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Democratic Left Merges with the Labour Party

After months of negotiations and two special delegate conferences, Democratic Left merges with the Labour Party on January 24, 1999.

Democratic Left is formed after a split in the Workers’ Party of Ireland, which in turn has its origins in the 1970 split in Sinn Féin and, after seven years in existence, it is incorporated into the Labour Party in 1999. Although never formally styled as a communist party, the Workers’ Party has an internal organisation based on democratic centralism, strong links with the Soviet Union, and campaigns for socialist policies. However between 1989 and 1992 the Workers’ Party is beset by a number of problems.

On February 15, 1992, a special conference is held in Dún Laoghaire to reconstitute the party. A motion proposed by Proinsias De Rossa and general secretary Des Geraghty seek to stand down the existing membership, elect an 11-member provisional executive council and make several other significant changes in party structures but it is defeated by nine votes.

After the conference it is clear a split is inevitable. At an Ard Chomhairle meeting held on February 22, 1992 in Wynn’s Hotel in Dublin, six of the party’s TDs resign from the party along with more than half of the Ard Chomhairle. The new breakaway party is provisionally named New Agenda with De Rossa becoming leader of the party.

In the 1997 Irish general election Democratic Left loses two of its six seats, both of its by-election victors, Eric Byrne in Dublin South-Central and Kathleen Lynch in Cork North-Central, being unseated. The party wins 2.5% of the vote. The party also is in significant financial debt because of a lack of access to public funds, due to its size. Between 1998 and 1999 the party enters discussions with the Labour Party which culminates in the parties’ merger in 1999, keeping the name of the larger partner but excluding members in Northern Ireland from organising. This leaves Gerry Cullen, their councillor in Dungannon Borough Council, in a state of limbo, representing a party for whom he can no longer seek election.

The launch of the merged party is in the Pillar Room of the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin on January 24, 1999. Labour Party leader Ruairi Quinn remains leader of the unified party, while De Rossa takes up the largely titular position of party president. Only 10% of Democratic Left delegates at the special conference had voted against the merger. De Rossa successfully contests the 1999 European Parliament election in Dublin. He holds his Dáil seat until he stands down at the 2002 Irish general election. He holds his European Parliament seat in the 2004 election and 2009 election.

In 2002, former Democratic Left TDs Pat Rabbitte and Liz McManus are elected as Labour Party leader and deputy leader respectively. When Rabbite steps down as Labour leader after the 2007 Irish general election, Eamon Gilmore is elected unopposed as his successor.

The party archives are donated to the National Library of Ireland by the Labour Party in 2014. The records can be accessed by means of the call number: MS 49,807.


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Birth of Proinsias De Rossa, Labour Party Politician

File source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Proinsias_De_Rossa.jpgProinsias De Rossa, former Irish Labour Party politician, is born in Dublin on May 15, 1940. He serves as Minister for Social Welfare from 1994 to 1997, leader of Democratic Left from 1992 to 1999 and leader of the Workers’ Party from 1988 to 1992. He serves as Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the Dublin constituency from 1989 to 1992 and 1999 to 2012. He is a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dublin North-West constituency from 1989 to 2002.

Born as Francis Ross, he is educated at Marlborough Street National School and Dublin Institute of Technology. He joins Fianna Éireann at age 12. Soon after his sixteenth birthday he joins the Irish Republican Army (IRA), and is politically active in Sinn Féin from an early age. During the IRA Border Campaign, he is arrested while training other IRA members in Glencree in May 1956. He serves seven months in Mountjoy Prison and is then interned at the Curragh Camp.

De Rossa takes the Official Sinn Féin side in the 1970 split. In 1977, he contests his first general election for the party. He is successful on his third attempt, and is elected at the February 1982 general election as a Sinn Féin TD for the Dublin North-West constituency. He retains his seat until the 2002 general election when he stands down in order to devote more time to his work in the European Parliament.

In 1988, De Rossa succeeds Tomás Mac Giolla as president of the Workers’ Party. The party had been growing steadily in the 1980s, and has its best-ever electoral performance in the general and European elections held in 1989. The party wins 7 Dáil seats with 5% of the vote. De Rossa himself is elected to the European Parliament for the Dublin constituency, where he tops the poll and the party almost succeeds in replacing Fine Gael as the capital’s second-largest party. However, the campaign results in a serious build-up of financial debt by the Workers’ Party, which threatens to greatly inhibit the party’s ability to ensure it will hold on to its gains.

Long-standing tensions within the Workers’ Party come to a head in 1992. Disagreements on policy issues are exacerbated by the desire of the reformers to ditch the democratic centralist nature of the party structures, and to remove any remaining questions about alleged party links with the Official IRA. De Rossa calls a special Ardfheis to debate changes to the constitution. The motion fails to get the required two-thirds majority, and subsequently he leads the majority of the parliamentary group and councillors out of a meeting of the party’s Central Executive Committee the following Saturday, splitting the party.

De Rossa and the other former Workers’ Party members then establish a new political party, provisionally called New Agenda. At its founding conference in March 1992, it is named Democratic Left and De Rossa is elected party leader. Later that year he resigns his European Parliament seat, in favour of Democratic Left general secretary Des Geraghty.

Following the collapse of the Fianna Fáil–Labour Party coalition government in 1994, Fine Gael, Labour and Democratic Left negotiate a government programme for the remaining life of the 27th Dáil, which becomes known as the “Rainbow Coalition.” De Rossa becomes Minister for Social Welfare, initiating Ireland’s first national anti-poverty strategy, a commission on the family, and a commission to examine national pension policy.

The 1997 general election results in the defeat of the outgoing coalition. At this point, Democratic Left, having accumulated significant, merges with the Labour Party. Labour leader Ruairi Quinn becomes leader of the unified party. De Rossa takes up the symbolic post of party president, which he holds until 2002.

In 1999, De Rossa is elected at the European Parliament election for the Dublin constituency. He is re-elected at the 2004 European Parliament election. He does not contest his Dáil seat at the 2002 general election.

As a member of the European Parliament, De Rossa takes a strong pro-integration approach from a distinctly social democratic perspective, as well as a keen interest in foreign policy and social policy. He is a member of the European Convention which produces the July 2003 draft European constitution. He is chair of the European Parliament’s delegation for relations with the Palestinian Legislative Council, a member of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs and the Conference of Delegation Chairs, and a substitute member of the Committee on Development and the delegation to the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly.

On January 16, 2012, De Rossa announces his decision to resign as an MEP and steps down on February 1.