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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 Tomás Mac Giolla, Irish Workers’ Party Politician

tomas-mac-giollaTomás Mac Giolla, Workers’ Party of Ireland politician who serves as Lord Mayor of Dublin from 1993 to 1994, leader of the Workers’ Party from 1962 to 1988 and leader of Sinn Féin from 1962 to 1970, is born Thomas Gill in Nenagh, County Tipperary on January 25, 1924. He serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dublin West constituency from 1982 to 1992.

Mac Giolla’s uncle T. P. Gill is a Member of Parliament (MP) and member of the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) of Charles Stewart Parnell. His father, Robert Paul Gill, an engineer and architect, also stands unsuccessfully for election on a number of occasions. His mother is Mary Hourigan.

Mac Giolla is educated at the local national school in Nenagh before completing his secondary education at St. Flannan’s College in Ennis, County Clare. It is while at St. Flannan’s that he changes to using the Irish language version of his name. He wins a scholarship to University College Dublin where he qualifies with a Bachelor of Arts degree, followed by a degree in Commerce.

A qualified accountant, Mac Giolla is employed by the Irish Electricity Supply Board (ESB) from 1947 until he goes into full-time politics in 1977.

In his early life Mac Giolla is an active republican. He joins Sinn Féin and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) around 1950. He is interned by the Government of Ireland during the 1956–1962 IRA border campaign. He also serves a number of prison sentences in Mountjoy Prison in Dublin.

At the 1961 Irish general election, Mac Giolla unsuccessfully contests the Tipperary North constituency for Sinn Féin. In 1962, he becomes President of Sinn Féin, and is one of the people who moves the party to the left during the 1960s. In 1969, Sinn Féin splits and he remains leader of Official Sinn Féin. It is also in 1962 that he marries May McLoughlin who is also an active member of Sinn Féin as well as Cumann na mBan, the women’s section of the IRA. In 1977, the party changes its name to Sinn Féin the Workers Party and in 1982 it becomes simply the Workers’ Party.

Mac Giolla is elected to Dublin City Council representing the Ballyfermot local electoral area in 1979 and at every subsequent local election until he retires from the council in 1997. In the November 1982 Irish general election he is elected to Dáil Éireann for his party. In 1988, he steps down as party leader and is succeeded by Proinsias De Rossa. He serves as Lord Mayor of Dublin from 1993 to 1994 and remains a member of Dublin Corporation until 1998.

While president Mac Giolla is regarded as a mediator between the Marxist-Leninist wing headed by Sean Garland and the social democratic wing of Prionsias De Rossa. At the 1992 special Ard Fheis he votes for the motion to abandon democratic centralism and to re-constitute the party much as the Italian Communist Party became the Democratic Party of the Left. However the motion fails to reach the required two-thirds majority. Following the departure of six Workers’ Party TDs led by De Rossa to form the new Democratic Left party in 1992, Mac Giolla is the sole member of the Workers’ Party in the Dáil. He loses his Dáil seat at the 1992 Irish general election by a margin of just 59 votes to Liam Lawlor of Fianna Fáil.

In 1999, Mac Giolla writes to the chairman of the Flood Tribunal calling for an investigation into revelations that former Dublin Assistant City and County Manager George Redmond had been the official supervisor at the election count in Dublin West and was a close associate of Liam Lawlor. In 2003, Redmond is convicted of corruption by a Dublin court but subsequently has his conviction quashed due to conflicting evidence.

In his eighties Mac Giolla continues to be active and is a member of the group which campaigns to prevent the demolition of No. 16 Moore Street in Dublin city centre, where the surrender after the Easter Rising was completed. He also serves on the Dublin ’98 committee to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Irish Rebellion of 1798.

Tomás Mac Giolla dies in Beaumont Hospital in Beaumont, Dublin on February 4, 2010 after a long illness.