil reform and the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, 1983–5. 

Campaign literature, newspaper cuttings, press statements, correspondence relating to referenda and legislation including the Abortion Referendum, 1982–3 and 1992, the Single European Act, 1986–7, the Divorce Referenda 1986–95, Section 31, 1988–94

General correspondence files relating to the Workers’ Party and concerning the election of Workers’ Party candidates to Dáil Eireann, invitations, appeals from special interest groups, Dáil business, requests for submission of parliamentary questions, defending the party against allegations/comments in the national media, communication with Workers’ Party branches outside Dublin, 1982–92.

Comprehensive collection of Republican literature [1958]–79, serial publications printed by Sinn Féin the Workers’ Party, the Workers’ Party and Democratic Left [1972]–94. Also pamphlets and newsletters. Printed policy documents 1972–98.

Material relating to the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation including newspaper cuttings, press releases, correspondence, agendas, minutes, notes, reports, discussion papers 1994–6.

Government press statements 1995–7. Press cuttings and press statements relating to Proinsias de Rossa, Minister for Social Welfare 1994–7, Eamon Gilmore, Minister of State at the Department of the Marine 1995–7, Pat Rabbitte, Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise and Employment 1995–7 and Liz McManus, Minister of State for Housing and Urban Renewal 1995–7.

  • Access: Available by appointment to holders of a UCD Archives reader's ticket. Produced for consultation in digital format.
  • Language: English, occasional Irish.
  • Finding aid: Descriptive catalogue