Paul Billings
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Paul Billings


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Track 1: Paul Billings was born in Drimnagh, and during his childhood the family moved to Walkinstown. His first job was with Guinness and later, with his wife, he moved to England. On his return to Ireland he started work at Clondalkin in 1977, working in the yard and keeping it tidy. He describes himself at that time as being ‘a mad Trot’ (Trotskyite), explaining that he had been active in trade unions. The unions at the time were ITGWU and the Federated Workers of Ireland (later to amalgamate and become SIPTU). Paul was very interested in trade union issues. He remembers the trouble in 1981 and the negotiations which went on, and he also recalls the mills going into liquidation in January 1982 and the workers’ meeting at the social club. This was a time of political turmoil, and he remarks that, from the very start, the problems at the mills became politicised. He mentions the Gregory Deal arranged between Tony Gregory TD and Charles Haughey, and he describes the action committee set up by the workers and the work which it did. He says that, in hindsight, he sees Clondalkin as a jobbing mills producing several kinds of paper, and it was not competitive or viable. The workers wanted to fight for their jobs and various solutions were looked at, and he also talks about dealing with Bernard Somers, the liquidator, and ideas for saving the paper mills as a going concern. He reflects on the part played by the trade unions, and he credits the FWI as supporting the workers’ struggle but says that ITGWU was not so effective. Track 2: Paul explains that the liquidator was offering packages to workers as he needed clean possession of the premises in order to sell the assets. However, Paul and others preferred to hold out for jobs instead. There was a written promise from the Fianna Fáil government that the mills would be re-opened by June 1st 1982, but this promise was never fulfilled. He explains that, at this time, the workforce was about 460 and union representation was about 280 or 300. He recalls the various pickets at other factories in the Group and actions undertaken by the workers. The mills was occupied for about a year, and towards the end of that year another general election was called and the workers’ committee met with the new Fine Gael/Labour coalition. At that point, two workers, Brian Nolan and Miley Speight, decided to go on hunger strike. Paul recalls that he was not in favour of this action as he felt the focus would change, as in fact it did. The hunger strike lasted 15 days. A deal was done with Canadian investors, Friedman McCormack, to buy the mills. The hunger strike was called off and the paper mills worked for another year, but the business closed in 1987. Paul remembers that the action did galvanise trade union support around the country, and he mentions the solidarity with the workers in De Lorean and in Ranks flour mills. Jim Mansfield bought the site of the mills and the machinery was dismantled and sold abroad. Track 3: Paul reflects on the removal of tariffs in the 1970s, and the fact that with protection removed, modernisation and rationalisation meant that old industries closed. He discusses the role of trades unions at the time in looking after their members, and says that working practices and demarcation issues did contribute to problems. He discusses the running of state companies and monopolies as opposed to private businesses. The atmosphere which prevailed in 1982 is again considered, and Paul talks about the likelihood of a national strike at the time, about being blacklisted and how difficult it was for him to get employment again. It was not until 1996 that he was able to obtain a part-time job when he became a community worker. He reflects on political parties and voices his pessimism and cynicism about change. In his opinion, the Labour Party has not been concerned with the workers’ struggle since the 1930s, and he maintains that today it is a liberal grouping. He considers that his work at the paper mills showed him that he was capable of organising and negotiating, and he is proud of his actions at that period in his life.

Additional information



Audio series:

Clondalkin Paper Mills Collection


128 kbps

Download time limit:

48 hours

File size(s):

9.07 MB, 10.68 MB, 9.16 MB

Number of files:


Product ID:



A trade union perspective

Recorded by:

Maurice O’Keeffe