In July 1932 Geehan, already a delegate to Belfast Trades Council (BTC), became secretary of a Belfast outdoor relief workers’ committee allied to the communist-led Irish National Unemployment Movement. Amid soaring unemployment figures, affecting even the skilled elite workforce in shipyards and engineering, the committee drew attention to the desperate circumstances of those jobless who, their insurance benefits having expired, failed to qualify for exceptional distress relief, or, having so qualified, endured meagre payment and poor conditions. Perceiving the crisis as an opportunity to forge non-sectarian class-consciousness among Belfast workers, Geehan urged a united front of trade unionists, progressive parties, and the unemployed to pursue improved wages and conditions for relief workers. Despite indifferent health owing to incurable tuberculosis, he was a forceful speaker, generating great enthusiasm at meetings and marches. By August 1932 demonstrations were drawing crowds upwards of 20,000. Supported by protestant and catholic workers alike, in October the agitation exploded into ‘the most dramatic and unified upheaval in Northern working-class history’ (Milotte, 132), with declaration of a relief workers’ strike. When a planned mass demonstration was banned under the special powers act, Geehan called for marches to proceed in defiance, to be accompanied by a rent, hire-purchase, and school attendance strike. There ensued two days of pitched street fighting between workers and police, engulfing both catholic and protestant districts (11–12 October). 100,000 persons attended the funerals of two workers shot dead in the conflict. Geehan, who with other RWG leaders had gone into hiding to avoid arrest, emerged on 15 October to endorse substantial relief rate increases conceded by the authorities in consultation with BTC.
Though Geehan hailed the settlement as a ‘glorious victory’, he was criticised in some quarters for his absence during the street fighting, and for accepting terms that failed to extend relief work to single persons, a key demand of the agitation. His committee soon atrophied, losing members to a militant breakaway group on the latter issue, and to a moderate organisation launched by the trades council. The divided movement proved powerless against steady government erosion of the agreed terms. Despite these reversals, the 1932 Belfast outdoor relief workers’ strike entered the folklore of the Irish left. While the united militant action marked a significant achievement in a community traditionally riven by sectarian conflict, the movement did not signify, as contemporary and retrospective rhetoric has claimed, either an achieved or imminent conversion by the mass of Belfast workers to revolutionary, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist consciousness.
Standing in city council elections as an unemployed candidate, while outpolled three to one by his unionist rival in Court ward, Geehan came ahead of the NILP candidate (January 1933). His relations with the communist leadership were strained by the perceived ineffectuality of the Belfast RWG during the major rail strike of January to April 1933. Nonetheless, he was named to the central committee of the Communist Party of Ireland (CPI) on the body's inauguration (June 1933). Arrested for addressing a banned meeting commemorating the 1932 strike (October 1934), he drew wide support from socialists, trade unionists, and civil libertarians in a test case against the special powers act. Although he was jailed briefly for symbolic refusal to pay a nominal, court-imposed fine, the alliance – nurtured by the CPI in line with its emerging united front policy – forced a restoration of recent cuts in unemployment benefit. The united front swiftly collapsed amid sectarian violence accompanying the July 1935 Orange marches, the worst since the early 1920s. Burned out of his home by a loyalist mob, Geehan was forced to leave Belfast for a time, but was among many communist and republican activists resettled in Ardoyne. One of three non-party ‘people's candidates’ agreed with NILP radicals to contest the May 1936 municipal elections, though defeated heavily he polled 1,351 votes in Clifton ward. In the late 1930s he resigned from the CPI during a period when the party, adhering to the Moscow line, muted criticism of the British imperialist presence in Ireland and endorsed a gradualist approach to partition in anticipation of a British–Soviet military alliance against Hitler's Germany. Geehan died in 1964.