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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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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 Mairéad Farrell, Provisional IRA Member

mairead-farrellMairéad Farrell, member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), is born in Belfast on March 3, 1957. She is shot dead by the British Army in Gibraltar on March 6, 1988.

Farrell is born into a middle-class family with no link to militant Irish republicanism other than a grandfather who had been interned during the Irish War for Independence. She is educated at Rathmore Grammar School, Belfast. At the age of 14 she is recruited into the Provisional IRA by Bobby Storey. After leaving school at the age of 18, she is hired as a clerical worker for an insurance broker’s office.

On March 1, 1976, the British government revokes Special Category Status for prisoners convicted from this date under anti-terrorism legislation. In response, the IRA instigates a wave of bombings and shootings across Northern Ireland and younger members such as Farrell are asked to participate. On April 5, 1976, along with Kieran Doherty and Sean McDermott, she attempts to plant a bomb at the Conway Hotel in Dunmurry, as that hotel had often been used by British soldiers on temporary duty in Northern Ireland. She is arrested by Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers within an hour of planting the bomb. McDermott, her boyfriend, is shot dead by a RUC reservist at a nearby housing estate.

At her trial, Farrell refuses to recognise the court as it is an institution of the British state. She is sentenced to fourteen years in prison for explosives offences, firearms offences, and belonging to an illegal organisation.

When Farrell arrives at Armagh Prison, she refuses to wear a prison uniform in protest at the designation of republican prisoners as criminals and becomes the official Officer Commanding of the female IRA prisoners. After 13 months, she, along with Mary Doyle and Mairead Nugent, begin a hunger strike to coincide with the one already taking place in Long Kesh Prison. It ends on December 19, a day after the men’s strike. In March 1981 the prisoners’ rights campaign is focused on the hunger strike being undertaken by Bobby Sands, leader of IRA prisoners in the H-Blocks. She was one of the H-Block/Armagh prisoners to stand for election in the Republic of Ireland in the 1981 Irish general election, standing in Cork North-Central and polling 2,751 votes (6.05%).[17]

Upon her release from prison in October 1986, Farrell enrolls at Queen’s University, Belfast for a course in Political Science and Economics. However, she drops out to re-engage in IRA activity. The IRA sends her with Seán Savage and Daniel McCann to the British overseas territory of Gibraltar to plant a car bomb in a heavily populated town area. The target is the band and guard of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Anglian Regiment during a weekly ceremonial changing of the guard in front of Governors’ residence, on March 8, 1988. According to interrogated IRA members, Gibraltar is selected as a target because it is a British possession that is in dispute, and that it is an area with lighter security measures than had become endemic at British military installations elsewhere due to the IRA’s campaign.

The British Government’s domestic intelligence service MI5 becomes aware of their plan and a detachment from the British Army is specifically deployed to Gibraltar to intercept the IRA team and prevent the attack. Farrell, Savage and McCann are confronted by plainclothes soldiers from the Special Air Service regiment while they are engaged in a reconnaissance in Gibraltar pending the delivery of the car bomb. Farrell is shot three times in the back and once in the face. Her two accomplices are also killed in an operation code-named Operation Flavius by the British Government. Some witnesses to the shooting state that Farrell and McCann were shot while attempting to surrender, and while lying wounded on the ground. The three IRA members are all found afterwards to be unarmed.

Keys to a hire car found in Farrell’s handbag lead the Spanish Police to the discovery across the border in Spain of five packages totaling 84 kg of Semtex explosive in a car which the IRA team intended to subsequently drive into Gibraltar for the attack. These packages have four separate detonators attached. Around this is packed 200 rounds of ammunition as shrapnel. There are two timers but they were not primed or connected.

At the funeral of the ‘Gibraltar Three’ on March 16, three mourners are killed in a gun and grenade attack by loyalist paramilitary Michael Stone in the Milltown Cemetery attack.