paye tax march 1979

Below is a clip from an interview with Sam Nolan of the Dublin Council of Trade Unions, where Sam discusses the 1979 tax marches. It’s taken from a series of interviews which have been conducted with Sam, and which chart his life as a political and trade union activist, going as far back as the 1940s when he first joined the Irish communist movement. The interviewer is Mick O’Reilly, former Irish regional secretary of the ATGWU.

The clip is 18 minutes long. By way of context there’s an extract from the Irish Times of 21 March 1979 below the video.

Sam Nolan on the 1979 tax marches from conormccabe on Vimeo.


Upwards of 150,000 PAYE workers took to the streets of Dublin today to demand tax reform in the largest demonstration in the history of the State. And in Cork, Galway, Limerick, Waterford, Dundalk and other centres throughout the Republic, tens of thousands of workers also downed tools and joined in protest over the tax system. But it was in the capital that the full wrath of the PAYE taxpayer was felt as Dublin experienced its greatest industrial shut-down ever.

Shops, offices, businesses, schools, factories and building sites ground to a halt with workers streaming from their jobs to take part in the massive strike and demonstration organised by the Dublin Council of Trade Unions. By early evening the ESB was forced to introduce power cuts as electricity workers left the giant Poolbeg and Ringsend generating stations and power supplies fell by 25%. As the 2.30pm deadline for the demonstration drew near, bus and train services ceased as crews left their vehicles to join the protest.

The deep-sea section of Dublin port closed, and Aer Lingus struggled to maintain services with a skeleton staff of key workers. But, in the end, only a fraction of scheduled flights managed to get away. RTE television programmes were disrupted though the afternoon as vital staff at the station struck in support of the demand for reform of the tax system. Pubs, restaurants, hotel bard and stores put up their shutters for the afternoon as staff left work to join the demonstration. But essential services such as milk and bread supply, care of the old and the sick, and fire and hospital services were all maintained, as the organisers had promised.

1979 paye march

Estimates of the number of people on the streets of Dublin yesterday varied from an official Garda figure of 60,000 to a figure of over 200,000 claimed by the organisers. An idea of the size of the giant demonstration can be gauged from the fact that the head of the march and the public meeting were well under way outside the GPO in O’Connell Street while contingents were still leaving Parnell Square on their way to Leinster House. At that stage, the march stretched up O’Connell Street, D’Olier Street, College Green, Dawson Street, St. Stephen’s Green, Merrion Row, Upper Merrion Street, Lincoln Place, Westland Row, Pearse Street, Westmoreland Street and back to O’Connell Street again.

ITGWU officials estimated as many as 40,000 in their section of the parade. Demonstrators were still streaming back into O’Connell Street after the 30-minute meeting outside the GPO, which was addressed by leaders of the Dublin Trades Council, had ended. The march got under way at 2pm, half an hour earlier than planned, when the crush of people in Parnell Square, North Frederick Street and Dorset Street forced the first contingents of the demonstration, headed by the ITGWU, down into O’Connell Street. At that stage, Transport Union contingents which had assembled first at Liberty Hall were still streaming along Eden Quay and into O’Connell Street on their way to Parnell Square. The march was led off in brilliant sunshine by two honour guards of the ITGWU band carrying the national flag and the plough and the stars. Immediately behind came the band itself, and then the officials and executive committee of the Dublin Council of Trade Unions carrying a single banner reading ‘Demand Fair Taxation’.

Next came the general officers of the ITGWU – Senator Fintan Kennedy, president; Mr. Michael Mullen, general secretary; and the union’s vice-president, Mr. John Carroll, along with members of the national executive.

And then came the long line of demonstrators – ITGWU No.1 branch docks, oil, petrol, coal, CIR road freight and carters; No.2 branch clerical, professional and supervisory; No.3 branch, food, drink and tobacco. And so on as far as the eye could see, with union banners, placards and flags dotting the sky-line right down O’Connell Street and Parnell Square and up to Dorset Street.

Behind the ITGWU came the Workers’ Union of Ireland contingent led by the Emerald Girls Pipe Band. Out in front were the union’s general-secretary, Mr. Paddy Cardiff, with the former general secretary, Mr. Denis Larkin, marching behind the banner with the picture of his father, Big Jim Larkin, who founded the union.

Denis Larkin 1979 paye march

Then came the WUI executive committee and contingents from Dublin Airport, from RTE, from the Dublin Gas Co., from the Botanical Gardens. Next came the Amalgamated Transport and General Workers’ Union and the mass of craft unions – the bakers, the plumbers, the building workers, the engineers, the ASTMS, the barmen, the tailors, a contingent from the Automobile Union (AGEMOU), from the National Union of Journalists, and from the Women Workers’ Union. And prominent with their banner came the taxmen themselves – a contingent from the Association of Officers of Taxes.

The marchers included young and old, industrial workers in overalls and safety helmets, white collar workers with rolled umbrellas, men pushing bicycles, women and young girls, children in push-cars, dogs on leads, and one man who hobbled along on crutches.

Some people pointed to the absence of leading members of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, such as its general secretary, Mr. Ruaidhri Roberts, and its president, Mr. Harold O’Sullivan, who had marched at the head of the first Dublin demonstration on Sunday, March 11th. The Congress leaders had opposed the idea of a work stoppage and had earlier asked the Dublin Council of Trade Unions to postpone yesterday’s strike, although they had made no public statements opposing it. The ICTU is now expected to co-ordinate any future action by the unions on the PAYE issue. There was a special contingent from the three teachers’ unions, whose leaders had advised members not to take part in the strike.

And the crowd gave a special cheer for the Post Office Workers’ Union, whose members have been on a four-week strike in pursuit of pay increases. “This strike business is nothing new to us,” one of the contingent quipped as the demonstration moved up O’Connell Street. Carrying union banners came contingents from the civil servants’ union, the Civil and Public Servants’ Staffs’ Association, the National Busmen’s Union, marching in their CIE uniforms, the Marine Port and General Workers’ Union, and the Seamen’s Union of Ireland.

The long column of marchers carried placards denouncing the PAYE system, and some of the girls wore caps with slogans saying “More Lolly, Colley” and “Not an Inch, Lynch”.

But behind the gaiety and light-heartedness of the demonstration there were other slogans with a more serious political message which will not be lost in the run-up to the European and local elections.

“Remember Pearse – Beware the Risen People” ; “Jack Promised to Get Us Back on Our Feet – Well, Here We Are Jack”; and “Jack, Did You forget Your Election Promise So Quick – We Won’t”.

1979 paye march

This entry was posted in Irish Labour History, Social/Cultural History, Trade Unions. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. daniel clifford says:

    great to see my grandmother leading the march .hope she is looking down on this country and wondering how the leaders have let us down so badly.i wonder what she would have thought of the new labour party.

  2. Pingback: Why did the Haughey/Fitzgerald Recession not lead to a 'Celtic Spring' ? - Page 2

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