Everett, James (1890–1967), Labour politician and trade unionist, was born 14 February 1890 in Rathdrum, Co. Wicklow, a son of Robert Everett, a small farmer and waiter, and Margaret Everett (née Doyle). He had one brother and a sister and attended the local national school in Wicklow town. He was first employed as a bank porter in Wicklow town and soon became involved in recruitment for the Rural Workers' Union which later joined with the ITGWU, and was active in organising farm labourers in Kildare and Wicklow and dockers in Wicklow town. After 1914 he became an urban councillor in Wicklow, acting as chairman for several terms and also worked as a rate collector; in 1920 he was elected chairman of Wicklow county council. He also became the paymaster and chief coordinator of county council finances during the war of independence (1919–21), after the withdrawal of British grants. A strong supporter of republicanism, he also served as a justice in the Sinn Féin courts from 1919 to 1922, and acknowledged the closeness of the Labour–Sinn Féin bond in local administration and in trade union activities, recalling that Labour party and union meetings, especially those of the ITGWU, were often used as ‘fronts’ for IRA gatherings.
Everett was elected to the dáil as a Labour TD for the Kildare–Wicklow constituency in 1922, the beginning of a remarkable electoral record which saw him hold his seat at 15 subsequent general elections until his death, topping the poll on four occasions. With Tom Johnson (qv), the Labour party leader, he held talks with Éamon de Valera (qv) and Seán MacEntee (qv) that led to Fianna Fáil taking their seats in the dáil in 1927. Everett and Dan Breen (qv), who was the first anti-treaty republican TD to enter the dáil, had earlier proposed a motion for the abolition of the oath of allegiance to open the way for Fianna Fáil.
Politically, Everett's focus always remained local rather than national and he ran a very effective constituency machine. He was a staunch catholic traditionalist, a daily communicant, and on friendly terms with the archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid (qv). Often referred to locally as the ‘Bishop of Wicklow’, he was renowned for his charity and benevolence. Along with five fellow Labour TDs he orchestrated the ITGWU's disaffiliation from the Labour party in 1944, and the formation of a new National Labour party, ostensibly on the grounds of ‘communist infiltration’, which had much to do with the return of James Larkin (qv) to the Labour party. As leader of this new party he successfully contested two elections. The National Labour party's 1944 manifesto pledged ‘to strive by all legitimate means for the attainment of the ideal of social justice in accord with Christian beliefs and principles’ and that its candidates would face ‘the fury of elements whose underground designs they have exposed and defeated. They stand neither for Moscow or London.’ Everett added that the party was ‘definitely committed to the papal encyclicals’. The Labour split was healed in 1950 with the reunification of both parties.
Everett served as minister for posts and telegraphs in the first coalition government of 1948–51 and became engulfed in controversy in 1950 during the infamous ‘Battle of Baltinglass’, when the residents of Baltinglass refused to accept Everett's appointment of a Labour political activist as sub-postmaster because it involved displacing the serving postmistress whose family had run the post office for 80 years. It led to one of the stormiest debates ever witnessed in the dáil, with Everett repeatedly accused of blatant corruption. It damaged the credibility of the government, but Everett refused to resign, though his appointee to the post office subsequently did. In his acerbic memoirs, Noel Browne (qv) was critical of Everett's preoccupation with Wicklow, writing that ‘he attended cabinet meetings assiduously, taking no part in discussions except when an item came up concerning Wicklow in any shape or form’ (Browne, 194). He also criticised Everett's religious beliefs and his decision to award a pay-rise to his departmental employees, the post office workers, without cabinet approval, though Browne's vitriol was no doubt fuelled by Everett's determination to block Browne's admission to the Labour party in 1961.
Everett also served as minister for justice in the 1954–7 coalition government and was a low-key cabinet member. The only ideological speech he made as minister was one attacking communism. His condemnation of the 1957 IRA border campaign was tepid. He referred to ‘the occurrences in the six counties’ as ‘counterproductive’, while stating that he ‘detested partition’. After William Norton (qv) resigned as leader of the Labour party in 1960, Everett's age ruled him out as a successor, although he appears to have had little appetite for the leadership role. When he died on 18 December 1967 he was regarded as the ‘father’ of the dáil, with the distinction of being the only deputy to have held a seat without interruption since 1922. Although Labour lost the subsequent by-election, Everett's nephew, Liam Kavanagh, regained the seat in the 1969 general election.
In 1925 Everett married Ellen Olahan; they had no children.