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Friday, 23 January 2015

John Murphy – single issue candidate

John Murphy was elected to the Dáil for Dublin South Central in the general election in 1957. He became the first unemployed person to get elected to parliament, and vowed to push the government to address the unemployment crisis that was driving many people abroad to find work at the time.

John Murphy arriving at the Dáil
20 March 1957
Although considered an independent because he was not part of any of the main parties, Murphy represented the Unemployment Protest Committee (UPC), which had been formed in January 1957. The UPC would organize protest marches through Dublin city centre, carrying a symbolic black coffin. They would hold rallies outside Werburg Street labour exchange, the largest labour exchange in Dublin, and distribute leaflets at the nearby Gardiner Street labour exchange.

Unemployment Protest March, Dublin
3 April 1957
Murphy encountered a lot of opposition from the moment he set foot in the Dáil chambers. He was looked down on by the established professional politicians, and struggled to get any answers to his queries from the relevant ministers. When the 1957 budget withdrew food subsidies and failed to provide for any employment stimulation schemes, Murphy and three other UPC members went on hunger strike. Their strike lasted for four days, and ended when the government agreed to place price controls on bread.

UPC rally at Werburg St labour exchange
3 April 1957
During the hunger strike, Murphy had hoped to gain support from Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, only to be disappointed when McQuaid eventually denounced the unemployment movement. Murphy faced further pressure when friction grew within the UPC. It had originally been created as a single issue party, which Murphy still believed in, but other members began to advocate widening the party’s remit.

Murphy resigned his seat in May 1958, finding it impossible to make any headway against the indifference of the mainstream politicians. Of his time as an elected public representative, Murphy said: “I found that Leinster House was more a centre of political activity and useless talk than a place where plans could be made to ease the lot of the unfortunate.”

Ironically, Murphy’s tenure in the Dáil meant he had lost his unemployment stamps, and his unemployment support was drastically reduced. The family was forced to emigrate to Canada for a few years, returning in 1964. Murphy died in 1984, at the age of 64, having only retired two years’ earlier due to the onset of ill health.

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