PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins has planted a tree at Áras an Uachtaráin in memory of the former Leader of the Irish Labour Party, Tom Johnson.
Mr Johnson, who was the author of the Democratic Programme of the First Dáil, served as the first leader of the opposition in the government of Ireland from 1922 to 1927.
The president planted the tree yesterday - and unveiled a commemorative plaque dedicated to the historic politician – during an event held to mark the 50th anniversary of the Irish Labour History Society.
Born in Liverpool on May 17, 1872, Johnson died 60 years ago this year on January 17, 1963.
A lifelong socialist and committed trade union activist, he was centrally involved in the anti-conscription movement in Ireland and the strike carried out in support of it in 1918, as well as the Strike Against Militarism, a one-day general strike called on the sixth anniversary of the 1916 Rising, on 23 April 1922, in an attempt to prevent the Civil War.
However Johnson may be best known as the original author of the Democratic Programme of the First Dáil - one of three texts presented at the first public sitting of Dáil Éireann on January 21, 1919 and intended to lay out the social and economic principles which should guide the Irish Republic.
The tree planting took place ahead of May Day, with the Irish oak tree planted close to ‘The Plough and the Stars’ - a piece of public art unveiled by the President and Sabina Higgins in 2018 in commemoration of the 1913 Lockout, the Irish Citizen Army and its first secretary and historian, playwright Seán O’Casey.
Speaking at the event, President Higgins said: “This year we recall the transformative role in the trade union movement of this country played by Thomas Johnson, whose death occurred 60 years ago.
“Not only the Irish labour movement, but all who believe in parliamentary actions, are forever indebted to Tom Johnson and his advocacy of a peaceful alternative to the bloody conflicts that gripped the decades of our nation in its infancy.”
He explained: “The alternative path Johnson advocated was one in which the shared concerns and interests of everyone in Ireland had to be addressed and pursued, a reminder to us all that the pursuit of peace must always be prioritised over war and conflict, with all of its attendant bloody consequences and inter-generational transmissions.
“On this May Day, let us all affirm our commitment to playing our part in the creation of a society that removes the obstacles standing between so many of our people and their full participation.
“Let us stand in solidarity with the most vulnerable, lowest paid and least protected workers in society as we battle a cost-of-living crisis. Let us defend their rights as the founders of the trade union movement, like Tom Johnson, did more than a century ago.”
This week’s event was attended by members and supporters of the Irish labour movement past and present, including the President of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Kevin Callinan, the General Secretary of SIPTU, Joe Cunningham, the leader of the Labour Party, Ivana Bacik, and former Labour Party leader Ruairí Quinn.