seamus dubhghaill

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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The Founding of Clann na Poblachta

sean-macbrideClann na Poblachta, a radical new republican party, is founded in Barry’s Hotel, Dublin, on July 6, 1946 by former members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) who are very unhappy at the treatment of IRA prisoners during “The Emergency” and who are prepared to try and engage in parliamentary politics. The party lasts 19 years but fails in its objectives due to internal feuds and lack of unity.

The group includes people such as Con Lehane and former IRA Chief of Staff Seán MacBride. Some members of Fianna Fáil also join the party, many of whom have become disillusioned with the leadership of Éamon de Valera, the party’s approach to partition and its economic policies.

Clann na Poblachta realises that it has to place an emphasis on practical improvements to living standards and welfare issues such as public health. These policies attract a number of younger members such as Noël Browne and Jack McQuillan. One potential problem for the future is that almost the entire Provisional Executive is resident in Dublin and the party has no organisation in the six counties of Northern Ireland.

In 1948, Éamon de Valera dissolves the Dáil and calls an election for February. Clann na Poblachta wins only ten seats in the 1948 Irish general election, fewer than the breakthrough expected, caused in part by the error of running multiple candidates in many constituencies. The party believes there will be a landslide in their favour like the 1918 Westminster election but 48 of their 93 candidates lose their deposits. The party wins 13.3% of the vote but only 6.8% of the seats. Of their ten Teachtaí Dála (TD), six are elected in Dublin constituencies, two in Tipperary and one each in Cavan and Roscommon.

The party surprises everyone by joining the first Inter-Party Government with Fine Gael on condition that Richard Mulcahy, against whom many members had fought during the Irish Civil War, does not become Taoiseach. As a result, John A. Costello becomes Taoiseach without being leader of his party, the only time to date that this has happened. Seán MacBride becomes Minister for External Affairs and Noël Browne is named Minister for Health.

The party is the driving force behind the 26 counties exiting the Commonwealth of Nations and the all-party Anti-Partition Campaign.

The controversy of the “Mother and Child Scheme,” a progressive healthcare programme opposed by the Catholic Church, helps bring down the government and leads to the disintegration of the party. Many of the party’s TDs resign in solidarity with Noël Browne and his scheme, so the official party wins only two seats in the 1951 Irish general election.

In 1954, Clann na Poblachta agrees to give outside support to the Fine Gael-led government. In this election, three TDs are returned – MacBride, John Tully and John Connor. Controversy dogs the party as Liam Kelly, a Northern-based Clann na Poblachta senator, is also active in Saor Uladh and leads a number of military raids in County Fermanagh and County Tyrone against the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).

Clann na Poblachta withdraws its support from the Government in late 1956 due to the its anti-IRA stance. The party wins only one seat at the 1957 Irish general election with MacBride being defeated by Fianna Fáil. John Tully remains the only Clann TD until his retirement in 1961, after he loses his seat. However, Joseph Barron is elected in Dublin South-Central on his fourth attempt.

In 1965, Tully wins back his seat but he is in effect an Independent as the party only stands four candidates. There had been negotiations between MacBride and Brendan Corish, the new Labour Party leader about forming a political alliance but this does not come to fruition.

A special Ard Fheis, held on July 10, 1965, agrees to dissolve Clan na Poblachta.

(Pictured: Sean MacBride, former Chief of staff of the Irish Republican Army and founder of Clann na Poblachta)